Week 48 – ferries and getting to the Faroes

Welcome to the Faroe Islands

We have spent most of this week on ferries.

First we had to get from Norway to Denmark which involved an overnighter from Bergen to Hirtshals. Then we had a two night crossing to get from Denmark to the Faroe Islands where we will be spending the next week.

And first impressions of the Faroes? With scenery like this, I think we are going to like it here.

But back to our journey. The crossing from Bergen to Denmark started serenely enough. Here we are cruising into Stavanger.

Then the music started…

….and then the dancing where the singer was very keen to get all passengers on the dance floor……


Then the music carried on in the bar till everyone went to bed which, thanks to our new Norwegian best friends, wasn’t till 3 am.

So by the time we arrived in Denmark…

…or specifically the very small town of Hirtshals, we were not in the mood in for dancing or doing much else other than..

…a fish and chip lunch on the harbour front and a bracing walk down the long, wide beach past the lighthouse…

…lined with miles of concrete bunkers courtesy of the German army during WWII.


Next morning we did our last supermarket shop before we get back to the UK….not that we are counting down the days till getting home.


We boarded the ferry for the Faroes…

…doing some backseat blogging to get the Norway week posted before going 40 hours without WIFI.

We were welcomed to the restaurant by who else on a ship bound for Iceland – hello Bjork.

So how did we pass the two night crossing? Well we had a few turns round the deck, spying the Shetlands from a distance…

…watched a Great Skua dive bomb gannets to steal fish from them……here’s a poor gannet on the run..


….checking in occasionally to track the red dot on the ship screen which marked the ship’s progress…

…whiled away some time in the bar where the ‘two for one’ offer on beer seemed to run all night…

…and relaxed in our cabin, watching the sea out the window..

…and ‘Morse’ on the telly…

….with a bucket of Maltesers whilst doing as the Faroese do….knitting.

Hurrah, my VW bedspread is now finished and ready for the cold nights in Iceland.

Thank you for the pattern Regan! An inspired pressie.

And then we had arrived on the Faroes.

Torshavn at 5 am was looking misty and wet.

We found a place to park up and cat napped until the self professed smallest capital in the world woke up and we could get breakfast in one of the smart cafes on the town’s main street.

As we plan to spend more time in Torshavn towards the end of our week on the Faroes, we didn’t hang around but headed further northwards up the island of Stremoy, the largest of the 18 Faroe islands.

The mist was heavy…

…..which made for some tense driving…

…but what we could see of the scenery looked lush and vividly green.

We went to Vestmanna…

…to one of two campsites on the island.


There were lots of empty static caravans but no one else around. Inside a clubhouse style building,  there was this sign…

…which looked like a real life example of what we’d read about the importance of trust in business in Denmark which I guess also includes one of its self-governing regions like the Faroes.

When the owner did come by later, she wasn’t interested in collecting money from us either. ‘I’ve got to get back home to my sewing. The instructions on how to pay are inside.’ Knitting and sewing…these islands are a hive of craftwork.

Before she left though I was curious to find out more about all the empty caravans around us. It just didn’t look like your obvious place  for a summer holiday.

She explained they were all owned by locals who come to the campsite every weekend in the winter to socialise. ‘The summer you mean’, I said thinking she’d made a mistake. No, it was definitely the winter.  She explained that in the summer, everyone is too busy fishing, farming, spending time with older children back from university in Denmark. But in the winter, they come to their caravans for get togethers at her campsite. The men bring their guitars, the women bring their knitting and they have a great time. She now has a waiting list of 80 caravans trying to join the fun.

The weather on the Faroes is so unpredictable we resolved that come rain or shine, we would get out onto the mountains. We had both for our first expedition.

And wind, we had fierce wind which sent waterfalls up like clouds of steam…

…and turned eating a banana with your eyes open into an impossible challenge.




