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.

Seyðisfjödur

Seyðisfjödur


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.

Möðrudalur

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 https://hmdecozine.com/2014/01/21/iceland/ 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

Skagafjödur

Dry fish sculpture at Hvammstangi, near Haðlan Kaffihús

Hvammstangi

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


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

    Kirfjúfell

    Gotafoss

    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

    Skagaljfjorur


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

  • Green is so vivid even under grey skies
  • Grundarfjördur

    Grundarfjördur

    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

Cruising the Faroe Islands

Welcome on board.  We are the first company to provide cruises within the Faroe Islands for discerning customers who are looking for something a little different when they travel.  Unlike the Smyril line which runs from Denmark to the Faroe Islands and onward to Iceland, taking days, or the short intra island ferries, we offer something in-between. From the moment we pick you up, you will pampered and cared for to ensure you arrive in tip top condition at your final destination.

Our embarkation points are carefully located across the Faroe Islands, where you will wait with your friends in our purpose built waiting facilities.  Free food and drink will be provided to all our guests. 

Pick any circle to wait

Boarding will be by one of three dedicated boarding channels, which will whisk you on board with the minimum of fuss to then allow you to mingle with fellow passengers ahead of your cruise.  

Welcome aboard, swim this way

In keeping with our five star standards we provide all our guests free spa and detox facilities.  Here in cool clear spring water you will bathe and be treated with our special mix of chemicals leaving you louse free and ready to travel.

Your cruise ends at the purpose built facilities in Glyvrar on the island of Eysturoy. Here our streamlined disembarkation process with deliver you to the arrivals terminal where you will be shipped to your final destination.  Thank you for choosing to travel with us.

Disembark via the large steel pipe, one at time please.

Well I probably would not sign up for that cruise!   We saw the modern Bakkafrost plant at Glyvrar where the photos were taken.  The layout reminded me of the Honda plant we saw in 2017 in the USA. Multi level conveyor belts taking product around the plant.  It is amazing to think of the thought that has got into delivering live fish to the plant in pristine condition for processing.  The Atlantic salmon literally swim all the way and are still moving as they head through the plant.  We saw a couple leap-off the conveyor belts but the end result will be the same. I did not realise that over 90% of Atlantic Salmon produced worldwide is farmed, increased demand and reduction of habitat due to human development the main reasons.

– Anthony

A week in the Faroes

I yearned for a return to nature and solitude. Even though we set off from the capital Torshavn in the rain on our first day exploring the Faroes in its typical foggy and drizzly best, it wasn’t long before I felt I was exactly where I needed to be.  The past 9 months’ stress fizzled away into the mist, lifting my spirit, even made me feel like I could start it all over again – but not just yet!!

Can you tell Anne is loving riding in the Faroes?

Although we are fair weather people, there is something about misty weather that somehow connects you more to nature. Even though the lighting is mostly grey, the greens look as if you are seeing them through polarising glasses. Yellow, pink, white, orange and purple wildflowers line the roads, walking paths and cover most pastures.   It is not only the greens that are mindblowingly bright, every colour is sharp – the air must be so pure here.  The beauty of riding bikes as opposed to driving is that you can smell nature, there are so many flowers, you can smell them as you ride.  Maybe not so good for those with pollen allergy.  You can also smell the fish as you ride through villages.  

Foggy morning in the Faroes

Wildflowers everywhere in the Faroes

Wildflower in Tjornuvik, Streymoy

In Sandavágur, Vagar

Gásadalur, Vagar

View from Vagar

Up to Saksun, Streymoy

Typical church in the Faroes

“Thanks for Everything” is commonly written on gravestones in the Faroes

Saksun, Streymoy

Saksun, Streymoy

Saksun, Streymoy

On the way to Tjornuvik, Streymoy

Tjornuvik, Streymoy

Tjornuvik, Streymoy

Planting potatoes in Tjornuvik, Streymoy

Waterfalls everywhere in the Faroes, Streymoy

The scenery is breathtaking!  At times, it reminds us of either New Zealand, the Drakensberg in South Africa, Ireland or even Iceland.  But the Faroes have a feel of their own.  You feel the Faroese culture at every bend as the countryside is dotted with tiny hamlets, each costal one with its own little harbour.  The air is clear like I have never experienced – even my own photos nearly look fake or like miniature villages.  

On our way to Gjogv Eysturoy

Funningur, Eysturoy

Bumping into Nimbus Danes we met on the ferry over in Funningur, Eysturoy

Some of the Nimbus bikes in Funningur, Eysturoy

Anne is happy in Funningur, Eysturoy

View from above Funningur, Eysturoy

We have visited a handful of the 18 islands which form the Faroes, enjoyed a number of small walks – it is hard to go for long hikes in motorcycle riding boots – and enjoyed just being, taking in the breathtaking raw beauty of this land.  We were too late in organising ourselves for this trip to get to Mykines, one of the islands I really wanted to visit but had also been warned that trips there could be cancelled because of the weather – in our case, we could get there but not get back as every ferry and helicopter flight was fully booked.   We didn’t want to take the risk of getting there and being stuck there for days.  The attraction there was puffins and more inevitable breathtaking views.  But we saw puffins elsewhere, in Gjogv (pronounced “jegv”) so all’s good.

