It wasn’t that long ago that a cornerstone of having the exotic travel experience was the act of heading off to the travel bookstore and picking up a travel guide, and using that as, well, a guide to your travel. Selecting an itinerary, figuring out the sights, finding hotels and meals… The arrival of the internet didn’t change it much, at first. Indeed, it was mostly positive (some guides, like Lonely Planet, really started coming into their own in the internet age, and Amazon certainly made it easier to get obscure titles). But I’ve noticed that in a few cases in recent travels, the market has shifted a bit. Indeed, when discussing the planning of my recent trip to the Faroe Islands (an obscure destination, at least for the non-Danish tourist), I noticed that when I brought out the travel guide (a rather good one from Bradt Guides), more than a few of my friends and a fellow traveler both made comments about “Wow! You’re still using travel guides?! Don’t you have the internet?”
Our visit to London this time was a short one, so after just a few days we found ourselves looking for one last good ethnic meal before our departure, and my brother decided that it would be good to head over to Kilburn and get some Afghan food. Kilburn has an interesting assortment of ethnic restaurants, with more than a few places serving Afghan food, but Ariana II is one of the best-regarded (for those curious, the original Ariana is in New York City. I’ll have to check it out sometime).
One of the fabulous things about London is that it has has a lot of ethnic foods available that aren’t easy available in the US (on the negative side of things, there are also ethnic foods that still haven’t really arrived there: most Latin American food isn’t really available aside from Mexican, which is still somewhat a developing scene). One of these is Xinjiang cuisine. Xinjiang is a really good example of how China isn’t a monotlithic country; as one of the northwest provinces, much of the population is historically more Turkic than Chinese, much of the population is Muslim Uyghurs, and the resulting culinary tradition is a blend of Turkic and Chinese traditions. Lamb soup and kebabs are standard fare, and there’s even a variation of naan. And, in the London district of Camberwell, there’s actually a well-regarded source for Uyghur cuisine: Silk Road.
After three days of exploring Edinburgh, we boarded our train and headed down to London to spend a few days with family. One of the things I enjoy about London is that, being one of the world’s largest cities, there is never a shortage of new places to try. So I figured this would be another good opportunity to get together with Krista from Passport Delicious and try out a place that had been on her radar: Padella in Borough Market.
After a long day exploring Edinburgh, and a relaxing afternoon nap at the New Club, it was time to head out for dinner. Three Birds, a pleasant little bistro (with approximately 20 seats, so call ahead) with a relaxed atmosphere located in the Bruntsfield neighborhood about a 20 minute walk from downtown Edinburgh. Focusing on local ingredients and in-house food preparation (smoking, pickling, and roasting), Three Birds is based upon doing a few things really well. They don’t have a huge wine list or beer list, but a well-selected group of decently priced wines and Scottish craft beers. They have about half a dozen appetizers all designed for passing and sharing, and a small list of entrees focusing on local, fresh ingredients.
Our first full day in Edinburgh was mostly involved in touring Edinburgh Castle (which was quite enjoyable), and then exploring the Royal Mile. The Mile is more than a little touristy (indeed, having multiple street artists performing levitation and mime displays is pretty much the definition of “touristy”). It also has more than a few food options, including an implausibly large number of baked potato restaurants. But as we got towards the eastern end of the mile, the touristy places started getting replaced with some reasonably good pubs and restaurants, and one place jumped out at us: Oink.
After leaving the Faroes, our next stop was Edinburgh. Compared to our usual UK trips that generally require dealing with either Heathrow or Gatwick, in comparison to those airports, the relatively smaller and much smoother-operating Edinburgh airport is almost a breeze of customs and immigration, so we soon found ourselves riding the tram into downtown to meet up with my brother at The New Club. After getting settled in and enjoying the views of Edinburgh Castle, it was time to head out and explore the New City for a dinner spot. My brother had spied a Japanese place near the Club, and that seemed like a particularly nice change up from Faroese cuisine. So we soon found ourselves in a quiet alley off of Rose Street (home of an implausibly large number of pubs, even by UK standards).
Sadly, after our trip to Viðareiði, it was time to head back to our Airbnb in Svínáir, have one last night gazing over the Sundini Sound while enjoying the late night sun, and then pack up and head off to the airport (a journey of multiple bridges and tunnels). Our last stop before the airport was heading into nearby Sørvágur to fill up the tank on the rental car, and that brings me nicely to a last little topic on Faroese dining: Gas Stations. One mildly frustrating aspect as a tourist is that the Faroes still follow old-school European shopping hours. By that, I mean that that most everything closes implausibly early, despite the late summer sun. So evening hours for businesses are pretty rate, and most everything much more limited on Saturday. On Sunday, a substantial fraction of places are closed. Add into that, aside from the major towns (Tórshavn and Klaksvík), most of the towns don’t have much in the way of retail, grocery, or light sundries. But that doesn’t mean that people do without. Like Iceland, there’s one common institution that that is there to serve you when most everything else is closed, or you need some food when no other restaurant is to be found. That’s the gas station.
On our last full day in the Faroes, we drove to the north end of Esturoy so we could climb up Slættaratindur, the highest mountain in the Faroes (albeit just 2890 ft). While we had some tremendous views on our way up, we soon found ourselves encased in thick clouds and decided to descend and use our last day exploring a few of the villages in the Faroes that we hadn’t already visited. So we soon found ourselves in the far Northeast corner of the islands, enjoying the pleasant village of Viðareiði. The village is quite picturesque, lying on a narrow isthmus on the island of Viðoy connecting two fairly impressive mountains (by Faroes standards), Malinsfjall to the south, and Villingdalsfjall which includes Cape Enniberg, the second highest sea cliff in Europe at 754 meters (2,474 ft). Alas, the same weather that caused us to turn around on Slættaratindur also kept us from attempting Villingdalsfjall. So instead, we enjoyed the views from the village, explored the church and graveyard, and then wandered over to the restaurant. Restaurant? Yes, unlike most of the remote villages, Viðareiði actually has a rather nice restaurant, Matstovan hjá Elisabeth (roughly translates as “Elisabeth’s Dining Room”)
Our next excursion in the Faroe Islands was taking a ferry to the Island of Kalsoy. A rugged, steep island in the middle of the Northern Faroes, Kalsoy is lightly populated and is one of the more picturesque locations, with a series of idyllic valleys (connected by even more tunnels), and the stunningly cute village of Trøllanes on the north end. It’s also the locale for a phenomenally scenic hike, the hike from Trøllanes up to Kallur Lighthouse, where you get a stunning panorama of five islands (Viðoy, Kunoy, Kalsoy itself, Eysturoy, and Streymoy). This was one of the finest views I’ve had anywhere (and one of the most-photographed views of the Faroes). Afterward, we took the ferry back to Klaksvik, the second-largest city in the Faroes. While it’s a sizeable settlement, and definitely more of a “city” than most of the little villages, the options are still a bit limited for restaurants, with the choices being listed on one hand. After enjoying a pair of beers at Roykstovan (a charming little pub just down from the Föroya Bjór brewery), their menu mostly focuses on burgers, and we were wanting something different. So instead we walked a block down the street, finding Big Stan Pizza and Grill.