domkirkjan church reykjavik

One of the best ways to find out about a destination is to speak with the locals; and that’s exactly what happens on CityWalks’ free walking tour of Reykjavik.

While my Mum and I were researching what to do in Reykjavik, we came across CityWalks on TripAdvisor. With so many rave reviews, it looked like a great way to explore the city and figure out what else we wanted to do while we were there.

Iceland's parliament building in Reykjavik

We met our guide Sara, a history graduate and local teacher, outside the parliament building; which, by the way, looks very understated in comparison to parliament buildings in other countries. With it being so early, and so cold, we didn’t really expect many other people to be on the tour with us, but there must have been about 25 people. Despite that, we had no problem hearing what Sara was saying and our experience wasn’t at all affected by it being a larger group of people than we expected.

While the snow fell outside the parliament building, Sara told us about the relationship between the Icelandic government and the Icelandic people, and it sounds like a pretty good one. When they were unhappy that their president was involved in the Panama Papers, they protested outside parliament and he stepped down. When Icelandic bankers were naughty in 2008 and fudged stuff up for everyone, Icelanders took to the square with pots and pans, and made a racket. And do you know what? It worked; they held bankers accountable and jailed them.

Tjornin, Reykjavik

From there, we headed to Tjornin, a popular park in the centre of Reykjavik. Thankfully, Tjornin is right next to the Town Hall, which provided us with some much needed warmth for a few minutes.

A yellow house in Reykjavik

Houses in Reykjavik

An elf rock in Reykjavik

Sara took us for a wander through some of Reykjavik’s prettiest neighbourhoods and explained a little about elves. In Iceland, some people believe in elves and being the nice, friendly country Iceland is, people accept and respect the wishes of elves.

When construction was being carried out in a neighbourhood, they came across a rock (yep, it’s that rock in the photo above – doesn’t look that big, huh?) that couldn’t be moved and all the machinery broke. There was no physical reason that they were unable to move the rock, so they decided it was an elf rock and that they needed to respect the elves wishes, and simple moved the construction project somewhere else. How nice!

A street in Reykjavik

Our tour covered other things such as their love for hot dogs, and how much natural energy the country has. Studies have found that even if there were 2 million people living in Iceland (there are around 323,000), they have enough resources for free heating indefinitely. Unfortunately I can’t actually find the source of that comment, but as an environment science fan I got so excited by the mere thought of it.

Harpa, Reykjavik, in a snowstorm

The windows in Harpa, Reykjavik

View over Reykjavik from Harpa

Typical to Icelandic weather, we got caught in a very sudden snowstorm and rushed to Harpa, their concert hall, for warmth. There, Sara continued to tell us about what it’s like to live in Iceland, and it sounds wonderful.

Iceland is a very progressive, welcoming, and open society. They have no military presence, are impartial, and no longer have foreign military bases on their island, as they believed it hypocritical to their peaceful nature. Higher education is very accessible, they seem to have a pretty decent healthcare system, your nationality, religion, or sexual preference doesn’t matter, and there’s a website to find out if you slept with a relative the night before as the population is so small. What more do you even want from a country? In short, Iceland is probably what most people would like their own country to be more like.

If you’re headed to Reykjavik and want to get your trip off to the best start, I cannot recommend CityWalks enough. Though the tour is advertised as free, you can obviously tip the guides. They do also do some other tours, which are paid for; you can find out about those on their website.

Have you ever been on a walking tour?

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Exploring Reykjavik with CityWalks free walking tour

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Kayaking on Lake Louise

The tale of the time we went kayaking on Lake Louise is much happier than last week’s post about kayaking on a windy Maligne Lake.

After a couple of days in Jasper, we headed back down the Icefields Parkway to Banff and spent a few days camping at Two Jack Lakeside. (If you’re ever going to Banff, skip the hotel and camp here because no hotel will beat the views from that campsite. Plus you will save a lot of money camping.)

To be honest, I wasn’t fussed about going to Lake Louise. I was expecting it to be a crowded tourist trap and hadn’t got high expectations. My thought process was a little like this; “How can somewhere so touristy beat the likes of Emerald Lake?”.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Don’t get me wrong, it was busy in front of the Fairmont hotel but the crowds dispersed quite a bit once you followed a trail, and it wasn’t like the lake itself was packed with people kayaking. It seemed like a big chunk of the tourists just wanted to see the lake and the hotel and weren’t bothered about following trails; don’t let the amount of people put you off.