Old port in Gjogv, Eysteroy

Gjogv, Eysturoy

Puffin spotting in Gjogv Eysturoy

And maybe there was another reason we had to go to Gjogv:  as we were leaving the village, we bumped into a Dutch motorcyclist who was in Mongolia at the same time as us in 2017 and had been trying for the past 2 years to trace an Italian who he had heard had broken his ankle and had to leave his motorcycle behind to be shipped back.  Feeling sorry for him, the Dutchman fixed the Italian’s broken windscreen for him and left a note wishing him well.    He is Lino, the Italian we had come across in Khovd  and for whom I had organised a local driver to take him to hospital.  That evening, after returning to the campsite from Gjogv,  I was able to email the Dutchman the Italian’s contact details.  What are the odds, once again?!?!  This really is such a small world…

The weather hasn’t been too bad.  Apart from the first days when the rain was pretty heavy, we have just had a spattering of rain, and fog.  No wind and not that cold.  Making camping pretty enjoyable, even for Anthony!  Sadly, the Faroes no longer allow wild camping because of too many inconsiderate tourists in the past so we have had to stay in official camping areas – nearly unheard of with the Speeds!! But we did find Aduvik, on Esturoy, which we ended up staying 4 nights because we loved the spot so much – can you tell?!  Just a pity some people can be so noisy especially when in such a wonderfully quiet and wild area.

Camping at Aeduvik, Eysturoy

Relaxing at our camp at Aeduvik, Eysturoy

Watch where you’re walking when so close to the water – I tripped up taking photos of the algae!

Exploring the rocks at Aeduvik, Eysturoy

Our campsite at Aeduvik

Travelling isn’t just about enjoying new scenery or riding fabulous roads, but all about the people and learning about new cultures.  Talking to locals always brings an added level of appreciation of the places we are passing through.  And what an unexpected and amazing evening last night!

As I stood looking out over the rocks, out to sea, I struck up a conversation with this guy who seemed to enjoy the area as much as I did. It turns out Jørgin is a local, and he and his wife and family are over to prepare the hay for his 88 year old father-in-law’s beloved 8 sheep, which Jacob keeps as a hobby but the whole family gets involved in looking after.  Jørgin‘s wife Unn came over and we chatted for a while, until it was time for Jørgin and Unn to return to the field and get back to work. Jokingly, Unn suggested we go over and help to which Anthony suggested they could actually charge tourists to help them.  

Well, I decided to go over and see what the process entailed and offered to help.  They still follow the traditional Faroese process:  after the grass is cut, it is first raked into little piles.  Then you go back to each pile, turn the pile over, moving it away from it’s spot to allow the ground to dry, then spreading the pile flat again to allow it to dry.  Because the weather was too damp, it was eventually decided to stop the spreading step and go to the next step of moving each pile into a single line down the hill. The next step involves pushing the central pile with the rake upside down, and pushing the grass into one massive pile which is then lifted into a large bale bag in a couple of easy swinging movements – that is best done by 2 people, each holding one bale bag handle, one foot standing on the edge of the bag and then scoop-rolling the hay into the bag.  An hour and a half flew by.  Because the hay and weather were too damp, the hay was then transferred to a drying ‘shed’ beside the campground.  An old 1960’s car engine is used to heat the hay for 24 hours.

Preparing hay in the Faroes

Unn teaching me

Turning over and spreading the small piles to dry them out

My line ready to be pushed down the hill

I hadn’t planned on spending an hour and a half raking grass and gathering it into bales.  It felt great and I loved how it was a whole family affair, with 3 generations involved.  Earlier, while we were raking, Unn asked me what we had planned for dinner:  ham and crackers.  Why don’t you come over to my parents for dinner and experience a Faroese home and dinner?  What a fabulous offer?  I accepted without asking Anthony as I knew he’d love the opportunity too.

Jørgin and Unn on the far left

Not only did we have a sumptuous dinner of home made leek soup with meat balls, carrots and potato dumplings, home dried sheep, cod which Jacob caught earlier today (at 88, he still goes out fishing on his own every day), various cooked meats, cabbage salad followed by all sorts of chocolates and cake.  We learned so much about life in the Faroes, including social security, employment insurance, retirement, higher education.  

After dinner, Jørgin drove us to the largest fish farming company in the Faroes.  They work 2 shifts a day so at 10:30 at night, we were able to see the whole process by driving past the large windows – workers happily waving at us as we stopped!  Pitty we didn’t know when we arrived that the company organises tours every Saturday.  Next stop, the little harbour which is preparing for a fish festival this Saturday.

Suddenly it 11:15pm and it is just barely dusk.  What a fabulous experience.  And our favourite camping spot at Aduvik happens to be Unn and Jørgin’s favourite place too.

Our last day is spent wondering the streets of Torshavn.

Learning about printmaking at Studio Bloch, Torshavn

Ingenious rowing boats with provision for small engines in Torshavn

Torshavn port

Thanks for everything Faroes.  

