Week 12: What a Week! Estonia to Slovakia.

You will see as you read this post, this week was one to try us! We set off from Estonia, having to change our plans as the weather had started to change in the Baltics. We headed south, going back through Estonia to a campsite in Sigulda, Latvia. On the way we had seen there was a bobsleigh run you could ride (the summer, slower track) and thought that sounded great. We turned up and it was closed. Obviously when we (I)’d checked the information it was Sunday and open but it closed Monday to Friday! Note to self….

The campsite at Sigulda, was so stunningly beautiful – its one you want to keep to yourself but that’s not fair on the owners. Its called Camping “Lakeside” Sigulda, the website is here if you’re interested, http://www.lakeside.lv/home/ and is on the edge of a lake as its name suggests. There are about four or five hard-standing pitches with electric and a lovely view of the lake. We arrived just as the sun had started to shine and it looked beautiful. The owner was so helpful, he gave us a map of the area and a quick guide to what attractions we should see and told us where to find him if needed. We had a quick tour of the facilities, there is a changing room for the lakeside activities and a shower block, with two male and two female toilets as well as a shower, but so well done it was lovely. It, then, started to rain again and it didn’t stop until morning.

We each had a shower and got ready for the journey to Lithuania, which included a fill up with water. Latvia had the equivalent of two and a half weeks rain in two days, so where best to decide to fill up our 70 litre water tank than on a slight incline on wet, wet grass. The lovely Nortia has a maximum payload of 3850 kilogrammes. I’m sure you know what is coming…. We got stuck. We have got tracks to put down to aid in such a situation but it was too much for them too, all we succeeded in doing was getting more stuck! It was a welcome sight to see the owner and his father coming down the track with a tractor. A few minutes later we were free and wet, but thankfully neither of us had managed to slip or fall in the mud, that would have been an even greater disaster. We headed off to Lithuania.

Just before we crossed the border we were stopped by the Immigration Police, who wanted to see our documents and the vehicle documents and also check for stowaways. We had everything except the V5, but luckily with a bit of blagging and the Policeman’s delight that he was the first to pull us over in 11 countries, we were able to pass through the border. We now have a copy of the V5 for future border crossings!

The first campsite in Lithuania was nice, it was again by a lake and in a lovely town with sculptures and a viewing point over the water, but there was a strange feel to Lithuania, neither of us quite knew what it was but we decided to give it a chance and carried on to Vilnius, via the Geographical Centre of Europe, as agreed by the Guinness Book of Records after the fall of the Eastern Bloc.

Vilnius was a different place altogether. There was a lovely feel to the campsite – The Downtown Forest Hostel and Camping https://downtownforest.lt/ It was quite a mission to get to as the road leading up to it was having major building works (as was the road out , which we only found by perseverance and gritted teeth, as well as a few choice words and U-Turns). The campsite is totally secure and right on the edge of the old town and the Independent Republic of Užupis, with its own Constitution on the walls. We found the magic tile, completing our trio of Baltic Chain commemorative plaques. Downtown Forest Hostel and Camping has a very different feel to a lot of campsites but its lovely and quirky with a slight bohemian hippy chic.

Leaving Vilnius, we headed back out through Lithuania. The drivers here are just as nuts as those in Latvia. They don’t like to sit behind you and don’t care about speed limits. We were quite happy to leave. After a quick visit to the Ninth Fort, http://www.9fortomuziejus.lt/?lang=en another spectacular monument to those who were killed by the Nazi Regime. The story is gruesome and it was the site of the largest mass execution in one day. We headed south to Poland.

Our first view of Poland, ticked all our boxes. We headed to a small campsite in Ryn, It’s called Camping Mazury and despite the Campercontact saying it was closed we had a lovely welcome. We were given a field to ourselves and the dog was allowed to roam free.

On our way to Ryn, we passed a massive (in our eyes) military exercise with tanks and vehicles and lots of personnel. It was just taking place by the side of the road! Later, that evening they all trundled past the campsite – the sound was eerie but better to be on the friendly side than the enemy! The next morning as we were getting ready to leave, there was the sounds of more military exercises, the distant sound of shells and explosives. Our host had hoped that the noise hadn’t awoken us, we thought he meant the night before but…

As we left and headed towards Warsaw, we passed the military exercise in another location and then the biggest garrison, we’ve seen. We also passed a Tesco – so we had to stop, hoping it might have English treats. I was able to buy Tetley Tea Bags and good old sliced bread but not much else (and Polish Tetley Tea is horrible – its kept for emergency use only!)