On the way up to the Lake Agnes teahouse Daz and I both commented on how beautiful and calm Lake Louise looked in comparison to Maligne Lake, and we both felt like we had some serious unfinished business with kayaking.

Kayaking on Lake Louise

When we returned from Lake Agnes it was mid-afternoon on our last full day in Canada. The sun was shining brightly, the sky was almost as blue as the lake, we had some spare pennies left over and decided Lake Louise was going to right our kayaking wrongs.

kayaking on Lake Louise

Kayaking on Lake Louise

With no wind, it was like sailing in a huge bath filled with the prettiest and bluest LUSH bath bombs. We could barely believe the colour of the water we were sticking our paddles into. It was completely opaque, which didn’t feel quite right for a lake, and seemed more like paint water.

Kayaking on Lake Louise

I think we had an hour on the lake, which was more than enough time because the lake isn’t really that big and it doesn’t take you very long at all to feel serene. You could hire kayaks for longer but I doubt you would need any more than two hours because you’re not allowed to get out of the kayak anywhere apart from at the boat house. 

If you’re going to Banff, I would definitely recommend a trip to Lake Louise because there is so much to do there:

  • Walk around the lake
  • Spend an hour kayaking on Lake Louise
  • Have afternoon tea in the Fairmont
  • Explore some trails; Parks Canada has a list of trails around / near the lake. I would definitely recommend the Lake Agnes teahouse trail.

Tip: While you’re in the Lake Louise area, pay a visit to Moraine Lake. In fact, get up early, visit Moraine Lake first before all the crowds and then head to Lake Louise. You will thank me for the early morning wake up call.

Have you ever been somewhere you weren’t expecting much from and ended up loving it?

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Kayaking at Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake boat house

Ok, so this was only the second time I had been kayaking. But, it was significantly less fun than the first time and unless I ever capsize, I think kayaking in heavy wind on Maligne Lake will always be my worst kayaking experience ever.

Before we went to Canada, Daz and I spent a lot of time researching and considering where we wanted to go kayaking in Canada. We settled upon Maligne Lake because it looked incredibly beautiful and we thought it wouldn’t be crowded, because it’s such a large lake.

Maligne Lake

Kayaking on Maligne Lake, Alberta

Granted, Maligne Lake and it’s surroundings are beautiful. It really is. It was the weather that was the problem.

Before we went out, the guy in kayak rentals warned us it might be a bit windy. We’d walked hiked a trail near the lake earlier on and it didn’t seem that bad at all, so like absolute morons we thought “eh, can’t be that bad” and happily got in our kayak.

Happy faces did not last that long. Well, not on my part anyway, as we rapidly discovered that yep, it was pretty windy indeed.

Kayaking on Maligne Lake

Maligne lake from a kayak

We were kayaking against the wind, so trying to go in a straight line was pretty hard and tiring. We would point the kayak in the direction we wanted to go and the wind and waves would just spin us around.

It turns out that I do not handle trying to kayak in a straight line in heavy wind very well and had a small freak out. I was convinced that we were going to capsize, drown and die. Though, I would argue that’s a reasonable fear to have given it was my second time kayaking and I’m not a great swimmer. And like a kid that’s more concerned about their bike when they fall off it, I didn’t want my cameras to get wet!

Maligne Lake in a kayak

Daz managed to calm me down and we did manage to explore a bit more of the lake, and saw other people in boats and kayaks struggling to end up where they wanted to go.  After about an hour of this, we were done for because the wind picked up even more when the lake widened so we couldn’t make any progress and it kept turning us back around. We decided to listen to the wind and headed back. 

Kayaking on Maligne Lake

Much to our annoyance, it took us 10 minutes to get back to the boat house in comparison to an hour it had taken us kayaking against the wind.

Bear at the side of the road in Jasper

A bear at the side of the road in Jasper

As if the universe knew it had some making up to do, we saw a little bear at the side of the road on our drive back to Jasper. There is a happy kayaking story from Canada though, which I will post about soon.

If you’re thinking about kayaking at Maligne Lake, I say go for it; unless it’s windy. If it’s windy, get back in your car and drive away before your brain tells you “it can’t be that bad,” and come back on a calmer day.

Have you ever been kayaking? (If you’re thinking about it, don’t do it in heavy wind.)

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Reading Harry Potter with coffee

Hello, from the final semester of my undergraduate degree! Oh, that feels pretty good to say / type.

