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Gadget Review – the 950i Motorhome Generator

Gadget Review – the 950i Motorhome Generator

by Alan Gow  |  December 2018  | Reviews

Do Not Buy a 950i Motorhome Generator if the Following Applies:

  • You typically stay at camping grounds with an EHU (Electrical Hook Up),
  • You have a solar panel and don’t go away in the winter,
  • You don’t have an inverter,
  • You have very low power needs,
  • You are really short of payload and/or storage space,
  • You like having the biggest and best of everything (and are happy paying for it).

However, if the following generally applies then this may be worth having on board:

  • You love the freedom of wildcamping,
  • You don’t like having to go camping grounds to charge your batteries,
  • You like to travel in the winter,
  • You don’t have solar or your solar panels sometimes can’t keep you charged,
  • You don’t like having to limit your power usage according to how much sun there is,
  • You don’t want to have to tell your wife she can’t charge her phone or her computer,
  • You can make some room on board for a small bit of extra kit

How We Ended Up With A Generator

Buying a generator wasn’t on our radar at all but we ended up with the 950i Motorhome Generator.

We have two solar panels and two leisure batteries and most of the time, this set up meets our needs for power.  We are however living full time in our moho and that means having to manage the short daylight hours and low powered sun that comes with a Northern Hemisphere winter.

Our first winter was spent in the Peloponnese region of Greece, and later down in Crete and while Facebook was full of tales of bad weather in Spain and Portugal, we bathed in fine weather nearly every day.  It was only occasionally that we had more than a couple of dull days in a row and with a bit of careful power management, we got through the winter without having to go to any campsites to recharge.  We were fortunate on quite a few occasions to find a free power hook up just when we were starting to get a little desperate.  Anyone who has travelled in that region in the winter would know that an open camping ground is about as rare as hen’s teeth.  Anyway, we managed and then as usual, our solar setup was great through the summer and early autumn.

On reaching Norway however in September the succession of dull days and the shortening daylight hours put us into new territory and we suddenly had to start visiting campsites, or somehow find an EHU to keep our batteries charged.  In addition to thinking about where to find fresh water and dump out the old stuff, we now had to think about where we would find power and it started costing us a lot of money.

By the time we arriving in Oslo in mid October, the sun had little power even on a good day.  We believed that replacing the batteries with AGM batteries would help as we suspected our batteries were not working effectively and AGM batteries can be discharged to a lower charge state without damage, compared to normal flooded batteries, which would have given us more days between charges.  We found some excellent Exide AGM’s at a great price however they would not fit into our battery compartment.  We then spied this wee generator, grabbed it and now enjoy the freedom and peace of mind that comes with being fully electrically independent. 

If you are thinking that you would only use this in Scandinavia then I can tell you that we also needed it down through Holland, Germany, and France – the winter sun was just too weak and days too short to keep our batteries charged.  On a dull day your solar panel output can easily be less than 10% of their rated power so a lack of power can affect you anywhere and any time.

About the 950i

The 800W 950i is about the cheapest generator on the market, weighs under 10kg and at 380L x 340H x 200W is small enough to fit into a small slot in your garage.  There is also a 1200W model but in my opinion, you don’t need the extra power in most cases and it costs more, weighs more and takes up more room – so why would you?

The petrol tank holds 2 litres which seems to be enough for at least 5 hours running so the cost of running this is almost nothing.  I just fill up the tank at the petrol station rather than carry around an extra fuel container.

There is a a normal household 230V outlet plus a 12V outlet so you can charge a battery directly using the connector cable supplied.  There are the normal overload protection devices and the specifications state that it is compatible with sensitive electronics – we have had computers plugged in with the genny on with no problems.  There is an economy mode which is what we normally run on and I presume this just reduces the power output and fuel consumption. 

 

First Impressions

The 950i is a tidy, compact bit of equipment which is nicely finished and looks like it will do the job.  Overall, we were impressed with the small size, the weight, the price and the appearance.

We know that these generators are rebranded under several different brands.  Ours is blue, the one available on Amazon UK is red.

 

Using the 950i

After filling up the crankcase with oil (these are shipped without oil), and topping up the fuel tank, there is a short starting sequence to follow.

1. turn on the fuel tap

2. open the air vent in the fuel cap

3. close the choke

4. turn on the engine switch

5. prime the fuel by pressing the bulb on the side

6. pull the starting handle

7. allow the genny to warm up for a couple of minutes before turning off the choke, and plugging your EHU lead into the 230V socket

That’s all you need to do and in practice it only takes a few seconds.  You can then use the 230V inside your moho as if you were plugged into a normal EHU and your batteries will be charging.

The genny nearly always starts on the second pull from cold but once warm it starts on the first pull.  It then runs smoothly with a noise level at 7m of 58dB. What does that mean in practice?  It is noticeable but not too obtrusive.  We think that it is fine but out of consideration, we do limit where and when we run it, and if we have neighbours we check with them and advise how long we will be charging for.

We were asked by one of our readers whether a woman would be able to move and start the genny. Ruth was easily able to lift it from the garage and her up so the answer to that was “Yes”.

We have had two electric bike batteries, two computers, two IPhones and two electric toothbrushes all charging off the genny, and the leisure batteries are still getting charged at the maximum rate our on-board charger can handle.  The 950i seems to have enough power for all of our needs. 

Recommendation

We obviously survived up until this last winter without having a generator and could still have managed by being extremely frugal with power usage and booking into camping grounds on a regular basis.  That didn’t suit us and since having the genny we have experienced a great sense of freedom and independence.  Cloudy wet forecast for the next few days – doesn’t affect us anymore.

Without direct experience of other units I can’t really make comparisons other than to say that most of the ones talked about on Facebook sites for motorhomers are much more expensive, have high outputs (2kW plus), are bigger, and are heavier (20kg plus).  Our genny may not be a ‘big name’ model but for something that is really just there for the odd occasion, why would you spend more and carry more?

So far, we have used the genny at least a dozen times, it has done everything we asked of it and we recommend it.

We have put a link up to Amazon  on this page if you want to buy one.  If you buy it after clicking through on our link, we will earn a small commission however the price to you is the same as if you found the page directly.  So if you found this review helpful and decide to buy one, then it would be great if you used the link on our website.

Oradour-sur-Glane, Why Everyone Should Know This Story

Oradour-sur-Glane, Why Everyone Should Know This Story

by Ruth Murdoch  |  December 2018  | France, Oradour-sur-Glane

Where Is It?

Oradour-sur-Glane is a small settlement in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in west-central France.  It is 23kms northwest from Limoges.

What Happened There?

During World War II, two hundred Waffen SS (pronounced Vaffen SS) the armed wing of the Nazi Party’s SS organisation committed an act of sheer terror.  They stormed this quiet village and massacred all those people they could find, a total of 642 men, women and children.

They rounded everyone up on the pretence of checking their documentation, a relatively common occurrence.  Therefore, at the time no one seemed overly concerned as they had no reason to suspect what was about to unfold.  They were forced by the officers to the town square (although it’s not a square at all).  Anyone who resisted was immediately shot dead.

The area to the right is where everyone assembled

They then separated the men and teenage boys from the woman and children.  The men were divided and sent to six different buildings* throughout the village.  In one of the buildings the perpetrators lined up two machine guns in the doorway and proceeded to open fire in a sweeping motion while the men stood facing the back wall.  For anyone who hadn’t died instantly, they then received another bullet to finish the job off.  Similar fates befell the men in the other buildings.  The soldiers were instructed to cover the bodies with straw and oil and burn them.

The women and children were taken to the local church.  Here they were locked in and smoke bombs were set off inside the church.  While the woman and children were screaming and gasping from the thick smoke, some of the SS fired into the mass with machine guns.  The bullet holes in the walls remain today.  The church was then set alight while the soldiers stood outside listening to the screams of those inside and from their position of safety threw grenades into the building.  They waited there watching until the roof of the church collapsed and the sounds inside died away.

