“Five years”

A phrase from the David Bowie album, “The rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” that resonates with me is a fitting title to this relatively short blog entry.  It really has been five wonderful adventure filled years since the first tentative blog entry I made back in April 2014.  Who would have thought, certainly not me, that we would still be blogging some five years later, even if no-one is reading anymore. Two RTW trips, two shorter trips to Spain/France and Southern Africa, albeit in a 4WD, have taken place in this time totalling over 62,000 miles / 100,000 kilometres.  We cannot say what the future will hold or how long we will travel by motorcycle, but 2019 will see the 2slowspeeds on the road again motorcycling to new and interesting locations.  Not as far flung as previous odysseys, as we will only ride for a couple of months this year during the northern hemisphere summer due to Anne’s work commitments. We also wanted to spend more time in one or two locales rather than sometimes seemingly continuous riding to meet a visa or seasonal weather limitations.

So where to this time?  As you know we are warm/dry weather riders who like a hot shower, good food and cold drink at the end of the day. Well I am, Anne is made of tougher stuff. So logical places for this year would include, Spain, Italy or Greece, but no, we are off to the Faroe Islands and Iceland in July and August.  We fell in love with Iceland last March when we visited and presented to the BMW Icelandic Motorcycle Club at their AGM. The lure of the dramatic landscape, the apparent isolation and potential for camping have added to an irresistible call.

Love paper maps!

We said we would come back, and we are.  We are looking forward to meeting with and hopefully riding with some of those we met and especially our loyal Icelandic blog followers.  We will also get the opportunity to camp which did not feature nearly as much as Anne would have liked on our RTW trips.  We are furiously planning and booking flights and ferries.  We know that wet/cold weather gear will need to be packed but at the end of June we will be airborne from Australia and ‘Streak’ and ‘Storm’ will be on the road in early July.

– Anthony

Iceland, the last chapter, for now…

I thought I just needed just one hand to count the number of places I have visited in the world, until I got to 8, that have touched me to the core like Iceland has. People, family and new friends have often called me back to a place, but the country and culture of Iceland has had an impact that has taken me by surprise. I just hope I can do it justice here.

Kristjan had another 2 full days planned for us, leaving us enough time to ourselves too – having travelled together in the past, we understand each other’s needs which is great. Many thanks to Kristjan for all the great photos of us here – it is great to have some decent ones of us for a change rather my terrible selfies.

We start our third day with a fresh snow cover, higher clouds and a promise of clearer skies later. The mountains are so pretty. On our private Golden Circle tour today, our first stop is Kerid crater, a volcanic crater lake located in the Grímsnes area in south Iceland. It is so bitterly cold we just make a dash from the car park to have a quick look, photo and return to the warm car. We are pathetic.

Kerid crater, Iceland

Our next stop is most unexpected: a tomato farm. A family farm turned into a successful tourist destination with the best tomato soup and fresh bread you’ve ever tasted. I love how they have their polinating bumble bees on display – reminds us how vital bees are to the world food bowl: despite all our technology, we are still hugely dependant on these beautiful creatures. The “display” bees are rotated so no bee is permanently locked away. After our warming soup, we carry on our mystery tour.

Fridheimar tomato farm, Iceland

And we thought it was cold at Kerid crater?, The Gullfoss falls, on the Golden Circle route, were something to behold. Beautiful, awe inspiring but the whipping wind went through every layer and left us feeling as if we had nothing on. My eyeballs felt like they were freezing.

Gullfloss, Iceland

Blaskogabyggo, Iceland

This is when we first noticed how many tourists were already flocking to Iceland that early in the year. What must summer be like? Kristjan had told us that 2 million tourists visit Iceland a year now – it might be much higher this year. Not sure how the roads will cope…

We visit geysers, which most considerately of them, erupt every few minutes to enable us get a few photos. It is incredible to see how the force of Strokkur geyser lifts the water into a massive rounded bubble before erupting several metres into the air.

