Author: 2017onceinalifetime

Kystriksveien – Norway

04 June 2019 – 14th June 2019

We caught the early morning ferry at 7am a four hour crossing journey which would take us from the Lofoten Islands to mainland Norway. We think it was the right time to be leaving as there seemed to be a great number of Motorhomes descending on the islands and with the small roads, we have heard that it is horrendous in the few summer weeks and even the local people have started to complain about the influx of people. Obviously very good for the economy but I can fully understand it. It is such a beautiful place. We arrived in Bodo and on the recommendation of some Spanish people that David met, we are taking the FV17 South, it is meant to be the world’s most beautiful journey. The scenic route Helgelandskysten is connected but 6 ferries which we will take, the coast is characterised by a unique archipelago of more the 14000 islands and inlets, surrounded by shallow waters and amazing mountains. Along the way we saw four moose grazing and stopped at Saltstraumen which has the world’s strongest tidal race and described as a spectacular natural phenomenon. Here over the course of 6 hours up to 400 million cubic meters of seawater is pushed through the shallow sound and the water can reach up to 40km/h. Here is one of the world’s best cold water diving sites and 24 square kms has been designated as underwater marine conservation areas. We parked up and went to look at the water, it is rushing so fast with whirl pools in the centre and hundreds of seabirds mainly seagulls swooping down because of all the shoals of fish. There were quite afew people fishing and you could see David’s eyes popping. As soon as people were casting their lines they were catching fish. We made a hasty return to the van, grabbed the fishing rod and off we went. David caught a small pollock which we put back and then it was my turn. I cast out and then said, it’s stuck on the bottom, I was reeling the line with the rod between my legs and suddenly I see a huge goldfish (because it was orange) on the end of my line. David is jumping up and down and I finally land it. It is the biggest fish to date. I felt sorry for it though, but we did keep him as David is yearning for fish & chips. We stayed one more day at this mecca of a fishing spot and the scenery of the beautiful snow capped mountains and the saltstraumen certainly made it a memorable stay. We stopped for lunch the next day looking out onto a beautiful vista of a fjords and blue skies, we sat and had lunch outside and then as we were preparing to leave we saw the most wonderful white tailed eagle fly past at the same height as us. It was a spectacular sight and the phase ‘where’s the camera when you need it !’ Came to mind. We stayed a little longer hoping it would make a return flight and eventually we were lucky it did, but not as close, but this time we got a couple of souvenir photos. We also passed Svartisen, Norway’s second largest glacier located in Meloy. You can take a glacier walk which we would have loved to have done, but not with Chloe in tow. Travelling on the scenic 17 route means using the local ferries to island hop, varying from a 20 minute to a 40 minute journey. It is just like catching a bus here, sadly the weather hasn’t been great and so with low cloud and sometimes rain the beautiful scenery at sea has been limited. It was announced on one ferry to look to our left as there was the point at which we were leaving the Arctic Circle. I felt a little sad, but so, so lucky that we had experienced travelling through it. We stopped at Berg for the night, the morning rain had cleared and out came the sun in the afternoon. The Norwegians just like the Swedish strip off to get all the vitamin D they can in these short summer months, little children running naked in their gardens and me, still with my winter clothes on ! David went fishing and said he wouldn’t be long, 3 hours later with dinner ready I turn to Chloe and say ‘Do you think he has fallen in ?’ I leave Chloe in the van and go and investigate. I can see David on the small getty talking to another man who is fishing, I decide to leave him to come back when his belly is rumbling, which he did. He had met Gordon, a young German guy who had been living in Norway for the last 15 years. David said he was a really nice, who said that he didn’t really need to fish, as his freezer was full of it. But when in Norway, I think this is what most people do in the summer months. He was telling David that everyone makes moonshine at 60% and 90%, we could do with some of this !, but apparently if you are caught it is a prison sentence. There’s obviously no messing about in Norway. Mind you, the reason why alcohol is so expensive, is Norway had an big problem with people drinking and the only way they solved the issue was to make it too expensive to buy and the good thing is, it has worked. Gordon was also looking for a good woman. David asked if it was easy to find a partner (hope he’s not looking !) and Gordon said there’s no problem finding a Friday girl but that he wanted Monday girl, which I thought was really sweet. Now a couple of days later we met Naomi and I wish Gordon could have met her aswell. A match made in heaven I feel. We drove down a very small track, which I am not so nervous about now, as I used to be and came to a little piece of paradise. (Yes, another one !) As we came into the clearing there was a stunning bay with a lovely beach and mountains either side. When we arrived we were the only van, but a little while later a small belingo van came down the track and parked up. A young girl, Naomi from Switzerland was travelling with her dog Nikki, a lovely chocolate Labrador. She was an inspiration; in her mid 20’s she decided before she started her physiotherapist course she wanted to travel to Norway and Sweden. She had looked into renting a Motorhome but lack of funds, resulted in her buying a van and converting it herself. She had recently separated from her boyfriend and I think this was a journey to heal herself. She had travelled to Nordkapp the furthest North you can go in Norway, got a puncture whilst on the way, but nothing phased her. We spent many hours chatting to her, I fed her and thought how she needed a Gordon in her life. We loved it in this little oasis and near the beach was a wooden sculpture of a woman’s torso which commemorated the woman of the island. At this beach the woman came to be on the look out for their loved ones out at sea, when the weather was at it’s worst. There is a small boat landing place on the beach which was a port of refuge which saved the fishermen from rowing round the island. The woman by the coast had golden arms, to protect themselves and their dear ones alike. And sometimes, they crossed themselves in prayer or thanksgiving to an unseen helper. We stayed here 3 days and it was hard to leave, at it always is for me. David had fished, I had walked with Chloe admiring the lush green vegetation, found wild orchids which I was so excited about and marvelled how nature can make the world look so beautiful.

