An unforgettable 70-day trip between Iceland and the Faroe Islands

A few years have passed since that endless journey between Iceland, the Faroe Islands and then down, passing from Scandinavia to Spain. But only today, on a cold December weekend, I started scanning some of those wonderful photos taken with the old reflex to tell about that wonderful adventure.

It was a hot summer (not so hot in Iceland) in 2004 and I embarked on a long journey around Europe with no return (meaning that I ended up living over a year in Ireland). With me, at least the first few days, there was a travel companion, Matteo, with whom I shared the first tour of the Icelandic Ring Road by bus. We spent the first night inside our uncomfortable and cold runway tents at Keflavik Airport, after landing late in the evening.

n distant memories I still have in mind a fisherman from Keflavik who told us about his boat and about Baldur, a deity of Norse mythology. We will carry the memory of both for days and days. At least until our arrival in Höfn, the day of the legendary football match

Höfn, Iceland: the football match

Höfn was the first clear example of the contrast between the apparent desolation of Icelandic villages and the strong group life that binds this people. If you walk among the houses of some Icelandic village it almost seems to live in deserted villages but, it often happens to find yourself in small parties, places where people gather or meet. Despite everything, Matteo and I were invited by a group of kids to a football match between complete strangers. And it wasn’t the only time someone made us sweat despite the cold … On my first Icelandic trip, I had the opportunity, among other things, to try a fabulous fish soup in a small restaurant in Höfn. Don’t ask me for the name. I could never remember. I just remember the cold outside and the heat of the boiling soup.

Excursion through the lava by bus

In our infamous journey through the immense Icelandic lava fields, I clearly remember Landmannalaugar, if only for the difficult pronunciation we encountered in the early days and also for the absurd cold we suffered in the tents after the storm that welcomed us among the magnificent canyons of the Icelandic valley crowded with tourists. So crowded that when we got the good idea of renting a bungalow for the night, they told us that they had all been booked since March! (plan accordingly)

Landmannalaugar, Iceland: a jeep crosses a stream

Equally frustrating but a little less spectacular from a landscape point of view was, a few days later, the night spent in Husavik. Matteo and I left for the usual walk around the village but, on our return, we found my tent completely destroyed. I don’t know how it could have happened. Maybe some kid playing soccer. The fact is that Matteo and I huddled for a couple of nights in his tent and, after a worthy Viking funeral at mine, we wandered among the caravans of Husavik’s free camping in search of the truth.

The impressive Icelandic landscape

At this point there were few common stages left. We would pass Dalvik, then return to Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city, where I would buy a new tent. From there I would have traveled alone around the island, while Matteo would have embarked for a flight from Keflavik towards Norway.

Dalvik welcomed us with the usual free deserted camping and the muddy soccer match with the local kids. Pratically a football field with changing rooms adapted to a public bathroom in which there was only Matteo’s tent, a few kids playing football (with us) and the usual summer rain. An absurd cold did not leave us even in the showers, but he forgot about us when, in the evening, passing in front of a village gym, we met a group of boys intent on taking part in a private party.
Matteo had so many flaws, but the fact that he was able to get to know anyone and in any place did not displease me at all. There was even rumor that he was one of the few who had actually had sex on the legendary “hornet ship” (if the translation is correct), one of the ships of the Viking line steeped in legends and rumors that crosses the Northern seas.
But he never told me anything about it. And I didn’t ask him for anything. I preferred the myth of youth to remain so.

Anyway… We were walking around Dalvik and Matteo stopped to talk to this group of guys outside the gym.
He went out of his way to enter but, as you know, a private party is private for Icelanders. No it goes wrong. However, they brought out drinks and things to eat and talked to us all evening.
The next day we met some of them around…
and the welcome was almost better than the night before.
I have heard that Icelanders are like their volcanoes: cold and icy on the outside, but hot and “fiery” on the inside. In Dalvik I really had proof of this side of their character.

The championship final

top view photo of soccer field during day
Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

Back from Akureyri with my brand new and ultramodern tent, Matteo and I were getting ready to spend the last day together. It was a cold day in July 2004 and Greece were preparing to face the most famous Portugal in the final of the European Football Championships with very little hope of victory.
Matteo forced me to take a seat in a very crowded pub in Selfoss, where we would have witnessed the probable victory of Portugal.
In fact, Greece took home an inexplicable victory and we an exaggerated amount of Icelandic food and beer enough to get the 90 ‘.

