Faroe Islands eclipse


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As always, we had been looking for a travel adventure to take us to some far part of the globe where we had never been. Sometime in 2013, our efforts led to an eclipse travel site. We found that there was going to be a total solar eclipse (there’s always one to go to somewhere each year) on March 20, 2015. The path of totality would cross only a very small part of dry land, namely, the Faroe Islands and Svalbard. We are lucky we reserved when we did, as rooms filled up years ahead of time. If the eclipse were to be observed from a land based viewing site it would have to be in either of those locations. Never having been to the Faroes we decided to book a vacation trip around the 2015 eclipse event. We like to go somewhere that is interesting on its own, just in case it rains on eclipse day. We booked with a company called TravelQuest (TQ), a company we had used for other eclipse observations and travel adventures. The Svalbard trip was marred by the fact that some people were unable to secure rooms and resorted to camping outside of town, a big no-no. One tent full of people has already been attacked, and, tragically, the offending polar bear was killed.
The winter months of 2015 were not especially brutal for Northern Virginia, where we live, us but they did bring us a few snow storms at some of the most unexpected times. One storm of concern occurred about a week just before we left on our trip. Our area got a nice dump of several inches of snow and caused us some degree of worry that our trip would not be as easy as we had hoped it would be. As luck would have it though, shortly after the snow had fallen, spring began to arrive and began to clear the landscape for us. Boston was another concern for us since they had not been as fortunate as us in the weather department. They had gotten hit by some significant snow storms and had had something in the neighborhood of a hundred inches of snow over the winter. Our concern was that our flight plans might have to be altered by any accumulations still on the ground at Logan Airport.

Well, March 16, 2015, finally came up on the calendar. We were packed and ready to go. We got a cab to the airport and joined the melee of the inspection line. Hubby had been TSA pre-approved and went through that line while I went through the regular line. I made it through to the other side first and had to wait on pre-approved hubby to get through. Seems like hubby didn’t completely empty his pockets and eventually had to be body scanned. The scanner showed several suspicious areas on hubby’s body. Turns out he had that morning’s Sudoku puzzle in one pocket and some clean tissues in another pocket. He was finally declared OK and he was allowed to claim his possessions and join me for the wait in the airport lounge. Right on time our plane from DC to Boston arrived and we were able to board and settle in. We got to Boston and had about two and a half hours to make it to the international terminal (Terminal E) and check in with Icelandair. That done, we had to go through another TSA line to get to our waiting area. This time we both went through the same line. Shoes off, coats and vests off, computers out, everything else in the plastic trays and shoved into the electronic scanner. We both made it through but it took another few minutes to gather our belongings and reassemble ourselves before proceeding to the gate area. The plane to Keflavik was a full flight. From Boston to Keflavik is 2,409 miles and it takes five hours aloft. We reached Keflavik at 6:48am Icelandic time (2:48am east coast time). While still in the terminal at Boston, I made a Starbucks run and bought designer coffee and sandwiches, since no meals were supplied on the plane. On the plane, hubby bought a glass of wine for the flight across the ocean. Neither of us really slept in our airline seats but we were both unconscious for most of the flight. Now to find out if our luggage really did make it all the way through with us.

We wander through the Keflavik terminal and amazingly we find our bags lounging on the luggage carousel with the rest of the bags from our plane. Oh joy. We grab our bags and load up a luggage trolley and head out to the main area of the terminal. We spot someone holding up a TravelQuest sign and we head over to them. We are now officially met by someone from our travel group and we feel relief that our adventure is really beginning. A lady from TQ and she escorts us over to a little airport bistro where we can have an eye opener and get acquainted with some of our incoming group while she returns to her post to wait for other folks coming in on other flights. Hubby goes off to the counter for a cup of eye opening coffee for himself and a fruit smoothie for me. We pass the next increment of time chatting with some acquaintances from previous eclipse trips and making a few new friends as well. Many of the same people keep showing up at eclipses. It is like a little underground community. Soon the TQ lady returns and tells us we can now proceed over to another Icelandair counter and check in for our charter flight to the Faroes. TQ has 138 passengers to get to the Faroes so they chartered a plane for just this group. The check in goes rather smoothly until it is our turn at the head of the line. We present our passports to the check in agent, and she scans our documents and consults her computer screen. The agent tries several more time to find us in the system with the same result. Our names do not appear on her manifest for this flight or for any other flight. Oh my. Hubby frantically waves his arm and TQ lady comes over to offer help. She vouches for us since she has been involved with the planning and preparation of this trip for a number of months. Our names are on the TQ list but somehow just not in the computer. With the aid of five more agents and the passage of about 45 minutes, the Icelandair agent finally gets us in “the system†and she is able to issue us our boarding passes. It is now OK to breathe again and we can move forward.

