Billund, Berlin, Belgium and back to Britain

 

Land at last, after three days clinging to the tattered rigging and being cruelly pounded by the North Atlantic’s icy waves, we stagger ashore in Denmark thankful to be on dry land again.  

What a load of rubbish! We had a generally smooth crossing and any thoughts of seasickness were caused by me, Anthony, having a small sinus blockage. We have found the M/S Norröna of the Smyril Line a comfortable and well equipped little ship, perfect for us especially with the forward facing cabin above the bridge.  We just had to open the window and shout our instructions down to the crew below.  Well I would have done if the window opened. We could watch the bridge camera showing the sea ahead on the TV screen in the cabin and then confirm it by looking out the window. One of only six forward facing cabins, luck of the Speeds I guess.

The arrival back in Denmark sees a small rise in temperature to 17 degrees celsius. It is surprising the difference a couple of degrees of extra warmth make while riding to us.  We have decided that we are not, and never were, the heroic all weather hard core riders that appear on the covers of the Adventure Motorcycle magazines; we are more the temperate domesticated variety, but we are happy so what else matters.

From the northern tip of Denmark, we head southwards ignoring the multiple ferries heading north to Norway, another time perhaps.  Our destination is the town of Billund in central Denmark and yes the home of Lego and the original Legoland.  I have not had an interest in Lego since my early teens, but the opportunity to visit the original home of Lego is too good to pass up.

The original home of Legoland

What we discover is an interesting mix of rides, working models and clever little items almost hidden from view at times.  As someone who grew up with the basic bricks and not the multiplicity of sets that exist today I am impressed by the large scale builds just using simple bricks such as Mt Rushmore showing four US Presidents heads and somewhere we have been in 2015. The wildlife park is just as realistic, in my view, and a lot safer than the real thing, no-one has ever been seriously mauled by a lego animal. I will let you enjoy the photos without more of my commentary.

Ready for takeoff at Legoland Airport.
This one nearly ate my icecream!
The locals are very friendly.
Never built anything like this at home.
Largest ever Lego model, full size Star Wars X wing fighter, 5.3 million bricks.
Bigger spiders than those back home in Queensland!

Onward towards Berlin leaving Denmark and getting onto the German autobahns with their fast flowing traffic. Unlike India where rear view mirrors are an optional extra, here one needs to have eyes in the back of the head literally.  With higher speeds, those small dots in the far distance grow large quickly, but we found German drivers have a disciplined helpful approach to fast driving which included lane discipline, something lacking back home in Australia.

Our friends in Berlin have moved further out and for the first time since 1994, we are staying out of the city, almost in the country near Potsdam.  This area was still in West Berlin as evidenced by the different shades of green paint on the bridge and the photos showing the progression of border controls from 1945 to 1989.

Glienicker Bridge once split by the Berlin Wall

We decide that we will spend our days in Potsdam as we are focusing on smaller cities and towns and we have been to Berlin a number of times before.  The weather gods smile on us as we wander through the streets and parks of Potsdam in sunshine. I have not been there before but Anne has researched it and takes me on a leisurely tour through the city.

St Nikolaikirche church and Potsdam Museum
Old East European apartments
Stadtschloss in Potsdam

Knowing Anne’s interest in art, our friend Antonia took us to see a Street Art display at Yaam (Young African Art Market) which has been operating for some 11 years at the same location. Located near Ostbahnhof station on the banks of the river Spree, it is an Afro Caribbean venue with bars, beaches shops and art spaces.  Here we meet Frank, one of the street artists running the Street Art display and we find out the artist responsible for the piece we all like the most. 

Antonia, us and Berlin street art.
Best Street Art by Frank at YAAM
More Street Art at YAAM, Berlin
Street Art YAAM, Berlin

Frank then introduces Anne to virtual graffiti using digital spray cans on an electronic screen showing the Berlin Wall.  Anne quickly got the hand of it and I think all clean walls should be worried if she passes with a bag full of aerosol paint cans.

Anne in graffiti mode
Anne and Frank Raschke of Ice37

With all the recent news around global warming and carbon reduction, it was interesting to hear from someone with whom we had ridden in SE Asia that he now travels long distance by train in Germany, not only to reduce their personal carbon footprint but also to demonstrate potential clients of their green credentials.  Something neither of us would have thought of in our careers.  As Bob Dylan said way back when “The Times They Are A Changing’ and in this context the words first verse is quite prophetic.

En route to Belgium and my cousin’s place, we stop half way at Gütesloh, a town of some 100,000 people.  A short walk through the town showed us a prosperous high street filled with a wide variety of shops with a more prosperous feel than those we have seen in the UK.  No empty shopfronts here, the high street in Gütersloh seems to be thriving, I wonder why the difference?

Old houses in Gütersloh
High street Gütersloh
Electric scooters for hire in Gütersloh

Leaving town, we pass the now deserted RAF Gütersloh / Princess Royal Barracks former bases for the British forces in Germany. For over 60 years British military forces were based here but all have withdrawn back to the UK.  The place has an unused air about it although a steady stream of vehicles through the main gate may mean some future use of the facilities.

