All posts by stuartandhelen

Stuart, Helen and their T25 VW campervan on a road trip through Mexico and the USA

Week 52 – Home – the last post

Our route


We are home. Well almost. We have just arrived off the ferry from Hook of Holland and are now parked up in Harwich about to find a greasy spoon cafe serving a full English Breakfast with a big mug of builder’s tea. So we will say our ‘goodbyes’ now as this is the final post in our blog.

We spent this week travelling from Iceland, a 1,700  mile journey including an afternoon stopover in Torshavn in the Faroes.

Sunny Torshavn in the Faroes through the cabin window on the M/V Norrona

Driving the hundreds of motorway miles through Denmark and Germany has given us plenty of time to reminisce  on the year’s best bits.


In total, we travelled more than 21,000 miles through 23 countries. Our route was always pretty flexible – go south to the Sahara and then north to Iceland. Along the way, we added some island hopping and included Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily in our journey. A good decision as it turned out.

Van troubles

Molly did very well despite her advanced years so our thanks to Karl and everybody at M& D Motors in New Malden for doing a great job getting her ready for the trip.

We did have a few issues though.  We cured an early overheating problem by replacing the pressure cap on the coolant tank from our box of spare parts. The faulty thermostatic fan switch was replaced with a new one courtesy of a courier delivery from Just Kampers in Hampshire to the campsite we were staying at in Porto. Thank you Andy Evans at Just Kampers for the fantastic service and for being so helpful.

One of the side windows blew off on the road from Delphi in Greece but a Lidl bag-for-life secured with duct tape has served as a perfectly adequate replacement till we get home.

And the duct tape came in use again…

… to hold the bumper together after it split on impact with a tree in Penedes Geres National Park in Portugal.

Vasil, the mechanic we found in Durres on the first day we arrived in Albania from Italy, plugged the hole in the coolant pipe which was probably caused by the bumpy crossing from Bari. And the scary brake failure on the road to Varna which followed a van service in Bulgaria was mercifully fixed quite quickly on a return visit to the garage.

Inside the van, we’ve managed to live without toast since the gas grill packed up a few months in to the trip though we did miss having a working gas heater especially when staying on the campsites without electric hook up in Iceland.

Thanks for the memories….

Thinking back over what we’ve seen and done in the last 12 months, some images come to mind straightaway, like surfing the Saharan sand dunes at Erg Chebbi in a 4 x 4 when we were in Morocco, kayaking through Riga’s canals at midnight or standing on a Helsinki street with nothing but a towel and a beer can cooling down mid-sauna at the Koltijarnan.


There’s the evening we spent up at the sheep station near Breb in Romania’s Maramures..

Dinner is served – Our hostess at the sheep station with Penny Ridgely of the Village Hotel in Breb, Maramures


..or the astonishing piles of driftwood we picked our way through on Alexia beach in Corsica.

We were childishly thrilled to leave Sweden following a herd of reindeer…

..and genuinely startled at the scenes around us when we came across a Roma shanty town when driving through Slovakia on our way to Poland. Then there was the incongruous situation of being among other motorhomers overnighting by the hot springs river in Thermopylae in Greece, just a few feet from a bankrupt hotel now providing a temporary home to refugees from Syria.

We remember how nervous we were the first night we ‘wild camped’, starting at every noise outside the van. We became more confident about it and maybe could have had more nights like that one in Bjortijan National Park. It is one of Sweden’s fabulous national parks where they generously leave out a woodpile for passing travellers to build a fire.


And we’ve got personal moments that stand out. For me, it’s the Bulgarian folk singing course I signed up for at ‘Wild Thyme Farm’ in Palamarsta in Bulgaria. I may have forgotten the words to the songs we learned already but not the final evening when our small class (Nicky, Steph and myself) performed for the ladies of the village choir and they, in turn, performed for us. That was pretty special.

Rehearsal time in the Bulgarian folk singing class at Wild Thyme Farm in Palmartsa


The warm welcome for us at the village hall in Palamartsa

And while I was busy with that, Stuart has happy memories of his day out foraging with Stefan in the forests around Palamartsa.

Stefan the hunter…

No fishing today.

Stuart’s plan to fish in every country didn’t work out. The admin in arranging a licence was too complicated. Or it was the wrong season or it was just because we didn’t have the luxury of time to spend sitting for hours on a riverbank. But he did manage to catch some pike when trying out bellyboat fishing in Extremadura…

…and he caught a grayling in Norway and a haddock in Hauganes off the side of an Icelandic whale watching boat.

Special Countries

And of all those visited, the countries that will stand out as special are Morocco, Albania, the Faroes and Iceland. The six weeks we spent in Morocco were so full on. We revelled in the vibrancy and colour of it all …..

…and found the people to be warm and friendly.

A special shout out to Hicham here. He gave Stuart the chance to say he’s fly fished in the Sahara. He was our guide around Marrakesh and he treated us to a delicious home cooked cous cous.

In Albania, Danny (who we know from London) was a star. He put us in touch with Ani in Durres and Dorina in Tirana. And Dorina in turn introduced us to Miri and Elma in Korce. They were all too young to remember how brutal life was under Enver Hoxha but meeting them and hearing about life in Albania today made our trip to their country extra special.

As for the Faroes, those tiny dots in the middle of the North Atlantic just seemed so, so remote it was a kick just to actually be there. Everything else like the spectacular scenery was a bonus.

And finally there’s Iceland. No matter that we’d seen the photos of geysers, lava fields, steaming mud pools…, it was incredible to see such wild nature up close.

We thought some cities and towns were really special…..

…like Riga with its streets of lavish art nouveau architecture …

..and the atmospheric feel of Naples.

