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Føroya Holiday Week 1

Upon deciding to holiday in the Faroe Islands, people responded in one of two ways: where's that? (mostly from people living in the Southern Hemisphere) and why there? (those from Europe).

Making monkeys

You'd think reserving half a day for packing would have been sufficient — yet somehow it wasn't. Making monkeys for May's birthday took a while; meanwhile, your to-do list only grew. In hindsight, it wasn't necessary to save a backup GPS map for a country with only one road.

Your early flight from Zürich to Denmark was scheduled to depart a few hours after you finally went to bed. May had a good nights sleep, and you two sucked it up.

Denmark to Føroya

May — in preparation for her career as a escapologist — wriggled, bounced and threw things around the cabin, while voicing her opposition to the fasten seal belt sign the moment you boarded the plane. She was placated with bread and apples for a while, then ran up and down the aisle for the rest of the flight, flirting and making friends with the other passengers.

Running around the airport waiting for news

In Denmark the onward connection to Føroya was delayed, with an expected departure at 14:00 and no further explanation. You got 150 DKR in food vouchers for the inconvenience, and spent it on fishy sandwiches. May spent the next three hours running around the airport seats and smiling at randoms. Food crumbs and bits of egg were left all over the place.

In the boarding line, you got chatting to a Danish bloke who was heading to Føroya for business. He explained it can be a bumpy ride, and the plane applies its brakes hard upon landing due to FAE's very short runway. Sounded fun.

When she wasn't eating, May ran up and down the plane again. According to the grumpy-looking steward, she wasn't classy enough to do such things up the business end of the plane, even while the passengers were all grinning. It turned out that it was a two hour flight, not one hour as you previously thought; time zones are tricky things. The landing was much friendlier than expected — much friendlier than that git steward anyway.

Waiting for bags was fun: the carrousel dumped every sixth suitcase unceremoniously off the side, and May ran around trying to climb onto it. Good thing the airport had free wifi because your hire car company had switched cars at the last moment. You would have been looking for that black Honda CRV for a long time in the rain.

Kollafjørður

You found your car unlocked with the keys hidden safely in the glove box. Føroya islanders are trusting it seems. May was not having a bar of her new restraints, and voiced her displeasure loudly.

Kollafjørður, seen from the apartment

Fist corner out of the airport you met a sheep on the road. Second corner you met two more. Many more sheep and an undersea tunnel later, you arrived in Kollafjørður — a town of about fifty houses, a school, a church, and a general store — situated on a fjord on the island of Streymoy. Pretty place.

The apartment was orderly and decorated with cheap colour-matching nicknacks. You dumped your bags and let May run around a bit while you went to buy milk and cereal. The shop was quaint and just how you'd expect of the only shop in town: it sold a bit of everything, from potatoes to pantyhose.

Brekkutún

May has a onsie with the slogan Worlds cutest alarm clock on the front. Prophetically, she was up before six and ready to go, and so you watched a baby-yoga exercise show on danish TV together. Ninety minutes later the lady in pink leggings (on the TV) was still flinging her toddler around the room. You hoped the show was on repeat (for the kid's sake).

Walking along the road

After breakfast you wandered up the road and around the corner to Brekkutún. There was a strong wind but May was determined to walk anyway, inspecting every second tuft of grass and wooden fence post. The outing revealed Føroya is more cool than cold, drier than expected, and very windy. On the way back you picked up some frozen... lamb? Unsure.

Sornfelli

Your second adventure was up Sornfelli mountain by car. The roads were narrow and windy, but easy to navigate and well maintained. There were sheep in small groups along the roadside the whole way up, watching and wondering if now was a good time to cross the road. None dared. The ascent became a single challengingly-narrow lane, which dropped away on both sides, marked by fluorescent-orange steel poles. It felt like it would make a great go-cart track.

Sornfelli near the radar station

Near the top was a sign which read No trespassing as the road disappeared into cloud. Hesitant to disobey on the first day, you settled for the sub-summit view which was already amazing.