Solo

Vik, Iceland: Me with the new tent in front of an Icelandic log cabin

I left Selfoss a couple of days later in the freezing rain. I was alone and eager to discover new corners of Iceland. In Vik I went back to the usual camping site and to the same wooden house where I had been a few years earlier.
The tent was soaked in rain and weighed heavily on my back from these first few weeks of travel. So I decided for a more solid roof while waiting for the tent to dry.
If during the first trip I was lucky enough to find the house all to myself, this time I shared it with a German family consisting of a mother, father and two daughters.
Needless to say, I spent the night in one of the two double beds with the father, while a little ‘everyone disposed of the birthday cake of one of the two daughters, to which they sang cheerful songs in German all evening..

After leaving Vik I stopped again in Akureyri, where I wanted to embark for Grimsey Island, the only point in Iceland from which the Arctic Circle passes. I’ve always had a soft spot for Akureyri: a tiny little girl of extraordinary beauty once approached me and held out her hand. She then she opened it and handed me a black pebble. I asked her what she was and with perfect English equal to that of a university student she explained that it was a piece of Icelandic lava and that she wanted to give it to me.
It’s really true. The heat of the Icelanders is like that of their volcanoes. Even when the lava turned cold.

The skuas

Image by Eduardo Ruiz from Pixabay

Grimsey was a nice surprise and a perfect destination for a day trip. A small harbor and a very colorful church (inside and out) make this small island a little out of this world special. However, Grimsey was also the second place in which I aspired to the infamous skuas, very aggressive arctic birds, accustomed to attacking anyone who dares approach their territory from above. At both Jokulsarlon and Grimsey you will be given sticks a meter or more in length to keep skuers away from “flying” above you. However, the same thing did not happen when I arrived in Bolungarvik, in the fjords of Westfjordur.
In Bolungarvik I was attacked by a rather “aggressive” group of skuas and, when my thin sweatshirt was going to shreds, a small family with an SUV came to my rescue. I saw myself throw open the back doors and heard shouting: “Come in, come on!”
But in the back seats there were two very small and very blond children that I was afraid of crushing when entering.
Eventually fear prevailed, I jumped in and that dark SUV and got to safety.

Bolungarvik, Iceland: Osvor Maritime Museum

Meanwhile, time passed and August was approaching with the imminent end of summer (which in Iceland coincides with the middle of this month more or less).
Once I explored Westfjordur and visited Ísafjörður, I would return south where I would stay among the lesser known villages on the island.
I stayed one night in Blönduós to admire the small church turning orange at nightfall and the next day I took a mail van driven by a nice Icelandic gentleman who didn’t speak a word of English.
My destination was Sauðárkrókur and I would stop here one night. It would be the last in the tent. The postal driver and I tried to communicate and understand each other in some way throughout the journey, until a few minutes from Sauðárkrókur he made me understand with his wide and varied gestures, that we should agree on the time and place of departure of the day after.
His was the only semi-tourist vehicle that traveled to and from that village and, if I hadn’t left with him, I would have risked spending the rest of my life in a small tent “parked” in the middle of a meadow..

Sauðárkrókur, Iceland: my tent under the Icelandic sun

Upon entering the village, the intrepid driver of the van thus began to look for his nephew who, he made me understand, spoke very good English. A tall, very confident blond boy poked his head out the window and in a few words told me that I would have to wait for his uncle the next day at 10.00 am at the same point where he was leaving me. In other words, at an approximate point in front of the free camping of Sauðárkrókur.

My penultimate stop was the tiny and unpronounceable village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur (if you repeat it several times then it gets into your head), where an excursion to Þórsmörk was waiting for me. It was the wettest, wettest, most torrential and flooded excursion of my life. But I saw things that only in Iceland and in no other country in the world could I have seen!

Þórsmörk, Iceland: A 4×4 bus crosses a swollen river

A tip: if you are not Icelandic, carefully avoid going into too “undriveable” areas just because you feel strong in your super Jeep. Were it not for an old Icelandic 4×4 bus (yes! The one in the photo above), now I would be talking about a jeep being pulled away by the river, rather than a brave Icelandic driver who pulled a group of tourists out of the raging river. terrified!

