Goodbye Faroes, Hello Iceland

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What a difference the sun makes …

I know I’ve gone on and on about this place, and this will be the last post, but we had a fabulous time in the Faroe Islands, and can wholeheartedly recommend them as a destination.

Yes, even in Winter.

A number of people questioned my sanity about the whole idea, and I must admit I was a little concerned myself, but it was a total success and our favourite destination so far.

Of course, in Winter you do have to plan carefully as lots of things shut down off season or operate reduced hours, and yes, the weather was unpredictable around a constant of around 0-2 degrees C.

The photos would of course have sparkled more in sunshine, and we could have got out into the beauty more rather than enjoying it from the car and in short bursts of hiking between rain and snow storms. We could also have seen the puffins who come in their thousands to lay eggs in summer.

But the fact that we were there off season held a number of advantages. First off, its an expensive destination, but we got accommodation pretty cheap right in the centre of Torshavn. Secondly, people were not at all jaded, just a little mystified that we were visiting.  Everywhere we went, we were the only tourists (we came across one other travelling family, and one brit who was visiting a friend the whole time we were there) which meant we got to observe such a fascinating country and people just going about their business, not pandering to tourists. Both Torshavn and Klaksvik get the occasional summer cruise ship visiting and I simply can’t imagine such small places being descended upon by the cruise ship hordes.

On our penultimate day we decided to go up into the central mountains of the island we were staying on. Lauren was keen to get up close with some real snow, and I felt confident enough of the decent roads to venture to higher altitudes.

We climbed up out of Torshavn on a winding mountain road that (in the era pre-sub sea tunnels) used to be the only road out of town. Now, it’s a ‘buttercup route’, meaning scenic, but that is of course assuming one can see through the fog, snow and hail….

The weather cleared up once we reached the high plateau but was pretty icy underfoot. It was about 30km before we saw another vehicle, which raced past while I was braving the cold to take a picture. They were going about three times the speed I’d been going, clearly not as scared of the winter conditions as me.

Eventually we descended down into a valley on the other side, and decided to make a 40-minute detour to the nearest place with coffee marked on the map – Vestmanna. A tourist hotspot in season, as this is where the boats go to see the puffins nesting on nearby Mykines island, Vestmanna has a number of cafes and even a couple of restaurants.

All closed.

We ended up getting a coffee and a hot chocolate from the only thing open, the service station, and having a chat with the young girl serving (she looked about 15). She seemed perfectly happy living and working in Vestmanna and seemed to have no desire to leave or do anything different. Sometimes the Faroes can feel a bit like a cult – everyone dresses and speaks the same (Lauren says all the women have the exact same haircut) and seem (to us outsiders) eerily happy with their lot. Or, you know, maybe they are just actually happy 😊.

After Vestmanna we headed to Saksun, along another ‘Buttercup route’. The was a narrow (single track) road that heads out to an almost perfectly enclosed bay, beautiful but as we arrived there was a hailstorm so we took a couple of pics and rushed back to the car for another picnic lunch. After that, given the hours of daylight, it was pretty much time to head back to Torshavn, and hand the car back.

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Saksun.

On our last day in Torshavn we decided against any big trips (I’d mooted the idea of the ferry to Nolsoy, the island directly in front of Torshavn) and instead to have a lazy day. This turned out to be a good call, as the weather was fantastic – sunny most of the day – and we walked out to the end of the rocky promontory that sticks out into the bay, enjoying the sun. Lauren the spent over an hour messing about with the rock pools that had frozen over, having such a good time she even begged not to leave at lunchtime. Of course, this being Torshavn, this meant that by the time her fingers went completely numb and I convinced her to leave, the one cafe open on the front had run out of all soups and sandwiches, and we had to have cake for lunch. 15 euros for 2 small slices of cake and a coffee. Ouch.

Next day, it was departure day, and we were genuinely sad to pack up and leave. Luckily, the good weather continued, and the sailing from the Faroes to Iceland was smooth.

So now starts another adventure – Iceland in Winter. Hoping for snow and northern lights.

 

Out and About With our Own Wheels

Today we hired a car so that we could get out and about under our own steam.

Wonderful as the public transport system is here, we wanted to be able to stop where we liked, enjoy the outdoors and make the most of the few hours of daylight.

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The forecast was for sun and cloud, but no rain until 3pm, so we set off early, aiming to be back before 3.

First thing you need to know about the Faroe Islands, is to totally ignore the weather forecast.

Seriously, this place just gets an awful lot of weather. You know the expression ‘four seasons in one day’? Well, here it’s more like four seasons every 5 minutes.  At one point today, we were standing in a full-on snow storm, but across the narrow valley it was blue skies and sunshine.