Walk #12 according to the Visit Faroe Islands hiking guide

You started hiking from a few meters below at a muddy area that appeared to be used as a 4x4 fun park. The hiking trail followed a dirt track below the shear cliffs on one side, and rolling rocky slopes down to the sea on the other. Sheep trotted about, grazing in pairs — an oft observed phenomenon yet to be explained — keeping their distance.

Sheep moving in pairs

It was a bit windy. So much so, the water falling from yonder waterfall was entirely blown back upwards.

The track led to a makeshift sheep herding station atop a cliff. Scrappy bits of wool were strewn around the muddy landscape. Someone needs to tell the Faries (your new word for Faroe Islanders) sheep shearing outdoors in strong wind is ill-advised (assuming that was the case here).

After finding the hiking trail which led through the field of boulders, you walked up onto the fridge (a cold ridge) pointing towards Vágar island. The view was amazing and you were blown away (figuratively, and by the wind).

View up the fjord

On the way back you met some geese while May ate her banana, and found some green speckled rocks. Again on the drive down you had to give way to a gaggle of geese crossing the road.

The moon rising over Nes

That evening's lamb dinner was a bit of a failure: the lamb meat had been preserved with sea salt. Locals know to soak it first. Yours was almost inedible. There was a nice moon rise to compensate.

Miðvágur

Your car's tyre was screwed — literally screwed with a screw. Best to deal with it before its screw loosened, the type pop and you go careening off the road into the ocean. Since all roads in Føroya are coastal roads (excluding tunnels and mountain passes) that may be a likely outcome.

You passed the rental company in Miðvágur and let them plug it. May walked off and tried to jump into the harbour. She needs to learn how to swim very soon.

Leitisvatn

With pop-tent clamped behind the backpack and raincoat on, you set off hiking along Leitisvatn lake. Both the skies and ground were wet, but not uncomfortably so. This was typical Ferocious weather (your new name for North Atlantic climate conditions).

Leitisvatn lake and two sheep

The track went to the end of the lake and up the point, which overlooked the cliffs, a small waterfall, and back along the length of the lake. Standing here you could see the toted optical illusion: the high-altitude lake. The angle of the hill and position of the cliffs made it seem the lake was a hundred of so meters above sea level. The rain rolled in from sea and you considered popping up the tent for shelter. It passed, but you decided to use it anyway as a dry place to have lunch. Throwing it up in the air to let it expand worked well, even if it nearly blew away in the process.

Picnic lunch in the pop-up tent

You walked back along the lake on some vague, very swampy trails. Halfway you met a woman standing on one leg, digging in the mud with a camera tripod, who had lost her shoe. She was trying (hopelessly) to dig it out without getting dirty. As you approached she asked for help and, while not completely without effort, it only took a little pulling and a muddy hand to rescue the shoe. You saved my life! she beamed. The woman was caked in too much make-up and too little mud in your opinion. Silly bitch didn't need help.

Bøur

Staying on Vágur, you followed the coast along the only road on the island to Bøur — a place touted as Føroya's most beautiful village. You're slowly forming the opinion that everything here is described as the most such-and-such, by virtue of there being so few such-and-such's with which to compare. That said, it was pretty.

Bøur looking out to sea

Bøur was nestled in a bend in the coast, bounding a beautiful water cascade which ran through the middle of the village. Authentic grass-roofed wooden houses sat neatly, packed together tightly and interwoven with tiny alleyways and small public spaces. The hills behind the village were almost vertical, yet a few brave horses grazed on the green grass without losing their footing. May was interested in everything, and walked about pointing things out: Da! Da! Da, da! The church key was left in the door, so you had a nosey and left.

Gásadalur

Further up the road at the western end of Vágur was Gásadalur village. Until 2004 it was only accessible by foot, then Føroya went tunnel-crazy and dug a road through the mountain. Since, it has been in every tourism photo you've seen with its pretty waterfall.

View of Gásadalur in clouds

Seeing it in person proved a bit wetter than planned. The rain rolled in, and was compounded by strong winds which blew the waterfall back up at you. The ground was sodden and slippery. Water in every direction!

