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, 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, 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, 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

The Netherlands, Rotterdam

Rotterdam

So Rotterdam wasn’t on our list either. Glad we made the stop though. We parked up the RV and headed straight to the city in Mini.

I had researched the Markthal, a huge indoor food market in the centre of Rotterdam, opened in 2014 and costing €178,000,000 this is a food lovers paradise. An afternoon very well spent. Every market stall offers samples which meant we had eaten a three course meal without spending a single cent !

Just across the road from the Markthal are the famous cube houses, these 100 square metre homes are really interesting use of space and look really quirky.

A short drive from our campsite in Alblasserdam is Kinderdijk a village full of windmills.

An early start tomorrow as we make our way to Amsterdam.