We leave the admin side of Icelandair and head toward to gate area of the airport. As we reach the escalator to go up to the Iceland security check we notice a gentleman and his very young daughter get separated on the mechanical stairs. He is part of the way up before he realizes that his daughter is frightened to step on the escalator. She begins to cry as her dad gets farther and farther away from her and she just is unable to figure out how to get on the escalator to join him. I go to the rescue and helps the little girl on the moving staircase and ride with her to the top to rejoin her waiting dad.

We go through one more security check and join our fellow travelers as we all wait for our charter fight out to the Faroes. Iceland is living up to its name and is snowy and windy. We had worried about Boston, which really wasn’t that bad, but here the planes are being deiced and the runways are being cleared.

The flight out to the Faroes takes about an hour and a half. On the way we got a chicken wrap for lunch and something to drink. As we land, we notice the stark and raw look to the land. It is very beautiful, sparsely populated, windswept, rugged and many other descriptors. Not a place I want to live but definitely a place I want to visit. Although the Faroes belong to Denmark, they remind us of Scotland in a way. The airport runway is adequate for our aircraft and relatively short in length. At the end of the runway, the pilot makes a U-turn on the runway and taxis back to the terminal. We all climb down the ladder, cross the tarmac, and enter the duty free shop of the small terminal building. As we go through the shop to the baggage area, we notice eclipse postcards for sale and score our first souvenirs of the trip. Our baggage has made it along with us and we collect it and head out to the front waiting area. The large group of 138 now splits up into smaller groups and boards our respective busses for transport to our respective hotels. We are just too large a group for all of us to stay in one hotel. On eclipse day however, we will converge back into one group again at our observation site. The experts are all carefully watching the weather and cloud patterns to try to assure us of as cloud free experience as we can possibly get. Our local guide, Mrs. Olson gives us a running tour of the Faroes as we take a 45 minute bus ride to our first hotel, the Foroyar in Torshavn.

Check in goes surprisingly well and we eventually find our room. There is no elevator in the hotel and our room is on the lower level down a flight of stairs. Hubby has to drag the suitcases and all of our belongings down as I cling to the rail. I have been moving rather slowly since hurting my foot last year. The room is right across the hall from the hotel wine cellar. Hubby looks through the glass door of the wine cellar and declares it a very well stocked facility. It is an adequately sized room and very “Euro†in its appointments. The electrical switches are a little tricky to figure out (which switch controls what light and how). The desk lamp has a switch that requires a bit of searching to locate and so on. The bathroom has a heated ceramic floor, very nice! The shower / tub combo requires a high step to get over the tub wall and no complete shower door. It is a deep and narrow tub design with a modern shower head control that requires a bit of jiggering to figure out how to work it. All electrical outlets are 240 VAC. While we have an adapter plug with us and most of our chargers will operate on 250 VAC, one or two will not and we don’t have a voltage converter with us. Hubby has to go back to the hotel desk and ask about borrowing a converter.

I get my first shower of the trip and boy was it a good and well deserved one. There’s nothing like about 8 or 9 flight hours spread over three flights in numerous airports, cab rides and bus transfers to convince you that a hot shower would be a good idea. My poor body aches in places I was not sure I actually had. Getting the kinks out was a good idea. Now for a well-deserved nap before meeting the group for dinner at 7:00pm.
Our first dinner of the trip is very nice and very traditional. We meet in the dining room and find some folks we met a couple of years ago on another eclipse trip and join them. The hostess takes our drink order (we opt for a glass of wine) and we chat until dinner is served. It is a large bowl with a serving of baked cod, chick peas and rice. It is very good. Dessert follows and is a small chocolate soufflé with vanilla ice cream with rhubarb and strawberry sauce. Two of the trip guides joined us for dinner. They were in touch by cell phone with a guide at another hotel who relayed that the northern lights were visible. Almost immediately, our group ran for their coats to go outside for the display. Ohhhhhhhhh, ahhhhhhhhhh! It was soon time to go to bed to rest our bodies for the morning tour.


