Glasgow: a surprise package

As our train pulls into Glasgow Queen Street High Level Station, I reflect that I know almost nothing about the city. My knowledge of Glasgow is limited to secondary school geography from the 1960’s and a quick scan of the web last week to find something of interest for Anne of a cultural nature in what was once a major industrial city. At least I now know that there is a high and a low level station, my knowledge is improving.

We walk out through the station, which is a construction site, and into a city that surprises me with its magnificent Victorian architecture. I am struck by the number of buildings that have survived from the Victorian/Edwardian eras that line both sides of the streets including the impressive Buchanan St which has been turned into a pedestrian mall lined with shops. Each building front has such detail: sculptures, columns, towers. The Industrial Revolution funded the work and architects Charles Mackintosh and Alexander Thomson were influential in shaping what we see today. We wander through the city sensing a vitality and energy from those around us. On our walk to our hotel we learn that it does have a hill and step streets in places!

Typical mix of architecture and magnificent buildings in Glasgow

1895 home, Glasgow

Glasgow’s cathedral

The 1938 Beresford Hotel, Glasgow’s first skyscraper

Lively Glasgow city centre

Cranston House leads to 1797 Sloan’s Bar, Argyle St

1873 Briggait hall now an artist exhibition space

We do notice a number of people sleeping rough and begging, empty shopfronts on some streets, rubbish in alleys. We are seeing a grittier edge to the city. Since this is our first European city we have visited for some time, we cannot judge it this is normal for cities or an aberration. It certainly is in contrast to the positive feel we have of the city in general.

Flower displays everywhere in Glasgow

More places are letting natural meadow flowers flourish

Merchant City, Glasgow

A horse tree?

Painted Lady butterflies have been prolific this summer – we saw 10 on this single bush

As you will have seen from Anne’s post on street art in Glasgow, the fourth in the series following those on Malaysia, Santiago and Reykjavik, there is an amazing variety of work on display across the centre of the city, as usual in so many odd and unexpected places. Our search is quite interesting as we do not know if the paintings we are looking for are one meter or 20 meters high. It does take our first day exploring to find both those on the offical lists and quite a few unexpected new additions.

Having come from Edinburgh where a number of the older buildings are still covered in grime from previous centuries, I am taken by the high number of ‘clean’ buildings revealing the greys, reds and whites of the original stone. I learn that the cleaning process was undertaken by spraying a latex solution on the building’s surface which, when pealed back 24 hours later, removed the black grit built up during the coal based industrial period. This was first trialed on the Kelvingrove building which is now the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum which is home to a painting that Anne has loved for many years but had no idea of its home, neither did I.

Inside Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow

Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow, Spitfire flew with 602 Sqn City of Glasgow

“Christ of Saint John of the Cross” by Salvador Dali was purchased for Glasgow Corporation in 1952 by Tom Honeyman, then the Director of Glasgow Museums. It was a controversial purchase at the time with art students protesting that the money could be better spent on local artists. I am fairly certain their views would have changed today. As I have mentioned previously I love finding a single classic painting in a small collection such as “Luncheon of the Boating Party” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. which we saw in 2015 on RTW1.There is a great range of art and local history at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and kids are well catered for.

Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross, Glasgow

We have enjoyed our time here, enjoyed the vibrancy and humour, walked 10kms a day, but there is more to see so if we pass this way, we will visit Glasgow again and explore further. How many other underestimated cities are out there for us to find?

Glaswegian sense of humour: The coned Duke of Wellington statue outside GoMA, Glasgow

More Gaswegian humour

The things you do on your Buck’s night

Let’s ride the streets of Glasgow

Floating witch?

– Anthony

Street art in Glasgow

Part of the joy of discovering new places is to meander without any fixed itinerary, and taking the time to notice and enjoy the place’s smaller details that make up life there, taking in the atmosphere and talking to people. The beauty of street art is that you find it in the most unexpected places, often returning life to what were run down or dingy areas – it invariably puts a smile on my face due to either its message or humour, often both.

Glasgow has been a revelation to both of us but this post is solely about its street art which has been fun finding.

