It was just a few weeks after exploring the far reaches of Zermatt on foot that I was headed out of town again, this time to another land whose name begins with “S” but now in the north: after two and a half years, I was going to return to Scotland. I only brought a carry-on with me and didn’t even pack the dSLR; this was going to be a long weekend, and visiting distilleries and catching up with an old friend were on the agenda. Scottish landscapes would have to wait.
Surprise, surprise: since my last trip to a oft-visited and even more often photographed valley just before the Italian border, I’ve been itching to get back. This summer has been fortunately amenable to hiking, and with a long weekend in August it seemed only reasonable that the best way into Zermatt would be on my own two feet. But I’m jumping too far ahead too fast. First, I needed to revisit an old friend.
The Dolomites might have been the first mountain range after “the Alps” and the North Cascades that entered my vocabulary, but for one reason or another I really haven’t been able to bring myself there. I visited Vinschgau in 2015, and it turns out the western flank of the Dolomites ends more or less at the valley the eastern edge of Vischgau runs into. This time, instead of finding myself facing the Ortler group, I was instead looking at the Geisler group. Figuring out the nomenclature and geography of this area might have been the most confusing exercise in map-poring ever: my hotel was in the Aferertal, or Valle die Eores in Italian, which runs parallel to the Villnößtal, or Val di Funes. Both valleys are part of the broader Eisacktal, or Valle Isarco, which joins with the Etschtal (Val d’Adige) as the primary separation between the South Tyrolean Alps and their Vinschgau region to the west and the Dolomites to the east. Small world, multiple languages… endless Alps.
Nearly three years ago, I had the chance to fly to Singapore from Zurich on a Swiss 777-300ER, which roughly coincided with the two-year anniversary of my first 777-300ER flight, then from Munich. This year would be the five year anniversary of my original flight but in the span of those short years, Singapore Airlines upgraded their equipment: it was the same flight as I took in 2013, but this time I’d be flying on an Airbus A350-900. I was tired from a long night of work the day prior but exhilarated to experience once again a new airplane type as I looked out on a wet MUC tarmac one May morning.
If I had one outdoorsy regret of 2017, it would be that I didn’t get to spend much time outdoors. While I did get to visit New Zealand last year, the summer months were fairly weak in terms of getting outside. 2018 fortunately saw a better start, and I was looking forward to getting out into the hills and mountains in some really, really remote islands.
The weather forecast for my first full day in the Faroes was supposed to be pleasant, so not much encouragement was needed to get me out the door and on the road. The roadmap produced by the Faroe Islands tourist board is really quite good and includes a “buttercup” icon that represents scenic spots or roads. I picked one that climbed above Tórshavn, coming across a wind farm after a few minutes of driving. It only took opening the car door to see why this form of electricity production is so pervasive in the Faroes — it’s never not windy!
They call Singapore a “little red dot,” a reference to how it looks on some maps as being no bigger than a pinhead south of Malaysia. There’s an archipelago, however, whose locator dot nearly obliterates the islands from the map; halfway longitudinally between Norway and Iceland, north even of the Shetland Islands, are the Faroe Islands. More or less centered around 62° N latitude, this remote cluster of dots is supposed to be a hidden treasure in the North Atlantic. Eager to explore destinations laughably impractical from the US while I’m still in Europe (n.B.: Singapore, of course, is not at all laughably impractical), I set out northbound from Munich the day after I arrived back from my work trip to China.
Travel in 2017 ended not with wistful excursions to Nice and Riffelsee but rather with the standard home trip to the US. After a month without much snowfall, I left the Allgäu in the middle of a snowstorm and left myself plenty of time to get to Zurich Airport. It turns out I planned in too much time, as I arrived before the parking garage opened. I decided to circle the arrivals area, but I forgot I was in Switzerland; of course they would charge drivers to pick up arriving passengers. I drove to the garage after 5 CHF paid for my fifteen minutes of shame, turned on my blinkers, and stubbornly blocked one entrance to the parking garage until I could enter, thinking I had left the snow behind until I got back to the Allgäu in January. Boy, was I wrong.