Latvia, Rīga

So I know I have said it a few times so far on our journey but I really did fall in love with Latvia. I am so, SO surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It is a stunningly beautiful country, a huge coastline and so much greenery.

To start we stayed at a fabulous beachside family run campsite in Tūja. It was simply stunning. The beach was fabulously untouched and deserted. The sun was beaming down on us, it couldn’t have been more perfect.

We had a couple of days just enjoying the beach and sunbathing. Difficult to believe that a couple of weeks ago we were wrapped up in big winter coats and boots and literally freezing. We had a wardrobe changeover and put all our winter clothes and shoes into retirement and brought out our spring/summer collection (happy memories of Bali and Singapore came flooding back).

The sunshine stayed with us as we traveled south to Rīga. The sun wasn’t the city’s crowning glory, it’s just a really enjoyable place to be. We loved walking around the city, there is a tonne of cafés, bars & restaurants and most have al fresco dining, it’s perfect for enjoying the sunshine and coffees, local beers and eating the Latvian potato pancakes.

The narrowest street in Rīga

The city is a UNESCO world heritage site and so photogenic. We took a day to do a walking tour. We went to all the recommended sites and enjoyed all Rīga had to offer. It’s a great weekend city break, lots to see and eating and drinking is pretty cheap, it has a very Southern European feel to it.

Coffee from the Key to Rīga restaurant, served with a cute little key cookie

The campsite wasn’t the best we had stayed at so far but it was functional and only a couple of kilometres to walk to the old town.

The RV had to go into the garage for the day as we had a big problem with the windscreen, we were lucky it was such a lovely day and perfect for hanging in the park eating cherries we had bought at the central market and enjoying a lovely lunch in the square.

The boys chose lunch at the famous pancake store in the centre of the old town. Traditional potato pancakes with sour cream and lingonberry jam and meat filled pancakes, served by weight. They had a really yummy meal for €6 !

Jon and I opted for some local beers

The cherry beer is my favourite 🍒

To summarise, Rīga is a great mix of old and new, it hasn’t been taken over by too many global brands yet and still has a very Latvian feel, it’s the ideal setting for a glass of wine and some chilled beetroot soup whilst soaking up the sunshine. I would definitely recommend a trip to this capital city, it ticked all our boxes.

Estonia

Lahemaa National Park is 70km east of Tallinn. Approx 50% of Estonia is covered in forest, it is considered a forest nation and we were keen to experience the several thousand year old forests. So we spent a night camping on the coast, looking out at the gulf of Finland.

The Estonians take great pride in their forests and the time and money invested in the trails is evident. We took an educational tour of the forest, the trail was really well marked and along the way there were information boards written in Estonian with English translation. We learnt about the forest habitat and the different species of birds and animals that inhabit the Estonian forests, from wild boar to brown bears. The Estonians believe that trees have souls so it was a great time to relax and enjoy the walk in a really peaceful setting.

We stumbled across the Word Forest in Oandu which celebrates journalists from all over the world. Each of the trees is dedicated to a journalist that has visited the forest since Estonia regained its independence in 1991.

We headed back to Tallinn for one last look. One of my ‘must do’s’ whilst in Tallinn is to visit the KGB Prison Cells located at 1 Pagari. It was quite sobering to visit the site of such atrocities, the boys were really saddened by what they learnt. The Estonians have preserved the cells so well that you really feel quite scared when you are inside that you might get trapped.

After an emotional visit to the KGB cells we visited the oldest café in Tallinn.

After one final night in Estonia we headed south to Pärnu, which was sunny and bright although there wasn’t a huge amount to do…….except relax, enjoy the sunshine and have a coffee……

It was time to head to our 10th country…..let’s go Latvia 🇱🇻

Estonia, Tallinn 💙🖤

Leaving Helsinki was pretty tough, I have to admit I had become quite settled and was really enjoying our time there, just simple things like taking Lester to one of the many great dog parks around the city and having some time to potter around the RV and get little jobs done, even indulging in a day just reading a book in bed and drinking endless cups of coffee. But it was time to move on. I was excited about this part of our journey as the Baltic region had always fascinated me. Our ferry journey to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia was super smooth. It has been a real experience travelling across Scandinavia on car ferry’s and this leg of our trip was just as enjoyable.

We have noticed that for the folks in this region it’s more about the experience of the journey, it’s almost like it is a cruise. So when we boarded at 10.00 in the morning (we had just finished our breakfast) people were ordering bottles of champagne and wine and huge main meals of meatballs and steaks. The tax free shopping is a massive part of the journey too, especially when the alcohol is so expensive in Finland.

We get to park with the ‘big boys’ on the ferry – it was quite a tight squeeze !