So now we are watching the weather forecast. If the wind is in the right direction then we will get to Mykines, the most westerly island where hopefully we will see some puffins before they go back out to sea after the breeding season. Fingers crossed.

Week 47 – Norway – Roros to Bergen

We spent this week in Norway, travelling from Roros near the border with Sweden across the country to Bergen on the southwest coast.

As we’ve only a short time here, we booked ourselves on the ‘Norway in a Nutshell’ tour (thanks for the tip Mr Greer!). It’s 12 solid hours of all your fantasies about the Norwegian landscape. It lived up to them all which explains why it is apparently Norway’s most popular round trip tour ….but more of that anon.

We crossed the border from Sweden not knowing we’d crossed the border from Sweden. Were we now in Norway ? There was no ‘hard border’ (best start getting used to this Brexit lingo) but the houses were painted in colours other than the universal falu red we’d seen in Sweden…

…and the landscape around us had opened up. No more miles and miles of tree lined roads.

Our first stop was in a little town the guide book called ‘a gem’. That’s Roros, an historic copper mining town.

And though mining stopped here in the 1970’s after 300 years of production, the original timber houses are still lived in and come complete with their own slag heap….

….and an address to give endless amusement to their British penpals.

We stayed that night at a campsite on the banks of the Glomma river where the ever hopeful Stuart hoped to catch a fish, any fish.

There he is, casting his fly upon the water…

And here he is, six hours later……

….a nice grayling in hand.

Well if it was so nice, why did he throw it back?

We moved on next day to the Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park where from this magnificent viewing area at Tverrfjellet….


..we hoped to spot one of these…

…but not today.

In the car park, we met a young English couple and their baby on a maternity leave trip through Norway in their T25.  They passed on a valuable tip…

..ignore these speed cameras at your peril.

They had already been hit with a whacking great fine of £220 for driving at 70 km an hour instead of 60 km an hour. One mile an hour faster and the fine would have been £370.

We wild camped in the car park that night..


….and next day travelled south to Randsverk…


We stopped off to see one of the sculptures along the lake shore……


..  over here, Stuart…


Norwegian Wood Lattice bisected by curved 2 way mirror by Dan Graham


Arriving at the campsite late afternoon,  Stuart headed up the mountain on a solo hike….here’s his selfie from the cabin up top.


I stayed behind in the van, thought about what to cook for dinner (spicy pasta anyone?) and then made an executive decision we’d eat out in the campsite restaurant which was serving this…

….mooseburger (which was sort of mushy mince) with the added tang of lingonberries.

We had wanted to stay for a few days to do some hiking in the hills around Randsverk but the weather next morning was so awful, we decided to keep moving, travelling past many, many turf-roofed houses…

….and turning off the route south to follow the sign for the Besseggen Ridge hike.

Now I’d like to say that we would have tackled this iconic, cult status hike but for the awful visibility but seriously, I doubt we’d have done it ever, even on the clearest day, when the views of the lakes on both sides of the ridge (turquoise one side, azure blue the other) are by all accounts mesmerising.


The hike of 14 km takes about 7 hours and involves some scrambling on your hands and knees and – the most daunting part – involves about 1 km where you have to cross a narrow ridge with steep drops on both sides. The challenge doesn’t deter some 30,000 or so hikers every year.

We got as far as the car park..


…and turned round.

Travelling west from Leira, the weather was really nasty…..this is an August afternoon in Norway

…and check out the height of those snow poles! This road must be a complete white out in winter.


But as we found this week, the weather can change remarkably quickly. Within a few miles, the mist had cleared and the sun came out long enough to pull over, brew up a cuppa, stomp up a nearby hill…


….take a few snaps of the view….



…and get the camera timer working.


The sun was still shining next day. Even the sheep were grabbing some rays on the warm tarmac.

But what was I saying about the weather in Norway? I think I may have spoken …

…and dressed too soon.

‘There’s snow business like snow business…..”

