Students in Norway get a whole two weeks of classes off for Easter. For most exchange students, a substantial break is like a challenge — a race to bag as many capitals and landmarks as possible.
Confession: I’ve played that way before.
But Scandinavia is different. With it’s longer distances, unpredictable weather, high prices, difficult terrain, the North has a way of slowing you down… and it’s for the best.
For spring break this year, I ditched the trains, the hostels and the metropolises in favor of a longer stay in a place few have heard of, and fewer will visit. A remote archipelago where people are greatly outnumbered by sheep. A place where, despite all the trappings of modernity, plans are still a maybe, still subject to the fickle, changing moods of weather in the North Atlantic.
The Faroe Islands
Because there are some things that cannot, and should not, be rushed…
Like watching oyster birds take flight against a dizzy, snowy landscape.
Climbing up a mountain so high that it’s said you can see over the sea to Iceland on a clear day.
Inching out to the edge of a sea cliff to watch blue waves crash into white foam far below.
Learning to knit, stitch by stitch and row by row.
Wandering through perhaps the world’s smallest capital city.
Visiting a government headquarters with a grass roof and not a single security guard in sight.
Watching hundreds of seagulls and petrels circle in and out of the bird cliffs, their mass movement painting the wind almost visible.
Marveling at the system of roads, ferries, causeways and undersea tunnels that have connected a nation of eighteen tiny, mountainous islands.
Taking the long way over mountain roads to views of a naked, harsh, impossibly beautiful landscape.
Realizing my very perception of what counts as “flat land” has been completely altered.
Watching snow fall and waves crash into a tiny natural harbour.
Following the sheep tracks up slopes I once would have called impossible, over hills so steep it made me dizzy to look down.
Finding sheep on impossible ledges, in abandoned villages, in front yards and gardens, on the roof, sleeping on the road — basically anywhere and everywhere.
Listening to the silence.
Encountering (read: gleefully attacked by) no fewer than five friendly dogs, and a friendly cat, who seem to live in a world without fear or enemies.
Exploring the unique and fascinating local language and culture.
Trying to keep my balance on the sopping wet, springy green turf.
Tasting blubber, dried fish, fermented mutton and some of the world’s best sushi.
Smelling years and years of life and history in the world’s oldest inhabited wooden home.
Meeting incredibly kind and generous people.
Beginning to expect rainbows as an almost daily phenomenon.
Scrambling over wet, mossy rocks in search of rocking stones and a hidden hot spring.
Watching one of the spring’s first lambs prance beside his mother on spindly black legs.
Seeing a waterfall crash straight down from towering cliffs into the sea.
Walking over a winter landscape of silver snow and golden grasses.
Seeing, really seeing, the stars on a clear night.
Leaning into wind so strong that, sometimes, it literally took my breath away.
And realizing that some people (49,267 people) actually get to live there.
I also want to give a very special and heartfelt thanks to my Faroese friend Uni (who hates getting his photo taken, but come on, it seriously looks like I did the whole trip alone, and that wouldn’t have been half the fun!).
I left the Faroe Islands over a week ago, but I left more than footprints on the grassy hills. I can’t get the waves, the waterfalls, the naked mountains, the ridiculous sheep, or the memories of all my new friends out of my head.
The islands are, simply put, the single most amazing place I’ve ever been.