If you’re familiar with the film Field of Dreams you’ll recognise the phase “build it and they will come”. For anyone who has driven Scotland’s North Coast 500 will testify “publishing a touring route and they’ll come” also is true. however the popularity of the NC500 route with motorhomes, campervans, cars and cyclists has at times turned the sheer delight of touring around seeing all the North of Scotland has to offer into a 516 mile extension of the M25.
Fortunately the same doesn’t apply to the Wilderness Road. After our tough cross country drive to get there, we at last turned off the gravel tracks on a spanking new stretch of smooth tarmac. With no queues, wow, how impressive is that.
The Vildmarksvägen is not as long as the NC500 it’s a mere 500 km long but stretches through some of the most spectacular parts of northern Sweden.
Ok then, so answers on a postcard, who can name (no cheating) any of Sweden’s 95,700 lakes…? No, I thought not. With around half (well 9% actually) of Sweden covered by lakes and forests you’ll understand if the images in this post contain a spot of water and a few trees…!
There are circa 28 million hectaresof productive forest land in Sweden, equivalent to 69% of the land area, so actually more than a few trees then.
As they say, a picture can paint a thousand words, so I’m going to let the images taken on our route around Vildmarksvägan do the talking.
We stopped on the route to visit the Sami village at Fatmomakke. The town’s church is said to be the most prominent Sami Church town in Sweden and one of the best preserved in the world. Fatmomakke is of important spiritual value to the Sami and is still used as a cultural meeting place today as it has done for thousands of years.
Stekenjokk is one of the Sami people’s places for their reindeer to feed during the summer, We didn’t see them but it’s not unknown for herds of reindeer to wander close to the parking area. We just had to watch the comings and goings of other visitors.
Travelling around the Vildmarksvägan and with the border quite close (2 miles) there are tantalising views of the Norwegian hills. On a bright sunny day in July it’s difficult to imagine this is also one of the coldest spots (−50 °C) in Sweden in the wintertime. The highest part of the road over Stekenjokk is remote it only opens from the beginning of June until the middle of October due to snow depths of up to 6 metres.
Ok it’s not Niagara but if you were Canadian you would still say” it’s still pretty ‘awesome“.
We are very grateful to Nick & Lisa for recommending the Wilderness Road. It has been a spectacular way of re-setting our motivation for the next stage of our trip. We do hope one day to dust off our plans to visit Noway and it’s beautiful scenery.
By the way, if you do decide on your travels around Scotland to follow a puffing and panting cyclist up over the Bealach na Ba Pass in your motorhome, the fish and chips in the Applecross Inn are well worth the queueing!
“Nothing’s impossible I have found, For when my chin is on the ground, I pick myself up, Dust myself off, Start all over again.”
As immortalised in Swing Time starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
Whilst you’re travelling forwards (in a car with a manual handbrake )it’s relatively easy to make a handbrake turn and head off again back in the direction you come from…
The alternative manoeuvre is the trickier J turn. For this you need to be traveling at speed in reverse (30 mph+), then back off the throttle, give the steering wheel a sharp half-turn flick to make the front swing round to face the direction you were reversing. Simples. Although thinking about it, probably not a great idea in Margo…
Heading back we remembered we’d planned to fill up with diesel in Narvik. Our thwarted attempt at the Norwegian border meant we were running on diesel mist by the time we’d retraced our steps to the tiny fuel station in Abisko. Being in such a remote location, fuel is mega expensive, but we were just so grateful when we finally reached it.
The Abisko National Park was founded in 1909, the same year some of Sweden’s first laws on nature and conservation were created and the visitors began coming here, shortly after. Their journey made possible via the opening of the Iron Ore Line Railway, that connects Lulea on the Baltic Sea with Narvik on the North Sea (that’s Norway!)
Starting from Abisko you can follow The Kings Trail also known as Kungsleden, it is Sweden’s longest and most famous hiking trail. The entire trail takes about a month to cover but because it’s broken into sections you can choose the length of your hike. The most popular section, which stretches between Abisko and Nikkaluokta, is about 105 km long and will take 10-12 days.
The Abiskojokk river eventually flows into the Torneträsk the sixth largest lake in Sweden
On the shore of the lake there’s a jetty, a camp fire pit and grill complete with free logs (it’s forbidden to cut down trees in the National Parks) and a very nice looking sauna hut. Given its position I suspect a post sauna dip in the ice cold Torneträsk lake is mandatory!
Originally hunters and gatherers, the Sami turned to herding of domesticated reindeer in the 17th century. Reindeer naturally move across huge tracks of land to graze, and the Sami historically lived lives following the herds.
The modern norm is instead to have a permanent home and a cabin in the mountains for the herding season. And those who remain in the business have long since replaced the skis with snowmobiles, AWD vehicles and helicopters. Only some ten per cent of Swedish Sami earn a living from the reindeer industry, and many supplement their income through tourism, fishing, crafts and other trades.
Designed to be above the snow and away from predators, unless they have brought their own ladder…!
Travelling through this this part of Lapland, a famous Swedish botanist once said “If not for the mosquitoes, this would be earth’s paradise.” These comments were made after journeying along the valley of the river Lule during the short summer weeks, when mosquitoes are at their most active.
The miles of lakes and forest really do make this a beautiful place. It’s also easy to find an overnight spot on the edge of a lake with a nice view, just perfect. Well yes perfect for mozzies to torment me.
It might be unfair to say Arjeplog is an out of the way kind of place, (it has in the past offered families 100,000 kronor or individuals 25,000 kronor to move to the town). However it’s biggest claim to fame is the frozen lake which is used as a winter test site for many car manufacturers and has featured in at least one episode of Top Gear.
We stopped at Arjeplog to buy some Bushman spray and got talking to the local police about a warning sign we saw for anyone heading for the Norwegian border (not us of course). Anyway one of the helpful officers telephoned the border and checked if hypothetically we were planning to drive the 85 miles to try crossing the border, we would NOT be allowed in for the same reason given at Narvik. There you are nothing personal, apparently.
Reindeer are also tormented by the mosquitoes at this time of year. This one was on his way to Arjeplog to buy a bottle of Bushman mozzie repellent spray.
Our travelling pals Nick & Lisa had recommended ‘The Wilderness Road‘ close to the Norwegian border. To get from Abisko to join the 500km ‘Wilderness’ circuit, first involved an 800 km cross country drive. Choosing the most direct route meant Margo traversing 100kms of bumpy, gravel forest roads.
So we’ve moved on and are slowly developing a new plan. Part one is to continue to enjoy the natural beauty of Sweden with the vast landscapes of forests and lakes. It’s become very clear to us how outdoorsy the Swedes are. They really seem to make the most of the nature with sporting pastimes like hiking, fishing, boating or camping that this expansive environment offers. It has certainly refreshed our spirits and we look forward to experiencing and enjoying more ourselves.
When we set out on this trip many weeks ago, it was full of uncertainty of if, whether or how we might make it to Norway. Well, today was the day of reckoning and we were unsuccessful. We thought it was going to be possible because we have both been double vaccinated and had the NHS COVID Pass app on our phones, complete with QR code for proof (which has seen us through 4 countries), unfortunately it wasn’t enough for the Norwegians. Particularly as since we left the UK’s Covid case numbers have increased and the UK is now recently in a dark red category.
Upcoming rant warning – I want to rage for a moment about how some of the things we’re experiencing on our travels have a direct relationship with the UK’s decision to leave the EU. Things like the maximum 90 day limit on our time in Schengen, the increase in our insurance costs, changes to data roaming, difficulties in trade – unable to buy MoHo spares from Italy, and fellow travellers abroad struggling to buy stuff from the UK because of a whole load of new form filling.