The Lofoten Islands – Norway

29th May 2019 – 3rd June 2019

We stayed one more day at the amazing midnight sun spot in Bleik and enjoyed a lovely walk along the beach, spotted various birds including afew white tailed eagles, but failed to spot any puffins that lived on a large rock just out in the sea. On our way back we walked through the small village and we were dumbfounded to find a Liverpool football fan who had spelt Liverpool in his lawn, which we only noticed as the lawn was on a large slope. But they did have signs saying Liverpool fan parking only ! I think if they were an Arsenal fan, David would have knocked on their door. That evening, the sky was cloudy and so midnight sun. It is so strange not having any darkness, we look at the clock and see the time getting later but when you look outside it is like lunchtime. We have to shut all the blinds in the van to try and create darkness and our body clocks are confused. Mind you, it must be strange in the winter not to see daylight. I am not sure I would be able to cope with that. Maybe this is why you can’t seem to find any alcohol to buy and lots of knitting wool for sale. It was with a heavy heart we left Bleik. The most amazing place to see the midnight sun and a memory that will last a lifetime. We are now heading South into Vestvagoy, Flakstadoy, and Moskenesoy which make up the Lofoten Islands. The landscape is truly majestic and breathtaking, the region is a mecca for amazing walks, canoeing, diving, climbing, surfing and skiing. We followed the E10 through the island as this is the only main road and to be honest, in some parts only wide enough to fit us through. Luckily there are plenty of passing places and everyone is very considerate. All through the landscape we saw racks and racks of fish drying in the open. The Lofoten Fishery remains an important seasonal fishery that attracts fishermen from Finnmark in the north to Mandal in the south and is a fascinating sight. At this time, fish factories all along the Lofoten are working at full stretch and huge quantities of fish are hung up on the drying racks. In June the dried fish is taken down, graded into eighteen different qualities and exported around the world, with Italy being the biggest customer. The fishing villages scattered all along the islands are a perfect landscape for a photographer. The traditional building material in Norway for most buildings is wood and it is coated/painted in a deep sienna red, which was easily obtained before the introduction of industrial paints and so the tradition continues. A lot of buildings also have a grass roof and at this time of year, plenty of yellow daisies scattered amongst the grass aswell. Most of these little villages are very small, one road in and one road out and fairly quiet as the season starts from mid June until the end of August. We meandered slowly along the E10 stopping for the night as some of the most picturesque of places. I know I keep going on about it but the landscape is just amazing, everything and more that we had imagined. As we were driving (well David of course !) I spotted a church spiral near Gravdal and asked David to stop. Luckily there was a lay-by which David could pull into. David decided to keep Chloe company in the van and just as I get out, a tourist coach pulls up and 50 plus Germans jump off and start heading for the church, what timing ! So, I followed the throng into the church and it was lovely to see inside. A beautiful wooden structure painted in pretty colours. There was I assume an interesting talk about the church, if only I could speak German and then the lady started to sing a traditional Norwegian song, it was beautiful. Now I was pleased the coach had turned up, as I am sure if it was only me, I would not have received such a rendition. The following day we stopped for lunch on the edge of a lovely sandy beach with a waterfall on our left ( I am not making this up !) and to our amazement people were surfing in the sea ! OMG, they must have been freezing and they were mostly young girls but they had wetsuits on that covered ever part of their bodies accept their faces. Admiration all round. David took Chloe for a walk and came back and said you never guess what, there’s a little cafe and it’s selling WAFFLES ! We are in the middle of nowhere and we have found WAFFLES ! Well it was like I had won £50,000 on the lottery. Off I go with my purse and inside this little hut was an elderly Norwegian and his wife with flasks of tea and a little hot plate to make waffles. Homemade raspberry and strawberry jam was on offer aswell. They were delicious and worth the £7 (for two). The most southerly point on the islands is A with a little o on the top, but I do not know how to type this ! The fishing village was gearing up for the season with all the small fishing boats ready to hire, one restaurant which was open and a small bakery. I said to David ‘oh lets go in’ I can’t remember the last time I went in a shop ! As I pushed the door it was on a pulley with a large stone weight behind it and a museum of a bakery. On display to buy was some small bread rolls, small loaves and cinnamon buns. Shall we get a couple of cinnamon buns I said, not at £5 each came the reply ! So we shared one. The sun was shining and there was some people outside including a young English family with three young children, which is the first English we have seen in Norway and Sweden and they had driven in their car here aswell. They had driven over 2,800km, what an amazing adventure for those children to be experiencing. David also met a young guy on a motorbike from Amsterdam who was on a tour for 5 weeks, travelling through Sweden and Norway. Travelling with him was his lovely little black Spaniel dog who had pride of place zipped in this own little bag on the front on the motorbike. Just brilliant. The next morning we took the 4 hour ferry crossing to take us to the mainland of Norway. The Lofoten Islands was all and more that we could ever have imagined, it will stay in my heart forever, it was the midnight sun that did it for me

