Our return to France was really good. We were last here 4 months ago and it was altogether much warmer now. We parked on a great campsite just outside Chambery in the Rhône Alps. There was an aerodrome next to us and we were able to watch the gliders go by. Our first stop was Dijon, a relatively small city and so beautiful. You must know me by now and my love of food so we headed straight for the food market and picked up some great cheese and fresh vegetables.A trip to Dijon wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Moutarde Maille boutique. Then we took a drive through the vineyards….We stayed a couple of days and enjoyed the relaxing vibe at the campsite. It was really chilled. We celebrated Father’s Day, the boys enjoyed having a day with their dad at the campsite admiring the Alps and watching the planes take off and land…I cooked Jon his favourite dinner…Paella We had planned to meet friends in Italy for the day. Our campsite was as far south west as we could get the RV to the Italian border so Jon and I had an early start and headed for Milan in the Mini. It took around 4 hours to drive through the Alps and into Milan and it was well worth the drive. We met up with Simon and Lisa and enjoyed catching up over coffee, wine and pizza It was a really enjoyable day and great to spend it with such good friends.We continued south…On our way we found a great place for kayaking along l’Ardèche, to le Pont d’ArcIt was a really, really fun afternoon. It was quite slow paced and there were plenty of stopping places to have a picnic or a leisurely swim. Our next stop was in the south of France, we stayed at a lovely campsite near Marseillan. Totally surrounded by vineyards and Caves. We took a drive out to the medieval town of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, such a quaint little townOur next stop was PerpignanHomemade roasted vegetable tagliatelle 😋 And finally we made it to Spain…
Our earlier experience in Germany hadn’t been too enjoyable and we had consoled ourselves with the fact that we would be coming back through Bavaria later on in our trip.
On our way to Munich we found a quirky camper parking on a golf course with a solar farm. You actually park under the solar panels which was great as it gave us lots of shade. We also got to use the facilities too, fabulous hot showers and a lovely bar and restaurant.
So three months in and we made it back to the south of Germany and were really excited to be returning to Munich. Jon and I had visited here 4 years ago and had great memories, had enjoyed the food, the beer and the vibrant city. The boys were looking forward to the food. I had found us a great campsite on my Camper Contact App. What we hadn’t realised prior to our arrival was that the Allianz Arena, home to Bayern Munich allows campers to park in their car park as long as there aren’t any games or events on. Jon and the boys were very happy to be camping at a football stadium.
We stayed for a few days as the campsite was a great location for visiting the city. There is a park and ride within walking distance too.
We had a couple of days walking through the city and enjoying beer and an incredible amount of sausages.
After Munich we headed west, to another of Mikey’s must see places. Freiburg, the gateway to the Black Forest…it was here that Mikey celebrated his 13th Birthday.
And an afternoon of Go-karting…
We were intrigued to see the Black Forest so set off early and headed out of Freiburg.
We took the route from Freiburg to Baden-Baden in the north. It’s a really scenic route. You drive through gorgeous villages and towns. It’s a very famous route and incredibly popular with motorcycles. Baden-Baden is a spa town with thermal hot springs.
Lester loved the little water gullys in Freiburg, it was a great opportunity for him to cool off…
The boys enjoyed Germany a lot.
Our journey so far has taken us to a LOT of campsites, we’ve been on the road for over three months already so other than a handful of nights we’ve always stayed on proper campsites. On the road to Prague (in a town called Opatovec) we found a fabulous family run site with a bar and restaurant right on the banks of a lake. Possibly our favourite place to stay so far. It was a long drive from Oświęcim in Poland.
Road closures in The Czech Republic seem very common, in our first hour of driving we experienced our first closure, there wasn’t any forewarning at all, it was all hands on deck to remove the mini in the middle of a busy dual carriageway in order to make a u-turn in the RV, it was an intense 20 minutes. We made it to the campsite late in the evening and it was totally worth the journey – it was one of those stop and stare moments.
The sunset was fabulous and so peaceful. We had such a good sleep and were greeted by a beautiful blue sky in the morning.
The boys went to meet the 12 year old son of the farm owners. He was called Milan and exactly the company the boys were craving.
The whole day was spent in the river, swinging on ropes and teaching Lester to swim 😆
It was such a chilled out place, we hadn’t realised just how much we needed a couple of days to unwind and relax.
Our final night our host put on some fireworks for us
The perfect end to a perfect couple of days. We were genuinely quite sad to be leaving this gorgeous family.
It was time to get on the road and head to Prague.