NB: *There are many blogs, posts, and stories written that talk about these men being taken to ‘barns’.  When I think about a barn it conjures up in my mind a single building on a farm that houses hay, farm equipment, some chickens and the occasional cattle.  Here in Oradour-sur-Glane the buildings that we saw these men taken into were flanked by adjoining buildings either side on a main street.  Perhaps we have a different understanding of what the word ‘barn’ means to those from France.  Anyway, I cannot accurately recall the information from the museum about where these men were taken, so if anyone can shed some knowledgable light on this, please feel free to leave a comment below and I will ensure this post is updated with accurate information.  I didn’t feel it was correct to put the word ‘barn’ into this post without verification.

Inside the Church a Memorial of WWI Victims Bears The Scars Of Bullet Holes Meant For
The Women & Children

The Church Ceiling Collapsed
Courtesy of Museum Photos

The Church Today

After everyone was dead, the soldiers then set fire to the bodies in an apparent effort to conceal what had happened.  They also put the entire village to the torch and although the buildings are made of stone, the roofs and large parts of the walls collapsed in the ensuing inferno.

Photo Courtesy of the SS

A Tribute To Those Who Perished In The Church 

The following day orders were received to bury the bodies and bits of bodies in a mass grave making identification impossible.  Fewer than ten percent of the victims’ bodies could be identified which made the mourning that much harder for any surviving relatives.

Sadly this was not an isolated incident.  According to the International Military Tribunal all the Nazi armed forces including the Waffen SS, security forces and SS police, reserve troops and the Wehrmacht followed orders involving killing and terrorising civilians, which were later deemed to be war crimes.  There were many horrific events of mass murder documented on both the Western and Eastern Fronts.   What makes Oradour-sur-Glane unique is that the remains of the village have been left virtually undisturbed as a continuous and powerful reminder of how brutal and callous mankind can be to each other.

About The Population

Of the 642 victims, 638 had known ages.  Amongst the deceased were 62 children less than 6 months old and 263 less than 21 years.  Thirty-nine people were aged over 71 years old, eight of these were 81 years plus, with the balance of 340 people aged between 21 and 70 years.

On 10th June 2017, a tribute to those people who were murdered was unveiled.  The purpose behind this gallery is to think of these people as individuals, rather than as a collective group.

The individual portraits, where possible, are displayed on porcelain plaques lining both walls on the corridor as you enter through to the village.  Where photos are missing a name and age is written in the ever-hopeful attempt to find those from absent victims.

Individuals’ Photos Line The Corridor Leading Out To The Village

When Did This Happen?

It was Saturday, 10th June 1944.  Oradour-sur-Glane was especially busy on this day as there was a school vaccination program for the children being carried out here.  Tobacco distribution day also bought people in from the surrounding areas.

 

Why Did It Happen?

Terror was an effective weapon used by the Germans and the Nazis wanted to ensure that this weapon be used on a regular basis.  Encouraged by the recent D-Day landings, the French resistance had taken control of the areas to the west and east of Oradour-sur-Glane, however this village had little resistance activity and effectively became a sitting duck for the SS.

It appears that the events at Oradour-sur-Glane were intended to demonstrate to the population that terror could happen anywhere, anytime and that attempts to disrupt the German war effort would be severely punished.

There were no specific reason given as to exactly why the village was selected or why it was so completely and ruthlessly annihilated, despite several urban myths and earlier theories arising in the following years.

Click on the middle right-hand side of the picture to show more or wait for the slideshow

Urban Myths Put To Rest

Was Oradour-sur-Glane a case of mistaken identity like many claim?  There are rumours saying that the real town the SS were looking for was in fact Oradour-sur-Vayres.  However, that’s all it was, a rumour.  According to the audio commentary at the museum, this fact was never substantiated.  On the contrary, it has been proven that there was no case of mistaken identity after all.

Another myth concerned the reason for the attack which suggested that it was in retaliation for the capture of an SS officer by the resistance (even Wikipedia states this).  However again new information has now put this one to rest.  Yes, there were two incidents of captured SS officers immediately preceding the event, however, one of the men (and his driver) escaped and fled to the nearby town of Limoges, to arrive during the morning of Saturday 10th June.  A second SS officer was captured in the general area and moved to a secret location, however at the time of the incident these two events were unlinked.  The SS themselves used the disappearance of their Officer as later justification for the Oradour massacre.

A third story tells of how the SS shot the men below the knees to prevent them from escaping.  However, the orders of the SS were to kill everyone, so there was no need for inflicting incapacitating injuries and the information at the museum suggests that the SS shot to kill and finished off the survivors before incinerating the bodies.  There was no specific account of wounding, according to official sources that I have been able to verify in the research, despite seeing this recorded in numerous places and blogs.

An entire family killed

Look at the name Thomas, so many family members gone!

They Were Just Children!

The New Town Rebuilt

On 10th June 1947 President Vincent Auriol presided over the ceremony of laying the “foundation stone” of the new village of Oradour-sur-Glane.  The new town, which took over six years to build, was an exact replica of the old town, except that there was no train station.  The new town sadly entered into a period of mourning that was to last for decades.

The extended mourning period was due in part to the fact that the SS burnt many of the bodies beyond recognition making identification near impossible for grieving relatives from outside Oradour.  Additionally, the fact that no-one was brought to any kind of justice for committing these atrocities helped to fuel the mourning.  It wasn’t until the 1980’s when a new generation inhabited this town did the mourning period officially end.

 

The Silent Treatment

In the Bordeaux War Crime Trials after the war, the relatives and survivors of Oradour-sur-Glane sought justice and expected that those responsible would be tried, sentenced and punished appropriately.  However, the majority of the soldiers, officers and commanders were now dead and many others were in East Germany who refused to extradite them.  Eventually, after eight and a half years, 21 men were brought before the tribunal, found guilty and sentenced to prison.

However, this wasn’t the end of the story due to fourteen of the soldiers being Frenchmen from the province of Alsace, which had been annexed by German at the start of the war.  These soldiers had been forcibly conscripted, e.g. against their will, into the German army and an amnesty on 20th February 1953 freed all such forced conscriptees.  This action so disgusted the locals that politicians, local authorities and local state representatives were not invited to ceremonies organised by the National Association of Victims’ Families and the local council of Oradour-sur-Glane.  All other convicted soldiers were eventually released by 1958.

What isn’t clear from the information made available in the museum is what happened to the six people, one woman and five men who escaped this massacre.  I wonder why none of these people took part in the trial.

Memorial in Cemetery

Children’s Items

Memorial in the New Town

The 1983 Trial In The German Democratic Republic

Lt. Heinz Barth was in command of the 3rd Company of 1st Battalion Der Fuhrer Regiment.  It was thought that all trace of him was lost.  Could it have been that he was wounded and escaped capture by Allied forces?  Accused of taking part in the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre, he was condemned in absentia by the Bordeaux military tribunal in 1953.  Later reintegrated into civilian life in East Germany, in the former zone of Soviet occupation, Barth was ‘traced’ in 1982 and put on trial in East Berlin.  Barth did not deny his involvement but claimed to remember almost nothing.

Being the only SS member involved in the Oradour massacre to have been judged, the trial seemed to be a bit of a sham showing the protection given to former SS officers on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain.

The outcome of the trial was not recorded, however further research suggested he was sentenced to prison and released in 1997.  He died in 2007 at the age of 87.

The Children of Oradour-sur-Glane

Access To The Old Village

The only way into the old village during operational dates is through the superb architecturally designed building that houses the museum, which opened in 1999.  There is disability access to the old town via a lift and the town itself was built on relatively flat land making is easy to get around.  See Opening Times below for more information about access in winter.

Costs

Free entry to the Martyr Village (the name they now give this village).

Entry to the museum including two audio units cost us €19.60.  If you only speak English then it is highly recommended you make the most of the audio guide.  There is a short twelve-minute movie at the end of the museum and the audio provides extensive information not available elsewhere.

It was also thanks to the audio guide that we were able to obtain the answers regarding some of the misconceptions around this event as highlighted earlier.