Narrowing down our choice of splendid Spanish cities is a challenge. Let’s go for Seville and Salamanca at the top of a list which will also include San Sebastian and Cadiz. Then there is Krakow and Wroclaw in Poland and the baroque towns of Ragusa, Modica and Nota in Sicily or the strangely fascinating Fascist New Towns in Sardinia.

We saw so many wonderful buildings like Gaudi’s El Caprichio in Comillas…

…and the Mesquita in Cordoba to name just two.

We listened to some live music…. the Positivus Music Festival on a sunny weekend in Latvia and at the great First Aid Kit concert in Sundsvall in Sweden. It was a surprise to turn up in the Spanish town of Caceres and find we were just in time for three days of an Irish fleadh.

…visted some art exhibitions….

…including the Guggenheim in Bilbao, the Capodimonte in Naples and, while waiting around Palermo for our ferry to Salerno, caught the fantastic Steve McCurry photographic exhibition.

….and saw museums, loads of ‘em….

…so it might be quite a while before we can face another ethnographic museum. There were a fair number we passed through in a glassy-eyed daze trying to summon up enthusiasm for another 400 year old chipped pot but there were some that really grabbed our interest. Who knew that herrings could be so interesting? That’s the Herring Era museum in Siglufjörður in the north of Iceland. In Gdansk, the Solidarity Museum was inspiring and we enjoyed learning about the entrepreneurial Brits behind the port business in Porto.

We had some great guides….

…who helped give us a better understanding of a country or city, like George’s Socialist Realist tour of Tirana.

It was great fun being driven around Krakow’s proletarian paradise of Nowa Huta in a Brabant and quite magical to follow Abdullah up a steep mountain track to the agadir in Amtoudi in Morocco.

In Romania, Sorin brought the frescoes on the Painted Monasteries of Bocovina to life for us.

There were unexpected sights…

…like the Salt Valley of Añana in Northern Spain.

The salt farms at the Salinas de Anana

The inhalitarium in Poland crowned it though. We’d never seen anything like that before.

….and we had cheesey fun…

Ye haw for the cowboys of Fort Bravo in Almeria’s spaghetti western country and ‘Mamma Mia’, how good was it singing at the ABBA museum?! (Not that good – Stuart).

..and sometimes became worryingly stalkerish.

…like my delight at stalking wedding parties out for a photo session. We saw them everywhere but especially in Spain where my favourite bride (because of her fabulous red shoes) comes from.


Back to nature….

We’ve watched many birds…

…and seen many beasts….


..and some wonderful – and weird – scenery.

…like the rice fields of the Ebro delta in Catalonia, the shifting Leba sand dunes on Poland’s Baltic coast and as for Iceland, well, the list there is too long.

We went hiking, probably not as often as we’d hoped but there were some memorable ones like the trail up the mountains near San Vito lo Capo in Sicily or the one down to the church along the Mani Peninsula or over the mountains in the Faroes.

We went swimming in the Gialova lagoon on the Messian Peninsula of the Peloponnese.  (Thanks Nadja and Gunter for telling us we should go there!)

..and what turned out to be a surprisingly tepid  Baltic Sea off the coast of the Estonian island of Saaremaa.

And wherever we could find them, we bathed in hot springs like the ones in Ourense in Spain, Eger in Hungary,  the Sardinian village of Fordongianus and in Iceland as often as we could.

Some of the roads we travelled felt pretty epic,  like the one across the desert from Zagora to Amtoudi in Morocco where we were within 30 miles of the Algerian border in some places. And also in Morocco, we drove through the Atlas Mountains just before the snow gates shut and were chuffed to get a speeding ticket in our old van.

The winding road down into the Douro Valley to Porto felt epic too, especially in the heavy mist and rain and, after straining up Spanish mountains, we liked being able to drive on the long flat roads across the mesete as we travelled to see Don Quixote’s windmills in La Mancha.

There was no route quite so desolate though as the road we followed through Iceland’s interior.

For the best views, it’s hard to beat the Albanian journey to Tepelene where we had the snowcapped Gramos mountains alongside us for long stretches. Of course, neither can some Albanian roads be topped for sheer awfulness.

So here’s one of the roads in the east of Albania which has no tarmac…

…because it has all slipped 15 metres sideways.

And so this is Christmas….

…which we celebrated on a rooftop overlooking Essaouira. Two chickens served as our substitute turkey and we watched as they were picked out of the small flock huddled in a pen in the butcher’s shop, slaughtered and plucked in front of us.

We celebrated Easter in Bulgaria. After attending an Orthodox Good Friday service, we cracked painted eggs with our fellow guests at Wild Farm in Gorno Pole. And we stayed up as late as we could to bring in midsummer in Lithuania but couldn’t manage the all-nighter like the locals

We drank a little bit….

Stuart’s well stocked beer blog is testament to his commitment to tasting the local brew in every country. Korce Black still ranks as his number one beer though on reflection he’s not sure if that’s because it came after a long dryish spell in Morocco and – to his CAMRA taste – nothing but euro fizz lager in Spain and Portugal. (The week we spent in Puivert with Julia and Steve was an oasis in the middle and thanks so much for your wonderful hospitality!)

In addition to beers, we enjoyed the vinho verde in Portugal,  the ritual of drinking Spanish cider in Asturias,  rediscovering Mateus Rose on the foggy night we broke down on a Portuguese mountainside, joining the locals in Naples with a pre-dinner ‘spritz’ of prosecco and Aperol and the Sardinian wine dispensed by petrol pump that kept us going for a while.

…and ate a lot.

In Naples, what else in the city which invented Pizza Margherita. Dessert was flaky sfogliatelle pastries.