The most impressive mural to me is the one by Smug, Sam Bates, in what was once a delapidated car park, depecting all sorts of local ‘residents’ found in parks and green spaces, as if appearing through cracks in the wall, throughout the seasons. The longer I spent looking at it, the more detail I found, right down to the identical reflection of the church facing the wall in the squirrel and wolf’s eyes and the berry on the ground which the blue tit is eyeing.

Glasgow seasonal residents

Autumn residents, mural, Glasgow

Close up of Autumn

Winter residents, mural


Summer fright!

This fun one of a taxi floating at the end of a bunch of colourful balloons is so detailed, the artist, Rogue-One, even painted the bricks onto the brick wall! Thank you to all the drivers who stopped to give me space to step back and photograph this taxi in the narrow lane way.

Balloon Taxi mural by Rogue-One, Glasgow

Alleyways, underpasses, whole sides of buildings, Glasgow is rich in street art, commemorating famous but also every day people or activities.

Girl with magnifying glass, by Smug (Sam Bates)

Celebrating sustainable energy, by Rogue-One and Art-Pistol, 2014 – Glasgow

Celebrating sustainable energy, by Rogue-One and Art-Pistol, Glasgow

Cranston House entrance

Are Ye Dancing,, Cranston House, Glasgow

“Dr Connelly I presume”

Billy Connolly 75th birthday , by Rogue-One, Glasgow

Glasgow’s tiger by Klingatron and Art Pistol

The Clutha bar, Glasgow celebrating local patrons and Architect Charles Rennie Macintosh

Woman in black, Glasgow

Woman in black, Glasgow

Spaceman by Recoat and Ali Wylie, Glasgow

Badminton player Kieran Merrilees as part of the 2014 Commonwealth games

Part of the 2014 Commonwealth games, outside Partick train station, Glasgow

Glasgow Royal College of Science & Technology

Glasgow Royal College of Science & Technology

Glasgow Royal College of Science & Technology

Glasgow Royal College of Science & Technology

St Enoch cradling her beloved Mungo, by Smug, Glasgow

Close up of Mungo clutching his mother

Saint Mungo’s robin which he brought back to life

Saint Mungo, by Smug – 2016

Saint Mungo mural, Glasgow

A history of transport mural

Squirrel near Kelvin River

Hand shadow puppetry mural, Glasgow

Hand shadow puppetry mural, Glasgow

I always love looking back when visiting a place or travelling generally, as it gives a different perspective or at times reveals a new mural. I wonder which mural will turn out to be your favourite.

If you enjoy street art too, I wrote blog posts on street art in George Town – Malaysia, in Santiago – Chile and in Reykjavik – Iceland.

– Anne

So that’s why they call it Iceland!

After a stellar performance in delivering multiple blogs from the Faroes, well in my view anyway, the silence since we arrived in Iceland must have seemed deafening, to those on their couches. The last few days have been full for us, mostly wondering how to dodge more rain and cold and blogs have taken a back seat, so here goes…..

We are up early in our cabin after a luxurious night sleeping on a calm sea yet again. Are we lucky or what?! Fog or mist clouds our view on the TV screen from the bridge of the view ahead. Good thing they did not have that technology on the Titanic! Cabins need to be vacated an hour and half before arrival to allow the crew to prepare them for the next guests, so up and packed for us. Unlike the Faroe Islands, everyone is getting off so we gather up our gear, still damp from yesterday’s windy downpour and ensconce ourselves with a fellow traveller, Ralph, whose path we crossed from time to time in the Faroes.

Then we are down to Streak and Storm, remove the anchor ropes, load up and wait to dock. Motorbikes with knobbly tyres surround us, I believe they are heading for the centre with its gravel roads, river crossings and other challenges while we are taking the more sedate route anti clockwise around the country. I doubt our paths will cross and so far they have not.

Just as efficiently as we boarded, they have us off into a cold and wet Seyðisfjordur, the port in Eastern Iceland where we will start and finish our circumnavigation of Iceland. The first thing I notice is the trees, something we missed in the Faroes, which had virtually no trees, the second is snow a few hundred meters up the steep grassy hillsides, that explains the cold, snow near sea level in summer, whatever next… Now I know why all the UK motorcyclists head south from the Eurostar, they can get this kind of weather in the UK in winter.