My only criticism was the lack of closure on certain things.  Apparently, six adults escaped, plus one young boy.  Only one of the women who escaped from the church survived being shot, the other two perished.  There are no accounts for what became of these survivors.  Did they stay in the area, did they ever return, did they go on to live a long life?  It would have been great to have this detail filled in, as I guess we all want to cling onto some happy ending if that was even possible.  Perhaps it wasn’t.

 

Opening Times

From February 1st to 28th February: 9am5pm

From March 1st to 15th May: 9am6pm

From 16th May to 15th September: 9am to 7pm

From 16th September to 31st October: 9am to 6pm

From November 1st to 15th December: 9am5pm

Admittance is up until one hour before closing time.  Believe me, you will want to spend more than an hour here if it is your goal to try to comprehend what went on and to contemplate the many ruined buildings and relics of the lost civilisation here.

Annual closure of the Centre de la Mémoire is from 16th December to 31st January inclusive. During this closed period, the ruins are still accessible between 09:00 to 17:00 via the entrance on the road to Confolens (the D9) opposite the Centre de la Mémoire. The ruins can also be accessed during the dates when the Centre is closed, via the original entrance at the Northern and the Southern ends of the village.

Parking Nearby For Motorhomes

We stayed two nights here, on the first night we parked in the carpark overlooking the old town.  This gave easy and close walking access to the old town.  I’m not sure how busy this place becomes in the height of summer, however there is also an Aire situated 1.3kms further north past the new town.  Here you can find electricity and in the summer months water for a small fee.

Spread The Word

Please help to spread the word about the events of Oradour-sur-Glane by sharing this blog far and wide.  A brief Facebook post reached over 15,500 people in one week and many people had no knowledge of the town or what took place.  That, in my humble opinion, is a real shame.  I believe everyone should know some of the atrocities of war.

If you wish to read further, here’s an excellent link for more information https://www.oradour.info/

Please PIN this far and wide

Gadget Review – the Karcher VV1 Window Vacuum

Gadget Review – the Karcher VV1 Window Vacuum

by Alan Gow  |  September 2018  | Reviews
Do Not Buy One of These if the Following Applies:

  • You only camp in the warm months of the year or,
  • You have external window blinds or,
  • You don’t have an inverter or,
  • You love wiping down your windows with paper towels or cloths or,
  • You prefer driving with windows you can’t see through.

The Story of our Past – Pre Karcher

Unfortunately for us, none of the above applied so I knew in my heart of hearts that a Karcher window vacuum would be ideal.  I saw them in shops in various countries, picked them up, fondled them lovingly, then placed them back on the shelves because in my mind I couldn’t quite justify the real estate they would occupy in our moho or the empty real estate they would leave in my wallet. The ones I saw were quite heavy in weight and price.

Can you relate to waking up in the morning and drying copious amounts of water off the inside of your windows, then maybe having to clean the windows because of the smears left behind?   Then, when it is time to drive off, the windows have fogged up so you either have to wipe them down again or leave the engine running for ages to demist them.

Well, I did this grudgingly through our first winter but after a few weeks of cold dewy Finland mornings, I wasn’t looking forward to another four months of the same.

Time for a Dry Change

When I spied the VV1 in a shop in Finland, I immediately noticed that it was smaller and lighter than other Karcher models I had seen.  It didn’t come with so many fittings or fancy accessories but let’s face it, all we want to do is dry the inside of the windows.  Anything else is just extra volume and weight.  The kit included a window washing bottle with a microfibre cleaning cloth so that was really all I would possibly need.  Even though we were in one of the notoriously expensive Scandinavian countries, the price was reasonable.  So after consultation with my better half, who encouraged me to go for it, the VV1 made it into our motorhome, ‘Betsy’.

Experiencing the Karcher VV1

When we arrived back to Betsy we found a nice spot where the vac tucked into without getting in the way but unfortunately the windows were dry so I couldn’t try it out.   I woke up very excited the next morning and eager to test my new toy (I know, how sad is that).  You can imagine my joy when I peeled off the window blinds and saw the glass literally dripping and running with water.

I immediately whipped out the new device and watched in amazement as it hoovered off the water, leaving the glass spotlessly clean. A few swipes across the windscreen and side windows and the water was gone.  The vac has a small water container which was now full and this is easily detached and emptied out. 

The VV1 charges up quickly from a 220/240 socket and the battery lasts at least a week of water slurping before needing a recharge so there is very little drain your batteries. The weight is just over 500 grams (not much more than a can of baked beans) so it doesn’t put a dent in your payload.

I really didn’t appreciate just how much I would use the window vac.  Often, after parking up for a little while and making some lunch or a cuppa, the windscreen has fogged up again.  Rather than having to wait for the demister to do its stuff, a quick whip across the glass with the vac and the windows are crystal clear again.  It also makes short work of condensation on the habitation windows.

Recommendation

Although we could obviously live without the Karcher, it has added to our enjoyment of life, decreased our workload, and made driving safer (with crystal clear windows).  It was relatively inexpensive, not too heavy and not too big so for us it ticks all of the boxes needed to justify a place in Betsy.  It gets a 4 out of 5 stars recommendation from me.

These cool devices are available from many home appliance shops or you can buy one off our Amazon page for the same price (how good is that?).

How Finland Reduced Our Gas Consumption Part 2

How Finland Reduced Our Gas Consumption Part 2

If you missed Part 1, you can read it here How Finland Reduced Our Gas Consumption Part 1.

We limped on through Finland very mindful by now of our dwindling gas levels.  Anything and everything possible is being considered to make this last bottle see out the distance.  We just hope we don’t run out of gas before we run out of country.  Then there’s the looming thought of it’s getting colder and before long we may need heating (another gas guzzler).

One thing that helped to extend our gas consumption was a pre-planned, albeit quick, trip to St Petersburg, Russia for three days.  Betsy, however, still has to use gas to keep the freezer cold (we can’t bring ourselves to spend another €8 per night to be plugged into electricity while we’re away).   This does take some pressure off the gas consumption somewhat and as you will see below, every bit helps.

We leave Helsinki and head north.  The first stop about an hours drive is a place called Hyvinkaa where we located a business called Best Caravans.  Not only do they have caravans, but they also have the best, and I mean the best, free camping spot that we have ever come across, bar none.  Yes they have electricity (phew) and they also provide a washing machine, a dryer (rare to find this), a double shower (nice) and then, wait for it… they offer a sauna!  All this for free (provided you buy something in their shop and/or secure their loyalty card).  So after buying some toilet tabs, which are always needed, we take advantage of these facilities while plugging in to give our fridge a much needed break from sucking on the gas.

Whenever we are plugged in the kettle goes away and the electric jug comes out.  I prefer this as electric is much quicker (especially when in urgent need of a quick cuppa).

We venture further north and planned our route around two more Best Caravan franchises.  Neither, however, as fruitful as the first, but that’s okay because it’s electricity we’re mainly looking for and were incredibly thankful for.

We found a LPG supplier reasonably close to the Finland border in Sweden.  Alan phoned to ensure our information was accurate and that they did, in fact, have LPG.  They did.

So the original plan was to drive from Oulu to Sweden, get the gas, then back into Finland and up to Rovaniemi to see Santa.  That plan changed to driving to Rovaniemi first, then across into Sweden, back into Finland and head north.

In the end we drove to Rovaniemi from Oulu, thankful as we saw the Aurora Borealis for the first time ever (so exciting!), then decided that we could possibly make a run for Norway and drive all the way over to Tromso for LPG.

By now the second tank is oh so low and I’m sure we’re sucking fumes.  We have reduced the number of hot drinks we consume and look for meze type food for dinner.   So cheese on crackers with salami and relish, anything that doesn’t need gas becomes our dinner.  If we do choose to a warm dinner we make sure it’s using one pot that is watched carefully.

We never skip a nightly shower that is until now.  With gas levels at a critically low level, we opt to skip a night due to prioritisation, a cuppa is more important than smelling good.  We reduced our timed water heating to 15 minutes which was ample providing it wasn’t a hair washing night.

