One Week in the Middle of Nowhere – The Faroe Islands

The Waterfall

As I hurriedly climbed the last few steep steps on a non-existent trail on steep rocks, I hoped to find a road on the seemingly flat part on the top of the waterfall, a hope that had transpired this hike alongside a waterfall on a rainy & windy day. What I saw a few seconds later, was mind-blowing, enthralling, dumbfounding, and petrifying all at the same time.

After the last part of the climb on an almost vertical edge of the rock, I reached a flat ground as expected. What went against my expectations was that there was no road there, rather an arc-shaped mountain at the end of this flat stretch of a few hundred meters. From all the mountaintops came tiny water streams that converged a few meters away from us forming this huge waterfall that we had spotted from another island a couple of kilometers away and had driven there.

A snapshot from Google Earth of the place I described

Before I start appreciating the beauty of what stood in front of us, did I mention it was windy when we started our hike? Well, that was nothing compared to what I faced a few seconds later. A gust came and almost pushed me to the ground, and went on to push all these tiny water streams against the gravity up into the mist. All the streams dispersed into misty droplets flying up against the gravity and coming down along with the rain.

At that moment, while I was struggling to accept that how these waterfalls can fly up against gravity and become water-flys, I was facing another struggle – standing straight. Another gust of wind hit me from behind as I took another blurry picture with my camera while almost falling face down into the sheep-shit on the ground in front of me.

Suddenly the photographer inside me went back into the cocoon, and the photo spot turned into a save your ass and run spot. Before I’m accused of making a big deal out of a windy day, I would like to say that I have been to Denmark and Netherlands and on top of that, living in Gothenburg has given me a fair share of windy days. This was unlike any of these places, I am pretty sure that these gusts were 100kmph+.

Now before I tell the story of us hiking down, let me take you back 40 minutes from this moment. A we spotted this waterfall, we decided to hike with high confidence in our weatherproof hiking gear. Unable to take a call on whether we should hike on the left side of the waterfall or the right side, my brother and I started on the left side, and Aditya went on the right side with a perfect plan to meet at the top. On the top of this mountain, we discovered another thing while standing in this storm, the water stream between us was very wide and deep, so all of us couldn’t get on the same side to go back together. So here we were, hiding behind rocks from the heavy gusts, screaming at the top of our voices to communicate which didn’t work out amidst the roars of wind and water. At the end, somehow, we managed to communicate to go back the same way we came up.

What became our next challenge was obvious to even the sheep on the island but not us. While we were up there, trying to communicate with each other with defunct sign language that none of us understood, the tiny streams had widened by the incessant rain. What we had just jumped over when going up, was now too wide to jump without losing balance and sliding down the steep slopes. Eventually, we had no choice but to turn our shoes into buckets and walk through these streams to avoid tumbling into the streams . Undoubtedly, waterproof shoes are as good at keeping water inside as they are at keeping us safe in the mud. So the rest of the hike, which was through an easy terrain, was made tough by water filled shoes.

All this happened in a matter of 90 minutes. In the 3 hours since we left our Airbnb, we had seen numerous waterfalls flying up instead of flowing down, winds that were good enough to uproot any tiny tree. Good that most of the Faroe Islands don’t have any trees. The Gore-tex jackets and pants had held their side of the deal and my t-shirt and pants were completely dry, but the shoes were as wet as they could get. So we spent the rest of afternoon drying our shoes with hairdryers to avoid going out the next day with bathroom slippers.

Sitting down in front of my laptop, when I write about this, I can still go back to that moment where I didn’t know if I was excited or scared, happy or panicked. Nevertheless, this was not the only “event” of this trip; it was, in-fact, the fourth one and thankfully the last one. What keeps the memories intact is that my brother had his go-pro on all the time during the hike, so we have watched the footage a few times. The wind gusts sound like a dosimeter in the go-pro camera. It’s just the speed of wind instead of radiation that increased the clicking noise.

I went against the chronology, but let me take you back a few weeks to tell you the story of the biggest blunder I have made in travel planning yet.


The Visa Conundrum

Being a person who prides himself for the amount of time put in travel research and planning, this is actually an embarrassing story to tell. But we managed to make the trip happen, so it has a happy ending.

Where do I start….We were two weeks away from our much awaited Faroe Islands trip, I had been wanting to go to Faroe Islands for more than 2 years since I discovered that the place I had seen in an internet article 10 years ago was actually just a 2 hour flight away. Everything was planned and booked well in advance- hikes, stays, food, car rental, flight – everything.

