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.

img_3738

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.

Denmark, Møns Klint

We had been in Denmark for a couple of days already and were getting restless. Still not sure when we would leave and if we would take the RV to Norway, we have a lot of mileage to cover in a short space of time if we are going to make it to Norway by Saturday. We had experienced Copenhagen and were hungry for something more. We took the 2 hour drive from our campsite to Møns Klint in the South Eastern corner of Denmark. I’m so glad we did, the drive alone was stunning before we had even reached the beautiful white cliffs on the Island of Møn. We had been really lucky with the weather so far, clear blue skies, zero degrees and a splattering of snow.

The geological park of Møns Klint is stunning, we parked up in the forest and made the 20 minute downhill trek to the beach where we took in the white cliffs in all their glory. It had been pretty cold and there were huge icicles on the cliff face. There was even an enormous ice sculpture in the sea formed around some drift wood.

We strolled along the shore for a while and the boys enjoyed looking for fossils and snapping off icicles from the cliff. Lester was trotting along and sniffing in the rock pools. It was really refreshing to be out in the open soaking up the fresh air.

The upward climb was quite tough, we made our way up the impressive wooden decked staircase built into the cliff. It took a while to get to the top, not easy if you have short legs.

The drive home was so picturesque, it was the golden hour and the snow and ice glistened.

We’ve been weighing up driving the RV to Norway or leaving it in Denmark and taking Mini on the ferry all the way to Stavanger, today was a good day and gave us time to decide what to do, we’ve been procrastinating over this decision for a coupe of days now and we reached a decision, we will pack up the RV tomorrow and head to Stavanger. We both feel good about this plan. Next stop Sweden.

Denmark, Copenhagen, København 🇩🇰

A city that feels like a town. A lot like Amsterdam only much cleaner and more beautiful, almost like a fairytale. Very much like Hans Christian Andersen would have created in one of his stories.

The little mermaid perched on her rock, looking for Prince Eric….. with a gazillion tourists crowding her, I can hear Indonesian and American tourists, French and Germans all snapping away. It is stupidly cold, there are gusts of snow and we are all hustling to get a photo next to the delicate little statue. We get caught up in the frenzy and finally rush back to the warmth of the car.

Next on our list are the military ‘Nyboder’ houses, I remember these from the movie, The Danish Girl. The striking yellow paint contrasts the steely grey sky. The houses are stuck in time and the paint is peeling from the bricks.

We’re cooking now and we head to the next must do site on our list, Nyhavn, the iconic Danish houses lining the canal. They look resplendent, the sun is shining and we are ready for a coffee. Probably the most expensive place to get a coffee but the view is simply priceless so we suck it up

A canal boat trip to visit the sights, the opera house, the queen’s residence, it’s all very blah blah blah…..don’t get me wrong I’m not complaining about Copenhagen being blah blah blah, it’s more about us and our ‘adventure’. We want this year to be unforgettable and unique so as much as we love the tourist attractions we also want to go off the beaten track and see MORE. Really see what makes Denmark, Denmark.

A trip to a major city wouldn’t be complete without a tour of the food market (you know me and food) so we swing by Torvehallerne for some dinner….

Smörgåsbord = yum !

Ahhh Summerbird……….your beautiful cakes

So I’ll post this and I’ll add a little PS, I promise to give you more and not just the predictable.

Before I go, I recommend this book:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Little-Book-Hygge-Danish-Penguin/dp/0241283914

The renovation I

So we bought the RV. It was 10 years old with only 27,000 miles on the clock but very ‘brown’ inside. Literally everything was brown, beige, taupe, cream or some other variant of the 1970’s caravan look.

Actually the outside is still brown as well but that will have to wait until another day. The carpet and lino was brown, every single cabinet door or drawer front (all 46 of them) were brown, the walls were brown, all the upholstery was brown and on it went.

For months we’d been checking out images and stories of RV renovations and had concluded that a mix of white, greys and black would be cool. In addition, some light blue accent pieces (as Vanessa calls them, I just agree!) would work.

I’d somehow guesstimated that 3 months full time would be sufficient to get everything done. In reality though days off, weekends away, birthdays, Christmas etc all got in the way and in the end it took us about 4-5 months. There were times we spend all day in the RV and others where we spent the whole day researching or out shopping for the RV so I guess in total my 3 months actual work estimate was about right.

Our first problem/mistake was where we stored the RV during this process. It was winter time and damn cold and we had no access to mains power. I’d watched so many YouTube videos of people renovating their RVs and they all seem to be in Florida in the summer ! Try doing it in England in December with no power !

Some days I was so cold and fed up I’d give up for a bit but Vanessa’s endless supply of coffee, food and encouragement would get me back to work.

