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Published: August 24th 2012
We seem to possess a certain proclivity to be present at opportune moments. In other words, sometimes we just step in it. Our arrival and check in at the domestic airport in Reykjavik went uneventfully. Next, the boarding processes had us ready to venture to the Faroe Islands for some more exploring. At the gate, there was a slight delay due to the weather and the next thing we know, a gentleman breaks out his guitar and starts kicking out a few tunes. Nice strumming and an equally nice voice. And wouldn’t you know it, he was one of the musicians that was in town from the Faroe Islands for Cultural Night in Reykjavik. Wait…it gets better. Turns out that he is quite famous in the Faroes and most of the crowd knew all of his songs and sang along. His strong baritone voice was amazing and that was the most enjoyable time spent for a plane delay…..ever! Dave got the chance to chat him up and MJ discovered that his name was Hanus G. Johansenn. We have found him on YouTube and hope to purchase his music.
The other mentionable moment happens when our plane is taxiing
down the runway. The pilot accelerates, we are picking up a great deal of speed and…..then we come to a screeching halt. Needless to say, this doesn’t happen everyday. The pilot informs us we have to go back to the gate because one of the doors has not been closed properly. Ok, weird thoughts go through your head for a couple of minutes like, “didn’t they notice this before we were practically airborne?” But then one returns to reading. The flight went fine from there and ninety minutes later we set down in the Faroe Islands.
All our days in the Faroe Islands involved fog; light fog, heavy fog and intermittent fog. If you can imagine all the types of fog, we experienced them all. We concluded that it added to the mystery of these islands.
The Faroe Islands are said to be a bit warmer than Iceland, but stormier—we are told that 280 days per year they expect drizzle, mist, downpour, snow, etc. Precipitation is a constant here in every imaginable form depending on the season. Every meteorologist should be required to do an internship in the Faroes.
Home cooked meal
Fish and vegetables
are a nature lover’s paradise with 1600 species of plants and 50-80 species of birds depending on which source you believe. Not to go all Marlin Perkins on you, but there is plenty to look at and appreciate despite the fact that there are next to no trees here. No kidding. There might be a handful, but we have not seen any. Mykines Voyeurs for Puffins…..and more
The next morning after a fine meal and some rest, we scooted down to the nearest port for a boat excursion to Mykines, the western most island in the group of Faroe Islands, which is renowned for its diverse bird life. Our sojourn to Mykines via ferry was in search of seeing Puffins. MJ loves Puffins for whatever reason and has for many years secretly wanted to see them in their natural habitat. She lost a bit of sleep the night before we headed to the island because she was excited to see Puffins and yet worried she might not. For weeks she has been telling herself not to be disappointed if she didn’t see Puffins. On this morning, frankly, it was
not looking good as the islands are socked in with the afore-mentioned fog.
In the end, no worries, as today we believe we saw well over 1,000 Puffins.
Mykines turns out to be one of the world’s best places to see these winged wonders and is also a breeding ground for the attractive bird. A great day for birding, as they say. The little village is postcard cute as well and we end up having a fine day. It even cleared a bit later in the day and that produced some excellent photos.
Puffins, puffins and more puffins………
We saw puffins swimming in the sea on our way to the island, we saw puffins soaring in the sky, we saw puffins nesting in the grasses and we saw puffins standing proudly on the rocks and ledges. Puffins were everywhere!! We sat and watched for nearly two hours. Their flight patterns and erratic wing flapping are a joy to watch. MJ experienced true happiness. Vestmanna
After all this puffin-induced excitement, we boarded the ferry back to Vagar and made our way to Vestmanna on the island of Streymoy for an overnight at a local home stay. Along the way we went through a
seven-kilometer (4.5 miles) undersea tunnel constructed a decade ago by the Danish government. There are several other tunnels in the islands due to the terrain, which make car travel much easier.
Vestmanna is a fishing village of some 1200 people and upon arrival into town, we asked a resident for help in finding our lodging. She did not immediately recognize the address, as apparently addresses were relatively new in this village. She pointed to a yellow and red house way up the hill from our location. And so, off we went.