In Spain where our trip started with nights of pintxos sampling along the streets of Bilbao and San Sebastian, we tried three or four different versions of the breadcrumb dish migas. The best was served by a small restaurant in Puerto de Santa Maria, a catamaran ride away from Cadiz.

In Oviedo, we filled up on hearty fabado…

…and sat out a rain shower in Vigo with a plate of oysters, pimentos padron and whitebait.

whitebait and pimentos patron

In Morocco where the menu choice was pretty much limited to tagine or cous cous, the lamb tagine with prunes in Midelt stands out as does Hicham’s home cooked cous cous for us in Zagora.

Stuart ploughed a lone furrow though in tucking into a plateful of Polish blood sausage, kazanka black pudding and sauerkraut in Krakow. I stuck to the pierogi which was made all the tastier slathered with onions.

After six weeks in Greece, we never got tired of Greek salad and Greece also had the best on the hoof lunch snack. That’s gyros which comes with chips. A close second though must be the arancini we bought in Sicily’s Ragusa. Those fried balls of rice stuffed with ragu sauce or spinach were ideal picnic dishes.


Food for home….

From Bulgaria, we’ve acquired a taste for mixing tahini and honey as a spread and we will also be trying to find a supplier for Albanian mountain tea.

And speaking of souvenirs…

…we picked up a biggie. That will be the house we ended up buying in Bulgaria. Thanks Chris and Claire in Wild Thyme Farm in Palamartsa for all your help with that one!

Any questions? We think there will be three…

Question 1 – Based on what we’ve been asked already, we think the first will be ‘were you ever scared?’.

Well we certainly felt scared that afternoon we went walking in the Rhodopes mountains in Bulgaria and had a close encounter with the fierce sheep dogs trained to protect the flock against wolves and bears. We had a similar experience in Breb in Romania.

Other than that, there was our first night in Morocco and already feeling slightly on edge from the newness of everything around us, it was unnerving to hear from the local who popped by our van bemoan the fact that ‘everyone around here joins ISIS’ and that we should move further south. But other than that incident, we never had any other concerns about our safety in Morocco, aside from the roads, of course.

Stuart did all the driving on the trip – the blue/pink task division held up for the duration – and his adrenalin levels soared on many occasions when navigating Moroccan roads. But we also had a very near miss in Slovakia thanks to non-existent road markings at a T junction. In this instance, it wasn’t a case of he who hesitates is lost. The dithering saved us from a nasty smash.

Question 2 – Did you fight? Yes sirree. We sure did but not much. With so much time spent together, cabin pressure does build up so we probably had about three humdingers . The air was cleared by various means like throwing something heavy out of the van (Greece), going for solitary long walk leaving other to sweat (Sardinia), prolonged sulky silence (Sweden). Of all the methods, the last is definitely the worst so best avoided.

Stuart heaves sigh of relief as he moves art box for last time


Question 3 – Would you do it again? So imagine a genie had met us off the ferry in Harwich this morning and handed us a new MOT certificate plus a pot of gold doubloons (or whatever currency genies trade in). Would we turn Molly around and set off again? The answer from both of us is ‘no’. We’ve loved the variety of it all, little things like how anyone joining you at a Spanish bus stop always says ‘hola’, the distinctly clipped way the Scandinavians say ‘Hi’, the different food and nature and cities (see everything above).

It was great too that my three children Ciara, Conor and Regan and Stuart’s two Callum and Mary were able to share parts of the trip with us and that friends Dave and Carol were able to join us for a weekend in Varna.

We’ve loved it all but we also liked the fact that our trip had a beginning, middle and an end. Getting from Morocco to Iceland was the plan and it’s been a fantastic journey and great adventure . We met some lovely people along the way who we hope will remain friends.

And it has been really special to have all of your comments and support along the way so thank you so much for joining in.

So now it’s back to family, friends and work and the tube journeys and trips on the M25 (and thank you so much to Declan, Delphine and Lee for keeping our car alive while we were away).

All the best to everyone and safe travels,

Helen & Stuart xx

PS. If anyone does happen to stumble on this blog in the future, we are always happy to try to answer any questions. Our email addresses are: and


Week 51 – Iceland – second week – travelling south (the Penultimate Post)

We could hardly see the glacier which is apparently the same size as Luxembourg because of heavy mist. Neither did we manage to catch a performance of the Northern Lights.

But our second week in Iceland was still a very grand finale to our year’s road trip. This island is the most incredible place we’ve been to for wild, steaming, bubbling, scary nature. Of course, that has meant we have been sharing these amazing places with a lot of other people especially when you get to the Golden Circle of attractions near Reykjavik. And we are here at the tail end of the tourist season. Lordy knows how selfie-tastic it must get in the height of summer.

This week we started our travels well away from everyone and everything – on a 120-mile journey down route F35 through the highlands of Iceland’s interior. It’s a road which opens only in the summer…

…and takes you along gravel tracks through the Langjokull and Hufsjokull glaciers.

The landscape is remote and desolate and ideal if you are seeking solitude which is why we kept driving and didn’t disturb the cyclist in this hut.’s only us..imagine his surprise and delight.

…and the rough surface was hard going on the van and probably not ideal to be driving on without a spare tyre since last week’s puncture.

At some points, we weren’t even sure we’d be able to get any further.

We were very glad to be able to stop along the way with an overnight at a campsite beside the hot springs at Hveravellir.

The site once again didn’t offer electricity to campers (grumble, grumble) but did offer a natural hot pool within sight of the glaciers. So we warmed up nicely with the pool to ourselves at first…

…before it filled up with fellow campers. We chatted to two Czech couples who passed on their travel tip for managing Iceland on a budget…

…shop at ‘Bonus’ supermarket where the bread is “only” four times the price of home. Everywhere else, it’s ten times. Noted.

