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Germany on the small side

Seeing that Margo is right-hand drive, other motorhome owners sometimes ask – does it make it difficult to overtake etc with the wheel on the steering wheel on the wrong(?) side. Driving on the left for us Brits apparently stems from the traditions of the English knights in the Middle Ages. Mostly right-handed, in case of attack they rode on the left side of the road to be able to defend themselves with their sword in their stronger right arm.

The issue of which side do trains run on was raised during our visit to Hamburg’s miniature railway which we’ll get to in a bit.

In Belgium the trains normally run on the left hand track. This is in contrast to their roads where cars & lorries etc, drive on the right. This allegedly stems from the British involvement in building the rail network in the 19th century. Unlike the roads, railways in Sweden use left-handed traffic for trains and Sweden drove on the left until 1967…

Oranienburg

Leaving Poland we needed an overnight stop not too far from the border. Finding this stellplatz on a marina was just the job. For the first time in 10 days we had some sunny weather, so it didn’t take us long to wind out the awning, get our shorts on, pour a G&T and wind down. The perfect camping idyll was enjoyed for a while until at 7 o’clock when the peace and quiet was spoilt by pulsating drum and bass from an open-air event next door. Fortunately on the dot at 10 o’clock the noise stopped, the teens went home and everyone could enjoy a good night’s sleep.

Lüneburg

A chance conversation with a German couple in Lithuania and the question; “Where’s your favourite place in Germany”? led us to Lüneburg. At bit like Northwich, Cheshire this place is famous for salt mining, which is the source of the city’s medieval wealth.

The main stellplatz is very close to the centre of the pretty town and unsurprisingly it’s a popular location for motorhomers. We fortunately arrived early and were able to watch vans coming in until after dark trying to squeeze themselves in one of the 60 chaotically marked places.

Reading the town’s website it says “it’s noticeable that some of the buildings in the historic quarter have a jaunty lean due to centuries of nearby mining”. I am not sure I would have noticed but the oldest church is St John’s and has a slight lean to it unlike the Lüneburg Chamber of Commerce building that is very black and white and straight and upright!

During construction of St John’s spire around 1384, the tower leant 2.20 metres to the west from the vertical. It should be leaning a bit because steeples were always angled slightly into the wind, but not by so much! The legend is told in Lüneburg of the architect who erected the leaning tower: after construction he saw what he had done. He climbed the stairs to the church tower and plunged in shame through a window into the depths.

However, just at that moment a hay cart drove past. The architect landed softly and survived the fall. He thought to himself, “If I’m still alive after this jump, then it must be God’s will that the tower is so crooked.” With this certainty he wanted to celebrate the event, got drunk in a pub, fell from the bench, broke his neck and died.

We have seen lots of bridges where lovers have randomly attached padlocks as an expression of the their bond with one another. However this is a first place where most the locks are fixed very neatly in-line. It could only happen in Germany.

Hamburg

We had seen the port cranes on the river Elbe from the A7 motorway as we zoomed past Hamburg on our way north, 80 odd days ago. However, we hadn’t appreciated that it was one of the busiest ports in Europe after Antwerp and Rotterdam. In addition to sea going traffic, the port services the many large (1,000 ton) barges plying its 1,094 km length from Czech Republic to the North Sea.

Leaving Margo under the tram line in the city Wohnmobilhafen, we set off on the network of bike lanes for a tour around the city. Aiming for Alster lake the cycle paths took us around the lake which is fringed with expensive looking houses and modern apartments, many with ‘small parks’ as frontage to the lake.

Keeping a watchful eye for other cyclists, we found our way via numerous parks to a coffee stop at the riverside close to one of Hamburg’s institutions the famous Fishmarket. (sadly closed today). Suitably refreshed, a short detour took us through St Pauli and the infamous (think Soho) tacky in daylight, Reeperbahn.

Cranes are not the sole preserve of the port. As we cycled across the many canals, along the former wharfs laced with old warehouses, we were amazed how many building sites there were with their tower cranes each competing for space with its neighbour.

The city has clearly gone through some big changes recently, especially in HafenCity district where dozens of waterfront apartments now give the area an ultra-modern feel with Elbphilharmonie concert hall’s unique wave-like roof dominating the skyline.

Miniature Wonderland

Our friends Paul and Lesley gave us the tip “if you’re in Hamburg you must go to Miniature Wonderland”. I would like to pass on the same recommendation to you.

If you read the Miniature Wonderland pamphlet it shouts about lots of impressive numbers 263,000 figurines, 1,040 locomotives or 15,400m of track etc, but this place is so much more than the world’s largest model train set.

Yes it is a large, very large model railway, but it’s way more than that. I could describe the impressive well laid out scenes like the airport, Venice or Hamburg, but it’s more than that.

Lesley spotted before I did. It’s about the little things, the tiniest detail, the humour and tragedy to be found in some sets. And the skill, patience and FUN the model makers must of had in creating it. We loved the authenticity, the real to life scenes showing accidents, rows, traffic jams or couples doing what couples do!

As we started to leave we walked past an area which is in the process of being built and got a glimpse of the hidden stuff behind the scenes. This place has comes to life because of the people who made it. The craftsmen and women, the geeks, the techies and the train buffs, all working together sharing their love for what they do.

I suspect some of the people that work here would come to work whether they were paid or not. The control room is like NASA’s mission control. 50 computers run the show, supervised and monitored by the technicians, managing the lighting (night & day), the trains, planes and everything else that moves. What a great job…

The small kids and the big kids will leave here with their favourite part, mine was the fire brigade. In Wonderland the city’s central computer system fell prey to arsonists years ago, now there is a fire somewhere every 15 minutes, with tenders arriving from all directions.

Finally I mentioned at the top Sweden’s RHD to LHD conversion.

In September 1967 all Swedish traffic switched from driving on the left to the right-hand side of the road. The decision to move to the other side of the road was not taken lightly. In fact, the idea had repeatedly been voted down during the preceding decades. In 1955, a popular referendum showed that 83 percent of the Swedish population was opposed to the change.

Preparing the country for “högertrafikomläggningen” the change was a costly and complicated endeavour. Traffic lights had to be reversed, road signs changed, intersections redesigned, lines on the road repainted, buses modified, and bus stops moved. And so on the 3rd September 1967 at 5pm all the cars, vans and motorcycles switched sides. A day later all the coaches, buses, lorries and trucks followed suit…. 😉

Just a thought, I wonder how the Swedes coped with having the steering wheel on the wrong side?

Toodle Pip

Dave & Lesley

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Famous Poles

Airports around the world are often named after their most famous nationals. New York has JKF International, Liverpool, John Lennon and flying to Poland’s capital you arrive at Warsaw Chopin Airport. Gdańsk Lech Wałęsa Airport is rightly named after its most famous son.

Gdańsk

WWII began when Germany made their invasion into Poland. The first shots of the war were fired just a few miles away from Gdańsk and by the end of the war 90% of the old town was destroyed. Previously known as the “Free City of Danzig”, Gdańsk is still referred to by most Germans we met as Danzig.

Following the end of the war, there was much argument over how to reconstruct the city. Harsh anti-German sentiment wanted to rid the city of all remnants of it (leading up to the war, Germans constituted a large majority of the population), but much debate continued over how to reconstruct it. A homage to the old days, and if so which period? Modern architecture? Socialist realism (Soviet)?

Walking in from Margo’s nearby overnight spot we were immediately struck with how pretty Gdansk is. The buildings are painted in muted colours of, orange, yellow, duck egg blue and pink. Some beautifully decorated with elaborate casings and paintings.

Although the architecture in the Old Town is undoubtedly beautiful and instantly appealing (it had me at first sight), however some would argue it is largely fake. Attractive it most certainly is but the decoration is not original and the facades often sit in front of Soviet concrete buildings rejected by preservationists as inauthentic

Vaclav Havel, the former Czech president and the Nobel Prize winner, concluded when asked to comment on the importance of authenticity when rebuilding Gdansk’s, Said “beauty, the aesthetic value of monuments matter more to common people”.

The Port of Gdańsk is Poland’s largest sea port, with growing trade in cruise ships as well as international cargo traffic. One recent change for the port of Gdańsk has started (post-Brexit) to receive fish from the UK, including mackerel from the Shetland Islands.

European Solidarity Centre

We had no pre-conceptions of how good this museum would be, but it was brilliant. The building is impressive and is designed to house not only the exhibition that tells the history of Solidarity, but also to host conferences and concerts – we knew that because of the noise of the rehearsals taking place.

The union emerged from a strike which began in August 1980 at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk. Led by Lech Walesa, workers demanded reinstatement of laid off colleagues and wage rises, and over a few days strikes spread throughout most of Poland.

On 31 August, an agreement was reached between the communist authorities and strikers that allowed for free and independent unions, together with freedom of religious and political expression. Within a year the union had 10 million members, a third of Poland’s working age population.