We passed through Geilo, feeling sorry for these hardy cycle race participants battling through torrential rain …

…and finally reached Eidfjord where even the trees are wrapped up against the elements.

It was here that we got a taste of the spectacular scenery to come. The campsite’s location was fabulous…

…and Stuart had an attack of van envy. Here’s our van with knobs on.


But the German owners refused to indulge his Vdub geek tendencies and to his opening gambit ‘great van you’ve got’, responded only ‘yes it is’. Stuart retreated,  a sadder, wiser man from the realisation that not every van owner wants to swap hilarious anecdotes about over-heating radiators.

We got nearer to Bergen and then the tunnels started, lots and lots of tunnels, one was about 7 km long with a roundabout inside….


….and out we came to more magnificent scenery….


…and then back underground again. The tunnels came so often Stuart would forget he was still wearing sunglasses and wonder why it was suddenly so dark…

…which was worrying but not quite so worrying as when he makes the move he has perfected on this trip where he swaps sunglasses to normal or vice versa and I know that for a few seconds our van is being driven by Mr Magoo.

Arriving in Bergen, we needed feeding up before battling with the hordes of tourists pouring off the cruise ships into the compact centro historico.

I opted for a fish soup which wasn’t as photogenic as Stuart’s choice….three types of herring served with three flavours of aquavit….

The one in the bowl marinated in madeira was the favourite.

Then it was time to enter the foray where the Spanish guide was leading her group in one direction, the Chinese guide was leading his group in the other and we navigated a path in between…

…to explore the Bryggen area where the German merchants of the Hanseatic League traded for 400 years.

Daniel, just 14 years, was my wonderfully enthusiastic guide around the assembly rooms and cookhouse used by the traders…


….and then I had a wander through the Hanseatic Museum…

..which with its dark wood panelling from floor to ceiling, to the wardrobe-style beds for the apprentices, it was very atmospheric and interesting….

…before heading back to find where Stuart had parked himself. (He has now officially bailed on all museum visits).

We did a bit more wandering though the narrow streets of Bryggen….


…where today the trade is in whoppers and souvenirs instead of stockfish and grain.


Walking to the train station to get back to the campsite, this sign caught our attention because I think it just about sums up what we’ve found on our trip so far.

The ‘Norway in a Nutshell’ tour is basically a series of transport options stitched together to showcase some spectacular scenery.

The weather was looking a bit gloomy at first…

…..but it was still early in the morning.

As we neared Voss, the sun appeared, heating up the dew into clouds of steam.


The American couple opposite us had also booked the tour. We got talking and became so engrossed in their incredible story of how he recently found four half-brothers and sisters by sending a tube of saliva to an ancestry DNA website, we missed the moose. We just heard the shouts from the other passengers delighted to catch a glimpse of one grazing in the forest.

From Myrdal, we all piled onto the Flam Railway which descends down a narrow gauge from around 800 metres to sea level….

…through 20 tunnels which were mostly built by hand….

….past some more spectacular scenery, if you could get near enough to photograph it….

And spoiler alert, at the 5 minute stop to allow time to take snaps of the Kjosfossen waterfall, there was a surprise waiting. The tour commentary on the train had talked about the beautiful sirens who haunt the Flam Valley,  ready to enchant men to follow them.

Well here she is….


….and here she is again…how’s that for a job on your CV.

Music over and we all piled back on to the train. In the Flam railway station cafe later, a British couple grumbled to us that this musical interlude was “really naff”. Whaddya mean ‘naff’? What’s not to love about watching a Kate Bush-stylie dancer while Enya muzak booms over the sound of rushing water. It was marvellous!

I daren’t ask them if they’d ever been to Fort Bravo which may, indeed, rank among my top 10 experiences in the whole trip.



In the little museum in Flam, I liked the story of the first stationmaster in Myrdal. He also ran the restaurant which sold beer and wine, but due to strict drinking laws, only to travellers….

