PHOTO GALLERY: Faroe Islands Gastronomy

Last week I had the incredible opportunity to take a business trip to the Faroe Islands! It is 1/3 of the North Atlantic Tourism Association, so together with Greenland and Iceland, we three countries are always looking for partnership opportunities to improve tourism in the entire North Atlantic region.

I did go driving in the country one day, but when I was in the capital city of Tórshavn, my main activities were sightseeing and dining! The Faroe Islands are a fantastic destination for the gastronome! They have a kitchen full of fresh fish and local meat, and everyone is keen to tell you a story behind the ingredients on your plate!

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The first night, I ate at Áarstova near the harbor in Tórshavn. No photos of the food here, unfortunately, but my colleagues and I dined on vibrant whipped fermented fish crostini, the most delicate and divine piece of cod I ever tasted, heartwarming cod and langoustine soup, and the pièce de résistance, whole leg of lamb with root vegetables! Of course, the meal could not be complete without a cup of tea and a slice of rhubarb pie!

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The second night I ate dinner at Kafe Kaspar, the cafe at harbor hotel, Hotel Hafnia. I ate a cozy plate of Faroese specialties and tapas!

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In center: røst sūpan (fermented lamb broth) & sild (herring). From the top: rugbrød (dark rye bread), eplir (potatoes), turr grind (dried Pilot whale), royktur laksur (smoked salmon) & ræst kjøt (fermented lamb meat).

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The third day, I ate lunch at Etika, a mod sushi bar. Again, no photos at this location, unfortunately, but we had all the classics!

The fourth and final day, I ate dinner at KOKS, the restaurant at Hotel Føroyar that has recently held its own against Danish giant, Noma, in the contest for Restaurant of the Year 2013 in Denmark!

This was truly the tip top of my dining experiences in the Faroe Islands, and from the pictures below, you can hopefully see why! The food was not only local and fresh and tasty, but each plate was created like an individual piece of artwork! With each course a different plate, different presentation, and new set of cutlery. The food was artwork, but so was the service! My waitress served each dish with such precision and choreography that it made me wish to be a fly on the wall in their training sessions!!

Inside the dining room of KOKS.IMG_6085

I had the best seat in the house – directly across from the kitchen so that I could see the chefs cooking and building each plate!IMG_6086

Amuse-bouche No. 1: Fermented Cod Trio – fried skin, fried meat, and backbone for presentation. Served with parsley creme fraiche. Perfectly crunchy, and I think I liked the skin more than the meat!IMG_6106

Amuse-bouche No. 2: Dried Faroese Shrimp over Parsley Mayo. The photo actually does a pretty good job of magnifying these little guys. In reality, they were no more than a few centimeters long!! Five tiny pops of flavor!IMG_6091

Amuse-bouche No. 3: Smoked salmon over dill cream. The hotel manager’s parents smoked this fish themselves at their personal home! You can absolutely taste the love!IMG_6107

Malted Bread: Same malt as in this Portari beer. Served with brown butter and a chervil creme fraiche. Just what I needed to soak up some of the wine that came paired with each course! And I even opted for half the wine typically served!IMG_6108

Course No. 1: Scallop with celery, celeriac, finished with brûléed cheese and a celery root & brown butter reduction. The presentation with this one was stunning! The dish came with the cheese cold, and to me it looked like a wafer on top, really. Then the chef came over with his mini torch and melted the cheese right at the table!IMG_6089

Okay, wait for it… I am totally stupid and did not charge my iPhone on this night. And I did not have my digital camera with me, either. So a description of the next 6 courses will have to suffice! Sorry!

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Course No. 2: Poached egg sprinkled with fermented fish flakes and pulverized seaweed; served with a side of Faroese potatoes and a butter infused with lamb stomach essence. This one was nice, but others took the cake!

Course No. 3: Steamed langoustine with a citric butter and smoked spruce. Complete with a warm finger towel. This one might have won for presentation points! No cutlery, eat with your fingers – and then cleanse them with your own personal finger towel staying warm in your own personal hot stone. The smoked spruce was so good! It was not to be eaten, just to infuse the air! It was like being at the most gourmet campfire ever!

