Gjógv and Northern Streymoy

It is mid-morning, and the wind is howling outside of our guestroom. A small amount of snow / sleet / freezing rain is swirling sideways across the window, hitting the glass with a steady stream of little pings. The ground is white with snow-cover, though it is spring in the Faroe Islands, just one week before the start of the main tourist season.

To be fair, it has been cold and rainy across most of northern Europe this week. But the thing they say about weather in the Faroe Islands is that it’s just like the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Patagonia in Chile – “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes.”

So we wait…

An hour later, the weather has cleared up, though the wind is still a mighty 22 miles per hour. We head down to the eponymous gorge of Gjógv (“gorge”), which is just a minute downhill from the guesthouse:

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On the right side of the gorge, you can see a small hill, which has a paved path and lights, culminating in “Mary’s bænk”, a bench with a brass plaque dedicated to the Crown Princess in 2005. The ocean is crashing and thundering just below, with really incredible mesmerizing power and beautifully frothy green-blue waves. This is the open Atlantic after all.

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Behind us, the village itself is still slumbering beneath a dusting of snow, with the colorful houses peaking out in the morning light.

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Once the road clears, we head out for more adventures! We head for the village of Saksun, an old village in the heart of Streymoy. The drive in is on a scenic single-lane road, and there is almost no traffic. This seems to be sheep paradise. There are clusters of grazing sheep on both sides of the road, with rolling grassy hills, small knolls that camouflage the sheep perfectly, and a burbling clear stream all down the valley.

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Finally we reach Saksun, and we head first towards the left side of the channel. It is a relatively easy hike down to the water, which at low tide, is almost entirely dry. We walk down the spongy dark sand all the way through a narrow gorge and down to the ocean. The air is unbelievably fresh and the sun is beaming down. There are more sheep everywhere, one even perched on a sheer cliff-side, competing with the nesting sea gulls for space.

Turning back, we climb up to the old grass-roofed village buildings. This is the iconic shot for which Saksun is famed:

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For a close-up of the grass-roofed longhouse (now the museum):

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We wander the hills around the village for some time, then head south towards the Vestmanna bird cliffs at the western tip of Streymoy. We later learn that the puffins (the biggest draw of the bird cliffs) have not yet returned to the Faroe Islands for the summer breeding season. We are just a few weeks too early. However, the drive along the southern edge of the island is stunning, with the stony islands rising out of the ocean at each turn (below).

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And just for your moment of zen, here are some of my favorite (happy) Faroe sheep from this trip. (The one on the lower left is actually eating kelp).

 

Welcome to Gjógv!

Gjógv, I had read before our trip, is one of the prettiest spots in the Faroe Islands, and the local guesthouse one of the most delightful. Both, it turns out, are true.

We arrive in Gjógv just at sunset, having navigated an under-sea tunnel, a bridge over the North Atlantic, and switch-backs up the mountains! The Faroe Islands are made up of 18 islands, with the airport on one island (Vágar – bottom left), the capital on the largest island (Streymoy – middle), and our guesthouse on yet a third (Eysturoy (upper right). Below is just a section of the Faroe Islands map. Vagar is connected to Streymoy via an under-sea tunnel, stretching almost 5000 meters or ~3 miles under the Atlantic Ocean. Once on Streymoy, our path takes us through the center of the island and along the eastern coast, until we cross the “only bridge over the North Atlantic” at Nesvik.

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The drive through Eysturoy is scenic, and we pass cheerful villages with colorful houses perched on the ocean (Funningur, below, is one of our favorites).

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Past Funningur, however, the road gets tricky. We discover a series of cliff-side switchbacks up into the mountains, before climbing over the top and into the valley where Gjógv is located. We drive slowly and carefully, and are relieved to be on this road during daylight hours. But our efforts are rewarded as we crest over the last hill and enter town. This is the view from our guesthouse:

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Minutes later, the fog blew out of the channel, and we were rewarded with views of the soaring vertical cliffs on Kalsoy, the next island over.

Sunday dinner at the Gjógv Guesthouse (link HERE) is no small deal. They serve a veritable Faroese feast (below), and we even got to try some of the local delicacies! Everything is delicious, with surprising touches of curry and chutney, and the proprietors are just lovely and welcoming. We have:

Left: shrimp salad, fruit salad, smoked salmon, roast beef, herring chutney with hard-boiled eggs (amazingly delicious), and liver pate with bacon.