We reached the outskirts of Warsaw and had news that our friends and neighbours form last week Rewind the Gap had a very poorly dog and wouldn’t be posting for a while, until their dog was sorted – check their posts and blogs for up to date information! We’d looked at Campercontact and found a campsite on our route and settled in for the evening, when Rewind the Gap (Karen and Colin), pulled up alongside us! They filled us in with their news and us with ours,

On Saturday, we left after saying goodbye and wishing Colin and Karen well, we headed to Auschwitz. The roads in Poland seem to all be having a major upheaval and the main A1 autoroute was completely closed – it was the longest stretch of roadworks we have seen! By the side of the busy dual carriage way diversion were people just sitting and selling what appeared to be mushrooms! People did stop – literally pulling off on to the hard shoulder!

Auschwitz, is located in the town of Oswiecim, which looks a lovely place with lots of flowers and statues, but it is slightly overshadowed by Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II – Birkenau. We pulled up alongside some other motorhomes and prepared to stay the night. The night passed better than we had thought, but there was a few eerie moments, especially when the trains ran by – reminding you what people incarcerated must have heard and how those new arrivals would have been transported.

The following morning, while taking Albi for a stroll, I noticed a queue for tickets at the Museum, so thought I would go and ask about details. I left with tickets for entry at 09:50 – a quick dash back to the MoHo and get ready! We were sorted and arrived at the Museum at about 09:10! There are security checks before entering – you’ll need ID, passport of photo driving license, then you go through security – like at the airport! All metal, phones and bags go into a tray and you walk through a scanner – as normal I set it off – I had removed my belt, earrings, sunglasses but not my bracelets (the other items I had had to remove one by one in Turkey years ago!) – once removed I was able to pass through! There is also a maximum size for bags – so please check this before you go or you’ll have to leave them in luggage check.

After 10:00 you can not enter the Museum, without a guide. We had bought the guide book and self escorted ourselves around. There were so many tours already in the Museum and it was very busy. It didn’t look too bad when I had got the tickets, so if you are planning a visit and you’re not part of a big group, we would recommend trying as early as possible. Tickets and information are on their website.

The Museum is laid out just as it was – the buildings still stand and the exhibitions are within several of them. There is a shuttle bus to Auschwitz II – Birkenau, but we chose to drive up and look but didn’t go in, the experience at Auschwitz I was poignant enough.

We headed away and drove towards Slovakia. We finally saw hills or mountains – it has been a while (Sweden) since we’d seen anything but flat roads and fields ( a few rises in Lithuania but nothing special!) these were proper hills! We found a campsite by a lake – it’s actually a reservoir but was very beautiful and the sun was shining, so we got out our chairs and chilled.

As always, thank you for reading. We’ll be back next week, with more journey details and tales of our adventure to tell you….

Week 11: Estonia to Latvia and Back.

This week we knew we had an appointment in Riga, Latvia so our arrangements were slightly obscure.

Having left our little harbour-side stellplatz at Pirita, Tallinn, we headed towards the east of Estonia towards the Russian border, First though we wanted to stop and see the Memorial to Communism, the Maarjamäe Memorial. It was up the road from the campsite and almost next t the concrete structure built for the 1980 Olympics. It was quite thought provoking.

We headed along Highway 1 towards Narva, but realising that this would mean us travelling for hours, we set off along the coast road and saw some beautiful coastal villages, instead. We, then headed south and along the shores of Lake Peipsi, whose opposite shoreline was in Russia so we hadn’t really missed the border! Our campsite was directly on the shore line so technically we stared at Russia all night!

Next we set off for Riga, Latvia, where we were due to meet the filming guys for Etrusco UK and Erwin Hymer to have our first film made for their websites. We arrived on Tuesday night having prebooked our pitch for 3 nights. We set about cleaning and tidying Nortia, putting things in boxes and hiding them away. Once complete and not wanting to make a mess we found a curry house on the Wolt app and proceeded to order – a lot cheaper than in Norway. The curry was so nice it was amazing.

Wednesday morning we met Luke and Frank from Juke Media and did some filming in Nortia, explaining who were were and why we were travelling and what having a motorhome like Nortia meant to us. It was a little strange to us and being cooped up inside due to the noise outside and the lighting made it very hot inside. Once complete we headed in to Riga Old Town for some more photos and filming opportunities. It was a long day and eventually we did start to enjoy it a little – its still not comfortable but…

Thursday morning, we had the filming to complete and we headed to the Museum of Latvian History. Having a large well-insulated motorhome meant we could leave Albi behind safely and not worry. We stumbled across the changing of the guard at the Freedom Monument and the Baltic Chain Tile.