However it is frustratingly ironic, sitting at here at The Battle of Narvik memorial site (1 km inside the Norwegian border), reading how the Brits, fought alongside Norwegian, French and Polish troops for the control of this territory, to now be stopped from crossing the same piece of ground the allied armies fought over because some politicians think it is better for the UK to go it alone. I could go on, and on about this but…. ok enough, I’m starting to feel better already.
They say “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” we need to start again and build a new plan, for a fresh adventure.
We’re heading north, as opposed to heading south which I understand can be a bad thing, as in “the stock market is headed south“. In the early 1980″s I had the pleasure of working for a much respected manager called Phil Roberts, who had an admirable combination of wit and wisdom. One of his favourite and completely meaningless phases he would trot out with great regularity and usually with a smile was “We shall see what we shall see“. Which suggested that although he might know how a particular outcome might turn out, he was keeping his thoughts to himself. Lovely man.
In 1883 Allmänna SvenskaElektriska Aktiebolaget or ASEA for short was founded in Västerås. Many years later ASEA merged with Brown Boveri to become ABB. I joined the Robotics division in the UK in 1985 and over the 30+ years I spent in the automation industry, I have been to Västerås many times and even now can still feel the deep sense of loyalty to ABB and to the history of the town.
ABB is one of the worlds most respected electrical engineering companies especially in the field of industrial robotics and remains the town’s largest employer. Oh and as an ex-ABB employee it also provides part of my pension.
We left Margo enjoying the acrobatics of the pulled-by-wire wakeboarders expertly executing 180 degree turns, when the drag wire reverses direction. We set off on a bike ride around the shore of Lake Mälaren, past the rows of yachts and motor boats berthed in the marina and following the cycle path out beyond the airport into the countryside.
“At one time Lake Mälaren was a bay of the Baltic, and seagoing vessels using it were able to sail far into the interior of Sweden. Because of movements of the Earth’s crust, however, the rock barrier at the mouth of the bay had become so shallow that by about the year 1200 ships had to unload their cargoes near the entrances and progressively the bay became a lake”.
The wheels have come off
Almost literally, well not quite the wheels… We had stopped for a well deserved ice cream after 12 miles, the half-way point of the ride. Then set off again but only got a mile down the road when the left side crank and pedal on Dave’s bike inexplicably detached itself from the electric motor. We scratched our heads for a bit (but that didn’t help) eventually figuring we needed a large 10mm Allen key to fix it back onto the motor spline.
Luckily this time we were not in a remote forest in the middle of nowhere. By holding up the crank and looking imploringly, it wasn’t long before a passing motorist took pity. This very nice lady who stopped, took me back to her husband who had the right size key, only trouble was I then had to walk back the 16 kms (ok 1.6 kms) to the bikes and the waiting Lesley.
Bike drama over we made it safely back to Västerås for ride around a few memory lanes…
They didn’t have electric bikes back in the day, but this sculpture outside the Stadshotellet depicts a constant stream of ASEA workers on bicycles, pedalling away to start their shift making all manner of electrical stuff!
We arrived late afternoon with almost all the officially designated spots taken. Undeterred, Margo shuffled herself onto the end of the row and waited for someone to leave. This beautiful little spot is provided and maintained by the Galtström community and is free with voluntary contributions invited. How very Swedish…
Skuleskogen National Park
We’d found Skuleskogen National Park whilst researching Sweden before we left the UK. Leaving the E4 road there was a large stallplatz with 50+ motorhomes parked up. Ignoring this we carried on into the forest along a increasingly rough forest track to a free parking area at the start of the walk. Arriving early afternoon a steady stream of vans arrived after us gradually filling up the spaces.
4:30 in the afternoon felt like an odd time to be heading off for a 3 hour walk but we were certainly not alone. The way-marked route was easy to follow especially as large sections involved walking on parallel wooden planks. The reward at the top of the gradual uphill trek was the spectacular Slåttdalsskrevan crevice and the wonderful views from the rock plateau above.
Tired but very satisfied we slept soundly in the quiet of the forest setting before waking at 7am to travel the forest road before the weekenders came in the next morning. Skuleskogen is definitely a highlight of the trip so far.
Breaking our journey north we stopped for cake at a cafe in Skellefteå. We’ve been set a challenge by Toby, one of our wine crowd friends, to find a Swedish nötgrotta (nut cave) cake. Our first attempt found a rather delicious chocolate cake and the famous green princess cake but alas not the nötgrotto. That means we will need to continue our search…damn..
Just a stopover point but what a good one. It’s not that far off the E4 but it’s nothing like Hilton Park Services. Think clean, well-maintained, upmarket camp site with attached authentic local fish restaurant in an idyllic waterside setting. It was so nice I said sod the expense let’s eat out (I’ll do anything to get out of drying the dishes…)
We think we’ve landed on our feet, again. Ardent followers of our travelling laundry needs will have calculated we need a wash day. Well at the harbour-side stellplatz it’s 250 SEK for 24hrs and the laundry is free (oh and so is the sauna).
Wikipedia say Luleå is a coastal city in Swedish Lapland so we must be up north then? We have come along way but we haven’t yet reached 66°33′47.6″ north of the Equator (more of this later).
It is at this point we have to make a decision whether to enter Norway via Sweden or Finland. IF we are going to the North Cape or Nordkapp, it would make at lot of sense to go the shortest route through Finland. However because we only have 90 days (and were required to spend 10 days in France before we could legally enter Germany) we are running short of time. Actually our shortness of time isn’t just down to Covid border rules, as we are enjoying taking our time meandering through Sweden in 16 days.
Nordkapp is on the bucket list for many travellers. Many will go to enjoy the midnight sun or the sunset, but the summer sun doesn’t set between the middle of May and the end of July. Also we don’t think it’s vital to go to John O’ Groats to see the best of Scotland…. there you have it, we have just made our minds up.
66°33′47.6″ The Artic Circle
Above the Arctic Circle, the Sun is above the horizon for 24 continuous hours at least once per year (and therefore visible at midnight and below the horizon for 24 continuous hours at least once per year (and therefore not visible at noon).
The Arctic Circle is currently drifting northwards (shrinking) at a speed of about 15 m (49 ft) per year.
We have driven around 1,500 miles throughout Sweden with our eyes peeled for Elk. Fortunately most of the major trunk roads are now protected with Elk nets along their length. Sorry I should explain. Swedish Elks are designed to have the body of a large cow and can weigh up to 500kgs, all carried on spindly, easily breakable matchstick legs.
This flawed construction can have disastrous consequences as the Elk’s underbelly is exactly the same height as bottom of the popular Volvo 760’s windscreen. In the past (especially when Elk move ground and cross highways during the mating season) the tragic consequence this combination has had on Swedish road safety is legendary.
You’ll be pleased to know the latest advance for the safety obsessed Swedes, means Volvo’s cars now can spot Elks and hit the brakes for you.
We had to a quick turnaround to get this photo on our way to Gällivare when we crossed the Arctic Circle. That means for us tonight the sun sets 23:36 and rises again at 1:50am.
As Phil Roberts would have also succinctly said “We are where we are”.
Dave & Lesley
PS Don’t forget if you want to know where we are – follow this link to PolarSteps
Many years ago Peter, a very good friend of mine told of how his grandfather when travelling for his holidays would send a postcard home to the family, always with the same simple message “Doing fine, Grandad“. Looking at a map, there are signs that some Swedish folk like Lin and Jon are coping – e.g. Linköping, Jönköping also Norrköping, Nyköping, Lidköping, Enköping although after our first night spent in Söderköping, we were still a little worried how the people there were doing. But the next day after sampling the local ice cream we concluded like Pete’s Grandad they’re probably koping fine…!