After a rather serpentine approach filled with a few wrong turns, we arrived at the home of Jogvan Johannesen, where we discovered we were the only guests for the evening at his home, mainly because only one guest could stay at a time. His converted room upstairs was quaint and clean. As the time was approaching seven in the evening and we were a bit tired from an active day of puffin watching, we inquired about dining, only to be told that the only restaurant in town closed at 5 PM. Wow, one restaurant in town and it closed at 5 pm…come prepared.
Fortunately, there was a market open, so down the hill we went, making yet again some wrong turns in a light drizzle to the market, where we picked up a few cold beers, cheese and bread and promptly pronounced our purchases as dinner and headed back up the hill and dined on our newly acquired food.
We fell into bed early, but were awakened at 3am by a smoke detector just above us in a loft. Dave quickly disabled the noisy device, looked around and promptly went back to bed. In the morning, we let Jogvan know and he said he heard it as well and thought perhaps we had turned on the stove top for heat. We replied that was not the case and so the incident remained a mystery.
We had a nice breakfast and chat about local life in the Faroe Islands. We bid him adieu and headed down the hill to the docks where a boat waited to take us among the cliffs near Vestmanna to look for more birds. And once again, we were not disappointed. The cliffs rise from the sea more than 300 meters
(1,000 feet) and are home to many birds and also as it turns out, a summer home for sheep. We saw Fulmars, Gannets, the Arctic terns, gulls and puffins, Yes, more puffins!
As the cliffs are at a startling 60 to 75 degree incline, you had to wonder how the sheep got there, and the answer is that they are essentially lifted up and are left to chew the plentiful grass that grows courtesy of what else, bird fertilizer, of which there is an endless supply. You look at the sheep and wonder how they don’t simply misstep and fall into the water. The boat guide informed us that they do indeed fall in from time to time, but there is a bigger chance of them getting killed by the side of the road in these islands, than falling off cliffs. That didn’t strike us as terribly reassuring, but yet there it was.
We rode with a boatful of Danish pensioners who most likely had arrived on the cruise ship in Torshavn and were immediately bussed to this boat. It was a very pleasant two-hour cruise and the sights were amazing
to say the least. The waters were calm and the fog began to lift nicely. Faroe Island Salmon
One fascinating thing we learned while on this boat trip is about the salmon farms in the Faroes. They export enormous amounts of salmon each year around the world—this is high quality sushi grade salmon. (Yippy)
In the waters of the Atlantic they have built huge netted pens to give the salmon the perfect conditions in which to grow. They are in smaller tanks until 6 months and then moved to the large, large netted areas in the ocean where they can grow in optimal conditions for another 2 years. Recently, American distributors have begun to purchase this high-grade salmon for import. They grow to approximately 11 pounds, we could see them jumping—it was a very natural habitat that has been created. Nolsoy and the Storm Petrels
After our cruise, we took off for the city of Torshavn, where we would catch yet another ferry to the small isle of Nolsoy, home to the Storm Petrel. (More on that in a moment.) Nolsoy is one of the
captured and released
smallest of the 18 islands in the Faroes and offers village life rather than that of a city.
Torshavn is the capital of these Danish owned islands and is the smallest capital in the world, population-wise, but a very pleasant town, filled with all the trappings of most cities; shops, galleries, restaurants and bars. The sun popped out for a while, which was most welcome. We even saw a few stoplights here, which are quite unnecessary for the rest of the islands. The roads everywhere are well maintained and easy to navigate. This is always useful when you’re the one driving in a foreign land.
After a couple of pints at a watering hole where we checked our email, we took the twenty-minute ferry ride to Nolsoy, where we were met by the gentleman who would be guiding us later that evening to see the birds. He took us up to our guesthouse and introduced us to the proprietor. Travel tip
: when traveling to smaller out of the way places, ask about meals in advance of arriving if you are unsure, as it paid off handsomely here. When we arrived in
Torshavn, we found the booking agency for our trip here and inquired about many things, including whether or not we could plan on dining on Nolsoy or should procure dinner before boarding the ferry. They called the guesthouse and discovered that we could indeed plan on dining there that evening.