Literally 2 minutes later, we were in sunshine.

So of course, as soon as the car keys were handed over, and while I was still adjusting the mirrors and working out what side of the road to drive off on, the sun disappeared and we were engulfed in a massive hail shower, turning the road and everything around us white in a matter of minutes.

As Lauren jumped up and down and screeched ‘cool, look mummy snow!!!!’ from the backseat, I tentatively set off on our road trip on unfamiliar roads, in an unfamiliar car, with the promise of single-lane, unlit subsea tunnels, sheep on the road and all sorts of weather.

It was totally fine. 5 minutes after the hail, it was merely cloudy. People drive considerately, by law everyone must keep their lights on at all times, the roads are incredible (even the minor roads didn’t have a single pothole and have good markings), and the tunnels were a bit nerve-wracking but ultimately fine. The worst danger was getting distracted by yet another “perfect photo shot” and driving off the cliff. In fact there were so many awesome sights we just couldn’t photo because on narrow, windy roads where people drive fast it just wouldn’t have been safe to stop.

Plus, one thing  about the weather doesn’t change – its cold out there!

We wandered over to the next island to the west, and up to the very top to a small village called Gasadalur, stopping off en route at the airport (only place on the entire route I could find loos – do the Faroese have stronger bladders than everyone else?).

I’d heard there was a nice walk along the cliffs to a viewpoint of a waterfall that discharges directly into the sea, down the cliffs. It was pretty spectacular, with the force of the waterfall meeting the force of the waves, and both combining to create such a spray that when the sun came out it made rainbows.

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We had a lovely walk, in the sun, enjoying the spectacular scenery, regretting having left the picnic in the car, when at the furthest point it started to hail and snow, totally out of nowhere.

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We hadn’t put on our waterproof trousers, although our tops and feet were waterproofed, so by the time we got back to the car we were pretty soggy.

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Its hard making sure we get our five a day on the road, so poor Lauren got a tin of sweetcorn for lunch (she did get sandwiches as well…).

Lunch was consumed in the now rather steamy car before we pottered off back to ‘our’ island for a bit of school work and some hot tea.

A lovely day.

Suderoy Island by helicopter, bus, ferry and feet.

The most exciting thing about travel sometimes is actually the mode of transport.

That was certainly the case today, which consisted of a couple of miles walking along the cliff tops, a helicopter journey to Suderoy, the southernmost island, a couple of miles walk to the nearest ‘town’ (village by any other country’s standards), a bus ride to another ‘town’ and a few miles walk to the cliffs, then another bus, and a 2-hour ferry back to Torshavn.

While the main islands are connected by a very good network of sub sea tunnels, bridges and ferries, a helicopter service is run at hugely subsidised rates for those islands that are more difficult to connect with. The catch being, that as a foreigner, you can only book one way, so have to patch together a return. This is a small price to pay for the chance to travel on a helicopter, especially given the stunning views of the islands.

The heliport is on the outskirts of town, and the walk along the cliffs to get to it was an experience in itself.

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An elderly couple pulled up to feed their sheep at one point, and let Lauren give them a stroke.

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We got to the heliport an hour before the flight (no one else turned up til 20-30 minutes before).

The ‘departure lounge’ was small and cosy, with everything you need including coffee, loos, heating and a hilarious safety video.

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Departures…. and arrivals.

It was all incredibly informal. We didn’t need to show our tickets, but the man in charge had a laptop and checked our names. The postman arrived with a bag of post for the island, and someone else dropped off a few boxes of bananas. A washing machine was waiting, but for delivery to a different island.

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Safety briefing.
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The lounge.

The other passengers were an older Faroese guy, a young Faroese woman, three men from the Israeli embassy and their guide, and us.

There was great excitement among the foreigners as a helicopter flew past, but alas it was a Danish air force one, and kept on going.

About ten minutes later, and bang on time (of course!) our helicopter arrived – a big white one that hardly disturbed the air as it gracefully – and really slowly – descended onto the tiny helipad.

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We were all taking pictures as the grumpy guy in charge urged us up the path to board. We were lucky enough to get Lauren a window seat, and I could easily see past her, so we were rewarded with excellent views.

After a few checks and communication with someone over the radio, the captain welcomed us aboard in Faorese and in perfect English, and the rotors started. It seemed to take forever (probably only 2 minutes!) before we felt the helicopter start to shift a bit and edge upwards. We rose slowly into the air, pretty vertically and then suddenly seemed to switch gears and veered right and raced over the edge of the cliffs and out to sea. My stomach actually dropped as the cliffs seemed to fall away below us, but Lauren was just gleefully filming everything and enjoying it.