…so all the locals would come in and buy themselves a ticket to the nearest village. Job done, they were now officially travellers. ‘A pint, a packet of scampi fries, a ticket to Upsete and whatever you’re having yourself.’

After some selfie time…


…it was back in the train and on to Gudvangen for the tour highlight, the journey through the Sognefjord, one of the world’s longest and deepest fjords.

On board the boat, we were joined by some of the passengers from this arrival into the harbour….


…for two hours gliding through the narrow channels of the fjord…

…where we spotted some porpoises…

…and watched the world go by. ..







….so we were nice and relaxed by the time we got to the final leg, a bus ride down an 18% descent complete with hairpin turns. I’m not sure anyone on the coach took a breath till we finally reached ground level.




And so that in a nutshell was our Norway in a Nutshell. We didn’t have very long in Norway overall and it’s been the most touristy of all of the places we’ve been so far. Bergen especially is rammed to the gunnels with cruise ship passengers.

But now the journey starts for the final leg of our trip. Parked up beside Cunard’s finest, we are heading for Denmark where we catch the ferry to the Faroe Islands.


Week 46 – Vilhelmina to Sundsvall


Only six more of these posts to go and we will be home. We’ve already served the section 21 notice on our tenants asking them to vacate the property. Sending a formal legal letter threatening a Court order if we don’t get possession by the agreed date did feel a tad heavy handed. We’ve been very lucky to have good tenants – rent always paid on time and no indication they’d any plans to outstay their one year lease.   Nonetheless the property agent tells us that this particular legal step has to be ticked to ensure a smooth return to our home.

So normal life is now six weeks away and, if we count the home stretch,  six countries are left to see including Norway, Denmark, the Faroes, Iceland, Germany and Holland.

This week we finished our Swedish stint, continuing our travels round the Wilderness Road …..

…and ending up at the brilliant First Aid Kit concert in Sundsvall. We’d seen the Swedish sisters who play country ‘n western at the Green Man festival in Wales a few years back so when we saw they were playing sort of near where we planned to travel,  we rejigged our journey to  fit round the concert.

Heading up from Gaddade, there was the promise of excellent fishing at Stora Blajon.

We stopped for a couple of nights at a campsite where Stuart paid 5 krone for the fishing licence and 20 krone for a motorboat and set out for a relaxing, if ultimately fishless, day on the water.


Meanwhile I stayed behind in the van doing important stuff like finding a new storage spot for the cooking utensils. Here’s their new home….


……wedged behind the bungee cord which ties two trays and some mountain tea to the ceiling.

So now no more ferreting in the cupboard for the fish slice. In quality of van-life terms, this is, indeed,  a momentous innovation and I believe more than makes up for the near fire I caused by plonking a tea towel on top of a flaming gas ring and then closing the hob lid on top of it.

Luckily Stuart’s reasonable question ‘where’s that smoke coming from?’ just before we pulled off from the campsite alerted us to the flame darting out from the cooker. Thankfully the only casualty was said tea towel. Memo to self – before inserting tea towel between hob and lid to muffle annoying rattle when driving first turn off the gas.



Fishing trip over, we were back on the road and heading for the highest point of the Wilderness Road, the Stekenjokk pass which in winter is impassable because of snow. This year it opened for the summer on 2 June and there were still drifts of snow in fields evident around us as we crossed the plateau, now finally above the tree line.

The landscape is still scarred from the 12 years of mining ore, copper and gold which finished in 1988.

We got a kick from seeing this sign…


…Lapland or Lappland, however you spell it, it felt pretty good to be here. Just a few months back we were in the Sahara. Now we had reached where Santa lives and were less than 100 miles from the Arctic Circle.

We then headed back down into the trees and steadily worked our way through the rest of the highlighted attractions on the Wilderness Road. It was a mixed bag.

The church town at Fatomakke has been a gathering place for Sami people for hundreds of years and was well worth a stop.

