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 fro 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.