It was fairly noisy and we all wore the regulation fluorescent ear protectors. I had given my phone to Lauren who filmed our take off and then took a million pictures throughout the 20-minute trip.

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We flew low enough down to see the small tracks on some of the islands, and to make out individual dwellings (they were few and far between). The vast majority of the landscape was sea and very barren-looking moors. Some of the islands rose fairly high, and had frozen lakes amongst the bogs on top of the hills. We were incredibly lucky with the weather, which was a mixture of actual sunshine and cloud cover, with no rain. The tourist office had grimly warned us that ‘helicopters are not recommended at this time of year, especially for tourists’ due to weather conditions, but we just saw that as a challenge.

Down below, we passed one island that is inhabited by one family of sheep farmers – an elderly couple, two of their daughters and their children. The captain informed us with a certain amount of pride that there are 5 children living there, which is more than for many years. Lauren wondered how they did their schooling.

We then passed Litla Dimun, the only totally uninhabited island of the archipelago. You can see why its uninhabited, with steep cliffs rising straight out from the sea, and no shelter visible on the whole island. It is however inhabited by a lot of sheep.

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Litla Dimun

Far too soon we were being told that we would be landing, and we smoothly descended towards Suderoy, seeming to land right on the sea as the helipad was on the edge of the cliffs, which we couldn’t see until the very last minute.

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It was an absolutely exhilarating trip and made more fun by being a ‘bus service’ rather than a specifically laid on tour. I still can’t believe we managed it and in such good weather, and I hope its something Lauren remembers for the rest of her life, as she is very lucky to have had the opportunity.

Plus, the whole thing only cost about 50 dollars for both of us. Bargain. Well done all you Danish taxpayers!!

Of course, once we had landed and retrieved our bag, and exchanged a few words with the Israelis who were (due to VIP status I guess) allowed to fly back on the return leg, we were faced with making our way to the opposite side of the bay, where the ferry would (in the evening) return us to Torshavn. I wasn’t massively clear about what our plans were, but the forecast was as good as can be expected in the Faroes, we had good waterproof walking shoes, waterproof jackets and trousers, plus endless layers of warm weather gear – not to mention the ‘emergency food’, water and a packed lunch. Oh, and google maps on my phone 😊.

It was a couple of miles from the village where the helicopter landed to the next village, where there was a tourist information office, so we set off along the pretty deserted road, with the bay on one side, and steep mountains on the other. It was a lovely walk, and we stopped off to stroke some friendly sheep along the way.

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Once we got to the village the excellent tourist information lady (who said we were the only actual tourists she’d seen all week) totally sorted us out. Although you know it’s a bad sign when the best thing the tourist office can recommend is getting a bus to somewhere else…..

We stocked up on (even more) emergency chocolate (just in case the 30 minute bus broke down) and jumped on a bus to the other end of the island. Well, at least its warm on the buses, and the view is always amazing…

We poddled about from one village to the next – at one point we were the only people on the bus, a regular occurrence so far on our trip – until we reached a high school, which must have been letting the kids out at lunchtime. It was quite a shock after all the colourful traditional houses, being a modern glass and concrete building set into the hillside. Pretty cool school.

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Cool secondary school in the middle of absolutely nowhere, facing the sea.

Eventually we got to Vagur, another one-road village with a beautiful church, a supermarket and not much else. Again, we went to see the tourist office, the only other one on the island. Tourist offices seem to function as a multi-purpose service centre here – the one in Torshavn seems to be a bus stop as school kids hang out in the warmth (and jump on the free wifi) waiting for the free city bus, while the one in Vagur had a local library, a loo, a coffee machine, free wifi and an art exhibition…  and obviously local people kept nipping in to use one or other of these.

The tourist lady was a bit stumped as to what we could do, but she did suggest we could eat our packed lunch there in the warmth, so we did just that. Lauren gave her one of our chocolate biscuits, and then when she went to buy a (4 euro) magnet, tourist lady gave it to her for free! I thought this was interesting as she had been perfectly pleasant but not exactly warm and yet this mirrors the behaviour of our ‘landlord’ at the place we are staying, who is pleasant but somewhat gruff and cold, and who plays the radio loudly at 7am so we will get up for breakfast, but who brought Lauren a teddy bear this morning. Maybe Faroese are more about actions than words, and nothing wrong with that.