The temperature is due to drop like a lead balloon to just two degrees tomorrow night.  I’m keen to drive through to Tromsø in one go, but it’s over six hours.  When we are used to one or two hours at a stretch, a six-hour drive is a far cry for us to consider.  I reluctantly resign to one further night in Finland and think about all the clothes I can wear in bed to stay warm tonight.    Thankfully the heater in Betsy is very good, so it gets turned on in short bursts just to take the chill out of the air and assist with sleeping.

We park tonight at a layby and notice, surprisingly, there are several other motorhomes and some caravans parked here too.  All through northern Finland we seem to have been on our own at overnight stops, but not tonight.  I brave the bone-biting cold wind and knock on the doors of other travelers inviting them to come over later for a drink and chat.  I’m hoping the distraction will get my mind off the lack of gas and more bodies inside Betsy will help to keep the warmth in.

The other motorhomers must have wondered who this was knocking on their door on dusk.  Dressed in all the warm clothes I could find, hat covering the blonde hair, and a scarf wrapped around my neck to fight off that bitter cold, I brave my fear of shyness and knock away.  Most occupants open their doors, and some speak English.  I get some polite no thank you declines, some who don’t speak English soon shut their doors to Mrs Blobby, and those who do engage in conversation are delighted at the invitation and agree to valiantly brave the cold and come across after dinner.

My plan worked, we have a lovely evening meeting new and interesting people and listen to their travel tales.  The night passes quickly and the temperature inside Betsy is cozy (without the need for any gas, whoops, I mean heating).

Once the evening congregation is finished, we say goodbye to our new friends and jump into bed to stay warm.  The heater goes on briefly and we hope we are well insulated from the jaw-dropping thermometer-dropping temperatures outside.  It works.

The next day we make a run to Tromsø and oh boy are we blessed with the most glorious day.  That’s a post for another time, needless to say we arrived safe and sound, filled up with that beautiful and most precious juice, LPG, and were on our way to great food and warmth inside Betsy.

So how long did we stretch bottle number two?  Well, that’s a good question.

Let me step back to the beginning of having two fill tanks of LPG, sourced from Sweden on 7th August.  We crossed into Finland later that day and didn’t fill up again until we were in Norway on 17th September.  So that gives us a staggering 41 days of gas consumption.

The first bottle was empty by the time we left the Awesome Åland Islands on 19th August (so that bottle lasted 12 days).  Therefore we stretched, and I mean stretched thin, the second bottle to a staggering 29 days.  HOW COOL IS THAT???  Just don’t ask me to do that again, especially when the weather starts to turn cold and we are in the north of Scandinavia.

Looking back now I would not, for the life of me, have skipped Finland just due to their lack of LPG.  (I do have to ask, however, Finland why don’t you have LPG?).  Finland offers so much to see and do and it even gave us challenges that looking back now, were fun.

So if you have LPG and have discounted traveling to this part of the world because of a lack of LPG then take a leaf out of our book, put on your big boy/girl pants and grunt up.  Making our gas last for 41 days is epic and if we can do it, then so can you.  I’m throwing down the gauntlet and want you to beat our record.  I dare you….

 

Day 1 St Petersburg Russia

Day 1 St Petersburg Russia

by Ruth Murdoch  |  October 2018  | St Petersburg, Russia

We wake up on the ferry which has now steamed into St Petersburg, Russia and we are excited to see the buildings on shore.  Interestingly they are not at all what I expected.  There are tall high-rise buildings more akin to Dubai than how I thought Russia would look. The ship sails onwards up into the river mouth for another two hours before finally coming to a halt.

With a 10am ‘Introduction to St Petersburg Tour’ booked (a ‘rare for us’ paid guided bus tour of a city), we are among the first to disembark and make our way down the gangplank to the waiting and oh so serious passport and customs officers. The somber atmosphere makes me stand up straight, take note, and behave myself.  As if by some unspoken rule I whisper instead of talking in a normal tone, just in case I draw undue attention to myself and get into trouble.

Being processed through customs and immigration was an interesting exercise.  Only one person at a time and don’t try to make small talk.  They are there for a job and it’s not their job to engage you in idle conversation.  The lady in front of us in the line was four foot nothing high and was a sweet old lady.  The officer had to stand up to peer over his booth to ensure it was the same lady he could see on the documentation in front of him. Given I was up next I was expecting the same treatment, although not quite that short, I’m still ‘fun sized’ as my husband of six foot says.

We sailed through the official part and onto Russian soil.  I look down as if to find something different. I didn’t.  All soil, or at least concrete, looks the same the world over.

Standing on the ground in St Petersburg is for me like being a kid in a candy shop with an empty tummy, big eyes, and unlimited money.  I have to keep pinching myself to see if this is real.  My mind takes me a million miles away back to my childhood in NZ when the thought of being here was out of reach and beyond comprehension.  I smile and let the wave of realisation wash over me like a warm blanket. I smile again and feel the butterflies of anticipation start to take flight as I consider what is about to be revealed to me after all these years of dreaming.

We climb on the bus and I opt to sit at the back with the naughty children, I mean husband.  Before long the half empty (or should I say half full) bus takes off on our three-hour guided introduction to St Petersburg.

The day is somewhat overcast and we soon find out that this is a typical day for St. Petersburg.  In fact, according to our guide, the city has just 60 days of sunshine a year and for this reason and in an attempt to be more cheerful, many of the buildings are painted in bright, happy, sunshine colours.

We don’t worry, however, as we have a strong belief that the sun follows us and so we are expecting weather is on the way.  Our faith in the sun proves to be well founded in the days ahead.

Driving from the ship into the city we encounter the industrial side of St Petersburg.  It’s grimy, dirty, and run down.  We are told the factories are slowly being moved out into the countryside to make way for beautifying the city on this valuable land.

Once we leave the industrial zone we are blown away by the sights of this outstanding gem of a city.

OMG! I’m so glad we are not driving Betsy through these streets.  For your information, don’t ever try to bring a motorhome, (at least the size of Betsy, 7.5M) into the wee streets of St Petersburg.  Even in the bus I cringed as the driver hit a (flexible) sign on our very first corner!  I am so grateful I am not a bus driver.

That said, he actually did an awesome job, however not without administering several blasts on the horn (I’m assuming deservedly so).  The drivers here seem to have zero tolerance for hesitation and even as pedestrians you have to make your intentions crystal clear, take the bull by the horns, and step out on the pedestrian crossing!  It appears that even if the crossing light is green for go, the drivers will see an opportunity to cross in front of you, so beware.

Sights & Attractions From Our Bus Tour

Ancient Sphinx

The first place we stop is at the two Ancient Sphinx by the Neva River. Not many people know that the northernmost location of an Egyptian Sphinx is actually in Russia.  This makes the Sphinx of Saint Petersburg, probably, the only place in the world where you can see a three thousand year old sphinx covered in snow. (Thankfully not on our watch).  These Sphinx were actually purchased by the city, not gifted as if often the case with monument such as these.

Egyptian Sphinx

Rostral Columns

Rostral Columns – these two columns are famous landmarks that were used as navigation beacons for the many ships sailing down the four rivers, Neva, the Volga, the Volkov and lastly the Dnieper.  Used in the 1800s these beacons were gas lit and are still lit on occasion for certain ceremonies.

St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral

The entrance to the church had three elderly ladies sitting begging for whatever the tourists could spare.  I always feel sad when seeing beggars and give them a few dollars.  The church was stunning inside; unfortunately for you, there were no photos allowed, meaning I cannot share the majesty with you and unfortunately for me, as the visual memories fade oh so quickly.  I deeply respect their request as the church is protecting those who come to worship, without the concern of being photographed.  There was in fact a service going on and I noticed everyone was standing.  I trust, or at least hope, it wasn’t a long service because the average age of the congregation was not exactly youthful.

Just being allowed entry into this church was a gift.  A rare chance to stand and drink in all the colours, decorations, artifacts, and bright colours was something of a sensory overload.  I really didn’t want to leave in any great hurry.  This is one of those times I wish I had a photographic memory, oh well, that’s why we return to these places I guess.

