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

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