Opatovec, Prague & Karlovy Vary, The Czech Republic

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 🥨

Warsaw & Kraków, Poland

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.

Auschwitz II-BIRKENAU

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 🇵🇱 🍻

Vilnius, Lithuania

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.

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.

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.

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 ?!

Norway, Stavanger

Our first day in Stavanger and the girls and I hung out, we did some shopping and went for coffee. It was a lot of fun hanging out with them especially after spending so much time surrounded by boys.

It was a time to reflect, it’s difficult to believe that just over 14 years ago I met Nina days after we had both given birth to our first children, Joe and Andrine. Little did we know when we were SO young and first time expats in Kuala Lumpur we would still be friends today.

As expats you meet many people from all over the world and from all walks of life…friends come and go, occasionally though you meet those people who become like family. They are embedded into your life, you share your children’s first steps with them, birthdays, tears and happiness, lunches, dinners, late nights, holidays and so much more. Well I can safely say Nina is one of those friends, I feel really lucky to have the Jacobsens in our life.

Joe with Andrine, his first ever friend, 14 years on…..

We had been looking forward to this part of our trip for so long now, Nina, Hein & the kids had planned a lot for us. The first trip was skiing. It was an early start on Tuesday and a beautiful day to head up into the mountains.

Nina, Hein and the kids were awesome teachers and Joe and Mikey were skiing in no time. Mikey and Aleksander headed up together and were zipping down all day. Hein took Joe right up to the highest point and they made their way down slowly.

Needless to say Jon and I didn’t join in, we were chief coffee drinkers, bag carriers and photographers, we didn’t want to risk Jon injuring himself, a broken arm or leg could have put a stop to our trip for weeks so we relaxed and enjoyed watching the kids having fun.

Aleksander had worn Mikey out on the slalom and we hadn’t been in the car long before he totally passed out.

It had been a full on day and we were all ready for an early night. Wednesday we planned to take a trip to Stavanger before heading to Haugesund on Thursday for the Easter weekend.

The streets in Stavanger are cobbled and the shops & colourful restaurants are so delightful. After lunch we had a walk around the old part of the city where there are these lovely little white wooden cottages. The old fishing houses now form a conservation area and in the summer the streets are full of flowers.

We decided to give the canning museum a miss (!) and instead the kids took Jon and Hein out for a football match – it turns out Team Sandham needs a bit more practice, we lost to The Norwegians !!

Next stop Auklandshamn & Haugesund for Easter.