Isaakievskaya Square

Also known as St Isaac’s Square, this was our final stopping point where the monument to Nicholas I was depicted above his horse.

From here we left the bus to head towards our hotel.  I found out from a fellow American tourist that they, and others on the bus tour, were to spend the next two hours in the Hermitage Museum before boarding the ship and heading back to Helsinki.  Having just one short day in St Petersburg seemed a shame to me and once it became apparent just what this city had to offer, they were agreeing with me.  Also to be limited to only two hours in the Hermitage Museum was almost criminal as our five-hour meander on Day Two proved.

It didn’t take long to find our hotel, The Pushkin Inn Hotel.  We couldn’t have booked a better location (thanks Alan), for its proximity to the city, the sights and the best attractions available in St Petersburg, Russia.

On arrival they had champagne waiting for us (to celebrate our anniversary) and had very kindly given us the only standard room with a bath.  When you’ve been living in a motorhome for 15 months you will understand the importance of that!

Our Accommodation For The Next Two Nights

Kazan Cathedral

Once settled in our room, we headed out again with the intention of making the most of our short stay here. Our first stop was The Kazan Cathedral.  This is one of the biggest Cathedrals in St Petersburg.  It took ten years to build from 1801 to 1811 and was modelled off Rome’s Vatican’s Basilica of St. Peter.

The cathedral was intended to be the country’s main Orthodox Church. After the war of 1812 (during which Napoleon was defeated) the church became a monument to Russian victory.  The cathedral became a museum housing the collections of the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism, which displayed numerous pieces of religious art and served anti-religious propaganda purposes.  It was only a couple of years ago that regular church services were resumed in the cathedral, though it still shares the premises with the museum, from whose name the word “atheism” has now been omitted.

Inside the architecture is once again impressive, boasting large marble columns, huge chandeliers, gold picture frames and the heavy use of gold throughout the cathedral, domes, and numerous statues.

I was surprised at the significantly long line-up of worshipers waiting to pay their respects and kiss a picture that I couldn’t quite make out on the far wall.  The line moved slowly and continued to grow during our hour-long visit.

The Kazan Cathedral

Kazan Cathedral Columns

Worshippers Queue to Kiss the Picture

Kazan Cathedral Dome

Church of the Savior on Blood

The final tourist destination for us today was the Church of the Savior on Blood (also called Church of the Resurrection of Christ).  This is one of the most significant churches in St. Petersburg, for its more than 7,500 square metres of famous shimmering mosaics and marble patterned floor.  This Church was my favourite and compelled more wow’s from my mouth than any other.  It was simply breathtaking and whilst you can enjoy our photos, the church has to be seen to be believed.  We stood for an hour just admiring skill, artistry and craftsmanship that went into constructing and decorating this church.  It wasn’t large inside, but it took a long time to take it all in.  Plus there were lots and lots of people also enjoying the sights (and keeping dry due to the howling rain bomb happening outside).

The church was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II of Russia was assassinated, following an attack on March 13th, 1881.  He actually died in hospital from his wounds, however there is a shrine within the building marking the actual place where he was struck down.  The construction of the church began in 1883 during the reign of Alexander III (son of Alexander II) and was finished in 1907, under the reign of Nicholas II.  Extensive damage occurred to the interior due to looting and ransacking immediately after the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the church was later closed by the Communist government.  It was used as a temporary morgue during the Seige of Leningrad in World War II and thereafter as a vegetable warehouse.

An interesting fact I only learnt after our visit was that during the war, a bomb fell on the highest dome but did not explode, and it remained in place for 19 years.  When the workers went up to the dome to patch some leaks they found and removed the bomb.  It was then that they decided to begin the restoration of the Church, which after 27 years, was inaugurated as a state museum where visitors can appreciate the building and learn the history of the assassination of Alexander II.

This church has to be one of the most photographed in St Petersburg both from the outside and inside.  See what you think of these pictures.

The Church of the Saviour On Blood

Outstanding Dining Experience

We are now officially exhausted from a full-on, but satisfying, day out and about in St Petersburg.  We retire back to the hotel for a well deserved soak in a hot bubble bath accompanied by a wee vino that helps me wind down and reflect on an amazing first day in this stunning city.

In the interests of not walking any further today in order to preserve our feet for tomorrow, we pop next door to the restaurant attached to the hotel.  We find ourselves served a delightful dinner, the likes of which have eluded us for the past 15 months (bar one exception in Italy), however the prices here are incredibly reasonable, if not cheap.

Alan ordered the beef cheeks, served with green mashed potato, honey carrot and local cranberry sauce.  He chose, as usual, the pick of the dishes tonight.  It was roast duck for me (a dish I can seldom go part), served with pear stewed in wine.  We then ordered a salad of caramelised pumpkin with beetroot, shevre cheese and pecan nut.  A great accompaniment to a superb meal.  With food this good, we can’t leave dessert behind, so I ordered Honey Cake topped with red berries and Alan dove into the Sharlotka Apple Tart, which is a traditional Russian apple tart with almond crust and orange zest served with vanilla ice cream.

Bellies full and smiles on our faces, we retire for the evening to prepare for day two in St Petersburg.

Other Blogs in this Series on St Petersburg, Russia

Follow my series of blogs below to find out how we filled in our three days in St Petersburg and more…

Introduction To St Petersburg, Russia includes how we arrived into St Petersburg and from where, about the 72-hour visa-free visit, motorhome parking in Helsinki, Finland, Currency, Internet, Water, Our Expectations and Top Attractions

Day 1 St Petersburg you are reading now includes the Ancient Sphinx, Rostral Columns, St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, Isaakievskaya Square, Kazan Cathedral, Church of the Savior on Blood 

Day 2 St Petersburg includes The Hermitage Museum, Swan Lake Ballet, and photos of St Petersburg by Night 

Day 3 St Petersburg includes Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Peterhof Gardens, Kronstadt Naval Cathedral

Summary: Hiring a Guide, History and Interesting Facts, and Costs

 

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Day 2 St Petersburg Russia

Day 2 St Petersburg Russia

by Ruth Murdoch  |  October 2018  | St Petersburg, Russia

Oooh it’s so exciting waking up in a new place, especially one as foreign as Russia.

Keen to see what today offers, we opt for a quick bite to eat at a local French patisserie, Garcon, around the corner and then head on our way.

The plan for today is The Hermitage Museum, followed by the ballet, Swan Lake this evening and then viewing the night lights of St Petersburg on an extended journey back to the hotel.

 

The Hermitage Museum

The Hermitage Museum is the second biggest art museum in the world, behind Paris’ Louvre.  With it’s more than 1,000 rooms and over three million items, they say it would take eight years to see everything if viewing each item for just one minute.

Our guide tells us that the palace was built for Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, although she never actually occupied it.  Catherine the Great, Peter’s wife became the first owner.

The museum is made up of six individual buildings, five of which are open to the public.  These include the stunning Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, and Hermitage Theatre.

The Hermitage Museum was founded in 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great acquired an impressive collection of paintings from the Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. The museum celebrates the anniversary of its founding each year on 7 December, Saint Catherine’s Day.  It has been open to the public since 1852 and boasts the largest collection of paintings in the world.

The fact that we lost five hours wandering around the museum, and only scratched the surface of what there is to see, is a testament to not only its size but also to the sheer volume of interesting and varied artefacts keeping us entertained.  In fact, as you will see from the photos we were hugely impressed with the buildings, each room boasting fabulous architecture that we had to survey, before then turning our attention to what was actually on display.

Five hours was not enough time, however with tired feet, and brains full to overflowing, it was time to leave.  If we were staying in St Petersburg for longer there is no doubt the Hermitage would have received our patronage for at least a second day.

With our cameras fill with amazing photos, this is just a very small sample of what we saw here.  Enjoy these and click on each image to enlarge.

The Hermitage Museum

Famous Russian Ballet – Swan Lake

A trip to Russia without seeing the ballet would be verging on criminal.  What better place is there to experience my first ever ballet and what better ballet to enjoy than the famous Swan Lake?  I read up about the ballet beforehand so I could at least follow what was happening, and thankful I did because there was no interpretation forthcoming.