Course No. 4: European flounder over a cauliflower puree with Faroese mayroot and finished with brown butter.

Course No. 5: Lamb heart tartare with beet root and pulverized spinach. Served on a handblown glass plate. This one was delicious! But talk about purple mouth – forget about the red wine staining your teeth! Lamb heart and beet beat all!

Course No. 6: Faroese lamb loin dry rubbed with thyme and garlic with a side of bulgar wheat & spinach with peppercress. Served with a beautiful knife & sheath with silver inlays of whales, harpoons, and boats.

Course No. 7: Celeriac and caramel ice cream with dried blueberry, crumbled malt cracker, and a salt cream. Eating this dessert was like going back in time and eating the best Fisher’s popcorn in Fenwick Island, Delaware with my grandmother! The dessert was so perfectly balanced of creamy and crunchy, salty and sweet! I could have wished for a second!!

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PHOTO GALLERY: Mythical, Magical Faroe Islands

Last week I had the incredible opportunity to take a business trip to the Faroe Islands! It is 1/3 of the North Atlantic Tourism Association, so together with Greenland and Iceland, we three countries are always looking for partnership opportunities to improve tourism in the entire North Atlantic region.

In the Faroe Islands, I ate some fantastic local specialties and did some sightseeing/shopping around Tórshavn (the capital), but I think the absolute best experience was a private guided driving tour with John Esturoy. He has recently retired from the national tourist board, Visit Faroe Islands, but not to worry! He will continue to guide on the islands so you can just look him up!!

I am a firm believer that one should get a holistic view of a country when he/she visits. It is necessary to see large cities and remote villages, natural wonders and built architecture, and to learn about the culture from both a historical and modern viewpoint. The Faroese also believe this. They say, “You cannot visit Tórshavn only and say that you have seen the Faroe Islands!”

So here are my photos that illustrate our 5-hour driving tour that gave me as holistic a view of the Faroe Islands as my time permitted! They cover Tórshavn (capital city on Streymoy island, population 12,245) to Gjógv (village on Esturoy island, population 31) and everywhere in between! Statistics source: hagstova.fo.

I finish with photos around Tórshavn.

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This is a map of our total route. A/F = Tórshavn. B = Kollafjörður. C = Eiði. D = Gjógv. E = Fossáfossur Waterfall (rough location).Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 9.30.48 PM

Awful shot from the car, but below is the island of Eysturoy. There are 6 wind turbines out there, out of a total of 9 on the islands. (Unfortunately 2 were ruined in a bad storm a few years ago.)

5% of the power on the islands comes from wind turbines, 45% is hydropower, and the remainder comes from diesel. The largest diesel plant is in Sundur.

For water, there is no groundwater. Drinking water is rainwater that is collected via underground tunnels and directed to a reservoir.

While on the topic of resources, they burn as much garbage and waste as possible at a garbage plant. There are 2 plants – 1 just outside of Tórshavn in Hoyvík to burn all of Tórshavn’s garbage, and one on the Eysturoy island to burn the garbage for the rest of the islands. Any unmanageable garbage gets shipped out of the country.

There are 18 islands in total, and 17 are inhabited. Lítla Dímun is the only uninhabited island. 2 of islands (Koltur and Stóra Dímun) are inhabited by only one single family. Stóra Dímun has kids living on it, so to get educated, the child(ren) spend 2 weeks a month on the island of Sandoy. During the other 2 weeks, the teacher actually travels to the family’s island and lives there while she teaches the child(ren)!

A settlement must have at least 1500 residents to have “town” status. Otherwise, it is a village – even if it is just one family!IMG_5961

Entering KaldbaksfjørðurIMG_5963

Salmon farming in Kaldbaksfjørður (with Kaldbak village behind, population 232). This is a booming industry for the Faroes despite a shaky history of overexerting the resources in the past.

There is also a small bit of cod, and they are doing research together with Iceland regarding halibut.

Fun fact: if a foreign company is working or investing in the Faroe Islands, it can only own up to 33% of the company. IMG_5964

Inside Kaldbaksfjørður IMG_6074

Approaching Kollafjørður (population 771), the longest stretching town in the islands (8 km). It is officially part of the Tórshavn council, and most people are making the 30 minute drive to work in Tórshavn.