Vesteralan Islands – Norway

25th May 2019 – 28th May 2019

One thing you need to remember as you cross the border into Norway is not to have any potatoes in your possession, yes, you read right, potatoes. Apparently potatoes are illegal to import, as well as lots of alcohol. Luckily as previously mentioned we sailed through the border not seeing a human sole, potatoes and alcohol safely still in our possession. The scenery continued to be magical, a scattering of snow on the ground and the huge breathtaking mountains in the background. As we headed into the Vesteralan Islands, our first stop was on the edge of a cliff with the most wonderful view of the the Ofotfjord. Now this place gave me a restless night, firstly because it was really windy and second, David had in my eyes parked quite close to the cliff edge. He said, what do you think is going to happen, I say, we might topple over the edge. He rolls his eyes turns over in bed and off he goes soundly to sleep, while I am left thinking all sorts. Still alive the next day, we travel west and into the lush green scenery of the islands. I can’t believe how just behind us we leave a vista of white snow and now we are in what feels like a paradise garden. It is like we have just walked through a door into another world. The sun shone, the lime green colour of all the trees are so vivid, the lush green grass, spring has just sprung, as everything is coming to life. The daffodils are just emerging and so is all the other fauna. We parked in the small harbour of Borkenes and this was the perfect opportunity to try out the fishing rod. Tackle at the ready David set off, while I stayed in the van doing a spot of squashed yoga. The next thing, the door flies open, I’ve caught a fish, I’ve caught a fish David says. Chloe and I go rushing down to the quay and there on the end of his line is a cod. I couldn’t believe it and and neither could David, he said as soon as he cast the line, he thought he had got it stuck on the bottom again, he was hauling the line in only to find a fish on the end. What do I do with it he said, as I looked down at the fish I said ‘Oh put him back’ and that’s what we did. Not before taking the obligatory photos of the catch. David cast the line again and I could see the line pulling, I said, you haven’t got another one have you and all excited he said ‘I think I have’ and in came another cod. We put this one back as well. David’s luck then dried up, the line got caught and we lost the bait and retreated to the van to have lunch. Off he went again in the afternoon and Fishing Widow sprang to mind. No luck in the afternoon but the fun that David and I had with the earlier catch was just brilliant. I am so glad we bought the fishing rod, this is going to provide hours of fun and maybe food, if we get brave enough. We stayed here a couple of days and then headed to Sortland. As we approached the village, I caught something moving out the side of my eye and said to David, what’s that ? It was only a moose, yes, our first sighting of a moose. OMG, the excitement, it was the size of a small horse and we stopped to take photos. This needed to be recorded, how we had waited so long to see one. We went for a walk in the afternoon and were greeted by two young boys on bikes keen to know where we were going, who we were and where we had come from. They told us where there was some nice walks and said how nice Chloe was. We passed the local school the next day and it was playtime, it looked like there were only 10 children in the whole school ! We finally reached the furthest point North we are going on this ‘Once in a Lifetime’ adventure Andenes. With it’s rich fishing history and end of the road feel with the wind swept harbour on the edge of the Atlantic. We then took the road to Bleik and on this road is Andoya Space Centre, Norway’s only operational Space Cente. Of course it wasn’t open to explore (only 6 weeks in the summer) but here you can experience a virtual mission and send up a virtual rocket. I would have quite liked to have done that. We found a site to stay in Bleik, with views over a huge long sandy beach which wouldn’t look out of place in the Caribbean. Just stunning. Chloe was so excited, sand between her toes ! As I went into the reception to sign in, I heard the owner saying that we might see the midnight sun tonight. There were afew clouds in the sky but as the evening wore on and the skies cleared, we saw the most amazing spectacle we have ever seen, the glorious midnight sun. It’s midnight the sun is still shining, it is completely light. There are no words to explain it, magical, lucky to be alive, truly blessed. It will stay with us for the rest of my lives.