The ballet was showcased in The Alexandrinsky Theater to a full house.  We were in the third row from the front with a close-up view of the dancers, their expressions, their costumes and their dedication to their performance.

As expected, their costumes were beautiful as were the stage props.  There was no expense spared to bring the story to light and entertain the punters.  Unfortunately, but understandable, there were no photos allowed during the performance, however, I managed to click a couple at the end.

The Beautiful Alexandrinsky Theater Lit Up at Night

A Sneak Preview Inside the Alexandrinsky Theater

Finale of Swan Lake

The Fairy Lights of St Petersburg at Night

“A city of lights” is how I’d describe this spectacular city when driving around at night.  We asked the taxi driver for a guided city lights tour on our way back to the hotel and he gladly obliged for a few more roubles.

St Petersburg by night is lit up like 10,000 candles with nearly every building in the central area liberally doused with coloured illumination.  The bright, dancing lights perfectly compliment the vibrant night life that spills out of the restaurants and clubs and crowds the footpath with tourists, buskers, street performers and locals.

Here is some of what we captured on our tour.

The Hermitage by Night

Other Blogs in this Series on St Petersburg, Russia

Follow my series of blogs below to find out how we filled in our three days in St Petersburg and more…

Introduction To St Petersburg, Russia includes how we arrived into St Petersburg and from where, about the 72 hour visa-free visit, motorhome parking in Helsinki, Finland, Currency, Internet, Water, Our Expectations and Top Attractions

Day 1 St Petersburg includes the Ancient Sphinx, Rostral Columns, St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, Isaakievskaya Square, Kazan Cathedral, Church of the Savior on Blood 

Day 2 St Petersburg is what you are reading now and includes The Hermitage Museum, Swan Lake Ballet, and photos of St Petersburg by Night 

Day 3 St Petersburg includes Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Peterhof Gardens, Kronstadt Naval Cathedral

Summary: Hiring a Guide, History and Interesting Facts, and Costs

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Introduction To St Petersburg, Russia

Introduction To St Petersburg, Russia

by Ruth Murdoch  |  October 2018  | St Petersburg, Russia

Welcome to St Petersburg, Russia

Have you ever wanted to visit St Petersburg but thought it was too hard, too scary, or that the visa requirements are too onerous.  Then think again.

If you are planning a trip to St Petersburg or are thinking about visiting this wonderful city, you probably have a few questions that I hope I can answer in this series of five blogs about our recent trip (August/September 2018).

Here’s what you can expect to learn by reading these blogs:
✅ What’s the deal with visas
✅ Where did we park our motorhome
✅ What’s the currency and how to exchange money
✅ Are there any health concerns we should know about
✅ How to get the internet
✅ What to see and do
✅ Hiring a Guide
✅ How much it cost us, plus much more…

 

Introduction

From a young age, I remember seeing St Petersburg at night in pictures and thinking that this place has been taken directly from a fairy tale.

I now know that was an underestimation!

Not only were the lights beautiful at night, but during the day the colours of the buildings and the majesty of the architecture blew me away.  Putting into words how to describe this stunning city is difficult so I will allow the pictures to show you later instead.

Welcome to the St. Petersburg Series.  In this string of blogs I will share how to get to St Petersburg, Russia from Helsinki, the Top Tourist Attractions in St Petersburg and in particular a day by day account of what you can visit in three days (based on our experience).

I will also provide a glimpse into the history of St Petersburg from what we gleaned over our short stay.

For more detailed information there is a wealth of knowledge contained in a handy online guide called St Petersburg In Your Pocket.  You can also pick up the physical guide from your hotel, just ask.

Tune into my Summary Blog where I give a wrap up of St Petersburg, why and how to book a guide, some interesting facts and history, links on where to book the ferry, hotel, ballet, and more, plus I share all of the costs for our three-day visit.

Arriving into St Petersburg Russia

We are traveling around Europe in a motorhome and taking this to St Petersburg from Helsinki just wasn’t possible without a considerable amount of planning and documentation.  That’s not to say it can’t be done, and in fact, I hope that after reading this series you will, like us, give this some serious consideration.

On this occasion we took a ferry and booked our passage on the St Peter Line ferry, leaving Helsinki at 7pm on a Wednesday evening at the end of August 2018, which traveled overnight to arrive in St Petersburg the following morning at 9am.  Then we returned on a lovely evening cruise at 7pm Saturday, arriving back into a still sleepy Helsinki on 8am on the Sunday.

For details about costs please see our summary blog.  The added bonus about being on the ferry was that it was like having a night out, with some great entertainment and live music.

72-hour Visa-Free Visit into St Petersburg from Helsinki

The visa-free visit means we didn’t have the hassle of sending our passports away, paying for a visa, and waiting for the passports to be sent somewhere for collection (given we don’t have a home address).  

The criteria for the 72-hour visa-free visit states:

1.  You must enter by ferry (St Peter Line seems to be only one acceptable) or a cruise ship*~.
2.  You must book a “city tour”, which in this case is just the shuttle taking you from the ship to your hotel (and return).  You don’t actually need to go on this as just booking it fulfils the ‘visa-free’ requirements.
3.  You must have a hotel booking, also known as a ‘registration’, and be able to present evidence of this.  I understand that Air BnB bookings are not valid however this needs further confirmation.

* When you take a cruise ship you stay overnight on board.  This would have been expensive and would have made it more difficult to see the wonderful lights of St Petersburg by night.  Therefore we choose to take the ferry and book hotel accommodation in the city centre instead.  This turned out to be the right decision for us.

~There has been talk of allowing visa-free visits for passengers on the Allegro train from Helsinki, but to date, train passengers still need to get a visa.

In past times all visitors were required to also book a guide and were chaperoned during their entire stay.  Many people we spoke with still opted to hire a guide, as did we, for convenience and to glean the most out of the time.

If you are planning a longer trip to Russia, then there are a number of visa considerations.  I could state them all here, or you can download this up to date Guide that steps you through the Visa requirements from the UK (plus the US, Australia and NZ) and shows you how to complete the documentation.

If you plan on going further afield after Russia, China perhaps, then here’s the information for UK residents (and US, Australia and NZ residents) to apply for a visa.

Motorhome Parking In Helsinki

If you have a motorhome, you might be wondering what we did with our Betsy.

In order to park her legally and safely we drove her to the only motorhome camping ground, Rastila Camping Helsinki which is a council run camping ground about 30 minutes drive out of Helsinki.  At €17 per night for parking only it was a bit steep although worth every penny to have our home safe and sound upon returning.

Details on this camping ground including how to book can be found in the post about costs.

Public transport directly to the ferry terminal was easy and cheap (€2.80 each) via the Metro Station outside Rastila Camping.

Currency

Russia’s currency is the Ruble (RUB) (dollars) and kopeks (cents).  It is illegal to pay with Euros or Dollars so please don’t expect or ask this of any retailer.

It was easy enough for us to exchange our Euros for Rubles on the ferry, however, this will not give you the best exchange rates or lowest commissions.  You can also find ATMs at most metro stations and exchange your money at the banks and in large hotels (although in my past experience hotels often sting you on exchange rates).

In August 2018 we exchanged €50 for $3,954 RUB and paid a commission of $204 RUB.  The exchange rate was €1 = 79,080 RUB.

Over the course of three days, we found this amount was adequate for our needs.  We used our Mastercard credit card for most attractions and meals, and for every other purchase, other than the street vendors or market stallholders.  However, you may need more because we are not big shoppers or spenders!

Internet

Thankfully my internet provider is FREE Mobile, from France and their services extend to Russia.  Alan’s Italian Vodafone, however, wasn’t so accommodating.

There is always the option of purchasing a local SIM or waiting until you are back on the hotel‘s premises as they provide free internet.

Don’t expect the local eating establishments to offer WiFi, as that’s a rarity.  In order to purchase a local SIM you need to show your registration (hotel booking information) and your passport including the document that would have been inserted into it by the Russian passport control (don’t lose this as it is removed at departure).

