Crossing the Arctic Circle by boat

The trip north from Lillehammer to Trondheim (which served as the capital of Norway during the Viking Age until 1217)) took us through some amazing countryside – it seemed that with every bend in the road there was a new vista, another wonder.

Green meadows with hay bales piled up high, picture perfect villages with whitewashed churches and their distinctive skinny steeples, sparkling fjords and lakes, rolling hills, stony mounds and heathland, ghostly bald peaks with not a tree to be seen, mountain cabins, craggy moorlands, bubbling streams, waterfalls, fir covered hills, gurgling rivers.

The typical Scandinavian red ochre painted farm houses
The shinny church spires seen all over Norway

There was water wherever we looked….
….sparkling fjords….beautiful lakes
There were rolling hills
Stony mounds and….
….craggy heathlands
Mysterious bald hills

Lots of fir trees…
And rivers.

Then as we drove onto higher ground we started to see patches of ice and snow high up in the mountains, grass covered ski runs scarring the mountain slopes, and climbing ever upwards to our camping spot for the night in a national park, densely packed conifers.

Patches of ice (or snow) on the top of mountains
Ski slopes waiting for snow
Densely packed conifers

As we drove into the isolated car park (it was miles from any village or any kind of habitation) we were shocked to see the place absolutely full of cars and loads of people milling about, chatting and changing their clothes after some kind of sporting event! We had no idea what the event was but thought it could have been orienteering. Needless to say we beat a hasty retreat!

What are all these people doing in “our” camping spot

By this time it was getting late and we were concerned that we wouldn’t find anywhere to stay but we kept on going and around 7.30 pm finally arrived at Storsandgard camping just a short way from Trondheim.

We drive down the mountain towards Trondheim
And saw this lovely sight on the way

Refreshed from a night’s sleep we set off the next morning hoping to reach North Norway by the end of the day. Again, we found the landscape enchanting and particularly loved seeing the shiny, painted hikers cabins – some with a grass roof!

Enchanting landscape
Lots more water…

….hikers hut with a grass roof

By mid- afternoon we had crossed over the official line to North Norway. Now we were starting to see more patches of ice and snow on the shaded sides of mountains. We had made good time despite a bit of rain so we decided to head for Levang on the scenic Helgeland coast where we could board a small car ferry to Nesna.

We made it to northern Norway!
Some serious ice on the mountainside!

In our normal haphazard way, we hadn’t looked up ferry leaving times but struck lucky as we only had to wait about 15 minutes before one arrived to take us to Nesna. There were also small ferries leaving for nearby islands that sounded very tempting but we were anxious to keep heading north while the weather was still mild.

Luckily the ferries were still running!
The car ferry arrives ready to disgorge its cargo
Ready to board!

The interior of the ferry

Being die-hard yachties we were so happy to be on the water again – even though it was on a car ferry! The misty rain gave the mountains that surrounded us a ghostly atmosphere which we thoroughly enjoyed.

The view was very atmospheric

Once on the other side we drove out of the ferry at Nesna and carried on for another hour until we reached a very pleasant free camping spot under a big cliff at the side of a mountain.

Our free park for the night

The following day promised not one but two more ferry rides plus some impossibly dramatic landscapes and many, many tunnels drilled through the mountains.

The dramatic landscapes of norther Norway

No wonder road tolls are expensive. The Norwegians have drilled hundreds of tunnels through the mountains.

On the first ferry of the day we had a moment of great excitement when we crossed into the Arctic Circle. The ferry Captain pointed out the marker and told us that we were on the same latitude as Greenland and Alaska.

We set off to cross into the Arctic Circle
The scenery was stunning

There it is! The marker indicating the beginning of the Arctic Circle

Having crossed the Equator on our yacht a few times in the last couple of years it was a thrilling experience to be crossing over into the Arctic Circle for a change – and especially wonderful to be doing it by boat.

Another view of the Arctic Circle marker (well it did feel special!)
The Arctic Circle awaits us ….

Lillehammer- what a Star!

We had loved the eccentric and iconic Netflix series “Lilyhammer“ in which a New York Mafia boss turned informant, was relocated in Lillehammer – a place he had fallen in love with after watching the 1994 Winter Olympics.

The writers intentionally made Norway and Lillehammer in particular, characters in this clever show. Every quirk, oddity, nuance and eccentricity about the Norwegian way of life and daily existence in a small ski resort town (population approximately 30,000) were placed in clever juxtaposition with the lead character’s New York “mean street” mentality.

Our route to Lillehammer

So we were really interested to see the place for ourselves and there was great anticipation as we travelled from Holmestrand on the coast up into the mountains.

The views on the way to Lillehammer were fabulous
Another lovely water view

The drive there was really lovely. Stunning countryside interspersed with views of sparkling water – at first glimpses of the Oslofjord and then masses of beautiful lakes and rivers. We also went through thirteen road tunnels in the space of just a few hours – some of them kilometres long!

Pretty views wherever we looked
It was such a still day that the clouds reflected perfectly on the lake
And a little later this …..
One of the thirteen road tunnels we went through.

We climbed higher and higher into the mountains and stopped for a break in a large car park. There were some luscious looking strawberries on sale but at eight Euros a punnet (approximately Aus$12.50!) we decided to give them a miss.

Great looking strawberries but far too expensive!

As we drove we marvelled at the truly fabulous scenery, enjoyed spotting the typical red or ochre painted farmhouses, cabins and other homes and met sheep and cattle grazing on the road verges.

Many buildings in Norway are painted this lovely strong colour
This is another popular paint choice
Sheep were grazing in the grass at the side of the road
And cows!

We also caught sight of several people on the road who were “skiing“. The lack of snow wasn’t going to stop them – no, they were gliding along on sort of elongated in-line skates that viewed from the top were just like regular cross country skis. It looked very strange to us but I guess in a region which is covered in snow for a large part of the year, it’s a perfectly natural thing to do!

No snow but in Norway you can still ski!

As we arrived in Lillehammer the surroundings immediately felt familiar – the picturesque town sits on the shores of the northern part of Lake Mjøsa and is surrounded by beautiful mountains. The Lysgårdsbakkene ski jump dominates the landscape perched as it is on the mountainside above the town.

The ski jump dominates the town

We were able to camp in the car park at the foot of the ski jump where we were able to soak in the enthralling view while sipping on a crisp white wine.

Camper vans parked at the bottom of the ski jump!
The view from the van looking down on Lillehammer

The next morning we were eating breakfast when we became aware of a curious noise. It sounded like a gentle but elongated roll of thunder, with an expectant pause of several seconds, followed by a gentle “thump” and a swooshing sound. Rest, repeat.

So this was what the noise was about!

Intrigued, we hopped down from the camper van and walked towards the sounds. Of course – you’ve guessed – we were in Lillehammer after all! As we approached the source of the noises we noticed a stream of virile young people launching themselves from the top of the perilously high ski jump (despite the lack of snow!) at break neck speed, then hurling themselves into the air, flying at high velocity for a few seconds and landing with small thump, hundreds of metres down the slope . Once they reached the end of the artificial snow surface and onto grass, the jumpers squatted down on their skis until they reached a small slope where they came to a graceful halt.

Coming in to land!
Great landing!

The ski jumpers just stepped off their skis.

Although we really enjoyed exploring Lillehammer and spying buildings we had seen in the TV series, there was one thing we really disliked – the road rule that gives priority to traffic coming from the right. We almost got wiped out by a large truck that turned out in front of us from a smaller side road. Despite much arm waving and shouting rude things on our part we realised that he did have right of way so for the rest of the time we drove round the town in a state of hyper vigilance, terrified that a vehicle would turn out in front of us again and we wouldn’t see it in time.

Lillehammer‘s shopping street

I’m sure the residents of Lillehammer were very happy to be rid of the erratically driving Australians (cleverly disguised as erratically driving French people because of our number plates). We on the other hand, were sorry to leave this star of a town but already looking forward to our next adventure as we travelled on towards the Arctic Circle.

Cow discovers Bronze Age rock art – udderly amazing!

We rushed through Sweden in our camper van anxious to make it to northern Norway while the weather was still reasonable as even in late summer it can get quite chilly up in the Arctic Circle. Hopefully there would be plenty of time to explore Sweden on our way back south.

The Swedish countryside was pretty but we decided to press on

It was tempting to stop and take a look at Gothenburg one of Sweden ‘s major cities and an important sea port. I had last visited the city when I was 16 years old during a fabulous holiday with a friend of mine whose kind parents took me with them on their family holiday.