Back on the Route 35, stopping only to pick some bilberries…

..we reached the first of the three big attractions in the Golden Circle.

Here are the double cascades of the Gullfoss waterfall.

And attraction number two, here’s the Strokkar geyser where we joined the groups gathered around the pool of steaming water, watching and waiting for the whoosh….


…the powerful jet of boiling water gushing skywards every few minutes.

It was mesmerising. But after watching three or four gushes, it was time to move on to get the third of the Golden Circle attractions, Pingvellir National Park. The park holds a special place in Icelandic history because it’s where the first Icelandic parliament used to meet. And for students of geography, the park is special because it is located on a plain straddling the tectonic plates of North America and Europe.

The park’s friendly tourist information officer suggested a four-hour walk following a route around all the main sights. But you know how it is when someone is giving directions.

You hear the first one and then just smile and nod which explains how why we ended up down here…

…beating our way through bracken and scrabbling over rockfalls. It was hard going. That’s the last time I’m going walking through a fissure in the earth’s core let me tell you.

We were mighty relieved to finally reach a point where we could climb out of the crevasse and – a bit sheepishly –  step past the  ‘no entry’ sign…

….onto the path we should have been on.

It led to another waterfall….

…with the added interest of watching our fellow tourists adopt a variety of interesting poses.

Further on we watched enviously as fellow tourists prepared to snorkel in Silfra….


…where the dive is in the crack between the two continental plates and the glacier water is so clear, there is underwater visibility of over 100 metres.

And off they go…

Before heading to Reykjavik, we stopped off at the Fontana spa in Laugarvatn to see how they bake bread using the geothermal energy.

Here they are digging up the pot that was laid into the hot black sand 22 hours before.


And here’s the baked loaf…

..which was like a sweet rye flavoured cake and was delicious served lathered in butter.

Our first stop in Reykavik was to get the puncture  fixed and then we headed to the city’s huge campsite (with electricity – hurrah!) The two American boys checking in ahead of me asked if they could camp for free in return for work (Yes they could) and clearly sensing they were on a roll here, did the campsite have any warmer sleeping bags they could borrow as they were a bit cold. (Yes they had). What nice people.

In Reykavik we had lunch in the Laundromat Cafe (thanks for the tip Cliona!), a stroll up the hill to the Cathedral and then a wander around the compact city centre…

…where as a tourist holding a map, I was just what these two Reykavik women needed. They were on a company treasure hunt and one clue asked for a photo of ‘a tourist with a map’.

I put on my best confused tourist face and obliged.

And just before it closed, there was time for a quick scooch around the Culture House. I asked the guy on the front desk if he knew what this painting by Icelandic artist Hulda Hákon was referring to, if any specific event.

The 2008 financial crash which devastated Iceland, he ventured at first before checking that it was dated 1995. ‘It must be about another crisis back then. We have them all the time like today, for example, the Icelandic Government has collapsed.’  And, indeed, it had in a very strange story involving the prime minister’s cover up of his father’s role in restoring the honour of a convicted rapist. I guess the PM must be feeling sorry for the mess he’s caused.

Down by the harbour front where the old fishing town is being reconstructed into a trendy district of bars and restaurants…

…we had an Icelandic beer, chatting briefly to Jacob from Denmark and Chance from Washington DC, both part of the team at the Icelandic video gaming company CCP (inventors of the Eve Online game).

I’m really not sure how the conversation queueing for a pint turned to the topic of the particular difficulties of the dating scene in Reykavik. Somehow it did and we heard about what sounds like a very useful app which makes your phone buzz  if you are about to get cosy with your long lost brother.

And if we planned to stay on and eat in that restaurant, they recommended the horse fillet.

No thanks. I prefer my Icelandic horses like this…


…and anyway, it was Friday night and we needed to get some practice for life at home. So it was off to the pub, ‘The Drunken Rabbit’..


….and a curry in the ‘Shalimar’ across the road.

The drive out of Reykavik in very heavy mist was a taste of the weather to come for our last few days in Iceland.

We had decided to skip going to the Blue Lagoon and instead headed to Fludir to the Secret Lagoon instead. It is apparently  Iceland’s oldest swimming pool.

Floating around on the noodles and eavesdropping on fellow floaters, we applauded ourselves on  choosing it over the better known hot pool which (according to our eavesdroppees) is really expensive, overcrowded and you needed to reserve in advance.

Feeling very rested, we set off down the road to camp beside, yes that’s right, another waterfall. Iceland does a good line in waterfalls and the Skogafoss is a beauty. But I’m afraid to say that like the tourist I’d overheard saying they were ‘waterfalled out’ I left Stuart to climb up the steps to the top on his own.

But next morning we both went to the foot of the waterfall for an exhilarating facial in the spray.

We travelled on along the south coast, stopping off to look at the Myrdalsjokull glacier from the distance….

…and we stopped at a spot clearly designed to get the stone pile building itch out of your system. The tradition  of making stone piles here as a good luck charm for your onward journey dates back hundreds of years. Now visitors are encouraged to build their own pile there – and only there.

As we drove closer to the Vatnajokull glacier – that’s the one the size of Luxembourg – the countryside started to look really strange. And the mist hadn’t lifted…

…so we could only catch the occasional glimpses of the largest ice cap of Europe…

…but we did see chunks of it as the glacier ‘calved’ (that’s a word I learnt this week) into the lagoon at Jokulsarlon.

Maybe on a bright sunny day, this lagoon would be magnificent but on the grey misty day we were there, it was magical.

There is a boat trip you can book to get closer to the icebergs but we were happy to view them from the lakeshore.