Still there was some complicated logistics involved because we planned to take our Flight from Copenhagen, and the four people going on this trip were at this point were living in Gothenburg, Stockholm, India, and Germany. But I had it all figured, and everything was perfectly timed with quite thin margins. One morning, while eating breakfast before leaving for work, all this planning went to shambles. I was reading someone’s blog about Faroe Islands and I found out that Faroe Islands is a part of Danish Kingdom but not technically a part of Denmark, and it is not in EU or Schengen Zone. Basically, we cannot go to Faroes without visa because we are not EU citizens. I instantly sprung into action and started to look into possibilities of getting a visa. My friend in Germany called the Danish Embassy in Berlin, and I called the Danish Embassy in Stockholm. I guess we found two opposite personalities on the other end of line. The guy in Berlin told my friend in English that he would either speak in German or Danish, which was another problem for him who had moved from Sweden to Germany just a few months ago, moreover he told him that it would take a month to process the visa application. I on the other hand came across a very nice person who was kind enough to arrange an appointment for me and my brother both, and my friend Aditya who lives in Stockholm. Moreover he agreed to fix an appointment of Akshay also who had to travel from Dusseldorf to Stockholm for his visa appointment. I would definitely credit him for making this trip possible.

Fast forward to 2 days before our departure gate, we were standing outside the Danish Embassy in Stockholm with visas pasted on our Passports with an evident smile in the visa photo. 2 days later, after multiple delays of our flight due to bad weather, we landed on Vagar airport late evening, around 4 hours after our planned arrival. And trust me, This place is literally in the middle of nowhere. Just the view from the plane window justified us coming here:

Now this late arrival had tampered a bit with our hiking plans, which brings us to the next adventure.

The Drangarnir Midnight sun story

After landing at Vagar airport, we reached our Airbnb late afternoon around 3 PM, which was 3 hours later than our planned arrival. By the time we freshened up, ate lunch it was already 5. Now we had two choices, take advantage of good weather and go for a hike which was on Vagar island or keep that hike for the last day. After making some calculations, we figured that we can be back by 11PM, which was the expected sunset time. But here’s a thing, if you have even the slightest interest in nature photography, the scenery in the Faroe Islands is so captivating that you feel like you are in some sort of fantasy. Our plan was to be back in 5 hours, but with continuous stops for taking pictures, admiring the scenery, counting sheep, figuring out if we are on the right route or are lost, and just stopping and eating took us around 4 hours just to get to the end of hike. The first two thirds of the hike were quite easy although we walked on so called trails made by sheep. But the last thirds of the route was most beautiful and most risky. On one hand we wanted to absorb the astonishing beauty around us on the other and one wrong step would take us down into the Atlantic. What we saw in front of us was indescribable in words, we approached a summit from where we can see two formations in the ocean. A door shaped 70m tall unique sea stack called Drangarnir, behind it a unique pointy islet called Tindhólmur. And then in distance the island Mykines where we planned to go the next day with a low sun indicating imminent sunset. This imminent sunset was the cause of all our worries as we got close to the edge of Vagar island near Drangarnir. It was around 10 PM, when we finally stood in front of the gigantic rock formation Drangarnir as the sun suddenly went behind the clouds and reappeared a few minutes appearing right at the edge of Drangarnir as we stood there trying to find the best angle to capture this.

As the sun went down, the colors of sky became even more beautiful, but at the same time the idea of hiking back this trail with sun setting within next one hour was a bit scary. To avoid going through the tricky part of the trail after the sunset, we decided not to stay there for longer and set off to the car park. But we had been in Faroe Islands for merely 6-7 hours, so we had no idea that geographically we were few hundred kilometres south of the Arctic Circle, and this was the week before summer solstice. Later we would discover that although the sun did set, but it never got completely dark up there. Unaware of this fact, with our cameras packed, we hiked back at the fastest possible pace for that terrain and within two hours we were back at our car. Two hours later, as I turned down the blinds of my room because it was too bright, it dawned on me that we could have enjoyed the second half of the hike as well without worrying about dark.

But we had convinced ourselves because we knew that next day we have to take a boat to Mykines where we were going for Puffin watching and hiking, and that boat passes right next to Drangarnir so we will have another close look at that scenery.