Blaskogabyggo Geyser about to erupt

Blaskogabyggo Geyser, Iceland

Driving around Lake Pingvallavatn, in Pingvellir National Park, I suddenly ask Kristjan to stop. It is not easy to pull over here, but he does. I need to get close to the stunning moss, walk a little, stop and listen. It is truly magical.

Pingvellir National Park, Iceland

Pingvellir Natinal Park is the site of Iceland’s first parliament, back in 930. It is still the Prime Minister’s week end lodge. It is refreshing to see how, once again, there is no apparent security around this property.

Walking up to view Pingvellir National Park, Iceland

See the Prime Minister’ week end home and local church below to our right.

Pingvellir National Park, Iceland

Pingvellir National Park, Iceland

Pingvellir National Park, Iceland

Pingvellir National Park, Iceland – church next to the Prime Minister’s week end lodge

After another full fascinating day of discovery, we get to Asdis and Kristjan’s lake lodge. A ‘lodge’?! The lodge is stunning in its simplicity (and comfort) and the way it sinks into the landscape, and the view from it is breathtaking. I take endless photos, contantly amazed by the gently changing hues of the sky as the full moon rises and the winter sun sets in the distance. Asdis was already there when we arrived, having brought all the food for dinner and breakfast, not forgetting the fresh flowers, in the wheelbarrow that waits at the car park as there are no roads to the handful of lake lodges. We didn’t know about the lack of road and feel a bit silly having brought our little wheelie bags!

Kristjan carrying our wheelie bags

That evening with Asdis and Kristjan was so special. The most serene place, warm hospitality, delicious heart warming food, simply spending time there is a priviledge. And travellers are never short of stories to share!

Sunset on lake Pingvatlavrn, Iceland

Asdis and Kristjan on lake Pingvatlavrn

Before we arrived in Iceland, I had downloaded an app on my phone that gives the predicted Aurora Borealis KP index, which can go from 0 to 9. Our time in Iceland was predicted to go from 1 to a maximum of 2 = very low chance of seeing it. So on my street art meandering walk, I stopped at the museum so that I could at least learn more about it and see some stunning videos. Tonight, by the lake, with a full moon, the prediction is a 2, so better than 1 and I can’t help but brave the freezing cold several times to scan the sky all around us. I can say we officially saw it as we saw dancing formations but there was no colour. While I would still love to see a full blown colourful Aurora Borealis, it was nevertheless exciting to see.

The next day, we meet up with more of Kristjan’s friends and talk about our trip with him before we drop him off at home and drive ourselves to the Blue Lagoon. Thank you Kristjan for trusting us with your car! Hope you didn’t get any speeding fines…

The man made Blue Lagoon (geothermal spa) is fed by the water output of the nearby geothermal power plant Svartsengi and is renewed every two days. Superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity. After going through the turbines, the steam and hot water passes through a heat exchanger to provide heat for a municipal water heating system. Then the water is fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal users to bathe in. The Blue Lagoon also operates a research and development facility to help find cures for other skin ailments using the sulfur and silica rich water. (Thank you Wikipedia https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Lagoon_(geothermal_spa)).

I have to admit I had to force myself to go into the spa as the last thing I felt like was to take my clothes off it was so cold outside. But I am glad I did. It was very eerie to be moving around in hot water, outside, where all you can see is a few metres around you because of the thick steam just above the surface. The photo taken from the restaurant above the pools doesn’t capture the amount of steam at water level. Also strange is to glide up to the bar for our free drink where the staff are standing in full winter gear while we are cooking in water! Definitely worth a stop and my psoriasis on my legs calmed down for a good 2 weeks after that visit.

The Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Back to our appartment to change before driving to Asdis and Kristjan’s home for a farewell dinner they organised for us with a few of their friends. It was wonderful to meet them and get to know some of our followers. Asdis, I cannot thank you enough for the sumptuous dinner and for making a special lobster soup without cream just for me. I cannot imagine I will ever have another lobster soup anywhere near as good as yours.