The infrastructure in the Faroes is quite good! There is an intricate network of paved roads, tunnels, and bridges that connect the three biggest islands, Vágar, Streymoy, and Eysturoy. All of the villages are on the coastline (except for Vatnsoyrar on Vágar) so all the roads are along the coastline, too.

Wondering where those trees came from? Actually, there were many native trees on the islands, but a large storm in 1988 destroyed 75% of them, so most of what you see here are transplanted trees from elsewhere in the world.IMG_5971

A typical Faroese house. It could easily hold 25 family members in one end plus farm animals (cows and sheep) in the other!

The grass roof helps with insulation and stabilization against the elements.IMG_5972

Kollafjørður church, built in 1837
Religion is commonly Luthern in the islands.IMG_6075

The chuches are always located extremely close to the water so that they are the first thing seen upon arrival and the last thing seen upon departure.

It also serves as a safe place to keep an eye out for incoming ships. Pirating from Morrocco and Turkey was extremely problematic in the 1500’s in the Faroe Islands.IMG_5973

Oyrarbakki (population 132). There is a high school in this town. Students are required to stay in school in their own village until 10th grade. Afterward, they go elsewhere by ferry for education.IMG_5979

Bridge between Streymoy island and Eysturoy island – called the “Longest Bridge Over the North Atlantic”. On the other side of the bridge is Norðskáli, population 295.IMG_5981

Fossáfossur on Streymoy island, seen from Eysturoy island – the highest waterfall in the islands IMG_5984

Fossáfossur, close up.P1020563

The town of Eiði, population 607. On the land across the water (on Streymoy island) is Tjørnuvík, one of the oldest villages in the islands. People have been living there since approximately 650 AD. It was most likely Irish Monks there first, followed by Norwegian Viking in the 700’s.

BUT recent excavation on Sandoy island indicates that history might have to be rewritten. Writings have been discovered in Gaelic writing, the writing of Southern Vikings. If it was Norwegian Vikings, it would be written in Runic writing.IMG_5992

Rock formation at the extreme north tip of Eiðiskollur mountain (338 meters), which sits above Eiði.

The rocks are called Kellingin. The small one is said to be a woman and the large one a man, with a baby on his back. The notch in the mountain itself is said to be the space where a rope was tied and cut all the way to the sea. IMG_5997

Just an easy drive in the Faroe Islands.IMG_6001

Slættaratindur Mountain (880 meters)

I had hoped to hike her, but there is much snow already and the weather was awful for hiking!

A word about hiking in the Faroes, there are many hiking paths marked on the maps. In fact, they used to be used by locals to get from one village to another. The hiking paths are public space, so everyone is allowed on them. And if you see a running stream, go ahead and take a drink!

However, off the path is private property. Every bit of land in the Faroes is either privately owned or government-owned. Even the tops of mountains 

However, IF a hiker behaves himself (leaves the sheep and birds alone) and finds himself off the hiking path, he will not be in trouble.

There are no predatory animals in the islands. IMG_5994

The Faroes are volcanic and approx. 50-60 million years old.

If one likes geology, I am told you should go to Suðuroy (one of the southern islands). There are huge columnar basalt formations there.IMG_6077

Funningur, population 58, down by the coast.

In background, where the sun is shining, the front land across the water is Kalsoy island and behind it is Kunoy island. Kalsoy is commonly called the “flute” because of its shape and the 4 villages in a row.IMG_6013

Arriving to our target destination, Gjógv, population 31.IMG_6016

A small stream where children swim and row small boats while their mothers sit on benches on the side and knit. Knitting is HUGE here.IMG_6018 IMG_6022

This statue of a mother and 2 children faces out toward the sea and represents the family at home waiting, wishing, hoping, and praying that the fisherman husband/father returns from sea.IMG_6020

The gorge that gives Gjógv its name. Many people come to this spot to repell from these cliffs and SCUBA dive in these waters. IMG_6030

Dining room at Gjáargarður Guesthouse, a Green Key hotel, in Gjógv. We stopped here for a delicious and simple lunch of fish soup, vegetable quiche, fresh salad, and gingersnap cookies with tea.P1020540

The view out the window.P1020541

Private rooms at Gjáargarður Guesthouse P1020550

Faroese sheep.

