Monday, September 12, 2011

The Wonderful Faroe Islands

Well, I have been here for twenty-four hours, and that added to the collective wisdom garnered on three previous visits, I feel, bestows expert status.

I can assert with little doubt that the weather in the Faroe Islands is not their strongest suit. Today, it was a touch gloomy at first, then overcast and later in the day, for a few minutes, scattered clouds. The clouds were subsequently gathered together and tethered above Torshavn, where they now sit.

However, I couldn’t have enjoyed the day more.

If one is in the slightest doubt where one is, upon awakening in a strange hotel room, one glance at the breakfast buffet and the pride of place accorded the pickled fish will narrow it to Scandinavia in a hurry; a second glance, marvelling at the size of the bowl, and the supplementary “foods of the sea” will confirm it as The Faroes. I happen to like pickled fish, and with the time zones on my taste-buds side, I plundered the buffet and headed out into the drizzle.

I do like rain, actually, and the light morning mist that covered Torshavn simply added to the warm and cosy feel of the town. Emphatically painted wooden buildings with turf roofs abound in the city centre; glancing in through the windows one can see the most contemporary offices and feel a sense of wonder at the Faroese ability to merge a thousand years of history and convention with today’s electronic convenience. It is a feeling that reappears frequently as one wanders through this remarkable island group.

I decided to go and visit the island of Nólsoy, conveniently located twenty minutes by ferry from the thumping heart of Torshavn. I sailed over, and watching the island appearing from the mist wondered where everyone was. The ferry was delivering about thirty folks there but otherwise, the town had the look of a Norse Potemkin village; deserted. I decided that the four-hour wait until the next ferry home would stretch even my imagination, so I simply stayed on board and headed back. The next attempt at self-amusement was a bus to the fishing town of Vestmanna some forty kilometres away.

It was a fine bus ride, passing through more of these perfect toy-villages until we arrived at the end of the line, and with a little over two hours to pass until the return bus, I wandered into the throbbing heart of the community.

The throb actually turned out to be a rather powerful pair of engines running inside a building close to the harbour, and with that mystery solved, I wandered on. It was quiet, I have to say, but rather lovely. The clouds had lifted, the drizzle abated and I simply looked around. Lovely houses, secure in the knowledge that the community had been there for a thousand years or more, and village elders kept (presumably) a continuing eye on who married whom. Houses were lovely, although it has to be said that some were a touch shabby; I liked that, as it indicated a sort of realism that is absent from perfection, and continued to wander. Past the harbour, in and around the local supermarket (heavy on yoghurts and Cadbury’s chocolate, leeks from Belgium and an unusually large selection of liquorices), gazed into the local clothing store (now, in the post-tourist season offering a 60% pricing advantage) and a rather drab looking dance hall. I suppose that most dance halls look sad in the middle of the afternoon, but there you go.

Then lunch and the most perfect fish and chips that I have ever encountered. And believe me, I have encountered a few in my time.

There couldn’t really have been time for my cod to realise what had happened to it between the moment that it lurched toward the bait, was hauled into the boat, deposited, still flapping, on the dock - a dock that has a number of notices that prohibit dogs from sniffing around, but oddly, not cats - being hustled into the kitchen and via a fryer onto my plate. Six hours at most is my guess, and it tasted thus.

The perfection of really fresh fish, cooked with skill is remarkable; it was simply sublime.

And so I returned on the bus to Torshavn marvelling at my fortune of being here, on a group of magical islands adrift in the North Atlantic Ocean.

I love the Faroe Islands.

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