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