The Faroe Islands, an autonomous territory of the Kingdom of Denmark, has a unique traditional festival called “Ólavsøka” (Saint Olaf’s day) that takes place on July 29th, a national holiday. The name “Olaf” reminds me of the cheerful snowman from the Disney movie “Frozen,” which was loosely based on the fairy tale “The Snow Queen” by Danish author, Hans Christian Anderson., But, I thought, would Olaf, who so longed for summer, come to this summer festival? I am hoping the Faroe Islands is a fairy tale world where I can meet beautiful women like Anna and Elsa. On the 18th stop of the Domain Island Tour, I visited the Faroe Islands; last paradise of unspoiled natural attractions in Europe.
◆Where are the Faroe Islands?
The Faroe Islands, an archipelago of 18 islands, is a territory of the Kingdom of Denmark, located between Iceland and Norway. Of the 18 islands, 17 are inhabited and one is uninhabited. Out of a population of about 50,000, 19,000 people live in the capital Tórshavn. The official language of the Faroe Islands is Faroese.
The currency used is the “Faroese króna”, and one Faroese króna (hereinafter “kr.”) is about 16 yen (as of November 2019). The exchange rate is the same as the Danish króna, and the Danish króna can also be used in the Faroe Islands. The only difference is the banknote design. Banknotes with motifs of nature and animals from the Faroe Islands are Faroese króna. The coins used are the same as the Danish króna.
Here are some Faroe Islands banknotes (From the top: 500kr., 200kr., 100kr., 50kr.)
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◆A Folksy Pride Parade
After departing Copenhagen Airport in Denmark, we fly about 2 hours, 15 minutes before arriving in Vágar Airport, Faroe Islands. For many Nordic people, this is a place to go and enjoy nature. A man I talked to at the airport said he was travelling from Norway. I was surprised at how beautiful Vágar Airport was, especially for an island airport.
It was also quite crowded when we arrived. Due to turbulence, fog, and a short runway, Vágar Airport is a difficult airport at which to land.
From Vágar Airport it’s about 50km to the capital Tórshavn. As you can see from the timetable, there are not very many buses. Also, the taxi fare is 600kr (about 10,000 yen), so I recommend rent-a-car. The road to Tórshavn is scattered with pastures, crisscrossed with small rivers.
Getting from Vágar Airport on Vágar Island to Tórshavn on Streymoy island requires passing through many undersea tunnels, only passable by car. The solid red lines on the map are the routes that can be driven by car. The dotted red lines are the routes than can be traveled by ferries that can also carry cars.
I got to Tórshavn after about 45 minutes. This particular day, there was a gay pride parade held for LGBT rights, and many people, both young and old, were gathered. Many people may have returned home to the Faroe Islands for the Ólavsøka (Saint Olaf’s day) Festival.
The Gay Pride parade is an annual event held just before Ólavsøka. Denmark was the first country in the world to introduce same-sex partnerships in 1989, and in 2012 same-sex marriage became possible. Since 2016 the Faroe Islands have allowed same-sex marriage.
A boy changed “GAY” to “CAY”. The little prankster took away the horizontal bar in the letter “G”. After that, he started to work on the “A”.
A little way from the city center, you can see the old houses and the cityscape. There are also houses with rooves thatched with sod. These grassy rooves are unique to the Faroe Islands.
A tradition since the Viking era, they apparently are excellent thermal insulators. Because of time constraints, we couldn’t go to Saksun village on Streymoy Island, but it is famous for these turf-rooves.
◆I Want to Stand on the “Most Picturesque Soccer Field in the World”
I heard that the Faroe Islands have the “most picturesque soccer field in the world”. Working from this photo, my search begins. It’s unclear who decided on the “most picturesque soccer field in the world”, but I wanted to go and see for myself if the rumors were true. I hope this will be helpful for those in the future who want to visit “most picturesque soccer field in the world”.
About 50 minutes by car from Tórshavn, we arrived at Eysturoy island. I went by car because there were so many undersea tunnels. Towards the northwestern tip of the island, we’re headed for a town called Eiði, which means “Isthmus” in Faroese.
When I get there, I see a soccer field.