We did our own version of poo-sticks and played ‘escape the lagoon’. To play, pick your own chunk of ice and follow it’s trail…


….through the water. Will it  get trapped by the bigger icebergs or make it all the way out of the lagoon, under the bridge and out to sea. We followed our mini-iceberg across the road…

… to the black sand beach, dotted with ice chunks big enough to sit on, and watched it head out to the North Atlantic.

Leaving the lagoon, we picked up hitchhikers Hanna from Bavaria and  a bit further down the road Adrian from Hungary.

Iceland is a good place to hitchhike it sounds like. Both reported that their average waiting time for a lift was about 10 minutes. We dropped them off at Hofn and carried on along the Ring Road along the south coast where our American friends Rhonda and David had marked on our map a place we should stop for a coffee break.

They were right…the cafe at Hvari farm was unexpected.

Talking to…

…(saves me downloading the Icelandic keyboard) who works there for the summer, the cafe is in a converted sheep barn.

Like many other farmers in Iceland  they are now diversifying into tourism and as well as the cafe which hosts live music in the summer, they have opened a hostel.

Still driving through heavy mist…

We arrived back in Seydisfjordur where we started our travels round Iceland two weeks ago.

That’s our ship there…

…ready to take us to Denmark on the first leg of our trek home. Just one more post to go. The end of our big trip is virtually here.

Week 50 – Iceland – first week – travelling northwards



We spent this week in Iceland where the tourists and the sheep vastly outnumber the local population and Stuart has had his ‘at-the-checkout-in-Waitrose’  face on for a few of our purchases. (“HOW MUCH?”)

The £37 pounds we paid for two bowls of soup spring to mind.

The massive and sudden boom  in tourism and its impact, good and bad, is the ongoing big news story here. An estimated 2.4m visitors are expected to holiday in Iceland this year to an island of 330,000 people. Most arrive in on flights to Reykjavík on the south west coast and focus on what’s called the ‘golden circle’ of sights within a two hour drive of the capital.

Our ferry from the Faroes arrived in to the south east coast port of Seydisfjordur…

…and after dithering about which direction to travel on the Ring Road that circles the whole of Iceland, we opted to drive anti-clockwise and go north.

Hopefully that way we’d see fewer tourists and more sheep. And as September is the month when the farmers gather family and friends to help herd their flocks down from summer grazing on the mountains, maybe we’d get a chance to see this Rettir tradition in action.

The scenery when we first set off was ‘ a bit like Scotland’ which has become Stuart’s mantra for the trip whenever we drive through countryside with green hills. But then it all changed.

This doesn’t look like Ayrshire anymore.

The gravelly expanses stretching out on all sides reminded us of  when we drove through the Sahara desert along the Moroccan/Algerian border a few months back. (Apologies – please do feel free to give me a clip across the ear if I come out with stuff like that back home)


Along the road we’d seen signs warning against any ‘off road’ driving, not that Molly had any chance managing the rocky terrain around us. But over in the distance on a narrow track off the Ring Road, we could see a motorhome slowly working its way around.

It definitely wasn’t a 4 x 4 so if they could do it, why couldn’t we? We left the Ring Road, googling our destination as we went through the desert landscape.

It turned out to be Möðrudalur. It’s a working farm…

…the highest farm in the country apparently but it is also a tourism business with a thriving business enticing travellers off the Ring Road.


Inside the turf roofed building was a restaurant…

…serving this excellent lamb soup.


And as well as a helipad offering volcano tours, there was a campsite though unfortunately not one offering any electric hook up to campers. It did mean we were in for a chilly night as our gas heater isn’t working. But still it was the perfect place to stop for our first night in Iceland.

We bought a round chewy doughnut from the restaurant to have with a cuppa back in the van…

…and then settled down in our deckchairs …

…to enjoy the view and take in the last rays of the unexpectedly warm afternoon sun.


Rhonda and David from North Carolina arrived on the campsite in their hired campervan and we got talking about all sorts including this shared irritation…

….these heaps of stones. We’ve seen them in every country we’ve been to on this trip. Take a walk out into the wilds and you can bet that someone ahead of you will have marked their presence with a carefully arranged pile.

I get the point and real importance of cairns to mark a path for hikers but these piles are surely a form of landscape graffiti. OK, that’s the soapbox rant over…and if you don’t agree, then you might like the rainbow in the photo.

Getting  back to our first evening, our new friends had heard that, despite it being quite early in the year, there had been sightings of the Northern Lights already. All the signs were good for tonight.

The sky was cloudless…

…and so we all waited up in our van till midnight before finally calling it a night.

Next morning we headed back onto the Ring Road…

…and then very quickly left it again to travel down a very, very bumpy gravel road… reach Detiffloss. Remember that waterfall in ‘Prometheus’? This is it and mighty impressive it is too.


Heading north towards Husavik, we travelled through  black lava fields spotted with splashes of bright yellow lichen…


…which was an apt spot for the van’s water temperature warning light to start flashing. (gulp)

After giving it time to cool down,and topping up,  we were back on the road where the spectacular sights kept coming.

Here’s the boiling hot lake near Krafla. The ‘No Swimming’ sign seemed a tad redundant.


We walked through the eerie post-Apocalyptic world of the Krafla lava fields…


…and around the steaming rocks…

…and mud pools at Hverir.


At sulphurous steaming Namafjall., we followed the marked trails through the geothermal area.




…and enjoyed the more gentle landscape of Hofoi’s lava towers.

After a drenching during a rain sodden stomp around the Hverfjell crater…


…we warmed up that evening with a long soak in the Myvatn Nature Baths. They have been dubbed as the North of Iceland’s answer to the far more famous Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik. They may well end up being our less expensive substitute for the famous attraction.

Next day we headed to Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city where we went for a Japanese-Icelandic meal in ‘Rub 23’.