And so our trip in Iceland has come to an end. What a full trip, so many new memories and experiences. Of course, having Kristjan taking us on these private tours, providing lots of history and Asdis and his hospitality and generosity knowing no bounds, made our time in Iceland all the more special, incredibly enjoyable and interesting. Kristjan and Asdis, our evening on the lake with you will remain a highlight of our time in Iceland. Thank you both – hopefully you’ll make it to Brisbane one day so we can try and return the favour.

The Sun Voyager sculpture, Reykjavik

Despite the absolute bitter cold, for us that is, I feel a strong urge return to Iceland to walk the land, to hike and camp (not in winter though). To take our time, listen to and watch the stunning landscape. Maybe the elves and pixies talked to me too?

– Anne

Reykjavik – the people’s voice

Today, day 2 in Iceland, we have a glacier cave tour planned. We have been told we don’t need to put our ski trousers which we brought with us as overclothes will be provided so we only add an extra, thin thermal layer. We arrive in plenty of time to meet our bus at the pick-up point and chat with a young couple waiting for a different tour. The sun is just barely up at 8:20am and it is freezing. Buses come and go calling out various names, some passengers are here, others not. Eventually, we start wondering if we are at the right meeting place. The young couple go off one way and we go another while new passengers arrive where we’d been standing. We find another meeting spot at the opposite end of the long curved hotel, about 400 metres away. People there are as confused as us, one elderly couple showing me their booking form and asking me if I had seen a bus with their tour logo – we hadn’t. I eventually return to Anthony who is at the first meeting spot and here comes that elderly couple’s bus. I run back to get them. After waiting 80 minutes and feeling frozen to the bone, we decide to return to the apartment and let Kristjan know. Apparently a bus came twice looking for us! We are obviously not cut out for organised tours. Kristjan is very disappointed for us but we had spotted some fantastic wall art on the way and I am now looking forward to discovering Reykjavik’s street art. It is all new to us so all’s good, we are more sorry for Kristjan.

A bit of research before I set off on my own, leaving Anthony behind to thaw out for a few hours.

I read about Council worker Jóhann “Jói” Jónmundsson, a warden of a tunnel’s toilets in the early 1990s, who used to dutifully clean and clear the passages of graffiti. Every time the walls were cleaned off, new graffiti would appear. One day, Joi noticed that some of the works were quality art and came up with a deal. He would allow artists to paint the walls so long as they followed certain rules: no violence and no porn. Since then, Reykjavik has had a few festivals that have delivered fabulous artworks such as the 2016 joint Berlin festival and Wall Poetry.

I love walking around cities, stumbling across unexpected gems, finding amazing artwork down little lanes or behind gates. I always learn so much about a place that way.

What became quickly apparent, from the artworks, whether wall art of sculptures, and from what I have read on various street signs, is how powerful the voice of the people is here. Icelanders not only speak up but have revolted on numerous occasions over recent generations. Of course, this free spirit and determination is not a recent attitude, descending from a people who fled Norway in the 800s and more recently decided to leave Denmark to form their own nation in 1944, it is in their DNA. Having read informative street signs on historic sites across the city and talking to Kristjan over the next few days – his knowledge of history, his own involvement in various issues, adding his account of the Pots and Pans Revolution (during the 2008-9 financial crisis when the people of Iceland rallied against bailing the banks out) to what I had read – is fascinating. I keep marvelling at how strong this tiny nation of just 330,000 inhabitants is and love how this tiny but mighty nation has fought for what it believes is right. Food for thought…

Here’s some of Reykjavik’s street art.