After lunch and hopping on the wifi, we consulted a local map and planned a hike out to the nearby cliffs. Not too far, and all on good tracks, as it was already threatening to start descending into the pre-dark mid-afternoon gloom. It was a couple of hours’ walk, but rewarded by immense cliffs, spraying sea, and a view of possibly one of the coolest sites for a football pitch ever. Oh, and another of those sculptures you find randomly all around, which again hint at hidden depths to this on the surface quite reserved population.

Once we returned from our jaunt, we visited a café which is the only place in the village to meet. The young woman running the place had relocated there last month from Torshavn, and was finding the change from the ‘big city’ (“where there are Taxis”) to Vagur (where “there is nothing and people just watch Tv and go to bed”) hard. She was immensely critical of the island people, calling them dull, and saying that before the café opened this year, there had literally been no bar, no café, nothing and people also didn’t really socialise amongst themselves. I don’t know how true this is and how filtered through her frustration of not fitting in, but she was keen to talk, and we had an hour and a half to kill before the bus. Of course, it helped that she had a very beautiful little dog called the Faroese for ‘fluff ball’ and Lauren spent the time cuddling it. When she (the dog, not Lauren) led down on the black sheepskin rug she blended so well we couldn’t see it.

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We had been told that the bus would stop if we stood by the side of the road anywhere in the village, but as this bus was the only chance to get to the ferry which would take us off this island (which was already feeling a little claustrophobic after an hour and a half of the café managers stories and many hours of darkness) I had said I wanted to walk ‘all the way’ to the official bus stop 5 minutes away. The manager insisted so much and was so adamant that this was pointless, and we had seen the efficiency and incredible to-the-minute punctuality of the rural buses that I agreed to hang out until the last minute then just walk outside in time for the bus. I’ll admit I was a bit on edge, and had images of spending the night in the café, but true to form, at exactly 17.30 the bus came round the bend, and the fluent English speaking (as usual) driver collected us and whisked us (and one other woman with a child) to the other end of the island for the ferry.  He then insisted we stay in the bus where it was warm until the ferry arrived, as he would wait for all the passengers to get off anyway.

Once the ferry arrived, we walked onboard – there had been no way to buy a ticket, so I asked one of the staff and they said I should just go to the kiosk on deck 5 and purchase one. All very relaxed.

The ferry was a shocking 5 minutes late leaving, but made up time, as we chugged back the way we had flown that morning. Most people hung out in the café, and we had dinner on board as it had been an extremely long day. We were both utterly exhausted. We got back ‘home’ to Torshavn to be greeted with hail and lashing rain, and I didn’t fancy a 20-minute uphill walk in that, so we splashed out on a taxi. Yes, we are travelling on a budget, but not to the point of being miserable.

What a day. We are loving the Faroes. And not just for the exciting stuff like helicopter rides and ferries and awesome scenery, but also because its just such an alien place to us, everything is interesting. Like the fact that everyone cuts through the school playground at all times as the gates are permanently open. Or the fact that the church at the end of our road has a picture of Jesus surrounded by superheroes on its front. Or the very cool, almost cold way of communicating that doesn’t seem to mean people are actually unkind. The fact that kids Lauren’s age seem to roam unhindered around villages and towns and that people don’t lock their doors. The fact that the average income is over 100k USD a year, but the main economic activity is fishing and sheep. The massively over-engineered social infrastructure that hardly anyone seems to use. It’s all just strange to us, and that makes it really interesting.

 

 

The Northern Islands and Klaksvik

Klaksvik is the Faroes’ “second city” and as such, I felt that we should visit. This was also because its halfway across the country, three islands away, and I felt getting the bus over there would give me a good overview of the driving conditions before hiring a car.

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Klaksvik.

Many of the main islands here are very close together, separated by short stretches of sea, and have been connected by undersea tunnels. Some people seem to freak out about this, but the ones we went through on the bus to Klaksvik were wide, well lit, and well-marked. One even had an art installation, that lights up the walls in different colours, which we later learned was done by a famous Faroese artist who specializes in glasswork.

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As if undersea tunnels weren’t freaky enough…..

The journey over to Klaksvik was stunning, and our first hint of the amazing scenery awaiting us as we explore.

Dramatic cliffs plunging into a rough sea, snow topped mountains, huge fjords coming way inland between steep mountainsides, waterfalls flowing down mountains into the sea and at times right through villages. Taking photos through bus windows isn’t ideal, so you’ll have to wait til we have a car and can take some snaps. Rural areas are mainly moorland, reminiscent of the very north of England and Scotland, boggy in parts, steep hillsides of grass and not much else. Lots of sheep (we keep being told there are more sheep in the Faroes than people, and I’d say by a good margin) and geese. The geese have cute little houses, also thatched.