Hejda (Goodbye) Sweden

23rd May 2019 – 24th May 2019

We continued our journey North on our favourite road, the E4. We stayed the night near Hortlax on the edge of a fjord, with a lighthouse, that you could walk up into, but did we, of course not. Here we met our first Norwegian, who like us was spending the night looking out at a beautiful view. He spoke very good English and told us that there are now many, many more Motorhomes in Norway and Sweden with 1 in 2 Norwegians owing one. David and I looked at each other and thought we need to open a Motorhome dealership in Norway ! He also said that over the years the amount of snow that falls is half what he remembers as a child. Still a huge amount in our book, but it is a sad story to hear. We stayed the following night in the town of Lulea in the harbour, with a free washing machine and you know what that means ! I washed everything and would have even washed Chloe if I could have. Lulea is the last town on the road we grew to know well, the E4 and now we start to head west, into the Arctic Circle and Norway. Instead of coastline our scenery changed to that of the open landscape of inland Sweden. The E10 was our new road and wow, this is remote. It didn’t stop us though talking about hotdogs and hoping to see an Esso garage to stop in at lunchtime to purchase one. David kept saying, just over the hill I can feel an Esso garage emerging ! This did keep us amused for at least half an hour, when the realisation did finally set in and we stopped for a cheese sandwich for lunch. We stopped overnight to break the journey and the next day was the day when we crossed into Norway. Day 42 of this adventure we crossed into the Arctic Circle and saw wild reindeer for the first time. We took the obligatory photo, with David in his shorts in a lay-by by a sign stating that we were now in the Arctic Circle. As we continued our journey the scenery took on the most magical feel. Frozen lakes, fjords and snow capped mountains, this is a road that I imagine not many people take. We passed huge lorries carrying timber felled from the local forests. These lorries had massive grills on the front of them, which we assumed was to protect the vehicle should they hit a moose. Now we have seen, as I have said before loads of warning signs for moose but we still haven’t seen one ! As we are driving through this wonderland of scenery, I welled up with tears at the complete and utter beauty of this place. I am so glad we made the long journey up through Sweden and across this road because it was so worth it. We also saw some people ice fishing, I hope they knew what they were doing. Passports at the ready, we crossed the border, not a sole in sight. A beautiful black helicopter but that was it. I am sure they never got a queue at customs here. We high fived into Norway.

