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Life, Travel

I cannot deal with big cities

February 23, 2017

Natural History Museum London

Last week, I went down to London with my university for a trip to the Natural History Museum and was quickly reminded why I do not like London; it. is. too. busy.

That’s not to say I’m not a city person at all because I’ve visited and loved some beautiful cities, like Edinburgh, Reykjavik, and Stockholm. What I can’t deal with is cities with people everywhere.

Honestly, we got off the coach and in approximately 10 seconds there were far too many people for my liking. I hate that feeling of being surrounded by people and having to bustle your way through crowds, and get touched by strangers, eww. That’s not my thing at all and makes me feel claustrophobic and a bit panicky.

Cities I do like feel kinda half empty. They might be geographically big or small, but you can walk down the street without walking into people and can easily stop and take in your surroundings, without feeling like you’re in someone’s way.

A good rule of thumb for me is kinda like how teachers used to tell you to space out during PE lessons in primary school; if you hold your arms out and you’re touching someone, you’re too close. If I can (mentally, obviously because actually doing it would look weird…) put my arms out and not hit a stranger, we’re good; there’s enough room here and I’ll like it.

Ideally, I would move to the edge of a lake, at the foot of a mountain, and live in a cabin with my only neighbours being deer, moose, and the odd bear. I know, I might have to forgo Domino’s delivery, but I think I could deal with that.

What about you? Do you like busy cities?

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Iceland, Travel

What to take on a winter trip to Iceland

February 21, 2017

What to pack for a winter trip to Iceland

There is a saying in Iceland, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing and bad attitudes” and it is so true. If you’re headed to Iceland during the winter and want to stay warm and dry, make sure you take these things with you.

How cold is Iceland during the winter?

Since getting back from Iceland, a few people have asked what the weather was like (duh, we’re British we love talking about the weather) and how cold it was. Honestly, it’s not as cold as you think it will be, thanks to the gulf stream.

My Mum and I visited Iceland in December, between Christmas and New Year, stayed in Reykjavik and did a couple of excursions out of the city. The temperature was between about -1C and 6C during the day, so it wasn’t that much colder than what we’re used to on a very cold day in the UK.

“If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” is another favourite Icelandic saying. The only certainty when it comes to Icelandic weather is that it’s unpredictable. One minute it can be sunny and blue skies, and then the next you can barely see 20m in front of you because it’s snowing sideways, and then it’s sunny again.

According to Iceland Travel, the average temperature in Reykjavik in December is -0.2C, -0.5C in January, and 0.4C in February. So, while it’s not as cold as you might expect it to be make sure you have all of these things with you because you’ll be in for an uncomfortable (and expensive if you have to buy things when you get there) trip otherwise. And on top of that, the last thing you want is to be surrounded by Iceland’s beautiful scenery, hating every second of it because you’re cold.

 

Reykjavik cathedral in the snow

1. Waterproof, grippy boots

In England, there only has to be the threat of a tiny bit of ice and everywhere gets covered in salt grit. In Iceland? Nah mate, they don’t bother with salt grit at all because some of their pavements are geothermally heated by the water pipes that run under them. But, not all the sidewalks are heated so you will need boots that will grip in snow and ice. And even then, when you come across thicker patches of ice you might find yourself almost falling over. Don’t worry, you won’t be alone there.

If you have a pair of walking boots already; they might not be good enough, so find out if they’re any good on snow and ice. I know mine would not have been because I was slip sliding about in them in a bit of British winter frost.

Don’t forget to make sure they’re waterproof too just in case you find yourself walking in snow that’s more than a few cm deep. It’s not like you need to go for boots that are 100% waterproof; ask yourself what you’ll be doing. If you’re spending most of the time in Reykjavik and doing a guided tour where you won’t be outside for huge amounts of time, you will probably be fine with boots that are waterproof for 3-5km. If you’re going to be outside for most of the day in snow, you’re going to need boots that will stay waterproof for longer. In fact, wellies might be a good option.

A pair of comfy, waterproof and grippy boots isn’t going to break the bank either.  I got mine from Decathlon for about £35.

 

2. Thermals

Do not make the mistake I almost made and think that you don’t need thermals. I almost didn’t get any, but my Mum talked sense into me and thanks to her I didn’t ruin her holiday moaning that I was cold the entire time. (Yes, I know I’m an idiot.)