We were back in a couple of hours and headed to the beach for more filming opportunities! Of course true to form, it started to rain and we had to wait a while before we walked up and down the lovely white sandy beach at Jurmala. Once that was completed, there was just some driving shots to take. We found a lovely deserted road and filming was completed. We said our goodbyes and thanks to Luke and Frank and headed back to the campsite.

On arrival, there was a familiar vehicle parked directly opposite our empty pitch. It was the Erwin Hymer Burstner Blogging Vehicle of Rewind the Gap http://www.rewindthegap.co.uk/ A.K.A. Karen and Colin, who had been loaned a vehicle the previous year by Burstner (Erwin Hymer) and they had come to see us! We spent a lovely evening discussing the motorhomes, the way of life and freedom you have in a motorhome etc. It was soon very late and we said our goodbyes and would meet up in the morning.

The following morning, we had our own photo shoot, we knew better than to let the opportunity of two Erwin Hymer Motorhomes and blogging teams leave without doing so! This time we said goodbye and headed off back towards Tallinn, first driving to the Concentration Camp Memorial at Salaspils.

Not quite knowing what to expect we were surprised and by the good design and poignancy of the memorial. It also has a slightly eerie feel with the sound of a heartbeat playing to symbolise the lives of those who died here.

We took the coast road up to Pärnu, which was known for its traditional wooden houses and spent the night at a campsite on the river. We were heading up to Tallinn to see the Freedom Square Monument and find the Baltic Chain Tile, having previously found the one in Riga, there are three to collect! The last one being in Vilnius, Lithuania – now there’s a challenge!

After Tallinn, we wanted to visit the Islands of Hiiumaa and Saaremaa. We headed for the ferry to Hiiumaa, to find it had just left and the next one was too late for us to see the Island properly and find a campsite or somewhere to stop, so we headed to a campsite close by. We had previously seen a railway yard full of old engines and rolling stock so headed back to see that too. The trains did look a little sad, but they are in a Museum to show their history.

That night the weather changed, the wind picked up speed and the rain fell hard. We weren’t going to be put off and took our seasickness tablets before heading for the ferry. To our surprise it was still running, so off we went. To be honest, the water out of the harbour was a lot calmer! We went around the Island seeing the bits we wanted to before arriving at the ferry port for Saaremaa. No ferry – the weather at this point was too bad! So we went back to catch the ferry we’d come over on.

This weekend had told us a couple of things, the weather was changing up in the Baltics and we needed to head south. We have decided to head back down to Lithuania and then see where our journey takes us.

As always, thank you for reading. We’ll let you know what happens and where we get to next week. Stay safe and have a great week….

Week 10: Back to Finland and on to Estonia

We continued our journey to Stockholm and stayed in a campsite just outside the city. We had a mooch around the city before we joined the queue for the ferry to Finland. We were booked onto the night crossing with a dog-friendly cabin (he also had the use of a deck, complete with fake tree and a box!). The ferry set off just as dusk was setting in and the views of the archipelago were hampered by the dark.

We settled Albi into the cabin and sorted our bunks, before heading on our mini pub crawl – the Pub and the Piano Bar, before heading to the Italian restaurant for some food – the starter was amazing. We set back to the cabin and set our alarm for 05:00 – Swedish time (06:00 Finnish time) in order to depart the ferry by 07:00 EEST (Eastern European Summer Time – BST+1). It was a struggle as since finishing work we haven’t had to be up at that time for a long time – the closest was 07:00 before going to Dicar Motorhomes back on day 2!

Leaving the ferry and entering Finland again we had high hopes – we wanted to complete the southern part of the country and found a route which would take in the sights. We found a picnic spot outside Turku and had a well deserved cup of tea or two!

We drove up the coast to a campsite in Merikarvia – we needed to find somewhere to recover from the late night / early morning! It was again on the Bothnian Sea and had its own little harbour. Looking at the apps a lot of the campsites had closed at the end of August along with several of the attractions. It appears the weather changes on September 1st! We had definitely entered Finland in Autumn.