Skuleskogens National Park – Sweden

18th May 2019 – 22nd May 2019

We are so, so lucky that this ‘Once in a Lifetime’ adventure takes us to some amazing places and places that create memories that will stay with us forever. The Swedish National Park of Skuleskogens is one of those. As we turned off the E4 and started heading up into the National Park I was, I admit holding onto my seat. It was Greece all over again with the scary roads. The road we were travelling on into the forest, ceased being a road and became a track. I gripped the seat even harder and David kept saying that it would be OK. Eventually after several kilometres we came to our parking, in the middle of the forest, just us and complete and utter silence. Most people would crave this solitude and many others I think would hate it. There was no mobile signal, no WiFi and not a sound to be heard. We parked and then decided to explore a little and walked through a track for around 20 minutes, I couldn’t believe it when I saw these beautiful little purple flowers bursting with life, the trees were just beginning to open, the season being so much later than in the U.K. and the lush green ground flora all around us. As we approached an opening, the Baltic Sea greeted us in the most beautiful of views. Chloe got all excited as there was a beach and she was desperate to get into the water, however, we didn’t think it was a good idea with it being so cold. I think she was thinking of her Greek swimming last year. There was also a wooden shelter and a large fire pit with a metal grate to BBQ and a massive pile of wood all cut ready to use. We sat looking out on this amazing vista, just in awe of it’s beauty. I have always loved nature and this is a very special place. The next day we decided to go on a walking trail, we have been lucky with the weather on this trip so far and the sun came out, ready for our hike. We were concerned that the distance would be too far for Chloe. She is 12 now and we are conscious not to go too far and exhaust her, although we think she is doing well for a dog of her age. We didn’t need to worry, she absolutely loved it. We walked 8km in total, so not too far. We found a scattering of little holiday cottages, a beach and more beautiful views. The mature fir trees reaching for the sky that became the perfect blue in the afternoon, the weather was amazing. Being here, has been like stepping out of the world, it is a very, very special place indeed. After 2 days we made the slow drive out of the park, with me more relaxed this time and continued North on our favourite road, the E4. Next stop Umea, we parked on the edge of the town and decided to cycle into the centre. David said it’s not far, well from now on, I am not trusting him on his ‘not fars’ When we finally returned after over 20kms, he said that it takes so long as I cycle too slow ! Not sure how that one works ! The town, like most towns we have visited other that Stockholm are quite uninspiring, obviously, our opinion only. I am not sure what I was expecting but they are quite ordinary. Umea is a student town and as it was a Saturday was bustling with life, a brass band was playing in the centre square and the one and only ice cream van had a massive queue. It was a beautiful day and when the sun shines, all the Swedish people seem to strip off. As we were cycling through the villages to and from the town, I noticed woman in bikinis and men in budgie smugglers all sun bathing. I imaging that with so little warm sunny days, any opportunity to get some vitamin D is snapped up. What we have also deduced from driving through Sweden is that Swedish people, love a hamburger. I think there are more Burger Kings, McDonalds and their own Max Burger outlets than in the U.K. As we have gone further North there are obviously a lot less but in the South of Sweden you will always be able to get a hamburger. As we head North and get more rural, everyone also seems to have a old broken Volvo in their garden, rusting away and weeds growing all around. They also love American vintage cars with some amazing Mustangs, Chevrolets & Cadillacs, all restored and gleaming. Their houses have a colonial feel to them and would not look out of place in the Wild West of America. We have travelled many miles and are continually on the look out for the elusive Moose which all the long E4 has warning signs ‘Beware of the Moose’ but have we seen one, of course we haven’t ! David is looking one side of the road and me another but to date we haven’t seen any. Apparently in the months of May they are seen on the green pastures, we continually live in hope.

Harmanger – Sweden

14th May 2019 – 17th May 2019

We left Stockholm and headed North on the E4. The road hugs the east coast of the country which allows us to stop at some nice places en route. The first being Harmanger, now this is in the middle of nowhere but there were very good reviews to stop at this Motorhome parking and the offer of a free washing machine and tumble dryer did it for me ! We are greeted by Marianne who spoke perfect English and had lived in village for over 45 years, she said she couldn’t get her husband to leave ! She asked us if we would like fresh bread in the morning and I eagerly said yes, the nearest shop must of been 50 miles away. The next morning at 8.30am there was a little tap on the door and there was Marianne with a basket full of fresh and warm bread rolls. OMG they they were delicious. Marianne also mentioned to us, the fish shop up the road where it is open 24 hours a day, has no staff and you just help yourself to what is on offer and leave the cash ! So after breakfast we took a leisurely stroll to the fish shop. We followed the signs and basically it was a garden shed in someone’s garden, but in I went while David stayed outside with Chloe. There were 4 fridges filled with fresh and smoked fish and it looked absolutely delicious. In the 4th fridge, in the door, was all the cash. We chose a large chunk of smoked salmon, pickled herrings, some other smoked fish and some herrings in a lovely creamy sauce. There were pen, paper and calculator to work out what you owed as it was all priced and a bag to put it all in and then you left the cash in the fridge. We were completely and utterly amazed at the honestly of this experience and it warmed my heart that this could still exist in the world. The fish was absolutely delicious, I wish we had bought more, but David doesn’t like paying for fish. Where we were staying had a restaurant and gift shop with all local crafts but alas none were open. The season is Sweden is summer months only, from the end of June to the end of August. I saw David raise his eyes to the sky and say ‘thank you’ ! It was here that for the first time we got the fishing rod out. There was a small getty and we thought it would be a good idea to practise casting out for the first time. Now, you would think it is easy just to set up a rod and then cast it out, well let me tell you, it is not ! The first time David cast the line out it, the hook got stuck, I am jumping up and down saying ‘ have we got a fish, have we got a fish and David says, ‘ of course we bloody haven’t, it’s stuck on the bottom’. He was pulling and pulling and then said, go and get the scissors, I am going to have to cut the line ! I walked back to the van with Chloe saying, ‘oh dear, it’s not going well is it’. By the time we had come back the line was free and we had a little more success with the casting. I even had an attempt and was quite pleased with my distance of casting, my Dad would have been proud. He was a keen fly fisherman. We stayed for 3 days, exhausted the washing and drying machine, I bet they gave a sigh of relief when we drove out and started heading North again !