On 22 September 1980, Solidarity, the independent Polish trade union, was formally founded when 36 regional unions united under the name Solidarność.

However, in December 1981, Solidarnosc was forcibly suppressed by the Polish government, but re-emerged in 1989 to become the first opposition movement to participate in free elections in a Soviet-bloc since the 1940’s. Solidarity subsequently formed a coalition government with Poland’s United Workers’ Party.

Lech Walesa, the legendary leader of Solidarnosc and millions of Polish workers, went on to become the president of Poland (1990–95). He received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1983.

Like many good modern museums the Solidarity Centre tells its story by transporting you around the space, in this case by sensors in the audio sets detecting where you are, directing you where to go next then giving clear commentary to accompany what you are seeing. It’s full of detail, a real enlightening, entertaining and enriching experience.

In the place where shipyard life once bustled, a long abandoned stamping press stands proudly as a powerful symbol of the industrial legacy of this place. The now neglected spaces are being slowly adopted by artists. On a ramp nearby, figures “stuck together from a broken typewriter, electrical components, lamps, wheels or springs, appear to be marching up the former launch ramp, seemingly heading towards the city, looking every inch like an invasion from Star Wars.

Cycling back to Margo we had to cross over the Ołowianka Footbridge. We arrived just as it was opening to allow large boats to pass underneath, meaning for us either a long detour or a 30 min wait. Spotting fish & chips at a convenient quayside eatery, we didn’t need to be asked twice. It was delicious. I said to the waitress afterwards it was the best ‘fish n chips‘ we’ve had in the last 72 days.

More famous faces

Going back to airports for a minute, Kraków John Paul II International Airport is named after this man. His stand against Poland’s Communist regime had brought him wide respect. He was also the first non-Italian pope in more than 450 years.

Another well know figure, this time born in Warsaw is the footballer Lewandowski, considered one of the best strikers of all time, as well as one of the most successful players in Germany’s Bundesliga history.

Malbork

The medieval Malbork Castle is the largest brick castle in the world and guess what, yep, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So it just had to be seen, lets hope the rain holds off whilst we take a few photos.

The town of Malbork (Marienburg) was first founded in the 13th century by the Knights of the Teutonic Order, and it served as the headquarters for what was once the region of Royal Prussia.

Malbork Castle has survived war after war and from a distance the castle looks remarkable in almost pristine condition. However the 1945 image shows how much of it was destroyed during the Second World War.

We would have loved to have looked round inside of the castle but disappointingly, it was a Monday and all museums in Poland close on Mondays so we had to be content to walking around the outside.

Toruń

Nicolaus Copernicus was an astronomer who proposed a heliocentric system (no I hadn’t heard of it either). In his lifetime, most believed that Earth held its place at the centre of the universe. The sun, the stars, and all of the planets revolved around it.

He proposed what we know today, that the planets orbit around the Sun; that Earth besides orbiting the Sun annually, also turns once daily on its own axis.

Unlike Warsaw or Gdańsk, Toruń buildings were largely spared the bombing and destruction during WWII. Its Old Town and iconic central marketplace have been beautifully preserved. In 2007 the Old Town of Toruń was added to the list of Seven Wonders of Poland (with Malbork that’s 2 down, just 5 more to go)

During our time in Toruń the streets were packed not with tourists, but it was the start of the new academic year. Which in Poland means once the students have attended a 10 o’clock tutorial the rest of the day is their own to roam free.

Poznan

Lesley and I have both been reading Ben Aitken’s book A Chip Shop in Poznań: ‘My Unlikely Year in Poland’. It contains multiple insights into all things Polish and several interesting references. We searched everywhere for a chip shop (ok we didn’t) but we did go looking for the highly recommended Kolorowa ice cream (Lody) parlour. Made with natural ingredients this is definitely the best ice I have ever had … well maybe!

On a trip like ours it’s quite possible there will be both high and low points. Tonight as we waited for our meals at a pizza restaurant on the edge of Poznan’s main square, a drunken middle aged German and his wife? came to sit at a nearby table. Before he could order he began shouting and bawling at anyone who’d listen. Although we couldn’t understand all he was saying he was definitely full of anger and hatred towards jews. It was deeply disturbing and completely out of order especially in light of the things we’ve recently witnessed on our travels. Fortunately it only lasted 10 -15 minutes before he and his companion were persuaded to leave. The unedifying experience left a cloud over our evening and for days to come.

One of the popular tourist things to do in Poznan at midday is to watch the billy goats bang heads at the Town Hall in the Old Market Square. Needing a coffee, we found a table where we were able to take pictures of people taking pictures of the head-butting goats? I wonder how many like Lesley spotted the bugler on the roof.

Poznan’s historical centre although pretty, is quite small. A short distance away is the huge Citadel Park, where we were able to wander looking for its multiple sculptures, amongst acres of grass, trees and tanks!

Before closing, dId you also know?

The Earth’s tilted axis causes the seasons. Throughout the year, different parts of Earth receive the Sun’s most direct rays (as moves through its 12 month elliptical journey). So, when the North Pole is tilted toward the Sun, it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere. And when the South Pole tilts toward the Sun, it’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

There ya go, two more famous Poles..

Toodle Pip, D&L

Next up: A short ride through Germany

Before we left Poland I have to mention our very scary narrow escape.

At an unmanned level crossing just outside Swiebodzin, we joined a queue of 4/5 cars, waiting at the lights and half barrier. After a train passed, the barrier went up and the cars went through.

Just as we started to cross, the lights began to flash again as we were going over. The half barrier on the other side started to come down. Then, only 20 or so secs after we’d cleared the crossing a high speed train went hurtling through blaring its horn.

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Light and dark Polish

At one time or another most of Europe has been fought over. In the league table of ‘who’s fought who the most’, Poland must be near the top as it has had scraps with all its neighbours, plus a few others including: the Roman Empire, the Czech’s, German’s and Danes, the Mongol Empire, Lithuania, The Ottoman Empire, Sweden, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Napoleon and of course Hitler…

At the end of the 18th century, things had become so bad, the Polish state, having been partitioned by Austria, Russia and Prussia, was erased from the political map of Europe, [The Second Partition]. At the time Edmund Burke an Irish statesman and member of the British Houses of Parliament said “With respect to us, Poland might be, in fact, considered as “a country in the moon“.

Burke was also responsible for the wise words; “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it“.

Crossing the border was another non-event, our only stress was looking for a fuel stop as once again Margo was running on Baltic gasoil mist. Disappointingly the first garage we spotted diesel (or ON as we came to know it) was 5.44 złoty / litre, so slightly higher than the price in Lithuania we had shunned 50 kms ago. Topping up with fuel we were able to let our nails start to re-grow and continue on to a super stopover campsite for the night in Suwałki.

Bialowieza National Park.

It’s a bit of a trek (220 kms) to Bialowieza National Park, an area that straddles the border with Belarus and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However we thought the idea of visiting an area designated for the protection of its ancient and indeed prehistoric woodland and the last remaining piece of European primeval forest dating back to the Ice Age was definitely worth a look.

This huge forest contains some of the rarest species of fauna and is the only area where the almost extinct European Bison roam free, as well as wolves and red deer.

Lesley was getting very excited about the prospect of a close up encounter with a Bison or to hear the sound of wolves howling at night. Dorothy, Tin man and Scarecrow would no doubt have screamed “Loins and Tigers and bears Oh My”.

In reality the park is so vast the only chance we had of seeing bison or wolves was either to go to one of the ‘enclosed’ (zoo) areas in the park, or as a substitute I suggested we buy a cuddly toy version from one of the tourist outlets (I think it would have made a good centrepiece on Margo’s dash).

Bialowieza is a fair way off the beaten track we were therefore surprised (and if I’m honest, a bit disappointed) to find it offering so much tacky tourist junk. I was left with the impression that without any obvious industry, the local people in this out of the way place see selling the cheap tat to coach parties and day trippers as a way of earning an easy buck.

The 105 square km National Park spans the border with Belarus. We took a bike ride through the forest on a 15 mile circuit, including a long section on a raised walkway where we had to concentrate to avoid falling off into the primeval bog. We saw beehives on trees and heard what sounded like woodpecker but no sizeable wild creatures.

Part of route took us to the border with Belarus, we’d been warned about trying to enter Belarus, but we thought we’d take a look. This is a proper border with lots of fences and gates, no nods and cursory waving you through here. As we cycled up to the gates we were surprised when they started to open and a soldier came out. Not waiting to find out what he would say we turned our bikes around and speedily went back the way we came.

Treblinka

The route from Bialowieza NP to Warsaw passes by the German concentration camp at Treblinka. We decided to overnight in the car park there to be able to look around early the next morning before the coach parties arrived.

The word concentration sounds like you might be forced to think, to focus, but Treblinka wasn’t a place to go to concentrate! It was an extermination camp, built and operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II. The camp operated between 23rd July 1942 and 19th October 1943 as part of Operation Reinhard, the deadliest phase of the Final Solution.

