Thursday, October 10, 2019

Faroe Islands

Not content with only one holiday this summer, we returned from Central Asia, put on a load of washing, dropped in on a couple of weddings, and then set off once more! This time we kept things a little more local, spending three weeks in Denmark and the Faroe Islands. The latter is somewhere that we've wanted to visit for years, and seeing as we would have to fly through Copenhagen anyway, we said we might as well kill two birds with the one stone. I'll write a separate entry about the mainland in time, but for now, it's time to make like Howard Carter, and discover the Faroes!

This self-governing archipelago is comprised of 18 main islands, which are mostly connected by bridges and tunnels, and so the easiest way to get around is by renting a car, which we did. Situated all on its lonesome to the North of Scotland, the Faroes really are a world apart. Even before we arrived, we were given a good indication of how things run here, as the rental company simply informed me of the number plate, and that the car would be parked at the airport with the keys on the back wheel. I guess there isn't much need for security in a place with a population of less than 50,000!

The weather in the Faroes can be temperamental, so seeing as we were greeted on our first morning with blue skies, we decided to make hay while the sun shone, and tried to get as much done as we could. We first drove to the nation's most iconic landmark, the Múlafossur waterfall, and much like everything here, it was picture perfect.

We then tried to chance our arm at getting on a ferry to the island of Mykines. Ferries to this scenic spot book out way in advance, and when we logged onto the website, any remaining seats were long gone, but we went to the harbour anyway, just on the off chance there were any cancellations. And as I'm sure you've guessed by the fact that I'm writing about it, there were! So, off we set!

Even the boat ride was beautiful!

We landed on the island at around 11am with the return ferry departing at 5pm. Originally, we thought 6 hours would be an awfully long time to spend here, but the day actually flew by! The main excursion is a hike across the rugged green island, which in itself is a lovely walk, but the highlight is certainly the puffin colonies you pass by. These guys are just the best!

And so tame! You can walk right up and they wouldn't flinch. The path ultimately leads to a lighthouse atop the western coast, so I guess the island has two highlights! Baddum tish!

Even the main village was great. It consisted of maybe 20 buildings but it was lovely and quaint, just like pretty much every other village we would encounter this week. We walked around, took some photos of the little, grass-roofed houses (another common sight on the Faroes), and then retired with a couple of cool bottles of the Faroes' finest, Jolly Cola.

It was actually pretty decent.

After getting the ferry back, we drove to the capital, Torshavn, which would be our base of operations for the majority of our time here. The islands are so small that it's a lot easier to just drive back and forth each day, rather than spending the night in every place we visited. And besides, even if we wanted to, there aren't really that many accommodation options outside of the capital.

When you rent a car in the Faroe Islands, most websites will warn you, not about theft or traffic or dangerous drivers, but about the wildlife who pay no attention to oncoming vehicles, and this is certainly something we experienced on many occasions. Like in rural Ireland, you would expect to find sheep and goats running across the road, but the biggest culprits were the geese, and even more dangerous, the tourists pulled in to have a gander!

The roads themselves were another danger, not the surfaces, but the fact that in many places, there was barely enough room for one car to pass. There were little pull-in spots dotted along every 100m or so, but if you met an oncoming car in between, then one of you had some reversing to do!

And if you thought that was bad, they also had single-lane tunnels, drilled right through the mountainside. It's a good thing there were so few cars around!

The scenery is certainly the main draw in the Faroes. There are some nice individual sights of course, but it's one of those place where the main thing to see is everything! You can't go too far wrong really, and because each island is so small, you'll be driving along the coast 90% of the time. You could gladly just cruise around aimlessly for a week, looking out the window, and have a blast. And that was pretty much our plan. We did get active some days too. We even climbed to the Faroe Islands' highest peak of Slættaratindur! It may have only been a measly 880m, but that's actually not too far behind Carrantuohill!

Unsurprisingly, there wasn't a whole lot of activity as we passed from village to village, so imagine our surprise when we pulled into little Gjogv, only to see hundreds of people gathered along the cliff-face and down to the shore, with music playing and people singing. We couldn't understand a word of course, but what are the odds that we would just so happen to stumble across this open air concert?! And it was free too! So, we joined the crowd and took in the atmosphere, and were having a great old time, but after about ten minutes, some of the words started to sound familiar, and the penny finally dropped...

This was a mass! Sneaky Faroes, trying to convert us with their good vibes!

In other religious news, the next day we passed through another village, again with not much going on except for a few houses and a church, but wait, what's that behind the church but a mini football pitch! This village would struggle to field a 5-a-side team, yet they've got their own pitch in the church garden. And even better, there were a few balls lying around, so of course we had ourselves a kick about!

Although we were mainly based out of Torshavn for the week, we did spend a couple of nights further north, to get a better vantage point for the more remote islands. For these days, we stayed in the town of Toftir, as we were lucky enough to find somewhere to stay here. Upon entering the town, we saw from the map that our accommodation was located near a big stadium, so it should have been easy enough to find, but as we approached the stadium, there didn't seem to be another building in the vicinity. We went inside and wandered around, until we finally found someone to ask... and this was it! This was where we were staying for the next two nights, inside the Faroe Islands' national stadium!

Our room seemed to be a press box or something that they had thrown a few beds in, but we were delighted! This was much better than a fancy hotel! How many bedrooms have a view like this!?

As well as being home to the national team, it was also used by local club B68 Toftir. At the time of writing, they're mid-table in the Faroese 2nd division, and after watching a couple of their training sessions, it shows. We watched them attempting set-pieces one day and they were absolutely woeful. I think they need to go back to that churchyard pitch for inspiration because they were certainly not nailing these crosses!

Still, it was nice to have some entertainment from the room over breakfast, and a nice confidence boost for my own footballing abilities. Time to check if I have a Faroese grandparent... 

It was genuinely one of the most memorable places we've ever stayed, and a great place to make our Faroese video diary:

And even better, behind the stadium was a big running track and playground, so we got some serious mileage out of this place! More so the playground than the running track...

Besides our accommodation, we had a couple of lovely days exploring the northern islands, I won't bore you with the details, mostly because I've forgotten them all at this stage, but here are some photos!

There's very little to say about the Faroes really besides glowing praise - the scenery is up there with the best in the world, the people were nice, it's easy to get around, and it's small enough to see everything you need. I guess the only minor negative would be the expense, but it's no different to other parts of Scandinavia. And you can still survive without breaking the bank, as long as you're prepared to live off cereal and take aways, like us!

We were quite lucky too with the weather during our time here, with the only rain coming on our very last day. Still, it gave us an opportunity to get our rain gear out!

We had planned on one final hike on the last day up to the cliffside lake of Sørvágsvatn, but a mixture of the rain, and the fact that you had to pay the landowner to hike through his fields, kinda turned us off. That's something that is becoming a lot more common in the Faroes it seems, with many locals up in arms that landowners are trying to cash in on tourists exploring the natural scenery. We encountered it a few times, but just turned around and left. There are plenty of free places to hike so no need to waste your money! Here's a picture of the lake from Google instead:

And that was it for the Faroes! We really had a great week here, and can't say enough good things about the place! If you're not planning on visiting Copenhagen anyway, it might be a bit awkward and expensive to get to, but apparently there are also flights from Edinburgh. Just make sure you visit during the summer, as we've read the weather gets quite bleak out of season. Even the locals were flying south for the winter.

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