Once we arrived we headed straight for our campsite which was a short drive from the city. It was a really pleasant evening and the campsite was attached to a community project where they had a small petting zoo, so the boys and I enjoyed getting aquatinted with the animals.

The next morning we headed straight for Tallinn and we went to the medieval city. We had been blessed again with beautiful blue skies and sunshine. The perfect weather to stroll along the cobbled streets within the walled town.

It is a stunning area and such a photogenic part of the city

We knew we wanted to sample some medieval cuisine and found the perfect place to satisfy our needs, located in the main square, the restaurant is called Olde Hansa, it’s a gorgeous 15th century building, with authentic cuisine and serving staff dressed in traditional costume.

Enjoying the honey beer

Inside the restaurant is completely lit by candles

Joe enjoyed his wild boar sausages and smoked sauerkraut

I had the traditional bread with pâté and caramelised onion chutney

Jon had his dried elk meat – it came wrapped in a small cloth pouch. I think he had been expecting something slightly larger 🤣

The staff are really friendly, our waiter even brought a bone for Lester to enjoy

After we finished our meal we had a look around the store, they have all the medieval serving dishes and goblets and they even sell the candied nuts and chutneys

Joe buying some spiced candied almonds from the cart outside the restaurant

After our trip to the old town we took a drive out to Keila Waterfall, it is the third most powerful waterfall in Estonia and a really lovely setting.

The drive to the waterfalls was stunning

It was a fun afternoon and really helped us get over our the sadness we had felt leaving Helsinki, how quickly you can fall in love with a new place when the sun is shining and there is such beautiful scenery to enjoy.

Finland, Helsinki

I have to admit I’ve never met anyone who has visited Helsinki before and therefore had no idea what to expect. Campsites were a bit sparse but there was a huge purpose built one just a few kilometres from the city centre which became our base for a week. One thing we’ve learnt since we’ve been on the road is that traveling isn’t all a staged Instagram photo world and with two teenagers, two vehicles and a bulldog it is important to have access to the normal world through decent campsites that provide you with a laundrette, good WiFi, big showers…….

In addition to this we took the boys to Linnanmäki Amusement Park for the day. With its rollercoasters and log flume there’s nothing uniquely Finnish or memorable about it at all but we simply wanted to give the boys a fun day out to just be kids and enjoy themselves.

We ended up spending a week in Helsinki, way more time than we had expected but we soon realised that Helsinki has loads to offer.

A great day spent at Suomenlinna, an 18th century sea fortress just a short ferry ride away from the city. It was nice to stroll around the islands and enjoy a picnic, fortunately it wasn’t busy the day we visited and since dogs are free on the ferry, Lester had a day out too !

Helsinki turned out to be surprisingly very cool. During our time there we experienced all different weather which has a big impact on how you see a place. On one of the sunnier days we visited the zoo. It’s not the biggest zoo in the world but it is a cool place. It’s an island zoo, which in itself was different from any other zoo I’ve visited before.

We had a look around the Rock church…it is exactly what it says on the tin…a church built into a rock.

A ‘must do’ in Helsinki would be to take a trip out to the Fazer factory for the tour and outlet experience. The chocolate is amazing – we picked up a couple of bars to see us through !

Finally, Jon and I discovered this gorgeous restaurant right near the harbour called Kappeli. Steeped in history this restaurant is wonderful. We visited it a couple of times first for coffee then for the legendary Salmon soup.

A seriously good looking city, which has a little something for everyone.

Unless you fly it’s not an easy place to get to, but trust me it is well worth a visit. Anywhere that makes heart shaped rye bread is definitely worth a visit in my book 💙

Hyvästi Suomi 🇫🇮 Kiitos 💙

Sweden, Stockholm ♥️ sunshine and springtime fun, you put a smile on our face and warmth in our hearts

On our way to Stockholm we stopped off in an idyllic little town called Mariefred, there is a really stunning castle sitting on Lake Mälaren called Gripsholm Castle and you can walk around the grounds to the castle, we were really lucky to have such good weather when we were there.

It was a good place to just chill and have a coffee before the final leg of our journey to Stockholm.

Stockholm, the city of pretty much everything. The contrast of old and new, a modern sophisticated city mixed with the traditional old town all connected by big underground tunnels. The city and the people are just so effortlessly cool.

We stayed about 30 minutes from Stockholm in a secluded wooded campsite on the edge of lake Flaten. A huge frozen lake surrounded by trees, there was a footpath along side the lake and right by the entrance to the campsite was a beach.

The weather was absolutely fantastic, brilliant blue cloudless skies and springtime cool air our campsite was in a perfect place, an ideal spot to BBQ.

And a fab spot for a run and some awesome scenery to capture with the drone.

The old town, Gamla Stan is as beautiful as the guide books say, with narrow alleys in between brightly coloured shops and cobbled streets.