We made arrangements to have an authentic home cooked meal on Nolsoy
and our chef and owner of the guest house greeted us and officially let us know that dinner would be in ten minutes. This was good news for us because of what occurred the previous evening. Another travel tip: There really was nowhere else to dine in this village of some 240 souls. We were treated to a fish dinner that for lack of a better description was heavenly.
After coffee and desert, we gathered at the home of Mr. Jens Kjeld Jensen, otherwise known as “The Birdman.” Seems that Jens is quite the expert on the birds in these parts, but more interesting is the reason why. This extremely knowledgeable man has come about his knowledge of the birds because he is a world expert in the field of….wait for it…..lice.
Lice? Yes indeed. Jens’ work on identifying some 200 plus kinds of lice came about as the birds are the carriers of the little devils. He showed us some slides he had and sure enough, there they were. This, as one of our birding mates from Sweden said, “is more than a little creepy.” Like in a Silence of the Lambs way…
At any rate, he was a most pleasant gent who showed us a roomful of taxidermied native birds of the Northern Atlantic regions and answered many questions from our small group. Then we were off in search of the European Storm Petrel.
The local population of some 500,000 of the European variety represents about 50 percent of the world’s population. They are nocturnal creatures and so we hiked some two kilometers out of town, up the hills and then sat on the rocks while he set up a special net to capture a few of them. It had the appearance of badminton net, but proved to be perfect for the task. The petrels swoop low down from the cliffs and some right fly right into the net. Jens tagged each of the
eight or so captured, and photos were taken before releasing them back into the night. These tiny birds easily fit in the palm of your hand, but are also capable of flying all the way to South Africa and back. They live quite a long time with the average lifespan in the range of twenty plus years. Amazing little creatures.
We have found ourselves thoroughly enjoying the Faroe Islands because they are uniquely remote, unspoiled and dramatic. The fog has made it more mysterious. In 2007, National Geographic magazine queried some 500 travel experts and they rated the Faroe Islands as one of the most appealing destination in the world due being so unspoiled and friendly. It was rated ahead of many other islands such as Azores, Lofoten and exotic islands like Bermuda and Hawaii. The magazine wrote: “Lovely, unspoiled islands, a delight to the traveler.”
When telling some of our friends this was one of the locations we were going to visit, we are uncertain if the puzzled look expressed was, “why?” Or, “where the heck is that?” Located in the North Atlantic, northwest of Scotland and half way between Norway and Iceland.
If you enjoy wind and changing weather…and of course bird watching, this is the kind of place for you to visit. It’s raw in the Faroe Islands, raw unspoiled beauty, that is.
Alright then, on to some interesting facts and such about these enchanting isles for those of you still reading?
Ok, so now we are attempting to learn a few Faroe words, the stress is generally placed on the first syllable. Apologies as our computer doesn’t have all the appropriate accenting vowels and such to really spell the following words correctly.
Hello: Gooan dog
Good evening: Gott kvold
Thank you: Takk fyri
What time is it? Hvat er klokkan?
How’s it going? Hsussu gongst?
Nolsoy population 240
Torshavn population 15,000
The weather is maritime and quite changeable, from moments of brilliant sunshine to misty hill fog, to showers. The Gulf Stream encircling the islands tempers the climate. The harbors never freeze and the temperature in wintertime is very moderate considering the high latitude. Snowfall occurs, but is short-lived.
Since 1948, the
Faroe Islands have been a self-governing region of the Kingdom of Denmark. It has its own parliament and its own flag. It is not a member of the European Union, and therefore special treaties govern all trade. Places we stayed:
Jogvan Johannesen Guest house (home stay), Vestmanna
Kaffistovan Guest House, Nolsoy
Hotel Streym, Torshavn See you back in Iceland!
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