It’s quite surprising in this day and age that there are still people who don’t believe in trolls..? I know, it’s shocking isn’t.
Buying fresh bread or rolls for lunch is one of our daily tasks on the road. We often take the easy option and find a Lidl, which is fine, but let’s face it you could be anywhere. So after some research Lesley discovered we should be seeking out Konditori‘s where great local bread and all manner of traditional Swedish patisseries can be found. Yum, yum
The troll at the candle shop recommended to Lesley a local walk down the Skurugata gorge. Getting there (the way we went anyway) involved quite a bit of rallying Margo along winding Swedish forest roads. Starting off easy, the short walk became more challenging once we entered the main gorge section. This is definitely the sort of place where the innocent and the foolish are ambushed.
I know – is he scary or what? You certainly wouldn’t want to mess with this guy down a dark passage… come to think of it, I wouldn’t want to mess with him anywhere!!
By all accounts the community of trolls who live in Gamleby are generally a well behaved and on the whole friendly bunch. As I understand it no they longer eat the locals whole (well unless they’re particularly tasty) but their pet midges are partial to a nibble or two of any unwary tourists!
Arriving at the Mem stellplatz we immediately sensed it was a good spot. There is only parking for 4 MoHo’s (or the odd caravan). So we were lucky to bag the 2nd free place, especially as getting here we’d passed huge queues on the main drag to Soderkoping – it was obvious this was a busy holiday weekend but we have been really surprised just how many motorhomes there are on the roads in Sweden.
Sweden has most caravans in the world compared to the inhabitants, in 2017 there were 300,00 caravans and 90,000 motorhomes registered in Sweden – (The UK has 225,000 caravans and motorhomes on the road 2018). Plus around 900,000 boats! For a population of only 10.2 million.
Parked and settled, we’d spotted the attractive looking lunch menu at the pub by the Marina. It had to be done. Lesley had a very nice Swedish Cullen Skink I had a tasty butternut squash with a creamy garlic sauce. Apart from pizza this was our first proper eating out experience and for pub food it was excellent.
Hearing tales of a “too die for” at the ice cream parlour it was time to get out the bikes and cycle along the canal tow path past the locks to Soderkoping. It was particularly good ice cream.
As well as the ice cream tip, Lesley’s ears picked up when our friendly stellplatz neighbours told us they were off next to Sweden’s Skåne county (the southernmost bit) to a wine tasting, we nearly fell off our deckchairs.. Swedish wine? Really? However perhaps it’s not that remarkable, as temperatures today are expected to reach 31 celsius so not as daft as it sounds.
“Scientists say the world’s wine map could be fundamentally changed by global warming, with traditional winemaking regions in southern Europe, as well as Australia, California and Latin America, becoming simply too hot while more northerly areas such as the UK, the Netherlands and Scandinavia boom”.
We’re starting to fall in love with this county, although it’s not easy to capture the essence of the Swedish landscape. There is a reassuring consistency in the blend of softly rolling fertile farmland, dotted with pretty red and white painted farms and houses, Interspersed with swathes of commercial forest and mixed woodland extending for miles and miles.
From what I can make out Sweden has no toll roads and just two toll bridges. I thought we’d test this by taking a ferry as a shortcut to Stendörren, a popular coastal destination located along from Nyköping. We timed it perfectly as there were no queues and no attendent so we just drove onto a Margo-sized space in the middle row, 30 seconds later later we were off.
It took just a few minutes to cross this stretch and it avoided Nyköping and was 30 kms shorter than the long way round, oh and of course it was FREE…
A dirt road took us the last kilometre to a popular grassy parking spot for our lunch. Fancying a dip we took our swim gear and towels and followed a path to reach a small archipelago of rocky islands linked together by several wire suspension bridges. Limited to two people and their bags at a time these structures were bouncy affairs but they allowed us to find our own spot at the waters edge.
Unfortunately as we got closer to the water it no longer looked that appealing as the shoreline was covered this green-yellow soupy sludge that you need to swim through to get to open water. Other people (and their dogs) were managing ok, but we had read warnings about blue-green algae (especially of its toxicity to animals) so we decided on this occasion not to chance it
After our non-swim we headed up the road a bit further to what was suggested by others as a free overnight spot. at Sibro Kvarn. Reading the information at the gate, the pricing has changed and is now 150SEK / night which although reasonable was difficult for us as they only accept Swish (a Swedish payment card). Without a Swish card we parked outside and left early the next morning.
Parking outside the official spot had the advantage of watching this gorgeous sunset slowly develop over the lake.
That’s all for now, once again thanks for reading.
There’s some sort of important football tournament going on in Europe at the moment…? A Google search suggest it’s The UEFA European Football Championship.
Apparently Wales were pretty chuffed to reach the last 16 and their fans were really looking forward to watching their match against Denmark in Amsterdam. However due to the blumin Covid-19 rules, the Welsh fans weren’t allowed to go to the match, so the Danes won. Luckily for the England team their last 16 match against Germany was at Wembley so England won that game…, Lesley says Scotland were just pleased to be invited.
Germany has many interesting places to see, as we had discovered on a trip in 2019. However trying to abide by the Germany’s Covid transit rule of <24 hours made it hard to do anything more than take the most direct route. Ok it would be breaking the rules but we discussed the risks of long hours of driving and decided to take a bit longer and make two stops.
“The infamous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, was located not far from Bergen. Liberated by British forces in 1945, is now a memorial site with a comprehensive visitor centre. Today, only the sombre mounds of mass graves remain along with various monuments to those who died; the original camp was raised by the British after its survivors had been rescued The suffering of Anne Frank and her diary are worldwide associated with the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen after she died here.”
Due to the many roadworks we averaged around 40 kph as we passed Hanover and Hamburg, even though on the generally good German roads Margo would happily cruise at 100 kph plus. As we crossed over the river Elbe the sky-line around the Port of Hamburg was filled with neat groups of colourful cranes.
We felt a sense of nervousness as we approached the Danish border. Looking at Google maps (what would we do without this technology) we could see the middle border crossing road had less traffic queueing for this smaller border post.
As we inched forward in the queue we saw the Danish cars were just being waved through. Our turn came, we gave the friendly young border guard our passports, he asked to see our CoronaPas (we don’t have one), I waved my NHS Covid QR code in his direction, Lesley couldn’t get hers to open! He just smiled and waved us through….!
Gråsten – Lærkelunden Camping
Feeling a sense of relief we decided if we made it to Denmark we would stay here at Lærkelunden Camping near Gråsten to chill and relax for a couple of days. We booked a pitch with waterfront views, put out the awning, got out the chairs, opened a bottle of wine and breathed.
Whilst I sat and watched the world go by Lesley, (never one to miss the opportunity to use a laundry) decided as it was gloriously sunny and 14 days into the trip, it was time for wash day!
Whilst the last of the washing dried in the sun, Widow Twankey took time out for a quick paddle and to check out the Danish firemen rehearsing with the water hoses on the beach.
Nick & Lisa who we met in Rincón de la Victoria near Malaga in January, arrived late afternoon and it was time to share notes of Norway plans and a glass or two.
To get to our next destination Odense we had to cross the Storebæltsbroen ‘The Great Belt’ bridge that connects the islands of Zealand and Funen. We knew we had to avoid paying the full price toll on the famous Øresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden, but we hadn’t realised the Storebaelt would turn out to cost much more (610 DKK to exact – equivalent to £80.50 ouch).
We’d targeted Odense at it was the birth place and home of Hans Christian Andersen. Coming from a poor family his birthplace is in a very small town house which we skipped in favour of the newly opened H.C.Andersen Hus that only opened 5 days before so it was billed as a soft opening with half price entry tickets.