Approaching it, I can see that it’s a nice, new soccer field, but there’s nothing to make it stand out as the “most picturesque soccer field in the world”.
When I asked the local people, they said to go further on, so I head in that direction.
As I climbed a gently sloping hill by a cliff, I was sure I was on the right track to the “most picturesque soccer field in the world”.
Following the directions of the locals in my search for the soccer field, I found a campsite. Drinks in hand, everyone seemed to be friendly and happy to chat. But where is the soccer field I’ve been looking for?
I went up a small mountain to check out the area from above. There it is! If you look closely, this campsite is the “most picturesque soccer field in the world”!
The “world’s most picturesque soccer field” has become the “world’s most picturesque campsite”. Also, I feel like the photographer needed a fair bit of ingenuity to get this shot of the “most picturesque soccer field in the world”. I’m not sure you can call it the “most picturesque” when so much effort is needed for the shot. When I asked the locals, they said the name of the former soccer field was “Eidi Stadium”. Apparently, it wasn’t a very good soccer field due to strong winds, so now it has become a campsite for campers. Didn’t they know about the strong winds before they built it? Nearby, a new soccer field has been built. Just like the one I saw when I first arrived.
So, in conclusion, the “most picturesque soccer field in the world” is actually the “most picturesque (?) campsite in the world” or just a normal campsite, depending on the angle. That’s what I think anyways. You can check it out for yourself.
◆Is the Ólavsøka all about “Frozen”?
If you’ve watched the Disney movie “Frozen,”, you’ll probably think of the character Olaf when you hear of the “Ólavsøka” (Saint Olaf’s day) Festival. In the first place, the original story “The Snow Queen” was written by the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, and in the Faroe Islands, part of Denmark, Ólavsøka is very popular. I attended the Ólavsøka Festival in Tórshavn.
The main event the day before the festival, is a boat race. The islanders are very serious about this competition. They are passionate about supporting their team.
Just looking at the excitement and cheering of the spectators when the boats cross the finish line is highly enjoyable.
The winners of the race have something they need to do after the race. In order to receive blessings from the spectators, they need to carry their boat above their heads. Taking the boat from the sea, they need to carry it for several meters on dry land. It looks like a punishment.
Among the spectators, many wore national folk costumes. This is not formal dress for boat race viewing, but formal dress for the Ólavsøka Festival. In recent years, the colors and designs of the costumes have become increasingly original.
Walking around the venue on the day of the Festival. This is not a 3D theater, but a 7D mobile theater. And I’m curious what it is exactly.
Lottery corner. If you win, you get a huge candy.
Since its only 5kr. (90 Yen) for one ticket, I think I’ll buy a few.
All losers. I started to think this was the kind of lottery that no one could win, but after watching for a while I saw this girl win a huge candy. Congrats! She looks happy!
I thought it was a photo booth like Purikura, but it’s a semiprofessional photographer taking photos.
There are many live music bands around the venue.
I looked around on the day before the festival and on the day of the festival, but I didn’t see Olaf from Frozen. In fact, Ólavsøka in the Faroe Islands has nothing to do with Olaf from Frozen. Ólavsøka actually means Saint Olaf’s Day, and marks the day that Olaf II, (St. Olaf) King of Norway, died in the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030. On the other hand, Olaf from Frozen is completely unrelated to the history of Denmark and the Faroe Islands, and his name was derived from the words “Oh! Laugh”. That being said, I saw Olaf from Frozen twice, but only in the form of balloons.
Saint Olaf’s Day has nothing to do with the Olaf from Frozen, but don’t you think the fairy-tale-like folk costumes are somewhat similar to the costumes in Frozen? And I was able to meet many Scandinavian beauties like Anna and Elsa.
The Olaf Festival goes until the morning. People who enjoy it the next day too, when you take a rest and get some sleep?
◆Chain Dancing all Night Long in the Faroe Islandsる
The main event of the Ólavsøka Festival is the Faroese chain dancing, where people hold hands and dance in circles or chains while singing. Looking at the timetable, the orange frame on the left is the chain dance that starts at 22:00 (on the 28th), and the orange frame on the right is the chain dance that starts at 1:00 am on the 29th. I’m not sure which one is more famous, is there any difference between the one on the 28th, the day before the festival, and the one on the 29th? I was curious so I tried to participate in both.