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Ahhh...Sounds like you had quite an adventure...visiting one of the most remote places on the globe...
Reminds me of our visit to the Faroes on a cruise on the Celebrity Eclipse back in July 2012...
Our ship docked in Klaksvik, so it was a bus ride over to Torshavn...We had a nice little tour of the town followed by some free time...People were looking around for shops to buy some souvenirs--but everything seemed to be closed--even though it was after 11:00 am. Someone asked the guide when the shops opened...and she told us "Whenever the shop owners wake up and decide to open!"
Imagine that...These people have a 3,000 passenger ship in port that morning and no merchant is in any sort of hurry to wake up and do some business...

Anyway, from my recollections, the whole place is rather stark and windblown...There are small fishing villages hugging the coast...In fact, there's fishing and not much else...There are some old wooden buildings on a penninsula in the center of the otherwise industrial harbor which are interesting...But, otherwise, you get the sense of being extremely remote...The place is almost equidistant fromn Iceland, Scotland and Norway...

I hope that somewhere inthis adventure, you get to spend a little time in Iceland as well...though I'm not sure what it's like this time of year...I've only been there in June, July and August (three different visits) when the weather is "Icelandic warm" (the equivalent of the dead of winter in SoCal)...but Iceland has some magnificent landscape--glaciers, waterfalls, geysers, etc.


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Your recollections are correct, and yes, we got to Iceland. Keep reading:
Sunrise came about 6:00am and brought with it some color in the sky and some broken clouds as well. Breakfast is scheduled for 7:00am followed by a bus tour of the island beginning at 10:00.
Everywhere we went on the Faroes there are sheep, sheep and more sheep. They roam freely until rounded up for wool or meat. There are some sheep dogs and shaggy little ponies that resemble the Icelandic horses. We took a bus around from little town to little town admiring the shoreline, rugged peaks, waterfalls, churches and boats. Colorful towns and villages hug the shores of the fjords and sounds, with a green belt of cultivated pastureland beyond them. Above this, the mountains rise with their green sloping fells (full of roaming sheep) divided by dark stony crags, which give the mountains their layered look. The craggy protrusions are the vestiges of enormous layers of basalt laid down by gigantic volcanoes in the tertiary period some 60 million years ago. Each basalt layer represents one or more volcanic events. In between the basalt layers are bands of red tuff, which is the compressed ash, spewed by the volcanoes between eruptions. Tuff is softer than basalt and erodes more quickly. The basalt layers gradually erode and eventually crumple down on the layer below. The hillsides look like layer cake. The sea is the main source of income here, mostly either catching or farming fish. We saw a lot of fish hatcheries and impoundments. The Faroes are in the heart of the Gulf Stream, so the climate is mild and constantly moist. They are in the North Atlantic at 62 degrees north, halfway between Iceland and Norway. They are a self-governing region of Denmark with their own parliament and flag. They speak Faroese, which is rooted in Old Norse. Over 80% of the population belongs to the established church, the Evangelical-Lutheran. 10% belong to the Christian Brethren, with a scattering of many others. For many years, the islands stood alone and uninhabited. Most of the settlement occurred during the Viking Age. We saw some ruins of Viking houses and their parliament. One of the churches we toured had some old stones from earlier places of worship on the site marked with Viking runes. When the Norwegian crown came under the Danish monarchy, the Faroes became established as being a part of Denmark, and their properties were taken over by the crown. The Royal Trade Monopoly was abolished in 1865, and enterprising Faroese businessmen explored new connections with the outside world.
The sheep are raised not for wool, but for meat. They come in all colors: black, white, grey, mixed. We met another of our group who didn’t make the flight manifest. Her husband was lucky, but they had to do a song and dance to get her on board. These islands with a population of 48,000 are swelling by 10,000 for the eclipse. Every room possible is booked, and there are 11 cruise ships in or around the main harbor. Some ferries which usually are doing overnight trips to Iceland and the Danish mainland are docked to serve as extra rooms. Some of those ferries are bringing buses and drivers from the mainland. Our bus driver is worried that they will not have experience with the one lane mountain roads on the Faeroe Islands. We tour around the winding roads connecting the little villages clinging to the hillsides and the shores. There are cairns which used to be directional signals before the roads were built. There are bridges and subsea tunnels connecting the islands, including the only bridge over the Atlantic Ocean. There are waterfalls everywhere, which are the water sources. There is no subsurface water. We revel in a lot of Viking ruins and graves. I love watching the birds frolic in the surf. It isn’t the season for puffins (darn!) but we see lots of oystercatchers, storm petrels, and geese. There are over 300 different species living on or visiting the islands. There are many legends attached to the rock formations, like one about a king and a witch who were trying to drag the Faeroe Islands to Iceland and were turned into stone when the sun dawned. When we get back to the hotel, Hubby scores a geocache close by.

