Saturday 7 February 2015

Our Scandinavia Tour

Our Scandinavia Tour

After anticipating for such a long time and after much preparation we finally set off on the night of the 9th of June 2014. Slept in our campervan at Folkstone, waiting to catch the 5.50 train across the channel.

DAY 1 

We got up nice and early on the 10th of June to cross over into France.
Did a bit of shopping at the  Lidl in Dunkerque and we hit the road at 8.30 central European time. Crossed a hot Germany at 33 degrees Celsius, almost all the way, and arrived at 9pm at the port to get the ferry to Denmark.

By paying 92 Euros we were allowed to make the short crossing over to Denmark. A bit pricey but....hey, we are in Scandinavia now.

Finding a great lay-by (parking) to have dinner and sleep for the night with clean toilets and drinking water was our compensation. The Danes have redeemed themselves.
First day over; all's well, thank God.


Drove to Copenhagen and found free parking 4km from the centre. On our bicycles we've reached the centre and spent the day sightseeing. Thousands and millions of people on bicycles made us feel part of the crowd. I had to learn to ride in a polite manner, lifting my hand if I were to stop so the others didn't come crashing on me. 

The highland of Copenhagen, for me, was Nyhaven. A small little canal port with many old wooden sailboats and colourful houses and cafés.

The greatest dissapointment was Christiania, what once was a colourful hippy community now reduced to a drug den.

Left for Stockholm now and soon after we left Copenhagen, we found ourselves in a long tunnel and on the longest bridge I've ever been. On the other side of the bridge we were in Sweden. The crossing toll was about £40.
We drove until we got on the E4 and then stopped at a  parking space for the night. 

There were several campervans that had parked there and I got to talk with Eric, who is a Fin and does the journey a couple of times a year. He told me that there are over 300 of these parking places on the E4, excellent places to stop and rest. Judging by the few that we visited, they are a fair distance from the motorway and separate from the petrol stations. They are quiet and offer picnic benches and toilets. What else does someone travelling on a shoestring need?


We drove toward Stockholm on our 3rd day stopping on route here and there.

We experienced one of those divine coincidences as we got off the motorway to see Swedish rural life. We saw a procession of school children holding flags, accompanied by teachers in national costume,led by a violinist at the head of the procession. It was all so beautiful! Never have I seen a procession to the melody of a sole violin.

The procession ended at the church were prayers of thanksgiving were offered for the end of another school year.

This time we went to sleep for the night out in the country 7 km from the motorway. It was so quite and beautiful. Lying on the bed listening to the birds and the gentle rain.

I'm persuaded that this must be the best therapy against stress and hectic living. What a joy!!


Day 4 was spent sightseeing in Stockholm. We used our bicycles again to get around the capital city of Sweden, with it's grand buildings.

The change of guard was one of the interesting sights.
As beautiful as cities can be still for me they can never compare with the great outdoors that God made and we were soon to see so much of that.


   Had an early night on day 4, spending the night as pictured here.
At at 5am as we were about to start the van in order to go and catch our ferry to Finland, we found that we had left our lights on all night. The battery was flat and the van wouldn't start...

Thankfully it was a slight down-hill road and attempted to kick-start it. We kept pushing and jumping in to start it.

Just as the road was coming to an end at the bottom of the hill, at attempt No 3,


 Another miracle of God!! We caught our ferry on time and here's the picture to prove it.

"Sorry, we are keeping the engine on, we are not trying to be awkward."

Day 5 we travelled on the ferry from Stockholm (Sweden) to Turku (Finland).

Crossing the Stockholm archipelago with its thousands of islands and later navigating through the Arland islands was just fascinating! They were so pretty and picturesque with their red houses, the green trees and the blue sea and sky. 

In Turku (and in Helsinki as well, as we were later to find) we came across many neo-classical buildings.

We felt kinda proud of our heritage thinking that the influence of Greek architecture has reached Finland.

Spent the night here, somewhere in between Turku and Helsinki. Went to bed at 11pm and the sun was about to set.
Next morning we found that this place had everything we needed: A tap to attach our hose and fill our 75 lt water tank. A place to empty our chemical toilet. Showers to wash our dirt. All free! God bless the Fins.


Sunday 15 June 

On day 6 we are visiting Helsinki, the 3rd Capital city in this journey.
Pictured here on the steps of Helsinki Cathedral. A Lutheran church.

In Helsinki, we came across this busker who was making the most beautiful music using a number of glass bottles. What an amazing guy!
Check out his website.

Heading for the Arctic Circe now and leaving Helsinki we spent the night here at Tavkoputa. We kept the windows tightly shut to keep the mosquitoes out... Thankfully it was cool enough and didn't need to open any windows.