We had a peek into the simply decorated Lutheran church…..

…and a wander among the kota (huts) used by the Sami as accommodation when coming to stay in the village for births, deaths and marriages or for other celebrations like midsummer.

Here’s a Sami gathering at Fattomakke in 1918.


Most of the huts are still in use today by the Sami families and were padlocked from our prying eyes.



We had seen one of these elevated grain stores in the Skanes folk park in Stockholm but this was the real deal…


We carried on, calling in to the Ricklundgarden art gallery in the beautiful house created in the 1940’s by art patrons Emma and Folke Ricklund and…

…had fika in the attached cafe which has been rented for the summer by music student Markus.

Here he is whistling while he works and treating us to a medley of Irish jigs and Swedish folk tunes.

Next was a Kodak moment at the Trappstegsforsen rapids …

….and then a longer stop in Vilhelmina where we learned a bit more about Sami culture from chatting to this shop owner who is Norwegian Sami.  She sang her individual ‘yoik’ traditional song for us and talked us through the symbols embroidered on her traditional dress.


And then it was time to carry on the trail to Dorotea where – is that the sound of a barrel being scraped? – we visited the Polar caravan museum.

Yes, it’s also featured as an attraction on the Wilderness Road though it felt like the marketing bods were now running out of steam, or wilderness, at this point.

Well, we’d ticked that particular touristy box and now set off to find some real wilderness.

We just about managed it in Björnlandet national park. But for the boardwalk that takes you across soggy land and into the forest….

…and the fabulous wooden shelter complete with fire pit and free fire wood, it did feel like we were really out in the wilds.

We parked up for the night, built a fire and watched the sun go down.


On the way to Umea next day, we were back on the tourist trail when we stopped off at Älgens Hus, an elk farm and said ‘hello’ to Oscar the Moose…


…an impressive beast up close.

Arriving into the outskirts of Umea, we stopped off at the Umedalen Skulpturpark set in the grounds of what was once a psychiatric hospital.

Among the 40 or so pieces on display ….


Selfie with Sean Henry’s Trajan’s Shadow

…it was this work called  ‘A Path’  by Finnish artist Kaarina Raikkonen which stood out. It’s a simple idea, 160 men’s jackets strung out between the trees but there was something disturbing and unsettling about it.



‘A Path’  by Kaarina Kaikkonen


Out for the night in Umea, we ended up spending the evening chatting to locals Anders and Rita in the pub about all sorts …Martin’s moose hunting, Rita’s art (works by Rita Henriksson are on display in the Riverside Gallery in Barnes) and how there’s such thing as a Swedish mile (= 10km).

We had a great evening with them both….


Anders and Rita

…and were feeling a bit jaded as we drove to Sundsvall next day, passing so many cars with these enormous headlights…


…that we decided the dark country roads must be alive with leapng reindeer and moose. Shame we hadn’t seen any yet.

And we passed so many more of the handwritten signs for ‘loppis’ that finally when we saw a sign for ‘megaloppis’, we pulled in to have a look.  Whatever loppis is, there was going to be loads of it in here.


Mystery solved …loppis is like a car boot sale and this was a giant warehouse where lots of people had rented shelves to sell off house clearance. We heard later that if we’d followed one of the smaller roadside ones, it would have led us to someone’s garage where there would be a table laid out with bric a brac and an honesty box.

There’s a whole separate holiday itinerary right there.

Finally, we reached the waterfront park where the concert was being staged. We passed yet another big American car….the Swedes clearly love ’em. …



…and met another van just like ours. In 10 months, we’ve barely seen another VW T25. Now in Sweden, they are everywhere!

And we ended up having a great time chatting to fellow T25 owners Karin and Peter. Twas they who explained to us that at a Swedish concert, you are not allowed take your drink outside of the bar area.

And this is the man enforcing that particular rule.

We decided not to argue and drank up.

First Aid Kit were great….