During this time, it is estimated that between 700,000 and 900,000 Jews were killed in its gas chambers, along with 2,000 Romani people. More Jews were killed at Treblinka than at any other Nazi extermination camp, apart from Auschwitz-Birkenau where 1.1 million were murdered.

It is difficult to portray in words and pictures a true sense of this place. The placing of stones to represent each one of those killed helps.

I stood by one stone in a group of 12 other stones and wondered what relationship it had with the others nearby. Were they family, parents, wives, children, or neighbours or just another poor sole who’d sat next to each other in the transport. What would they have known about their fate, I tried to imagine how would they have comforted one another. What in their last moments were they thinking or feeling?

Above all other thoughts, I could not stop thinking – How could anyone do this to another human being.

Warsaw

When looking for a place to park in a large city there’s usually a compromise to be had. The key priorities are convenience to the places of interest, security (do we feel safe), is it legal, and in a busy city – how noisy is it going to be at night?

Caravaningu “Szerokiej Drog, a Hymer and Adria dealer, allows motorhomes to park on their forecourt,. It was also on a bus/tram route into the city and included EHU, fresh water, a 24 hour security guard and all for 50 złoty (£10) – sounded perfect. Except bright and early at 7am the building works started next door, literally 10m from Margo, with tipper trucks, diggers and dumpers all vying to make the loudest noise (they’d obviously gone home when we’d arrived).

The Warsaw Uprising 

Was a major World War II operation, late in the war in the summer of 1944, by the Polish Home Army (underground resistance movement), to liberate Warsaw from German occupation. The uprising was timed to coincide with the retreat of the German forces from Poland ahead of the Soviet advance.

While approaching the eastern suburbs of the city, the Russian Red Army inexplicably halted temporarily its combat operations, enabling the Germans to regroup and defeat the ill equipped Home Army and to destroy the city of Warsaw in retaliation. The Uprising was fought for 63 days with little outside support. It was the single largest military effort taken by any European resistance movement during World War II.

Altogether, the Polish losses during the uprising included 150,000 civilian dead and about 20,000 Home Army casualties. The German forces lost about 10,000. The remaining civilian population of 650,000 was deported to a camp south of Warsaw.

During the next three months, the Germans proceeded to demolish much of what was left of the city. When the Soviet troops “liberated” Warsaw in January 1945, Poland’s capital was a vast desert of hollow-shelled buildings and rubble.

If you would like to read the full article click this link: Remembering the Warsaw Uprising

The city today is an attractive place for tourists, Warsaw Old Town has been progressively rebuilt since the second world war, the Royal Castle above was re-constructed from 1971 – 1984. It must have been mammoth task to regain its original 17th century appearance. From the untrained eye it looks authentic and in 1980, the castle and surrounding Old Town became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We sat in the corner of Vege Miasto, a small vegan restaurant and studied the menu. A difficult choice was eventually made and I went for Green Heaven – a spinach and buckwheat pancake filled with veggies ricotta made from cashew, almonds and tofu served with a chive and spinach sauce, which tasted surprisingly delicious for something with so much spinach!

Lesley was extremely pleased with her choice of spicy veg tortilla made from kidney beans, sweet corn, red peppers, carrot and pineapple served with guacamole.

The array of cakes was also dazzling, so even though quite full we thought it would be rude not to sample. Lesley wanted something chocolatey (there’s a surprise) so I selected appropriately but it turned out to be surprisingly fruity, light and delicious with a wholesome raw cacao and date base. All very, very yummy

Chopin

The French would say ‘Chaud Pain‘ is warm bread, but Frederic Chopin is Poland’s most famous composer and pianist, born in 1810 and grew up in Warsaw. The city is obviously very proud of his legacy, there’s a museum dedicated to him and his music and multiple venues promoting Chopin concerts.

The city has devised one interesting way to bring Chopin to the people, with fifteen musical benches placed at key sites connected with his life. These polished black stone benches, feature a button which unleashes a thirty second clip of a Chopin sonata, nocturne or a waltz.

It was like a treasure hunt finding the benches, even if some of them were a bit too wet to sit on. We also discovered someone asleep on a bench but we don’t think it was Chopin.

Outside the old town the city of Warsaw is a bustling metropolis with Presidential Palace, museums, galleries, parks the Stadion Narodowy (Poland’s National Stadium), sadly we didn’t have enough time to see it all.

Agrotouristik Camping

By the time we got to ‘Agrotouristik Camping‘ camp site near Elk we were burnt out by foolishly trying to see too much and do too many things. Like Monty Python’s Mr Creosote we couldn’t take more new stuff on board, we needed some down time.

Run by the very charming Heinz and his wife Joanna this for us was (like the name of my vegan lunch) ‘Green Heaven‘. With only 3 other vans on this well organised spacious site, we just dropped anchor and chilled. Each night Heinz and his grandson would go around lighting candles dotted around the field and bring us a wheelbarrow of fresh firewood for the fire-pit.

Edmund Burke, is also famous for publishing amongst other things; “The Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful“. Sitting watching the flickering flames on the fire this place felt both sublime and beautiful.

Toodle Pip

Dave & Lesley

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Liberated Lithuania

Researching places to explore or things to see means we sometimes end up in strange locations or we discover weird and unusual facts. But dig deep enough beneath the easy available information and it’s fascinating what is waiting to be uncovered.

Home of the famous (in Lithuania) artist Česlovas Lukenskas, the Lukenskų Namai art school and campsite is set in a beautiful hillside location and from the reviews sounded like an idyllic place to stay. Many of the comments had said things like “lovely hosts”, “stunning views” or “a swim in the lake is a must”.

We arrived whilst Česlovas and his wife Ruta were out for the day foraging for wild mushrooms, with no one else there, we chose what looked like the perfect spot down by the lake. Big mistake. Smugly drinking our arrival cuppa it started to rain. It also started to dawn on us it might be a a tad difficult if the grass is wet getting our 4.2 ton motorhome back up the slope again…!

Two hours later the artist and his wife arrived home to find us three quarters of the way up the slope. After much effort on Lesley’s part, moving mats back and forth under the wheels, we did eventually make it back up but not without a tow from Česlovas slip sliding car.

Life felt so much better once we reached a grassy parking spot on semi level ground and further relaxed when our generous hosts invited us in the house for a tea and a slice of šakotis (tree cake) with homemade honey. As they say, ‘cake fixes everything”.

Kernavė

According to UNESCO, Kernavė is situated in the valley of the River Neris. The archaeological site is a complex ensemble of forts, some unfortified settlements, burial sites and other archaeological, historical and cultural monuments from the late Palaeolithic Period to the Middle Ages. With the information point closed due to Covid we took a wander.

We were pleasantly surprised by how well the reconstructions had been done. Each homestead was enclosed inside a fenced off yard that included auxiliary buildings for stores and animals. The main homestead building had living quarters each with a workshop with a detailed display of a particular craft (carpenter, blacksmith jeweller etc).

The first mounds were formed (dug by hand) around 1000 BC. These defensive mounds are reported to have been created because of the relatively flat Baltic landscape.

Vilnius

First impressions on our approach to Vilnius, were of wide (US style) boulevards lined with recently constructed commercial and residential buildings. It felt bold, modern and a city asserting itself. The ‘pretty bits’ are usually found in the old town so we engaged with the busy city traffic and found a parking spot for Margo right beside the castle.

A mix of old and the new – old tram, new electric bus.

Republic of Užupis

The Užupis district has been popular with artists for some time and has been compared to Montmartre in Paris due to its bohemian and laissez-faire atmosphere. On April 1, 1998, the district declared itself an independent republic (The Republic of Užupis), with its own constitution with 41 clauses. I especially like No 12…

  1. Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnelė, and the River Vilnelė has the right to flow by everyone.
  2. Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof.
  3. Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.
  4. Everyone has the right to make mistakes.
  5. Everyone has the right to be unique.
  6. Everyone has the right to love.
  7. Everyone has the right not to be loved, but not necessarily.
  8. Everyone has the right to be undistinguished and unknown.
  9. Everyone has the right to be idle.
  10. Everyone has the right to love and take care of a cat.
  11. Everyone has the right to look after the dog until one of them dies.
  12. A dog has the right to be a dog.
Lesley in front of Užupis constitution wall with plaques in 23 languages
Electric scooters for hire have been everywhere in our travels in Scandinavia and the Baltics

The city of Vilnius has undergone many calamities – Russian occupation in 1655–60, Swedish capture in 1702 and 1706, French occupation in 1812, and recurrent fires and plagues.

In 1795 Vilnius passed to Russia in the Third Partition of Poland. It was occupied by the Germans in World Wars I and II and suffered heavy damage.

From 1920 to 1939 it was included in Poland it was taken by Soviet troops in 1939 and restored to Lithuania.

