A visit to the ‚Land of the Faroes‘
By Johnny Bliss
Following an unplanned year-and-a-half of being a homebody - thanks, of course, to the COVID-19 pandemic - I wondered how traveling would feel in this new world. Would I still enjoy going on unjustifiably expensive adventures, interviewing strangers in exotic places, sleeping on floors and hammocks, and trying out local cuisines, no matter how d̶i̶s̶g̶u̶s̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ exotic? Well, as things began to open up this summer (for the vaccinated, at least) I finally had the opportunity to find out.
I decided to ‘dip my toes in’ with some comfortable destinations, ones which would feel safe and familiar. So I started in the north, going on a long road trip around Iceland, which eventually led me to the remote eastern port town of Seyðisfjörður. Here, I boarded a ferry for the first time since the world ended. With the company Smyril Line, I sailed for a night and a day to the beautiful, majestic, mysterious Faroe Islands.
In Iceland I’d had the luxury of going about my life much as I had before the pandemic; due to low COVID-19 case numbers (at the time), restrictions were nearly nonexistent, and one hardly ever saw masks or indeed any signs that anything had happened in the world at all. But as soon as I boarded the ferry to the Faroes in the early morning, I suddenly became aware of people around me wearing masks again, and suddenly there were hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere, and we had to do a PCR-test shortly after we set sail. I had the impression of suddenly rejoining the changed world I know from this past year.
This was, of course, utterly reasonable; aside from the fact that cases had just started rising ominously in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik, it goes without saying that cruise ships - or anything that looks like a cruise ship - will be perceived as a risky place to be during a pandemic.
But just how risky was it? I asked a crew member and cruise host named Heðin to help me assuage my own paranoias, and I must say... he did a very good job!
Johnny Bliss, 2021
Pandemic-related anxieties aside, the trip went very smoothly. My cabin was quite cozy, complete with a window facing the ocean, two beds, and a bathroom with a shower. The huge ship I was on, the M/S Norröna, contains an insane number of facilities, including sea water hot tubs, high-end restaurants, a cinema, a concert venue, a swimming pool (!), an honest-to-goodness football field (!!) and so much more. While all the safety precautions did of course mean the pandemic was always on the edge of one’s consciousness, at some point I got used to it and settled in for a very chill trip, largely spent reading and gazing out at the endless expense of the sea all around.
Johnny Bliss, 2021
And then, faster than anticipated, one arrives. The Faroe Islands are, or at least were at the time, another of these places where one could all too easily forget there’s a pandemic going on.
Upon disembarking, the ever-present masks and hand sanitizer dispensers again vanished (or became comparatively scarce), and during the week I spent there, for good or for ill, we might as well have been in the year 2019 instead of 2021. I attended great concerts, went bird-watching on crowded tour boats, attended numerous festivities connected to the National Holiday Celebrations (Ólavsøka), and very nearly forgot all about the apocalypse. It was amazing!
The capital Tórshavn (Danish for ‘Thor’s Harbour’, because of course it is) is the world’s cutest capital. My first impression walking around? If someone were to commission the world’s best architects to design a capital that looked like Hobbiton-by-the-sea, this is what they would come up with. Colourful wooden grass-roofed houses stand everywhere side-by-side with modern Scandinavian-style urban architecture. More frequently than one might imagine, one finds oneself wandering on paths downtown that lead through fields full of sheep.
Capital region aside, the country in general is super special. With only 52,000 people living there compared with approximately 75,000 sheep, it makes Iceland look positively huge. And, much like Iceland, the size of the country makes it much easier for someone to have a cool idea and implement it successfully. Take, for example, the Faroese record label TUTL, which singularly offers to produce and distribute music for any and all Faroese musicians who want representation.
Or the government-subsidized helicopters, which fly regularly and cheaply between the islands, making it possible for residents of farflung villages to have better access to goods and services around the country. Or the initiative “Sheep View”, the brainchild of a Faroese creative named Durita Dahl Andreassen who put solar-powered cameras on the heads of sheep around the islands, collecting images that eventually enabled the Faroes to get on Google Street View. Or last year’s virtual tours around the islands, which allowed people to still “visit” the Faroes while locked down in their homes.
Of course, like anywhere else, the Faroe Islands have their darker sides too; the not-always-latent homophobia of many of the people, including a government minister who famously refused to meet the Icelandic Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir (a married lesbian) back in 2015, because of his party’s views on same-sex marriage. And then there’s the controversial tradition of whaling, which recently made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Johnny Bliss, 2021
But one thing is for sure - for good AND for ill, there is no place like the Faroe Islands: a truly unique and special country with a strong pro-independence movement and a dramatic, sometimes gory history stretching back more than a thousand years.
Anyway, I feel like I’ve blabbed long enough here. After all, the purpose of this web story is just to get you to listen to my radio program about the Faroe Islands! Did you know, I spoke with such diverse characters as the Prime Minister himself, the head of opposition, the founder of the TUTL label, the musician FRUM, the chairman of the Faroese Whaler Association, the director of the national gallery, and numerous colourful storytellers from all over the islands?!
Yep, all of that and more tonight, Monday the 20th of September, in the final hour of FM4 Homebase for a Johnny’s Journeys special program: Johnny Bliss in the Land of the Faroes.
You can also check back here to listen to the program after the fact via the Stream!
Special thanks are due to Brim Hoydal from Visit Faroe Islands for all of her assistance coordinating trips and interviews and so forth. Thanks also to the helpful staff and crew at Smyril Line; the head chef (Sigmundur) from the experimental restaurant Ræst; the management at 62°N Guesthouse Marknagil, which was the charming little hotel where I stayed in Tórshavn; Oda Wilhelmsdóttir Andreasen, the guide who runs sustainable tours with Go Local, and everyone else who helped to make this program a reality!
Publiziert am 20.09.2021