The first of many tunnels in Sweden and Norway.

As it’s known for its Dutch-style canals and leafy boulevards lined with many cafes and shops we were very tempted to stop but decided to push on and be content with an enticing glimpse of Liseberg – a popular amusement park with themed rides, performance venues and a landscaped sculpture garden.

The Liseburg amusement park
The Älvsborg Bridge, a magnificent suspension bridge in Gothenburg, Sweden which connects the north and south parts of the city.

The border between Sweden and Norway

Shortly after we had crossed the border into Norway, we stopped for lunch at a small pullover area on the side of a “B” road. To our astonishment we realised that totally coincidentally we had come to a stop right next to an intriguing Bronze Age rock art site.

A totally unexpected chance to see Bronze Age rock art

The Solberg site consists of two splendid panels clearly depicting many Viking ships, animals and people. The site was discovered in 1958 as a result of a cow slipping down a slope, uncovering the moss-covered 3,000 year old rock carvings. Thankfully the cow was unhurt and went on to live an “udderly” good life.

See what the cow discovered. What an “amoosing” find!

A beautifully carved boat without the red ochre.

The rock art site from the camper van

From Solberg we carried on to the town of Holmestrand which lies by the Oslofjord and is of course, built beside the water, one hour west of Oslo. It has a population of around only 10,000 people but the boat population is impressive with more than 1,000 craft moored in its pretty little harbour.

The first tunnel we went through in Norway
The pretty harbour at Holmestrand

We stayed the night right on the harbour wall where we could watch the myriad of yachts and other boats bobbing up and down in the intensely clean and clear water.

Jonathan examines the beautifully clear water in Holmestrand Harbour
Yikes. I think I understand the jist of this ….

This was our first time staying in a Norwegian municipal car park for camper vans and we were totally unprepared to read instructions in Norwegian. We just couldn’t work out how to pay, where we could get rid of our waste water and chemical toilet waste and which hoses provided drinking water.

So great to walk amongst the thousand or so craft moored in Holmestrand

Fortunately our neighbour was very friendly and kindly showed us what to do and where all the facilities were.

Always enjoy a view of the sun setting over boats

We had a great night listening to the wind in the rigging of the yachts nearby and the gentle splashing of the water against the sea wall.

The next morning we woke up early, excited to be heading for Lillehammer – made famous for holding the 1994 Winter Olympics and then even more famous by the SBS (and later Netflix) series of the same name. A hilarious and at times politically incorrect series about a Mafia boss turned informant who goes into witness protection after dobbing in his colleagues and who chooses Lillehammer as his new home having seen the place on TV during the 1994 Winter Olympics.

Having watched this black comedy/drama avidly we felt we really knew Lillehammer well and were very much looking forward to our visit there.

Fish out of water heading for salty air

We are yachties at heart and living in a campervan can sometimes feel like being a fish out of water. When it gets too much to handle we head as fast as we can to be amongst yachts and in the salty air.

Such a beautiful sight to a land locked yachtie

Fortunately there were plenty of opportunities in Scandinavia to answer the call of the sea and our next stop after the island of Tåsinge in Denmark was Svendborg on the island of Funen.

The classic boats at the Regatta were beautifully kept

We were delighted to discover that we had lucked out and arrived during the Svendborg classic yacht regatta.

Good looking folk boats – very popular in Scandinavia

Despite the incredibly blustery conditions there were hundreds of very handsome yachts participating in the Regatta. There was a large contingent of the ever popular and good looking folk boat all looking shiny and ship shape in the glittering sun.

Yachts everywhere!

It was very entertaining to watch them dock – it was all so casual, laid back and extremely skilled with crews of other folk boats passing lines to others on the dock as the folk boats were expertly rafted up with other boats and tied at the stern to a pole.

Great entertainment watching the yachts coming in
Everyone calmly got on with it – it was a pleasure to watch

Getting nicely settled

There was a great spot for camper van overnight parking right on the harbour but unfortunately it was full up. Hopefully we will be able to make a return visit one day.

Shame we were too late for a spot to park overnight

Late in the afternoon we went in search of a spot for the night and after our disastrous search the previous night, decided to head straight to an official campsite. We ended up choosing Carlsberg Camping back on the island of Tåsinge where we had a nice view of moored boats.

Our spot for the night
Always good to park within sight of yachts

The next day was a a bit of a milestone as we crossed from Denmark to Sweden across the impressive Øresund Bridge, made famous by the TV series “The Bridge” in which a body was found in the middle of the bridge – half in Denmark and half in Sweden.

Stock footage of start of the Øresund Bridge

We had loved that series so it gave us quite a thrill to travel across the famous bridge. We left Denmark from the island of Amager by the 4-kilometre (2.5 mi) Drogden Tunnel which arrives at the artificial island of Peberholm in the middle of the strait. The 8 kilometres (5 miles) bridge starts at this island and runs to Sweden from there.

Driving into the Drogden Tunnel
The view of the Øresund Bridge as we drive out of the Drogden Tunnel

The thrill of crossing this incredible bridge was slightly tainted when we discovered the cost of the toll – 104 EUR – roughly the equivalent of Aus$160. And to think we complain about paying just over Aus$5 to travel through the Brisbane Airport Link Tunnel!

On the famous bridge
Arghhh! Which booth do we go to?!

Our first night in Sweden was spent in a very pleasant truck park. The campsite we had selected was full but we had plenty of water and had no need for power so we were very happy to stay the night in a free parking spot.

Our original choice for the next overnight stop
We spent the night in a truck park but it was actually very pleasant
It had pretty views
And the company wasn’t too close and very quiet.

Denmark’s islands, goosebumps and apprehension

Call me ignorant but I had absolutely no idea that Denmark, in addition to the peninsula of Jutland, is composed of more than 400 named islands – 70 of which have a significant population. That doesn’t even include Greenland or the Faroes!

So it was quite a surprise to discover that in order to visit the 17th Century historic castle, Valdemar’s Slot, we had to cross over from southern Jutland to the island of Tåsinge via the amazing 1220 metres long Svenborgsund Bridge.

The Svenborgsund Bridge looms In the distance
On the 1220 metre bridge
View from the Bridge
Wonder where Upper and Lower Fart are?

Once on the island we were captivated by the pretty villages, the lovely old homes the gorgeous countryside and of course, the small marinas dotted round the coastline.

Pretty lanes on the island of Tåsinge
Thatched cottages

Lovely little marinas

We had found a small site on a farm listed in the ACSI (Auto Camper Service International) that sounded an ideal spot to stay the night but when we arrived the place appeared to be deserted.

It had an eerie feel to it – there was literally no one about and everything seemed shabby and down at heel.

Driving round to the back of the farm yard we had this uncanny feeling we were being watched. You know that feeling that gives you goosebumps and makes you feel apprehensive?

We quickly found out why – gazing into a dim shed we saw a whole herd of young cows crowded into a small space and gazing curiously at us. It felt very uncomfortable and we turned round and got out of there as quickly as we could!

Curious cows

Our next attempt to find a place to stay the night was in a wood down a small side road that we spotted as we drove away from the farm. It looked ideal but as we drove further and further down the lane it became evident that there was nowhere to draw off and park. There was also nowhere to turn round so we just had to keep on going.

This looked a very promising spot to camp overnight

Finally the narrow lane ended in another farm yard – a very smart one this time – with two very noisy and excited dogs making a quick and quiet escape impossible.

Whoops ended up in a very well maintained farm yard

Fortunately the farmer was very pleasant and despite a slight misunderstanding (she thought we were French because of our number plate) we managed to make our apologies and escape.

In the end we played safe and picked a campsite – Svendborg Sund Camp – that had everything in the way of facilities (including a fabulous view over the Sound) even though we just wanted a place to spend the night.

Svendborg Sund Camp
View from our camping spot

The following morning we took the short drive to Valdemar’s Slot (castle) a small but quite grand estate built by King Christian IV for his son Valdemar. Sadly Valdemar never lived in it, as he died young in a battle in Poland in 1656.

Valdemar’s Slot

In 1678 – as payment for Swedish ships captured in the battle of Køge Bay – the naval hero, Admiral Niels Juel, was given the title to the castle. The current inhabitants are the 11th generation of the Juel family to live there.

View from the castle

The castle had many tapestries, murals, treasures and curios and each of the rooms was furnished perfectly.