The following day we decided to check out the Vasa Museum which was a great shout. A really educational experience, the boys enjoyed learning about how the Vasa had been built and then sunk on its maiden voyage in 1628 and recovered from the bottom of the sea over 330 years later. We learned how it had been restored and preserved.

The Swedes love the sun and as soon as it comes out they will head for any tiny bit of light they can find to sunbathe and soak up the rays. So, as we learnt when the sun is out you need to make the most of it and go outdoors, walking, eating, drinking, sitting with friends and chatting just simply enjoying the sun.

So that’s exactly what we did, we had a lovely walk along the harbour to the ABBA museum and then basked in the sunshine enjoying fish and chips.

Springtime flowers 💐

I’m so glad we were able to take this route and experience Stockholm. It’s been a really enjoyable and relaxing week in Sweden. We are really excited about our next destination, country No. 8 Finland.

Norway, Stavanger

Our first day in Stavanger and the girls and I hung out, we did some shopping and went for coffee. It was a lot of fun hanging out with them especially after spending so much time surrounded by boys.

It was a time to reflect, it’s difficult to believe that just over 14 years ago I met Nina days after we had both given birth to our first children, Joe and Andrine. Little did we know when we were SO young and first time expats in Kuala Lumpur we would still be friends today.

As expats you meet many people from all over the world and from all walks of life…friends come and go, occasionally though you meet those people who become like family. They are embedded into your life, you share your children’s first steps with them, birthdays, tears and happiness, lunches, dinners, late nights, holidays and so much more. Well I can safely say Nina is one of those friends, I feel really lucky to have the Jacobsens in our life.

Joe with Andrine, his first ever friend, 14 years on…..

We had been looking forward to this part of our trip for so long now, Nina, Hein & the kids had planned a lot for us. The first trip was skiing. It was an early start on Tuesday and a beautiful day to head up into the mountains.

Nina, Hein and the kids were awesome teachers and Joe and Mikey were skiing in no time. Mikey and Aleksander headed up together and were zipping down all day. Hein took Joe right up to the highest point and they made their way down slowly.

Needless to say Jon and I didn’t join in, we were chief coffee drinkers, bag carriers and photographers, we didn’t want to risk Jon injuring himself, a broken arm or leg could have put a stop to our trip for weeks so we relaxed and enjoyed watching the kids having fun.

Aleksander had worn Mikey out on the slalom and we hadn’t been in the car long before he totally passed out.

It had been a full on day and we were all ready for an early night. Wednesday we planned to take a trip to Stavanger before heading to Haugesund on Thursday for the Easter weekend.

The streets in Stavanger are cobbled and the shops & colourful restaurants are so delightful. After lunch we had a walk around the old part of the city where there are these lovely little white wooden cottages. The old fishing houses now form a conservation area and in the summer the streets are full of flowers.

We decided to give the canning museum a miss (!) and instead the kids took Jon and Hein out for a football match – it turns out Team Sandham needs a bit more practice, we lost to The Norwegians !!

Next stop Auklandshamn & Haugesund for Easter.

Sweden, Gothenburg 🇸🇪 Time for Fika ❤️

Fika, a concept in Swedish culture with the basic meaning ‘to have coffee’ usually accompanied with cake, cookies, pie or sandwiches and shared with friends or family. Yesterday was a day of Fika.

Whilst we were visiting Gothenburg my cousin recommended Brogyllen a gorgeous coffee shop to try out their cakes. Such a great place to sit back and relax and watch the world go by.

The cakes were truly delicious, the Semla buns were so light yet full of almond paste that wasn’t completely smooth and had bits of almonds and topped with fresh whipped cream, the dough was soft with small pieces of cardamom running through it.

The boys are huge lovers of Kanelbullar, Swedish cinnamon buns. They prefer these to the American style ones as they are less sweet and they like the mix of cinnamon and cardamom and the crunchy pearl sugar on top.

After our coffee break we decided to download the city walking tour app and walked off the sweet treats.

We had a a lovely stroll, I love the fact that although the streets are cobbled the Swedes have also laid larger paving slabs alongside the cobbles to walk on so you don’t lose your heels. Thank goodness! – my boots survived.

Fiskekyrkan – Fish church. The fish market

Last night was the favourite part of my day, we had been invited over for dinner by my cousin Nick. He had prepared a Smörgåsbord for us. It was so lovely to chat over wine and talk about life and our family history.

More cake………

What a day !

Tonight, as we watched another fresh blanket of snow falling………

I really enjoyed our time in Gothenburg but I don’t feel like I’m done with Sweden yet, hopefully we will have more time on the way back to visit Stockholm.

I feel like I got my hygge-on in Gothenburg, the fika and spending time with family was totally hyggelig 💖

Tack så mycket Gothenburg and hope to see you again soon Sweden.