Right upper: cooked salmon with lemon sauce, sauteed potatoes, and pork chops with vegetables.

Right lower, i.e. the local delicacies! on the left is wind-dried fish (ræstur fiskur), eaten with boiled potatoes and marinated squares of whale blubber. On the right is fermented wind-dried lamb (skerpikjøt), which is eaten with rye bread. The taste varies depending on the weather conditions during the fermentation process, and our sample has the texture of prosciutto but with a rather stinky interesting flavor.

After this delightful dinner, we go for a short walk through town and along the harbor before heading in for the night.

Finding Gásadalur

After 22 hours of travel from Boston (via Amsterdam and Copenhagen), we arrive at the Vagár airport of the Faroe Islands. Our flight is surprisingly full, one of 2-3 daily flights arriving at this cluster of 18 islands, populated by just under 50,000 people and (as referenced by nearly all the guide books we’ve read) twice as many sheep.

The airport is small, with a relatively large duty-free shopping area, complete with carts and six packs of the local beers and ciders. It feels a bit like a grocery store, packed with arrivals from Cophenhagen all pulling a grocery hand-cart. Immediately outside the duty free shop is the single baggage claim belt, so feel free to take your time and browse the store – you can see the baggage carousel through the glass wall while shopping.

We rent a car at 62N (the latitude of the Faroe Islands). The gentleman at the desk is exuberantly friendly and helpful. He seems quite delighted that we are visiting. Note – if you plan to drive in the islands – and need an automatic like us – booking ahead is a good idea, as many of the rentals here are manuals. Also, watching the information video (click HERE) on driving in the Islands is both interesting and highly recommended, as many of the smaller roads and tunnels are two-way, but one lane, and there is specific etiquette on passing.

Our first adventure is finding the waterfall of Gásadalur. The village has been accessible by car only since 2004, when a tunnel was finally blasted through the surrounding mountains. This was our first experience with the 2-way, 1-lane tunnels, and it was surprisingly easy. You can see the tunnel exit below, on the far left of the photo, about half-way down. Before 2004, the only way to reach Gásadalur was a rather strenuous and mildly dangerous hike along the coast (along the right side of the cliffs below)

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Nonetheless, the view is definitely worth the drive:

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While there, we also met one of the shaggy local ponies (left below), and saw the first of our many hundreds of sheep. Astonishingly, this little creek (right below) is the source of the waterfall, which starts right where the water disappears from view.

The entire area is beautiful, and we see some of the birds establishing their nests along the cliffs below. There is a marked footpath all along the side of the cliffs, and we walk up and all around the village. It is a beautiful spot for a picnic.

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You can follow the path on walkli.com HERE!

Now it’s off to find our guesthouse on another island!

 

 

Oslo: Day 2 – Part I

What a day! By accident, we ended up spending every one of the last 12 hours on or near the water in Oslo (left). After a leisurely morning with rugbrød (rye bread) and sliced Norwegian cheese (right), we headed out to catch the hop-on hop-off bus out to Bygdøy (Museum Island). Bygdøy was originally an island hundreds of years ago, but is now attached on one side. It is home to 5 of Oslo’s museums, two of which we visited today.

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Just for the weekend: Norwegian Air – Boston to Oslo

A few months ago, we stumbled upon $390 round trip fares from Boston to Oslo on the rapidly expanding Norwegian Air. Tickets were for a direct flight over a long weekend on a 787-8 Dreamliner. Basically, it was irresistible.

So hello from Norway today!  The redeye flight was easy – just 6.5 hours and smooth. Here are some things we learned from our travels today: Continue reading

Hong Kong Day 4: One star, Two star

It’s a gray and rainy morning in HK. At 5 am, we are awakened by an alarm that sounds a lot like an old school bell; someone has apparently tried (and failed dramatically) to make toast in their hotel room down the hall. With smoke hazing the entire hallway, but no apparent danger, everyone heads back in for the rest of the morning.

About mid morning, we head out optimistically to HK island in search of more deliciousness. Though we’ve been told that the city will be packed on a weekend, we hope the rain keeps some people indoors. Continue reading