The magical Drangarnir

The Rest of our trip

Next morning we had to catch our ferry to Mykines at 10:20 AM, tired from all the traveling and hiking, we woke up at 9:30. This was followed by a panic cleanup, packing, getting ready, and a hurried drive to the port. All our plans went down the Atlantic as we discovered at the port that the ferry for the day was canceled by the bad weather. Now we didn’t know how to process this because on one hand we had missed our chances to visit Mykines, since the ferry was already sold out for the rest of week, but we got another day to explore the Vagar Island. An immidiate thought was also to go again on the hike since the hike starting point was a stone throw away from the port. But we decided to explore rest of the island. So on one hand our hopes of seeing Drangarnir were shattered, on other hand we stopped at every point along the road from where we could see it.

We turned this day into a photography day as we spent half of the day at one of the iconic places of Faroe Islands which is a waterfall called Gasadalur that falls directly into the ocean. Later we discovered many such waterfalls, but this one is unique and not as easy to find as well.

From Vagar, we skipped the biggest island and changed our base to Eysturoy which houses two Fjords. For our post-lunch photography, we went to a charming village called Gjogv which is in the North part of Island. Here we made up for the previous day taking pictures till 1 AM, and the sky obviously was still bright.

By our third day, we were just driving aimlessly, the routes were so beautiful that we would just keep on driving, sometimes we would just spot a waterfall and stop to take pictures, sometimes there would be too many sheep on the road and we would wait for some time for them to give way to us. At other times, we would stop to take a picture but then suddenly a big cloud would come and block the view, and we would wait for it to go away.

This aimless wandering was interrupted by a beautiful view of a couple of sea stacks right next to the neighboring island. I was aware of their existence, but we saw them when we were looking for something else. This was followed by a rewarding hike and a lot of great pictures. Our plan was to hike to the highest point in Faroe Islands, but that was interrupted by a sudden change in weather that engulfed all the mountain peaks in a dense cloud cover. They have a saying in the Faroes that if you don’t like the weather wait for 5 minutes it will change. That saying had come true for the last three days. But this time the clouds came with some strong resolutions and stayed for the next two days.

It had started raining intermittently as we moved further north to a town called Klaksvík which appeared to be a vibrant place. But we were not there for exploring towns, so without wasting much time, we went back into the nature but this time clouds followed us and the rains almost didn’t stop for a day. On one hand this made the waterfalls fuller and more scenic, on the other hand our hiking plans kept getting canceled, until we spotted a nice scenic waterfall right next to a road on the adjacent island. And we drove straight there to put our hiking gear to test. As we parked right next to the waterfall, sheep surrounded the car as they were probably trying to say “this is a bad idea” in a language we didn’t understand. Akshay, probably did understand and decided to stay at the car. But rest three of us decided to hike to the top of waterfall. That brings me to the beginning of this story, and you know what happened.

The Incessant rain had made almost all waterfalls very full, and quite picturesque as well. These two pictures are taken at a difference of less than 24 hours.

After spending the rest of the day drying our shoes, we decided to do no hiking and keep it just to photography. The rest two days were spent driving around the northern Islands and discovering uncountable waterfalls flying up against the stream, something that I thought I would never see again just a couple of days ago.

But we visited a lot of small towns and almost stopped to discover the place whenever the rain stopped. This lead to hundreds of amazing pictures and a realisation that how small we are in front of nature. I remember standing at a beach in a village called Tjørnuvík, in front of us stood two seemingly tiny sea stacks that we had seen from the other side a couple of days ago. But the height of these stacks is 70+ meters, which is higher than a 20 storey building, but right next to a 340m mountain, even this seemed insignificant. That was such a humbling moment that how small we are actually.

Towards the last couple of days of our trip, we moved to the Capital – Tórshavn. A place where we could see trees, people, cars, and eat pizza. In fact, we were in a 1 minute traffic jam as well, since 42% of Faroese people live in just this one city. But we spend most of our time exploring small villages and nature in the region around Torshavn. Did I mention, that there are no trees on the Faroe Islands unless planted artificially which you only see in the capital and next to houses in few villages. So seeing trees after a week was also a different thing.

The port of Tórshavn is quite colorful like some other popular Scandinavian towns

As the weather became better towards the end of our trip, we went to the most iconic place in Faroe islands, perhaps the most popular as well since it sits right next to the airport. It was a short scenic hike but the reason why this place is so iconic and unique is because we hiked on the edge of Vagar island, which unlike the normal islands and coasts doesn’t slope into the sea making a beach. It rather feels like someone has cut-off a slice of the island like a cake and eaten it. It’s a humungous 148m high cliff which has an infamous history from Viking times. On this edge of cliff also lies a lake which feels like a floating lake when you look at it from the sky (yes you can look it from the sky because it is right next to the runway of airport). On the other end of this hike, the lake turns into a waterfall pouring all the water into the Atlantic. I will stop trying to explain how it is and let the pictures speak for themselves.