The elegant interior of Valdemar’s Slot

We loved the library which contained some extremely valuable books from throughout the ages and also contained a secret alcove in which a cache of rifles and other weapons was hidden in World War II by the then Baron who was a member of the Nazi resistance.

Part of the library – the secret compartment is behind the rear bookshelf
More of the library

One of the areas I would not recommend however, was the revolting hunting and trophy museum which was stacked full of stuffed animals and animal heads. These weren’t just trophies from a time gone by, but also included quite a number from recent times which personally I found sickening.

Beautiful Delftware
An old seaman’s chest
Brassware in the kitchen

Mystical runes, burial mounds and a buried stone Viking Ship

Burial mounds, mystical messages written in runes, a massive stone Viking ship buried in the ground, and a 14th Century Church were just some of the treasures that awaited us in the picturesque Danish town of Jelling.

The mounds of Firehøj

The trip from medieval Ribe to mystical Jelling was just over an hour even taking the back roads and byways so we were able to have one last look at Ribe before setting off in the early afternoon for this small (under 4,000 population) but ancient and important historical town.

Welcome to Firehøj!

To our delight we discovered another ancient burial site along the way. The location was the tiny village of Randbøl where to the north of its Church, we caught sight of four bronze-age grave mounds. We found out later that there was a further mound (King Ran’s mound)) in the Church’s graveyard.

Walking towards the first mound at Firehøj

According to local legend, a battle was fought between two kings (King Ran and King Amled) in the nearby Gødding Forest. King Ran and many of his men were killed but it’s not clear if the other side experienced great losses. Ran was buried in the great mound at Randbøl Cemetery and the king’s men were buried in the mounds of Firehøj.

The mounds were taller than they first appeared

We climbed up one of these and enjoyed a great view of the other mounds and the surrounding countryside from the top.

Lovely view of the burial mounds

Time was marching on and we decided that it was getting too late to look at the Jelling site that day so we drove for a few more minutes to the fringes of the Gødding Forest and found a delightful site to stay the night in a secluded car park surrounded by woods.

The woods where we camped

It was still early so we went for a lovely walk through the woods where we came across some unusual wood carvings and a tree trunk engraved with mysterious Runic symbols.

Some of the carvings we encountered on our walk

Mysterious runes. Wish we could translate!

Later we tried out our portable barbecue for the first time and were very happy with the results. They were all the more delicious for being washed down by a very pleasant Bordeaux wine which cost the equivalent of AUS$4.60.

Trying out the new barbecue
A nice drop of Bordeaux in the foreground

The next day we arrived in Jelling, which in the Viking Age served as the royal seat of the first monarchs of the Kingdom of Denmark.

The massive barrow at Jelling

Our first impression was one of slight surprise as driving into the car park we could see in all directions a mass of white poles of different sizes that we took for particularly bad “plonk art”. It wasn’t too long before we learned that these white concrete pillars actually mark out the approximate location of the original wooden stockade. More markers outline the shape of the buried 354-metre ship.

White concrete poles mark out where the balustrade once stood

Build towards the end of the 9th Century, the Jelling stone ship is the longest ever to be discovered and it lies underneath of the two royal barrows.

Stone slaps show the layout of the stone ship below

The laying of stone ships was an early burial custom used all over Scandinavia, Northern Germany, and the Baltic States between 1000 BC to 1000 AD. The grave or cremation burial was surrounded by slabs or stones in the shape of a ship.

The museum had loads of information about the stone ship, the Ribe stones and the burial mounds

It isn’t known exactly how old the stone ship at Jelling is but the lichen on the ship stones which were covered by the south mound suggests that by then they had stood in the open for some 20 to 30 years.

The burial mounds at Jelling are very significant not only because they are the largest in Denmark but also because two Rune Stones were placed there. The larger and most important of these was placed by King Harold Bluetooth in memory of his father, first in the line of Danish Kings, Gorm the Old who died in 958.

The rune stone dedicated to King Gorm, Harald Bluetooth’s father and Thyrvé, his mother

The rune stone is considered Denmark’s ‘baptism certificate’ as it states “King Harald ordered this monument made in memory of Gorm, his father, and in memory of Thyrvé, his mother; that Harald who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.”

The smaller stone was erected by King Gorm who wrote “King Gorm made this monument to Thyra, his wife, Denmark’s adornment.” This was the first time that the name ‘Denmark ‘ had been written down and preserved.

The rune stones now stand in a protective glass case

The figure of Christ inscribed on the stone is to this day featured in all Danish passports.

This is what archeologists believe the rune stones would have looked like in Harald Bluetooth’s time

Another fascinating fact relating to King Harold Bluetooth that we found out at the fantastic little museum at Jelling was how the wireless technology called Bluetooth get it’s name? For those of you who don’t know, it was named after King Harald Bluetooth Gormssan! He was famous for uniting Scandinavia just as the inventors of Bluetooth intended to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.

How Bluetooth gained its name

The Bluetooth logo consists of the combination of “H” and “B,” the initials of Harald Bluetooth, written in the ancient letters used by Vikings called “runes.”

I love that you learn some amazing things when travelling!

Many of the Churches in Scandinavia have model ships in them. Possibly a pre Christian tradition
The current Church was built in the 14 th Century but there has been a Church on this site since Harald Bluetooth’s time. It looked like this version had recently been renovated.

On the Viking trail

It was an easy bike ride from our campsite on the outskirts of Ribe in Denmark to the famed VikingeCenter. We had heard good things about this popular Danish tourist destination but were a little worried that it would be very child focused (nothing wrong with that) and maybe not aimed at adults at all.

Smell that Viking smoke!

However, we were soon reassured that it held heaps of appeal to anyone who has an interest in the history of the Vikings.

Actors and hundreds of volunteers live and work as Viking characters during the summer months

From the moment we arrived we were taken back to Viking times – the cooking smells, the noise of people doing various crafts, the dim interiors of the huts, the heritage animals, and the full range of buildings reproduced to be as close as possible to homes, farms, sheds and workshops that would have been seen in Ribe 1300 years ago.

Preparing food that would have been eaten 1300 years ago
Solid but plain furniture
Woodworking with tools around in the Viking age
The buildings were surprisingly solid

We spent a very pleasant few hours wandering round the massive site and especially enjoyed the market area and of course, the Viking boats and boat making workshop.

Demonstrating how chain mail was made
Heritage animals – the cows were beautiful

In the barn

Two of the youngest volunteers living a Viking life for the summer
Loved The naturally dyed wool

Examples of Viking boat building

Fishing tackle Viking style

We had a little bit of lunch in the cafeteria and were astonished at the prices – around AUS$25 -$30 for two very average filled rolls. Water was only sold in single use bottles and we were refused tap water!

Weapon making workshops

Inside another house where actors and volunteers demonstrate Viking life
Visitors could have a go too

Some of the volunteers live in tents like these

More craftwork

The altar in the replica Church

In the late afternoon we cycled into Ribe – a really enchanting town with an interesting Cathedral, cobbled streets and gorgeous Medieval buildings.

The architecture in Ribe was varied and interesting

Established around 710 AD, Ribe is the oldest existing town in Denmark (and actually in the whole of Scandinavia) and was right at the centre of the Viking era.

More of Ribe’s ancient architecture

The city began as an open trading market on the north bank of the Ribe River where it runs into the North Sea. Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, Germans, Frisians, English and other cultures all brought goods to exchange here.

The river is no longer navigable by large craft but smaller, shallow draft vessels can still reach the town centre

There were many pubs and cafes in the centre of Ribe

One of our first stops was Ribe Cathedral which was founded in the Viking Era and completed in the middle of the 13th Century and was the first Christian church in Denmark.

Ribe Cathedral – with various elements of the building from many different eras

It has been restored, expanded and decorated repeatedly. As it stands today, the Cathedral is the best preserved Romanesque building in Denmark.

While we were looking round the Cathedral organ music suddenly filled the beautiful interior which was just lovely.

The graceful interior of Ribe Cathedral

Just across from the main entrance of the Cathedral we stumbled upon a strange looking building which we discovered housed the remains of a monastery refractory which existed between 1145 and 1217 AD.

Monastery remains

The refectory was one of the first brick buildings in Denmark and came to light during excavations between 2008 and 2012 which also revealed 83 Christian graves from the Viking era.

Visiting Ribe was a great introduction to Viking culture and history although eating out and even having a beer in the pub proved to be outrageously expensive ($25 for two small beers)!