That’s a fusion which means you get reindeer in your bento box starter along with the prawns….

…followed by a main course of cod (it being Iceland..).

In just a few days, we had already seen some spectacular scenery but the undoubted highlight was our afternoon whale watching at Hauganes.

Looking like we were on a NASA mission we set off on the boat trip with, I admit, low expectations of what the day would hold. Maybe a few glimpses of black shadows in the water somewhere off in the distance? We weren’t overly optimistic.

We certainly never expected to see this humpback whale breaching the water beside us…


…or watch as three humpbacks took it in turn to dive beneath the water, like synchronised swimmers rehearsing a routine.

It was breathtaking to see their speed and grace so close.

The captain called time on the whale watching and offered all a chance to try their hand at sea angling. Drop the line to the bottom of the sea and then move the rod up and down is the technique apparently.

It didn’t work for me…

…but Stuart caught our dinner. It’s all in the wrist action I believe.


Here he is with our two fillets to take home…


..and with a dollop of olive oil and a slice of lemon they tasted delicious.

I mentioned sheep earlier on and how we hoped to see the annual sheep round-up or the Réttir  in action. Well we did!  Or at least we saw a part of it.

As we were driving north from Hauganes, we heard the whoops and watched as a line of high-vis jackets gradually worked their way down the mountain, herding the sheep down to the fields around the farm.



The annual Rettir usually ends up with a ‘Réttaball’ – a night of music and dancing to celebrate the end of the round-up. Who knows, maybe we will stumble on one of those next week.

We continued our route north, past fields of Icelandic horses…


Stopping to sort more van trouble, this time a puncture….


…we eventually reached Siglufjordur. On a grey, drizzly day, it had a desolate feel.


…but this small village used to be the herring capital of Iceland with a population of 10,000.

Inside the fascinating Herring Era Museum, the story of the ‘boom and bust’ years of Iceland’s herring industry is brought to life, vividly telling the story of the gold rush atmosphere where thousands came to make their fortune.

They fished and they fished until there were…. no more fish.

Walking through the accommodation used by the men and women employed to salt the herring, it’s as though they had just stepped out for a moment.

We stayed in Varmahlio that night and talking to the campsite owner, it sounds like the big tourism numbers arriving into Iceland have not yet reached the north of the country.

He didn’t sound too sorry about this and talked about how difficult it is now for locals to find somewhere to rent in Reykjavik because so much property is now being let through the airbnb market. And he grumbled about how he took his family on a trip to see Gullfoss but was standing in a queue five deep to get a look at the most famous waterfall in Iceland.

Next week we are heading south to see Gullfoss and the rest of the big attractions in the Golden Circle but first we will enjoy the pretence of having Iceland to ourselves by heading down Route 35 through the Icelandic Highlands.


Week 49 – The Faroe Islands


We spent this week travelling the length and breadth of the Faroe Islands which is actually very easy to do. The roads are excellent and most of the islands are linked by subsea tunnels so we had no problem taking the van everywhere.

We started the week basing ourselves at a campsite near Sorvag on the island of Vagar. It is close to the Faroes’ only airport, built courtesy of these boys…..

…well, not specifically those ones but their colleagues in the British Royal Engineers.  As Gavin W. has commented on last week’s post, his Dad and about 5,999 colleagues in the British Army were based in the Faroes during World War II. It was a strategic move to prevent a German invasion as had happened in Denmark.

Gavin – if we’d known your family story before we visited, we would have looked out for your surname in the fascinating little war museum in Vagar which gathers together lots of memorabilia from the army’s time there.

As you said, there were quite a few weddings between Army boys and local women…



…and their wedding portraits were among the WWII memorabilia on display. Included was a letter to the Mayor from one of the soldiers of – as he called it –  ‘the Forgotten Garrison’ recalling his time there and thanking the islands people for the hospitality shown to the Army.

And this newspaper cutting from 1947 stood out because it could have been written this year.  In fact, I’m sure the same headline ‘The Islands in the Blood-Red Sea’ has been recycled a few times over the years.

It’s a story about the most controversial tradition in the Faroe Islands, that of ‘the Grind’ or the grindadráp.


This whale hunting tradition has been going since the 1500’s and involves the local community heading out in small boats with an assortment of weaponry to herd pods of whales back to shore for slaughter.  If you google images of the grind in the Faroes, the gruesome images which pop up will confirm the ‘blood red sea’ headline is no exaggeration.

And proving that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, if Eddy and Ted can have one….

…so can Stuart. And here he is modelling his birthday pressie, the holiday sweater Faroese style.

Back at the campsite, we chatted to owner and fisherman Christian about all sorts, what life is like in the Faroes, how there’s a bit of a Klondike buzz going on right now with huge amounts of money being made fishing the mackerel and herring rich North Atlantic, how this new money is changing the islanders’  lifestyles so now eating out in a restaurant is no longer a strange concept, why the Faroese think Brexit is a great idea and how delicious puffin is to eat.

‘Why would we spend a kroner eating out when we have freezers full of fish?’ he said to the first. And on Brexit, well it’s easy to see why the Faroese would support it given their past legal spats with the EU over herring and mackerel fishing quotas.


As for eating puffin? Stuart might be tempted to join him in a puffin pie. I was just keen to see one of these strange looking birds up close which, it turned out wasn’t that easy. The place to go to see them is the western island of Mykines, reached only by boat.

But next morning, there was disappointing news at the Sorvag harbour. It was too windy to dock the boat in the island’s narrow harbour so the sailing was cancelled. Not only that, the next day’s sailing was fully booked and it was the last one in the season.


We were turned away with the other disappointed tourists, though the prospect of an extra sailing being laid on was dangled. Check the website, we were told.

