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.

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……

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 💙