Prague is a beautiful city. Jon and I last visited in wintertime about 15 years ago.
It’s great coming back with the boys.
.……….the beer, so good
Hearty Czech food, bread dumplings with meat in rich gravy and smoked meat filled bread dumplings.
It was brief stop in the city. After Prague we headed to Pilsen to visit the birthplace of lager, the Pilsner Urquell brewery.
Joe was looking forward to the tour as he has acquired quite a taste for lager these past few months !
Sampling the unfiltered, unpasteurised lager that is only available at the brewery
The original barrels, in the cellars it was super cold
A fab tour, I would highly recommend it.
Next on our list was the city of Karlovy Vary, famous for its thermal hot springs, not for bathing in but for drinking.
The next leg of our journey takes us back to Germany, this time to Bavaria. I love Munich and have such happy memories of my last trip with Jon 4 years ago. Joe and Mikey are so excited to eat giant pretzels 🥨
Poland, where to start ? So many fabulous places and things to do.
Our first stop was Warsaw, we stayed on a fabulous family run farm (we have the best times on campsites like these) about 40 mins drive from the city centre.
We were treated to freshly baked cakes, homemade bread and strawberries straight from the farm. We were so lucky to find such a fabulous place to stay.
Our first day in Warsaw was a trip to the Zabinski Villa at Warsaw Zoo…we had been inspired by the movie ‘The Zoo Keepers Wife” and wanted to see where such an amazing act of kindness had taken place.
The original piano that Antonina Zabinski played to warn the Jewish refugees in her basement that the Nazis were conducting an inspection. The Jews would then escape, taking all their belongings through a narrow tunnel and await the signal to return to the basement.
The ‘escape’ tunnel
The villa is set in the grounds to the zoo, you need to book in advance to visit the house where Jan & Antonina Zabinski saved so many Jews during the German occupation in the Second World War.
Next stop was the Old Town where we had lunch in a restaurant right next to the castle on the famous Podwale Street.
An altogether more modest sized schnitzel for Mikey.
Joe enjoying a pork schnitzel
After saying goodbye to Warsaw we headed for Kraków……
St.Marys church in the central square, by day
The central market place, beneath this magnificent market lies the remnants of a 14th century town. The underground museum reveals many relics including cobbled streets and burial grounds.
One of Joe’s ‘must do attractions’ was the Schindler factory, a well constructed museum but we were quite disappointed as there was very little about Schindler and more about what happened in WW2.
It was quite cramped in the museum and there were many school tours. The exhibits were very well done, however unfortunately all the text was so small it was really difficult to read and take in. The factory doesn’t even exist anymore.
The enamel pots and pans made at Schindler’s factory
The outside wall of the museum
Next stop……… The Jewish Quarter
A trip to Poland would not be complete without a visit to a milk bar. These canteens are a hangover from the communist times. Cheap, filling and tasty, these were lunch venues for the Polish workers during the communist era. The workers would eat lunch in these establishments as part of their pay.
I researched the Polish menu in great detail as there is no English menu, we managed to order some hearty and authentic Polish cuisine for under €10. The reason for calling them milk bars is that back in the day they served mostly dairy based foods.
The cafés are really simply decorated, they are quiet and calm and many Polish sit alone eating silently. It’s like going back in time and walking into someone’s living room, it feels very homely.
Pierogi, meat filled dumplings, pork schnitzel and boiled potatoes, vegetable soup and our favourite, apple and peach filled pancakes
Truly delicious and unpretentious food
On our final day in Kraków we took a visit to the salt mines, originally formed in the 1400’s, a ‘must see’ whilst in Poland, we had a few ‘Wow’ moments.
The first part of the tour takes you down 64 flights of 7 stairs to a chamber over 100 metres deep. We descended the final part using the long corridors and staircases. There are huge sculptures carved from salt. Even hanging chandeliers. The ornate churches are all cut into the rock and salt.
Inside the stairwell, looking down…….it makes you feel a bit dizzy
The Last Supper carved into the wall, one of the many carvings
The final part of our journey through Poland was to Auschwitz. This part of the trip had us feeling quite torn, on one hand Joe and Mikey have learnt about what happened during The Holocaust and wanted to go to Auschwitz in order to learn more, however, we felt it might be too hard for them to deal with. We had contemplated not visiting and had talked to the boys extensively about what to expect and whether or not they were prepared for it. Let me tell you, nothing really prepares you for a visit to Auschwitz.
We got up early and arrived at Auschwitz at 7.30 am and people were already queuing to get in. You can pre-book tours beforehand which I would recommend doing although we wanted to go in independently as we wanted time to talk to the boys along the way.