Exam season is over, and I feel very unnerved because I felt my exams went well. I did actually start revising early / when I should have / not three days before like last year, and I went into the exams feeling fairly confident. I am concerned that I finished an exam that was three hours long in just over and hour, but what’s done is done.

Why is it that whenever we feel we’ve done something well, we feel so unsure of ourselves? Like we’ve done something horrendously wrong, and slipped into an alternate universe where we actually know nothing and our brain tricks us? Thanks, brain.

For some reason, my university have given us this week off lectures. Maybe it’s to give people time to recover from exam stress? So I’m enjoying a week of not having a huge amount to do. I am going to do some project work though, prepare for semester two, write my personal statement and apply for some masters courses, marathon some more Game of Thrones with Daz, and read. Oh, to be able to read without feeling guilty about it! I cannot wait.

What have you been up to lately?

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10 pieces of Reykjavik street art you need to see and where to find it

Reykjavik might not be the kind of city you’d associated with a big street art scene, but you cannot miss the colourful, and slightly bizarre, pieces plastered on shop fronts, peeking out from alleyways, and on the pavement.

This post is by no means an extensive list at all; it’s just the coolest stuff I saw that I think you should see too. I Heart Reykjavik lists some other great pieces.

According to Iceland Review, graffiti on public property is considered vandalism and is, as such, forbidden. Howe

Magical intergalactic rainbow unicorn

There is no better way to start any list of any kind than with an intergalactic rainbow unicorn, and my Mum is sure some kind of Davie Bowie reference needs to be added to that description too. We spotted this near Reykjavik’s city hall.

Where to see it: Near city hall, down Sudurgata. The exact location is here, and it’s the green building on Google Maps.

 

Reykjavik street art

Where to find them: You will spot the Reykjavik Design March piece on the end of a building on Vonarstraeti, and then the stamp piece will be right in front of you then; you can actually see that one on Google Maps too.

Godzilla and Bender attack Reykjavik

King Kong Reykjavik

Ok, so maybe this piece is my joint favourite. If Godzilla attacking Reykjavik isn’t cool enough on it’s own, Futurama’s Bender is also at it. And King Kong is just chilling round the corner.

Where to see it: About half way up Laugavegur; you can’t miss it.

 

Isey, Reykjavik

And while you’re searching for Godzilla and Bender, there’s no way you can miss Isey all painted pretty.

Where to see it: Isey on Laugavegur.

 

I love the detail and vastness of this piece. There’s just so much to look at, and I’m not entirely sure “what the message is”, but I like it.

Where to see it: Down Freyjugata. This is the exact location, but on Google Maps the building is blue and covered in ‘standard’ graffiti.

We won't be like them Reykjavik

I miss the smell of your hair reykjavik

This one really got to me. It’s just the simplicity of it; when I read it I could just feel someone’s longing, and since I wasn’t there with Daz and missed him, it got to me.

Where to see it: These are just a little down the road from the piece above, and on the end of a building that goes down the Valastigur alley. Again, this is the exact location but Google Maps is out of date. If you walk a few more metres down Valastigur, you’ll see a couple more pieces.

Wild Welva Reykjavik

I was really taken aback when I saw this piece; it’s just so detailed, and it reminded me of Rafiki from The Lion King. When I got home and did some research, the detail made sense. This piece was created by Wild Welva, a Spanish street artist, who first creates his work on paper and then pastes them onto walls. You can find out more about his work on his Facebook page

Where to see it: Keep going down from the magic hand piece towards Tjornin and you will come across this on the side of a building. This is the exact location, but the wall is just white on Maps.

Marley Coffee Reykjavik

Where to see it: Marley Coffee on the corner of Grettisgata.

Where’s the best street art you’ve seen?

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Lake Agnes

It has been said that I will do anything for tasty, sweet treats, including walking up a mountain for it; and that is exactly what happened when we hiked up to the Lake Agnes teahouse.

The teahouse was listed as one of the best things to do in Banff National Park in our Lonely Planet guidebook (I think it was around 3rd or 4th?), and as soon as I heard that there was cake waiting for me at the top of a mountain, I was up for it. The book made it sound pretty easy, but anything which involves uphill is never easy.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise from the Lake Agnes teahouse trail

The trail starts out next to Lake Louise, and climbs up through the forest, with switchbacks and the occasional sneaky peak through the trees down to Lake Louise.