It was here we had an email from Erwin Hymer trying to arrange our video shoot (part of the arrangement for having the Motorhome and not unexpected). They wanted us to tell them where and when it could be arranged. We gave them a few options and it was decided that we would meet Luke, from Juke Media GB, in Riga, Latvia next week!

To be honest Finland was not quite the country for us. We’re not sure, if the weather and the fact that it was beginning to get into winter mode played any part in this but we continued our tour of Finland heading up the coast to Larsmo and a lovely campsite on the Lake. The campsite is part of a little complex with a cafe/restaurant, grocery store, fish smokery and a Sauna Boat https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LX6e9mIQVkQ have a look. After a day of rain it was lovely to arrive at Larsmo in the sunshine, although the ground was very wet. A lot of the places we wanted to go and see were just too wet or encased in murk being on the coast in wind and rain, so we tried to do the best we could.

We looked at our map and planned our route for the next few days and booked our ferry to Estonia. We headed south and to another lovely campsite in Juva on a lake, under the trees. In true Finland weather style the rain fell torrentially just as we arrived complete with more thunder and lightning, the dog would have to wait for his walk a little longer. The following morning when we set off on the morning walk we found a little path through the trees, the mist was just lifting off the lake and the sun was just beginning to break through, it was beautiful. There was an eagle flying overhead – too far away to get photo but… The ground was full of mushrooms and toadstools – I’m not knowledgeable enough to know what is edible but the bright red ones screamed NO!

We set off on a direct drive to Helsinki, we’d booked the campsite, so we could jump on the Metro into the city. Check in was after 15:00 so no real rush. On arrival, we were allocated our pitch and got ready to head into the city when – no prizes for guessing here – it rained – torrentially for about an hour – then we thought about heading out to the city and it rained again. That was it we weren’t heading into the city – we’d go on our way to the ferry instead, which we did. Helsinki was beautiful and if we’d had more time we would have stayed longer but it can be added to a list for the future!

We checked in for the ferry – well we tried to. Apparently, Direct Ferries had booked us as a Bus (we’re big-ish but not that big) we’d have to go back to the terminal and check in there. Dutifully, we went back and there they told us to check in where we’d just been! I had a feeling that we would never leave Finland. We explained what had happened and were able to check in, before being sent to the Lorry waiting area. Once on board the dog stayed in the Motorhome (he had been booked a cage but…) and we set off in search of something to eat. What did we find on board??? A Burger King! Contrary to belief we do not live on fast food and take-away but this was too good to turn down!

After a two hour crossing we disembarked in Tallinn and set Ditsy Daisy Sat Nav to the City Camping I’d found. Road closures meant a complete detour around the city and on arrival the campsite was no more than a car park. Oops! So we asked Ditsy Daisy if there was anything nearby and she showed us Pirita Harbour Camping. This sounded more like us – a harbour! We set off and immediately it felt more relaxed with a view of the yachts and water activity.

On closer inspection, it was actually the home to the Sailing and Rowing events in the 1980 Moscow Olympics when Estonia was part of the USSR and the whole country hosted the Olympics (this one was made famous by the fact the US boycotted it – in return the USSR boycotted the 1984 LA Olympics, life in the 80’s!).

We saw the Olympic Cauldron and the commemorative plaques and a couple of statues. This wasn’t what we had expected from a campsite. Tomorrow, we’re going to do a bit of exploring of Tallinn before heading towards Riga. We’ll be back to Estonia later next week or the following but you’ll get the updates

As always thank you for reading, and following. We’re loving our trip and hope you’re enjoying reading our little updates. More soon from Estonia and Latvia…

Week 9 – Sweden

After a lovely night’s stay at Tosteberga Hamn, we made a slow trip to Karlskrona. Karlskrona is a lovely town on the edge of the Baltic Sea and where the ferry leaves for Poland. We had a quick drive around and went up to see the Amiralitetklocksteplin. Originally built as the bell tower for the dock workers, it began life in the Admiralty Church as the bell tower in 1909.

We looked at the Stellplatz by the harbour but it was a very hot afternoon and the tarmac would have been unbearable for us and the dog! so we drove to a campsite just up the road a little way, where there were grass pitches, Dalskärs Camping. It was also close to the beach. The weather was so hot there though and in the morning the humidity was unbearable. After completing two laundry washes (which dried in the heat before we left!), two showers – human and dog wash we left!