Stockholm – Sweden

03 May 2019 – 13 May 2019

We left Copenhagen and crossed the famous and expensive Oresund Bridge into Sweden. The bridge runs nearly 8km and combined with a tunnel of 4km it is the longest bridge in Europe. We touched down into Sweden near Malmo in the South before heading North along the coast and then cutting inland to make our way into Stockholm. We stopped a couple of times along the way in Marinas and on the edge of lakes. We stayed in a lovely little town called Raa, when I say town, it is more like a village in the U.K. and all was very quiet. As we meandered around the marina on a Saturday afternoon we didn’t see another sole. Nothing was open, ghost town came to mind. However, on Sunday morning as we looked out from the van window into the bay, it was filled with around a 100 small sailing boats, all out enjoying the beautiful weather. The Swedish people love boating and we assume that it fills a huge part of their lives, there is certainly enough water for them to sail in, with over 97,500 lakes as well as the thousands of miles of coast line. It is early May but the daffodils and tulips are just in flower. It shows how much colder it is as we travel North and the trees and plants are just starting to emerge from winter, it is certainly early spring in Sweden. We arrived in Stockholm and David did a superb piece of driving through the centre, again trying to find somewhere to stay close enough for us to get into the centre and that had space. We were in luck and spent 2 days in this wonderful city. We cycled into the centre of the old town, taking our lives in our hands, it’s chaotic cycling. People, cyclists, as well as vehicles coming at you in all directions. I get the impression that there are quite afew fatalities with cyclists as a lot of people wear a sort of very stiff travel pillow around their necks with a front zip fastening. First port of call was the old town which was the actual city for several hundred years, built on Stadholmen. Dating back from the 13th century, it is a labyrinth of cobbled streets, alleyways, faded mustard and rust coloured houses and meeting squares. It is also full of tourists from the huge cruise ships that we saw in the harbour, on their Baltic Cruise. We saw the changing of the guards take place outside the Royal Palace Stockholm and enjoyed a couple of beers in the sunshine. Stockholm is one of the most crowded museum cities in the world and you can see why. With limited time, we decided to visit The Vasa Museum which displays the only almost fully intact 17th century ship that has ever been salvaged. The 64 gun warship sank on her maiden voyage in 1628 within minutes of sailing and lay on the sea bed for 333 years before it was salvaged in 1961. This amazing ship is 98% original, adorned with hundreds of carved sculptures. When we walked through the doors into the huge space and saw the ship for the first time, it took our breath way. You cannot believe how huge it is, how beautiful and that this is real. We kept thinking Jack Sparrow was going to suddenly appear. We spent several hours in the museum completely in awe of this ship, learning all about life on board, the stunning art and sculptures which made up this ship and the salvage operation. This is not to be missed if you are ever in Stockholm. There is also the ‘ABBA’ Museum but I could not persuade David to venture inside ! We loved Stockholm, the people are friendly, it has a relaxed and happy feel about the city and it is high on the list of our best loved cities to date. That means we will be back.

Ribe, Brondby & Copenhagen – Denmark

27th April 2019 – 02 May 2019

We continue to slowly make our way North, leaving Germany behind and we welcome in Denmark, a country that we have never visited before. As we are driving we notice that it is very, very similar to the U.K. in landscape. Green fields, acres of yellow rape seed glowing in the sunshine and bluebells bursting into life. Now, it is just our opinion, but we think that the architects in Denmark need to take a leaf out of the Dutch architects book. The architecture in Denmark is not at all spectacular, quite plain, box type brick buildings. Our first stop is the town of Ribe in the South West Jutland and the oldest town in Denmark, established in the early eighth century in the Germanic Iron Age. The town has many preserved old buildings, Ribe Cathedral and around 110 houses under the Heritage Protection, together with Denmark’s oldest town hall. The houses reminded us of Thaxted, a village near where we lived in Essex. We meandered around the town, ate chocolate waffles as you do ( fitness regime yet to begin !) and then retreated back to the van to sleep them off. The next day we headed north west to Brondby, a tiny strip of land with the North sea on one side and a lake on the other. David has a great APP on his phone for parking places and places to stay in Motorhomes and he found an amazing place tucked away, just us and the beautiful landscape. The sand dunes here are huge and as you climb them you see the most amazing view of the beach and sea that stretches for miles and miles. We were so lucky with the weather, lovely sunshine and the excitement of Chloe to feel sand between her paws always makes us smile. We stayed here a couple of days because it was so beautiful. There are many holiday homes on this coast and we later learnt that in the summer it is absolutely packed with holiday makers. You can understand why with the stunning coastline. We didn’t think we could top the parking spot but as we left and headed east a couple of hours we found parking right next to the water’s edge and it was so idyllic. When you looked out, there were fishermen in their waders enjoying the beautiful sunshine, canoes, small boats and yachts all moving along the estuary and we had blue, blue skies. It was a moving picture, one that I wish my Dad could have seen as he loved fishing and would have loved to have seen this view. Just further up the estuary there is a little one vehicle ferry that takes you across the estuary. As we walked along the beach, the water was filled with the biggest mussels that David has ever seen, as well as clams. I firmly said no, when he suggested eating them for dinner.