The long journey north.

Day 7 from Helsinki to Roveniemi. The village of Santa Claus, right at the Arctic Circle.
We certainly have come a long way in just one week!

Driving through Jyvaskyla we saw a sign pointing to the "Greek Orthodox Church". We decided to visit.
A wonderful man, called Beka, an Orthodox Fin, showed us around the church and shared some of the history

Bought at the supermarket the most amazing smoked rainbow trout and the slow-cooked-on-wood salmon.
Amazing dinner!

Visited Oulu, on the north, west coast of Finland

Adventure/Challenge No. 2:

We drove through a big storm and then strong winds and then...
As a lorry passed us by with the impact of the wind, we've lost our roof skylight. The hole was temporarily covered with a Marks and Spencer's shopping bag.

Later we drove to a town to see if we could find a shop where we could buy something like a metal tray to temporarily fix the whole on the roof of the van.
Came our of the supermarket having found nothing. Just on the other side of the car park I saw a pile of rubbish.
What can we find in this rubbish pile?

A piece of steel...

...just the right size for the roof skylight.
How can I not believe in God?
Some say: coincidence. I say: divine coincidence.

We drove on towards Roveniemi on the E75 a beautiful tranquil road. It's quite late in the day now but of course there's plenty of sunlight up here.

After 11 am and we have arrived at the Arctic Circle. Still broad daylight, of course.

Yeeeeeeay!! Thanks be to God.
I have crossed the Arctic Circle and I can see the midnight sun.


After breakfast on Day 8, it was time to mend the hole that the lost skylight has left...
Another divine coincidence that I had just the right basic tools to cut the steel plate and fix it.

After that we went for a walk about Santa Claus village and explored some walks in the forest nearby.
I had brought some fishing gear and wanted to fish but...
...there were too many mosquitoes and unless we kept moving we were going to be savagely bitten. 

In the evening of Day 8, we drove from Roveniemi to Kalix (Sweden) where we spent the night.
We spent the night by the river as pictured here. We were right next to a camp site but even here there was no sign forbidding free camping. 
Scandinavia must certainly be a free-campers paradise.


Day 9: From Kalix to Ostersund
Travelling within Sweden heading south west.

For an outsider, this seems to be the dream place to live. Of course we don't know what the reality is.... How do people cope in the winter?

One of our secret hopes, as we visited Scandinavia, was that we would see some wild reindeer. And on day 9 we saw them again and again crossing the road as we drove through this remote part of the country.

The end of another day!
Not that you would know it unless you look at the clock. If you wait till it's dark before you can go to sleep, I'm afraid that you will not sleep for days. Closing all our curtains makes it cosy and dark enough to go to sleep.

This is where we spent the night, just outside a church by a river. One of the joys of free-camping is that you can pick the spot you like to spent the night, not the hotel you booked.

DAY 10

On Thursday 19 June 2004, Day 10 of our Scandinavia tour we crossed over in to Norway.
 We drove from Ostersund to Trondheim.

Trondheim, the city where several Norwegian kings were coronated, and this is the church in which it happened. The cathedral dedicated to St Oslav, missionary to the Vikings.

Again we found a great place to spend the night by a peaceful river. It was a wet night but we were nice and dry in the van.

DAY 11

Day 11 Trondheim to Aalesund, the city where my cousin Stratos and his family live. Unfortunately they were on a holiday to Greece and we could not visit them.

On the way the fjords provided some stunning scenery. We were in awe! We took picture after picture but you just cannot capture the grandeur

The journey included many ferry crossings, thankfully not too expensive. 
Because of this the journeys in Norway were much slower than the other countries we visited. You just could not cover the number of miles we did in previous days.

The Atlantic Ocean Road or Atlanterhavsvegen was an exceptional route. A road that joins a number of small islands.

Yet not picture can capture the beauty or explain this very exceptional road unless it's taken from above. So I borrow this picture from the web.

In Aalesund now. Climbed hundreds of steps to see it from up high.

Another great place to spend the "night".
It was quite dramatic with a cloud covered mountain sticking up out of the sea.

DAY 12
Aalesund to Bergen

Some really beautiful places!
These flowers (of which I don't know the name) were to be found on the side of the road everywhere in Scandinavia.

On the earth and covered by earth.
Anna was fascinated with these little houses in this part of the world and she kept taking photos of them. The earth on the roof probably provides good insulation.

A lovely couple going to a wedding in their national costumes. 
-Have you ever been to Greece? Anna asked

- We've been to Creta, they replied.

We found that Crete is very popular destination for our Scandinavian friends.