The Soviets annexed Lithuania, including Vilnius, in June 1940. Soviet rule brought mass deportations (1940–41, 1946–50) of ethnic Lithuanians from Vilnius, and many Russians moved into the city.

Only in 1991 did Vilnius once again became the capital of an independent Lithuania. As a result of this turmoil Vilnius, has in my opinion lost its way architecturally. Rebuilding after war seems to have been a real hotchpotch of conflicting non-homogenous styles.

Walking around some of the upmarket streets we both noticed quite a few wealthy tourists, clearly dressed to be seen and heading for champagne bars and exclusive cafés. This may be the Lithuanian nouveau riche or one or two of the ten wealthiest Russians who (according to Forbes world’s billionaires list) between them are worth $223 billion.

Trakai

All the internet guides say Trakai is a place to go, so guess what…. everyone goes there. We’re fast learning that picking out places to visit that aren’t on everyone else’s no 1 destination list is a tricky balance of appeal versus popularity. Up until now we have probably been largely spoilt because of Covid but as places open up, we have to learn if we want to go, go before the world and his family get there.

Walking and bike rides are a good way to get away from other folk. Today we parked Margo in Trakai and cycled away from the castle in a 15 mile circuit around the lake and included the Hill of Angels and returned via the castle for a quick photo op.

Devils Pit

Whilst in the area the Devils Pit sounded like our kind of thing and although 4 or 5 cars came and went in the hour whilst we were there, it was largely unpopular. Hurrah!

The Trail of Secrets of the Devil’s Pit goes down to where a viscous swamp of 60 metres in diameter lies stagnant. In summer, it is tempting to wade in it, but people are advised to refrain from doing so as the swamp is very viscous and dangerous… It’s one man’s legend versus another’s asteroid crater!

Lithuanian Folk Museum

The open-air museum at Rumšiškės is a massive recreation of pre-industrial Lithuania. With around 150 buildings spread out over 195 hectares, it is among one of the world‘s largest museums. By area, it equals the entire nation of Monaco and is four times the size of Vatican. Our legs certainly felt it after a few hours walking around!

Nearly everything in Rumšiškės had been moved from somewhere else. 19th-century huts, sheds, and farmers’ homes that stood all over Lithuania have been saved from destruction by reassembling them here. They are joined by mills, churches, workshops and inns.

It takes some walking around as much of the museum consists of open spaces, ponds, and forests that put the “secluded villages” into context. The villages may be somewhat sanitised compared to historical reality, but that makes them more picturesque and no less interesting to explore.

Kaunas

Kaunas has been chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2022. I confess to not understanding how or why a city gets selected. I suspect in Kaunas’s case it’s the “attractive interwar streets, tree–lined avenues and wide–open squares”… whatever it is, it’s a city that has a really good vibe.

Preparation for 2022 is everywhere with diversions on the main bridge into town. Even when the street with many interesting restaurants is completely dug up and littered with JCB and dumper trucks (making it difficult to squeeze our bikes round the harris fencing), the place still has a good feeling about it and we’d love to come back when it’s all finished.

This impressive building is the Kaunas Christ’s Resurrection Basilica is located near the top terminus of the water powered Žaliakalnis Funicular. We were hoping for a ride as it’s similar to the Lynton & Lynmouth funicular railway, (one of my favourite spots), but it was closed due to Covid.

Bike power is a great way of seeing the city and is also a good way of working up an appetite. Kaunas is packed with attractive places to eat, none more so than the chilled car free (bikes allowed) Laisvės Alėja. Today’s lunch was Mexican and it was delicious.

Before heading back to the campsite we found some of the array of street art around the city. Many of the pieces are mapped making it relatively easy to find.

Back to an awaiting Margo, we had one last place we wanted to see. It wasn’t far so we felt we had time to go there on the way to our next stop in Poland.

The Ninth Hill Fort

My apologies, but I cant find a better way of describing this place than this extract from Wikipedia.

At the end of the 19th century the city of Kaunas was fortified and by 1890 was encircled by eight forts and nine gun batteries. Construction of the Ninth Fort was completed on the eve of World War I.

During the years of Soviet occupation, 1940–1941, the Ninth Fort was used by the NKVD to house political prisoners pending transfer to Gulag forced labor camps.[1]

During the years of Nazi occupation, the Ninth Fort was put to use as a place of mass murder.[3] 45,000 to 50,000 Jews,[4] most from Kaunas and largely taken from the Kovno Ghetto, were transported to the Ninth Fort and killed by Nazis and Lithuanian collaborators in what became known as the Kaunas massacre.

Jews from as far as France, Austria and Germany were brought to Kaunas during the course of Nazi occupation and executed in the Ninth Fort. In 1943, the Germans operated special Jewish squads to dig mass graves and burn the remaining corpses.

Perhaps you have to be there, to stand in front of the colossal monument and read about the Ninth Hill Fort, the massacre I found to be deeply shocking. Once again another example of how ‘mans inhumanity to man’, is disturbing and very upsetting.

Where possible I like to end these blogs on a cheerful note. So I have to tell you that In my research to find out how famous Česlovas Lukenskas is, a few Google clicks brought up various other well know Lithuanian artists, such as: “Ars” who were an avant-gardist art group created in 1932 by four graduates of the Kaunas Art School.

Readers of the blog will no doubt have noticed I’m partial to a play on words, (e.g. Biggus Dickus from Monty Pythons Life of Brian, that sort of thing). Can you imagine my delight then, when I found Pranciškus Smuglevičius who really was a classicist painter in Lithuania during the 18th century. How could I not sneak in this cheap prank!

That’s all for now

Toodle Pip, chin chin

Dave & Lesley

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Baltic colourful bits

Having previously admitted I have a very sketchy understanding of history, in contrast I have always considered geography was one of my stronger subjects. Although frustratingly it’s never been properly been tested in white heat of the local pub quiz, but I’m pretty sure if the question – ‘Which city is more northerly Oslo or Riga’ I would have answered Oslo.

Strange then after leaving Riga we headed for Sabile, which according to the Guinness Book of World Records is “the most northern open-air vineyard in the world”. But hang on a minute – Sabile is just outside Riga (latitude 56.93). Whereas the 15-acre Lerkekåsa Vineyard is located about 2 hours south of Oslo (latitude 59.95) and therefore a good bit further north!

Pedantry aside, the chance of an overnight spot on a vineyard sounded (at least to one of our crew) very acceptable, no matter how far north it is.

Ģirts, the owner is passionate about this recently created family business and welcomed us with a talk on the history of wine growing in the region and how they managed to ripen the grapes this far north due to Latvia’s long summer days, almost 20 hours of daylight at midsummer.

The operation is very much on a micro scale, producing wine from just 600 vines. The grapes are pressed and bottled in-house to make 500 bottles (so even when sold for €10 it’s not much of an income). However they do add to this very modest production, with a wide range of fruit wines produced from a variety of locally sourced berries.

Leaving the vineyard we drove through Sabile, where the people seem to have very pale skin probably as a result of spending the long dark winter days indoors. We snapped them topping up their vitamin D in the sunshine as we drove by.

Kuldīga

People come to Kuldīga mainly to see the waterfall, but this pretty town has more going for it than the falls. Sometimes when arriving in a place you immediately get an impression, a feeling. We liked Kuldiga straightaway, and loved it even more once we’d sampled the cakes from The Marmalade cafe.

The ‘Ventas rumba’ claims to be Europe’s widest waterfall (a mighty 270m across), but as it’s only around 2 metres tall, it is wide but not really that impressive…..a bit like Danny De Vito.

Lesley is currently reading Tristan Gooley’s The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs: So whilst driving I have been benefitting from Lesley’s newly acquired knowledge. Today we had a practical demonstration. The book says, to see a rainbow you have to have the sun behind you; and in front of you, in this example a fountain (but water droplets from rain will do as well). So lining up the sun, us in the middle and the fountain and by jove, it works, damm it.

Liepāja

Intending to make our way down to the Curonian Spit we headed for Liepāja a port city on Latvia’s west coast. Known for its long beach which is backed by a park, featuring a concert stage and the Ghost Tree, a monument to the influential (in Latvia at least) Latvian rock band, Līvi.

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It’s ages since I had the chance to take a bucket and spade to the beach and anyway, sand castles are so 1960!

As we cycled around the town we came upon this gathering outside Liepāja University. We didn’t see many of the assembled crowd wearing masks which isn’t surprising as they were anti-vaxxers protesting about the Latvian government’s vaccination programme. Moving swiftly on…

A windswept Bernāti beach

After our long ride around Liepāja we set off south to find a free spot by the coast identified on Park4night. This app is usually good for finding out of the way locations and suggested a spot at Bernāti. Choosing to ignore SAT NAV we narrowly avoided getting Margo stuck on a barely used forest track that got progressively sandier and softer. Sensibly, on this occasion we did as we were told, retracing our steps we eventually (after the day trippers had left) spent an undisturbed night at the beach car park, listening to the combined roar of the wind and the waves.

