As we leave the terminal at Keflavik airport, very quickly our memories of warmer climes faded as the reality of the local summer temperatures hit home. We have realised that we are fair weather people and that our exploring should be limited to suitable climes, for us anyway. Perhaps we are like the dinosaurs and need a minimum temperature to function, I guess that is why we live in Brisbane. The first evening back, we were had dinner with our friends Kristjan and Asdis again, such generous hosts and sadly we must say good-bye again.
Streak and Storm are recovered from the storage graciously provided by friends in Iceland and with a little work, Anthony successfully replaces the left hand instrument cluster with the aid of the BMW assembly/ instructions. Before obtaining these, he had found various incorrect ways to remove the original part online, from those who had struggled to do it without the aid of the correct instructions. Perhaps they should be made available by BMW for those who are unable to get to an official dealer – there is not one in Iceland.
After a month of riding in the rain and cold in July, and with temperatures even lower now in September, we decide we’d cut our time in Iceland short and try and catch a ferry back to Denmark a week early. We are in luck and we are now due to leave on 4th of September. We watch the weather radar very carefully and plan our exit from Reykjavik so that we can avoid the brutal winds that usually lash the south coast around Vik. I really wanted to return to Þingvellir National Park and despite the overcast weather, we returned, twice! Anthony is very accommodating. We had visited this park in March 2018 ( https://2slowspeeds.com/2018/03/03/iceland-the-last-chapter-for-now/) and it was my urge to revisit this area in particular that brought us back to Iceland. Iceland is divided by the Mid-Atlantic Rift and Þingvellir is the only place on earth where the Mid-Atlantic rift is above sea level, with both edges clearly visible. Western Iceland such as the Westfjords and Reyjavík, are on the North American tectonic plate, while areas to the east of here, such as Vatnajökull glacier and the East Fjords, are on the Eurasian plate. To think that the 2 rift walls are now 4cm further apart than when we were here last… Can you imagine?! How awe inspiring to see nature at its rawest! I had hoped to camp in the area but due to the massive increase in travellers to Iceland, the impact of too many thoughtless tourists leaving trash behind and walking over the delicate moss, camping in Iceland is now restricted to designated camp sites – not our preferred kind of camping – and seeing it was raining and we had a lovely warm apartment in town… Maybe another time!
Finally, on the last day we gave ourselves to leave Reykjavik to make it comfortably to the ferry, we have sunshine! The decision to wait in Reykjavik for an extra day is finally vindicated, we awake to bright sunshine and clear skies. We could not ask for anything better and we are off.
I quietly hope that all the information on the weather site (en.vedur.is which shows wind, rain and temperatures) is accurate as I have been told and have read horror stories about the wind around Vik, with motorhomes being blown off the road etc…
We bypass the usual tourist Ring of Fire circuit, having done it last year and we make it to Skatafell by the end of the day, having stopped along the coast, around Vik and through the windy stretches under clear blue skies and manageable wind. Three reasons to relax now: the windy part is over, we have time to spend a whole day tomorrow to hike around Skatafell, and Katla volcano which is overdue for an eruption, stayed asleep for us. I had read that Vik residents regularly go through evacuation practice: Katla usually erupts every 20 to 90 years and has not erupted violently for 101 years. Iceland’s last eruption occurred in 2010. Prior to that Grimsfjoll in Vatnajokull glacier erupted in 2004 and Hekla volcano erupted in the year 2000. Hekla is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes and erupted in 1947, 1970, 1980, 1990 and 2000. So again, it is likely Hekla will erupt soon.
Luckily, the campsite at Skaftafell is huge and pretty empty. There are no showers which is fine for but nowhere for me to leave my camera battery recharger. We do use the cafetaria to recharge our electronic equipment for a shortwhile but that is not sufficient for my camera. Sadly on this trip, I found out that my usb device on my bike was now faulty and I have not been able to recharge while riding. And the 4 new batteries I bought at the start of the trip, while they have the same specifications as the original Panasonic ones, only last a third of the time… that means that the one time on this trip that we’ve had blue skies and fabulous scenery, I have not been able to recharge my batteries so have had to use my phone camera while walking to save the Panasonic one for riding. This I came to regret to next day when we hiked towards Vatnajökull glacier’s Skatafell outlet. Very much first world problem, but this trip has shown us how dependent on power we are. Time to look into solar panels for our top boxes maybe.
The next day is spent hiking. An absolutely glorious day. From Vatnajökull glacier, around 30 outlet glaciers flow from the ice cap of which Skaftafell is one.
What comes with clear blue skies? Clear night skies. And yes, that can mean Northern Lights. And it did!! We saw them our first night at Skatafell, but only lightly. They were more like light cloud, but the dancing around gave them away. The second night, which went down to 3 degrees and was floody breezing, was great: we saw clear the bright green dancing lights. I was happy. It was magical. After a long hike our bodies needed the warmth if the the sleeping bags but I couldn’t help but keep checking. That means partially crawling out the sleeping bag, opening the tent and re-cocooning myself up. After doing that half a dozen times, I gave up, telling myself I was content with what I saw. Time for sleep. Then around midnight, some campers a distance away became rowdy, laughing and screaming. They’ll calm down eventually I thought to myself. As it continued, I suddenly wondered whether the shouting was about the lights. I crawled out again and my oh my!! It was now pink and green! Thank you Iceland! Thank you nature. A dream come true. Absolutely magical and truly mesmerising. And no, I have no photo. I didn’t even think of taking a picture, I just kept watching.