I arrive at the venue the day before the festival. It seems the dance will be held in this small theater.
When I entered the hall, the chain dance had already begun.There seems to be a lot of elderly people, but they keep dancing and no one misses a beat in the chain dance. It looks like the Polka.
A local couple I met on the way home, dressed in their national costumes. They look so nice.
According to the locals, the chain dances the day before the Olaf Festival are for people who know chain dancing and love it. So that’s why there are many older people who just wanted to enjoy chain dancing.
Next, the chain dance on the day of the Olaf Festival. This one is held in Tórshavn. This day was not as exciting as the previous day, there are just too many people. It’s difficult to move.
Suddenly it was raining and a little foggy, and a single male voice came singing out of the speaker. And this voice triggered a great chorus of singing from the crowd.
I don’t know Faroese, so I didn’t understand the lyrics, but the pamphlets distributed at the venue contained old folk songs from around the islands written in Faroese. In all, 21 songs were printed out. It seems they will sing them all tonight.
When the chorus is over its time to chain dance. But I can’t find where the dancing is happening in the square. Even when I asked those around me, they didn’t know either. It seems that not so many attend this event. After searching for a while, I found the chain dancing in a square in the center of the city.
Many people, young and old, men and women, were dancing. This chain dancing on the day of the Ólavsøka Festival seems to go on for a long time. Incidentally, the songs sung while dancing are old folk songs from around the Faroe Islands.
Chain dancing was commonly practiced over a wide area of Scandinavia during the Viking era. It seems the custom only remains in the Faroe Islands. Around the world, you can only find these enthusiastic chain dancers in the Faroe Islands.
◆Portable Urinals in Full Public View
As Ólavsøka is a national holiday, many businesses are closed from the afternoon of July 28th. This is an event that many locals look forward to as a time to meet up with old friends. While listening to the performances of Faroe country music bands at outdoor venues, people sincerely enjoy themselves, drinking beer, singing and dancing.
However, if you drink a lot you will definitely need to go to the bathroom. A little way from the center of the square, there are three things as shown in the photos. These are the portable toilets of the Faroe Islands, dedicated urinals. Four men can stand diagonally to each other and pee into the little holes. Although portable, I have never seen such toilets in Japan before. They are in a location with many people passing by, so I think I’d have to be pretty drunk before I could pee here. I really had to go, but I just didn’t have the courage to use it. The photo is out of focus, because a local lady got mad and shouted at me for taking a picture of the toilets. Please see the comic for details on how to use this urinal.
If you ever come across this kind of toilet, please use it according to the usual method.
◆The Illusion of the Lake above the Sea
I’d like to mention some of the places I really enjoyed in the Faroe Islands.
1) First of all, there is a scenic spot in the town of Miðvágur on Vágar Island, where you can enjoy the illusion of a lake above the sea. To hike to the spot, you need to go to the Bøsdalafossur Trail Head in Miðvágurt. The admission fee to hike is 200kr per adult (about 3,200 yen).
I went to the lower left cliff and back. It’s a 3-hour round trip hike.
I feel like I walk forever. It’s pretty far but I’m excited to see the spot.
And the road is a pleasant place to walk.
I finally get to the cliff. To my surprise these cliffs exceed my expectations. I go to the edge of the cliff, being careful not to fall off the edge.
Here we are. It really looks like a lake above the sea. Of course, it is an optical illusion, but it was fun to see this scenery and enjoy a little hiking.
By the way, the actual reality, not the illusion, looks like this. Depending on the angle, it looks like the lake is high above the sea.
2）Next, I take a boat tour from Vestmanna to see the cliffs from the ocean and to observe the birds. I arrive at the Vestmanna information center, where the boats are waiting to go.
The Saga Museum was on the second floor of this information center. Since I came all the way, why not take a look?
There are life sized, realistic figures of the Vikings of the Faroe Islands. Although the scenes depicted are quite shocking, the place itself is very small, so I recommend that you listen to the explanation if you have time. (Available in English only)
After the museum I go on my boat tour.
