Category Archives: Daily Life

Learning to Drive in the Faroe Islands

The sunset from the Old Mountain Road from Gøta to Leirvik.

The sunset from the Old Mountain Road from Gøta to Leirvik.

We parked on the old mountain road, where sheep and lambs frolicked beneath us as the sun set on the sea between the islands. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to enjoy the view. I was there to learn to drive.

As I processed that information, the scene seemed to shift from idyllic to terrifying before my eyes. The narrow road angled down, steeply to my eyes, and with a slight but definite curve on top of that. To the left of the road was mountain, to the right, a little guardrail all that stood between us and the sea. I felt dizzy just thinking about getting behind the wheel — and that wasn’t even factoring in the obstacle course: a couple walking on the side of the road, the lambs crossing here and there at will, the trawling lines laid out for reorganization just a bit farther ahead.

Trawling lines laid out for reorganization on the Old Mountain Road between Gøta and Leirvik.

Trawling lines laid out for reorganization on the Old Mountain Road between Gøta and Leirvik.

“I can’t do this,” I said. “Isn’t there some place flatter?”

“What?” said my friend Uni. “This is flat!”

“…”

“This is where I learned to drive!” he continued.

“Great, you are a superior human being,” I said, swallowing my pride for once in my life. “I can’t drive here. Not the first time.”

The harbor, then. Late at night. The closest thing the Faroes had to the huge, flat, empty church parking lot where I’d first learned to drive automatic almost a decade ago. Here, there was just barely enough room to get up to third gear before having to turn before we went into the ocean. Perfect.

Bitstrips Driving

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Silly Foreigner Miranda

Being a foreigner is a lot like being a child. Everything is fresh, new, exciting, fun… and humbling. Here in the Faroe Islands, all I do is learn; sometimes at the level of a preteen, sometimes a toddler. I don’t know how to speak their language, drive their cars (especially on their mountains and through their rough-hewn, one-lane tunnels), or knit a scarf (much less a beautiful Faroese sweater).

Everyone here is incredibly kind and patient. They’re willing to speak to me slowly, switch to Danish or English at my slightest hesitation (btw, guys, I know you’re doing that with good intentions, but it doesn’t always help), spend hours explaining everything to me and even let me practice stalling their car in the harbor.

Bitstrips Cliff

They worry about me, this stranger in their strange, treeless world. Sometimes their concerns are well founded. Sometimes, like when I’ve been told for the thousandth time that if I take one vertical step up a mountain in bad weather, I will fall off a massive cliff and die, I feel a little bit patronized. Then I hear that that happened to a Faroese girl, just last week. So I shut up.

I’m still getting used to the weather here. The wind sometimes sounds like it’s trying its hardest to take down the house, late May is still not summer, 55 degrees is considered a heat wave, and there are a hundred kinds of fog — with different words for all of them. There’s dark, gloomy fog and fog as white and bright as snow. There’s fog mixed with rain and fog that parts to let the sun shine through in patches. There’s fog so thick I can barely see up the road, fog that seals in the top of our valley like a tupperware lid, fog that decorates just the peaks of the mountains like cupcake frosting.

Bitstrips Fog

Though most of the time I feel a bit like a child, I do have my moments of triumph. I’m an exciting travelling hillbilly, after all, redneck accent in the ready for entertaining at parties. I can cook exotic and delicious dishes. My time in Norway made me into a reasonably experienced and fit hiker. Despite my feelings of inadequacy, most people here are happy that I can say anything at all in Faroese.

And last week, although I was a little late to the pier-jumping party, I’d like to think I did America proud with my sjóvarlop into the Faroese sea! 🙂

My Life in Norðragøta

The stream going past my house in Norðagøta...

The stream going past my house in Norðragøta.

I have now been in the Faroe Islands for just over a week. It feels like much longer (in the best possible way). Though I am just getting started with my journalism work and research, it’s been a very busy week as I’ve adapted to my new lifestyle.

My situation could not be any better. I am staying with an incredibly friendly family who include me in all of their activities and love helping me to learn the Faroese language and the culture. A lot of my time this week has been spent doing things with them, from making a late mother’s day breakfast to going to the extended family knitting club. I have been settling in to the routines of the house, and just like anyone else, I wash dishes, cook meals and take out the dog, Lolli. Even during the day, when most of the others are working, I am never lonely. Eight people live in this house, and other relatives and friends drop by regularly as well, coming and going at all hours.

My room here in Norðagøta

My bedroom and puppy for the summer!

My village, Norðragøta, is a beautiful and very old village with a central location on the main bus route and road between the two biggest Faroese towns, Tórshavn and Klaksvík. Though I ended up here by chance, I couldn’t have picked a better place to live.

A Faroese Stamp featuring Húsini hjá Peri, the old part of Norðragøta with its lovely turf roofs.

A Faroese Stamp featuring Húsini hjá Peri, the old part of Norðragøta with its lovely turf roofs.

Norðragøta has a population of 550, and the larger “Gøta” area, which comprises Norðragøta as well as Gøtueiði, Gøtugjógv and Syðrugøta, is home to just over 1,000. By Faroese terms, that’s right in the middle — not a booming metropolis like the capital (population 12,500), nor one of the many tiny, remote villages. I can walk to a small grocery store, a gas station, a soccer stadium, a fairly large and modern church and several other commodities, but the village still has a friendly and relaxed bucolic feeling.

Horses and mountains from my window in Norðagøta.

Horses and mountains from my window in Norðragøta.

Wherever you are, you can hear the crying of the gulls and the bleating of the sheep. From my window, I can almost always see children playing in the stream, dogs walking around freely on the roads and even a few horses, who are allowed to graze in alternating yards and fields and confined only by portable rope fences that are moved every few days.

The Faroe Islands in Vertical: Here you can quickly see the difference between the Bøur, or infield, and the Hagi, or outfield, where sheep are kept in different seasons.

The Faroe Islands in Vertical: Here you can quickly see the difference between the Bøur, or infield, and the Hagi, or outfield, where sheep are kept in different seasons.

Norðragøta is quite a typical Faroese village situated, like everything in the Faroes, on narrow bits of almost-flat land between the mountains and the sea. Things are arranged almost vertically here — the sea; the beach and the harbour; the fish factory; the houses and businesses; the infield; the outfield; the cliffs; the mountain-top fog; the sky — are all stacked like layers of coloured sand in a jar.

Gøta also has a few special distinctions. It is the home of Eivør Pálsdóttir, one of the most famous Faroese singers, and the annual G! Music Festival. Gøtuvík is one of the largest bays in the Faroes, and the Stóragjógv cleft that empties into it is the largest such canyon on the islands.

Traditional Faroese church in Norðagøta

Traditional Faroese church in Norðragøta, complete with turf roof.

Gøta also features prominently in the Faroe Islander’s Saga, or Færeyingasaga, as one of the main characters, the heathen Viking chief, Tróndur í Gøtu, had his farm right here! In the oldest part of Norðragøta, there are several turf-roofed houses, a 200-year-old traditional Faroese church, and a living-history museum at the old house Blásastova, where my host family’s ancestors lived.  This is one of the best places in the islands for visitors to experience what Faroese village life was like not so long ago.

Norðragøta already feels like home to me. I’m very excited to spend the summer here!