Now with a free day in hand, we went for a hike along the old village path to the village of Gasadalur. The route started just past the village of Bour…


..and travelled along the cliff path ….

….with beautiful views over the sea..


…and past landmarks from the time when this path was the only route to the village. The island helicopter service there didn’t start till the 1980’s and the tunnel was not built until 2004 to give access by road. One of those landmarks was the cheerily named Corpse stone because at one time it was the only spot where pall bearers carrying a coffin from the village for burial in Bour could take a rest on their journey across the mountain.

We had the mountain to ourselves, apart from the occasional sheep…

…and seeing these tufts of wool on the grass, we recalled that embarrassing exchange with the woman in the War Museum. We had seen somewhere in a guide advice that if we found clumps of wool, we should distribute it….

…which was a bit baffling ‘Was that to distribute it to the knitters on the islands?’ we asked her. Showing remarkable restraint in not laughing at the ignorant tourists, she explained the advice meant that hikers should pull any tufts they find into smaller chunks so birds don’t get their feet caught.


And finally, we reached the summit…


….then descended into the little village of Gasadalur where we really hoped there’d be a cafe. Based on our experience so far on the islands, we didn’t think it likely….

..but, hurrah, we were wrong.


After a stroll around the village….


…and a  photo stop at the waterfall, we trudged back over the mountain.


Next day, we were in luck. A second sailing was laid on to Mykines.



The boat ride gave us a bird’s eye view of where we had walked the previous day.


…and when we arrived at the harbour…



…we understood why it was so difficult to navigate in high winds.

Only 10 people live on the island year round…..I guess here’s one of them with his new washing machine.


In the summer, the population swells so there’s one shop and one cafe to service the stream of tourists coming to follow the trail to the lighthouse in the hope of seeing the puffins.

The advice warned that the walk was not suitable for anyone with vertigo. Still I’d had a few CBT sessions before this trip to tackle fear of heights. This was the time to use all that training. We headed off, got to about here….

….and I turned back.

Stuart kept going, down the narrow path by the cliff edge…





..and over the bridge..


He had a relaxing afternoon out by the lighthouse…

..with a picnic lunch of salted dried mutton from Norway….

…and some bird watching. But the puffins had by now all left the burrows on land where they come to breed…

…and these dots on the water was the closest he got to them.

Meanwhile, I headed back to the village…


..for a less healthy lunch…

…then sat outside for the afternoon, enjoying the warm sunshine. The weather here is unpredictable as we expected but it’s surprisingly not cold. Even in the depths of winter the temperature is kept to a manageable 5 degrees by the Gulf Stream.

Then it was time to get the boat back to Vagar..


…and there were a few more opportunities to spot puffins.



We spent the next few days exploring the islands….here’s one of the campsites we stayed on. It’s on an old astro turf football pitch though it’s of a quality which would be the flagship of many a town in the UK. Here on the islands with lots of money sloshing about, the islanders passion for football means their facilities are world class.


And it was at the campsite, we were again astonished at a way of doing business that relies on trust.

Will that change as tourism continues to increase? It’s a conversation we had with Finn, a local we met in Klaksvik, the second biggest town on the islands.

We got chatting in the reception area of the local leisure centre where I had gone looking for the two essentials of campervan life – the loo and wifi. in a wonderful gesture of Faroese hospitality, that conversation turned into an invitation to come back to his home to meet his wife Sólgerð and their two daughters – one born just three weeks ago!

We had a wonderful evening with them and hopefully can repay their hospitality some day.

Heading back towards the capital Torshavn next day, we stopped off at Gjogv.



….which took us on a spectacular route of hairpin turns.


To celebrate Stuart’s birthday, we booked the Katrina Christiansen restaurant for a delicious meal of Faroese food served Spanish tapas style. Here are the mussels and langoustine.

Here are the croquettes with prawns and a scallops. And this was followed by lamb meat balls.

It’s probably the best food we’ve had on the whole trip

So now we have arrived back at the harbour in Torshavn, about to board the ferry to Iceland and start the final leg of our journey.

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 …..

… 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.