Reykjavik street art, Ægisgata St

Reykjavik street art, Ægisgata St (Close up)

Reykjavik street art, Ægisgata St

Reykjavik street art, Ægisgata St (Close up)

Corner Laugavegur/ Klapparstigur streets, Reykjavik

Street art, Reykjavik

Street art, Reykjavik

Hafnarstræti, Reykjavik

Hafnarstræti, Reykjavik

Wall poetry 2016, Reykjavik

I didn’t expect to find a bit of Brisbane here, but here it is. Photorealistic murals by Brisbane artist Guideo van Helten based on photographic portraits of Icelandic actors:

Guideo van Helten works, Vesturgata/Ananaust St, Reykjavik

Guideo van Helten works, Vesturgata/Ananaust St, Reykjavik

Guideo van Helten works, Vesturgata/Ananaust St, Reykjavik

Guideo van Helten works, Vesturgata/Ananaust St, Reykjavik

Guideo van Helten’s work, Reykjavik

Later that afternoon, Anthony and I meet up for a hot drink. Having walked the streets for the past 3 hours, there is just one shop I want to go into: a small pottery studio. It is good thing we don’t buy “things” anymore. I fell in love with Kogga Björgólfsdóttir’s works. It is also lucky we didn’t visit this studio later in our trip as I fear I might not have been able to resist bringing a little bit of Iceland back with me…

Kogga ceramics

Instead I left a little of my heart behind as you’ll understand in part 3 of 3 on our trip to Iceland.

– Anne

Iceland – Day 1

It has taken so long to write this blog entry and I cannot explain why, perhaps we were so busy in Iceland and afterwards that we have had not time, poor excuse. I did not enjoy Iceland? The experience was fantastic as were the people, so not that. I caught a cold, yes but no excuse. The only reasonable explanation (excuse) I can come up with is that I suddenly realised I am 64 not 63 this year, I have lost a year hence the delay, but gained a memorable Beatles song… Anyway whatever the reason for the long delay, back to present day Iceland…….

……….Touchdown, a firm, but not heavy landing at Keflavik airport in Iceland. We had been warned that strong winds could make landing tricky and earlier flights had problems and long delays. Low cloud had us just glimpsing the perimeter lights before landing. We are here in Iceland, the 98th country we have visiting in our travels. Keflavik Airport was the former Naval Air Station Keflavik, which played a prominent role in monitoring Soviet naval activity during the cold war, covering the seas between Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom, which was known by the acronym ‘GIUK gap’. The base which closed in 2006 has been proposed in 2017 by the US military for funding to build new hanger facilities for Navy surveillance aircraft in light of the deteriorating US-Russian relations.

We have arrived in our 98th country since we started traveling back in the 1970s. I think that a hundred is quite feasible, but since we have so many places to revisit, probably not much beyond that. We will leave those to other adventurers to discover.

The terminal has a strong nordic feel, clean lines, wood and stone and arriving and departing passengers mixed up, similar to Munich. We are surprised to find shopping trollies where I expected luggage carts. Locals are stocking up on beer, of which six litres can be imported duty free. Then reason behind this becomes apparent when one has to pay in excess of US$10 /€9 a beer in a cafe/resturant. A little research reveals that alcohol tax in Iceland is volume based, not the traditional alcohol percentage model, hence the stock up on the beer at the airport on the way home. They do have luggage trollies as well I hasten to add.

Our friend Kristjan, whose path we crossed from time to time on both our and his first RTW journey in 2014/5 is waiting for us. We are so pleased to see him. In 2015 my illness precluded us from visiting Iceland as planned, but some two and a half years later, we have made it. Kristjan is outside customs and we have a joyous reunion. It is great to catch up with a fellow traveller, and friend, again.

While Europe is being covered in snow and ice from Siberia, we are treated to rain and low cloud on our first full day: well low cloud anyway, the rain sound is caused by the snow tyres passing our apartment in the centre of Reykjavik that Kristjan and his wife Asdis, whom we have still yet to meet, have kindly lent us for our stay. Showering we smell the unmistakable sulphur smell associated with hot water delivered from volcanic origins. Luckily cold water comes from a different source.