We go directly to the cliffs. On the way we pass cabins and vacation homes.
We didn’t put the helmets on immediately. Only when we approached the cliffs, the crew gave us helmets as a precaution.
I can see the cliffs.
Around August, many birds, such as puffins (Fratercula arctica), come to the cliffs for nesting.
Puffins are such cute birds.
After this, we go further and pass through a tunnel in the cliff. It seemed almost like an artificial attraction.
On this tour, I was able to see animals and nature unique to the Faroe Islands up close. The nature of the Faroe Islands as seen from the boat tour is quite different from what I enjoyed on the hike.
◆Restaurants and Credit Card Use in the Faroe Islands
In the Faroe Islands, I found a sushi restaurant called “Etika” that looked very nice. In the food court of Vágar Airport, Etika has a small stand where they sell take-out. It was so good; I couldn’t believe I was in an airport. The taste was just right for Japanese people, maybe that’s why I thought it was so good.
I found Etika in Tórshavn as well. The building itself is very modern, but the roof is turf. It’s in the center of town, so it’s unlikely that you will miss it. I wonder, is the taste different from the sushi sold at the food court in the airport?
The interior has a calm and sophisticated atmosphere. Shichimi (7 spice blend) is set on the table.
This is portion of Etika’s menu. One skewer is 42kr. (about 672 yen), and a set menu of sushi and skewers goes as high as 520kr. (about 8,320 yen), but these kinds of high prices are normal in Northern Europe.
The sushi is as delicious as sushi in Japan, but the salmon is especially fresh and delicious as it is usually caught nearby. The skewers were somewhat unique, but the teriyaki sauce was excellent. There was also edamame and shrimp cutlet.
A five minute walk from Etika. I arrived at Fish House “Barbara”. In the middle of the photo, the building lit with lights. Looking only at the exterior, the restaurant seems to be just a house.
The ceiling inside is quite low, but the feel is compact and cozy.
You can choose from a set menu or a la carte. The selections from a la carte were not so different from the set menu choices, so I chose the “Set Menu Chef’s Choice”. The price was about 700kr. (11,200 yen). The furniture and tableware were also very fashionable.
The following are the dishes that came with the course. Everything was fresh seafood caught in the Faroe Islands, and the flavor was exquisite.
I can’t remember all the details, but the waitress carefully explained the dishes one by one. I was very satisfied with both the taste and the service. The staff wore uniforms that were folk costumes from the Faroe Islands.
And finally, a crepe stand I chose to try out of all the stalls and stands at the Ólavsøka Festival. As with festivals in Japan, there were all kinds of food stands. They were selling things like hotdogs, pizza, hamburgers, crepes etc. Near the city center, I found a crepe stand with a long line-up. I thought this place must be delicious so I join all the other people, in a lineup that took 1.5 to 2 hours.
Among the Ólavsøka Festival stalls, some accept credit cards, but some only accept cash, so if you want to enjoy the stalls, prepare some cash ahead of time. There was an ATM, but the line-up for it was very long.
So, this is the crepe. For an hour and a half wait, I had high expectations, but it was just a normal crepe. Like Japan, it may be that many people wanted to eat crepes just because it’s a festival!
When I researched ahead, before visiting the islands, I found that many shops don’t accept credit cards, so I brought a lot of cash. But actually, most shops did accept credit cards, so I had a lot of cash leftover.
◆Purchasing a SIM Locally & Testing the Internet Speed
I purchased a local SIM at Vágar Airport. Whereas GlobalMe was unstable in some places, the local SIMs were stable in the Faroe Islands. The following is the local SIM internet speed.
◆The “.fo” Domain, Full of National Love
The deep love the people of the Faroe Islands have for their nation that I felt at Ólavsøka, was also apparent in the domain use.
Many businesses in the Faroe Islands use the ccTLD “.fo”. I rarely found the “.com” address.
■The following is a summary of the places visited during the Domain Island Tour.
■For Access Details to the Faroe Islands, Click Here
■For “.fo” Domain Details and Application, Click Here