Sightseeing Bergen our way. Using our bikes, rather than using a sight-seeing bus.
Yes there's probably things that they can show you that you might not see and they may tell you things that you may not otherwise find out but... the end of the day, there's only this much information that my humble little brain can store.
So, I might as well jump on my old bike and enjoy the ride.

Bergen was quite a pretty little city.

In the Bergen fish market all sort of fish and sea food was sold. I bought some whale meat to eat. Not that I agree with the over-fishing of whales but I thought that I will try it just once in a lifetime.

VERY tired on Saturday night, we finally found a place to stay by the quiet railway station.
The end of day 12

DAY 13
Across the mountains towards Oslo

Sunday 22 June, Day 13, and beginning to feel tired. All the miles driven are finally caching up with us...
It is the Lord's day anyway, so we decided to take it easy today. Tried to go to church but we found the door closed. We either arrived too late, or there was no service...
We found sanctuary in this wonderful place by a lake.

In the evening we set off again to cover a few miles. Stopped at this station for fuel and... free water.
It was probably the best water we had in this journey; straight out of the mountain with a pipe to this station.
Throughout this tour, just when we were getting low on water, we always found a place to fill up our tank and our bottles. 

We didn't have to buy any water in our entire journey, save in France on the first day because we wanted the bottles. And a good thing it was that we bought those bottles because as we drove through Germany, on that first day, our thermometer read 33 degrees Celcius... The only hot day of the tour.

And this is what it looked like behind the petrol station!

We were now soon to drive through the longest drivable tunnel in the world.

In the long dark tunnel through the earth, there were a few nice lighted spaces like this one.
Truly a welcome break.

Out on high ground now and snow still lying in June.
A different yet beautiful scenery.

Another good place to spend the night, with some other birds of the same feather; free-camping lovers. 
Night does not mean dark in these parts, of course, you've only got your clock to tell you that it's night-time. If we depended on the absence of daylight we wouldn't have slept for days.
The end of day 13

DAY 14

The day we visited Oslo and crossed back in to Sweden

This must be one of the best photos we took in Norway!

Visited Oslo and the park of the sculpures all created by just one man. Frogner Park contains, in its present centre, the world famous Vigeland installation (Norwegian: Vigelandsanlegget), a permanent sculpure installation created by Gustav Vigeland between the 1920s and 1943

And again the palace of the Norwegian monarchs. Any resemblance to Greek architecture? -- Neo-classical!!

And how about this?
Parthenon perhaps?

And the Oslo Opera House.
It breaks away from tradition.

And the sad news:
We got a 500 Kronas (£50) parking ticket for parking less the 5 metres from the corner.... A sad memory of Oslo. Norway was the most expensive part of our tour, with their tolls, their very steep prices...and now the parking ticket.

Norway offered the most dramatic scenery and it would have been a shame to miss it, but if you are on a very tight budget, you'll do well to avoid it.

DAY 15 & 16

On Day 15 we drove to Gothenburg to visit Jakob, Annelie and Alfred. We knew Annelie as a gap year student placed with us at the Hammersmith Salvation Army.
 We arrived early afternoon at their home and stayed with them until the evening of the next day.

Their kind hospitality was a welcome break from staying in the van for 2 weeks.

While in Gothenburg we visited Götheborg, a sailing replica of an 18th-century Swedish East Indiaman and the world's largest operational wooden sailing vessel. All sailors survived when the original ship sank off Gothenburg, Sweden, on 12 September 1745, while approaching the harbour on her return from a third voyage to China

At the end of day 16 we took the ferry back to Denmark; from Gothenburg (Sweden)  to Frederikshavn (Denmark).
We arrived just before midnight and stopped for the night.

A photo from the ferry.

DAY 17

On our way back now ready to drive on the 17th day of our tour. It's Thursday 26 June. 
Soon after we started...

Very noisy.  What have we got here? A broken exhaust...
Another opportunity for God to do a miracle?! This is the privilege of driving an old van, you are in a position to be utterly dependant on God.
We decided to drive into Germany and visit a garage to get it fixed.
After trying 5 different garages, we very reluctantly stopped at a Ford dealer's. Let's just get a price...
The van was taken in, lifted and checked. "A part will have to be replaced" said the owner... I can have the part tomorrow morning".
"Sorry" I said, "we have a ferry to catch tomorrow back to the UK".
Would you like me to have a go at temporarily welding it?"

 - "Yes, please" I said. 
"Ask how much, first", Anna said. 
"We'll pay whatever they ask, now" I said.

Half an hour later he gives me the keys and says: "It's fixed... free of charge"... How can I not believe in God? God bless that man.

We drove safely back home in Kent.

And that's it!
The end of our Scandinavia adventure!
An once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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