Wet but happy I could go to Seyðisfjörður, the colorful village where the Icelandic port of Norröna is based.
If you don’t know it, it’s the ship, or rather the huge multi-storey building, which travels between Denmark, the Faroe Islands and Iceland. I slept one night in a village school and the next day I embarked for the Faroe Islands. Iceland has so many tourists in relation to accommodation that, in peak season, some schools are used to accommodate travelers.
That evening, I arrived when the village was now sleepy and deserted. The local gas station vending machine was the only one that still had something to eat. I took a snack with the last few coins and walked between the houses in the village.
After a few minutes a car stopped and the driver asked me if I wanted a ride. I cannot hide that, if the girl of my dreams had happened, I would have stayed to live also in the North Pole but, after a short conversation and some attempt to speak with the few words of Icelandic that I had learned in these 60 days, we arrived in front of the school .
I thanked, got out of the car and understood (once again) that this journey had to continue. Starting with the crazy group of Italians who arrived late at night offering me all the good things to eat …


The Faroe Islands

Torshavn

Although we were now approaching September, the days I spent in the Faroe Islands were the prelude to summer. A phase of high pressure with splendid and warm days (for the area to be clear!) Invaded the islets in those days. I had booked a bed in a hostel in Torshavn, the tiny but charming Faeroes capital and had run out of money before I even got off the ship.
My old credit card could not withdraw in such a remote place (for her) and it took me two or three days to get some money sent from home. Something similar happened to me in Turkey and in Trujillo, a very small village in the Extremadura in Spain.
I shared the mixed dormitory of the Torshavn hostel with 4 other people: Antonio, was a Spanish boy with whom I shared long walks around the capital every evening and long chats about the habits that bound Italians and Spaniards (such as not being able to stay too closed in the house in good weather). Then there was an American woman who offered several times to lend me money to continue the journey, but I preferred to manage alone and not spread debt around the world. Finally, there were two Swedish guys who continued to show their desire to move to Italy… and I never understood why..

Lighthouse, Torshavn

Mykines

Ever since I started traveling, Mykines has always been one of those legendary islands I wanted to visit. Together with Foula in Shetland. Because I had seen photos, read stories and this distance from everything attracted me more than anything else. And, I must admit, the journey here was absolutely worth it.

A small boat on the “route” to Mykines

Mykines is permanently inhabited by about fifteen people and an incalculable number of seabirds who come to lay their eggs on the island’s cliffs.
When the tourists arrived, part of the inhabitants sat waiting at the small port, while some men fixed the grass roofs of the houses. I don’t remember ever seeing so much beauty and simplicity put together in another place.

Mykines from above

In the following days I continued to explore the islands by walking through the deserted streets or by taking some small postal or tourist boats. I particularly remember the Gjógv hostel and the people lying in the hot September sun admiring the sea. In my memories of these beautiful islands are the sheep eating grass in every corner of the islands and the thousands of seabirds flying free in the sky.
A fisherman told me that at the beginning of summer the sheep were brought to the top of some hills to eat the grass and prevent it from overgrowing. I think all the other animals came more or less spontaneously and will never go away …

Faroe Islands: Geese on the road

Conclusions

I have never made such a long journey again and, if I could, I would do this in exactly the same way. The people, the places and the climate have marked the beauty of everything that happened in those “moving” months. The photos I managed to recover are only a small part of what I took (two heavy books of old prints on photographic paper), but resurrecting the memories of yesteryear with today’s quality is not always possible.
But then, let’s face it … some memories are nice to carry inside: like the driver of an Icelandic bus who sang a typical song on the road that led to the Viti volcano, which in Icelandic means hell (it’s not a name given at random!) , or chats with the many people met along the way…
There is no need to always photograph everything … the beauty will still remain within us…

The Gjógv hostel

My two favorite books on Iceland and the Faroe Islands

  • Last places. A Journey in the North
    by Lawrence Millman

    I have read and reread (the Italian edition) this book several times because it is a journey that the author travels starting from the Shetland Islands, then to the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland following the route of the Vikings to the extreme North America. One of my favorite books ever!
  • 101 Reykjavik
    by Hallgrimur Helgason
    The story of Hlynur is a bit peculiar. Unlike many of his peers, 30-year-old Hlynur still lives with his mother and struggles to take the reins of his life in a serious and mature way. Life in the Icelandic capital is made for him of pub nights and wake up late in the morning. An unusual Reykjavik described in an original way by Hallgrimur Helgason’s “pen”

Christmas in Odense

Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense in 1805 in modest conditions as the son of a shoemaker. What better time, if not Christmas, is there to dream of becoming a famous person despite the fact that life has not been favorable to us from the beginning? In 1867 HC Andersen was made an honorary citizen and Odense welcomed the news by organizing a torchlight procession in his honor.