Enjoying a beer after sightseeing in Ribe

Once a yachtie always a yachtie

We were driving our newly purchased camper van through Germany en route to Scandinavia and looking for somewhere to stay the night. The call of the sea meant that we were inexorably drawn to Flensburg, a bustling port on the tip of Flensburg Fjord in Northern Germany.

Flensburg here we come…

Having been away from the sea for more than a couple of months we were both longing to smell salt in the air and be around boats again.

Despite there being some threatening dark clouds lurking above us, we had a great drive through the back roads from our stop in Winsen Luhe to Flensburg. We were impressed by the well made roads, every one of them correctly cambered and no potholes.

Horses grazing on the way to Flensburg

We had found a free camping spot right on the fjord and really close to the centre of Flensburg situated amongst warehouses and workshops.

So good to be around boats again

We could see a variety of boats from our overnight stop

It was wonderful to sleep to the sound of the wind in the rigging of the yachts moored close to us and to hear the rhythmic splash of the waves on the shore and the calls of the seabirds as we woke up in the morning.

Lovely to watch this graceful old girl sail past us
An Italian ferry was moored nearby

We took our electric bikes for a good ride along the waterfront. Being the weekend it was very crowded in places and sometimes easier to hop off and walk. There were some lovely boats to look at and some nice bars and restaurants along the way.

Down at the quayside there were more boats of all kinds to see
It was great fun despite the drizzle

A view across the top of the fjord
I think Jonathan was hoping to trade his electric bike for a sail!

We decided to take a look at the maritime museum but our timing was out and it was about to close so resolving to return on another occasion we made our way into the pretty centre of the town where we found a nice bar to sample the local beer.

Entrance to the maritime museum
So beautiful in Flensburg

Time for a local beer in one of the many outdoor cafes and bars

Heading off the following day we hugged the coast and rounded the tip of the picturesque Flensburg fiord. It was so lovely that we agreed that a return visit would definitely be on our “to do” list.

Sunset at our stop for the night
Auf Wiedersehen Getmany, Hej Denmark
Rounding the tip of the Flensburg fjord

From Flensburg we continued our journey northwards heading for Esbjerg – another seaport – in Denmark. The journey was delightful, and we enjoyed driving along in our campervan past flocks of geese, horses, cows chewing the cud, beautiful villages, rivers, and farmland.

A lovely drive out of Germany

Having had such a pleasant experience in Flensburg we were looking forward to visiting Esbjerg but unfortunately it was a far cry from what we had imagined. Instead of pretty yachts and colourful fishing boats there was a large container terminal. It was extremely difficult to find somewhere to park the camper van and after a while driving round the one-way system we decided to give up and look for a place to stay somewhere out of town.

At the border with Denmark

We quickly found a couple of options in the ACSI (Auto Camper Service International) app and decided to try a very small private ground in the tiny village of Vester Nebel not too far from Esbjerg and close to our next destination Ribe.

Back in the country after a fraught time in Esbjerg

The camping site centred around a series of small fishing lakes and consisted mainly of small cabins for fishermen and their families to sleep in. We were able to plug into the electricity supply of one of the huts as there weren’t any dedicated sites for campervans.

One of the fishing lakes at our first Danish camp site
Parked in front of the cabins, along with another campervan, so we could get electricity

The site was pretty, very quiet and uncommercialised and set in the depths of the Danish countryside. There was a large and busy horse riding stable just down the road with some of the stables facing out into the lane so we could give the horses a pat as we went by. The one downside was that there was no place to empty the chemical toilet but on the upside it only cost 14 Euros to stay there.

A gorgeous thatched house near our campsite in Vester Nebel

We had a lovely cycle ride into the village where there was very little going on in terms of shops or cafes but there was a lovely white washed Medieval Church.

The ancient church

The graves were extremely well tended

Our next destination was only about 40 minutes away. We were heading for Ribe which promised to be interesting as it is the oldest town in Denmark and home to a famous reconstructed Viking village.

Riding through the lanes of Vester Nebel
Meeting horses and their riders along the way
Then a short hop to Ribe

Learning that slow is good and to face your fears

It was peak holiday time when we took off in our camper van for the first time since collecting it from Veron in France and driving it to Pijnacker in the Netherlands.

Taking the minor roads means beautiful views

We had decided to head North towards Scandinavia as we thought that countries like France, Spain and Italy would be heaving with people and perhaps Norway, Sweden and Denmark might be a little less crowded. We were also very interested in visiting these countries for all sorts of reasons including the rich Viking history, the wonderful scenery and interesting culture.

We had a few kilometres to do

Although we did see scores of camper vans throughout Scandinavia except for the most remote places, we didn’t ever feel there were too many people on the road or have problems finding somewhere to stay for the night.

While staying with our daughter and partner in Pijnacker we had the luxury of purchasing, at our leisure, everything we needed – bedding, linen, towels, crockery, cutlery, utensils, pots and pans, food, drink, toiletries, cleaning implements and materials, storage boxes of every size and a couple of sturdy Dutch electric bikes. Now we were ready to set off.

Our sturdy Dutch bikes

As we had lived on a yacht in SE Asia for the past three years, we were used to being self sufficient and it felt good to be travelling once again with everything we needed, for every eventuality, (well almost) on board.

Off we go to Ostbevern

Our first stop was in a small town called Ostbevern in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. We had found the little overnight stop for motor homes on the ACSI (Auto Camper Service International) app that we had downloaded onto our iPad before setting off.

The camper van site at Ostnebern

The pleasant little site in Ostbevern is administered by the staff in the local swimming pool/leisure centre and when we went in to register and get the key to turn on the electricity and to use the showers, the two girls on duty looked aghast when we asked if they spoke English. Despite their protestations one of the girls explained in perfectly good but simple sentences what we had to do when, where we would find water and clean the chemical toilet cassette and that we could use the pool for free. When she finished she shot her arms up in a “I made it “ gesture and we gave her a round of applause. She was so pleased. (Note to self: Face your fears!)

We had the site all to ourselves so spent a very pleasant and peaceful night- great value at 10 Euros a night.

Relaxing with a beer

The following morning we consulted the many brochures we were given by the girls at the leisure centre and used one of the maps that outlined some great cycle rides.

Some of the brochures given to us st the leisure centre

I was still feeling a little shaky on the electric bike as one of my hips needs replacing and is quite painful – especially getting started on the bike. Having said that, once I got going it was a brilliant way to travel and we had a great ride down leafy lanes and through fields of corn.

Cycling through fields of corn

Even though I was quite nervous at first, it was fantastic to have an electric bike each and meant that we could see far more than if we were just walking everywhere. (Yes, it’s that “face your fears” thing again.)

Passing an old mill in Ostbevern

After lunch and filling up with fresh water we set off again and headed for a campsite in Winsen Luhe, the capital of the district of Harburg in Lower Saxony, Germany, 25 km Southeast of Hamburg.

On the road again

On our way we went past the fabulous looking Iburg Castle (a former Benedictine Abbey which from around 1100 until 1673 was the seat of the Prince-Bishopric of Osnabrück).

Iburg Castle

The stop at Winsen Luhe was actually a car park in the centre of town which wasn’t exactly picturesque but was very close to a supermarket which was useful. As it was completely free and we had a very peaceful night it didn’t matter at all.

The lovely site at Winsen Luhe!

Once we are inside with a G and T who cares?

By day three we were beginning to get into a groove. The driving was much easier compared to when we picked up the van in France, mainly because we took the pretty country roads instead of the wild and fast autobahns.

Pretty country views

It was so interesting to see the change in architecture from the Netherlands to Germany and as we rolled leisurely past gorgeous dairy farms and fields of barley we agreed that even if it took longer, it was a much better way to travel as it was not only far less stressful but also we got to see much more of each country we were travelling in. (Another lesson learned: “Slow is good”.)

Interesting architecture in Germany

Very different from the Netherlands

A major annoyance and a minor disaster

We had a major annoyance and a minor disaster on the second day of driving our brand new camper van through France and Belgium to The Netherlands, where we were going to load on all the gear we had bought to make it “home”.

Our route from Mareuil-sur-Ay to Pijnacker via Reims

The trip started fine as we drove down the beautiful country lanes of Northern France but as soon as we joined the motorway system we had our first drama.

A lovely country road with no traffic!

We were attempting to take the Reims by-pass towards the Belgium border but between Google maps, my interpretation and the lack of signposts where they were most needed, we went round and round in circles and up and down various freeways trying to find the right route.

The ring road at Reims doesn’t look that bad but we managed to get very confused!