Klaipėda

If hadn’t been for the dramatic increase in traffic on the Lithuanian side we might have crossed over the border without noticing it. 50 miles down the coast is Klaipėda, where the Danė River flows into the Baltic Sea and is the port city in Lithuania.

The old town features German-style architecture, but most of the buildings on the waterfront appear to be new builds designed to look like the half timbered originals. Walking around the town there are a smattering of 18th-century wood-framed buildings, but I suspect many were destroyed during WWII.

Aiming to park Margo close to the centre we drove down a narrow street by the side of the river. Shoehorning the van into the carpark at the end we set off for our wander. It was only when we came back we saw the chaos of the multi car stand-off as a driver blocked the road in both directions!

It was only later, after we escaped during a lull in the ‘who blinks first’ and reverses back battle, that we found out this road is the only access route onto the ferry to get to and from the Curonian Spit.

Image courtesy of Visit-kaliningrad.ru

NB We were told later by a German couple in a camper, to travel the Curonian Spit as far as Nida (near the border to the Russian state of Kaliningrad), cost them €60 for the return ferry including €30 to enter Nida) plus fuel plus inflated overnight accommodation. So perhaps not.

Kurtuvėnai

Although in a nice location, the camp site at Kurtuvėnai was quite a strange place. Each pitch had a small fence around it, but there was nowhere to empty your grey water or an outside tap for fresh? On the other-hand there was EHU and a washing machine although with an ineffective dryer the volley ball net was the best place to peg your smalls out on…

The toilet and showers were accessed via a security key fob. However if you found yourself inside and the fob didn’t work and hubby does not respond after 10 minutes of shouting for help (I woz makin the tea). Then the only thing to do is climb out of the window and slide gracefully to the ground (photo withheld to save blushes).

Šiauliai and The Hill of Crosses

Before setting off to see the Hill of Crosses we had to do a repair job on the habitation door, which since leaving Latvia we hadn’t been able to open from the outside. Turning to the Carthago Owners Club FB page for help, Lesley found great advice with detailed pictures of the likely problem and how to fix it. We also needed to get a move on as the rain was coming.

The fix required replacing or repairing a broken casting. – A hole was drilled in the broken casting, to suit an ideally sized cap head screw which was then tapped in. Once cut to length, the screw connected nicely with the plastic lever. And Bob’s your Uncle (or Bob’s father Alf in my case).

The Hill of Crosses

What a crazy place – a collection of crosses erected on a small hill is one of the most bizarre sights in the Baltics. Stuck on it like a pin cushion are around 200,000 crosses. A mixture mostly made of wood, some metal. Some huge ornate crucifixes, but many are smaller simpler affairs.

The hill was bulldozed twice during the Russian occupation as religion was forbidden but Lithuanians continued to sneak to the hill and plant the crosses despite KGB agents patrolling the area. When Lithuania obtained its independence in 1991 the hill came to signify identity, religion and heritage for Lithuanians. Pilgrims continue to descend to plead with Jesus for miracles.

One legend describing the origin of the crosses relates to a Lithuanian farmer whose daughter was extremely ill. One night he had a dream in which a white clothed woman appeared and told him to make a wooden cross and place it on a nearby hill. If he followed her instructions his daughter would be cured. He did as he was told and returned home to find his daughter in good health. Others flocked to the hill to place crosses in the hope that similar miracles would be granted to them.

After a mad rush to take some images of the hill before the rains came, eventually the heavens opened up and we had a proper storm with thunder, lightening, hailstones and a double rainbow. Our man Tristan Gooley says that the colours in the second rainbow are inverted and paler, with a darker band between. When I was at school I’m sure we were taught, “red and yellow and pink and green, orange and purple and blue….

Toodle Pip

D&L

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Letts go to Latvia

In attempting to understand some of Latvia’s traits and culture it occurred to me that if someone asked, how I would describe the British culture and people? I would start my reply by saying clearly all Englishmen still wear bowler hats, love the queen and we all get blind drunk when we’re on cheap package holidays abroad. The Welsh love sheep and only eat leeks. The only food you can buy in Scotland is haggis, malt whisky comes ‘oot the tap’ and all the Scots wear tartan skirts..! But, parking the stereotypes for a moment, how would you describe typical British culture or the traits of the average man or women in the UK?

Thus excused, what follows is my attempt at describing Latvians and their culture as seen through the limited exposure we’ve had whilst travelling through the country and is therefore necessarily anecdotal.

Kohuke – Is a dairy confectionery bar we discovered in Estonia. In Latvia the popular brand we’ve seen everywhere is Kārums. It is prepared with sweetened and pressed curd cheese, it’s usually covered in a chocolate coating and comes in various flavours such as vanilla, strawberry, mango, chocolate, or caramel. It taste a bit like a chocolate-covered cheesecake bar. By the way we’ve got a fridge full.

Interesting Latvian facts – Before coming here, if Richard Osman had asked me, I could have named the Baltic capitals. I knew all three states were once part of the Soviet Union and that they all vote for each other in the Eurovision Song contest. (which may have helped Marie N win for Latvia in 2002).

Ok fact No 1

Latvia was once ‘Lettland’ and Latvians were the ‘Letts.’ This is because the natives were Letts, up until the 13th century, when the Livonian Brothers of the Sword (knights from Germany, and yes- a real title) came in and took over.

Gauja National Park

Cesis

Is the largest town in the Gauja National Park and the natural gateway to explore the region. We stopped off for coffee and cake and were immediately confronted with a change (compared with Estonia) in Covid rules. At first we thought you weren’t allowed to eat inside (we later found you could, provided you could show your Covid pass). So take away cake from one shop and outside coffee from another!

The sculpture is called “Through the centuries”. The old man carrying a lamp, one of the symbols of Cesis. According to the legend, “long ago, in ancient times, When the townspeople went to bed, the man walked all the streets with his cudgel and lantern – and the people knew as long he walked the streets, the town would be safe and peaceful.

Thanks to reviews on Camper Contact posted by the likes of Jason and Julie from Our Tour we found a well equipped campsite around a lake at Camping “Apaļkalns“. With a lakeside pitch, electric hook up, beautifully clean facilities and a washing machine so we stayed put for two nights.

Here’s another fact Latvian are the tallest women on the planet. The average female comes in at an impressive 170 cm. (Lesley is 160 cm)

The sandstone outcrops, rocks, cliffs and caves are among the park’s major attractions. The reddish sandstones were formed around 360 million years ago (when according to National Geographic they were shipped over by a Devonian firm from just outside Exeter?

Here’s some more facts

  • Latvia is sandwiched between Estonia (north) Lithuania (south) and a border with Russian to the east.
  • With half the country covered by forest, Latvians are a nation of foragers. Especially fungi & berries..

Using Komoot we thought we’d mapped out a good bike route. We did find some nice parts but an indicated path turned out to be a sandy jungle track, where we had to fight through undergrowth and fallen trees. It was somewhere during this struggle that Lesley lost her front mudguard. We came across this foragers car. The badge on the grill looks like A3nH, any suggestions? a Moskvitch 2140 perhaps?

Sometime in the woods you come across the weird and the wonderful.

Leaving the campsite we decided it might be fun to take the Ligatne Ferry. After a 10 mile (milk curdling) drive down a washboard gravel road, we arrived at the river crossing. However the angle of the ramp to drive onto the ferry was way too steep for Margo’s rear end! Had we attempted it, we’d have grounded the chassis on the ramp, whilst her front wheels would have been on the ferry and probably making it impossible to reverse off! – Not good.

And some more facts

  • Latvians cherish their independence.
  • Latvians are still very much pagans at heart. They worship nature by jumping over bonfires at Midsummer Eve

Sigulda

One of Lesley’s favourite campsites with lakeside views at Sigulda and Artūrs the very chatty helpful host. We also had a good chat with our friendly Germany neighbours who had a very ingenious storage solution for the inside of their tent-on-roof car.

Getting to chat to fellow campers is generally easy, especially when (still not awake) I tripped over their electric cable and broke the plug. After a joint repair effort we managed to fix the cable and normal anglo-german relations were restored.

Our ride from Artūrs campsite was a real mix of town cycle paths, park roads, a tricky MTB section and forest paths. This was complimented nicely with soup & potato pancakes lunch stop at a cafe half way round.

Araisi Lake Fortress

Before leaving Gauja National Park we stopped off to see a fortress on an Island. The Araisi Lake Fortress is a recreation of the village that would have stood on the spot in the 9th-10th century. The remains of the original village were uncovered during the 1960s and 1970s. After much research the project to reconstruct the village-fortress was then started on site in 1993.  

Walking around the wooded decked island you get a real sense of village life and an understanding of how the buildings and dwellings had been constructed. To me it seemed a bit bonkers to go to all that trouble to build a fortress on wooden platform on water. A much better location to defend would have been the medieval castle ruins site 200 m away.