The Faroese eat the meat and use the wool, but they do not use the milk.P1020558

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Now for pictures of Tórshavn…

View from my room in Hotel HafniaIMG_5955

View of Dómkirkjan from my room in Hotel HafniaIMG_5954

The Harbor

Big ship is Smyril Line ferry that sails between the Faroe Islands, Denmark, and Iceland.

The weather changes here extremely fast, especially at this time of year! The Faroese say to come in the winter to see a really harsh environment and the elements. The summer is much less windy.

Just 3 minutes after this shot, it was dark and pouring rain! Listen to the weather report every morning at 0845 (in English and Scandinavian) to get an idea of what the day will be like! If it is a windy forecast, go in the direction WITH the wind.IMG_5959

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I told you knitting was HUGE.IMG_6050

The MallIMG_6067

PHOTO GALLERY: A Walk on the Ice(land) Side

For many tourists, Greenland is the add-on to Iceland because they see the combination tour advertised in their travel agent’s portfolio or something. But for me, it is the opposite! Iceland is the “add-on” or “necessary evil” in order to get to Greenland.

Coming from Washington DC, the most direct way for me to get to Greenland is through Keflavik, (Reykjavik, Iceland’s international airport). From there, I have choices for how to get to Greenland, and where. Depending on the time of year, I can fly direct Keflavik to Nuuk, Keflavik to Narsarsuaq, Reykjavik to Nuuk, Reykjavik to Ilulissat, Reykjavik to Narsarsuaq, or Reykjavik to Kulusuk.

Long story short, Iceland is in my life because Greenland is in my life. Thanks to this, I am currently on my 9th visit to Reykjavik. 7 out of 9 times I just spend some hours or one weekday night, so I stay within the city limits and just sightsee and eat good food.

But this time I have 3 weekend nights (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) and a bit more freedom! So I bought the Reykjavik Excursions tour called “A Walk on the Ice Side”. Reykjavik Excursions provided the bus transportation, and Icelandic Mountain Guides provided the guiding on the glacier. We walked on Sólheimajökull Glacier and we stopped very briefly (like 15 minutes) at two waterfalls, Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss.

Here are some of my pictures:

Toward Sólheimajökull GlacierIMG_6160

Sun over Sólheimajökull Glacier (white in the foreground and blue in the middle-ground are the glacier; dark in the background is land).P1020596

Guide, Ana, teaching proper positioning to peer down into a glacial moulin.IMG_6168

More guiding. It is snow weather now!P1020586

Cool tunnel on the glacier. Formed by gallons upon gallons of melt water rushing through here. Hard to imagine, huh?P1020610

Inside the tunnel. Not quite tall enough to stand in. Approximately 1.5 meters (4 feet) high.P1020612

A crevasse in the glacier. Looks a bit like a Georgia O’Keefe painting if you ask me!P1020577

We were in the shadows (or snow weather) most of the day, so this sun was a welcome sight!P1020597

Measurement equipment. This device reveals that Sólheimajökull Glacier depressed (melted downward) 8 meters (26 feet) since May 2013 (6 months time). For more information about glacial retreat, especially on THIS VERY GLACIER, see the movie Chasing Ice!P1020601

It is getting late in the day. P1020603

Between the many certified guides and this Search and Rescue Team practicing drills, there was a lot of safety on the glacier!P1020581

On the way out, we passed another group doing ice climbing with belayers.   P1020627

SkógafossP1020638

Seljalandsfoss – neat because you can walk behind the fall P1020649

Now the practical info… (Keep in mind that the date is 17 November.)

What clothing did I wear?
– Thermal pants
– Heavyweight dry-fit thermal shirt
– Water resistant pants
– Fleece layer
– Down jacket
– Breathable wool socks
– Waterproof hiking boots
– Wool hat
– Glove liners w/ touchscreen finger tips
– Gloves

What extra clothing/accessories did I have in my daypack?
– Extra socks
– Wool sweater
– Extra dry-fit shirt
– Waterproof rain pants
– Waterproof rain jacket

Did I need these extra items?
Regardless of whether I needed the extra items or not, it is always better to be prepared! So if you’re reading this, still bring the items!

