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 💙

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, Preikestolen

A 40 minute ferry from Stavanger takes you to Tau, then a 20 minute drive later you arrive at the start of the hike.

We came prepared with studded shoe grips but were advised that we should wear chains due to the ice and snow on the trail. These can be hired from the visitor centre.

Many people arrived in trainers and still made it up, although the studs made a big difference and I’m glad we had them. There were parts where neither studs or chains helped when we were coming down and we opted to just come down on our backsides because it was so steep and slippery.

It is approximately 2 – 3 hours and 3.8km each way. We had been watching the weather forecasts and knew we were going to be in for clear sky.

We got to Preikestolen National Park by 10.30 and started up the trail. The first part was quite flat and not too steep although there was a lot of ice as it’s quite shaded. We took it steady and enjoyed the scenery on the way. Lester did a great job, he powered on and didn’t seem to get tired the whole way up.

The sky stayed beautifully clear the whole way and we were excited to reach the ledge.

The view over Lysefjord is spectacular. When we settled at the top we had some lunch and took some photos (not from the very edge as it is crazy scary) then we started the tricky hike down. It was much harder coming down because of all the ice and we had to let Lester go on a few occasions as he was in danger of pulling Jon down.

A once in a lifetime experience and we have been lucky enough to visit Preikestolen twice and this time the weather was amazing.