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 💙

Finland, Turku

We have spent a whole week in Finland relaxing and enjoying the many walking trails near our campsite just outside a town called Säkylä.

Säkylä is a small town about 60km north of Turku, there are a couple of supermarkets, a grilli (Finnish BBQ fast food take away) and an all important Alko, which is the state run alcohol shop where you can buy wine and any other alcoholic beverages with an alcohol content above 5%.

We had learnt from other blogs that rather than looking for tourist attractions we should try experiences to really appreciate Finland. The first was to enjoy the indoor BBQ experience, such a simple concept and total genius!

The quintessentially Finnish experience and top of my ‘must do whilst in Finland’ list would be to take a sauna. It is not just a wonderfully warming and relaxing experience but a necessity in a country like this where the weather can be so cold and harsh in winter. We realised that this was such an effective way of thawing out, especially if you have been working outside the whole day in the snow. We hadn’t been working outside in the snow all day obviously but we enjoyed it all the same. The campsite had wooden cabins with private saunas which was perfect and was easy enough to light it by ourselves too.

So having grilled like a local, warmed up like a local and eaten like a local we were ready to head out to the city of Turku and what better way to experience something truly Finnish than to go to an ice hockey game. By chance it was the play offs between Turku and Helsinki. So, tickets booked we were ready for the Friday night match in Turku.

We started our day in Turku with brilliant sunshine it was fantastic and we went straight to the city square to stroll around the market place.

Finland has surprised me in that it’s not quite Scandinavian and not quite Eastern European but a mix of the two with a slight Russian influence. I had been expecting it to be more Scandinavian although I’m not quite sure why. The language sounds very different and the feel of the place is very unique. It has been interesting moving east and seeing and hearing the subtle differences in language and Finland has taken it just a step further from Norway and Sweden.

The food is quite different too, much to Jon’s annoyance as soon as we arrive in a new country (or city) I have to check out the supermarket. It’s my favourite thing to do, it teaches you so much about a place, what foods are available, is there an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, what kind of meats are on offer and I found in Finland they eat grilled meats so the meats in the supermarket tend to be thinly sliced and some are marinated, ready to pop on the grill. In the Netherlands it was all about the cooked sliced meats, cheeses and antipasto ingredients like olives and pickles. In France it was very much cheese and meats and baguettes. Germany was very heavy on the sausages, Norway wasn’t so focused on fresh fruit and vegetables but had a big variety of salami and convenience foods, there wasn’t a huge selection of products either. Whereas in Sweden there was a good variety of every product, about 60 cold meats and salad condiments. The price of foods is also a big give away as to the cost of living. Also, what is most noticeable in the Scandinavian countries is the lack of alcohol in the supermarkets. You have to buy wine and spirits from state run stores with very strict operating hours and set prices.

The bakery section (my heaven)…the breads and baked goods fascinate me, each country we have visited so far has a very different offering of bread and baked treats. As we have moved further north east the breads have become darker and darker. I have become addicted to all things rye. The dark rye bread rolls are delicious filled with thin slices of ham and cheese salad and the flavoured rye crisps are so good. My absolute favourite thing to eat are these Karelian pies. They are really good, small but filling little pies with a rye crust and a salty rice filling. You can get different toppings and the rye content in the pie crust varies.

The Finns are super proud of their chocolate too, the most famous brand here being Fazer, I have to say it is superb. It’s so creamy, smooth and decadently rich. We’ve been sampling all the delicious Fazer goodies, mostly wafers covered in chocolate with various fillings. All very tasty especially the Kismet Omar with a toffee cream filling.

We had a coffee at the Karl Fazer café before heading to the castle. The coffees were average but what we really enjoyed were the truffle filled chocolates that accompanied them.

Turku castle is beautiful, it sits on a hill looking out over the docks where the Viking ferry’s arrive and depart. Today was a great day to visit it as it was crowned by the sunlight.

The castle grounds made a perfect picnic spot.

Next on our list was the boat museum. Jon and the boys were really excited about this, however, boats aren’t really my thing (my actual words were “I’d rather eat my own foot than go to a boat museum”) so I opted for a chilled glass of white and some time in the sun just watching the world go by.