The villages themselves were generally quite pretty, often clustered around a bay, with multicoloured wooden houses, some with tin roofs, some with grass roofs, and always a church.

But these are not ‘quaint little traditional houses’ – they seem to have all mod cons and are stylishly decorated on the inside. We know this because no one in this country ever seems to close their curtains, so its quite common to pass a house and see everything going on inside – people eating dinner, watching Tv, playing with their kids, folding washing…

Properties are clearly very well maintained, and the impression crossing the three islands was of a prosperous, self-reliant, well ordered society. I guess with the kind of extreme weather and isolation people face here, they can’t afford to be lackadaisical about things. If you don’t maintain your property, you’ll be cold (or face huge heating bills), if your car breaks down in the dark on a mountainside, you could freeze. If you don’t maintain your fences and the sheep wander off… that’s going to be one hell of a cold night searching for them. But I sense there is also a strong belief in being capable and practical, and a clear judgement from community if you don’t conform. One recent returnee to the islands told us how she had only brought one bra when visiting her mother, so washed it and hung it out of her window to dry. People apparently still talk about the day a bra was hung up outside to dry…

Maybe the open curtains and the outward appearance of a staid, solid, self-reliant people really masks a deep beating core of thrill seeking and passion that I just haven’t tapped into yet…. Maybe.

Anyway, Klaksvik.

Its fair to say that Klaksvik makes Torshavn look like a megametropolis.

All the tourist information lady could suggest was lunch. Which was lovely and extortionate. 40 euros for a pulled pork sandwich, a chicken sandwich and a latte.

We bumped into an Australian family with two children, one a year older and one a year younger than Lauren. They are travelling for 3 months and we’d already met at the ferry terminal. Small place, this.

After lunch we wandered down to the marina, and ended up somehow around the fishing area, which was actually quite interesting. There were a number of trawlers, old crusty things, and some fish processing units where a number of men – mainly middle aged and above – were cleaning and processing the fish.

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One of the fishing trawlers that was just unloading as we arrived.

Fish and fish products make up over 90% of the exports of the country, so it’s a big deal, and the economy is heavily reliant on world fish markets, so I found it quite interesting poking around until the horizontal rain drove us back to the ‘centre’.

We had a while to pass before the bus was due, and standing in the freezing bus shelter wasn’t an option so we went to visit the church, which was pretty enough, but Lauren soon discovered an excellent way to warm up and pass the time, which took me back to wet camping holidays in the dales. Sledging in her waterproof trousers down the steep sides of the churchyard.

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Church.
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Slightly out of focus but you get the idea…..
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I loved the name of this clothes shop ….

The bus journey home (in the dark, as it starts to get gloomy around 3pm and by 3.30 is properly dark) was interesting mainly for the chance to observe the young Faroese up close (I know I sound like David Attenborough but seriously, this place is interesting because it’s so different). It was clearly school ending time, and many of them – from Lauren’s age up – piled onto the bus and various points along the route. They seem very serious – a big of giggling from two of the girls, but most just plugged in earphones or slept. Very few had any kind of outward signs of wanting to be different – boys generally had short, neat hair, designer trainers and tracksuits or jeans with good quality but not flash jackets; girls had long hair tied back in a pony tail, no make-up, conservative jewellery if any, nondescript clothes and bags. The odd colourful scarf but hardly teenage rebellion!

Everyone seemed to have the latest tech. We didn’t see a single non-white child. I must admit my heart sank when I saw around 20 teenagers waiting to board on the outskirts of Klaksvik (Lauren had promptly fallen asleep as soon as the bus set off, worn out by the sledging and knocked out by the heat) but they were fairly quiet and certainly the most ‘well behaved’ group of teenagers I’ve even seen. Kind of made me want to shake them. Teenagers shouldn’t be well behaved!!!

We made it back to Torshavn dead on time, ready to prepare for the excitement of the following day, which we hoped would be a highlight of our trip – a helicopter flight to the southern island of Suderoy.

Torshavn, Capital of the Faroe Islands

Torshavn, the capital of the Faroes and our base for a week, is a sleepy little place with a mixture of traditional grass roofed buildings and more modern Skandi-influenced architecture.

The ‘city’ of 13,000 people is arranged in a semi-circle around the harbour, spreading upwards away from the water towards the mountains that encircle it.