Happily settled in the local coffee shop, these map apps are very good at locating them, we look at the weather forecast for the east of Iceland, rain rain and more rain it appears and sub 10 degree celsius weather predicted. Not our preferred riding weather and the alternative of heading south sees more of the same. With our gear still wet, we stay overnight to dry out and then set-off northwards.

Not sure I want to see the winter menu.



What a wild and windswept place, perfect.

Past the cyclists, they are crazier than us, although one we spoke to thought that those who walked were the crazy ones. Down the temperature goes and over the pass at 5 degrees, a hot drink and warmth starts to fill our thoughts and we make barely 80 kms / 50 ml before we find a place to warm up. Today will be a short riding day. We reach Möðrudalur, the highest working farm in Iceland, and probably the coldest and here we will stay. As we walk back from our room for dinner, who should appear but the cyclists, they have peddled the same distance as we have ridden, although we arrived about 7 hours earlier. My hat off to them, but not for me.


Typical Iceland creek, Möðrudalur

Very cute Arctic Fox cubs who just ignore our presence at Möðrudalur

Anyone seen the keys?

Anne is always willing to show those interested how Streak works

In the wilds, happy and together

Still grey the next day, but onward we go without the rain, we are thankful for small mercies. I am taken by the ‘fresh’ nature of the land, both the verdant greens and the volcanic activity that rents or covers the landscape we ride through – coming from Australia, an old and worn land, the recentness, if there is such a word.

Alaskan Lupine was introduced in 1945 as a way to add more nitrogen to the soil

On our way to Dettifoss – a lone house in the middle of lava flow

Dettifoss, Iceland

Dettifoss, Iceland

Hverir geothermal area

Þingeyjarsveit district – with some of the reforestation

Practicing for winter already

We chose to take a 7.4km tunnel linking Mivatn and Akureyri – what surprise that is as the temperature increases from 11 degrees to 34 mid-way – not the best experience for Anne being claustrophobic! We find out that Vaðlaheiðargöng tunnel construction hit some difficulties when they hit a stream of underground, boiling geothermal water.

34 degrees in the centre of Vaðlaheiðargöng tunnel is unnerving

We arrive in Akureyri from where in February 2018 two dedicated BMW riders drove their car 400 km to hear our presentation on ‘the Stans’ we were making at the Iceland BMW motorcycle club AGM. Then they drove 400km home to be at work the next day. We really hoped they enjoyed the presentation! We are catching up with one of them, Joi, while we are here on Sunday.

Saturday night we are eating at a local restaurant when our neighbours, seeing our clothing ask if we are the RTW motorcyclists meeting their friend Joi tomorrow. Of course we are. We spend time chatting and learn that Kristjan and Joi are friends and motorcyclists from childhood going on a road trip together the day after next. Connections again.

Kristjan and Gitte whom we met at the restaurant

Joi and Gudrun

Akureyri city centre

Typical Icelandic church

We spend longer in Akureyri than originally planned for some bike maintenance issues on both bikes. Stefan, whom we met at the Motorcycle Museum, has kindly let us use part of his Velaverkstaedi garage for us to work in, away from any potential rain and gives us hand at times.

They don’t make things easy to get to

I had wondered the last time we were in Iceland, in February 2018, about the lack of trees around Reykjavik, and have since learned that it was a combination of natural disasters, volcanic activity, and clearance for sheep farming and timber for heating and charcoal that denuded the landscape. It is believed that when the first settlers arrived, around 25% of the country was forested, This was reduced to 1% within three centuries. Later volcanic activity covered large areas and strong winds also eroded the soil. Until 100 years ago, many Icelandic people had not seen forests. At the present rate of reforestation, it will still only cover 1.5% by 2050. A reminder to us all, man’s actions cannot always be quickly remedied. See if you are interested in more info on this topic.

Example of the erosion

It snowed here last week, mid July – notice the reforestation

From Akureyri, we continue our way westwards, stopping at Hvammstangi for the night.