Part of the reason it wasn’t yet fully open is that some of the exhibits were still having technical problems and in particular there were no English language headsets, which was a bit of a shame as english actor Simon McBurney performs as H.C. Andersen in the English version of the museum experience.
I’m sure the Danes don’t blame the Brits but there appear to be quite a few working on this project including: Andy Gent – British puppet maker, British animator and illustrator George Shelbourn, Noah Harris British graphic designer and number one culprit British sound designer, director and scriptwriter Lewis Gibson.
I’m sure when it is all working properly it will be a great showcase of Hans Christian Andersen’s work. He wrote many famous fairy tales amongst my childhood favourites were The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Princess and the Pea and the Ugly Duckling.
With the English audio broken we had no idea what was going on here but we think it represented the the Snow Queen…?
I assume when the museum is fully open these will be animations of his most most popular fairy tales. For now this is a fairly static multi-layered image from the Ugly Duckling.
Museum experience completed, we headed back towards Margo waiting patiently at Odense station carpark. As we passed this shop on the way… we though what harm could it do to just ask about Danish prices for the latest iPhones. Worryingly for the budget, the demo of Apple’s iPhone 11 pro max was very impressive – we eventually left with even less trip budget than we started with (it was just a curious question as we were passing).
Roskilde Viking ship museum and Cathedral
We had a very quick look at the Roskilde Viking ship museum but decided we would spend more time in the Norwegian Viking museum in Oslo later in the trip.
Whilst touring around Europe, it is inevitable that churches and cathedrals are the local attractions which will from time to time demand to be visited. We’d spotted the pointy spires but we hadn’t realised Roskilde Cathedral was such a significant and important building.
The Cathedral is the most important church in Denmark. It is also older than it looks as it was constructed during the 12th and 13th centuries, the cathedral has been the main burial site for Danish monarchs since the 15th century and is therefore unsurprisingly listed as a UNSECO World Heritage Site.
I am not a church goer or a fan of all things religious but the cathedral inside was bright and airy with a clean modern feel. Yes of course there was the usual showy opulence but somehow it felt ok. Oddly there was also lots decorative arty pieces in the style of The Scream by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. There’s an idea for later.
As Danny Kaye once so memorable sang “Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen“. But neither Lesley or I knew very much about it. We found City Camp, only 2kms from the centre, a perfect place to park Margo and explore the city from.
Setting off on the bikes, we passed through the University area on cycle ways and eventually found the main riverside district.
It has been said of Copenhagen “where there are more bikes than people, and perhaps more bridges than bikes.” Riding passed the Opeream- the Copenhagen Opera House we soon saw what was meant by bikes.
Cycling is incredibly popular with separate cycle lanes and traffic lights although it might take us a while to fully understand how bikers safely turn left?
Nyhavn is probably Copenhagen’s most iconic image so we had to get a couple of pictures. Ideally we would have liked to stay awhile and soak up more of the atmosphere. But we both thought this is a place to come back to so for now it’s a 24 hour whistlestop affair.
With rain threatening it was time to find a cash point to pay for the overnight stop (the enterprising Markus wasn’t yet able to accept cards at City Camp’s impromptu field. The heavens opened – panic ensued – we took a few wrong turns – we got very wet.
Reaching Margo and with rain getting ever stronger we hastily chucked the bikes on the bike rack only for it to inexplicably jam! Taking off one bike we got it to move and then added a second – we got very, very wet.
Few of Copenhagen’s well known (or photographed) sculptures are more famous that this one – Hans Christian Andersen “The Little Mermaid“
Before leaving we found a good place to park Margo before taking our morning constitutional around the Kastellet.
I think I first became aware of the Øresund Bridge after watching the tv series The Bridge, this then lead to growing interest in Scandi noir including the excellent “Kurt Wallander” and the Swedish television series Rebecka Martinsson Artic Murders a big favourite and most recently the binge worthy series The Killing which we just finished before we came away.
Anyway back to the bridge –
The Øresund Bridge is an approximately 16 km long road and rail link between Sweden and Denmark with from the Danish side a road rail tunnel then the bridge. To cross in a motorhome and pay the full price is €128. with the tag it’s €48. As we left home not knowing if would make it this far we were not able to order a tag (also used on tunnels and ferries in Norway) but after telephoning Øresund pay we picked up a tag from the toll both on the Swedish side. Sorted.
Well, with England’s football team beating Denmark in the semis of the Euro’s (albeit after a disputable penalty) and remembering the noisy fans who watched their team beat Croatia at the campsite in Gråsten, demonstrated how passionate the Danes are about their footie. We thought it’s time to swiftly move countries before they recognise the GB plates.
Toodle Pip till next time.
PS – Please feel free to leave a comment.
PPS – Our new (thanks Lisa) Where are we now link to Polar Steps seems to be working well, if you’re a FB user.
Plan A is to go to Norway via Harwich and the Hook of Holland, plan B is still Norway but via Dover Calais, plan C is an alternative idea to tour France, plan D is to tour Poland instead going via Italy and Bulgaria and Plan E is … err we don’t have a plan E.
Unlike the temperature shock on returning from Portugal in February, we left Cumbria enjoying sunny weather with temperatures in the low 20’s. The grey skies approaching London soon changed to a steady drizzle and the typical slow M25 traffic was viewed though metronomic wipers struggling to clear the screen.
Due to the need for the last minute change, the Dover – Calais ferry at £137 was chosen instead of the Eurotunnel at £246 (ok so you don’t get choppy seas in the tunnel). Waiting for the ferry we were surprised to find aside from a small convoy of horse boxes, we were the only motorhome on board. There was just one car but we were surrounded by lots of large trucks most of which had European plates.
Ever since we came home in February we have been talking about our next trip, we were confidently planning a tour of Norway and Sweden. In February it appeared a real long shot, but we hoped that by the time the summer came EU Covid numbers will have improved and borders will have opened up. Well it’s not that easy….. FR, NL, DE, DK SE and the NO governments have all multiple changes to their plans for opening up. The current largest hurdle is Germany.
Organising the Norway trip has been a nightmare. Each country on our route has repeatedly changed their entry requirements, with contradictory statements adding to the confusion. This has made it almost impossible to plan with certainty. Thinking we understood what we were allowed to do, we booked a ferry from Harwich to Holland only to have to cancel as Germany announced the Delta strain is a “variant of concern” meaning Germany will not allow UK residents to enter or transit through unless they quarantine or (we think) have spent at least 10 days in the EU!
France changed their rules on the 9th June 2021 and (currently) we’re allowed in provided we’ve both had PCR tests within the previous 72 hours and are fully vaccinated. So the plan is to start with a slow meander down to see Lesley’s family near Chalon-sur-Saône.
The dreich weather continued into France and followed us to a free aire on a disused railway line at Marcoing just south of Cambrai. Avoiding parking under the trees to avoid the drip,drip,drip of Chinese water torture, we had a good nights rest.
It was very sobering driving through the tranquil rolling landscape of north eastern France, how many well tended war graveyards we passed. Each small town we drove through made you think of the sacrifice made my hundreds of thousands of young men who gave their lives fighting over yards of foreign soil for our freedom and our shared values..
Next day the weather improved slightly and we were able to enjoy a ride from parking place in Saint Quentin along the canal and around the old town. This was after a false start when we had to return to put a charge in Lesley’s bike battery (mine had been charged twice though)!
Saint Quentin’s town square had a couple of bars around periphery open but the middle was fenced off and looked as if it had been organised to marshal people for a Covid test in a shed.
Moving on, our next overnight stop was at Saint-Imoges to a free aire which was a credit to the townsfolk who created and maintain the clean service point and tended the well manicured spacious pitches. We did consider a bike ride through the surrounding countryside, but still feeling jaded after all the departure hassles we opted for a stroll in the woods and around the village.