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This is pretty much all of Torshavn – the ferry and bus terminal, and the colourful ‘old town’ around the marina and a few more modern buildings on the outskirts.
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Old town
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Old town
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The centre, as far as we could tell. Bustling.
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Old town.
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Lighthouse.
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Not quite sure what the enormously-proportioned bench was about, some people do believe in trolls and fairies here, maybe they also believe in giants…..
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Its not all cutesy little traditional houses though, check this bank out.

The most exciting thing about it is that it was named for the god of Thunder, Thor.

There are few cars, and drivers seem to give priority to pedestrians not only if you are on one of the many pedestrian crossings, but also if you are just dithering and look like you might want to cross the road at some point. We keep having to cross the road, when actually we simply want to consult the map.

Out to sea, the island of Nolsoy sits directly opposite Torshavn, a big hunk of land rising straight out of the water with little sign of habitation, although there are ferries few times a day. We are told there is a café/bar/restaurant open a few days a week, which makes it quite a metropolis in the Faroes.

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Nolsoy brooding offshore.

We have a tourist map, one of those colourful maps with symbols scattered approximately in the area what they represent can be found. We spent a good half hour searching for the ‘bus terminal’, as the symbol was a bit along from the ferry terminal, before realising that the bus terminal was actually a couple of empty bays at the ferry terminal where the bus would turn up on schedule.

This of course makes sense, in real life if not on the map, and in fact the public transport system here is incredibly integrated – buses run to a schedule which factors in ferry or plane arrival times and school times, minibuses link up with main buses at various points so there is no waiting for connections to smaller villages, main buses on different routes coincide at certain points at particular times so passengers can transfer easily, and around the main towns there are free buses running a circular route regularly throughout the day.

Above the ferry terminal is an old fort, and some WWII cannons the British left behind. There’s not much up there, but some fantastic views out to sea.

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Old 2nd world war cannons left behind by the Brits.

There is also a cathedral, suitably sized for the population it serves.

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The cathedral.

The harbour area is still very much a working harbour, with lots of fishing trawlers and ferries to various places. Seems pretty desolate at this time of year though.

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To be honest, that’s about as much as I can say about Torshavn. Its lovely but definitely not what you’d think of as a capital city. More a sleepy fishing town that is pleasant to wander round, and a good base for further travels. I’d imagine it’d be far busier in summer but we quite enjoyed wandering round having it practically to ourselves.

 

Next up –  The northern islands and Klaksvik, the ‘capital of the North’….

Ferry to the Faroes, Part II

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We made it! We are in the Faroe Islands.

Following another very rough night, after Lauren’s over-ambition at the buffet led to a swift return of her dinner, we docked this morning at 5am.

Despite assurances from staff on the ferry (which is operated from here) that there would be a café at the ferry terminal that would be open from 5, no such thing existed, so after disembarking we spent an hour and a half waiting in the rather empty and uninspiring ferry terminal until a reasonable time to turn up at our airbnb.

I had agreed with the host that we could check in at 7am, and he’d even offered to make us breakfast. He doesn’t live on site, but rather constructed the house himself and rents out the rooms.

At 06.30 I arranged a taxi, but Torshavn (capital of the Faroes, with around 20 thousand people) is so small, we arrived at the place at 06.40! The taxi driver seemed a little unsure of leaving us, but he said if the host said 7, he’d be here at 7.

It was bitterly cold, drizzling, and very, very dark. Lauren was incredibly good natured to say she’d been up since 4.15 and only had rosemary breadsticks in a cold ferry terminal for breakfast. She proceeded to keep warm by pirouetting down the deserted street in her waterproofs.

At 06.58, the wonderful Jorgen turned up, as promised, and looked surprised to see us standing outside. Of course the door was unlocked and we should have just let ourselves in: “there are no criminals in the Faroe Islands, nobody locks doors”…..

While we defrosted and de-waterproofed ourselves, Jorgen whipped up coffee and a tray full of rye bread, rolls, hams, cheeses, boiled eggs, chocolate spread and his wife’s rhubarb jam. I noticed this latter only came out after a good while. I took it as a good sign. It was delicious, and I don’t normally like rhubarb.

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All kitted out ready for the legendary Faroese winter….

We have designated today a ‘domestic day’ – washing clothes, shopping, organizing our plans for the next few days. We did go out and visit tourist information (like everything else in Torshavn, 2 minutes away) who I don’t think have fully comprehended their brief, as every answer was ‘there is a website for that’, with the subtext of ‘Its November, you idiot’.