It was a short wet walk to the viewpoint. There you met some other photographers and two sheep, who appeared to have fallen off the cliff and were stranded * on a precarious ledge. The photo you took looked nothing like the one from the travel guide, but was probably more representative of village life. Wet.

Tórshavn

In the face of worsening wet weather, you went for a drive over the mountain towards Tórshavn — the capital of Føroya. High up on the mountain pass was a good place to see clouds up close; i.e.: there was bugger-all view. The landscape was pretty.

Tórshavn wharf, a bit of colour

In Tórshavn you found the only all-day parking spot, and went for a wander through town. Of Tórshavn's ten-or-so sights (listed in the travel guide) the first four could be seen while holding your breath and jogging at a modest pace (fountain they turned off since it sprays people, church, bookshop, harbour). There was no rush really, so you pottered about the petite port in search of places to photograph the boats and buildings. Picturesque place.

Outside the Prime Minister's Office

You toured the wharf past some fishermen, coffee shops and grass-roofed houses, stopping outside one to read the inscription: Prime Ministers Office. No pomp and vigour in this town, no-no; he just lived there. Cool.

You walked up to the fort — who's cannons seemed to be facing towards each another — then back into town through the residential area. Every other house had a trampoline in its garden. You wondered if there had been a trampoline bazaar, or if a Farie Olympian once inspired a generation to all buy them. You checked later — turns out they have one famous swimmer, who got a pool named in his honour on Suðuroy island. You assume he swims there from Tórshavn daily.

FISH AND CHIPS shop

Tórshavn tourism seems to be based on woollen sweaters and fish. You opted for the latter, and ate some greasy (but tasty) fish and chips under the take-away shop's awning while watching people go about their business.

Svimjihøllin í Gundadali

Many Føroyskt words are understandable if one uses creative interpretation. Svimjihøllin, for example, sounds a bit like swim hall, so there you went to let May splash about. Outside the høllin was a bronze statue of a half-man, half-woman diving through a stone monolith. This was clearly an indoor pool then. Admission: 35 Føroysk króna per adult.

The changing rooms were spacious alcoves of lockers adjoined by an outdoor-shoes corridor. The system to keep the floors clean became obvious after you'd already trampled your dirty boots right through the middle. Sorry!

The pool was quite nice. It has four pools of various depths, a diving platform, three slides, a sauna and a cold tub. May had a blast trying to walk around the kiddies pool, and falling face-first into it. Good times.

SMS shopping centre stained glass staircase

After swimming you checked out the SMS shopping centre — the biggest (and possibly only) one in the country — to stock up on fish. Since you couldn't read the packet, you took a guess. Back at the apartment after cooking and thoroughly enjoying eating it, you learnt it was angler fish. Compared to back at home it was ⅓ the price. Bargain!

Vestmanna

Vestmanna is a town at the end of the road on the western side of Streymoy. It is mentioned in every travel guide as a must see for its cliffs, its birds and its pretty houses. You have yet to discover a town in Føroya described otherwise, so you took that with a pinch of sea salt. You booked a boat tour, and then listened to May complaining loudly about being strapped into her car seat until abated by a bread bribery.

Vestmanna seen from above

The first thing you saw arriving in Vestamanna was the big waterfall cascading through the town. You are steadily becoming desensitised to pretty waterfalls and cascades; Føroya does that to you since they're everywhere. Your thoughts were reiterated on board the boat by a Canadian photographer: something like this [waterfall] would be a regional highlight back home he said.

Steep cliffs

The boat chugged out of the bay past the salmon farms, while the captain explained (in Danish and English) how they work. The smolt (baby salmon) are raised in isolated pools on land, free of parasites and antibiotics, and later released to large pens in the fjords to mature. They are fed automatically every fifteen minutes and are harvested after 18 months. Over 90% of the Føroya economy is fishy. That was surprising, considering how many sheep there are — even the name Føroya means sheep island in the old dialect. Apparently they have to import lamb meat from New Zealand to meet consumption. Føroya is at sheep saturation already.