I had always imagined that grapes were picked by armies of students or cheerful peasants, gently laying the precious bunches into wicker baskets before settling down to a hearty lunch in the vineyards.
The reality is that most vineyards (where the terrain allows) use mechanical harvesters that resemble some kind of sci-fi grapevine grazing monsters, that straddle the vines and thwack their way along the rows, beating the vines with the help of rubber or fibreglass rods to shake or strip ripe grapes from their stems and bring in the harvest.
Machines can pick large areas quickly at optimum ripeness, or perhaps before a weather front sets in, helping to prevent crop loss.
Catching a good weather window we mapped with the help of Komoot a cycle route along the canal tow paths and river banks near Tornerre (translates as thunder in French).
Lesley discovered yet another lavoir (wash-house) but thankfully our washing basket is nowhere near full yet!
Time to leave our very comfortable Chablis camp site and head south to Bourgogne and visit the rellies.
Can you spot the very proud and pleased looking Aunt next to Bruce, Lena and Scott.
Our stop to see Bruce’s first house was sadly very brief as the next day we were due at Lesley’s sisters house near Chalon-sur-Saône. It was our first time visiting Sue since she moved into Jean’s house. It was also a chance to meet Jean’s daughter Manon who was lovely.
Fed and watered we set off once more this time Margo was headed north-east towards Alsace.
Although Alsace is part of France, its borders have not always been clear. The region has been passed between French and German control several times since 1681, when Strasbourg was conquered by French forces. As a result, Alsatian culture is a unique mix of French and German influences.
Having previously been to Colmar on route to a ski trip and as we like the medieval Alsatian buildings we picked out Eguisheim as a good place to land. Margo liked the swanky new aire but complained that new tarmac could have been laid level!
All very chocolate box pretty but you could imagine the number of day trippers coming here in the height of summer?
Every other shop in the town sold wine, but you could not buy a bottle of water or milk anywhere we saw..
Leaving behind the pretty village we set off on a bike ride through the vineyards
This machine was working along the rows adding new supporting wires to the top of the vines. Our route took us to the next village before we turned back to follow a track up and through the forest. After a steep start the rough path became gradually overgrown until crossing a stream we came face to face with 3 French soldiers out on manoeuvres.
I thought they were going to tell us to go back in case we were accidentally shot. These guys were carrying some serious kit and looked as though they’d been in the forest all night. When they spoke to Lesley, it turned out they were only interested to know if we’d seen any other “combatants”….. phewee.
With that drama over we returned to Margo and headed for a France Passion (FP) site at Spitz et Fils a winemaker in Blienschwiller (I know not very French). FP’s sites are usually free to stay overnight and you’re not obliged to buy their produce, but we usually think it would be rude not too.
Mark the owner’s son (Fils) gave us an excellent tasting experience. He spoke very good English and shared his extensive knowledge of wine making. We hadn’t previously understood just how much work there is, not only to harvest the grapes and produce the wine. But the vines need staking, pruning, cutting, wire stringing as well as all ground management. (Mark and his dad plant radish between rows as tillage for soil improvement). Well I didn’t know that?
Next morning Margo took us up into the hills to the east of the Vosges mountains, she struggled slightly with the extra 3 bottles from last night but managed the climb up to a parking place near Cascade du Hohwald.
The walk up to the waterfall was just 800m, but was a good uphill leg stretch and likely to be our last bit of exercise before the first ‘attempt at the German border’ tomorrow.
Captain Virgil Hiltswould have found a border fence to jump his Triumph motorbike over, but Margo is not that kind of ride, so lets hope the nice border guards look favourably on our friendly faces, double vaccine +10 day stay in France (EU) + plan to transit through German in <24 hours.
After many weeks and at least two attempts to leave, only to return we finally dragged ourselves away from Mikki’s Place to Stay. This quirky Algarve campsite had been an unplanned but welcome refuge during the worrying and turbulent times of the second wave of the Covid-19 crisis. We definitely count ourselves amongst the lucky ones especially with the time we had on our hands when reading the devastating human cost around the world. In our tiny bubble it took us a while to realise our well researched and mapped out touring plan had ended and to accept the need to stay put and make the best of where we were, was our new normal.
Someone once said “Happiness is the art of making a bouquet of the flowers within reach”, spending 80+ nights at Mikki’s wasn’t always a bunch of roses but on the whole I’m sure we will look back upon the time there with mainly fond memories.
Negatives – smoking inside the bar & restaurant, having to put the toilet paper in a bin (always a joy), night-time dogs barking, people not wearing masks and still unbelievably…. Covid deniers!
Positives – friendships we made with fellow motorhomers, the big blue skies, mainly sunny weather, daily walking with a friendly group, trips out to see long, beautiful beaches and rocky coastline, availability of Heinz baked beans…
Our first Christmas in relative warmth and sun was a strange affair. Like many many others who weren’t able to be with their families because of Covod-19. We made the best of it with some cheap Chinese lights to brighten up the van and joined friends to share a joint Christmas meal.
Our shared Xmas lunch with 5 couples all contributing part of the lunch turned out great. Helped along with a bit of alcohol, the food was followed by an absolutely hilarious time watching the contortions on everyone face as they tried to slide an after-eight mint from their forehead into their mouths. Side splitingly priceless memories.
We saw some pretty unusual sight during our various cycling expeditions around the the hills away from the beach action. This collection was part of a strange roadside menagerie randomly assembled by the roadside, a few kms inland from Praia-de-Luz.
The weather wasn’t always sun and blue skies. Wash day sometimes brought it’s challenges as in: –
Aliens Stole My Underpants To understand the ways of alien beings is hard, And I’ve never worked it out Why they landed in my backyard. And I’ve always wondered why on their journey from the stars, these aliens stole my underpants and took them back to Mars. They came on a Monday night when the weekend wash had been done, pegged out on the line to be dried in the morning sun. Mrs Driver from next door was a witness at the scene when aliens snatched my underpants – I’m glad that they were clean! It seems they were quite choosey as nothing else was taken. Do aliens wear underpants or were they just mistaken
The situation in Portugal seemed like it was getting progressively worse from a Covid point of view with cases rising and hospitals running out of beds. For the last 82 day that we’d holed up in the Algarve we felt very, very fortunate. In the early days there were no tourists, some bars and restaurants were open, it was 19-20 degrees with big blue skies. We could think of worse places to be especially as we made a several good friends and we could cautiously socialise.
On the 20thJanuary – We left Mikki’s, fingers crossed we’d get across into Spain unchallenged as the Spanish border (EU border posts are largely long gone) was supposedly closed. We also expected problems getting into the local municipality of our campsite but in the end had no issues.
Compared to the restrictions in Portugal, arriving in Andalusia felt like going back two months as there were quite a few bars and restaurants open on the sea front. Within this local area we also had freedom to walk / cycle (provided you wore a mask) anywhere within our new temporary home in Rincón de la Victoria. We had to be back home for the area’s 10pm curfew, but that aside if felt quite relaxed.
25thJanuary – Our plan at that time was to head slowly up the south coast of Spain enjoying as much of the good weather whilst we could. After five days we moved on a very windy day to overnight at a harbour at Almerimar. I would use this place again another time, as it’s very handy if you’re travelling up or down the A7.
The next day another 240 kms took us to El Berro, in the Sierra Espuña national park near Murcia, this time with a different set of restrictions meaning all bars and restaurants were closed. We had the campsite there more or less to ourselves and chilled for a few days although we did complete a mega 2500ft climb ride (why?) up a local hill.