The road system around Reims seemed crazy. The motorway splits numerous times with exits coming up on top of the split roads – only to split again seemingly straight away. Too many choices! Terrible signposting! Not enough time to observe and decide where to go! In the end we stopped in a car park and recalibrated our Google maps and much to our relief managed to get out of the spaghetti-like tangle of roads.

As we crossed over the border into Belgium, we had our minor disaster. We were on a slip road joining a motorway. There were road works at the side of the road (I think they were widening and lengthening the slip road) and we were filtering on to the motorway when suddenly there was a “thwack” and we realised our offside wing mirror had gone head to head with one of those red and white striped road signs used at roadworks.

A temporary bollard like the one we hit but without the concrete at its base!

The temporary bollard was placed a little bit further out than the others and, because it was very windy, had been weighted down with a couple of massive concrete blocks. Normally, if you come into contact with one of these temporary signs they “give” a little so no damage is done but in this case the concrete blocks held the bollard so firmly that our poor wing mirror smacked hard into the road sign and the mirror fell out!

So there we were, driving a left hand drive van having been used to always driving a right hand drive car, with no off-side wing mirror, in a strange country where the driving style is very different to either Australian or English driving, (eg we are definitely not used to being overtaken at 180km an hour) and feeling we needed our eyes everywhere!

For a moment there we wondered if we had made a big mistake – perhaps the camper van was too big for us? Maybe the European roads were just too crazy for us to drive around? Should we really have swapped our sail boat for a home on wheels? Fortunately the feeling was only fleeting and after a few days of driving around and getting used to our motorhome, we became more confident that we’d done the right thing.

A windmill, we must be in the Netherlands!

It was great to be back in the Netherlands once again and pick up all the household purchases we had bought in Ikea in Delft and a camping store in Rotterdam a couple of weeks previously. We also found a great caravan/campervan service centre close to our daughter and her partner’s home in Pijnacker that was able to install a sun canopy and a television set and also a bike rack for the two electric bikes that we had ordered.

A family of ducks in Pijnacker
Our daughter and partner walking through nearby woods
Sorting out our crockery in the campervan

While we were getting everything organised we also had a couple of days to get to know Delft (a 10 minute bike ride) and The Hague(a 16 minute train ride) a little bit.

In Delft we spent a wonderful morning wandering round the centre dedicated to the the 17th Century painter Johannes Vermeer. Housed in an atmospheric reproduction building on the site of the origin artists’ guild of Saint Luke, where Vermeer was Dean of the painters for many years, the exhibition shows what life was like in his time, has information on his contemporaries and the order and meaning of his paintings.

Reproductions of some of Vermeer’s most famous paintings

Some more of Vermeers’s most famous works

Lunch at the cafe in the old Delft post office

In The Hague we saw a few of the sites including the Dutch Parliamentary buildings, the Kings Palace and some wonderful arcades and shopping streets. It has a great “buzz” to the place and we are looking forward to exploring it further soon.

An old market building in The Hague
Knights Hall at Binnenhof, The Hague
More sights ….
Inside a pharmacy – established in the 18th Century

The Hague has many lovely shopping streets
A lovely arcade
Our girl with a pearl earring

After a few days our van was fully equipped and ready to go. We had parked it in a street near our daughter’s house while our preparations were being made and we decided to spend our first night “on board” in the nearby Delftse Hout camping site.

Parked at the Delftse Hout camping ground
All the facilities there are clean and well cared for
The bikes are on board and we are ready for our Scandinavian adventure

It was quite expensive but as it was peak season and the park really full, we understood why. We were only there for one night, just to get our bearings before we set off for our tour of Scandinavia with anticipation and excitement.

Idyllic? Yes, but challenging and fraught too

Our arrival at the small station in Sens, an hour’s train ride out of Paris, was an exciting moment for us. At last – after all the research, the international phone calls between Australia and France, the many emails and the to-ing and fro-ing of paperwork – we were about to drive away into the sunset.

Our new home on wheels

We hopped into a taxi and in our school student French asked the driver to take us to the small village of Veron where Phil and Hannah Spurge of Euro Camping Cars conduct their camper van sales and rental business.

Checking out the skylights

A few minutes drive and we were there being shown round our shiny new home on wheels.

View from the front door
Our island bed (still in plastic!)
The facilities
Our shower

Phil had organised insurance for us but there were still some the payment to finalise and as the insurance company was “at lunch” he suggested that we walk into the village and do the same. (This was our first experience of French businesses completely closing down for lunch for two hours).

The village of Veron

We strolled down to the centre of the tiny village which was composed of some small cottages, an official looking (maybe municipal building?) an ancient Church, a couple of shops (closed for lunch of course) and a very charming little cafe.

Lunch time
Great way to serve up dessert

The plat du jour was a delicious fish in a beautiful shrimp sauce and a fabulous chocolate mousse served in a jam jar for dessert.

The interior of Veron Church

After lunch we had a look round the little Church in the centre of the village before waddling back to finish all the administration for the van.

The ancient font

Administrative buildings?
The village pump

Eventually we farewelled Phil and Hannah and headed off in the van. We decided to travel just a short way using small roads (rather than crazy busy freeways). The countryside was extremely pretty and before too long we found ourselves in the champagne district where we saw endless rows of vines.

Our first visit to a garage
Filling up with gas for cooking and for our fridge when we aren’t moving
Pretty French country road
Harvest time
Lots of grape vines
Champagne anyone?

We ended up in the small town of Mareuil-sur-Ay in the Marne Valley and noted (we found out later) for its “powerful Pinot Noir”.

Beautiful avenues of trees
Rows and rows of vines

A sweet French village
Driving past a chateau
High on the hill …
On the way to Mareuil-sur-Ay

More important for us that night was the “Aire de Service” – in other words a designated overnight parking area for camper vans. These sites are found throughout France and are often completely free. You can usually empty your chemical toilet, fill up with water and empty your used grey water tank for free. At Mareuil-sur-Ay there was a five Euro charge (about eight Australian dollars) for electricity but we didn’t need power so we were happy to take a non-powered site.

Cuppa anyone?

It was a glorious place to stop, right by the canal so we had plenty to entertain ourselves with passing barges and the local swan family.

Canal boat near to our stop for the night
First night in our new home
These swans were very protective of their fluffy brood

We looked in vain for a small cafe where we could have a bite to eat but everything was closed in the village. It didn’t matter as we had really had quite enough to eat at lunch and fortunately we had brought a kettle, cups, tea and milk and some biscuits.

Parked up for the night
These canal boats had everything – this one even had a car on board!

The Aire de Service in Mareuil-sur-Ay
Electricity supplied at a small cost and free toilets (below)

The next morning the local shop (called Petit Casino – there’s me thinking it was a local gambling den) opened early and we were able to buy baguettes, ham, cheese and tomatoes for our lunch.

We would have loved to stay longer but had to press on back to the Netherlands where all the cutlery, crockery, pots and pans, cleaning things etc were waiting in readiness to fit out the van.

Driving through the champagne district sounds idyllic but our new home was quite a challenge at first as the gearbox (six gears) took a lot of getting used to – first gear was particularly hard to find and the van did not like being made to draw away in third!

Roundabouts were a particularly fraught experience as not only were the cars going round the wrong way but we kept stalling when trying to make a quick getaway. Not only that, but we had a very insistent alarm that was going off randomly at the most inopportune and stressful moments (it was a fault that we drove some nine thousand kilometres with) informing us “Charging system service now”.

The open (and sometimes stressful) road

One of the hardest things to get used to was the fact that the cab was much narrower than the van section so great care was needed turning and backing as the rear of the van would swing out unexpectedly.

Would we ever get used to driving this monstrous seven metre long three and a half tonne vehicle and how did people with those really huge rigs manage?! These were the questions we were asking ourselves as we swept past the vast rows of vines in the gorgeous French champagne district.

Banking nightmare while going Dutch

Our camper van had been ordered over the Internet from Australia, and a company (“Socitie Civile”) set up so we could own it legally. It was now waiting for collection in the small French village of Veron, an hour’s train ride from Paris. But first we had to pay for it!

Our camper van awaits

Due to a technical hitch on our bank’s on-line site this took more than a week and many frustrating hours (over days) to organise. What should have been an easy two-step one-day process became a nightmare of international phone calls, emails and angst. However, at last the payment was made and in fact, much to our surprise, our bank not only reimbursed the extra fees involved because we ended up having to make several transactions instead of one, but also (a couple of months later) gave us Aus$200 in compensation for our trouble!