In the magical atmosphere of Christmas, thinking of starting your visit to the city right from the yellow house of one of the most famous writers in the world, can be an idea to fully enjoy the period and the Nordic feeling that this special place can give you.

While Odense is well suited to families, it is also true that children will go crazy with joy when they can admire rare pieces of Danish railways in the Odense Railway Museum, which is located near the center (look for Danmarks Jernbanemuseum on google maps).

During the dark season and the winter period, being able to enjoy the Christmas lights and fresh northern air is essential for strolling along the streets of Odense in December. On the last Saturday of November, the Flakhaven Christmas tree, the town hall square, lights up and there will be music, events and the presence of a very important character: Santa Claus.

The hot chocolate

If you think Northern Europe is just cold and ice, then you are missing out on a lot. I remember wonderful journeys with breathtaking views, but the pleasure of walking into a bar for a hot drink after spending a few hours out walking is priceless!
In Odense you will find a hot chocolate for every taste: walking around the city there are cafes that make many types of hot chocolate: if you are undecided between cocoa and hot chocolate, entering the FredosCoffeeright you will not know what to choose, as here they serve an infinite variety of chocolates, coffees and capuccinos. The Papas Papbar will drive you crazy! Here you can choose your chocolate and then you can decide which of the 600 board games to choose as you spend your time warming up with your hot drink in hand. If you are in company and fear the cold, perhaps this is the bar for you!
Is the chocolate plus alcohol option your favorite? The Receteria offers chocolates with Baileys or Cacao with Cointreau Rum and orange.
If all this is not enough to pamper you…

The Christmas markets

The first two weekends of December (4-5 and 11-12 December), Odense hosts the Christmas markets right in the historic center, the ideal setting for organizing a Christmas party with a unique atmosphere. Odense’s markets attract around 60,000 people and give the opportunity to find delicious food stands, small events but above all, that unique feeling of being in the heart of a colorful and fairytale city, as was its most famous inhabitant.

Source and photo: Visit Odense and visit Denmark

Stavanger: the beauty of a city and the surrounding area.

Stavanger is not a city like any other. Those who arrive by train, by bus or by sea from the sensational Norwegian fjords, will immediately begin to breathe the typical air of Northern Europe that can only be perceived up here. Welcoming you could be the colorful houses on the quay, about sixty buildings built between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries once used as warehouses or small industries but now converted into restaurants, offices and other businesses.

When you begin to enter the heart of the city, you cannot miss a walk through the streets of Gamle Stavanger, the old part of the city made up of white houses built in white painted wood. Gamle Stavanger collects 173 wooden buildings built in the eighteenth century where you can find many galleries and boutiques of local crafts.

This part of the city is part of one of the architectural projects carried out by the United Nations in Norway in 1975. It is no secret that Stavanger has received numerous awards for the efforts it has made over time to preserve the old but fascinating part of its city.

FotoKnoff / Sven-Erik Knoff – Visit Region StavangerVisit Region Stavanger

The Gamle Stavanger area is inhabited by residents who are proud and proud of their homes. In spring the gardens and the windowsills of the white houses are filled with flowers and colors. Think that once upon a time there was the habit of dismantling houses and taking them with you when you moved! For this reason they were built of wood. Typically it was people from the islands north of Stavanger who ventured into the city with their house dismantled during the herring-catching periods. They loaded their houses into rowboats and went to Stavanger. The only drawback, it is said, is that the houses of the past were yellow but the working class could not afford such an expensive color and, for this reason, many wooden houses were colored white: the current color.

Fargegaten: the colorful street
Martin Håndlykken – VisitNorway.com

Øvre Holmegate was once a quiet and somewhat boring street until one day hairdresser Tom Kjørsvik proposed to renovate it. Artist Craig Flannagan created a combination of colors that, in the space of a few years, were part of a process of renovating a street that has now become a tourist attraction.