…here’s a blast of them.


After the concert, we met Martin, another friendly Swede who was happy to demonstrate the snus habit which had intrigued us ever since we’d seen a woman in a Stockholm bar take a pinch of the moist tobacco from the tin and rub it under her top lip.



And then it was time to leave Sweden. We were coming close to the border with Norway when coming towards us we saw this pair….reindeer! At last..


And then there were more and more of them…a very Swedish traffic jam.


Even if they were on a retainer from the Swedish Tourist Board to give departing tourists a thrill, it was very special to see them.

Week 45 – Tierp to South Lapland

On Sweden’s Wilderness Road in south Lapland


This week we headed northwards out of Stockholm and it wasn’t long before we started coming across more of the same moose crossing signs we’d seen in Finland.

We live in hope that eventually a moose will cross our path during our travels in Scandinavia but so far this is the closest we’ve come to one …..

…..as served at a foodstall in Helsinki’s harbour market.

We stopped for a night at a campsite on the edge of the pretty University town of Uppsala and walked into the centre along the river path.

Stuart gazes wistfully over the bridge and considers all those artistic shots he could have taken, the shadow dappled lily leaves or indeed, his favoured centro historico number ‘late afternoon sun through archway’. Shame the camera he’d lugged into town had a flat battery.

So instead here’s a bit of Uppsala as seen through the lens of a Samsung phone.

We stopped off for a mosey round the Linnaeus museum.

I confess that as a virtual stranger to the natural world I’d never heard of the scientist Carl Linnaeus but for the former forestry student Stuart, he’s the man who in the 1700’s created the universally adopted binary system for naming plants. ‘Homo sapiens’ is also a Linnaeus category. Clever stuff.


We had a stroll through the museum garden, past the boxes where  Mr Linneaus used to keep his pet monkeys on a chain….


….and then back along the river to confirm that Uppsala gets our award for best park bench of the trip so far. The award categories are a bit random I agree.

Before leaving we decided we’d visit another Swedish institution – the state-owned liquor shop. We’d read somewhere about the experience of buying booze in Sweden and the image was conjured up of a dark dingy store with a grumpy elderly lady on the counter who looks disapprovingly at you while reluctantly handing over the hooch.

It must have been a very old guidebook. The reality was this smart store….

…which is one of more than 400+ branches of System Bolaget (or Systemet as it’s called for short). The government-owned chain is the only retail store allowed to sell alcoholic beverages containing more than 3.5% alcohol by volume in Sweden.

It’s very smart inside and the range of stock, especially the beers, was extensive. We bought two bottles of vinho verde (a taste acquired since our travels in Portugal) and three bottles of craft beer from the very cheery woman on the cash till. It cost £20 so not the scary prices we were expecting.

Then it was back on the road. Surrounded by golden wheat fields dotted with farmhouses and barns painted in the traditional red colour, it felt like we were driving through a Hopper landscape.


…apart from the fields dotted with the giant marshmallows.

We arrived in Tierp and headed to the arena….


…where we planned two days at a VW Bug Run. This was our chance to meet fellow V-dubbers, watch some V-dub racing and later in the bar have hours of fun with Sven and our other new best friends exchanging hilarious anecdotes about faulty radiators and, um, other Vdub engine thingys.

Except it didn’t quite work out like that.

We found our pitch….

…..then headed over to the arena track and managed to see some bug racing in the one hour of sunshine.


This one was a pretty spectacular …

…but all too soon it was over.

The heavens opened and unfortunately never closed. The rain was so torrential that day two of the race meet had to be cancelled. And as for our jolly night’s socialising, that never happened either. There was no central meeting place like a bar so unless we knocked on another van door (which would have been beyond sad), there wasn’t really an opportunity to meet anyone.

So here we are Billy No Mates in the soggy field….

….no invite to the sauna on wheels…..

…and no hilarious nights with Sven and his mates.