The old RAF Gütersloh base

As we return to my cousin’s place in Belgium with Streak and Storm, I recall that this was our first stop when we set off on the first RTW journey over five years ago with shiny motorcycles, all new equipment and no idea of what we were going to experience. This was the first time we had caught up since then so it was great the see the family again.

Anthony’s cousin Lesley, Hans and Chayton

Onto the Eurotunnel and back to the UK, a quick visit to Anne’s mum.

On the Eurotunnel train
Anne’s mum finally meets Streak and Storm

Another week before we wrap up this motorcycle trip…

– Anthony

Iceland part II – the southern half

Back in Iceland after the ‘Family, friends and free trains’ break which Anthony realises are aligned almost perfectly with the Formula 1 mid season break.  No there is absolutely no connection between these events. I think the weather froze our blog juices hence the delay in reporting back since our return to Iceland.

Our flight to Reykjavik feels like the movie Night & Day

The weather greeting us back to Iceland…

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!

Stopped for a walk on our way to Þingvellir Nat’l Parlk

Nesjavellir geothermal plant

At Þingevillir Nat’l Parl, with the fault line in the background

Þingevillir Nat’l Park

The North American wall of the fault line in the background

I just love those mossy rocks, in a forest in Reykjavik

This was in March 2018

And now in Sept 2019

The latest street art, in the middle of a construction area

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.

Heading out of Reykjavik

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…  

Seljalands waterfall

Icelandic farmhouse dwarfed by an old volcano

Typical icelandic village church

Reynisfjara beach, geology reminiscent of Staffa in Scotland

Reynisfjara beach, Iceland

Freezing but happy on Reynisfjara beach

Reynisfjara beach, Iceland

Admiring Reynisfjara’s cave

Heading towards Skatafell, Iceland

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 view of Vatnajökull from our campsite at Skaftafell

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.

My clotheshanger as I strip on our hike up

Skaftafell glacial valley

Skaftafell glacier

Loving our walk around Skaftafell

Hiking in Skaftafell Nat’l Park

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.

Leaving Vatnajökull Nat’l park

Jökulsárlón, Glacier lagoon

Höfn, Iceland

Our last bit of dirt road in Iceland

Waiting for the ferry at Seydisfjöður

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.

A room with a view – our cabin

The window top left is our cabin’s

Arriving at the Ferroes

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, Jørgin, Rannvá and Rani

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.

Kirkjubøur, Faroe Islands

With Unn

With Unn

Still haven’t seen those skies in the Faroes!

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…

– Anne

Family, friends and free trains

After a couple of days in Glasgow, we head to Oban to meet up with my mum and sister who have come up from Kent to Glasgow on the overnight sleeper train.  The plan was to arrive before them (yes, was…), get a few essentials for our cottage before meeting them at Oban station.  Anthony and I set off from Glasgow, the weather is not the best but not as wet as forecast again today.  We enjoy the lush green scenery for an hour before the train stops at Helensburgh.  People get on, then off again others get off and back on again.  There seems to be some confusion.  Apart from the bell sound as the intercom comes on, we can’t hear anything, we have a dud intercom in our carriage.  The couple who came on, then off, have now come on again but they are going to Glasgow.  What do they know we don’t yet?  Twenty minutes later and with another bell sound and no message, the train starts up again but goes backwards, obviously back to Glasgow.  A young lady beside us with internet access explains that the line ahead has been washed away and all trains NW of Glasgow have been cancelled.  We find out later that while the track is still there, a couple of feet of soil below it has been washed away – a suspended rail line if you will – and all trains are being replaced with coaches.

A tweeted photo of the track at Helensburgh

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.

Ominous skies in Oban…

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.

Heading out of Oban

With my mum, leaving Oban for Mull

Sisters

Mull here we come

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!!

Island of Mull

Island of Mull

Fun scarecrow competition, Island of Mull

Mull

Heading onto a ferry from Mull to Iona

Iona chapel and Abbey

Iona

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. 

Staffa

A special moment setting foot on Staffa

Staffa basalt columns

Made it to the top, my sister Diane, our mum and me, Staffa

Time to take it all in, Staffa

The ever patient Anthony

Mum and Anthony in the distance, Diane lying getting the perfect shot midway

Mendelssohn’s cave on Staffa

A couple more days in Oban for shorter day trips.

13th century Dunstaffnage castle

Walking to Dunstaffnage chapel

The magical forest around Dunstaffnage castle

Dunollie Castle, near Oban

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. 

Rusthall Community Cinema volunteers, Kent

Interesting historic documents add to the movie experience

Me picking the main prize – and my own number!!

Enjoyed watching my niece Camilla play netball

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!! 

Old friends from uni time in Lille, here in Jonsac

Église St-Gervais-St-Protais, Jonsac

12th century graffiti, Église de Moings

12th century graffiti, Église de Moings

Église St-Martin de Chadenac

Notice the vending machine outside the boulangerie

Bought my first fresh baguette out of this machine

Sunrise on l’ile d’Yeu

Ile d’Yeu must have the largest concentration of old French cars

With my dad

Typical beach carpark, Ile d’Yeu

“I can save a life – respect me”

Ile d’Yeu at siesta time

Ile d’Yeu siesta time

Ile d’Yeu

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…

– Anne

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