We left the tranquility of the stunning scenery and headed east towards Copenhagen, crossing over the most expensive bridge from Nyborg on the E20 over to Halsskov which David said would cost €70 but when we came to pay at the kiosk and with David talking X Factor of all things with the lady we were charged €35 ! Result.

First stop was the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde for David, containing five unique Viking Ships excavated in 1962 from Roskilde Fjord near the village of Skuldelev. At the end of the Viking Age the late 11th century – a system of barriers was constructed to protect the royal seat and cathedral. These five ships were sunk across the sailing channel and were part of the effective protective barrier. After a couple of hours we continued our way to the city of Copenhagen.

Copenhagen we knew would be difficult to find parking near, what we didn’t envisage was that it would be so difficult. The first place we tried on the marina was not open until later in May and then the second place, which David would have loved to stay at was a site in an old fort. The only trouble was our Motorhome was too big ! Finally we found parking but it was a 35 minute cycle ride into the centre. The weather had been fairly fine but with the most bitterly cold wind. When we finally started cycling in, the wind was so strong I thought I was going to be blown off my bike a couple of times. I did wish I was still in the van with Chloe at one point. Unbeknown to us we cycled right through Christiania, a hash scented commune straddling the eastern side of Christianshavn. It was established by squatters in 1971 and the area has drawn non conformists from across the globe. Filled with shady hash and marijuana dealers and a wonderland of whimsical DIY homes it is a unique commune to say the least. We finally made it into the famous Nyhavn canal with it’s beautiful coloured buildings. A haunt for sailors and writers in days gone by, including Hans Christian Andersen, but now filled with cafes and restaurants. As it was late in the day we made a whistle stop tour around on our bikes, saw the changing of The Royal Danish Life Guards at Amalienborg, the beautiful Frederiks Kirke (Marmorkirken) a large Baroque Church and then we fought the wind to return to the van. I slept well that night. People say you cannot come to Copenhagen and not see the Tivoli amusement park and pleasure gardens. So, we decided to move the van somewhere where we could catch the train in, as it was easier than fighting the wind with the bikes. I loved the gardens, David wasn’t so keen. The spring flowers were still in bloom and if you stay into the evening there is an amazing light show. There is also a fantastic food hall just outside the gardens, with mouthwatering food freshly prepared, it reminded us of the one in Porto. We saw the main hi-lights of Copenhagen but like most cities we visit, we struggle to really immerse ourselves into them, due to time factor of leaving Chloe. However, a small price to pay and Copenhagen is on the growing list of cities to re-visit another time.

Bremen & Kaltenkirchen – Germany

23rd April 2019 – 26th April 2019

To avoid trees and on route, we decided to make our next stop Bremen in North West Germany. We found a designated parking area for Motorhomes on a small island within walking distance of the town which was perfect. Bremen is a commercial and industrial city with a major port on the River Weser. The old town an oval area surrounded by the Weser River is beautiful, as is the Marktplatz or Market Square which is dominated by the opulent facade of the Town Hall of Bremen. In July 2004 the building was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Our first evening we meandered around the old town,stuffed ourselves on a gorgeous meal and luckily had a 30 minute walk back to the van to wear it off ! The little island we were staying on had lots of kleingarten (meaning ‘small garden’) which to us means allotments. They are lovingly taken care of all with little huts which cover anything from a tool shed to a mini house, complete with cooking and washing facilities, a TV and sleeping area. The allotments are split into different clubs and there are 44 clubs in Bremen. There are a list of rules one being the height of hedges, 1 metre and 10 centimetres and apparently this is checked ! It does give the gardens a form of uniformity and they are lovingly cared for. This time of year all the blossom is in full bloom, the lilac trees are just starting to burst and everything is coming alive. I took Chloe for a walk around them, accessed by small paths. The only trouble is you can easily get lost, which I did and with a dead phone, David wasn’t took happy when we returned as he had began to think we had been abducted ! The following evening there was a big football game on in the stadium which happened to be very close to where we were staying. Bremen versus Bayern Munich, you could hear all the cheering and although I am the furtherest you could get from a football fan, I said to David I would have loved to have gone as the atmosphere sounded amazing.