We had decided to go to the Island of Öland. We took a leisurely drive towards Kalmar and went over the Ölandbrun (Bridge). We had a lovely lunch by the sea and then drove to a Stellplatz in Grönhögens Hamn (Hamn is Swedish for Harbour). We parked up facing out to sea and the Swedish Mainland looking for seals, whales or dolphins but we were unlucky – we did see the Coastguard vessel, which patrolled the sea all night!

While at Grönhögens Hamn, we decided to cycle to Öland’s Southernmost Point (Öland Södra Udde) or Långe Jon. Home to the tallest lighthouse in Scandinavia. It was only about 12 miles in total but the humidity had increased and towing a trailer with an excitable dog, who could see sheep all around was an added adventure! We arrived back in time to have something to eat and watch the sunset. Whoever said the sun sets slowly has never been here as it was so quick!

The following morning, we continued our tour of the Island heading up to Trollskogen and the twisted trees in the nature reserve and then on to Långe Erik at Öland Norra Udde. From here, we found another Stellplatz at Böda Hamn. While we were here the weather decided to change completely – it was sunny and warm with alot of humidity again, then the clouds started to form in strange patterns and then went dark. Over towards the East and Gotland and Finland a storm was picking up force and before long we had thunder and lightning. We were lovely and cosy inside Nortia the Motorhome with a chicken roasting in the oven. After about four hours the storm ceased and the weather improved.

From Böda, we headed back towards the mainland. We stopped to see Sandviks Kvarn (windmill). It is the largest Dutch style windmill outside of the Netherlands. We saw a little road which led to the beach and was bearly on our map but we love an adventure and decided to follow it. It took us to Knissa Mosse – a nature reserve which had been left until the 1900s, when the locals decided to reintroduce grazing. It is a different landscape to the rest of the Island and the road runs alongside the coastline. We stopped again to have a quick look at Borholm’s Schlott (Castle) and then headed back over the bridge to Kalmar and to see the Monument.

Our overnight stop was in another Harbour Stellplatz at Påskallaviks. The Gästhamn has some places for motorhomes with electricity or without. We chose a nice little place without electric and better views (in our opinion).

We had to find a vet to see Albi and found a very nice and accommodating one at Smådjurskliniken at Oskarshamn – the next town. I had read conflicting information about whether he needed to be treated again for tapeworm before entering Finland as it had been over 28 days since he was last seen by the vet to enter Norway. In the end I contacted the Finnish Authority and they replied stating he did ://www.ruokavirasto.fi/en/companies/import-and-export/eu-countries-norway-and-switzerland/animals/dogs-cats-and-ferrets/trade-of-dogs-cats-and-ferrets-from-eu-countries-to-finland-non-commercial-movement/

The vet clinic made us an appointment for later in the day and we had to go to the Chemist (Apotek) to buy the appropriate treatment – we were advised that Milbemax was suitable so purchased some – you then return to the Vets who check his Chip ID and monitor him taking the tablet and sign his passport. All sorted – he can travel!

While in Oskarshamn, we found a jet wash and were able to give Nortia a bit of a clean and tidy. We were trying to think where to go next but loved last night’s stop so much we went back to Påskallaviks Gästhamn. Just along the road was also a Pizza Restaurant and take-away so dinner was sorted too! It was Friday night after all!

We are still heading to Stockholm as we have a ferry booked to Finland next week, so heading eastwards we headed to Grännäs, just outside Valdemarksvik. We’d picked our spot and paid for it before we saw a nicer Stellplatz in Valdemarksvik. A lesson learnt that we will remember. The campsite is one one of the only Fjords on the Eastern side of Sweden. It has a lovely looking restaurant and beach (no dogs!)

Next we headed further east to Oxelösund and stayed at the Fiskarhamnen. We decided not to follow Ditsy Daisy Sat Nav – we’re sure she’s going to tell us off one day! We found a lovely country drive through crop fields and farmland, through trees and boulders and pine forests, alongside fjords and waterways and on a ferry or two. In Sweden the ferries are free as they are part of the road network. We had a little walk around the port – its a lively place with a yacht harbour and a commercial port – they were loading ships, it seems all day and night. Again here the weather changed and the rain fell, along with another thunderstorm. We were fine again and had roast chicken breast and roast potatoes all cooked in Nortia’s kitchen! We do actually eat more than just roast chicken!

Tomorrow we continue to Stockholm and the ferry to Finland. We’ll keep you posted of our exploits and what happens. We’ve got to find some LPG (CNG) as there isn’t any in Finland!

Thank you, as ever, for reading this – we’ll have more for you in a week or so – WiFi dependant. Have a great week, too.