Finally… A Tale of Two Tours (Part 1: From Copenhagen to the Faroe Islands)

But first, a personal update.

The iconic Gasadular waterfall. There are a million published pictures just like this one. Why is this picture different from all others? Because I took it. For reals. In person.

Well, I’m in day two of “I refuse to work at my computer for a while”. Know what? I’m feeling much better. Rested. Quiet (inside and out). I’ve had very few conversations in the last week and most of the ones I have had were with a dog. I got a cartload of work done from Wednesday to Saturday and then took all of yesterday as a break from work. Know what my day off reminded me? That work is never-ending and expands to fill any time you give it. Also, that no matter how many things I try to confirm, verify, plan and otherwise wrangle into some semblance of order, these next three tours will happen how they happen. Changes will occur. Unanticipated factors will have an impact. I’ve done the best I can to prepare. I’ll just have to trust that all things will turn out fine. Really, just fine. If I’m looking at my computer, I can’t quite believe that could be so. But when I head out the door, walk up a hill, look out at the pastoral landscape around me or simply watch the trees and flowers in the back yard sway in the breeze, I have a sense that ALL THINGS are alright. And so will the trips be alright. And to miss the opportunity of enjoying here and now is to greatly impoverish myself. Summary: Much better now, thank you!

Now on with tales of the second and third of our spring tours. A Tale of Two Tours! (Really, how could one resist a title like that?) I will tell you about Copenhagen and the Faroe Islands first. When last I wrote about travels, I’d just reached Copenhagen. I was droning on and on about how amazing Copenhagen is. And it is. Quite amazing. But it’s also a huge city. Our tour nicely balanced a bit of time in a Scandinavian metropolis with immersion in a much smaller, more Vikingesque culture. Indeed, the entire population of the Faroe Islands is barely 55,000 people. Copenhagen has about 800,000 residents. The trip was a study in contrasts.

My general summary? I’ve led a fair number of tours now and gone to a lot of interesting places. The Faroe Islands are extremely unique. They feel far, far, far away. They also feel old. Old and with a resident population steeped in both the very traditional and the uber-contemporary.

Honestly, it’s not a trip I’d recommend for everyone. There are so many places to have an adventure. This one takes a great deal of time and effort to reach. And it’s not a knock-your-socks off kind of place. Dramatic looking. Bold, even. But also very understated. The people, the culture and generally what’s going on there is …. well, how shall I say it??? Understated. Quietly just doing its thing. But for those who have a yearning to see and experience something deeply different, the Faroe Islands deserves a spot on your bucket list. And for photographers, it should be high on the list. Few landscapes are as dramatic, sculptural and surreal as this one.

Our trip started in Copenhagen. I’m going to breeze through our time there. It was fun and beautiful, but very much the kind of thing you do when visiting any big city.

We had a private tour on the canals through the city.
Well worth doing!
We ate amazing food. In Denmark, everything gets piled on buttered rye bread. Then you eat it with a knife and fork.
We took a walk through some of the city’s newest neighborhoods, hearing all the measures that have been put in place (transportation, building materials and codes, planning, etc) that will lead the city to be completely carbon neutral by 2030.
I loved that we walked through a section of the city called America Platz, from which most of Denmark’s emigrants left for the new world. Kristy’s grandfather was one of them. Truly full circle.
Add in time exploring the well known sites like Tivoli Gardens, Christiansborg Palace (shown here), the Danish National Museum, a great yarn store called Somerfuglen… We had perfect weather and walked a LOT of miles. Then we caught the boat taxi on the canal when we just couldn’t walk one more step. Great fun.

After two full days in the city, we were back to the Copenhagen Airport to hop a mid-day flight to the Faroe Islands.

Knitters. They know how to pass the time.

I’ve never experienced such a sharp descent to a landing strip. The airport, built on the island of Vagar by the British during World War II, must have been the only wide, flat space available. It’s since been much improved, but you really do seem to drop out of the sky onto this rock jutting out of the Atlantic. As you can see from the map below, there are numerous islands that make up this archipelago. Most are now connected by tunnels. Some still require ferry crossing.

Not sure if you can tell from this map, but there is SIGNIFICANT elevation on almost every island. The Faroe Islands felt to me like a chain of dramatic mountains whose base(s) were simply hidden by the surface of the sea.

On our arrival, we stopped at Galasadur waterfall, just a few minutes from the airport. It was otherworldly. In fact a few of us did ask each other Are we really here? Does it really look like this – just like the pictures? Wow!

We drove to the main island of Streymoy, to the capital city, Torshavn (pronounced tor-shown), to check into our hotel, drop our stuff and then walked into the city’s historic neighborhood and now governmental center, Tinganes.

Unne, our guide, showing us through Tinganes. This is the seat of government for the Faroe Islands. Compare this to the previous picture of Christiansborg Palace, the seat of government in Denmark. As I said… understated!!!
Sod roofs everywhere. Peeled birch bark served as the waterproof barrier between roof and interior ceilings.
Historic homes just outside Tinganes. These neighborhoods are preserved beautifully and still have residents today. In fact, they are greatly sought after. This black one was Unne’s grandmother’s house. She remembers playing in front of it as a child. Locals used tar to seal and protect the wood from the harsh, sea-salt laden wind. Many of the houses today, even contemporary ones, are still tarred for the same reason.
The harbor at Torshavn. Just beyond Tinganes, the city transitions to primarily modern construction.

And before we had a chance to do much more, we were whisked off to another island for dinner in someone’s home. All 15 of us!

Our host, meeting us at the door. Where does the hill end and the house begin???
We found ourselves invited to sit at a giant table in the center of the house!
Where we were served a lovely, four course meal with a selection of local brews. In between courses, our hosts told stories about local traditions and culture.
Our hosts, Anna and Ola.
The view from their home.
Anna was an amazingly skilled knitter of traditional Faroese garments. Here she’s showing us a few of the garments she’s made for her family.
And of course, I had to go outside to spend some quality time with their dog.

What we experienced that evening was a traditional heimablidni – where a Faroese family invites you into their home for a meal. Furniture is cleared from the living room Nd large tables are set up. Every chair is put into use (and sometimes the couches). Thin Scandinavian Passover seder or Thanksgiving gathering. But no special holiday – just gathering for food and drink and camaraderie. We experienced heimablidni many times over the next few days. Each time I was amazed by the wonderful intimacy and great fun of dining in peoples’ homes this way. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it while on a tour. And on and on our dinner went, carrying us well into the 10:00 hour when I finally had to let Anna and Ola know that we had to be released or my group was going to fall asleep right at their table! Our hosts seemed surprised. What? So early!!?!!

We were allowed to leave. A short drive had us back to our hotel on the nick of time. I slept under this lovely mural for the next five nights.

Sheep, I would learn, are a recurring theme on these islands. But more on that later.

My goodness! Are we only on day one of the Faroe Islands? Well, it would seem so. I must break for sleep. More to come. More heimablidni, more sheep, more sea and dramatic land forms. Even a troll. Really.

4 comments

  1. Again a fabulous story told by a wizard of storytelling – was there a storytelling wizard at Hogwarts? If not, it should have been Professor Briddsang. I honestly don’t think I’d ever heard of the Faroe Islands before you went there. Sounds like quite an experience. How did you decide to visit there on tour? Thanks for sharing it all

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