Water

We were advised against drinking the local tap water and later found out that it is highly chlorinated due to parasites and contains heavy metals.  Our hotel provided free bottled drinking water every day and also provided filtered water for our drink bottle refilling before we left each morning.  Brushing teeth using the water is fine, just avoid swallowing too much.

Our Expectations

With just three days to see the large city of St Petersburg one has to be cognisant of realistic expectations.  I doubt we would have successfully absorbed all of this city’s gems in three weeks!   I definitely overestimated what we could see and underestimated the time that it takes to see it all! 

Top Attractions

I made a list of the top tourist attractions and then plotted them on a Google Map (below).  Given our limited time, we opted for quality over quantity.  One example of this is the five hours we spent in The Hermitage Museum compared with the two-hour guided tour option.  Even then, five hours wasn’t enough, except for my feet, which thanked me later!

Click on the interactive map below to see the tourist attractions I had planned for us to see.  Then you can compare these to what we actually saw during our three-day stay.

To find the list of destinations, click on the window looking button with an arrow on the far left in the top grey bar.  You can zoom in on the map to see the proximity of every attraction.  That’s how we chose our accommodation, as we didn’t want to spend time walking for miles and miles.

In my post-visit research, I stumbled across a travel guide on Russia, which is very well laid out. I am seldom impressed with guides to the extent I am with this one.  Please, if you are planning a trip to Russia then do yourself a favour and check out this Russian Tour Guide to save you time and money (and potentially a lot of headaches).

Other Blogs in this Series on St Petersburg, Russia

Follow my series of blogs below to find out how we filled in our three days in St Petersburg and more…
Day 1 St Petersburg includes the Ancient Sphinx, Rostral Columns, St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, Isaakievskaya Square, Kazan Cathedral, Church of the Savior on Blood 
Day 2 St Petersburg includes The Hermitage Museum, Swan Lake Ballet, and photos of St Petersburg by Night 
Day 3 St Petersburg includes Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Peterhof Gardens, Kronstadt Naval Cathedral
Summary: Hiring a Guide, History and Interesting Facts, and Costs

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Day 3 St Petersburg Russia

Day 3 St Petersburg Russia

by Ruth Murdoch  |  October 2018  | St Petersburg, Russia

Last Day

Our last day has come along quicker than I’d hoped.  However, we are lucky to have a full day here before the ferry heads back to Helsinki, Finland, at 7pm tonight.

We opted for a guide on our last day.  We had met a lovely sailing couple from the UK while touring through the Åland Islands and they gave us the name of a guide they used.  They said his prices were reasonable and his knowledge extensive.

Vladimir collected us from the hotel for a civilised 11am start to our day.  He delighted us for the next five hours with his insights, including sharing his experience of the Soviet regime, before dropping us to the ferry.

The first stop today was still in the city center, at Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, as we had run out of time to visit here over the previous two days.  Vladimir came into the Cathedral with us and shared his knowledge.  In times gone past it was a requirement to have a guide as part of your stay in St Petersburg, but not anymore.  I highly recommend a guide as you will learn things that make the experience more fulfilling.

Many people we spoke with hired guides, however when comparing costs Vladimir was by far the best value for money, very likable, and most flexible.  Nothing was a problem for him, even when I changed times on him.  Plus his communication was prompt and efficient.  If you want the name of our guide please send me an email and I will happily send you his details privately.  We don’t want to swamp the lovely chap.

Saint Isaac’s Cathedral

Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, also known as Isaakievskiy Sobor, is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city.  It is the largest orthodox basilica and the fourth largest cathedral in the world.  This cathedral is dedicated to Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, a patron Saint of Peter the Great, who had been born on the first day of that saint.

When checking these facts, as I often do, I came to realise that you won’t find Saint Isaac’s Cathedral on the list of largest churches in the world because it doesn’t offer weekly worship meetings, the criteria for which to be called a ‘church’.  Saint Isaac’s is more of a museum today and boy what a beauty she is.

Boasting fifteen, yes fifteen, different shades of granite this church/museum appears to have been built with little regard to cost or expense.  The sheer opulence is to be marvelled at.

Building commenced in 1818 and during its 40 year construction, some 40,000 people died The reasons behind the 40,000 deaths was a mystery until the culprit was finally discovered – mercury evaporation poisoning.  Over half a million people had a hand to play in her building, possibly by slave labour, which wasn’t abolished in Russia until the 19th century.

During the many wars Russia battled, this cathedral, as well as others of significance, was covered with camouflage nets to hide it from the air.  Although ground forces did in fact damage one side, which is still obvious today, the building remained relatively unscathed.

With an area of 4000 square meters, the cathedral can accommodate up to 12,000 people. St. Isaac’s Cathedral, as well as almost all Orthodox churches, is five-domed. On the porticoes of the drum of the dome there 72 solid granite columns installed weighing from 64 to 114 tons. For the first time in the construction practice the columns of this size were raised to a height of 40 meters. Inside the church there is a video showing this ground-breaking system. It took over 45 kilos of pure gold for gilding of all the domes of the cathedral.

Vladimir tells us that each of the marble columns comes from one piece of rock.  I have never seen so many vivid coloured marbles in one place in all my life; let alone in a church, for which I’ve lost count of the number we’ve frequented throughout our travels.

St Isaac’s Cathedral

Vivid Colours of The Marble

Interior Showing Its Opulence

Tall Ceilings With Incredible Detail

Peterhof Gardens

After Saint Issac’s we head 34 kilometers out of the city and an hour later arrive at Peterhof Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This place has stunning grounds of 4,000 hectares that are beautifully manicured, right down to the last blade of grass.   Guests to the grounds can also visit the Palace, although we didn’t enter due mainly to the cost (€16, after the entry fee of €15), and time being against us.   We will save this for next time.

The lower park, Vladimir’s favourite spot, has approximately 150 fountains and four cascades.  It takes us at least an hour or so at a fairly brisk walking pace just to make our way around and take in the surrounds.  By this time my phone battery, aka camera, was running low which forced me to take essential photos only.  That was a blessing later with fewer photos to sort out.

Looking Up Towards The Castle

Stunning Gardens!

Kronstadt Naval Cathedral

With time closing in, we head back towards the city and happened across Kronstadt Naval Cathedral. Given I had set the itinerary with my extensive research, this was an unexpected, albeit welcomed, addition to our day.

This cathedral, built between 1903 and 1913 is a temple for the fallen sailors of the Baltic Fleet.  The dome above is impressive with its 27 meters in diameter.  Inside the church Vladimir tells us that its design was based on the Hague Sophia from Turkey.  It was obvious to us the moment we stepped inside and it took us right back to our recent visit to Istanbul where this style is commonly seen in the Turkish construction.

As a child, Vladimir recounts, he would come here to enjoy the cinema.  In the Soviet days the stunning mosaics were boarded up and it wasn’t until the collapse of this regime that Vladimir appreciated what had been hidden for so many years.

During the 1917 Revolution, this church also doubled as an officers club and also a Navy Museum in 1980.

We are incredibly thankful, when reflecting on our own childhood memories, to have not encountered this level of complication and the ensuing propaganda that we were hearing for the first time from our guide.

From Outside The Kronstadt Naval Cathedral Looks Splendid

Inside This Cathedral Is Also Stunning And So Well Preserved

Imagine Being Here Seeing This In Person. The Mosiacs Are Wonderful.

With time up, we sadly head back for the ferry and talk about the political history of this interesting country.  I then realise how little I actually know about Russia and how much more there is to learn.

We enquire as to a return trip when Vladimir advises he can help us with a longer visa to extend our stay for up to one year.  Excited, I tuck this gem into my memory bank and vow to return here.

Whilst I am incredibly grateful to have an opportunity of a 72-hour visa-free stay in St Petersburg it becomes obvious that this is just the beginning.  In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger …. I’ll be back!