The next day we headed further North stopping for the night near Kaltenkirchen. Chloe was in her element here as we were within walking distance from a lake. Now up until last year Chloe had never really been swimming a great deal, but in Greece by the end of our 3 months we were all swimming together. So, when she saw the water all she wanted to do was get in, but she still needs a little encouragement with either ball or stick throwing, but she loved it !

The great thing about travelling is the people you meet along the way and where we stayed for the night we met the fittest 84 year old German man who we learnt was a Hilter Youth when he was 8 years of age. His Dad was in Stalingrad and through his limited English which was far, far better than our German, he relaid stories of when the Americans passed through giving him a ride on their tanks and feeding him chocolate. I so wish we could have communicated better as he was an absolutely fascinating man. He told us that his wife had passed away 2 years ago and he travels in his Motorhome and to stay fit he exercises 2 hours each morning. As David and I stood there looking at him with not an ounce of fat on him, we looked down at our bellies and though we need to take on this fitness regime.

Urk & Leeuwarden – The Netherlands

18th April 2019 – 22nd April 2019

Now we would never have gone to the town of Urk if it wasn’t for meeting a friend of David’s. Gert-jan supplies seafood to businesses all over Europe and this is how David and Gert-jan paths crossed over 20 years ago. David had promised to visit when we were anywhere near Urk and we were and so we did. Wow, what a beautiful little town, we stayed right on the marina which we always love as it is a continually moving picture all the time. There is always something going on. Urk was a former island with more that 20,000 people and a huge fishing fleet. The picturesque town, mazes, small alleys (ginkies) with houses all unique to each other, pretty squares, decorations and the best fish and chips we have tasted on this trip. We met Gert-jan in the late afternoon and he took us on a personal tour around the town. What was so lovely, that everybody seems to know each other, stopping to say hello and having a chat. We learnt that Urk is a thriving town with no unemployment due to huge fish processing businesses together with the marina, which is the centre for the large fishing boat repairs. We were also so lucky to step onto an original oak fishing boat, that had been in the same family for three generations. It is such a beautiful piece of workmanship and the current owner was happy to tell us all about it. We went inside the cabin area and the gorgeous smell of the wood and oil, took you back in time. On the quay there was a group of men sitting watching the world go by, eating freshly cooked smoked salmon, which they had cooked themselves in their burner. Of course we had to try it and it was delicious. We spent the evening with Gert-jan eating wonderful tapas and enjoying the lovely company. We parted promising to visit hopefully on our way back in July. We were up early (for us) the next day as David had been having trouble with a crown tooth and Gert-jan had kindly made David an appointment at the dentist. What I was more worried about though, was when the appointment was made, they said bring cash ! Gert-jan had shown us the dentist the day before and my God, did it look plush and so when the bring cash was relaid I began to worry. We cycled to the dentist, which resembled a mansion, set in the most luxurious of gardens, into the reception and duly planted our bums on the most expensive leather chairs I have ever sat on ! David was promptly called in and I got my purse out and started counting our cash. I thought was €220 enough ? 20 minutes later tooth fixed and to our utter relief a cost of €60, cheaper than at home. We might get all our dental work done in Urk from now on. We cycled back to the town via the bike shop to purchase a nice sheepskin seatcover for my bum as it is suffering from all the miles it has been covering. To celebrate the dentist’s reasonable cost and on Gert-jan’s recommendation we enjoyed delicious fish and chips in the most fantastic fish delicatessen. My Dad would have absolutely loved to see all the smoked eels, mackerel and herrings. The fresh fish display made our mouths water, together with the homemade fish dishes that were available to buy. I know I sound like an old record, but I wish we had this back in the U.K. Anyway, we left with pickled herrings and a pot of delicious and very fattening cocktail of prawns and crab.

We left Urk the next day, passing all the amazing tulip fields and oh my they are stunning. I was in complete and utter awe, just beautiful. If you love flowers, try to get to this part of the world one day because it is breathe taking.

Next stop was Leeuwarden, basing ourselves just outside with views of the canel in a little boat yard. It was fascinating, the boats are stored in little wooden garages on the water. It was Easter weekend and we cycled into the town on Saturday, enjoyed a healthy fruit smoothie each, meandered around the shops and took a leisurely cycle back again. The sheepskin seat cover has been worth every penny, my bum has been saved. Easter Sunday saw a flurry of motor cruisers on the canal in a day of perfect sunshine. We departed the next day, stopping for one night near Veendam, right in the middle of a forest with a beautiful lake which Chloe absolutely loved running round. Poor David didn’t love it so much though, as he has been suffering badly with hay fever and staying right in the middle of a forest with trees bursting into life wasn’t the greatest of ideas. Next stop a city we think, with no trees !