It was only daylight from about 09.00 until 16.00 so the days were short and batteries on power tools and iPods/speakers would run out. I’d fire up the engine on the RV to provide some heat and charge up the leisure batteries but it was only a short term fix. If I ever did this kind of project again, no way would I do it without mains power. Lesson learned.

Anyway, first task was to remove all the cabinet doors for painting. Took me all day – this was mistake No.2. Unless once you’ve removed 46 doors you’ve got somewhere sensible to store them all, do this in stages. I put mine in the RV storage lockers but it was a clumsy process and some got scratched.

Next phase was the carpet removal. Horrible horrible job. When Winnebago install the carpets and vinyl they intend them to stay put for ever. Glue and 1,000’s of tacks have to be removed and there ain’t no magic trick to this, it’s just getting down on your knees and pulling & scraping. Carpet and vinyl is all laid before the cabinets & furniture are installed so you either cut really close to the edges or you also take out the furniture as well.

What became apparent to me after a few days was that RVs are built by people rather than robots welding them. What that means is what 1 man has screwed together, another man can take apart ! If you can find the screws or bolts you can take them out, no special skills required other than reasonable DIY competency and plenty of tools.

I took all the dinette chairs and table out and also the sofa bed but I left the kitchen cabinets in place. The captains chair came out with 1 bolt and the driver and passenger seats came out with 4 bolts each and a bit of fiddling with the manual slide control. The sofa called for Joe to squeeze underneath to help get all the bolts out…he’s not significantly smaller than me anymore but no point doing all the crap jobs yourself when you’ve got teenage sons ! The sofa wasn’t going back in anyway, it was yellowy brown fake leather and we soon discovered it would be more expensive to cover/reupholster it than simply buy a new sofa. We wouldn’t need the seatbelts for the sofa so simply bought and installed a regular house sofa which fitted perfectly and it’s far more comfortable than the original factory-fit sofabed.

The original sofabed is now in the shipping container we used to move back to the UK – one day I’ll see if anyone wants to buy an original Winnebago sofa on eBay !

The captains chair didn’t feature in the plans either so that was also dispensed with (into the shipping container). We needed the space behind the front passenger seat to build a multipurpose cupboard to house coats, shoes, wine bottles and our dog! More about that later. There had originally been some discussion about installing a washer/dryer into that space but that would have been a horrible mistake – water supply in Europe isn’t ‘city water’ like in the US and we’d have been draining our water tank. A few Euros in laundries once a week and so far we’re all good with the laundry process.

With the flooring and cabinet doors removed plus most of the big furniture and all the blinds out it started to look awful and on a cold day was quite miserable working on it.

Painting all the cabinets plus 46 doors was a total nightmare. We experimented with primers, undercoats, rollers, brushes, spraypaint and to be honest, I’m not sure we really mastered it. The doors were all painted satin white and took at least 5 coats to cover. We did all the fronts and edges and I kept promising to do the insides if I had enough time but it never happened! It was cold and each coat would take so long to dry properly that this process seemed to go on and on for ever.

The cabinets themselves were a bit easier as they were still in place and we painted most of them grey. Before anyone asks, the doors have to come off as the hinges will be in the way and you’ll end up getting paint on them. I tried to mask the hinges but it’s too fiddly and you can’t paint close enough to them.

All 46 of the door/drawer handles were replaced with more contemporary designs – tip – find new handles that can use the same bolt holes as the originals or you’ll end up trying to fill the old holes which will look terrible unless you’re a cabinet maker. We got some that ‘fitted’ with a little persuasion from a hammer remembering that US imperial measurements will be a fraction different from metric ones you buy in the UK. The old handles all went in the trash which seemed a waste, maybe someone out there wanted them but I really had no time to waste trying to sell small stuff on eBay.

Walls. The factory design brown walls are super durable but horrible. We considered wallpaper at one point but our friend rightly raised the issue of condensation and heat and whether one morning we’d wake up to find it all peeled off ! Hence we just painted them. This was easy enough with a roller but there are 100’s of edges, nooks and crannies and they take forever to paint. Vanessa was good at painting the walls and then leaving me all the fun of cutting in and painting up to the edge of carpets, ceilings, cabinets etc !!!!

As light relief from the drudgery of painting, I built the multi purpose and customised cabinet which would sit between the door and passenger seat. Timber frame and 9mm MDF sheets did most of the work. I relocated a light fitting and put in some extra insulation where the dog would sleep and covered the ‘wall’ with 2 sheets of MDF panelling. Expensive but looks much nicer than plain MDF.

Measuring the dog for his entrance hole and a jigsaw did the trick and this area was now looking OK.