The National Geographic conducted a comprehensive survey of 11 island communities throughout the world. The Faroes were rated the most appealing. “Superb glaciated landscape with incredibly steep slopes. Only a small amount of flat land. A unified local community, resolutely Faroese not Danish, with its own language, it has a unique architectural heritage, right down to the grass roofs, quite rightly preserved and cherished.”
At our next hotel, we try more local specialties, including dried fish, lamb, and even pilot whale, that tastes like salty liver. You eat these with potato cubes as a chaser. Our whole bathroom becomes a shower at this place, and if one lowered the bunk, it would be a room for three.
We rise early for eclipse day (March 20), as we don’t know how badly all the extra visitors will impact travel to our viewing site. The day dawns gray and rainy. There is a fast moving front blowing from west to east, so we cross fingers and toes that the clouds will break in time. We join more of our group at the airport hotel, which our meteorologist has determined will be the spot with the best viewing chances. We have fun catching up with more of the eclipse groupies we haven’t see for a while. While many of our group head outside to set up in the rain, wind, and cold, hubby scores a table in the hotel dining room right by the window. This will be swell, as I can picture us being on the wet grass and me jumping up and down in excitement during the eclipse and further injuring my bad ankle. We settle in and the clouds magically begin to break intermittently. We see first contact and celebrate by having a Danish pastry in Denmark. The clouds continue to break now and then for every phase of the eclipse including (oh joy, oh rapture) most of totality. Good work, God! We head back to the hotel through the pouring rain for a little nap. Later we will go back into Torshaven for a celebratory dinner with champagne and local food, dancing and songs.

The day after the eclipse we rose for an early breakfast and made ready to depart the Faroes. After a group celebratory photo, we got on the bus for a trip to the airport. This time we were actually on the manifest. When visiting the WC, we saw a sign that we couldn’t camp, cook or sleep there. Dang, they are spoiling all my fun! Upon our arrival at KEF, there is a sleet-filled gale. We are pelted as we take our baggage to the bus, and Hubby really is stung by the sleet to get the luggage trolleys back to the trolley park. KEF is where 96% of visitors arrive in Iceland. This is our third visit to Iceland, but mostly we will be touring parts where we have never been before. Plus, this is our first winter-time visit. One of our first stops is the Blue Lagoon, an outlet to a geothermal energy plant that is filled with warm mineral water. Although this is our third visit, we enjoy it thoroughly. It is just the thing for my swollen ankles and Hubby’s torn up trapeisus. Iceland is one both the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It is a very active hotspot. The plates move apart at the rate of about 2 centimeters a year. Icelandic volcanic eruptions are primarily fissure eruptions. New fissures are formed as the tectonic plates pull apart. The ground water keeps seeping into these fissures, and there are hundreds of hot springs. The homes in Iceland are heated with the water from these hot springs. In addition, much of the energy used in Iceland is geothermal. There is even a type of bread made by pouring the batter into a milk carton type of container, inserting it in the hot ground, and leaving it there for 24 hours to cook. The constant flow of water from the many waterfalls produces very cheap hydro power. The one thing in Iceland that is affordable is the utilities. We leave word that we want to be awakened if there is an aurora and sure enough there is a knock on our door after we go to bed and everyone dashes outside to see it.

Breakfast the next day has many regional foods, including gravlax and a bottle of cod liver oil, should you feel the need. The day dawns gray, then driving rain, clearing, sun and blue skies, driving hail, sleet, then rain, then hail. All between 7 and 9 a.m. Iceland was pretty much uninhabitated (except for some Irish monks) until the Vikings began settling it about 870 A.D. There was a dispute over taxes which drove some clans from the mainland. They decided they could have a better life by setting up their own government in Iceland. From 870 to 930 A.D. was the settlement period where various clans (with their slaves) divided up the land. All this is set down in the Icelandic sagas, which are a mix of true history and legend. They can still read these sagas, as the Icelandic language hasn’t changed that much since. As we drive in the bus, we scare up some Whooper Swans, the largest bird in Iceland. We spend the whole day exploring the Snaefellsnes peninsula. As we drive, it is obvious that we are going to get a change in the weather every mile or two. In addition to the Whooper Swans, they get about 95 species which come to breed in Iceland. If it was just a little later in the year, there would be 8 to 10 million Puffins, half of the world’s population. For now, we are happy to see the numerous Ravens and Swans.