– Anne

Ferry to the Faroes

Everyone seems to arrive very early for the ferry and it feels like a well oiled mechanism – we’re give a yellow sticker with lane 18 marked.  Yellow stickers are for Faroe passengers, and these get onto the ferry after the Iceland bound vehicles.

Exciting to see the Faroes sign

Our ferry to the Faroes

I can see the attraction that our loyal followers have for the couch. I have spent most of the afternoon ensconced in one in the Naust café & lounge on the M/F Norrona as we head to the Faroes. I have eaten, slept and spent time starting the redrafting the three pages on motorcycle equipment camping equipment etc to better reflect the passage of time since they were first written back in 2014. It is a lot more comfortable than being in the saddle all day. Any one want to swap?

Danish Danish

We sailed out of Hirtshals on a bright sunny day onto a calm sea with Streak and Storm lashed to the deck down below after a little struggle with the securing ropes. It took me a while to realise that the locking mechanisms did not work for many of the straps and old fashioned knots were the go. We have 36 hours before we reach the Faroe Islands so time to relax and enjoy the many restaurants and bars. Our travelling companions include a fleet of RV’s from Italy, about 40 motorcycles including a couple of Nimbus motorcycles, a 1936 and 1955, and I thought that a Nimbus was a magic flying broom used in Quiditch games from a Harry Potter movie.

A Nimbus. Famous Danish motorcycle. You guess the type.

All aboard.

They have got themselves a good spot on the ferry

Looking at my phone, which was using global roaming via the extra AU$5 per day Vodaphone package I see I am still connected to the phone and 3G out to sea. Maritime Roaming? Eeek! I switch off the Global Roaming and phone to flight mode. I see a message from Vodaphone advising me that I will be charged AU$5 per minute for calls, AU0.75 for text and AU$5 per 1MB for data. It was just a seamless transition, lucky I am not a heavy mobile app user. A trap for the unwary, such as me.

Due to our late booking we were only able to secure a “couchette” for the first leg of this journey. Anne’s view of the couchette experience:  Our 6 birth ‘cabin’ is on deck 2, burried in the bowels of the ship, below both car decks that is 2 levels below the cars.  If that wasn‘t bad enough, the saloon type swing doors from the couchette room open inwards, that means that in an emergency, you would have to remember to pull into the room rather than push out.  Being claustrophic, that is a double whammy that I don’t know I’ll be able to cope with.  I tried sleeping on the top deck, but being the kids’ area, and with mostly citizens of a culture where kids rule, kids can play all night and make as much noise as they want even after midnight (while their parents sleep peacefully in their own room), so in the end, I relented and joined Anthony in our illustrious couchette room.  It wasn’t all bad, because we had the whole room to ourselves.  And I did sleep.

Our couchette doors

Apart from the couchette room doors opening inwardly, we are very impressed with the ferry.  It has several comfortable seating areas, 2 eating areas, one ‘cheap’ cafetatia type and one with more luxury dining.  We even had live ‘pub music’ in the bar last night.  Breakfast in the Diner/cafetaria was ‘free’ for couchette passengers and quite adequate.  Different brochures on the Faroes and Iceland kept being resupplied.  There is an information desk where you can buy various tours, if they not already fully booked 😦 as I found out yesterday.  Oh well… there might still be a cancellation for us to get to Mykines.

If you have forgotten anything, fret not, the duty free shop has it all, from butterfly/packable ladies shoes, to the all important motorcycle stickers, wollen and hiking clothing, underwear, jewellery, wool and knitting needles, architecture Lego, electronic spares, alcohol and chocolates.

Someone likes Toblerone

On the way back, we’ll try and remember to take our swimmers out so that we can enjoy the scenery from the top deck, from the comfort and warmth of the hot spas!

We spend the first day at sea skirting the Norwegian coast with the possibility of a glimpse of the Orkneys promised at five am tomorrow. I think I will give that a miss and just buy the postcard. The sea is so calm barely a white cap in sight all day. We are so lucky as neither of us are great seafarers and we have avoided shipborne travel wherever possible. I am surprised to see water running down the windows on the opposite side of the ship given the calm seas, no big waves but regular window washing to keep the view clear for all us passengers. Great Service.

Beautiful sunset just before midnight

The next day, we arrive at Torshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands. This is the weather we are expecting for the next week.

The weather as we approach the Faroes

One of the first off the ferry, we head straight to our hotel – thought a night in a hotel would be good after the overnight ferry. We get a very odd greeting, with the owner/manager telling us he has booked us into another hotel – no explanation, no apology, just “this is a very nice hotel”. Back into town we go, and this new hotel definitely has a fabulous location!

Torshavn cathedral and harbour from our hotel window

We could just fall into bed and sleep but we have a shower and decide to explore the capital before treating ourselves to a rather delicious dinner at Aarstova restaurant.

Torshavn harbour

Torshavn harbour

Tinganes houses, Torshavn

Tinganes houses, Torshavn

Aarstova restaurant, Torshavn

Despite the dreary weather, we are both looking forward to the coming week on the Faroes although Anne is more excited than Anthony at the idea of camping in those conditions. Anne & Anthony