We did visit the famous mall, the only one on the Faroes, with about 15 shops and a coffee shop (and a burger king). The supermarket was very well stocked and prices not as horrific as I’d been led to expect. From reading blogs and forums online, I’d got it into my head we’d be forced to contemplate eating whale blubber or grated puffin, so was quite relieved to find some pasta and some mince! We even found Heinz baked beans, Typhoo tea and Mcvities biscuits.  Apparently, Faroese have a particular penchant for British food, following the peaceful occupation by British troops during WWII (to pre-empt an invasion by Germany following Danish invasion).

The christmas decorations were already up, and there was a weird little Christmas display for kids, where the characters moved and played music when you turned a handle….

After the excitement of the mall we headed ‘home’ to the flat for chores and planning. No one else is in residence right now – a British guy left this morning – so for now we have the place to ourselves and are enjoying spreading out. Lauren is watching National Geographic in Danish/Faroese.

For the rest of the week we plan to hire a car and explore, go in search of snow, and, fingers crossed, get a helicopter shuttle to one of the more remote islands, only reachable by helicopter or boat.

Ferry to the Faroe Islands, Part I

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I am writing this in our two-berth cabin, lying on my narrow bed, resting my feet against the wall, which is also the exterior wall of the ship.

I mention this because at irregular intervals the entire wall vibrates and shudders as a wave hits us side-on with immense force. At times it feels like the ship will break apart, although rationally we know better. Spray sometimes smashes against our window, making us jump (we are 5 floors up) and completely blocks out the view, which anyway is just huge black waves and white tops.

There is a massive swell, and people are staggering about the corridors and bouncing off the walls. Damp patches of carpet around the deck attest to not everyone keeping their breakfast down. Even the cool dudes in the canteen say its unusually rough.

At one point during breakfast I managed to stagger backwards into an automatic hand cleanser dispenser, which promptly squirted antiseptic down my back.

I kept hold of my coffee, though, so, you know, priorities 😊.

Despite the bravado of wanting a crossing ‘as rough as possible’ Lauren has looked a little green at times today, and once threw up. As children are wont to do, she vomited, announced that that was ‘much better’ and then ran off at top speed as she was worried the film being shown in the ‘cinema’ would have already started. It hadn’t, in fact they had forgotten about the showing as she was the only one who turned up for it!

Yesterday we arrived well on time for the ferry, having spent the previous night at Aalborg, a sleepy but picturesque town about an hour from where we had to catch the ferry.

 

It was funny to see the ‘John Bull’ English pub facing off directly across the street with the ‘Irish House’ Irish pub. The English had it on size (see above) but as we all know, size isn’t everything. Unfortunately, it was 10 a.m. and no time for larking about in pubs.

It was clearly election time (municipal elections I think) and as we wandered around the town centre with our backpacks, supporters of various candidates vied to give us freebies – we declined the red roses but Lauren happily accepted the various offers of sweets and lollies. In the interest of full disclosure we did explain we weren’t voters before accepting any gifts, but that didn’t seem to matter.

There seemed to be at least a dozen candidates – all seemed to look alike, all white, most blond, most in their 30s…. apart from Thomas (whose supporters proffered the roses) who Lauren declared was  ‘Mr Creepy Looking’.

Make you own minds up:

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Thomas, the Creepy.

Aalborg was pretty but we quickly ran out of town, and made our way to the train station.

There was no ticket office, but a pretty efficient machine, with all options in English. We joined a bunch of other Saturday morning travellers for the train to Hjorring on platform 0 (yep, stations in Denmark have platform 0, and why not?) and about a minute before the train was due they all suddenly started rushing for the steps.

Not knowing what was going on (and no one offering help, despite it being obvious we were foreign and confused), we followed the crowd. I still don’t know how they knew there was a platform change, there had been no announcement and no change to the screens as far as I could see… maybe they all had an app…. there seems to be an app for everything in Denmark.

The couple opposite us assured us (when asked) that we were on the right train, and then unpacked a bag of carrots (like, from the supermarket, unpeeled and seemingly unwashed), a pack of hazelnuts and some dark chocolate, and proceeded to snack on this interesting combination, spitting out the tops of the carrots. Odd, but she was reading Terry Pratchett, so they must be OK really….

Once we got to Hjorring, we still had one more train to get, and about 30 minutes to wait. Lauren decided she needed the loo (having, of course, not needed it 5 minutes previously when there was a perfectly good toilet on the train and when I’d suggested it). There were again no staff at the station, and on the bathroom door only a sign in Danish. Having enlisted the help of another woman who needed the loo (who was Faroese and heading home on the same ferry as us) we worked out you needed to pay 5 kroner (about 60p/80 US cents) to gain access, although children were free. Problem being, payment could only be online with a Danish card. A code for the door would then be texted. A teenage couple came over to try to help but they didn’t have the right cards. At least all of this served as a distraction for an increasingly agitated Lauren, and it was practically time for the train by the time we gave up.

