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, 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 ?!