I sometimes often struggle with history dates and found a plaque in the visitor centre very helpful.

Stone Age 10,500 – 1800 BC

Iron Age 500 BC – 1200 (time of construction of the Lake fortress)

Bronze Age 1800 – 500 BC

MIDDLE AGES 1200 – 1561

Riga

Riga is the capital of Latvia and is home to 632,614 inhabitants, which is a third of Latvia’s population. Being significantly larger than other cities of Latvia, it is also the largest city in the three Baltic states and is home to ten percent of the three Baltic states’ combined population. It’s a busy place, with proper traffic jams!

After fighting the traffic, we managed to squeeze Margo in here. This small city centre car park is generally for cars only. With the barrier up we were halfway in when the woman parking attendant (owner) waved at us to say no. We smiled beseechingly and she relented and found us the perfect spot.

Lesley in her take me somewhere for a nice meal clothes. Notice the guy on the green electric scooter. These are rented (with a smart phone from a company called Bolt) and they are all over the Baltic’s cities and large towns. You look on the App find a free one near you, register it on the app and off you whizz sorry scoot.

As we are curious to find out more about Latvians and their culture we’ve read that they have a tendency towards introversion. And of “personality types that get overstimulated easily and prefer solitude, quiet and reflection..” Maybe the Riga neighbourhood called Zolitūde (Solitude) is an example

We had a nice meal in Riga restaurant tonight and talking to the waitress afterwards I asked how she would characterise typical Latvians – She said the way she would describe them was grey, or a bit reserved. She went on to recall how when Covid first hit Latvia last summer everyone had to observe the 2m social distancing. But when the Covid restrictions were lifted people were really quite relieved that they could go back to 5m…!

Because we’d squeezed Margo into a city centre car park, walking to most places in the city was easy. Starting with the Art Nouveau district that had with lots of impressive buildings mostly owned by banks and foreign embassies along with the necessary restaurants and cafés. We couldn’t resist a coffee in this period café playing some laid back cool jazz. The waiter was obviously working on the not smiling at strangers stereotype. Apparently he was from the Zolitūde neighbourhood!

The city of Riga is on the Daugava river that rises in the Valdai Hills of Russia 600+kms to the east and flows through Belarus, then Lativia and into the Baltic Sea. Running parallel with the Daugava there’s a small tributary running through the length of the old town that is surrounded by a very attractive park. They say that green spaces are the heart of a city – this is a prime example of that. It was definitely our favourite part.

We enjoyed the wander through the cobbled streets of the old town and to ensure we had seen all the UNESCO World Heritage sites, we sought out Riga Central Market. Built in the 1920’s the four large halls were originally used as hangers for military airship and today are Europe’s largest market. Many of the outdoor stalls were selling a variety of wild berries (Lesley says the small ones were blaeberries?) some supplied by the foragers driving the Moskvitch 2140.

The House of Black Heads was designed as a venue for meetings and banquets hosted by the Brotherhood of Blackheads; a guild of unmarried merchants, shipowners, and foreigners residing in Riga. The house was known for its wild parties and the Brotherhood is credited with displaying the first public Christmas tree in 1510. A stone marker outside the building marks the location.

This building was one of the town’s many structures damaged or destroyed during World War II bombardments. The only surviving section was a medieval cellar discovered during the building’s reconstruction in the mid-1990s. The House of the Blackheads was fully restored in 1999.

Courtesy of http://www.atlasobscura.com

Following the recommendation of the waitress in our first night’s restaurant, we dragged our (shall we just stay in) selves out to the ALA Folkklub. The venue in the heart of Riga’s historic old town was a rabbit warren of underground rooms with a bar serving food & drink including many assorted flavours and styles of beers. It felt like the place to be for Riga’s 30-somethings. It seemed authentic, not aimed aimed at tourists and a window on a traditional Latvian folk dance night. With the young crowd enthusiastically packing the small dance floor twirling and birling to a whole variety of Latvian folk dances, a bit similar to Scottish country dancing.

Well dear reader, we’ve researched a bit, have read a little, talked to a couple of people, got a tourist information map (we didn’t do that in Riga) and followed the tourist trail. But I confess it feels as if we’ve barely scratched the surface or really have a better understanding of Latvia or Latvians.

Toodle Pip or Ejam prom

Dave & Lesley

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Estonian surprises..

There’s no evidence that there are more members of the International Flat Earth Research Society in Estonia than anywhere else but if there were, it wouldn’t be that surprising as the country is quite flat.

When you consider the average height for a male Estonian is only 176cm, compared to a lanky 181cm for their Swedish and Lithuanian near neighbours. As a result the impoverished Estonian country folk living near the National Parks have had to resort to building viewing platforms to see the wider landscape. It would also have meant in the past Estonians soldiers had to do a lot of jumping to see possible invaders coming.

One of Pärnu’s wet bits viewed from a tower of the walkway.

Our first stop after leaving Tallinn was Estonia’s third largest town, Pärnu. Only 100kms south of the capital it was quite a shock as this seaside town felt decidedly ‘out of season’. I’m sure Covid is having an negative impact on visitor numbers. There were people sitting outside some of the restaurants but compared to Tallinn it felt markedly provincial.

The upside of course is there was no problem getting a table at the town’s one Indian restaurant. Both our curry’s were really good and we ended up eating way too much food, but the walk back to Margo through the park and past streets of traditional wooden clad buildings was definitely welcome.

After all the sight-seeing in Tallinn we both wanted some down time and once the regulation visit to the laundry had been completed, we found a great spot at Reiu to spend the afternoon watching kite surfers track back and forth in the shallow waters of Pärnu Bay til the sun went down.

Before we head off to Soomaa National Park I wanted to just touch upon a uniquely Estonian pastime.

Kiiking

With the Tokyo Olympics currently in ‘full swing‘ the Estonians are very interested in promoting a new sport called Kiiking. Invented back in the nineties by a man named Ado Kosk, participants attach themselves to a giant steel swing that must be rotated a full 360 degrees. It all sounds a bit ‘over the top’ to me, but lets see if it gets included in the Paris Olympics in 2025.  Hey, give us a shove to start me off…!

Soomaa National Park

Soomaa National Park, is one of 12 protected wilderness areas in Europe. Visitors are invited to try their hand at amongst other things ‘bog-shoeing’. This is a bit like snow-shoeing, where you attempt to walk with a tennis racket on each foot to help traverse across the marshy ground – Can you imagine trying to run if you saw lions & tigers and bears, oh my!

Ok, so there aren’t any lions and tigers… but there are bears and wolves in Estonia.

According to a study, by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Estonia is home to 700 of the continent’s 17,000 brown bears, 260 of its 9,000 lynx, and 790 of its 12,000 grey wolves.

We spent one of our quietest nights in the car park of the visitors centre, right in the heart of the Soomaa NP. From here, after all the the visitors (we only saw 4) went home, we set off for a walk along the 1.8km Koprarada õpperada (Beaver Trail).

We’d been advised that beavers are most likely to be seen at dusk and dawn (along with the mosquitos), so we crept silently along the raised boardwalks that took us over the marshy ground. I felt a bit like David Carradine, the “Kung Fu” star, walking across rice paper. In spite of our stealth and quiet, disappointingly we didn’t see any beavers. We did see trees next to the river that had been gnawed by the beavers to fell them and dam the river to raise its level to build and protect their lodges.

Viljandi

The search for a ‘Kohvik‘ for lunch brought us to Rohelise Maja pood ja kohvik which google helpfully translated into “The Green House café and shop”. Like other buildings on the street the café is was made entirely of wood which gave it a friendly earthy feel.

Inside was cosy, with cakes and a selection of coffee beans on display. “Do you speak English”? Immediately a tall young man was summoned who spoke with a confidence of someone who, although he had lived in Viljandi since he was 10, had been to university in the UK. With his help, delicious food was ordered and enjoyed in a large garden area.

The small-town atmosphere of Viljandi is cheered up by 8 big red concrete strawberries. These have been inspired by the painting “Strawberry Eaters” by native artist Paul Kondas, as the people of Viljandi are said to resemble the characters it depicts.

It’s himself standing on the edge of the castle hill ramparts.

Viljandi Castle Hill Park is located on the slope of the ancient valley and is a confusion of huge earth banks or ramparts and deep ditches presumably former moats. We sat on a bench looking across to a building site, watching a JCB loading up lorries with soil. However when Castle Hill’s labyrinth of deep protective trenches were created, they would have been dug by hand.

We found the variation in the castle construction a little puzzling, as the walls in some parts have bricks mixed in with stone in walls above the original stone stronghold of 1224. We read that the fortress got its final shape and size at the beginning of the 16th century but it’s not clear if that was made of brick, stone or a mix of both?