Dramatic rock

The boat pulled out of the bay and into open waters, making it hard to take a stable photo and suppress seasickness. The boat followed the coast closely, which became steeper and more jagged, but no less populated by sheep. The captain explained since they are lambed here they are good climbers. That must be a hard lesson to learn: slip once and you'll be eaten by a shark.

Lighthouse on a small head

For all the talk of puffins, you only saw seagulls. Their website puffin.fo was cute (not to be confused with puff.info), yet unjustly named outside the Summer months. The boat trip did provide views of some very beautiful cliffs, and it was entertaining how close it sailed through the rock arches, but there were no puffins. Can recommend for the seascapes; puffins pending. By the way, a baby puffin is called a puffling, and their collective noun is a circus (and to a lesser extent a parliament, a raft, a loomery, a burrow, a colony, a puffinry, or an improbability). It would have been nice to see a circus of pufflings, however improbable, on your little rafting trip.

Kollafjørður by night

At night you headed out to take some long exposure shots of Kollafjørður and the surrounding area. You drove up the mountain road towards Tórshavn and sat on a wet rock to take the shots from above. Some were ok. Worth the wet bum.

Long exposure above Kollafjørður

Tjørnuvík to Saksun

May's first birthday (today) was a casual affair. Of the beautifully handmade sock monkey, books and wooden Plan Toys toy, she liked the wrapping and boxes most.

Birthday presents

Tjørnuvík is the north-most town on Streymoy, sitting in a little bay popular for surfing (apparently). To get there you skirted the steep cliffs along the coastal road, passing lots of sheep and waterfalls, while practicing single lane passing-bay etiquette. The narrow road turned a sharp corner around the cliff head, from where you had a good view of the pair of sea stacks Risin og Kellingin (The Giant and the Witch who are said to be pulling Føroya back to Iceland). From a distance, even with your 800 mm lens, they appeared to be carved statues, rather than natural formations.

Tjørnuvík

Tjørnuvík was a quiet and sleepy place. It was so still it could easily be mistaken to be abandoned, weren't it for the well tended village gardens growing turnips you passed on the way up the hill. The hike from Tjørnuvík to Saksun started steep, slippery and in clouds; and stayed that way up the marshy trail to the rocky pass. It was challenging to differentiate between squelchy swamp that wet your ankles, and sinky swamp that swallowed up half your leg. May slept most of the way, missing the misty messy fun.

Near Saksun

Down the other side on a hill overlooking Saksun, you set up your pop-tent (which almost blew away) for lunch. Hiking back the same way was easy enough, with your swamp-senses attuned to Føroya field conditions. Adventures in Tasmania (mud) and Kyrgyzstan (wind) made the day feel quite casual in comparison. Perspective does that.

On the way back you passed one of Føroya's biggest waterfalls, Fossá. It wasn't that impressive as viewed from the road. The rest of the day had blue skies. So far Føroya weather has been better than you expected.

Kirkjubøur

After a week on Føroya it was time for a slow day. You decided have a small adventure in Kirkjubøur: a village with history dating back to viking times where driftwood washes ashore. Collecting driftwood was probably the Føroya equivalent of a logging industry back then, albiet a soggy one. Sadly, on this particular Sunday there was no wet wood there. On a side note, Føroya is situated in the WET timezone. Sounds about right.

Old village with gradd roof houses

The village had an old wooden house with an old wooden dog kennel, and both had grass roofs. There was a church — just like every other small village — and some sheep — also much like every other small village. You wandered down the path to a farm (no puffins), then went home again. The tourist amenities (maps, toilets, historical notes, etc.) near the carpark seemed disproportionally plentiful compared to the village itself.

Someone wanted to go swimming

Back in Kollafjørður you went for a walk to the surprisingly large school. There were rows of long bus parking spots outside, so it appeared other smaller villages' kids all gather here. It had a nice playground. You also checked out the wharf. All May wanted to do was jump off it.