29th January – After 3 days our next hop was to Peñiscola, somewhere we’d been during better times but to a different campsite at El Edén. The campsite was quite busy with 30-40 mainly German vans appearing content to sit it out for the winter, in contrast to Peñiscola itself which was like a ghost town.
Since leaving the UK in late September we’d been keeping up-to-date with Covid developments around Europe. So, when we heard the French were planning to require a PCR test the following day for anyone entering (including by road), we decided it was time for us to up-sticks and head for the French border.
30thJanuary – Knowing the French curfew started at 6pm and with 400kms to cover, we knew we had to get a move on. Looking at the night-time wind forecast for Argelès-sur-Mer it was now forecast for 115kms/hour! So we changed plans and chose an aire just across the border at Le Boulou, arriving at 5pm thus avoiding the £200 cost of two PCR tests. Phew, when we made it we felt very relieved.
31st January – The next day we indulged in a proper French baguettes and decent yummy French cakes. Deciding to stick to the minor roads (we had seen the gendarmes at a road block near the border) we made our way north stopping off en-route for a short walk to see Les Orgues d’Ille-sur-Tet (closed due to Covid), before an overnight stop at the familiar (to us) Pass d’ Etapes aire at Castelnaudry.
1st February The ever-changing regulation landscape suggested the UK government were thinking of bringing in a requirement for travellers returning to the UK from one of 30ish countries of which Portugal was one to stay in a hotel for 10 nights. It seemed this would apply to us so we said “Come on lets just get home”.
Apart from a short section around Toulouse the A20 motorway is a toll free route to Tours. It’s a long 570 kms so we set off in the rain, before daybreak and arrived at an aire south of Tours just before the French night curfew. This then left an easy route the next day to get to Neufchatel on Bray where we’d booked online to have our PCR tests before entering the UK.
2nd February – After making good progress we arrived around lunchtime and rewarded ourselves with more French patisserie. We also changed the time of the tests to bring them forward to 3pm. We were impressed by the ease and efficiency of the Neufchatel en Bray clinic. Although having swabs were stuck up our noses and relieved of €135 is not the best experience. We were slightly sceptical when they told us we’d have the results later that day (not the 24-48 hours we had feared).
However armed with this information it prompted a further change of plan and resulted in us leaving Neufchatel en Bray to spend the night behind the sand dunes at Stella Plage instead. True to the clinic’s word we picked up the negative test results from their website around 10pm and so were all systems go for Calais.
3rd February – The tunnel was as usual very straightforward but quiet. The French customs asked for our Passenger Locator Forms and negative test results. (although we accidentally showed them Lesley results twice but they didn’t notice)! British immigration asked for the same (we’d found my test results by then) a quick whizz though the tunnel and we were home free. Well free to spend the next 10 days locked in the house completing our quarantine.
So here endeth another chapter in our travels. It wasn’t the trip we had planned but in the end we felt really lucky to spend the winter somewhere safe (ish) warm and sunny. Arriving home was a bit of a shock weather wise but we enjoyed spring in the lakes and spending time sorting out the garden and planning our next adventure in Margo the motorhome.
After enjoying the BBC series ‘Life’ we have now opened our long overlooked box set of the US television series The West Wing. First aired in 1999 the shows gave an insight into daily dramas of the Whitehouse staffers and a fictitious US democratic presidency. Watching this now, has been all the more fascinating as it’s coincided with the real life horror show of the current US administration and the 2020 election amplified by the defeated President’s unprecedented, unpresidential bonfire of respect for facts, truth and shame! Nate White expresses Donald Trump’s qualities (or lack of them) so colourfully here.
Thankfully we’re a long way from the USA and we’re not intending to go any further west than the Algarve’s west Atlantic coast (as opposed to its south Atlantic coast which is to the south unless it’s moved!). Anyway after leaving Ourique, we arrived by way of a very uncomfortably crowed Lidl to Vila Nova de Milfontes in Alentejo district. This coastline is a mixture of long sandy surfing beaches and dramatic rocky cliffs fully exposed to everything the Atlantic ocean can throw at it.
The popular Portuguese holiday destination of Milfontes sits at the mouth of the Mira River – the same river we cycled around from our previous campsite. This coast normally attracts its fair share of surfers dudes due to the big Atlantic rollers. However the stormy conditions we witnessed were rather too fierce to persuade us to don wet suits and hire cool coloured polyurethane ironing boards. Anyway “Life’s too short for Ironing”…!
The very useful ‘Search for Sites’ app directed us to an overnight parking spot on a headland. Whilst taking in the view, we spotted a fish restaurant with outside tables looking out towards the sea. The socially distanced tables and masked waitresses added to the Covid-safe feeling.
After the very nice food and wine at Porto das Barcas restaurant a post lunch nap was required before watching the sun go down with a crowd of (predominantly) unmasked sunset snappers at Milfontes, Lighthouse Beach.
I have become quite sensitive to how people appear to respect the coronavirus regulations. Observing how many people are wearing masks is for me a way of sensing the risk. Having overnighted in Margo in Milfontes we were planning to spend a week or more on this coast. However after arriving at Zambujeira do Mar, I really didn’t feel comfortable as most of the tourists and locals milling around seemed either immune to, or unaware of, the dangers in the world outside their blissful oblivious ‘carry on as normal’ bubbles. I turned Margo around and we headed back south.
Statista recently published the result of a survey entitled How often have you worn a face mask outside your home to protect yourself or others from coronavirus? Significant differences existed between European countries in terms of wearing a masks, which they suggest is mainly due to the differing legislation. According to the results, over 95 percent of Spanish respondents always wore a face mask outside, while a large proportion of respondents in the Nordic countries hadn’t worn a mask at all.
“How about we go back to Mikki’s”? It was disappointing to cut short our southern Portugal mini tour and head back to Mikk’s place near Albuferia, but it was somewhere where we had felt (even though mask wearing wasn’t universal) much more comfortable.
With the pitch from our previous stay now taken, we spent a noisy night under a tree before changing our location to a spot opposite Beertje & Babsy two Göttingen mini pigs, with two alpacas and two goats as their next door neighbours. Beertje and Babsy are very docile and seemed to love having their backs and belly’s scratched with a garden hoe by one of our Belgium fellow campers, as do I – although I prefer Lesley to do it rather than the Belgian neighbour!
Settling back into the campsite we set of to explore the area. The bikes cope well with most off road condition but we decided to find a better way to get to Armação de Pêra than attempt cycling along the beach.
We had to cycle the long way round to get to Armação de Pêra but the ice cream was a nice reward for our efforts.
Like other urban centres on the Algarve coast, Armação de Pêra developed out of a small fishing village. However, in the middle of August, its population peaks at around 80,000. Although fishing has lost its importance due to rise in tourism, where it has become the main source of income, not only in the former fishing village, but also in the wider municipality of Silves.
I’m not sure how many tourists would normally be slapping on the sun tan lotion on the beaches in November. But cycling through the town it feels quiet and the near deserted beaches give an indication of the drop off in visitor numbers which must be really hurting the local and wider Portugese economy.
Expensive data – Having wittered on in the last blog about our marvellous O2 Data SIM costing only £31 per month for 45Gb. How shocked were we to receive a bill this week for the 2nd month of our O2 contact for £2,287.87. Quite shocked actually! An urgent call to O2 was made and they explained that in the small print it says we have to pay £25/Gb for every extra Gb of usage above 45. However as we were first time offenders a refund was speedily applied to our account along with a data cap set so we would not be able to go over our limit again. Phew!
From Mikki’s there are numerous routes to walk and cycle. Silves is a 19 mile return trip with the promise of lunch at a fish restaurant at the halfway point.
