The gorgeous, remote, fascinating Faroe Islands

Sunday, June 21 - Happy Father’s day, to those who are fathers, have fathers or remember their fathers (miss you Dad, especially when we travel). Oh, and it is the summer solstice! We are finishing happy hour in Horizons after a great tour today in the Faroe Islands. These gorgeous islands between Norway and Shetland Islands and Iceland are under the Danish flag, but are essentially autonomous in their government and decisions.

When we arrived at 10:00 am, the weather was a bit nasty, with fog and heavy rain. Fortunately, things improved in time for our tour at 1:00 pm, a 5-hour jaunt to the westernmost island known as Vagar. Torshavn, the capital, is on the the largest island of Streymoy; Torshavn is pronounced “Torshawn” and means Thor’s Harbor in Norse. It was not raining when we left on our tour and, fortunately, it did not start up again and, in fact, it was probably pretty nice for these islands (the maximum temp ever recorded was 71 deg. F).

We headed northwest to some viewpoints on Streymoy and had photo opportunities near small villages with amazing seascapes. There are several land tunnels in the Faroe Islands and two long underwater tunnels. We worked our way back to the entrance to the underwater tunnel that goes to Vagar. These tunnels collect a toll and the 4.9 km Vagar tunnel, opened in 2002, connects Streymoy to Vagar, which has the main airport and some of the most spectacular scenery in the Faroe Islands.

The scenery in these volcanic islands is like the Shetland Islands on steroids, with dramatic, steep treeless peaks, waterfalls, and sheep of many wild varieties (literally) wandering the slopes dodging white geese in rows (not kidding). The islands have a few neolithic sites, but settlement began in earnest in 1000 A.D. with monks from Ireland, bringing the Catholic faith. Of course, the Vikings showed up and messed up the works for a while, but things sorted out under Norway, which then had a alliance with Denmark. The Faroe Islands continued to ally with Denmark and became Protestant during the Reformation (go, Lutherans!). The Danes suppressed the native language and customs of the Faroese, but the people here kept their traditions alive through songs passed down through the generations. In 1939, Denmark allowed the Islands to adopt their traditions and language again and the Faroese created their own cross flag, although it was kept under wraps during WWII. In fact, there were many British troops stationed here during the war. The main industries in these islands are fishing and tourism.

Once we emerged from the tunnel onto Vagar, we were treated to spectacular and rugged scenery. We passed the airport, near one of the larger towns; the new terminal was built just a few years ago. Several airlines have regular flights from Denmark and Iceland, along with other locations, into the Faroe Islands. The bus continued through dramatic cliffs overlooking Mykines island, which has about 30 hardy souls that access their island by helicopter. By the way, one of the most reliable forms of transportation in the Faroe Islands are helicopters, with inexpensive service between islands and remote locations, because there are not very many safe harbors for boats.

Our first destination on Vagar, well past the airport, was one of the most-photographed places in the Faroe Islands, the tiny village of Gasadalur, which was reached through an impressive 1700 meter tunnel with single track roads (and passing places) built in 2004. This minuscule hamlet is perched on a shelf of land overlooking cliffs with a waterfall plunging several hundred feet to the ocean. Isolated until the tunnel was built, the people in this village had their mail delivered by “superman”, a postal worker who ascended the nearly vertical mountains five days a week to deliver mail (and reversed the course every day). Locals doing this postal route as a novelty hike complain about how difficult the route is, with lots of scree (loose rock) and slippery wild grasses and it takes 4-6 hours total. The Good Lord only knows how people got out of there before there were helicopters. The tunnel was a long-sought dream of the government of the Faroe Islands and the local citizens, opening up this incredible vista to scores of gaping tourists (like us, and National Geographic magazine, which featured this beautiful valley on a cover a few years ago). While the bus had a quick potty stop in the village, some of us stayed by the bus and enjoyed watching a beautiful Faroese horse and two sweet herding dogs nearby.

Our next stop was at the top of a path through another little town on the west coast, Bour, with lots of salmon farms in the pure water to the west and dramatic uninhabited islands nearby. The more energetic in the group (including Steve) had twenty minutes to walk through the town, while the slugs on the bus (me included) rode to the other end of the path and waited. More of the black and white herding dogs were in a grass-roofed house just below the bus parking spot and they came to many of us, being very sweet and friendly.

Finally, we stopped at a lovely Lutheran church in a larger Vagar village and had time to view the interior while our guide told us about the singing traditions and demonstrated a few songs. Also on the way back across Vagar, we stopped at the nice little airport briefly for a potty break and Steve and I managed to smuggle out a can of local beer to enjoy on the bus. Our bus made its way back to the dock, after a very fascinating overview of the Faroe Islands.

After gnashing his teeth until they were nubs, spinning around like a whirling dervish, and beating up the guy at the internet help room, Steve published a few photos on line and this update will be posted after those photos. Tomorrow is a day at sea, we have a time change (one hour earlier), then reach Akureyri, Iceland, on Tuesday.

Happy Summer Solstice! It’s 10:31 and still light here.

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