Payment seemed elusive but we had a great time “going Dutch” with our family
Enjoying the long warm evenings in Pieter and Hannah’s yard

In the meantime we had a wonderful time in Pijnacker, the Netherlands, staying with our daughter and her partner in their home for the very first time. It was a very special time as our son and his partner (based in Australia) also joined us there after their whirlwind tour of Scotland and Ireland.

Our first walk round Pijnacker revealed canals everywhere
With lots of bird life
And flowers everywhere

Pijnacker is a small town (population around 21,000) just 10 minutes bike ride from the stunning medieval canal-ringed city of Delft, home of the wonderful artist Vermeer and of course that blue and white china that seems to be popular through the generations.

Delft has many medieval buildings
….beautiful canals
The Nieuwe Kerk completed in 1496 stands I n Delft’s market square
The Girls relaxing by a canal in Delft
Examples of the China that Delft is so famous for
Happy family!
Clogs – how very Dutch.
This bridge lifts to allow canal traffic through
Delft is so picturesque
A photo waiting to happen around every corner

Delft’s city hall a Renaissance style building in the main square

A few steps away from our daughter’s front door is the market square where every Wednesday beautiful fresh flowers, fruit and vegetables, fish, meat, clothes and an assortment of other goods are sold.

The market square in Pijnacker on market day
The market square at night. There is a bar/restaurant in the white building
More of Pijnacker…

The train station is only a ten minute walk and in 12 minutes we could be in Rotterdam and 16 minutes The Hague. Amsterdam is just an hour away on the intercity train.

A few minutes cycle ride through fields brings you to this windmill which has a lovely cafe!

Surrounding the village (which boasts three supermarkets and a variety of other shops selling everything from shoes to bikes) are lovely lakes, woods, bike paths through fields, an aboretum two petting farms and lovely cafes. It’s such a great place to walk and cycle.

Sarah and cygnets at the nearby lake
A bit of posing going on!
There are some beautiful places to walk

And even swim
And of course cycle

While we were all together we had several visits to Delft and had a marvellous day in Leiden, birthplace of Rembrandt, which we explored by boat that we hired for the day.

Messing about on a Boat in Leiden
Delicious cocktails with fresh mint and loads of lime
Parked our boat for lunch in a canal side restaurant
Don’t fall in!
We had to go under some very low bridges
We even had to move this foot bridge so we could pass along the canal
Relaxing after a swim
Such a Dutch view!

We also met Pieter’s large and welcoming family for the first time which was great fun as we were able to celebrate Hannah’s birthday on their regular Wednesday evening dinner together (Mum, Dad and six siblings and partners plus five grandchildren).

The birthday girl
Hannah gets some help to open her gift
Mmm chocolate cake!
Celebrating with Pieter’s family

All too soon it was time for our son and his partner to return to Australia and for us to head to Paris to collect the camper van.

Quite expensive for a one-way ticket!

We had decided to go by train as we thought it would be a pleasant way to travel but being peak holiday time it was expensive and hard to find a booking that suited us. Our daughter suggested using Flixbus (apparently these run routes all over Europe and the USA) as a cheap alternative. We were amazed. The one way train ticket from Amsterdam to Paris would have cost EUR 120.22 each and the bus ticket was only EUR 49.98 for two! Better still the bus left from Rotterdam, nearer to our daughter’s and the terminus was close to the station (Gare de Bercy) where we were to take the train to Sens to collect the camper van.

This was much cheaper and more convenient too

The trip was just over six hours long and very comfortable with very comfortable reclining seats.

We spent the night in a small hotel very close to the station in a minute room with no air conditioning (and it was a sweltering night). Fortunately, a desk fan was supplied and we managed to open the windows to allow a bit of a breeze blow through.

Our very small (and hot) bedroom
At least we had a fan

One thing that you can be sure of in France is that where ever you go and whatever kind of cafe/restaurant/eaterie you visit, the meal you choose will be beautiful. So it was in our one night in Paris. We had a simple but delicious meal at the Bistro de Metro near Gare de Bercy. Beautiful surroundings, great service, lovely food and fantastic wine – all at a very inexpensive (by Australian standards) price.

Dinner was lovely though

The following day after breakfast at our hotel we headed for the train for the hour’s train round to Sens where we were to pick up our new home on wheels at long last !

On the way to Sens!
We went through some lovely countryside in the train
Arriving st Sens station

Ready for a new adventure?

So we (Jonathan and Dot) bade a sad farewell to our yacht, in Langkawi Malaysia, sold our family home in Brisbane, Australia, and sold/gave away most of our furniture and other possessions. Now we were ready for a new adventure.

Bali Hai in Thailand

Having spent the last three years enjoying a fabulous time sailing to, and cruising, in SE Asia we were ready for some changes. We wanted to see some different cultures in Europe, spend time exploring more inland areas and not be constrained by the worry of leaving a yacht unattended.

Ahh miss our floating home!

Besides, we also wanted to look for a Lagoon 420 or 421 Catamaran either in Europe or the USA which we hope to cruise back to SE Asia.

This or something similar will be our next purchase we hope!

How were we going to travel to all the places we wanted to explore? We certainly didn’t want to stay in a series of hotels or even Air B and B for weeks at a time. Apart from the expense, it would be a pain to organise and the thought of living out of a suitcase for long periods did not appeal. We decided the answer was a camper van – as we were cashed up we could afford a new one. They are so much cheaper than a yacht!

A camper van was the solution

My main criteria were that it must have an island bed and good refrigeration. Having struggled with a v-berth in our otherwise very easy to live on Jeanneau 44i I definitely wanted to be able to walk round our bed when making it. No more bed yoga when changing the sheets! As I am a fridge devotee and have dreamt about having a walk in fridge, I was not willing to let standards drop and to put up with a tiny bar fridge and a freezer that could only fit a bag of frozen peas and some ice cubes.

An island bed was a must

My husband’s main requirement was that the van would be left hand drive as we were going to be driving round Europe. Apart from that, we were quite easy to please!

… was left hand drive

After scouring the Internet over some weeks Jonathan realised that strangely, there were really very few left hand camper vans with island beds and large fridges despite the many, many different makes worldwide. However, he did eventually find one – a French brand, Chausson – that fulfilled all our requirements.

This is a Chausson

The next hurdle was to find out where we could buy one. As we had British passports and family in England we could have bought one there but because the new camper vans in the UK are mostly right hand drive that would have been difficult.

Our best bet would be to buy one in Europe but this wouldn’t be that easy as there were certain rules about residency to comply with plus the problem of our foreign language skills being limited to school level French (almost 50 years ago).

After many hours of research Jonathan found a French camper van hire company which also sold camper vans. The best thing was it was run by native English speakers Phil Spurge and his wife Hannah who were originally from the UK. After a couple of phone calls with Phil we learned that in order to register a vehicle in France we would have to start a French Company. That sounded very daunting but fortunately Phil could assist us with that.

However, first we needed to find a suitable vehicle. Phil told us that there was quite a waiting list for buyers wanting to buy a new Chausson. He didn’t normally deal with that brand but he said he would make some phone calls to see if any of his contacts had one for sale. He was quite dubious about finding one but said he would give it his best shot.

Amazingly, and much to even his own surprise, Phil found one through his dealer network almost straightaway. The van had been ordered by someone and then for some reason not picked up and was up for sale in Turin!

Our new home from home

So the wheels were set in motion (no pun intended) – we ordered the van and through Phil we were put in touch with the legal company who would set up our “Societe Civile” so that we are able to purchase and use a French registered Motorhome.

In the meantime, we had an important date to keep in England – one of my nephews and his lovely partner were getting married! It was going to be a great family time as our son and partner were also flying from Australia and our daughter and her partner were coming from the Netherlands.

It was a beautiful wedding
The first photo of the six of us together

We were also going to catch up with all our English relatives and be part of another great celebration – one of my sister’s 70th birthday.

Delicious birthday cake!
…and an excellent spread
Our son and daughter and their partners
My siblings and me

In the week after the wedding and before the 70th party the six of us conducted a lightening tour of southern England visiting amongst other places, Battle, Hastings, Rye, London, Bath, Salisbury, Avebury Rings, Stonehenge, Northampton, Cambridge and Thetford.

The ruins of Pevensey Castle
On the battlements of the castle at Battle
Fishermen’s huts in Hastings
Iconic Salisbury Cathedral
View from the pub garden in Salisbury

Our son and his partner headed for a whirlwind trip to Scotland and Ireland and our daughter and her partner took the ferry back to their home in the Netherlands where we were all to be reunited the following week.

