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

Feasting in George Town

We have not been seeking them out specifically, but once again, we are about to visit another UNESCO heritage listed site. George Town, on the Malaysian island and capital of the state of Penang, has had a very culturally diversified history and in July 2008 UNESCO formally recognised George Town’s unique architecture and cultural townscape by inscribing it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

George Town went through tremendous transformation from its humble beginning in the late 18th century as the first British Straits settlement, from a swampy frontier town to a bustling trading post. George Town’s architecture reflects the various ethnicities that settled here over 2 centuries – Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Malays, Achehnese, Siamese, Burmese and Europeans each bringing their own building styles such as Indo-Malay palladian, Anglo-Indian and Sino-Anglo bungalows, neo-classical, art deco, and modern, together with mosques, churches, and Chinese and Indian temples.

In an effort to make George Town world heritage zone easily recognisable, as Seville did by planting orange trees along the streets within their world heritage zone, the “Marking George Town” competition was launched by the Penang State Government in 2009. It encouraged innovative ideas in art and design for public spaces in George Town. Out of all the local and international entries, Sculptureatwork triumphed with its design concept of ‘voices from the people’, a series of 52 unique and humorous annecdotal illustrations of George Town’s colourful history in the form of iron rod sculptures, installed against the city’s building walls.

George Town Festival 2012 commissioned “Marking George Town” by Ernest Zacharevic, a young Lithuanian born artist from George Town, a project designed to turn the streets of George Town into an open air art gallery. His murals celebrate the living heritage of the city’s inhabitants.

“101 Lost Kittens” was originally a project by a group of artists working to install a dozen street art at various points within the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site to raise awareness of the plight of stray animals and became part of George Town Festival 2013.

I have been looking forward to discovering George Town tomorrow, and didn’t expect to stumble across so much street art this evening on our way to dinner, a few minutes down the road from our hotel which is well outside the Unesco zone.

Jalan Nagore street art, George Town, Malaysia

Jalan Nagore street art, George Town, Malaysia

Jalan Nagore street art, George Town, Malaysia

Jalan Nagore street art, George Town, Malaysia

Jalan Nagore street art, George Town, Malaysia

Jalan Nagore street art, George atown, Malaysia

Jalan Nagore street art, George Town, Malaysia

Jalan Nagore street art, George Town, Malaysia

Jalan Nagore street art, George Town, Malaysia

Jalan Nagore street art, George Town, Malaysia

Anyone who knows me will be able to imagine my inexhaustible excitement, at each corner and discovery of a new piece of art, turning around, looking back and noticing another one tucked away down a small alley. The artworks themselves are wonderful. But it is the courage and foresight of both UNESCO and George Town council to support and encourage such artworks that warmed my heart. If only others around the world were so bold… I had a constant smile on my face, at seeing each clever and inspiring piece but also watching other people’s enjoyment. I get the same enjoyment observing nature, noticing the smallest detail, which is there for all to see, only if we take the time to stop and admire… Anthony enjoyed the street art too but spent most of his time patiently waiting for me to be ready to walk on, mostly enjoying the sparkle in my eyes he tells me 🙂

Shorn Hair sculpture, George Town, Penang

Shorn Hair sculpture, George Town, Penang


Cannon Street sculpture, George Town, Penang

Cannon Street sculpture, George Town, Penang

Boy on a chair - George Town, Penang

Boy on a chair – George Town, Penang

Street art, George Town, Penang

Street art, George Town, Penang

Procession sculpture, George Town, Penang

Procession sculpture, George Town, Penang

Anne giving this little girl a real fright, George Town, Penang

Anne giving this little girl a real fright, George Town, Penang

Street art, George Town, Penang (30cm tall)

Street art, George Town, Penang (30cm tall)

Huge mural about learning to speak Hokkien, George Town, Penang

Huge mural about learning to speak Hokkien, George Town, Penang

Too Narrow sculpture, George Town, Penang

Too Narrow sculpture, George Town, Penang


Lion Dance, George Town, Penang

Lion Dance, George Town, Penang

Storyteller sculpture, George Town. Penang

Storyteller sculpture, George Town. Penang

Kids on Bicycle, George Town, Penang

Kids on Bicycle, George Town, Penang

This one made me smile - George Town, Penang

This one made me smile – George Town, Penang

Skippy, George Town, Penang

Skippy, George Town, Penang

The Rat was painted after Skipyy - George Town, Penang

The Rat was painted after Skipyy – George Town, Penang

Love Me Like Your Fortune Cat - George Town, Penang

Love Me Like Your Fortune Cat – George Town, Penang

I Want Bao! - George Town, Penang

I Want Bao! – George Town, Penang

Cats & Humans Happily Living Together - George Town, Penang

Cats & Humans Happily Living Together – George Town, Penang

Street art, George Town, Penang

Street art, George Town, Penang

Boy on a Motorbike - George Town, Penang

Boy on a Motorbike – George Town, Penang

Nasi Kandar sculpture, George Town, Penang

Nasi Kandar sculpture, George Town, Penang

Bullock cart wheel sculpture, George Town, Penang

Bullock cart wheel sculpture, George Town, Penang

Little Boy with Pet Dinosaur - George Town, Penang

Little Boy with Pet Dinosaur – George Town, Penang

Gold Teeth sculpture, George Town, Penang

Gold Teeth sculpture, George Town, Penang

Tok tok Mee sculpture, George Town, Penang

Tok tok Mee sculpture, George Town, Penang

Jimmy Choo sculpture, George Town, Penang

Jimmy Choo sculpture, George Town, Penang

Trishaw Man, Ernest Zacharevic's last mural, George Town, Penang

Trishaw Man, Ernest Zacharevic’s last mural, George Town, Penang

We also visited a fantastic little museum. The first part was dedicated to the history of Penang, and the last part to 3D art. Here are a couple of fun examples.

Interactive 3D Museum, George Town, Panang

Interactive 3D Museum, George Town, Panang

Interactive 3D Museum, George Town, Panang

Interactive 3D Museum, George Town, Panang

Not only is the street art so joyous, but we both love talking to the locals, observing all the small businesses still thriving here such as the printmaker who still uses a massive 70 year old printing machine to print receipt books and ledgers for local businesses. I could easily have spent a week in George Town, loving its rich history, cultural diversity and architecture. We will just have to come back one day but for now, Kuala Lumpur is calling us as we need to get the bikes serviced and Streak fixed before our next leg – the new part installed in Chiang Mai didn’t fix my problem and came back the day we left Chiang Mai.

– Anne