From the initial skepticism of some people, we have moved on to a road that since 2005 has become closed to traffic and today is a flow of tourists as well as full of bars, shops and commercial premises.
The Fargegata (street of colors) is a perfect area for photos, selfies and ideal for shopping and a stop in some bars.
Do not forget that the freshest fish are caught in the Norwegian seas and, if you are a lover of the genre, you must try some restaurants.

The beaches and the protected area of Jæren
Orre Strand Frithjof Fure – VisitNorway.com

The beaches of Jæren cover a 70 km long area from Tungenes to Sirevåg and have been a protected area since 1977, modified after 2009 as a landscape conservation area of Jærstrendene. Some humid areas require greater protection because they are particularly rich in rare or protected vegetation. In fact, plants such as marsh hellebore, sea must plant, marsh orchid and holly grow in this area.

The beaches here can also change based on the shape and presence of the dunes which, generally, are divided into three different types: there are areas with white dunes facing the sea, very unstable and subject to erosion. Then there are areas with gray dunes less subject to erosion and finally the dunes farthest from the sea, low and covered with grass, hardly vulnerable to any type of erosion.

Keep in mind that Jæren’s beaches are marked as International Mission Blue hotspots, which means key points for ocean health. If you want to learn more, at the leisure center of Orre (Friluftshuset) you can learn more about the beaches of Jæren.

How to get to the beaches

By public transport you can easily get the beaches of Brusand and Ogna. For all the info, timetables or for other beaches, you can search on https://entur.no/

All you need to know about the Shetland Fire Festival

If you go to the Shetland Islands between January and March and hear about Up Helly Aa, don’t worry, it is nothing but the biggest Viking fire festival you have ever witnessed in your life!
The Up Helly Aa is a fire festival that is based in Lerwick and other Shetland villages, however, if you want to see the most majestic, avoiding having to move once you arrive in the island capital, it is worth staying in the city and the show does not will miss ricurely.

The Up Helly Aa is a 24 hour party that requires a very long preparation of months and months. Thousands of people parade through the city and the same are busy for the whole previous year to prepare the costumes of the Giuzer, in particular that of Giuzer Jarl (the Viking leader).

The origins

At one time, in the period between Christmas and New Year, young people dragged barrels of tar by pulling them with sleds through the streets of the city. The state of drunkenness was also very high and this tradition created not a few problems of public disorder in Shetland. After the abolition of the tar barrels, the authorizations were obtained for the torchlight procession and the first celebration of the Up Helly Aa took place in 1881. In 1889 the first galley was burned and over the years the party grew in intensity and interest.

On the evening of the party, the groups, also known as squads, walk through the city lighting up the streets with long lines of fire. At 7.30 pm a rocket is launched over the town hall, the torches are lit and the procession can leave together with the band playing in the streets of Lerwick. The Guizer Jarl is the only one who wears traditional Viking clothing, while everyone else can have beautiful clothes or even rags of all kinds. The galley destined to burn is commanded by the Viking chief who will start the dances once he arrives at the parties.

Lerwick, Shetland Isles, Scotland, UK. 29th January 2019. Up Helly Aa viking fire festival procession which is unique to Shetland and held on the last Tuesday in January each year.
How to participate in the Fire Festival

In recent years the Lerwick Fire Festival has been live streamed. If you want to follow it, you can go to the Facebook Fan Page and watch the show wherever you are.
In case you prefer to attend the Up Helly Aa in person, know that the seats, at least in the town hall square, are quite limited and the only thing to do is to check the status of ticket sales towards the end of the year.
You can ckeck availability on Shetland Times or call the iCentre of Lerwick (+44 (0)1595 3434) and get you put on the waiting list.

Fire Festivals confirmed / canceled for 2022

The planning of the Up Helly Aa of Shetland foresees a very long period and, for this reason, even if the beginning of next year may seem far away, those who are working to create events of this kind must guarantee the safety of all: inhabitants of the island and tourists. The particular historical moment therefore forces the organizers of the Up Helly Aa to have to cancel some events, but also to be able to program others with absolute safety. Here’s where, for now, upcoming fire festivals should take place or be canceled.
If you plan to travel to Shetland between January and March 2022, check the official website not to risk missing some event!

Fire festivals expected to take place in 2022
Fire festivals still to be confirmed for 2022 (last update September 2021)
Fire Festivals postponed to 2023

Source: Shetland.org