Week 43 – From the Baltics to Scandinavia – Tallinn to Helsinki

This week we had a couple of days doing the touristy thing in Tallinn before taking the ferry to Helsinki to start the Scandinavian leg of our travels.
We said ‘cheerio’ to the friendly Finns we’d met at the campsite which was way too far from Tallinn to visit the city…..
…after chatting to them about Vdub stuff because they have a fleet of ’em. Well, the winters are long in Finland, you need a hobby, they told us.
We parked right on the harbour front….
…next door to Mareika from Germany. (Ah now I see it… we wondered why the Jehovah Witness collared us in Turku because he thought “the black cross”  on  our van was a sign we were religious. He did look a bit crestfallen when we told him it was just a duct tape repair over a broken window.)
We headed into the Old Town….
….which is very compact and easy to explore and has good pubs….
…including this Scottish one which brought back memories of ‘One Team in Tallinn’, the story of the most bizarre football match in history. In the Hell Hunt pub, the barman told us he was supposed to be going to that 1996 World Cup qualifying match between Scotland and Estonia except Scotland had already played the match earlier that day. All by themselves. I believe they won…..
Tallinn has some good restaurants …..though maybe not this one…….
….including the ‘Chakra’ where we had our third curry in our travels this year. You know after family and friends, curry is what we miss most.  We’ve packed enough teabags to make sure we can always have a decent cuppa because even in ‘Maiasmokk’, the oldest cafe in Tallinn which serves excellent cakes…..
…you can’t be sure of getting a decent cup of tea.
I present the evidence.
And for the rest of our time in Tallinn, we had a wander among the exhibits in the city’s flower show, browsed in the vintage shops inside the very smart Balti Jaama market…
….and had a walk along the harbour front where in 1980 the sailing programme for the Moscow Olympic Games was staged…
…..though today the enormous Lenin Palace of Culture and Sport constructed for the Games is looking pretty desolate…
 ….but still spectacularly Soviet.
At the Troika Russian restaurant overlooking the central square, our Texan neighbour was desperate to chat. But the frown, the hands over the mouth…it’s not going too well. Maybe his ‘Make America Great’ hat should have given us a clue.
At first it was strangely fascinating to meet someone who actually voted for the creepy clown currently inhabiting  the White House. But the novelty quickly wore off the longer his bonkers rant went on.
We made our excuses and left for another bar beside another beautiful Tallinn building….the city’s oldest cinema.
So goodbye to the Baltics after more than six weeks travelling through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The verdict? We found the history of these three still young  independent countries fascinating and the story of how they gained their independence from the Soviet Union genuinely moving. It was hard not to have a lump in the throat watching footage of the 1989 ‘Baltic Way’ when two million people – two million!!! – held hands in a human chain stretching from Vilnius to Riga to Tallinn to protest against Soviet occupation.
And we’ve really enjoyed seeing the capital cities but, but……we were left seriously underwhelmed by the flat and unchanging landscape and we are now ready for something new in Scandinavia.
And now to Scandinavia: 
Our first stop is Finland. We took the two-hour ferry crossing from Tallinn to Helsinki….
….which was like a cross Channel booze cruise complete with live band….
..and paying 3 euro for a bottle of water on board prepared us nicely for the sky-high Scandinavian prices we’ve been warned to expect.
The campsite a few metro stops from the centre of Helsinki charged 35 euro a night, the same price we paid for a hotel room in Albania. It was time to put strict new budget measures into effect.  So lunch next day consisted of homemade sandwiches sitting beside the city’s most famous landmark Havis Amanda….
….the mermaid who provoked controversy when first unveiled in 1908 because of her nudity and the sealions which looked a bit like leering lusty men….
That did mean we missed out on the platters of fresh salmon being served up at the harbourside stalls which was a shame as they looked delicious as well as being reasonably priced.
 We’ve only a short time in Finland and our chief mission was to have a traditional Finnish sauna – or sow-nah as the locals call it. Luckily Helsinki has just the thing – a traditional wood-fired one which has been operating as a public sauna since 1928.
We headed to Koltijarn which you couldn’t really miss….
Inside, we paid the 16 euro each and parted ways. Stuart went off to join the brotherhood in the very busy men only one. I went upstairs to the women only one.  I put my clothes in one of the old wooden lockers, had a quick rinse off in one of the lines of showers then pushed open the door into the huge sauna which was like nothing I’d seen before. ..a huge concrete warehouse with tiers of concrete steps. There was no one else there. Still with my towel round me,  I sat on the bottom step and got hotter and hotter.
Meanwhile Stuart was enthusiastically joining in the full Finnish experience. All towels had been cast aside – the rule apparently as one young Japanese guy, still clutching one round his waist, was told firmly ‘excuse me Sir, you must be naked in the sauna’.
Following the lead of the locals, Stuart joined in whacking himself with birch twigs and occasional trips out to the street for a cool down and a slug of beer.
Back in the ladies sauna, things were livening up. I finally had some company, including the Japanese partner of the be towelled man. She was wearing a bathing costume which would have been modest in the 1950’s. Three Chinese ladies arrived, no swimsuits, but towels. And then at last a local to show us what to do…..a Finnish woman strolled in, no towel and went over to the floor to ceiling steel oven in the corner and asked us all if we’d like more heat. Yes please, us tourists chorused politely. She pulled the lever and my ears started burning.
I left the sauna for a bit and booked the scrubber….
…and for 10 euro had 42 weeks of van life exfoliated off with a mitt. Then it was back into the heat where following the local lead, I left my towel in the changing room. Why, I was practically Finnish. And now with a female ally, I too felt brave enough to join the boys in the street for a cool down beer.
All in all, we probably spent about four hours in the sauna and came away buzzing from the experience. We’ve got the sow-na bug and now want one where we can jump into the sea afterwards.
And the rest of our day in Helsinki, we filled visiting the National Gallery to see the exhibition dedicated to the work of architect Alvar Aalto.
We had a wander along the harbour front…..
…past the Orthodox Church…
….and the cathedral…
 …and obeyed the sign.
 On the road again next day, we headed back through Helsinki city centre, getting another view of the stunning Art Nouveau Central Railway station we’d walked round the day before.
 We stopped off at museum which marks the front line in the Finnish war against the Soviet Union and then pitched up for the night at a campsite near the small town of Hanko.
First thing we walked the 8 km trail to the southernmost tip of mainland Finland….here we are….

Today it’s a well laid out nature trail though parts are still fenced off because of contamination from the Finnish-Soviet war and along the way are wrecks of the cabins which over the years have in turn housed the Red Army, the German army and up to the 1960’s women convicted of drunk driving.


We stopped off in the small town of Hanko which is charming. It’s chief attractions are the grand 19th century villas  from its days when it was a popular spa town for wealthy visitors from Tsarist Russia….

…and this lovely beach where we spent the afternoon before heading off to Turku to spend the night before catching the ferry to the islands between Finland and Sweden.


We spotted another van parked up on the harbour. When in doubt about whether wild camping is allowed, join another van. We struck lucky. They pulled over to make room for us …..

….and then opened up their impressively extensive bar and invited us to pull up a couple of deckchairs.

Cheers to all though we never got round to introducing ourselves. So whoever you are, thank you so much for the whisky and safe travels!

Next stop the Alland Islands.