After our hike to Trælanípan, we sadly drove around the island knowing that we have to leave the next morning. There was not much of camera involved in the rest of the day, just experiencing and absorbing the natural beauty. And hoping that this place never gets destroyed by over tourism.

It’s the Atlantic’s best kept little secret, where I hope to visit again sometime in future.

A short video compilation of our 800km of road-tripping on the Faroe Islands

Road Tripping Croatia

A few years ago I saw an unreal picture of a dreamy place with crystal-blue water flowing through a series of lakes. At that point, I didn’t know where this place was but the scenery had convinced me to find it and pay a visit. Later, when I found out that it was in Croatia, I discovered that those lakes were not the only thing worth a visit to Croatia, the country is a photographer’s paradise. At the beginning of 2018, when I and my friends were thinking of options for our next road trip, we decided to go to visit this beautiful Balkan country.

A week in Croatia was full of amazing experiences. If I had to pick three highlights of our trip that would be: beaches, national parks, and most definitely, the roads. So I would go in that order.

The Beaches

Zadar

Upon landing in Zagreb, we felt a welcome change in temperature, it changed from around 10°C to 25+°C. So the first thing we did once we got the rental car was to drive towards the sea. As it turns out, the sea is a little far from Zagreb – a 300km drive brought us to the beautiful city of Zadar. To our luck, we got a brand new car, so we didn’t realize when those 3 hours passed. The route from Zagreb to Zadar perfectly narrates the diversity in the Croatian landscape. We started the drive along lush green forests, then came the tree-less boulder filled valleys with distant views of the water, but before we could reach close to water, we drove through small Balkan villages with fruit plantations all the way to Zadar.

Right before leaving for Croatia, a friend of mine had suggested not to miss the sunset in Zadar. Luckily, we were close to the perfect place for a majestic sunset – the old town of Zadar which sits right at the Adriatic coast with uninterrupted views of the sea. We spent some time exploring the Venetian walls of the old town till we found the ideal place to enjoy the sunset with some soothing natural music in the background from a special musical organ – öalskdfj organ, which is a unique installation making amazing melodies with sea waves. Whenever a ship or a boat passes making waves, you hear a different melody which is quite scintillating. We sat by the sea enjoying the sunset with a soothing breeze brushing across the face as the sky changed its color from bright white to blue, then purple and orange and finally the street lights took over. This setting sounded a bit romantic, but we had no choice but to make it bromantic and have fun. The things I had heard about sunset in Zader lived every bit up to the hype and more.

Zadar’s old town is a quaint narrow peninsula which was built during the Roman era; throughout the day, it is filled with tourists coming on huge cruise ships. But when we went back to explore the streets after sunset, the ambiance of the streets had totally changed. The day-tourists had disappeared and we could finally notice the shiny white stones on the streets reflecting the lights from the neon signs of the ubiquitous gelaterias, gift shops, and restaurants. Not just the lights, these gelatarias, and restaurants added a pleasant aroma of a myriad of flavors into the evening breeze which made our mouths water. Eventually, we couldn’t resist and went to one of the gelaterias and ordered more scopes of ice cream than we could finish before it all melted. At this gelateria, we realized two things: Surviving without cash was difficult in Croatia, and gelato is awfully cheap here. The guy at the counter was nice enough to trust us to come back with cash, which we did. And then we carried enough cash throughout the rest of the trip to satiate our gelato cravings.

Croatian Islands

After spending one evening and having next day’s breakfast in Zadar. We headed straight to the accomplish the real purpose of Coming to Croatia – Beaches. Our next stop was a town called Bol on the Island Murter. It was a short drive but we got delayed by road blockages to facilitate a half-marathon in Zadar. After almost an hour, the traffic blockage opened up, and we started driving towards Bol.

During the drive, while catching up on the past months’ anecdotes and blunders, another blunder happened. We didn’t realize that the speed limit changed from 60 to 50 close to a village and a policeman standing with a speed gun clocked us at 58 kmph. 15minutes of talking to a policeman who knew less than 20 words in English and 250 Kunas (Croatian Currency) later, we resumed our drive towards the beaches swearing not to miss any speed limit signs.

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