Mirror Lake

After about 30 minutes of walking, you come to Mirror Lake; a nice, peaceful little lake, that you’re so thankful for seeing because it gives you a good excuse to stop and catch your breath.

Waterfall on the way to Lake Agnes

The trail continues for about another 15-20 minutes past Mirror Lake, but it’s hard work because the path turns quite rocky and you have to avoid horse poop. And then, when you think your legs are completely done for, you’re met by stairs. I’m fairly certain we dragged ourselves up those stairs on upper body strength (which I’m not exactly known for having), not leg strength.

But when you reach the top, you realise it was completely worth it.

Lake Agnes

The Lake Agnes teahouse

View to Lake Louise from Lake Agnes

View from Lake Agnes

Lake Agnes itself is beautiful, and it’s nice to perch yourself on one of the cool rocks, catch your breath, cool down, and take it all in. But don’t forget to turn around and look down through the trees, where you can see your starting point.

Following the calm of the lake, prepare for a bit of chaos in the teahouse. The problem is that there are too many visitors for the teahouse; there just simply isn’t enough room. It’s a case of jumping on the first table you see.

A snack is definitely needed before you head back down the trail, and the teahouse has a pretty good selection of cakes and other snacky things. Let me tell you that mountain brownies, cookies, and hot chocolate were exactly what our bodies needed. (Well, probably not. I’m sure a banana would have been healthier.) If you don’t fancy the business of the cafe, you can always take your own snack and flask and enjoy it by the side of the lake.

The prices were alright considering you’re on the side of a mountain and I imagine it’s a pain to get supplies up there. (Interesting fact; I asked the waitress how they got up there each day, and apparently they live up there all summer. Nice, huh?)

Don’t fill up on too much tea and coffee though because there aren’t any toilets, and the closest ones we found were right back at the bottom at Lake Louise.

When you come to head back down, you can either go back the way you came, or there’s another route which I highly recommend because you get this view.

This trail meets back up with the other trail at Mirror Lake, and it’s not any slower or faster, but that view.

If you fancy a bit more of an adventure, you can carry on to The Beehives. While we were driving to Lake Louise, we naively said”we could do the Beehives too if we feel up to it,” HA! Optimistic Daz and Rosie were very wrong; there was no way we were feeling up to it. That said, we have decided to somehow become marginally fitter and do the Beehives next summer if we can.

What lengths have you gone to for cake?

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Why you should visit Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park was the first stop on our Canadian adventure and we were absolutely in awe of it. If you ever go to Alberta or British Columbia, Emerald Lake needs to be on your to visit list.

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

You already want to
Photos of Emerald Lake must pop up on my Facebook feed at least once a week because friends have liked or tagged me in it when they’ve seen it on another page. I’m willing to bet that in the past few weeks, you’ve seen a photo of this lodge surrounded by snow, looking like a dreamy winter wonderland.

Reflections on Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

The reflections
On a still day, this beautiful lake reflects the surrounding trees and mountains like a teal-tinted mirror.

 

The trail around Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

The trail

A trail allows you to walk all the way around the lake, and it splits off to other trails if you fancy being more adventurous. The trail is pretty flat so it’s easy for all the family, and you definitely don’t need to be superfit. The only thing you might want to do is consider wearing wellies because the last part was fairly muddy; we wore walking boots and were fine, but if it’s rained heavily recently, wellies might be a safer bet just in case.

It probably took us about two hours to walk the trail, though I’m sure you could walk if faster, but I don’t think you’d want to rush this place.

 

Canoes on Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

You can canoe here

I’m convinced that there is no better way to explore a lake than by canoe; and luckily for you, there is canoe rental at the end of the lake. We didn’t actually canoe on Emerald Lake, but it’s on my list of things to do when we go back in the summer.

 

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

The water seems to change colour
Depending on where you’re stood, or the angle of the sun, the colour of the lake seems to change colour.

 

The mountains around Emerald Lake

Mountains around Emerald Lake

The mountains

When you think about Canada, one of the first things you might think about is the Rockies. Emerald Lake is the perfect place spend some time in awe of the mountains. That said, you honestly don’t have to look vaguely hard to find mountains when you visit this part of the world.

 

The forest trail at Emerald Lake

The forest
On one side of the lake, the trail through the edge of the forest.

 

Emerald Lake Lodge

You can stay here

If you want to stay surrounded by Emerald Lake, you can stay in Emerald Lake Lodge.

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