Our nearly new best friends did wave to us as they powered past us on the road out of Tierp so I guess that was sort of sociable.

Yeah, yeah, we know you’re fast but do you have a speeding ticket from Morocco?  I think not.

Ah well, we wanted to get to at least one VW event on our year’s trip so it was worth having a go even if it didn’t work out to plan.

We reached Sundsvall and checked in to another campsite and the sign at reception was more evidence that we are now in what is dubbed the most cashless society on the planet.

We will soon see if this drive to do away with physical cash has reached the Wilderness Road which we are travelling on for the next few days.

This route or the ..

…is like the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland, one of those tourism marketing projects where you take some existing roads, towns and attractions and pull them together under an umbrella brand and voila, a new packaged up tourist trail.

The Wilderness Road is a 500 km loop which starts at Strömsund in Northern Jämtland, heads northwest through a mountain pass which, due to snowdrifts, only opens in  mid June each year, on into the South of Lapland and then curves back southwards to Strömsund.

The loop idea sounded perfect for us as we’re booked to go to a concert back in Sundsvall on 12 August and even better, the road promises to take you ‘above the tree line’ – definitely a good thing when travelling in Scandinavia.

We set off on the road from Stromsund to Gaddede. We read that it is an area with the world’s densest brown bear population which was reassuring and probably meant they wouldn’t be able to unlock the van door should we bump into one.

So far we haven’t quite hit wilderness….

….or risen above the tree line.

It’s pretty gorgeous scenery though……

….with so many lakes which are picturesque by day…


…and night.

Just before reaching Gaddede, we took a detour to see the 43 metre waterfall at Hallingsafallet.

We followed the riverside trail…..

…and here it is…


Now we are back on the Wilderness Road, heading for Lapland and hopefully a chance to meet some dense bears and the odd moose.

Week 44 – the Aland Islands to Stockholm

We decided to travel the slow route to Sweden rather than take a direct ferry from Turku to Stockholm, as our harbourside neighbours were doing.

Here they are the night before departure showing just how hard it is to wild camp inconspicuously when your bed is on your van roof.

We went along the south west coast and drove into the Turku Archipelago, going by road as far as could and when the road ran out….


….by the free ferry the rest of the way to the island of Nagu.

We planned to spend one night wild camping there but the island wasn’t quite what we expected. The coastline was mostly hidden by trees …..

…and Galtby, the spot which on the map looked like it could be idyllic, was right beside a military zone.


…so not what we envisaged for a relaxing night’s camping.

On the spur of the moment, we decided to skip the Turku archipelago altogether and move on to the Aland islands a day earlier than we’d booked – if we could that is.  The only ferry off the island that day was full. We watched as all those with reservations boarded…

….and thanks to a ‘no show’ got the last space on the crossing to Kokar, one of the smallest of the 6,700 Aland Islands which lie between Finland and Sweden. The islands are a part of Finland – though the relationship with the mother country is a bit complicated-  but the first language is Swedish and the islands have their own government, flag and postal service.

Kokar was exactly what we’d hoped for… a bit scrubby and rocky but not hidden by dense forest.


And the campsite beside a little harbour was probably the nicest we’d ever stayed in..there was something very chilled out and relaxed about the place. We spent a couple of days there, one day exploring on foot…


…and the next day..


…by bike…which took a few attempts to capture on film.

Nope, too far…

…eh, wrong way….


And we achieved our aim of having a sauna where you cool off in the sea. No shots from inside the sauna (thankfully!) but here’s our view along the boardwalk into the the Baltic.

Get chewing the hat Susan – the water was wonderful!  Cold but not icy so it was bracingly refreshing.

We were sorry to leave the little island of Kokar but it was time to move on to the biggest of the Aland islands and to its main (only!) town Mairehamn.

We boarded another ferry….

…and by staying at least one night on the smaller island saved ourselves around 400 euro thanks to a fare structure designed to encourage the spread of tourism.

