A nordic love affair / Faroe Islands
I thought I was a Southern European kind of girl. You know, being Dutch and all, I was sure that Northern Europe was too cold, too dark, too snowy for me. More of the same, but even worse. I was sure I needed sunshine and warmth. And lots of it. I was wrong. In. so. many. ways. I found more warmth than I could ever imagine at 62°00'N in a small archipelago in the North Atlantic. This might sound strange and that's ok. I don't even quite get it. All I know is that the Faroe Islands felt like home the minute I walked on its soil, during my first visit back in March. I meant to write a blog post about that visit, but I have been putting it off. I just didn't know how to transform my feelings into words. I still don't quite know. But then I visited the islands for a second time and I want to share my experience with you nevertheless. Bear with me. And while you do, I recommend listening to this playlist.
On a rainy, dreary day in August I boarded the airplane to Vágar. A two-hour flight from Copenhagen. When we were about to touch down, the sky had cleared and I had an excellent view of the eighteen beautiful islands down below. I was here again, and so happy about it. I grabbed my suitcase, found my car and headed towards the petrol station where I was meeting Óli. We drove back to their house in Velbastaður, a village of around 200 people on the island of Streymoy. Anna was waiting for us and I was so excited to see them again. Marius & I had visited the sheep farmers six months before during a lovely brunch in their beautiful home. Even though these next days would be so busy and packed with appointments, I found peace and quiet right there, at that kitchen table. I felt so grateful for Óli & Anna's hospitality. I still am.
On that first evening, we didn't do much. Óli and his family were in the midst of making hay. It had been exceptionally good weather on the islands, so this was the time to mow the grass, fluffing up the cut hay and raking it before it will be stored in the shed. The sheer smell of it made me so joyful. It reminded me of my childhood, when me and my cousins would help our dads stacking the hay bales at our grandparent's farm. And here, in the Faroe Islands, it's a family affair as well. Óli and Anna's son was tedding the grass by hand together with some friends. When the work was finished for that day, all of us had supper. With that most magnificent view.
The next day I met Michelin-chef Poul Andrias Ziska for an interview at his restaurant KOKS. We talked about the food culture on the islands, their use of local products, and walked outside to gather some edible flowers and wild herbs. It's so much fun to be able to both take photos and write. It feels amazing to really own a story and be responsible for every facet of it. Anyway, Poul was very kind and took his the time to answer my many questions. Later that day Óli and I drove to a silversmith in Tórshavn, who manufactures (with the use of very little machinery) the silver used for the Faroese national costumes. It was incredible to see the process behind the making of all this beautiful silverware. I returned "home" with a gorgeous Faroese ring which I still wear proudly today.
Óli's idea behind the visit was to teach me more about the Faroese culture. I mentioned before on Instagram that many people go to this archipelago for its wonderful nature and are so overwhelmed that they tend to overlook the beauty of its inhabitants. With Óli's help, I'd like to tell the stories of the Faroese people, who are so kind and generous and still carry out century-old traditions with so much pride.
That evening I had a reservation at KOKS. It turned out to be a night to remember. Again the hospitality struck me. So much kindness, patience, and passion. The plates were fantastic. I had cod with a sauce of blue mussel and parsley, limpet, mahogany clam, skerpikjøt with lingonberry and reindeer moss, ice cream made from the leaves of the redcurrant plant, lying on a bed of monkey flowers and wilde chamomile, juice of liquorish, blueberry and seaweed and so many more dishes. It was the first time I had dinner by myself. A strange experience, however not unpleasant or anything. I noticed so much more of what was happening around me. It was nice to see the staff doing their excellent work, or observing the dynamic at other tables, quietly listening to their conversations, or just staring outside, gazing at the fjords and the opposite islands. The sun just set when I returned to my car. Wearing my new Guðrun&Guðrun sweater and my silver ring, I felt truly at ease but also overwhelmed. I felt tears coming and sat in my car for a few minutes before returning to Velbastaður.