We make a stop at Ytiitunga to walk the coastline. We see several Grey Seals and Common Seals. I dip my hand in the kelp-filled Atlantic Ocean for the first time this trip. The Oyster Catchers sing their approval as we walk back to the bus amongst the pelting snow and sleet. In the distance we see Snaefellsjokull, (hey, just be glad I don’t know how to call up proper Icelandic letters on my keyboard) which Jules Verne used as the entrance to the center of the earth in “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” Snaefellsjokull is a sub-glacial stratovolcano. When one of these goes off, it causes significant flooding and mudslides. In Arnastapi we see lots of Fulmars, Gulls, Eiders, and Cormorants. Here, the characters from “Journey to the Center of the Earth” began their trek to Snaefellsjokull glacier to the entrance to the center of the earth. We see a statue of Bauther, main settler and now spirit guardian of the peninsula. We stop at Djupelonssaander, a black sand beach with striking columnar basalt formations. We stopped at a nice restaurant and had typical Iceland food, which is mostly based on fish and lamb. They grow some vegetables in ubiquitous greenhouses heated by the plentiful hot water, but many foodstuffs are imported. Thus, food in Iceland is on the expensive side. During lunch, the sun shone brightly, then the weather closed in and we had snow, sleet and then sun again. The snow-capped mountains are especially beautiful when the sun hits them. We stopped in Olasvikkirka. Most of the country is Lutheran, with some Catholic and a smattering of other religions, including some who cling to the pagan Gods such as Thor and Odin. Iceland has a population of about 330,000 with about 100,000 horses. The horses are a unique breed with shaggy coats and extra gaits, including the flying pace and the toit. About a thousand years ago a law was passed prohibiting the import of new horses into the country. All the present horses are descended from the horses which were in the country at that time. What is more, if a horse leaves the country to go to an exhibition or something, it cannot re-enter. We visit the most powerful hot spring in Iceland, which puts out 180 liters of 97 degree Celsius water per minute, which is piped all over the surrounding region. We visit the Lava Waterfall, Hraunfossar, and the Children’s Waterfall, (Bainfoss) and hear the stories surrounding them. When the Kennedy Center had the “Nordic Cool” festival a couple of years back, one of the exhibits was photos of waterfalls, and when you pulled out the photos, a recording of the waterfall would play. BTW, during that festival, The Kennedy Center had representations of the Northern Lights projected on the building, which you can see in the opening credits of “House of Cards,” in which we appear as background actors. We have a photo stop in Snurri, and pass a field with about 30 Whooper Swans, many Icelandic Horses and a flock of sheep. We head towards the town of Borgarnes for lunch and a tour of the settlement house museum. Driftwood was a premium building material for the early settlers, as there is only one indigenous tree, the dwarf birch tree. Most of Iceland is treeless because of the deforestation wrought by early settlers, and the sheep they brought with them, which munched the rest down. There hasn’t been a great influx of other ethnic groups, except for a friendly occupation by the British and USA during the 1940s. It is strange that everywhere I turned I see sturdily-built blondes with square jaws who look so much like me. In 1949, Iceland joined NATO. In 1986 it gave up commercial whaling, but resumed it again on a small scale in 2006. We visited a huge geothermal electrical plant and stand out on the balcony in near-whiteout snow with all this warmth around us. We go over the mountains and view Hekla. Hekla is Iceland’s most famous volcano. It erupts approximately every 15 years. In legend it is the entrance to Hell. Next we see Eyjafjallajokull which erupted in 2010, leaving hundreds of thousands of air passengers stranded on both sides of the Atlantic. I was watching the news about eruptions as late as two weeks before our trip, worried the ash would mess things up again. Our guide refers to these latest as “tourist” eruptions, where they got a lot of business taking busloads of people out to see the not-so-dangerous ash and lava. We reach our next hotel. There are too many of us to fit in most hotels in the Faroes or Iceland, so we have been split into groups and keep trading hotels so everyone gets the experience. Some are nicer or have more facilities, some are pretty basic, but have nice settings. Before dinner at this one, we step right outside our door and take a nice dip in the hot tub with a lovely view of both Hekla and Eyjafjallajokull. This tub is heaven for both Hubby’s and my injuries. In the distance are Vestmannaeylar Islands, which are fairly new islands formed from volcanic eruptions. Half the town of Heimaey in this archipelago was flooded with lava in 1973. At dinner, Hubby mentions geocaching and our guide knows what it is. The two of them plot out a cache for the next day. Between the main course and dessert, someone bursts into the dining room and yells “Aurora!” The room clears instantly and we all observe an outstanding aurora. Many folks don’t get dessert because they rush to get warm clothes and photo equipment.