Finally we found a great spot on the east bank of the river Aura to enjoy some pre game dinner. A relatively new restaurant housed inside a freighter boat serving street food, pitas stuffed full of grilled meats and vegetables and juicy chicken skewers. There is also a bar on board too.

Then to the Gatorade Centre for the game. I have to be honest none of us knew what was going on, we’ve never been to an ice hockey match before and are unlikely to ever go again but it was a fun night. We were cheering for Turku, simply because we had spent the day exploring the city so we felt a slight affinity to the team.

A great end to a great day, kiitos Turku you were a real treat.

Next let’s see what Helsinki has to offer……

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, Hardangerfjord & Folgefonna

The last leg of our Norwegian adventure took us back to Auklandshamn.

We drove back towards Haugesund in heavy snowfall just a couple of days after having the most amazing weather over the Easter weekend and now everything was covered in a blanket of snow.

It was quite surreal looking at everything covered in snow and at the same time really amazing to have experienced this magical place in what felt like every season. We couldn’t resist building a snowman on the deck where we had been sunbathing just days earlier. It was a really relaxing afternoon, we cooked brownies and had freshly brewed coffee, we played some family games and took the dog for a walk.

The reason for our return was to see just a little bit more of the country we had fallen in love with. Hardangerfjord and Fogelfonna National Parks had been recommended to us so we packed up the drone and got our picnic basket ready.

The drive was fantastic and the scenery was so dramatic.

Our first stop was Odda in Hordaland, a secluded town in the valley surrounded by huge rock faces and sitting on the edge of a beautiful fjord.

The waterfalls are pretty spectacular and partially frozen when we saw them

Låtefoss (route 13)

Furebergsfossen

We saw the old postal road by Nærøyfjord, unfortunately it was too icy for us to walk

We started to drive across the Bergen to Oslo road which is said to be Europe’s greatest mountain plateau, it was heaped with snow and the ski lifts were carrying skiers up the slopes. We had made it a long way in Norway already without winter tyres and were beginning to think we shouldn’t push our luck and continue on so without risking getting caught on the mountain roads we headed back towards Auklandshamn.

Such a great end to our time in Norway 💙

Koselig – a way of life

Whilst on our travels I have been learning about customs and cultures in the different countries we have visited so far. I recently discovered the concept of Hygge in Denmark and in Norway  I have discovered the Norwegians have taken this concept to a whole new level.

Koselig, is about making things just a little bit more enjoyable. It’s about feeling cosy, it’s about good food, wine, candles and being warm & enjoying time with family and friends. It’s about hot chocolate, fresh coffee, huge amounts of cake and candy. It’s about snuggling up under a blanket and spending time with people that make you happy. It’s about melting marshmallows over a campfire and eating fresh popcorn and freshly baked brownies.

All these things sum up our trip to Auklandshamn in Nina and Hein’s holiday cabin. It’s about 40 minutes north of Haugesund. The boys and I had been before and had fantastic memories of the time we had spent there in 2015.

When we had been before the summer had given us beautiful sunsets over the sea and long days fishing off the deck at the cabin and this trip did not disappoint either. We were so lucky with the weather, the sky was completely cloudless and blue when we arrived and the sun was shining, it was cool and sunny, just perfect for the Easter weekend.

(2015)

(2018)

On the ferry, we recreated the picture taken 3 years ago, it’s so special for us to share this time again especially now Jon is with us.

We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Auklandshamn, we were welcomed by Nina & Hein’s family and so well taken care of by everyone. Such a wonderfully relaxing and enjoyable place.

Marie, Hein’s sister lives high up on the hillside overlooking the cabin.

A glass of cava and an amazing view, what more could you ask for?

The fishing trip proved unsuccessful, no fish but loads of fun.

The Easter egg hunt proved successful

………….and Jon was feeling very chilled

A spot of fishing

Sunshine and smiles

It really doesn’t get any better than THIS – Tussen Tak you scrumptious bunch, you’ve made us truly understand the concept of koselig ❤️ these memories have found a very special place in our heart.

Interesting fact – A Norwegian Easter tradition is to watch a crime series on the TV and read crime novels – Who knew ?!

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.

Sweden, “Super Trouper……….”