A base layer will trap and keep the warmth close to your body, so that one layer of clothing can make all the difference and means you don’t necessarily have to fork out for skiing trousers or where so many layers you feel like the Michelin man.

I wore thermal trousers under my standard walking trousers, and a thermal top under a jumper and then my coat. That was more than enough to keep me nice and toasty. Again, I got my thermals from Decathlon and they cost me £3.99 a piece.

 

3. Jumpers

You don’t need to go for the bulkiest jumper you can find, because you might end up feeling like you can barely move. I took four fairly thin, but warm jumpers with me. Two of them were from Decathlon (I promise, this is not sponsored by Decathlon, I just love that place) and two were woolen jumpers from Oasis.

 

4. Trousers

Again, this is going to depend on what you’re doing during your trip to Iceland. I took two pairs of standard walking trousers that had served me just fine between 2C – 12C while I was in Canada last summer and wore my thermal trousers underneath. If you’re worried about rain or snow storms, you can always get a pair of waterproof trousers to go over the top of your normal trousers.

Though if you’re going to be off out exploring all day, a pair of thicker, waterproof trousers is probably wise.

Whatever you do, avoid jeans. While you would probably be warm enough in a pair of jeans with thermals underneath, you know how horrible jeans can get if they get wet. We got caught in rain walking to our Air BnB on the first day while wearing jeans, and my legs got cold and sore so fast.

 

Harpa Reykjavik snow storm December

5. Waterproof and windproof coat

Have you got this image in your head of Iceland being windy and wet during the winter? Good, you’re on the right track. Make sure you take a coat that is warm, waterproof and windproof.

I took my Superdry coat, which isn’t actually advertised as being waterproof but it’s always been fine for me. Unfortunately, we got caught in a snowstorms on a trip and the bus was FREEZING so my coat couldn’t dry all day, and it ended up getting really wet. Thankfully it was just my coat that was wet through, not all of me, but learn from my stupidity; take an actual waterproof coat.

 

6. Gloves & glove liners

You know how normally your gloves advertise that they keep you warm to like -4C and they don’t? Yeah. Make sure you pick up a pair of glove liners to go underneath your gloves. You can even get glove liners that you can use your phone with, so you don’t have to choose between making your friends jealous and keeping all of your fingers.

 

Tjornin Reykjavik in the snow, December

7. Hat and scarf

It sure can be windy in Iceland, so do not underestimate the power of a hat and scarf to keep your ears and neck warm, and to stop your hair blowing all in your face. My boyfriend bought me a hat with flaps, which was perfect for making sure my ears were warm, and I would definitely take that again over a hat without flaps.

 

8. Good socks

Everyone loves a good pair of thick socks. What you need is socks that will keep your feet warm and dry even if you do end up getting your feet wet; and they’re not hard to find at all. Just go to any outdoor shop and you’ll be able to find them no problem.

 

Seeing the northern lights in Iceland

Tips for going on northern lights tours

If you’re headed out on a trip to try and spot the lights, I would advise taking an extra jumper or layer. When we went, it was -7C and three layers wasn’t going to cut it. My Mum and I both took a thin fleece jacket to put under our coats and that worked a treat for us. I would also consider taking an extra pair of socks because my feet have never been so cold in my life.

If you haven’t booked a tour yet, make sure to read my post about photographing the northern lights in Iceland because Arctic Shots were amazing; especially if you’re a keen photographer.

I promise, this was not sponsored by Decathlon – I just like it, a lot. However, this post does contain affiliate links.

 

Is there anything I’ve missed?

 

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What to pack for your winter trip to Iceland

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America, San Francisco, Travel

A beach with a view | Baker Beach, San Francisco

February 14, 2017

Baker Beach, San Francisco

Getting close to something as iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge was a pretty special moment for me. And it was made just a little bit more special by how blase it all felt when you’re stood on Baker Beach.

It was a beautiful sunny day and the sand was just a little be toasty on my feet. There were dogs running around in the sand, people sun bathing; oh, and there was a huge, red bridge at the end of the beach. It felt quite surreal really, like the bridge almost blended in; as if the beach were saying “Oh yeah, that? Yeah, we’ve got the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Baker Beach San Francisco

Dogs on the beach at Baker Beach, Golden Gate

The Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

We visited Land’s End Park first and got to Baker Beach around noon on a weekday, and it was surprisingly quiet. Of course there were fellow tourists taking photos of the beach, but the majority of people appeared to be locals who didn’t seem at all fazed by this monstrous structure dominating their view.

Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

The Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

If you’re headed to San Francisco, I definitely recommend a trip to Baker Beach. I’ve seen some beautiful photos taken from the beach at sunset, so it’s worth adding to your itinerary if you have time.

While you’re around Baker Beach, you could also take a trip to Land’s End Park (which I will share photos of sometime soon), and of course you could drive over the Golden Gate Bridge itself; I think it is the most expensive of the bridges in the Bay Area.  I believe it cost around $7 when I went. Makes sense; it’s iconic and the upkeep is supposed to be never ending.

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View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

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Iceland, Photography, Travel

I saw the northern lights in Iceland & I’m gonna spam you with photos of it

February 7, 2017

Northern Lights over an abandoned house in Iceland

Seeing the northern lights is probably on most people’s “list”, and that dream finally came true for me in Iceland a few weeks ago.

A few months before heading to Iceland, I came across Arctic Shots; a tour company based in Reykjavik that do trips around Iceland aimed at people who are interested in photography. There are lots of trips to see the Northern Lights from Reykjavik, but what I really wanted was someone who could show us how to photograph it, and Arctic Shots were the guys to do it.

We arrived in Reykjavik during the middle of a storm which lasted a few days, and for a while it looked like we might not see the lights at all. Luckily, the weather forecast was perfect for Friday night and we headed an hour out of the city with our guide, Siggi.

The aurora borealis over a farmhouse in Iceland

After a few minutes, a faint green glow appeared in the sky that got brighter and brighter. To my surprise, I discovered that the lights aren’t always as bright as you see them in photos. So, all these photos I’ve got on here? The lights weren’t really that bright to my naked eye; it’s all down to long exposure. Still, it is truly wonderful to see a green glow flicker across the sky.

We left Reykjavik just after 7pm, and we didn’t get back to our apartment until after 1am (I can’t remember the exact time), so we had a good few hours photographing the lights, and Siggi was on hand to help us with camera settings and any questions. (If you’re not entirely convinced that Arctic Shots are the people to take you to photograph the lights, just look at his photos on his Facebook page. I bet you’re convinced now.)

The northern lights over an abandoned house in Iceland

The northern lights over a farmhouse in Iceland

Northern lights over an Icelandic farmhouse

It was about -7C, so we didn’t spend the entire time photographing. To Siggi -7C seemed like nothing to fuss about, but I have never been so cold in my life and I had so many layers on I could barely move. We spent some time on the bus, and Siggi handed out shots of Brennivin, and Icelandic liquor, and hot chocolate to warm us up before we headed back outside.

Photographing the northern lights in Iceland with Arctic Shots

The northern lights behind a cloud in Iceland

This is by far one of my favourite photos I took of the northern lights

Getting to see the lights with my own eyes was a dream come true for me, and I am so glad the weather turned in our favour just in time. If you’re heading to Reykjavik and want to get some fantastic photos of the lights, and with the lights, I cannot recommend Arctic Shots enough.

Tips

If you’re planning to see the lights, here are a few tips I picked up / learnt the hard way.

  • DO NOT FORGET YOUR BATTERY CHARGER. I still can’t believe I did that. I went to Iceland with no battery charger and only two fully charged batteries. I’m such an idiot. Do not forget your battery charger because the cold weather really zaps your batteries, so make sure you head out with allllllll your batteries fully charged.
  • You don’t need to worry about taking a remote for your camera; just put the timer on a couple of seconds and you’re good to go.
  • Take the filter off. I use my UV filter so much that I forget it’s there. Luckily, Siggi spotted it and my photos came out much better afterwards.
  • Have two pairs of gloves. Before I went to Iceland, I discovered glove liners in Decathlon and they are amazing.

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Seeing and photographing the northern lights in Iceland with Arctic Shots

This post may contain affiliate links. This is not a sponsored post.

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Iceland, Photography, Travel

Discover Reykjavik with a free walking tour from CityWalks

January 31, 2017

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?

This post may contain some affiliate links.

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Exploring Reykjavik with CityWalks free walking tour

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Canada, Photography, Travel

Kayaking on Lake Louise, Banff National Park

January 24, 2017

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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Canada, Photography, Travel

The least fun I have ever had kayaking | Maligne Lake, Alberta

January 19, 2017

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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Iceland, Travel

10 pieces of Reykjavik’s street art you need to see & where to find it

January 12, 2017

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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