SStepping onto the deck of the Smyril Line ferry between Denmark and the Faroe Islands, I watched a bunch of kids playing tig. Another group was playing football in the fenced enclosure. The parents were in the observation room reading books. My son Conor and I took turns at the port telescope, examining the distant silhouette of Muckle Flugga Lighthouse in the Shetland Islands. We wondered why the Faroe Islands and Shetland had never joined as a political unit, given that they are reasonably close neighbours. A history book was needed. Next to us, crouched in a chaise longue, a woman scribbled furiously in a journal, the margins exploding into hasty sketches.
As foot passengers on a ferry, we were certainly saving on CO2 emissions, producing around 19 grams per kilometer per head, compared to 156 on a short-haul flight. But those were the other benefits I noticed: time to read books, write journals, play tig, or just look around.
The practicalities of overland travel can be a challenge and costs can be higher, but it’s always a richer experience, sometimes becoming more important and memorable than the destination itself. And if, like the restless traveler Ulysses, your journey home becomes the main event, and you arrive home to find that no one recognizes you but the dog, you have accomplished something wonderful. Here are some suggestions for creating such epic journeys.
Great Baltic beach and boat trip
The Baltic may seem like an ambitious goal for the non-pilot, but with time and patience it is achievable. The German ports of Kiel and Lübeck (both a short train ride from Hamburg) are from the former Hanseatic League warehouses which connect the entire North Sea with a network of ferry services. Lübeck alone is worth a walking tour, so hop on a Stena line boat for Liepāja, the third largest city in Latvia.
Our hike begins on the eight kilometer long sandy beach in town, but head first to the craftsmen’s house and see the 123-meter amber necklace made from beads donated by the public in 2003. You might pay attention to these nuggets of amber, which are regularly washed up on shore.
Once out of the port, turn south for a beautiful, invigorating walk over the Lithuanian border to the port of Klaipedia, 105 km (from where you can catch a DFDS ferry back to Kiel) or, more ambitiously, head north, with the sound of the waves forever in your left ear, buying wild strawberries from homemade boxes by the roadside, passing pavilions summer and miles of sand. Just 500 kilometers away is Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, and just when you think the odyssey is over, there’s the Tallink Ferry to the Åland Islands at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia, and from there to Sweden, pockets full of amber.
Swimming with moray eels, Ponza, Italy
In Roman times, fish was almost always on the menu. The only surviving Roman cookbook, that of Apicius De re coquinariaor About Cooking, lists 459 recipes, 347 of which contain fermented fish sauce, similar to the nam pla used in Southeast Asian cuisine. One fish particularly prized by emperors was the moray eel, a creature known to divers as the grumpy brute that peers through holes in coral reefs, then stalks away revealing a dazzling array of mottled colors – and a few vicious teeth. Catching this animal is not easy, but the Romans found a way.
On the island of Ponza, located west of Naples and south of Rome, they built an elaborate fish farm called Grotte di Pilato (named after Pontius Pilate). This moray eel nursery was a complex of sea caves, tunnels and pools where fish could be herded ready for use.
Catch a train to one of Lazio’s ports – Anzio, Terracina or Formia – then hop on a ferry. Small motorboats can be hired from Ponza port (from €400 a day) to the Grotte di Pilato, less than a kilometer along the coast (remember to take swimming gear). Sea enthusiasts will then also want to make a jump to the neighboring island of Ventotene for its diving. It is also a nature reserve, with excellent bird watching.
Climbing the Sea Stack, County Donegal, Ireland
Climbing unknown peaks may seem like the faraway territory of the toughest elite, a dream not available to us mortals. There are, however, places where few human feet have ventured yet are accessible to anyone with a reasonable level of fitness and strength: the sea stacks and cliffs of Donegal are among them.
There are many ferry choices to Northern Ireland and the Republic: from Fishguard, Pembroke, Holyhead, Liverpool and Cairnryan near Stranraer (as well as services from Cherbourg in France and the Isle of Man). In some ways, crossing the Irish Sea is the easiest part of this trip. Donegal has no railway so using public transport means tackling the bus network.
climbing guide Iain Miller, based in Falcarragh on the Donegal coast, have been working regularly around the county’s hundreds of seacks and cliffs for some time. Much depends on weather and tides, but you might find yourself walking along a cliff, climbing to a beach, then taking a short dinghy trip before finally climbing the target you have. chosen. Iain adjusts his trips based on his experience and abilities, but expect to be pushed.
Skuas Kebabs, St Kilda, Scotland
When I visited the Faroe Islands, there was one place everyone was asking me about: St Kilda. It’s part of the UK but can be harder to get to than places on the other side of the globe, as the 57 miles of sea between the Outer Hebrides and Village Bay is treacherous. The best option is to take a trip from Oban with Hebrides Cruises, whose founder, Rob Barlow, is an inspiring companion on such an adventure – occasionally donning a drysuit and going overboard to chase scallops. Otherwise, trained sailors might attempt the voyage; the Hebridean Dolphin and Whale Trust uses volunteers to conduct cetacean surveys in the area; and there are also day trips from Skye Where Harris.
Once on the island you will need binoculars: the birdlife is magnificent. An estimated 100,000 puffins and 60,000 gannets live here, the latter swarming around the looming rock tower of Stac Lee. In season, beware of the great skuas which vigorously defend their nests on the ground.
Cream and Surf Tartlets, Portugal
You wake up early. You want a cream pie. But not just any old pie – it has to be a pastel de nata of the best place in Portugal. Maybe it’s the Lisbon one Pasteis de Belem, but it’s often a bit busy. Maybe the Downtime market will be better. You arrive in Portsmouth in time for the night Brittany Ferries crossing to Santander. From there it’s the train (or bus, which is faster but less fun) via Madrid and Porto.
Two days later, you bring to your lips this immortal pastry filled with creamy vanilla pastry cream and dusted with icing sugar. But wait: what’s that over there? A pao of two, a soft roll coated in coconut and sugar. Even better is a santa clara pastel, with a deliciously thin dough wrapped around an almond cream. Maybe with a tourniquet coffee (with milk in a small cup)?
Of course, we haven’t come this far for the sugar alone. You are now ready to surf. Head 60 miles north to Peniche, then take a boat to Berlingas, archipelago and nature reserve 10 miles from the coast. There are also excellent dive (lots of wrecks) and wildlife viewing here too.