You come across all sorts of travellers – each to their own


Dry fish sculpture at Hvammstangi, near Haðlan Kaffihús


Our home in Hvammstangi

Walking through a new forest in Hvammstangi

The plan was to spend a week exploring the Westfjord region but more forecast rain put us off and we decide to head to Snæfellsness National Park instead. What a special place, especially Djúpalónssandur, or the Black Lava Pearl Beach.

Walking down to Djúpalón


Amazing lava at Djúpalón

Remains of British trawler Epine wrecked in 1948

So many amazing lava rock formations at Djúpalón

At Djúpalón

Anne in her element at Djúpalón

We have seen, experienced and learned so much since we arrived so instead of writing a ‘novel’, here is a simple list of things that have become normal for us over the past couple of weeks but are worth a mention or we might forget about them:

  • The smell of sulphur when taking a shower can be strong in places
  • Hot water from taps is extremely hot here
  • Night time is still light enough to read in summer
  • You can’t see the stars at night in summer
  • The tiniest villages exist everywhere especially in tiny coves accessible to fishing boats
  • Hellnar

  • The tiniest village will always have a church
  • Hellnar

  • Life here, at least in the countryside, revolves around fishing or sheep farming and Icelandic horses
  • Icelandic horses are a prized and unique horse breed with 5 gaits

  • Whereas sheep in the Faroes are kept predominantly for meat and therefore would be seen with long strands of wool hanging off their bodies, waiting to snag against a bush to be removed, sheep here have a beautiful fluffy coats for the prized Icelandic wool garments
  • The Icelandic language is the closest to original Old Norse that was spoken by the Vikings and has a number of unique characters such as ð (th as in ‘this’) and þ (th as in ‘thing’)
  • The power of nature can be seen and felt throughout Iceland with its numerous volcanoes, moss covered lava, waterfalls, wild coastline, geothermal activity noticeable with steam coming out of the ground, wildflowers growing out of lava rock cracks
  • Grábrók, Iceland

    Inside Grábrók – where’s Wally?

    From Grábrók

    Moss and flowers



    Wildflowers everywhere

    Magical nature

  • Many legends of trolls, demons, and prophets exist around the origin of numerous rock formations, islands, canyons
  • Elves might live here, so do not disturb

  • Everyone speaks English in Iceland
  • Winds can be ferocious here – thank goodness for Cape Town riding experience
  • No need for wind turbines when there is so much geothermal energy
  • Iceland is heaven for hikers and nature lovers
  • Don’t think of earthquakes when you’re in one of the many long tunnels
  • Sheep are as stupid as kangaroos, running out right in front of you at the last minute – thank goodness for good brakes
  • Staying connected is tricky when you camp and need to recharge your devices
  • Too many devices?

  • There has been a lot of “chatter” in our heads as we work hard on staying positive in the relentless grey, cold and windy weather
  • Snæfellsjökull glacier, the entrance to Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, is right behind us, in the cloud…

    Anthony won every game!

    Anne jokingly trying to recreate a brilliant photo a friend took at this place under clear blue skies

  • It is amazing how excited we can get when the low cloud and fog clears, even if only briefly, to reveal impressive scenery
  • Helgafellssveit


    We finally saw the top of Snæfellsjökull glacier – such an exciting moment!

  • Green is so vivid even under grey skies
  • Grundarfjördur



  • Birds chirp all night
  • We definitely prefer wild camping to organised camping but nature is so fragile and precious here that we decided to respect the Icelandic government request not to wild camp unless absolutely necessary
  • Iceland is expensive
  • It’s been fun repeatedly bumping into Ralph and Charlotte since the Faroes and making new connections
  • Nice catching up with Charlotte

  • We have enjoyed our time but the weather has been a bit of a challenge – yes, that’s why they call it ICEland! – we are especially disappointed to have had to decide to skip the Westfjord region this time
  • Too much low cloud!

  • It is Anthony’s turn to pick the next holiday/trip destination!!
  • A hot tub anyone?

A bit of trivia: we have now ridden Streak and Storm in 50 countries.

Just a couple more days here, time to catch up with our Icelandic friends, store the bikes in Reykjavik for a month thanks to these friends here before special time with family.

– A&A