Punting on the River Cam in Cambridge
Passing the famous Kings College Cambridge on our punt

After the bustle of the past two weeks Jonathan and I enjoyed a quiet time in the calm of my sister’s house in Broadstairs, a quaint and unspoilt traditional seaside town in Kent.

Beautiful Broadstairs beach with Dickens’ Bleak House in the far distance
Timeless beach toys
The historic Tartar Frigate Pub in Broadstairs

From there we were able to catch up with some old friends (but sadly not enough time for too many visits) before leaving for Pijnacker a small town near Delft, in the Netherlands.

Breaking up is hard to do….

Well this is the blog update I have been putting off as it’s hard to accept what I am about to write:

We have sold our beloved seafaring home Bali Hai!

Bali Hai and a glorious sunset in the far North of Australia

A bout of crippling back issues for the skipper and the need for a hip replacement on my part made us realise we weren’t getting any younger. If our dreams of buying a catamaran and sailing it back to SE Asia from the USA (or possibly Europe) were to be fulfilled then we would have to get a wiggle on. And then there was a heap of land travel we were planning ….

Sailing into the deep blue

So reluctantly, and thinking that she probably wasn’t going to sell in SE Asia and we would still be sailing her back to Australia within the next little while, we put Bali Hai up for sale at Rebak Marina with Frederique Fontaine at Langkawi Boat Sales and Services.

Happy times on Bali Hai in Indonesia

We arrived back at Rebak Marina in Langkawi, Malaysia from the Andaman Islands on 26 March. We had a wedding to attend in Brisbane Australia on 31 March and to give us time to recover from the flight we were to fly there overnight on 29 March. That gave us just short of three days to completely pack up all our possessions, and clean the boat ready for viewing.

Full moon and Bali Hai

Packing your life up after three years living aboard is not easy! There was so much to sort out. There was a lot of stuff to throw and give away. Then we had to chose what to take back to Brisbane with us and what to store. We had purchased two massive holdalls in which we could store stuff – our kind friends from Yantara had graciously offered us some space in their storage shed in the marina so we could put some things there to retrieve later. We had bought 60 kilos each of luggage for the flight back so knew we could take a fair amount to Brisbane with us.

Bali Hai in Malaysia

It was rather overwhelming at the time but now, some months later I couldn’t tell you what we threw out or what we put on the table outside the marina office although I know with some of the items it was hard to let go. Judging by how quickly they disappeared I’m pretty sure it wasn’t rubbish! Then we left heaps on the boat for the new owners or – if she didn’t sell quickly – for us to use on our way back to Australia.

And here she is in the Andaman Islands

We organised through Frederique to have our stainless steel and our decks cleaned. The topsides had been polished during our haul out before we left for the Andamans so they just needed a quick wash down.

….and in Thailand

Down below we managed to clean the forward and rear cabins but we just ran out of time and couldn’t get the salon looking smick. Fortunately, Frederique was able to come to the rescue and organised a cleaner to finish off what we had started.

Our saloon pre-packing

This whirlwind pack up was quite exhausting, especially coming on top of a voyage with three nights at sea and very little sleep. We were still putting things into storage when we were supposed to be heading for the last ferry from Rebak Island to connect us to the mainland in time for our flight. We weren’t going to make it! I hurried down to the terminal and thank goodness I was able to organise a private ferry to come to Bali Hai and collect us and our luggage.

After loading our four suitcases and two carry on bags on to the ferry and clambering on ourselves we felt a great sense of relief. We had done it (more or less)! Then I remembered that I hadn’t cleared out the “cooler” section of the fridge in which we stored things that didn’t require refrigeration but benefitted from being kept at a constant temperature. I couldn’t remember what was in it except for some French perfume and tonic water! Fortunately Frederique also organised for it to be cleared and cleaned.

Just as well, as within a day or two of us leaving two prospective buyers (couples) were due to come and view Bali Hai.

My happy place

Much to our absolute surprise one of the couples made an offer very quickly and within a few weeks after we had left her in Rebak, Bali Hai was sold.

The skipper made one last trip to Rebak on 19 May to do a hand over with the new owners and sort out the items in storage. Once again some things were too heavy to take and were sacrificed to the give away table next to the marina office. The rest of the things were packed up for the flight back to Australia.

Bali Hai’s new owners take her out for the first time

Bali Hai’s new owners are a very nice couple, Andrew Bruechert and Tess Kealy from Western Australia. People who hail from that part of Australia are often referred to as Sandgropers after the strange subterranean insect found in that state. So being a couple of committed West Australians Andrew and Tess have made the boat their own and renamed her “Sandgroper”.

Bali Hai’s former skipper with her new owners Andrew and Tess

For those of you out there in South East Asian waters look out for Andrew and Tess who have already made a name for themselves in Phuket Race Week by coming fifth overall in their class with a third in one race. Fantastic going considering they had only just taken ownership and didn’t know the boat well!

We had owned Bali Hai for seven years, three of which we had spent sailing the beautiful waters of SE Asia. It was hard to say goodbye – as the old song says “breaking up is so hard to do”!

A last glimpse of Bali Hai as she leaves Rebak Marina

In the meantime our plans are coming together. Being gluttons for punishment we put our family home, which had been rented out while we were sailing, up for sale.

Wedding ready but looking a bit weary!

So a couple of days after the wedding we had returned to Brisbane to attend, we moved all our furniture from storage back into our house. Again, we were working against the clock as the first open house was to be the following weekend. Yikes!

Ready to do a quick move in before the open house

The garden was a mess, even by our very lax standards so we not only had to clean and organise the internal spaces, we also had to do at least some garden care on our bush block.

Nearly there!

Amazingly we had a firm offer within a couple of weeks of the house going on sale. We had put a lower price on than we had when we tried to sell three years previously. Possibly if we had waited for months instead of weeks we would have sold it for slightly more but we felt at our stage of life it was better to have more time than more money!

So after unpacking all our worldly possessions the next thing was to pack up everything that our daughter had left behind while she was travelling the world as now she was happily settling down in the Netherlands with her new partner.

Our daughter’s four poster bed.

Going through all her “ stuff” was somewhat of a marathon but eventually, after much to-ing and fro-ing we narrowed down items to be thrown away (so hard to chuck some of those sweet drawings and early writing), things to giveaway (mainly clothes), things to be sold (four poster bed and thirteen pairs of stilettos) and stuff to be sent over by ship, to the Netherlands.

Cinderella are you out there? Thirteen pairs of high heeled shoes for sale!

By the time all our daughter’s belongings were loaded into boxes ready to take up four cubic metres of a shipping container, the house was definitely sold so once again it was necessary to pack up all our furniture and other possessions ready to go back into storage again.

All ready to be freighted to the Netherlands

As we were planning to be “houseless” for the foreseeable future and if and when we bought another house again it would very likely have a much smaller living space than our family home, we decided that it was time to get rid of much of our larger furniture.

We gave away quite a bit of furniture and the rest we sold which was quite a wonderful experience as each buyer was so happy with their purchase and all had a fascinating story to tell.

There were for example, the young Rohingya refugees who were delighted with the “extras” we gave them, the lovely young couple who had just rented their first home together, and a Dad of six who owned a fashion business on the Sunshine Coast. It was a actually a very pleasant experience.

In the end we just kept our bedroom furniture, some outdoor furniture that we love and various household items like pots and pans, basic china and cutlery and just a few clothes plus some pictures, photos and old letters.

Time to relax and enjoy the last few hours in our family home

It felt liberating to divest ourselves of so much stuff – our yacht, our house and a lot of unnecessary furniture and other possessions.

Our worldly possessions going off to storage again.

While we were getting rid of stuff we were also busy acquiring a major item which would play an important part in our next adventure- a brand new camper van which was going to be waiting for us near Paris in June.

Our camper van waiting for us in France

Also , somewhere in the world is the 42 feet Lagoon Catamaran that we plan to buy in 2019.

More of that in another post. In the meantime, I will continue with my “Salty Tales“ blog but understand that many readers won’t be interested in land based travel (even though we have been having the most amazing time in Scandinavia). However, if you are interested in our continuing adventures please keep reading. After all, it is you who make the effort of writing regularly worthwhile! Otherwise, I look forward to reconnecting when we find the Lagoon of our dreams.

Enjoying a great sail

Thanks everyone for sharing our adventures on Bali Hai!

Rally end – cricket, partying and things that go splat in the night

Our last few days in Port Blair, capital of the Andaman Islands, passed in a blur.