After a good night's sleep I woke up early the next morning. Óli and Anna had already left the house and I found bread, a fried egg and some bacon on the kitchen counter. These people are too kind, I remember thinking. I sat at the table, devouring my breakfast while my eyes were once again fixated on the view. We were lucky with the weather. The hay was ripening and Óli was building new hurdles for the sheep. I grabbed my bag and headed out as well. I had an appointment at Berg Hestar - a riding school just outside of Tórshavn. We were going riding for the day with Jacklin, the owner, and some of her friends. It was my job to make a reportage of the tour. More and more tourists are interested in exploring the area on horseback and at Berg Hestar they offer tailored riding tours using the sweetest Icelandic Horses. The fun thing is, you don't have to be a skilled rider at all. I know this because I myself don't know how to ride a horse at all. But everything went perfectly. Jacklin's friends and family are so lovely. They asked me lots of questions and involved me in their conversations. Often they were speaking Faroese among themselves, but I didn't mind. Actually, the sound of their language is so pleasing that I couldn't get enough of it.
While being on horseback, I felt relieved of all the stress I had been experiencing in the past months. All the work, the pressure, the expectations - they disappeared while we were riding through the mountains. Leaving all of it behind. Breathing in that fresh air. Jacklin showed me the place where politicians gathered in the old days. All there is left now is a throne, made up of small stones. Behind it is a hill. People used to sit on the terraced lines, formed by the sheep who were regular visitors as well. ;) As we went on, I asked the girls about the piles of stones I noticed alongside the path. I was told they're called varðar. In the old days, the varðar guided the Faroese through the mountains in foggy or stormy weather. It's tradition to add a stone to the pile each time you pass a varði. Do you start to understand why I love this place so much?
Well anyway, we stopped for lunch and heartily ate our homemade sandwiches and enjoyed a warm cup of tea while sitting in the grass next to the horses. One of the ladies had brought blueberry liqueur. I took a sip and felt my body's temperature rising. It tasted so good haha! We returned in the late afternoon, I drove home, changed clothes and left immediately to return to Tórshavn. Visit Faroe Islands asked me to photograph some new restaurants and so I happily did.
Later that evening I accompanied Anna and her daughters at a traditional Faroese wedding and enjoyed sushi at this amazing place called Etika. The sun was shining and people were walking around with a smile on their face. I finished work that day around midnight and drove back to the house. I enjoyed these small trips. Being alone in the car, driving through the hills. Almost no other traffic. When I parked the car, it turned dark but Óli was still up. We sat down and had a long conversation. About our lives, about challenges and goals. About happiness. About what truly matters. It was a good talk. The kind a person needs from time to time.
The next morning, it was Sunday, I was up early again. Despite having slept only for six hours or so I felt full of energy. I took a short walk around the village, Facetimed my mom and showed her where I was. I could hear she was happy for me. Heck, I was happy for me. I walked back and discovered that Óli and Anna were up as well. They had moved a small kitchen table outside and were preparing breakfast. "This will be one of those rare summer days", Óli told me while driving down to the bakery to get bread and Danish pastries. "You'll see, everybody will be barbecuing today." During breakfast, I asked them about their lives here. "If you'd have to use one word to describe the Faroes, what would it be?" "A challenge", Óli replied. What will the future look like on these seemingly remote islands? The Faroe Islands have been getting lots of exposure lately and the number of tourists is increasing. Icelandic people are warning their neighbors: avoid our mistakes. Of course, not everybody is worrying about it, or expecting the worst. Most people are really happy with the attention, though it's a topic for sure. We continued talking about the "hugna" (Faroese for hygge) lifestyle on the Faroes and enjoyed the warm August sun. Later that day we visited the neighbors, who had just been blessed with a newborn. Again, there was lots of homemade food. One of the reasons I adore this country so much!
In the afternoon I returned to Berg Hestar for another riding tour. This time, it was just a small family gathering. We rode from the school to Óli & Anna's house for the ride & dine experience. Every now and then the farmers organize a heimablídni, to show tourists what it's like to have an authentic Faroese supper. For people who love (Icelandic) horses, it can also be combined with a riding tour. It was such a cozy evening, starting off with a delicious homemade rhubarb soda and some skerpikjøt on rye toast, followed by a very tasty fish soup, cod & potatoes with burnt butter sauce, a heavenly bean salad, braised lamb, rhubarb grød and so much more. But what I perhaps enjoyed most was the company.
On Monday morning it was time to say goodbye. I wouldn't have minded to stay a little longer. With a heavy heart I left Óli and Anna's beautiful turf-roofed house in Velbastaður. I hope to back soon though. Because this is home.