It is free to enter both sites, although Auschwitz requires you to have a ticket, there is also a free shuttle bus to take you to Auschwitz Birkenau II, we didn’t use this service as we drove the car. You can go early in the morning or later in the afternoon if you want to go without a tour, if you want a tour guide with you then you must book online in advance and I think you have to pay for this. The English speaking tours get booked up so well in advance.
The area has been really well maintained and many parts have been reconstructed. The areas displaying all the belongings found have been respectfully preserved and exhibited.
There were parts that Mikey did not want to see and by the time we arrived at Auschwitz Birkenau II where the mass killings took place, Mikey and I sat in the car, we had seen enough.
I hadn’t wanted to write about our trip to Auschwitz as it seemed wrong somehow to post pictures of such an awful place, but it was part of our journey and a really important part of our trip.
We were so shocked to see some tourists taking selfies and posing for really inappropriate pictures, some even climbing on parts of buildings it was so sad to see such disrespectful behaviour.
As awful and horrendous as Auschwitz is I’m really glad I had the opportunity to visit such a significant and historic site. I’m glad we were able to give Joe and Mikey the opportunity and to educate them. No matter how bad a place is we are far richer for being more educated.
Poland was wonderful and emotional in equal measures. We were lucky to experience the lighter side of Poland and also be educated on the horrors that Poland endured during darker times, I came away from Poland feeling much more knowledgable.
Kibicuje Poland I do widzenia 🇵🇱 🍻
The Baltics have been my favourite region so far, it’s been a mixture of amazing weather, great food and historical cities with the added bonus of living really well quite reasonably.
Latvia was a hard act to follow after our stay in Riga, Lithuania was going to have to pull out all the stops to entertain us. We drove across the border and were immediately surprised by the lush green fields and tree lined, straight flat roads.
Our first stop was for brunch at a roadside pub with a huge beer garden set on the edge of a lake. The food was really good, we enjoyed chicken pancakes with a creamy mushroom sauce and the traditional meat filled potato pancakes served with sour cream, a hugely satisfying meal to kick off our journey through Lithuania.
A short way down the road we stopped at the famous Hill of Crosses. It is a fascinating place, there are thousands of crucifixes on a hill, all in no particular order. Whilst we were there we saw a couple in their wedding outfits and a young girl having photos taken in her Confirmation dress. It’s obviously a very religious place, even the Pope visited and gave his thanks to the Lithuanian people for creating such a monument. We aren’t religious at all but really appreciated the quirky and spiritual feeling of the place.
Early the next morning we took to the road and arrived at a riverside campsite. It was a good location for exploring the local area. We were the first campers of the season and really liked the laidback feel of the site. We were located in central Lithuania and there were quite a few good attractions.
We stumbled across this home based bakery, the Latvian lady who bakes all the bread using traditional recipes and oven was great, she didn’t speak any English but we got by with Google Translate. We sampled all her sour dough rye breads which are sold by weight. They had such deep, sour flavours and were laced with caraway seeds.
Next stop was the tree tops challenge for the boys.
A stop at an amusement park for mini golf and labyrinth fun was next on our list
We were really enjoying the weather until the rain came and with it came mosquitoes, literally as big as my hand and so blood thirsty !! It was time to move out and away from the riverside campsite (and the enormous mozzies) we drove to the city campsite just outside the city of Vilnius. It was run by a super friendly and helpful guy, it was perfectly located for sightseeing in the city.
The following day we headed for the old town of Vilnius, the old towns of the Baltics have proven to be absolutely stunning and are always a good place to learn the history and sample local food and drink.
Vilnius really didn’t disappoint, the old town was much larger than we had experienced before, great for getting our daily exercise in.
We had lunch at a medieval themed restaurant serving tradition Latvian dishes.
Mikey sampling the local deep fried rye bread and cheese dip
I had the wild mushroom, sour soup served in a rye bread bowl – really tasty
A traditional Latvian bakery, selling breads and sweet biscuits and pastries by weight.
Our next stop was the geographic centre of Europe (if you believe what they say) not too far from Vilnius.
Finally, Jon and I had a really enjoyable date night before leaving Lithuania. We found this gorgeous Lebanese restaurant called Leyla, they served huge sharing plates. The vegetarian plate was so good and absolutely enormous ! – I washed down with my favourite cherry beer.
Lithuania was another real gem, I am very sad to be saying goodbye to the Baltics but it’s time to move on and Poland is calling.
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.
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……