My favorite vacation was a few years ago to Iceland where I motorcycled across an otherworldly landscape of boiling spring water and volcanic rock. I blasted around on a glacier on a snowmobile and rode little Icelandic horses.
But I hadn’t had a real adventure since then. Arizona and Canada don’t count as real adventures, unless you get caught in an avalanche or slip into a crevasse and have to cut your arm off.
I like adventure, and I also like food. I read restaurant reviews like porn: the textures, the oozing sauces and piquant touch on the tongue. I buy cookbooks and look at the pictures when I am alone.
So when I read about an internationally renowned restaurant on a remote island in the North Atlantic Sea, I decided this would be my next vacation. I would fly away to this archipelago between Iceland and Norway—the Faroe Islands, a place that not one of my friends had ever heard of. In this far-away and obscure country, I would eat at Koks, a restaurant celebrated among chefs and diners all over the world. The young chef had earned his stripes at the famed Noma in Copenhagen.
Eating at this restaurant being the sole reason for my going to the Faroe Islands, I had to say the name out loud to people who did not know that in the language of the people who live there, Koks means “chef.” But I got over that.
The Faroe Islands, a self-governing territory of Denmark, is not an easy place to get to. You must fly first to Denmark or Iceland, and the flights from there to the Islands depart only a couple of times a week, and even then, it’s not a slam-dunk you’re going to get there.
When my flight from Reykjavik was turned back because of the wind, my seatmate told me that they refer to the Faroe Islands as The Land of Maybe: Maybe you’ll land, and maybe you won’t. After a two-hour wait back in Reykjavik, we tried again and landed in the black of night on a tiny airport runway in the middle of nowhere.
Do not drive anywhere at night in the Faroe Islands. There are no streetlights. But come morning, the islands are everything they’ve advertised: unspoiled and breathtakingly beautiful. The hills are rugged and rocky, the sea is endless, birds caw, flowers bloom. There are majestic stone skeletons of churches that date back to the 11th century, brightly painted houses with turf roofs. There are the celebrated puffin and there are sheep. Thousands of sheep. The entire human population of all the Faroe Islands combined is about 50,000; there are three times that many sheep.
They are not ordinary sheep. They have broad bodies with dreadlocked coats and skinny legs. They’ve been bred for their wool and of course for food, but the Faroese love them as pets, too, so even in the tiny villages, sheep roam across yards and street corners. Sheep own these islands. They are noble and serene. I was enchanted by them.
Which is a good thing, because on my 2-hour drive to Gjaargardur Guesthouse on the island of Gjov, I saw not one person, but I saw a lot of sheep who were nowhere as nervous as I was.
The islands are connected by tunnels and bridges, and the roads curl around the mountains and cliffs with panoramic views that soar to the Norwegian Sea. But I remembered an old motorcycle buddy of mine telling me about biking through the Rockies: “You don’t want to take your eyes off the road to admire the scenery because you will become part of the scenery.”
The roads are typically one lane each way, with no shoulder. When fog drops in, visibility is about 10 feet. There are occasional places where you can pull over if you meet a car coming the other way, but these are few and far between. One of you will have to back up. I actually weighed the consequences of running off the road and plunging into rocky field versus a head-on collision.
There are no cell towers; hence, no cell service. Head-on, we two drivers would be injured and lie there and die; but if I plunged into a field, sheep would be curious and nose around me. A local farmer would come to find his sheep, and he would find me and then, I don’t know, throw me on the back of his tractor and take me home to his wife who knows how to set broken bones?
It was at this point in my vacation that I established a testy relationship with my GPS. She had a reassuring, sweet voice and she told me when I needed to make a turn; but on the mountain road to Gjov, there were no intersections, no choices I had to make, so she was silent. She knew I needed no instructions. There was, after all, only one road.
But I needed encouragement. I think in countries like these, a GPS should be programmed to say, after twenty minutes or so, things, like “You’re doing a great job!” and “Only another 30 minutes and you’re safely at your destination!”
But my GPS said nothing.
“Say something, bitch!” I screamed at her. “I’m all alone here! You’re all I got!”
The silence was deafening. I remembered to breathe, and when I reached the guesthouse, the knot in my stomach loosed and my knuckles grew pink again. There were two sheep in the driveway, a postcard village of about 30 houses, a pounding sea, and nothing else.
My stay at the guesthouse was just a preamble to my dinner at Koks, which meant that the very next day I had to brave the same terrifying road to the capital of Torshavn, a bustling city of 13,000 people. And probably 5,000 sheep.
Koks is located in Hotel Foroyar overlooking the town and its busy port. The hotel could be in any big city anywhere in the world but for the women knitting in the foyer, in the breakfast nook, at the bar, in the parking lot. Any time a woman in the Faroe Islands is idle for more than a minute, she knits. On a park bench, on the ferry, in a retail store. With all those sheep, I suppose one has to knit.
So here was my big moment. Koks, the world famous restaurant to which I had traveled over land and sea to visit. But this is a travel article, not a restaurant review. I encourage you free spirits with a taste for unspoiled nature, hiking, bicycling, whale spotting, and a love for sheep to visit the Faroe Islands.
By Sherri Daley