Dijon, Chambery, The Alps, Perpignan – France

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…

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.

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 🇱🇻

Norway, Oslo 🇳🇴

We had contemplated staying in Gothenburg another day due to the snowfall but in the end we decided to crack on. It took the whole day to drive to Oslo and we were really excited to finally be arriving in Norway.

We arrived in Oslo the Thursday before last to heaps of snow which was thick and piled up along the roads. The snow was covered in grit and looked grey and miserable.

We found a great campsite, high above Oslo in Bogstad. It is huge with room for about 800 caravans and motorhomes and cabins. We took it steady with the RV as there was so much ice.

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Surrounding the campsite were ski trails and the boys were in their element.

Friday we decided to see a bit of Oslo and headed straight to the Viking museum. It’s a beautiful building housing a couple of Viking boats that had been found buried and then beautifully restored.

After the museum we headed to the palace to see the changing of the guard. We were freezing and we kept thinking how cold the soldiers must be, they didn’t seem to have very warm clothing on.

The boys managed to get a photo with the obliging young guard.

We rounded off the day by testing out our new sledge at the campsite. The following day we ploughed on to Kristiansand, the campsite we had researched turned out to be closed for winter but the owner kindly let us stay overnight.

Finally the last leg of our journey to see our friends, the drive from Kristiansand to Stavanger was absolutely breathtaking and one I would recommend to anyone visiting Norway, it took around 5 hours. It made a really welcome change to drive on roads other than the highways which have become quite boring now. There was snow covering the fields and mountains and some of the fjords were thick with ice.

We spent a lot of time in tunnels too, we were getting used to the Norwegian road system

We made it to Sola by dinner time, Nina, Hein, Andrine, Kristiane and Aleksander were waiting for us and they had figured out the perfect parking for the RV! – right outside their neighbours house

So happy to have finally arrived ❤️

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.