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Once on board I grabbed my camera, wanting to get a picture of the famous Jutland scenery. I waited and waited, and I’m sorry Denmark, but it was just very, very flat and dull. This is the most interesting picture I got. I’m sure all the beautiful bits were just over the next hill. Only there weren’t any hills….

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Fascinating Jutland scenery….

On arrival in the town of Hirtshals, from where the ferry was due to depart, Danish public transport/efficiency proved itself once again, as the bus to the ferry was waiting for the train and we got straight on. Excitement built as we neared the ferry, which we could see moored on the opposite side of the docks. Up close, its enormous.

Having checked in we were allowed access to our cabin – fairly standard, two single beds, a window, a tiny but functional bathroom, a desk and a Tv that played a very strange combination of channels, my favourite being the ‘wheelhouse webcam’ which gives us the view from the bridge.

We dumped our bags in the cabin and immediately headed out to explore. It’s a fairly big ferry, with a couple of restaurants and bars, a shop, 8 decks, 4 of which for cars/containers and 4 for accommodation and services. There is also a pool on deck one, which was haven’t checked out yet. There are even hot tubs out on deck, for the nutty/brave. Up top, there was an incredibly strong wind blowing. We went up there at departure time, but after about 20 minutes of not departing, were forced down by the cold and strong wind. You can see from the pictures that even Lauren “I don’t feel the cold” Ennis agreed to more and more layers, progressing from “I’m not cold” in just a fleece, to a jacket and then even hat and gloves.

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Cold? Me? Nah!
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Messing about in the wind…
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Not making much progress….
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Look, hat and gloves.

We made our way to the back as someone told us there were still a lot of containers to be loaded. We watched this for a while – the backward manoeuvring of these enormous trucks continues to fascinate me, these guys get them lined up with just a couple of cm between them.

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Eventually, just over an hour late, we heard a siren and saw the back starting to rise. As it was halfway up two guys came racing out of the lower deck, squeezed through the half-raised metal slats that top the ramp, and jumped down onto the dock just as the gap between it and the raised ramp looked unfeasibly large. They got a round of applause from the cold but good-humoured crowd up top.

Things moved very swiftly once the ramp went up. The passenger gangway was withdrawn, and we almost immediately pulled away from the dock. We rushed up to the top – above the bridge – to watch as we moved out to sea. If we’d thought the wind was strong before, it was almost impossible to stay on our feet up there. Lauren loved leaning back into it without falling, and while she wasn’t going to get blown away and there were good high railings, it made me a bit uneasy. I filmed the departure, but haven’t worked out how to put videos on the blog, think I need to pay lots for an upgrade but I’ll post to facebook. It was pretty amazing and very exciting, to be heading out to sea on this great vessel, skin-piercingly cold wind driving through us despite all our layers, hundreds of gulls circling below us, and out there at sea only big grey waves with white tops.

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Finally underway as the sun sets ….
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Out of the harbour walls, and that wind only gets stronger…
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Goodbye Denmark, it’s been… interesting.

Incredibly, as we pulled out of the harbour, I spotted some total lunatic among the huge waves, windsurfing. Insane but I’d imagine exhilarating.

Eventually the cold and the wind drove us back into the warmth of our cabin, and we chilled out until dinner time, only breaking this for a 10 minute ‘safety briefing’. Hardly anyone attended this, and it consisted of a crew member demonstrating on Lauren how the life jackets worked, informing us that there were enough lifeboats for everyone ‘so you don’t have to do a Leo di Caprio’ and that if anyone fell into the water they would survive less than 10 minutes, ‘so, you know, stay in the boat’.

I had booked the buffet for dinner, as it was the cheapest option compared to a sit down meal in the restaurant, and I figured with a wide range we’d find something Lauren would happily eat.  It wasn’t exactly what we expected though – just seafood rice or beef and boiled potatoes and veg. No starter, no dessert, and not much choice. What we had was tasty enough though.

Last night we both slept really well, despite the crashing waves and up-round-and-about motion of the ship. Neither of us felt remotely queasy, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

This morning we did a few hours of schooling, and then Lauren went off to the cinema for the first of two films being shown for kids. It’s not really a cinema, just a small room projecting films, but it’s a good idea. As I said, she came back after the first film, threw up and rushed off again, leaving me to write this and enjoy the peace.

Or, more realistically, the pound and boom of the waves and the creaking and thudding coming from the ship.

Next up: The Faroes!