I did break out the waterproof pants and jacket when we visited the waterfalls, but that was to protect against fierce spray! On the glacier, I did not need these items. And I was plenty warm with my layers, so the extra shirt and wool stayed in my pack.

What other items did I have in my daypack?
– Lunch (ham&cheese sandwich, piece of fruit, chocolate bar, juice)
– Plenty of water
– Sunglasses (see Tips below)
– Sunscreen (see Tips below)
– Camera, extra memory card(s), etc. (See Tips below)
– Pen & paper
– Lip balm

Last but not least… Don’t forget your adrenaline and sense of adventure !!!

Other tips/info:
– It sounds counterintuitive to need sunglasses and sun cream during the Arctic autumn/winter, but the sun does rise all year round in Iceland. And it’s reflection off the snow can be powerful! Do yourself a favor and protect your eyes and skin.

– If I can recommend one single item to splurge on, it is quality boots. Of course, you must consider your budget, how many times you will use them, etc. but in general, DO NOT skimp on footwear. Get something that is tall/supportive for the ankle, waterproof, and warm. Nothing is more uncomfortable than cold toes, but it is also a safety risk. If you can’t feel your feet, you could take missteps and injure yourself. Today, all the guides were wearing Scarpa boots.

– Colder temperatures can typically affect the performance of electronics, so keep them as close to your body as possible to help extend their life! For example, on this tour my iPhone 4S turned off with 16% battery remaining. And in Greenland in March, my SD card completely froze.

– RE always does a communal pickup at the hotels, takes you to their home base – BSÍ Terminal, and from there you meet your exact tour group. Look for the name of the tour in the front window of the bus.

– The bus ride to the starting point of this tour (and probably others) is quite long (2 hours). There was no guiding or information during transport on this tour, so you may want to bring reading material, music, etc. for the ride to and fro.

Brand Loyalty – Food for Thought

You often hear about travelers having brand loyalty to a particular airline or hotel company… And you often hear about avid cruisers having brand loyalty to a particular cruise line, or even ship…

But how does that brand loyalty start?

Does the traveler actually do detailed research, meticulously compare all the options, and finally select the brand that is right for him/her?

Or does the traveler more or less stumble upon the brand, have a satisfactory experience, and simply stick with it?

Using an example from my own personal experience in Reykjavik, Iceland, I fall into category 2. For my first trip to Reykjavik, I chose Hotel Klöpp based on location and price. I’m not an “amenities woman”; I just need a comfortable and convenient place to sleep with a bit of breakfast in the morning. This hotel fit the bill.

For my second trip to Reykjavik, I chose the same hotel because I knew it was a positive experience. Upon arrival, I discovered I had been upgraded to their Hotel Þingholt , a much swankier hotel with beautiful fresh orchids in the lobby and rooms furnished with horse-hair rugs, black leather upholstery, and chrome fixtures. This was more than I needed, but damn it was a good experience, too!

Now on my third overnight trip to Reykjavik, I chose the upgraded hotel! Maybe that was the company’s ploy all along?! But in any case, my newfound brand loyalty to them came out of pure luck.

Another question – can the concept of brand loyalty be applied at the destination level?

Can a traveler fall in love with a place and keep going back and back and back?

Or will he/she live by the motto: “The world is too big, and life is too short, to do the same thing twice!”?

Using another example from my own personal and professional experience in Greenland, I have to say that I think most people fall into Category 1… but they do have the potential to fall into Category 2 IF they find the destination(s) that truly fulfill all their motivations, dreams, and desires about travel.

Of course, I am a bit biased to Greenland having crossed the line from tourist to part-time resident, but I have found myself in Category 2. You cannot convince me otherwise that if I had experienced Greenland as a true tourist in 2012, I would have already gone back for trip #2 by 2013. And I would be planning ahead for trips #3, 4, and so on.

Greenland fulfills every hope and dream I never knew I had, and I can distinctly remember the feeling I had when I first landed in East Greenland on 26 May 2012. I felt as though I did not need to see another place on this planet to feel so fulfilled… And that feeling remains today.

I have cultivated brand loyalty to Greenland!!