In Mariehamn, we visited the excellent Maritime Museum where you can walk into the luxurious captain’s saloon from the Herzogin Cecile , the barque which mysteriously ran aground off the Devon coast in 1936.  Here’s the actual room…..

.. complete with maple panelling and skylight, as salvaged from the ship before it sank under the waves.



The captain’s wife Pamela recounts her experience of the wreck and salvage in her book ‘The Duchess’ which I bought at the museum and look forward to reading to find out more about this intriguing story.


We spent our afternoon at this….


….along with Viking children….


…listening to a Viking rock band….

….watching Viking fire lighting…

….and some Vikings fighting….


…but some things were for Viking eyes only.

Next day the market over, it was back to reality for those vikings. No longboat for the two hour crossing to Stockholm, just a car ferry along with the rest of us civilians.


And before leaving the Aland Islands, we had some local fare…three types of fish, salmon, herring, mackerel and potato salad served with black rye bread.


So hello Sweden and hello Stockholm….


…where, of course, our first stop had to be the ABBA Museum.

Before delving into the group’s story there was a chance to relive some magical Eurovision history…

…ah, good man yourself Johnny…

…and how did I forget that it was Eurovision that gave Celine Dion her big break?

In the museum proper, we saw the costumes ABBA wore for ‘Waterloo’ in the Eurovision at Brighton…


 …had numerous cheesey photo ops which, of course, could not be resisted……

And I had the honour of my life – the opportunity to sing on stage alongside Agnetha, Frieda, Benny and Bjorn.

‘And I say thank you for the music……’ I think it’s going well but maybe throw in some dance moves for the big finish….


Yes, it was a privilege to sing with these legends. I never in my wildest dreams expected this would happen on our trip…….

‘Holograms?  What do you mean? Don’t crush my dreams people!

Up the road from the Abba Museum, we headed to Skansen, the world’s first open-air museum. It was dotted with farmsteads and grand homes from the different regions of Sweden and dating back to different periods of Swedish history.



And there were a few specimens of the local wildlife too.

….and the most famous of all ….the moose.


Our first impression was that it was all a bit Disneyland-ish what with the costumed guides and numerous retail opportunities with ye olde chip and pin machine (we are finding Sweden to be virtually cashless).

But it’s more authentic – the farmsteads have been moved timber by numbered timber from their original locations so we were walking round the original buildings albeit now in a new location.

And the guides were really interesting and happy to chat about the lifestyle of the families …..


…and very happy to indulge in the happy snapping.

About to leave the park, we followed the sounds of jazz where this great trio were making great music and were happy to indulge an audience member in some Sinatra crooning…



…so we stayed on to listen and in the queue for more drinks heard there was another jazz concert that evening on the park’s main stage.

If at the Positivus music festival in Latvia, we were the oldest by, say, 20 years, well here we were practically youngsters. It was like stepping on to the set of ‘Cocoon’ though the coolest Cocoon ever.. ..Judging by this audience, Swedish  people do old age very, very well.

And from the hill at Skansen, there was a great view over Stockholm…

…though the best views came when we took the Hop On Hop Off boat and travelled between the city’s islands along the river…

..very happy to look at the funfair rides from a safe distance…

Up close we strolled around the old town which is pretty splendid….

…and did as the locals do and had fika  – a small word which somehow summarises the Swedish custom of meeting friends for a coffee, chat and a cake…just like these ones cardamon flavoured bath buns.



At beer o’clock, we found plenty of options for good ale so Stuart can carry on his Beer Gallery research …

…and then it was dinner time where we felt we couldn’t leave Stockholm without trying a plateful of meatballs with lingonberries….

Stockholm is in festive mode preparing for the Pride parade later in the week but we will be missing it….

…and we will also be missing this event so will never find out what ‘very British things’ will be on sale. …

….as we are heading northwards up the coast of Sweden to join a VW rally.