It is slightly incongruous sitting next to the much older ruins, but in 1931 in order to make it easier for the townsfolk to visit the chapel in the ruins, a rope suspension bridge was built over a 15m deep trench. From the ruins, there is a beautiful view over Lake Viljandi.

We enjoyed our time in Viljandi but elected to spend the night in Oiu – Oi! U. Yes, that’s you!

Tartu

Estonia’s 2nd largest city was a struggle for Margo to find somewhere to park during the day. In the end Euro Parks made it easy with a spot close to the centre and an easy walk to the tourist office. After stopping for a nice lunch at Krempel Kohvik, armed with a map we headed for a walk in the park.

Tartu Toy museum

Tartu is known as Estonia’s main university town which is located close to Toome Hill Park. Close to the centre of town the park isn’t difficult to find, as its name suggests it’s on a hill. Although they probably could have called it statue or sculpture park – as well as some medieval ruins, it contains lots of statues and monuments, mostly to people we hadn’t heard of.

Struve Geodetic Arc – The Struve Monument is dedicated to the former director of the Tartu Observatory, Fr. G. W. Struve, a Russian astronomer and geodesist of German origin. Under his leadership, the meridian arc was measured between 1816 and 1855 to help determine the shape and size of the globe. 

Devils bridge and the Angels bridge – They both cross the same road so how do you decide which one is for you?

Lesley’s is clearly not ‘wildly’ impressed with the witty and philosophical conversation between these two, Oscar Wilde (left) and the Estonian writer Eduard Vilde

Be yourself; everyone else is already takenOscar Wilde

A casual wander around and you soon stumble upon the towns popular sculptures like Father & Son or the Kissing Students (clearly dated by the miniskirt) in the town square’s fountain.

Well it just wouldn’t have been a comprehensive tour of all of Tartu’s cultural highlights without a visit to the Upside Down House.

Valga and Valka

The Russian revolution in 1923 changed everything for the people living in the former Russian empire, including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

But after much fighting eventually the three Baltics states won their independence. A new border was drawn up between Estonia and Latvia on the basis if there are more Estonians than Latvians in a town, then the border would go south of the town and vice versa. That was fine until to the town of Walk, where there was no majority. No-one wanted to give the town up, and tensions started to rise.

An Englishman named Tallents was called upon to work out a solution, which he did, by drawing a border which ran through the town. Which meant the residents, now needed a passport to walk from one end of town to the other, not to mention a different currency when they went to the shops.

However the Soviets effectively re-united the town in WW2 after defeating the Germans, again with a single currency the Ruble and even one language – Russian (whether you liked it or not). When in 1991 the Soviet Union itself dissolved, it meant once again the borders were back.

Crazy stuff happened: the Latvian fire brigade couldn’t attend a fire a few meters away, and people had to make 30-mile journeys to hospital when there was a bed a couple of minutes away.

In 2004 the people of Valga and Valka were delighted when the Baltic states joined the EU. It removed the border (Schengen) and it gave both towns the Euro. Now days their cooperation is much more positive, although they still speak two completely different languages on either side of the border. Credit to Jay from Our Tour for this summary.

The black and white post alongside this small stream marks the border between Valga (Estonia) to the left and Valka (Latvia) on the right.

Wife Carrying

Before leaving Estonia I think we must also mention Estonian Wife Carrying prowess. Although the sport was first introduced at Sonkajärvi in Finland, a few years ago the Estonia invented a new style (wife upside-down on his back with her legs over the neck and shoulders) now referred to as the “Estonian Carry”.. So successful were they with this method that Estonia’s dominated the World (I know it’s crazy) Wife Carrying Championships for 11 consecutive years between 1998 – 2008.

Estonia’s Madis Uusorg carries his wife Inga Klausen to win the Wife Carrying World Championships in 61.7 seconds.

According to ‘estonian world‘, in a boon to Estonia’s chances for capturing Olympic gold, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced in 2016 the addition of wife-carrying to the summer Olympics schedule.

And finally – There may be some reading this who are starting to wonder if we have come across any evidence of shorter than average Estonian men intending to compete in both swinging Kiiking and Wife swapping Carrying championships. Surprisingly the answer is no.

Toodle Pip

Dave & Lesley

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The Tallinn experience

“The traveller was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes ‘sight-seeing.’”

— Daniel J. Boorstin

Generally our trips don’t have a fixed itinerary or firm destinations, but a rough plan that we adapt and adjust as we find new places to visit and things to explore. It’s about discovery, chance meetings and enjoying the pleasure from the beauty of our surroundings. Or in other words we make it up as we go along. After getting kicked out of Norway, Tallinn was the obvious substitute, so let the sight-seeing begin…

In 1997 ‘The Old Town’ of Tallinn became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. However the winning bid to become the European Capital of Culture in 2011 helped broaden global appeal and opened up Tallinn as an essential cruise ship destination. Not long after Michael O’Leary spotted the opportunity to take us Brits there for a ‘bit of culture’ and all for £12.99.

We saw lots of classic American cars throughout our travels in Sweden, which according to some estimates boasts more restored 1950s classics than the US, with approximately 5,000 classic cars shipped to Sweden each year. This trend is clearly spreading to it’s Baltic neighbour as this 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood followed us into the queue for the ferry to Estonia.

Whether you’re a fan of American classic cars or not, the rear of this ’59’ Fleetwood is a bit special.

We splashed out and booked a cabin for the 11 hour night time sailing. We also struck lucky when a friendly security guard invited us to have access to the exclusive Commodore lounge with its rear viewing deck. Just perfect for watching the sun go down as we left Sweden behind.

Tallinn’s Old Town Walls

Having been to Tallinn 20 years ago whilst on business in Helsinki, my memories were of cobbled streets in the Medieval Old Town with the old centre surrounded by a sprawl of left over and neglected Soviet-style tower blocks. How times have changed things.

Whilst the Old town is largely unchanged the area down by the yacht marina was either under construction or a rich collection of glass and steel buildings. These smart new offices are occupied by a Ferrari showroom, a Bentley office or the HQ of Estonian Hi-Tech start-ups. Gone are the tired old trams, new ones now share the space with fast flowing roads carrying expensive Merc’s and BMW’s.

Arriving anywhere for the first time the usual ‘new town rules’ apply – go to the tourist Information and ask for a map. Opting to buy 48 hour Tallinn passes we immediately started our mission to see the old and the new.

Built up from the 13th to 16th centuries, the Tallinn Old Town is, according to UNESCO, one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe with 1.9 km (1.2 miles) of its original city wall and 20 defensive towers still standing. 

Fat Margaret – Maritime museum

Fat Margaret isn’t in fact a large, overweight woman, but the last round tower of the towns defensive walls that now houses the Estonia Maritime museum. Starting at ground level with the remains of a 700-year old medieval Cog. – “A cog is a sailboat which was very common in Norther Europe in the Middle Ages and was used as a cargo vessel as well as a warship”.

The museum space spirals up the four levels covering all aspects of Estonian seafaring history. Like all of Tallinn’s museum’s we visited, It’s very well done with lots of interactive elements to keep kids and bigger kids entertained.

Sea Plane Harbour Museum

The Sea Plane Harbour exhibition was created around the Lembit submarine. Interestingly for an Estonian naval vessel, the sub was made at Vickers-Armstrong shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness and launched in 1936. The Lembit was the bees knees at the time and the pride of the Estonian Navy. 

An cartoon animation of life on board the submarine is projected onto the outside including, bizarrely, skeletons running about.

Lembit survived both the Second World War and a long exile in Russia. Until 2011, it was also the oldest submarine still afloat after a total of 75 years.

This is a fantastically well put together exhibition and is much more than just the Lembit submarine, or the the sea plane harbour building it now occupies. There are many imaginative hands-on elements to experience. Like firing an anti aircraft gun, flying (crashing) a sea plane or the unfettered access to the inside of a real submarine which was the real highlight for me.

“Up periscope”. “Dive, dive!”

If the sky (the blue bit) looks a bit wonky it’s coz Dave was about to crash. Big kid.

On the quay of the Seaplane Harbour there’s an icebreaker (no not a warm up act!), the Suur Tõll is one of the museum’s three steam-powered icebreakers from the early 20th century. The quayside also shows examples of smaller naval vessels including a minesweeper with non metallic fibreglass skins to their hulls.

This fabulous ‘Tall Ship’ was also docked in the harbour, later we saw their twenty something crews exploring the old town.

Given that alcohol is about 75% more expensive in Finland compared to Estonia, the frequency of the booze cruise ships going back and forth between Helsinki and Tallinn runs the risk of making a grove in the Baltic sea bed.

Covid’s impact on travel meant there were less cruise ships in the main Tallinn harbour and no large crowds in the town. We did see a bride and groom walking around, but there was no evidence of Stag n Hen parties that the low-cost airlines bring or the worst excesses of Helsinki’s weekend booze cruise trade.