We’ve now had 2 days of blue skies, hiked around Vatnajökull National Park, saw the northern lights, we are content and feel ready to leave Iceland. We have a very leisurely ride back to Seyðisfjöður.
We eventually board our ferry in for our 3 night, 2 full days crossing, via the Faroes. Not sure how we scored this cabin!! The view from our window and the tv, showing the view from the ship were identical! Lucky the sea was calm as it could have been interesting being top and front of the ship.
The highlight of this crossing though was catching up with our Feroese friends who drove an hour to Torshavn to see us. Not only did Unn and Jørgin come but their kids Rannvá and Rani left their friends to be with us. That is what keeps us travelling, the connections we make.
Unn and Jørgin took us to Kirkjubøargarður which we hadn’t managed to see. It dates back to the 11th century and was the episcopal residence and seminary of the diocese of the Feroes. The legend says that the wood for the houses came as driftwood for Norway. The farmhouse, now a museum, is still occupied by the 17th generation of the Patursson family! Magnus cathedral nearby was started in 1300 but never completed.
Just before returning to our ferry, Unn gives me a bag of carefully and thoughtfully chosen Feroese souvenirs. Any mention of Feroes will forever remind us our wonderful Feroese family. Hopefully one day, we’ll be able to show them around Brisbane…
Just as the train pulls into Glasgow Queen Street railway station, a lady from Scotrail asks us where we are headed and adds 2 ticks to her Oban list. We are in the last carriage and are the last ones to be asked. No time for any explanation.
We all get off at Glasgow Queen Street, unsure as to where to go and get our replacement coach. Glasgow station is the middle of refurbishments and is a bit of a zoo at the best of times. But what do I notice? My mum and sister talking to a guard, also trying to find out where to go next. Well, that is not exactly how we had planned to meet. Not the relaxed welcome but a scramble to somewhere. The place is a zoo, no announcement, no one to direct us, but we eventually find someone who guides us to a bus and off we go. The 4 of us.
The journey to Oban is extremely scenic. We are grateful for the calm and excellent coach driver as many places, and bends especially, are barely 2 cars wide.
ScotRail must have lost lots of money around that time with all the delayed journeys: 30 minutes late and you get 50% of the cost of your ticket back, 60 minutes and more late, your journey is fully refunded. Small recompense for the hassle.
The trip to Oban is part of my mum’s 90th birthday present and the plan for our the first full day in Oban is to take my mum to a place she has always wanted to go to: Staffa island. Our tour today includes the following: ferry from Oban to the island of Mull, a 1.5 hr coach ride across Mull, ferry to Iona, 2.5 hours on Iona exploring the chapel and abbey, ferry to Staffa with 1.5 hours on Staffa before doing the same journey back to Oban. There are many tours out of Oban and we are impressed by the organisation of Staffatours and our brilliant bus driver Sheila in particular.
The weather magically clears perfectly for us and we are amazed how my mum, in her 90th year, managed to climb up all those stairs on Staffa – truly remarkable and inspiring!!
Staffa lies 10 kms west of the island of Mull and is known for its vertical basalt columns and a cave said by Mendelssohn to have inspired his Hebrides Overture. Sadly, due to renovations at the entrance of the cave, we were not able to enter the cave. A long but magnificient day nonetheless.A couple more days in Oban for shorter day trips.
The return trip to Kent 3 days later was nothing short of horrendous: the train line was still closed for another few weeks, so buses are put on. We are refused access to the earlier stopping bus to the nearest train station, have to wait another hour, by which time the number of passengers is more than double the capacity of the single bus. Although we manage to get on, one confused passenger gets the driver to make a short detour to drop her off at a small village – she thought that was where she was going to get onto the train, but that was the wrong village. By the time we get to our destination, we have missed the train! Our bus driver is not allowed to go all the way to Glasgow, just 61kms away. An hour later, another coach, with 4 fewer seats arrives. Another zoo… and another free train ticket. (But not when they have busses…) But what amazing luck we had – we saw all we wanted under beautiful skies. A very special trip with my mum and sister (and Anthony).Scotland is calling me back already!…
After Scotland, we spend a few days catching up with our niece and a few old friends in Kent. We really enjoyed a community movie night organised by Anthony’s old college friend. The number of volunteers involved and the services they provide such as driving people who are unable to drive themselves, the inclusion of two shorts around the theme of the movie, Green Book, and historical documents explaining what the “Negro’s Green Book” was about made for an inspiring and very enjoyable evening.
Time for a trip see family and friends in France too. More new sights, lots of live music, lots of long walks and way too much food!!
Now it is time to return to Iceland, and get rid of all those extra kilos. Let’s hope our new gloves are waterproof and warm or better still, that the waterproofing feature is not tested too much…
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!
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.
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.
“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.
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?
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.
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.
Alleyways, underpasses, whole sides of buildings, Glasgow is rich in street art, commemorating famous but also every day people or activities.
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.