Our route back guided by Google maps took us right through the middle of the Amendoeira golf course. (In 2016, Faldo’s course won the title of Portugal’s Best Golf Course, given by World Golf Awards). No one stopped us as we cycled nonchalantly through its manicured landscape. We only came unstuck when we found the security gate at the far side was closed. Fortunately we spotted a bike size hole in the fence nearby….. needs must.
Well I am disappointed to have to report Beertje and Babsy have been moved. One morning the vet came and we feared the würst(joke). A team of six was needed to catch them one at a time. By putting something tasty on a wire noose the vet was able to snare and muzzle them with the loop. Their squeals were probably heard for miles (especially from the female when the male was being caught!) But we needn’t have fretted, as it turned out they were just to be moved to a bigger enclosure and be kept company by a couple of young kids. More on B&B next time.
The Portuguese government in an effort to combat the increasing numbers (especially in the north) has put further restrictions on movement for the next few weekends. But as the camping is in the Silves municipality apart from the weekend curfews it shouldn’t affect our freedoms too much. We just need to stay local, be respectful and keep safe.
Thanks to our O2 data SIM’s 45Gb monthly allowance, even when in Europe we’ve been catching up the drama series ‘LIFE’ via BBC iPlayer. We’ve both really enjoyed the format, although we were ever-so slightly disappointed with the final episode which we both thought a bit short on drama compared with the previous twists, turns and surprises. As a Guy Garvey fan I was also taken by the theme music ‘My Angel“. No this is not a tenuous (although much overdue) link singing the praises of my beloved, but more of an insight into our ‘LIFE‘ in the Moho.
Having moved on (for now) from Mikki’s place to stay near Albuferia, we found our way west along the coast to Praia de Luz and the very different campsite at Turiscampo. If Mikki’s is earthy, by contrast this Yelloh Village site is highly manicured with indoor and outdoor swimming pools and even 5 star showers for the residents’ pampered pooches!
Talking of showers our arrival coincided with the onset of rain. The forecast suggested we were due a serious thunder and lightening storm. When you’re handicapped by the weather, there’s not much else to do in the van during the daytime – it’s time to find a good book, practice duo-lingo or perhaps research where to go next. However after dark and with dinner in Margo’s exclusive restaurant taken, the nightly phone calls made, it’s time……. to get the cards out. Oh what exciting lives we lead.
During the night of the predicted storm, we realised rather late that our awning was still out and it had started to lash it down. Waiting until it eased a bit, I grabbed the umbrella (is that a lightening rod I’m holding?) and dashed out to put our sodden ‘sunshade’ away. As I was about to come back in, I noticed our neighbours struggling to put the their awning away. They hadn’t been so lucky and the wind had got hold of one corner and snapped off the retract arm from it’s outer mounting point. A quick grab for my International Rescue outfit and the toolbox from Thunderbird One and between us we quickly repaired the connection sufficiently for it to be retracted in time before the heavens opened up, F A B. Mr Tracy.
The next night brought even more drama. Two nights before we had found a (keep-Dave-happy) pizza place in the village next to Turiscampo. Nearby Lesley had spotted Sunita’s Castle – an Indian restaurant – so we decided to satisfy her longing for a curry. Alas, walking along the rough tarmac road in the dark, Lesley stumbled and fell on her hands and knees in the mud. As a result she sprained her ankle quite badly, although the thought of the curry temporarily overcame the pain. The discomfort didn’t improve when arriving at the restaurant with embarrassingly mucky knees and hands that were too muddy to accept the mandatory alcoholic hand sanitiser, oh dear.
Sunita’s Castle’s brown panelled decor had all the charm of a1970’s London transport canteen, but the food was surprisingly good especially the naan bread.
With Lesley’s ankle needing 72 hours rest and regular application of ice packs, it was difficult to walk anywhere far. Even so, we made a short journey to the coast and managed to get Margo close enough to the beach at Salema for Lesley to sit on a road side bench whilst I found a parking spot for Margo behind the village.
Feeling like we’d ‘landed’ ourselves in the Algarve we decided we should get a better feel for the whole area and go and explore the countryside away from the coast, so we made a bee-line for the five star Monchique Resort and Spa.
No I’m only joking we didn’t desert Margo, instead she found her way up a rough rock strewn track about a 1km south of the spa to Camping Vale da Carrasqueira. The campsite’s website makes the very bold claim to be”the best caravan park for mobile homes in the Algarve“! (I think they should consider sacking their publicist and hire someone with fewer concerns for truth decay and false modesty – I hear Donald Trump will be looking for work in January).
After a couple of nights R&R we left behind the creature comforts of our gravel parking spot (complete with on pitch EHU, water and GWD*), heading on to an overnight spot at the new (this year) Area de Autocaravanas de sao Marcos Da Serra.
We had no idea why the trees in the main square in Marcos Da Serra have been so beautifully crocheted. Apparently after years of extensive research Portugese scientists have discovered that some tree species feel the cold this time of the year and ‘Yarn Bombing‘ helps them keep warm! Who’d have believed that?
Clearly Cork trees are much hardier and don’t mind at all spending the winter without their trousers on.
The dog’s bark, was probably worse than his bite., or wait for it .This dog was barking up the wrong tree…. groan oh forget it.
After a few days rest, Lesley found cycling easier on her ankle than walking. Using Komoot once again we found an easy 9 mile circular route from the auto-caravans site in Marcos Da Serra.
The route we chose had, at some point, to cross a river to get home. We found a track that went down to the river (and continued up the other side) the only problem was the width and depth of the wet bit in the middle. I gallantly, nobly, bravely, nay foolishly, offered to go first to see how deep it was. Lesley on the other hand sensibly took her shoes and socks off, rolled up her trousers and came out the other side considerably drier than me……. hmmmmmmm.
Swiftly moving on, next day we made our way a little further north towards Ourique leaving the Algarve and entering the Beja District and to Serro da Bica. This was a gem of a camp site run by a Dutch couple where we felt very Covid safe, a completely chilled and relaxed place to be. We had originally booked for one night but ended up staying for three, although Lesley would have stayed on longer.
We didn’t do very much whilst at camping Serro da Bica except another quick 9 miler on the bikes. This time Lesley volunteered to go first across the ford over Mira river at Alento.
As members of the UK Carthago Owners Club we thought this would make a good entry for their STC (Spot The Carthago nonsense.
Well that’s nearly caught up with our Portugese wanderings in these strange Covid times. We’ll hopefully bring you bang up to-date in the next blog suffice to say we’re staying safe and hope you all are too.
Dave & Lesley
EHU – Electric Hook Up
*GWD – Grey Water Disposal not to be confused with black water, where… on second thoughts ,let’s not go there.
The weekend we elected to cross the border into Portugal coincided with All Saints Day followed by Dia de Finados (Portugals celebration of Day of the Dead). Traditionally this time is a holiday during which families come together, even spending the night at the graves of their loved ones, believing that the spirits of their dead relatives return to visit those they left behind.
A few days before the holiday the Portuguese government decreed (in order to reduce the spread of Covid), circulation across council areas would be against the law between 30th October and 3rd November. The decision to limit the circulation comes a week after the Council of Ministers announced the return of the state of calamity to Portugal, where many regions particularly in the north were placed under semi lockdown conditions.
Latin America (Mexico especially) create fantastically colourfully celebrations to mark the occasion, in Portugal it is a more sombre affair.
Having left locked down Spain behind we were now unsure of what the Portuguese travel restrictions mean to us. We decided to pause and take stock at a small friendly camp site in Covas. Getting there involved a tortuous route over a mountain road with healthy dose of hairy, blind bends. (thankfully the co-pilot in the lefthand seat, does a fine job of spotting round the blind right hand bends).