The relaxing calm inside the Maisemokk Café

Lesley has the onerous task of doing the foodie research and of course all things cake. Having found an excellent vegetarian cafe for lunch on the previous day, today she chose the highly rated Maisemokk Café for our lunch stop.

Set right in the heart of the old town the café is very popular and with good reason as the atmosphere was a relaxed and calming place to recharge before setting off to see yet more sights!

An invaders view of the old town’s wall from the outside.

Birthday meal at ‘Vegan Restaurant’

With only one day between our birthdays, it’s sometime fun to celebrate the day in the middle as our Un-birthday.

For our Unbirthday meal we went to the “It does exactly what it says on the tin” Vegan Restoran V. The V had been a recommendation from Lisa & Nick. What a good choice! When it opened in 2014 it was the first vegan restaurant in Tallinn and Estonia! We booked the day before and were lucky to get a table as it was busy. The atmosphere inside was lovely, the service was good and the 100% vegan food was fab. Oh and the company wasn’t too shabby either.

Yummy baked banana dessert – Notice the two forks?

BTW – it’s a very, very happy unbirthday to you, to you….!

So we had one final mad dash around to eek the last bit of value out of our 48 hour Tallinn passes, before they and we expired. You’ll no doubt appreciate the effort taken to capture the view from the Gothic tower’s 115-step, narrow stone spiral staircase to reach the belfry balcony. [There’s no way an ambulance crew would be in a fit state to give you CPR if you had heart failure at the top of there].

Pierre’s Chocolate café

With the much heralded rain now upon us we to sheltered down an alley and stubbled on Pierres’ Chocolate café. Hidden in the master craftsmen’s courtyard this chic, bohemian space is like stepping back to the 1930’s. We were convinced that on certain days Mystic Meg would use the table in the corner for fortune telling or perhaps the odd seance!

That’s it my brain is completely fuddled. We’ve seen too much, we’ve walked too far, eaten too much and I’m completely cultured out. Tallinn really is a bonnie place with so much to see and do, even if you had a fortnight of 48 hour Tallinn passes you’d have to have Mo Farrer trainers to get round it all. And that of course as we have demonstrated it’s not what it’s about…

Sometimes it might be better to stop and enjoy the sweet aroma of the sweet shop, than feel you have to eat all the sweets. But then again as someone with far more wisdom than me once said “The only mistakes you make in life are the ones you don’t learn from”….

Toodle Pip

Dave & Lesley

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Cake, Conversation and Conviviality

As many of our friends will confirm Lesley and I have for some time been members of the cake appreciation society. Whilst continuing our European research (can anyone top the French?) trying all things cake we’ve discovered the Swedish concept Fika, which translates as “a coffee and cake break”. Actually, it means more than coffee & cake. It’s more of a state of mind, to make time to slow down, to contemplate, to make time to be with friends. Oh and of course eat cake!

This then is clearly a light bulb moment. I’m going to apply to upgrade my (grade VII) Cake Appreciation qualification to take introductory (level 1) course in Fika, Boy am I looking forward to the practicals!

Today we had the perfect opportunity to practice a bit of Fika as we were going to cross paths (literally)with Lisa and Nick, who we’d last seen in Denmark 3 weeks ago. Café Petter was chosen as the rendezvous point and I’m pleased to report the cakes, coffee and conversation in the chilled retro atmosphere of the 1890’s teashop was Fika personified.

I can now also confirm the coconut topped mystery cake is the best cake in the whole of Sweden (if not the world).

Saying goodbye to Nick and Lisa we headed to the coast and an overnight at Hudiksvall. After much faffing in unsuitable spots in and around the town we found the perfect (Goldilocks would have been happy) parking place near a beachside picnic spot.

Hälsingland

When you travel Sweden, you see large mostly red-coloured farm buildings everywhere. Looking to further immerse ourselves in Swedish culture we decided to visit the UNSECO farmhouses of Hälsingland.

The 18th and 19th centuries were quite prosperous times for the farmers, blessed by the long fertile valleys within the Taiga forest landscape. These farms produced substantial incomes from both forestry and growing flax (linen). Enjoying independence from Swedish state rule, these farmers used their abundant wealth to build new homes with elaborately decorated ancillary houses.

Inside one of the buildings we visited had beautifully (for that period) decorated rooms with detailed stencilling on linen wallpaper! This extravagant show of wealth cost at the time an estimated in £20,000! just for the decoration and was used for a single wedding and lay untouched for several generations.

Now this beautifully decorated cafe serving coffee and cake, just cries out for Fika time, reminded me of our much loved National Trust tea rooms back at home.

Back down the E4

Margo has been doing a sterling job and deserves the downtime at the rest stop just south of Älvkarleö, after all the hard driving down from Abisko and is grateful to be back on the familiar smooth E4 highway as we continue to head south.

After 37 days on the road Margo certainly needed a wash. It took 4 lots of tokens to get her looking respectable. Perhaps without all the weight of the caked-on stone dust she’ll go even faster.

Uppsala

Uppsala is one of Sweden’s oldest cities. Today, Uppsala is one of Sweden’s four major cities and is world renowned for its universities, its magnificent cathedral and the legacy of Carl Linnaeus the famous Swedish botanist, who formalised the modern system of naming organism called binomial nomenclature. (For example, humans belong to the genus Homo and within this genus to the species Homo sapiens).. I bet ya didn’t know that?

The Uppsala sky line is dominated by the Domkyrkan Cathedral although one of the twin spires was under restoration that meant the view was spoilt a bit by the scaffolding and the crane. At the heart of the historic centre the Manchester style red brick exterior gave it an ordinary appearance but inside was, as you would expect, a more impressive space.

Like so many places we have been in Northern Europe cycling and the extensive provision of cycle routes is an integral part of town and city planning. The right of way of pedestrians over cars takes some getting used to, but when crossing the road it feels very safe, as all drivers are constantly aware that people walking, cycling or riding a e scooter take precedence over cars at junctions where there are no traffic lights.

According to the syllabus a suitably convivial venue has to be found to Fika. The Güntherska Konditori provided excellent cakes with an sheltered outdoor setting. Tick

The next day our cycle ride to us to Konditori Fågelsången where cake and much Fika companionableness was enjoyed.

Forgive me if the ditty below is not completely PC but seems appropriate for life in Margo 🙂

Sat nav

I have a little Satnav, It sits there in my car

A Satnav is a driver’s friend, It tells you where you are

I have a little Satnav, I’ve had it all my life

It’s better than the normal ones, My Satnav is my wife

It gives me full instructions, Especially how to drive

“It’s thirty miles an hour”, it says, “You’re doing thirty five”

It tells me when to stop and start, And when to use the brake

And tells me that it’s never ever, Safe to overtake

It tells me when a light is red, And when it goes to green

It seems to know instinctively, Just when to intervene

It lists the vehicles just in front, And all those to the rear

And taking this into account, It specifies my gear.

I’m sure no other driver, Has so helpful a device

For when we leave and lock the car, It still gives its advice

It fills me up with counselling, Each journey’s pretty fraught

So why don’t I exchange it, And get a quieter sort?

Ah well, you see, it cleans the house, Makes sure I’m properly fed,

It washes all my shirts and things, And keeps me warm in bed!

Despite all these advantages, And my tendency to scoff

I only wish that now and then, I could turn the bugger off.

Found on FB by Lesley

Right time to head for the ferry to discover whether Estonians have an equivalent to Fika…

Toddle Pip

Dave & Lesley

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Into the wilderness

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 hectares of 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.

Yes that’s Norway beyond the lake.

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.

Margo’s mates at Stekenjokk

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.

Property for sale – This authentic ‘Barn Style’ home is set in an idyllic location surrounded by wilderness, would benefit from some cosmetic updating…!
Hällingsfallet is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Sweden located in a 800 meter long canyon. The Hällingsån river thunders down in a single drop over 43 metres. Standing at the top with no barrier to take this photo got me ole ticker racing a bit.

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!

Toodle Pip

Dave & Lesley

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Start all over again

“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.

Abisko

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.

Lesley at one of the distinctive way marker points along the route of the Kings Trail (only another 399km to go!)

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!

Sami in Lapland

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…!

Jokkmokk

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.

Arjeplog

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.

The wet, dusty, ungraded roads soon caked Margo in a protective layer of grey dust.

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.

Right,

“let’s dust Margo off and start all over again”.

Toodle Pip

Dave & Lesley

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Norway – No way

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.

Border police 26 kms into Norway

Because the UK is no longer in the EU, the NHS COVID Pass is not compatible with the European CoronaPass. I don’t blame the Norwegian border police they are just doing their job. They scan the QR code on your phone and the NHS code is not verifiable. After driving 3,500 miles we were (are) gutted. It’s no consolation whatsoever but Swiss registered vehicles were faced with the same outcome as their Coronapas system is not yet fully integrated with the EU one…

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.

Toodle Pip

Dave & Lesley