Arriving in Port Blair from Havelock Island

We had a good trip over from Havelock Island and arrived about midday. That afternoon we had lunch at our favourite spot- the Megapode Hotel and as always relished the beautiful view over the water as well as the Kingfisher beers and the good food.

The Megapode Hotel is always a great place to eat
Bali Hai’s skipper pointing out some of the places we had just visited

The following day we hired a couple of cars to take us to a fishing village just round the coast from Port Blair which other boats in our company had visited during our previous time in the Andamans in 2017.

View from an elderly Morris Oxford (Ambassador) with another equally antiquated car in front.

It was a heartwarming and fun afternoon. The Beach Houses had brought a cricket set with them to give away to one group of very fortunate cricket mad kids who had -up until then – been playing with an old piece of wood as a bat and a line on the ground as the wicket. They couldn’t believe their luck and happily posed for photos with their new gear.

Nothing could wipe the smile off these boys’ faces

We wandered down to the wharf where we saw some fishing boats – some of them in the process of being made. Then we went in to the fish markets but the business of the day had been completed and the fishermen and the market workers had settled down to relax and play cards until the next round of work started.

Of course we looked at the boats
Including the ones being built
There were a lot of card schools happening

There were lots of cricket games going on – ranked, it seemed, according to age so the older boys and youths had the largest pitch and the very youngest had just a small area in which to play.

…and many cricket games

Somehow some of us were persuaded to bat and bowl. My attempt was pretty bad but was greeted with hilarity and a great sense of fun.

Some of us had a bowl or a bat

That evening a party was held to mark the end of the rally. This was a lot more casual than the official reception at the start four weeks earlier.

The skipper of Bali Hai tries his hand st smashing the piñata

Held on the terrace off the conference room at the Megapode Hotel, the party consisted of some fun games, a great meal, music and a bit of dancing. Young Andrew from the Ukraine amazed us with his expert Break Dancing.

The chapatti making contest
The skipper of Beach House collects his prize for winning the jack catching competition from Rathnam and his wife Sushma
Andrew from the Ukraine demonstrates his breakdancing skills

Suddenly it was our last day. One final lunch with our cruising buddies and friends from the Rally at the TPG restaurant, some last minute food shopping and boat preparation, refuelling at the local garage etc.

Shopping at the local market

As there were a few of us leaving, Customs and Passport Control came to us (organised by Rathnam) and set themselves up in a shed at the dockside. It was all so easy.

Departure day dawns

The next morning at at 6am we called into Port Blair Port Radio and were given immediate permission to depart for Rebak Marina in Langkawi, Malaysia. We thought we would be asked to standby and have to wait for half an hour which is what happened the previous year so when we were given the immediate go ahead we had to rush around getting ready. Rathnam had really done a wonderful job organising the authorities for the rally participants.

Farewell Port Blair

By 4.15 pm we had passed the fearsome looking Black Rock (we were a long way off it but surf around the rock was still visible to the naked eye). We put up our sails after a radio sked with Asterie who were heading for the Similan Islands.

The end of our first day at sea

We had a beautiful sail in 10 knots of wind and were broad reaching between 5 and 5.5 knots. The wind increased just a little and soon we were humming along at 6.3 knots per hour.

Lovely conditions for a sail

Soon after dinner the Skipper took the first sleep – 9 pm to 1pm. It was very peaceful and quiet. Just a crescent moon and the stars, calm sea, steady wind. We didn’t see one other boat all night. At around 5.15am we put the engine on to help us through a couple of areas of disturbed water caused by currents that were running at least four knots. As the wind turned a bit more east it had a huge impact and we only needed engine for a short time. During our first 24 hour run we covered the distance of 137 nm.

Dawn breaking is always uplifting on a passage

Later on that morning we turned the engine on again and motor sailed until early afternoon when we went under sail alone again. We were on course all the way to Langkawi via Koh Lipe!

Lovely being at sea again

We caught sight of MV Tropic Star on our AIS (Automatic Identification System) not long after we left Port Blair – it was a long way off but was the only boat we saw in the first two days.

My watch on the second night was very uneventful although a mysterious creature (I’m thinking a giant octopus or maybe a large seabird with a stomach upset)) squelched big purplely brown splotches all over the boat – in the cockpit, through the open porthole into a bathroom, and all over the deck and windows on port side. Yuk!

Who was the culprit?

During his watch the Skipper encountered two cargo ships and two fishing boats so we were definitely getting closer to land.

By the third night, the conditions were less easy and the sea was messy and the wind was quite brisk and changeable. We had to put a reef in to the main sail early on and then we couldn’t get the auto helm to go well tracking our course. Finally the boat settled down but as always it was a relief when the sun came up.

Another beautiful sunrise

During the day the wind was blowing consistently at over twenty knots and the sea got up a bit so waves were crashing over the bow – the decks certainly had a good wash! Occasionally we went over an extra high wave and poor Bali Hai thumped down the other side with a bang. It wasn’t anything we (or the boat) couldn’t handle but it was noisy and uncomfortable for a few hours. By the middle of the day the sea and the wind had calmed down considerably and the boat only fell off the occasional wave with a bang.

The sea was a little unsettled for a while

We arrived at Koh Butang, an island belonging to the National Park, close to Koh Lipe, around 2 pm Thai time and as we were very tired decided to stop and rest and make for Langkawi the following day. After ten and half hours sleep we woke up extremely refreshed and set off again after a small hiccup with the engine which decided not to start. It didn’t take long to find out that the air filter was blocked and once it was cleaned we were off again.

Arriving at Koh Butang

Just a few hours later we arrived in Langkawi ready for our next challenge – but more of that in the next update.

Enjoying a DOA (drink on arrival) at Koh Butang

We felt that the inaugural Andamans Rally had been a great success and would thoroughly recommend it to other yachties keen to explore these remote and fascinating islands.

A Malaysian fishing boat – nearly at Langkawi!
Langkawi at last!

If you would like to read more about our experiences in the Andaman Islands follow the link below:

Crab art, mysterious footprints and “Something Different”

It doesn’t get any more gorgeous than this. We had sailed from Diglipur to stunning Sound Island in the southern end of the bay that encloses Maya Bunder, on Middle Andaman Island.

Gorgeous Sound Island

The water was so clear where we anchored (in ten metres!) that we could see the anchor chain all the way down to the bottom.

Soft white sand to walk on

On the beach the sand was soft and white and there were baby stingrays darting around in the shallows. Rocks on the beach were layered like broad steps and we could see from this that the island had been affected by an earthquake in the distant passed.

Evidence of an earthquake

Our walk along the beach was interspersed with stops to examine the amazing patterns made by crabs (do they make this wonderful art in a conscious way?) and puzzle over footprints of strange animals.

The question is do crabs call it art?
It is certainly very beautiful

Does anyone know what made this footprint?
No mistaking what made this one!

The following morning we left at 7am and interrupted a large pod of dolphins catching their breakfast. They were quite a way from Bali Hai but came up to Yantara to frolic and show off their swimming prowess and stayed with the boat for quite a long time. (Photo credit Yantara).

Dolphins having fun around Yantara
Leaving Sound Island

Leaving Sound Island

We made our way back to one of our favourite spots in the Andaman’s, North Button Island. That evening the crews of Bali Hai, Yantara and Beach House had a great candlelit barbecue on the beach.

Back in North Button Island

Getting ready for our beach barbecue
Such a lovely time of day
Eating dinner on the beach

Just as we were going to bed we saw a boat lit up like Christmas tree that was hooting like it was going out of fashion. We had literally switched everything off – lights, (except anchor lights) radio etc and as the vessel was quite a long way off and we were happily tucked into an anchorage near the beach we just decided to go to bed and ignore it – it was after 11 pm after all. The next morning it occurred to us that it could have been coastguard but at the time we just didn’t think to put radio on. We had heard that other boats had been called up late at night by the coastguard but I don’t think they can expect a response when a boat is legitimately anchored at that time of night.

Before we left for Havelock Island the following morning we had a beautiful swim in the crystal clear waters off a gorgeous beach. We were anchored in 18 metres and were amazed to see the chain resting on the seabed when we pulled up the anchor.

North Button Island
Such a gorgeous place to swim
Where the water is so clear you can see to the bottom

That evening we had another fabulous meal at our favourite restaurant “Something Different”. The chef excelled himself with delectable tandoori fish and chicken and an assortment of vegetable curries. As always the service was great.

Sunset – must be time to go to Something Different