Our first day began when Antonio our talkative Portuguese live-in site warden, came by to for a chat (usually a mixture of Portugese history and European politics), and take our bread daily order. He also asked if we’d like to join him and our Swiss neighbours in a Hymer plus the French occupants of the only other Moho on site for a socially distanced lunch.
Well of course we said yes. The village restaurant had a dish of the day which on Friday was Bacalhau à Brás – a lovely warm salad mixture of fish, potatoes, egg, onion. Antonia collected it from the village and we were invited onto the patio area where each table was served with the food and a bottle of wine per table. The meal was delightful, very international and expertly orchestrated by our convivial, multilingual chatty host.
Bacalhau à Brás is one of the most famous Portuguese dishes and is considered the ultimate comfort meal in Portugal. The dish uses many of the quintessential ingredients found in Portuguese cooking: bacalhau (salt cod), eggs, potatoes and black olives
The ebikes are a great way of exploring and quickly discovering more about an area. With Komoot’s help we found a good route from the campsite albeit on ancient uneven limestone cobbled roads, that connected Covas to the surrounding hamlets. It was a steady climb up but the view from Alto da Castanheira looking back down on Covas and the Coura river valley was worth the effort. With the reward of a long perfect tarmac descent back down again.
Our three nights at camping Covas had been our longest stay so far but it had given us time to workout our plan needed to change radically. All the research we had done on great places to see in northern Portugal was going to be have to be kept for another time. With the new travel restrictions coming in imminently we needed to head south. Lesley’s analysis of the changes revealed the Algarve as one of the few areas largely unaffected by the new rules.
Using motorways from Covas to Faro is just shy of 700 kms and would take us best part of the day. We packed up and pointed Margo south. The roads were incredibly quiet – even for a Sunday. The real reason we concluded was, All Saints Day, plus the restricted local movement due to Covid, resulted in motorways that were virtually empty.
Regularly swapping drivers we made steady progress, but nearing the outskirts of Porto, traffic cones reduced the lanes from 3 down to 1 then directed us off the motorway to a roundabout underneath. Here police were pulling cars over, presumably questioning their routes and anyone found breaking the weekends local travel restrictions fined. Fortunately for us (maybe because of the UK plates) Margo was just waved through. We had been advised that as tourists going to a pre-booked campsite we were legal but it did have our pulses racing for a little while.
7.5 hours after setting off, we were tired but relieved to leave the boring traffic-free motorway near Albufeira. We were also relieved of 95€ in motorway tolls but hey ho! The sun was going down by the time we found Mikki’s very relaxed camp site. First impressions suggested an eclectic mix of motorhomes and their owners.
We quickly discovered this place is not like any standard aire or campsite. Around Mikki’s huge quirky site there were donkeys, five or six types of chickens, goats, white doves, miniature pigs, parrots, llamas, and a whole variety of budgies and parakeets. These were mixed in with the bio garden where an impressive range of fruits and herbs are cultivated with bi-lingual information boards. Last but not least everywhere you explored you’d discover more of the crazy assortment of Mikki’s colourful and bizarre pottery.
Melded into this melange, is a colourful collection of campers, where £300k portable palaces are neighbours to surfer dude’s re-cycled double decker buses. Bronzed youthful looking full-timers, share spaces with transient short stay tourers. Super fit silver surfers side by side with families with young children. Spanish, Dutch, Brits, Irish, German, Belgium French and Portugese nationals, all brought together in this one big cosmopolitan cocktail.
Mikki’s place to stay – Well I really wasn’t at all sure at first, but Mikki’s is growing on us and maybe it is a place to stay (when and if I can learn to relax)?
Obsessively checking the weather means we can adjust our plans to eek out the best of the sunny days and where to be when it’s not so nice. We also search a whole variety of websites to help choose where to go. As Phil Roberts, my boss back in 1984, used to regularly say “We are where we are” and prophetically add “We shall see what we shall see“. Indeed….! On our travels Lesley and I never usually ignore the chance to visit a UNESCO World Heritage site. However WE, for reasons not entirely clear to us, decided on this occasion to give Santiago de Compostela a miss.
Santiago de Compostela – “The famous pilgrimage site in north-west Spain became a symbol in the Spanish Christians’ struggle against Islam. Destroyed by the Muslims at the end of the 10th century, it was completely rebuilt in the following century. With its Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque buildings, the Old Town of Santiago is one of the world’s most beautiful urban areas”.
After overnighting at Brandoñas where the camp site owner -a very welcoming and friendly woman – plied us with free Café con Leche’s, pastries and chocolates, what’s not too like. With rain forecast to be set in for the day, instead of Santiago we choose to turn south and parked up for the afternoon at a huge empty beach at Carnota in front of a newly shuttered concrete pad. The next day (whilst we were out on a walk) the concrete pad had grown a fish.
Next day we made an appointment at the end of our pilgrimage, a wine tasting at Martin Codax.
Martin Codax is the largest producer in Galicia of Albariño wine. The co-operative was founded in 1986 by a group of 50 winemakers and currently comprises 2,400 tiny vineyard parcels individually managed by 550 families. We quaff a lot of Sauvignon Blanc (purely for its anti-inflammatory properties!). When we found that consumption of Albariño also protects against heart attacks, well…
As the only patrons we had an exclusive visit to the winery. We tasted 5 wines including the one we know (the cheapest) and the more expensive varietals normally outside our everyday price range but they all had BLIC….!
According to bluffer guide to wine -“BLIC” is a useful acronym to use when describing a wine.– balance, length, intensity and complexity. “Good wines are ‘good’ because they have a BALANCE of sweet fruitiness and fresh acidity. They have great LENGTH that leaves the taste on your tongue after you swallow. They have INTENSE fruit flavours you can identify. And they’re COMPLEX – If you ever want to describe a wine like an expert just rattle through the BLIC”.
Suitably inspired and with the night closing in, we headed off to a free overnight spot near Combaro, Pontevedra.
Whilst Rías Baixas brings fame to the area for wine making. Rías, the deep, sunken river valleys that have formed inlets around the cities of Vigo and Pontevedra are the heart of Europe’s shellfish industry. Spain produces 200,000 tonnes of mussels a year, nearly half the European market, with 90% produced in Galicia. (they must have some great body-builders…..groan)
Unbeknown to us we had parked outside a shellfish factory. So before dawn dozens and dozens of men and women assembled chattering noisily, then like lemmings they headed en-masse to the waters edge to rake up large bucket loads of mussels and clams. As they say “the world’s your mollusc“!
A lucky piece of research and we found a beautiful walk not far off route, along the Fraga River Trail. This easy walk winds its way gently uphill, the path semi-shaded by the trees as if to keep it secret. Nature has overtaken this place and it’s now difficult to imagine what the landscape was like when the 29 water mills along its route were all in operation. Several of the mills have been reconstructed and the information boards suggest more than one is still used today by some families to grind corn.
Constantly by your side the stream passes over multiple small, naturally beautiful waterfalls, with the water flowing over and around the rocks in its way, creating classic splits, cascades and many beautiful pools.
We cut the route short after we had to retrace our steps when I found I’d dropped the lens cap off the camera. (Well it could happen to anyone, couldn’t it?). Right ‘no time to angabout’ we have to head south and Portugal.
Ok so it’s unsurprising that the Covid-19 pandemic is forcing us to change our plans. The UK is about to go into lockdown, France is already locked down. Now Spain is about to go the same way, meaning we need to get out of Spain just in case they ban travel. However our changed plan is complicated by Portugal’s 5 day travel ban starting tomorrow for the Day of the Dead celebrations, hey ho.
But, before leaving our last task is to top up with fuel. Best price in Spain €0.89 per litre. Portugal reputed €1.30.