We got up on Monday morning full of gusto and ready to take on Sweden. After days of procrastinating we finally had a plan and were ready to get on with it. So after the usual mammoth pack up we said goodbye to Jes and his wife and we hit the road.

We made it to Øresund Bridge, the bridge that connected us to Malmö – possibly the most expensive toll bridge in Europe. We had a bit of banter with the Swedish toll operator about the size and weight of the RV but the outcome was simply pay up and get on your way. It was a sobering experience handing over the plastic for the exorbitant €200 crossing.

On entering Sweden we saw our first Ikea in about 5 minutes and ABBA was blasting out of the radio, how very Swedish! Jon and I did have a giggle.

It had been a long drive and we were ready to get parked up for the night. We had chosen a marina in a town called Landskrona. We enjoyed our dinner whilst watching the sunset.

This morning when we woke up there was even a fresh blanket of snow, welcome to Sweden.

We have made it to our sixth country.

Denmark, Møns Klint

We had been in Denmark for a couple of days already and were getting restless. Still not sure when we would leave and if we would take the RV to Norway, we have a lot of mileage to cover in a short space of time if we are going to make it to Norway by Saturday. We had experienced Copenhagen and were hungry for something more. We took the 2 hour drive from our campsite to Møns Klint in the South Eastern corner of Denmark. I’m so glad we did, the drive alone was stunning before we had even reached the beautiful white cliffs on the Island of Møn. We had been really lucky with the weather so far, clear blue skies, zero degrees and a splattering of snow.

The geological park of Møns Klint is stunning, we parked up in the forest and made the 20 minute downhill trek to the beach where we took in the white cliffs in all their glory. It had been pretty cold and there were huge icicles on the cliff face. There was even an enormous ice sculpture in the sea formed around some drift wood.

We strolled along the shore for a while and the boys enjoyed looking for fossils and snapping off icicles from the cliff. Lester was trotting along and sniffing in the rock pools. It was really refreshing to be out in the open soaking up the fresh air.

The upward climb was quite tough, we made our way up the impressive wooden decked staircase built into the cliff. It took a while to get to the top, not easy if you have short legs.

The drive home was so picturesque, it was the golden hour and the snow and ice glistened.

We’ve been weighing up driving the RV to Norway or leaving it in Denmark and taking Mini on the ferry all the way to Stavanger, today was a good day and gave us time to decide what to do, we’ve been procrastinating over this decision for a coupe of days now and we reached a decision, we will pack up the RV tomorrow and head to Stavanger. We both feel good about this plan. Next stop Sweden.

Denmark, Copenhagen, København 🇩🇰

A city that feels like a town. A lot like Amsterdam only much cleaner and more beautiful, almost like a fairytale. Very much like Hans Christian Andersen would have created in one of his stories.

The little mermaid perched on her rock, looking for Prince Eric….. with a gazillion tourists crowding her, I can hear Indonesian and American tourists, French and Germans all snapping away. It is stupidly cold, there are gusts of snow and we are all hustling to get a photo next to the delicate little statue. We get caught up in the frenzy and finally rush back to the warmth of the car.

Next on our list are the military ‘Nyboder’ houses, I remember these from the movie, The Danish Girl. The striking yellow paint contrasts the steely grey sky. The houses are stuck in time and the paint is peeling from the bricks.

We’re cooking now and we head to the next must do site on our list, Nyhavn, the iconic Danish houses lining the canal. They look resplendent, the sun is shining and we are ready for a coffee. Probably the most expensive place to get a coffee but the view is simply priceless so we suck it up

A canal boat trip to visit the sights, the opera house, the queen’s residence, it’s all very blah blah blah…..don’t get me wrong I’m not complaining about Copenhagen being blah blah blah, it’s more about us and our ‘adventure’. We want this year to be unforgettable and unique so as much as we love the tourist attractions we also want to go off the beaten track and see MORE. Really see what makes Denmark, Denmark.

A trip to a major city wouldn’t be complete without a tour of the food market (you know me and food) so we swing by Torvehallerne for some dinner….

Smörgåsbord = yum !

Ahhh Summerbird……….your beautiful cakes

So I’ll post this and I’ll add a little PS, I promise to give you more and not just the predictable.

Before I go, I recommend this book:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Little-Book-Hygge-Danish-Penguin/dp/0241283914