We finally get to meet Asdis at their house over a sumptuous breakfast. It is great to finally meet Asdis who is very hospitable and friendly. Kristjan had sent us a detailed schedule of our activities, with him as the guide. We are very spoiled. Heading east through the fog we start to notice the barren nature of the landscape. It is treeless and the roads which wind their way through the chunky lava strewn landscape have no hard shoulders. We see cars off the road that are not coming back without the assistance of a tow truck.

Hellisheiði Power Station is our first port of call, like the prow of a boat, the visitors centre emerges mysteriously out of the mist, the largest geothermal power station in Iceland generating 303MW of electricity and 133MW of hot water. The water is piped some 27 kms to Reykjavik providing heating and hot water for the city. The insulated pipe only keeps the temperature loss to only 2 degrees celsius from the 80 degrees that it leaves the plant at. No wonder our morning shower was so hot!

Visitors Centre at Hellisheiði Power Station

Here in the visitors’ centre we learn about the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates which are drifting apart at 1-2cm per annum. Iceland is the only place on land where we can see the effects of this. The fault line runs across Iceland and the Hellisheiði Power Station is situated on it. We are assured that the buckled floorboards are due to water ingress from a leaky ceiling, not seismic activity. I am not as reassured when I spy a wall panel indicating the previous major eruptions, 2010 then 2014 and I wonder if 2018 is next in this numbered sequence. Now what year is it again?

We head further east then south towards the coast. Kristjan keeps up a stream of facts, population only 330,000, the smallest nation to ever make the world cup finals. Two million tourists a year now visiting and not just in summer, our flight was pretty full. All the sulphur in the water is a corrosion issue for computer motherboards. I wonder if one day, after we have ‘solved’ the carbon and methane issues, sulphur will move up the leaderboard. I am surprised to learn that Iceland is slightly smaller than the US state of Kentucky, I would have thought much larger, perhaps the sparse population makes it seem so.

Taking to dirt tracks we visit the southern coastline where the the jagged lava has met the sea, almost devoid of plant life this landscape seems almost alien, Neil Armstrong practiced for the lunar excursion here in Iceland in 1967 as the lava surface was seen as a good approximation of the moons surface. One can see why.

Hafnarfjördur, Iceland

With Kristjan at Hafnarfjördur, Iceland

Trying to wash our muddy boots at Hafnarfjördur, Iceland

All the primeval elements seem to be in play at the same time in Iceland: fire, water, earth and air as one imagines molten lava (fire) flowing into the sea (water) forming earth and steam in the air. What must the first inhabitants of Iceland thought, although their first settlement at Reykjavik was close to low temperature steam which was used for heating, quite enterprising.

Lunch is taken at Bryggjan, a small cafe in the heart of the port of Grindavik. Here I am introduced to Icelandic Lobster Bisque, a popular local dish and very tasty too. As many refills as you want. A smattering of tourists occupy tables amongst the local workers who use this place every lunchtime. The impact of the massive growth in tourism reaching further into the countryside.

At the quaint Bryggjan restaurant

“Do you believe in pixies?” Kristjan asks us. “Of course” we both reply. While Icelanders may not necessarily believe in pixies or elves, they do not want to deny they exist, just in case. And so you find rocks around Iceland, that construction workers will not disturb but work around, just in case elves live within them.

Do not disturn, Elves might live here, in Grindavik, Iceland

More wild coast of Iceland:

Reykjanesbær, Iceland

Love what Anne has done with her hair.

No 1st day in Iceland would be complete without a motorcycle travel presentation by the 2slowspeeds to the AGM of the Icelandic BMW Motorcycle Club. How did that happen, they moved the date of the AGM to coincide with our visit. ‘No pressure’ as Anne says until we learn two guys drove 480km to hear our presentation and are heading back tonight! We had a very friendly welcome and hopefully our ‘Iran and the Stans’ presentation may encourage someone to venture in that direction. Having said that, Iceland has some pretty amazing scenery and roads of its own.

BMW Motorrad Reikjavik AGM

With one of our faithful followers, Gudmundur

Based on our first day, I think we will be back and exploring here in the future.

– Anthony