Other Blogs in this Series on St Petersburg, Russia

Follow my series of blogs below to find out how we filled in our three days in St Petersburg and more…

Introduction To St Petersburg, Russia includes how we arrived into St Petersburg and from where, about the 72-hour visa-free visit, motorhome parking in Helsinki, Finland, Currency, Internet, Water, Our Expectations and Top Attractions

Day 1 St Petersburg includes the Ancient Sphinx, Rostral Columns, St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, Isaakievskaya Square, Kazan Cathedral, Church of the Savior on Blood

Day 2 St Petersburg –  includes The Hermitage Museum, Swan Lake Ballet, and photos of St Petersburg by Night

Day 3 St Petersburg – you are reading now, includes Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Peterhof Gardens, Kronstadt Naval Cathedral

Summary: Hiring a Guide, History and Interesting Facts, and Costs

Summary: Guides, History and Costs

Summary: Guides, History and Costs

by Ruth Murdoch  |  October 2018  | St Petersburg, Russia

The final blog in the series about St Petersburg is where you will find about hiring a guide, how much they cost, if it’s compulsory and what a guide will do for you.

You will also learn some facts about St Petersburg, the history and a little about the sad and interesting past of this beautiful city.

Then to the nitty-gritty of how much our three-day trip cost, including links to booking agencies, mistakes we made in buying advanced tickets, and how much each of the tourist attractions cost.

To Hire A Guide or Not

As you may have already read, if you’ve been following this series, is that hiring a guide in St Petersburg used to be compulsory.  The requirement to be chaperoned these days has been made redundant and you are free to wander the streets by yourself.  However, with a short 72-hours or three days to visit such a vast and full city, if you wish to gain the most from your limited time then my recommendation would be to find and pay for a guide.

Why A Guide?

I had chosen a guide on the last day for two reasons, one, because I wanted to venture further out of the main city centre and would need to navigate public transport or find a guide with a car, two, because we could be dropped off at the ferry without the hassle of finding the shuttle bus somewhere in the city that the ferry line makes available.

I also have an inquisitive mind and tend to ask lots of questions.  So having a guide on the last day gave me a chance to sort out what I wanted to know and make the most of his knowledge and expertise.

How Much Do Tour Guides Charge?

As you would expect, the prices for guides vary and can start from as little as US$15 per hour upwards.  I expect that the Russians are expecting Americans to visit, hence quoting in US dollars.  One American family I spoke with on the ferry told me they paid €500 for a guide for three days.  I found this to be a little excessive.

Not all guides have a car, so think about what you want from your guide before investing in one and choosing the right person who is best for you and your circumstances.

Some guides will just drive you around, and not give much of a commentary like we experienced for the night light tour (we had a taxi driver who drove around the city at night).

Then you can pay for an agency guide, someone who is registered with the various attractions and is given priority over things like skip the line benefits.  With these guides you will be paying for the agency as well as the guide, so obviously expect them to be more expensive.

Then there is the type of guide we hired.  He is a private guide without any of the extra agency costs.  Be prepared when hiring a guide like this to pay for his entrance ticket also (however at local prices, not tourist prices).  Our guide had an identity card to prove he had residency.  We paid our guide €25 per hour which included his car (a new Mercedes ML350 4WD) and his fuel costs.

What Will A Guide Do For Me?

There are different options and different types of guides depending on if you are in a group, are a couple, or a family.  If you want someone to set your itinerary, collect you from your hotel each day, show you the sights, and deliver you back safe and sound then that can certainly be arranged.  You would possibly be best to use an agency guide for this purpose.

Or you can ask a guide for suggestions if you don’t have the time or inclination to do the research yourself.

Then there’s the option we chose.  Given I had extensively researched and set our itinerary for what we wanted to see and do, I didn’t think it was necessary to have a guide for the first two days because everything was in close walking distance to our hotel.  On the last day, however, the attractions were further out of town and I didn’t want to negotiate with local transport, purely for the fact that we had limited time.  Plus we wanted to be dropped back to the ferry terminal rather than having to lug our bags around the city to find a shuttle bus that had been pre-arranged.

Our guide was very knowledgeable and had been previously recommended to me by others who had used his services.  For me, a guide will give you much more information than you could possibly get yourself and make the short timeframe and investment of a three day visit even more enjoyable.  Plus you can ask questions and if you are anything like us, you will have about a million of them.

I suggest you Google the options and see what type of guide suits your circumstances and budget.  There is a lot of information available online.

Or else, I’m happy to share our Guide’s details if you like the sound of him.  Just email me here and I will be in touch.

Interesting and Historical Facts of St Petersburg, Russia

Saint Petersburg has changed its name throughout history more than most.   Originally known as St Petersburg, Nicholas II decided on 31 August 1914 to rename the city Petrograd as he felt that the name sounded too German like.

Then on 26 January 1924 Petrograd was renamed Leningrad after Lenin’s death.

It remained Leningrad until communism ceased in Russia on 6th September 1991, when the name changed back to its original St Petersburg.

There is also a St Petersburg is Florida, USA, so when booking your ticket just make sure you have chosen the right country!

St Petersburg was founded upon a swamp in the 17th Century.  With little sunlight, which hasn’t changed today, it was said only cabbages and turnips would grow there. It was forbidden to fell trees for fuel, so hot water was permitted just once a week.

As we drive around the guide is giving us lots of facts and figures about St Petersburg that I find rather interesting.  Here’s what I recall:

  • St Petersburg is just 315 years young (by European standards that is apparently young).
  • St Petersburg is named after St. Peter, not as many assume by Peter the Great who founded this city and who also founded the Russian navy.
  • Peter the Great studied shipbuilding in Amsterdam and wanted to model St Petersburg on the city of Amsterdam.
  • There are 65 rivers in St Petersburg with 500 bridges, 12 of which are drawbridges and go up every evening (between 1.30am and 5am) to allow for ships to pass underneath.
  • The Trinity Bridge, which spans across the Neva river, was built by the builders of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
  • This city used to be the capital, until 1712 or 1718 (depending on which source you read or hear) when the capital then changed to Moscow.
  • The population is somewhere between 5.5 and 6.5 million (official stats are difficult to come by apparently).
  • In 1862 Russia sold Alaska for $7.2M because it needed the money after the war against Turkey.  Russia only later discovered Alaska was rich with oil.
  • During the second world war every second person living here died, mainly due to starvation. We learnt that sadly people were supplementing their meager food rations by boiling up wallpaper and leather into their soups and were making bread from sawdust and cardboard.
  • The average life expectancy for a male in Russia is 60 years of age. (Many factors are involved in this including war and the hard physical work undertaken by many men who work in the countryside, even today).
  • Russian slavery was only abolished in 19th century.
  • The mainstay of St. Petersburg is shipbuilding, nuclear icebreakers, and of course tourism.
  • St Petersburg is also called the ‘Venice of the North’ due to its many man-made rivers (or canals).

How so many buildings survived the bombing of the Germans is a testament to the creativity of the citizens who camouflaged important buildings with nets to prevent them becoming targets.

I for one am grateful for this foresight so that I can stand here today looking at the marvelous architecture that makes this city incredibly unique.

 

Our Costs for a Three-Day Visit to St Petersburg Russia

Before looking at our expenses you must know that we are traveling full time in our motorhome so every cent we spend is considered carefully.  You may not need to be so cost conscious.

Below are our costs, including related expenses, eg parking our motorhome safe and securely for the time we were away.

Everyone, including us now, raves about the food in St Petersburg which is AMAZING and oh so cheap, so make sure you dine out regularly.  We didn’t have time to stop for lunch (breakfast kept us going) and we packed our evening meal (some sandwiches) on the first night on the ferry to help reduce costs.

We also didn’t purchase a lot of souvenirs simply because we don’t have the capacity for such luxuries.

You can get further information on each expense in the notes table below.

Here are our costs…

NotesExpense CategoriesCosts
*(unrelated expenses, see notes below)
1Camping Ground for Motorhome Storage68.00
2Food211.12
3Alcohol39.98
4Haircuts *34.00
5Pharmacy *24.92
6Souvenirs17.99
7Attractions & Entertainment (incl. guide & taxi)519.90
8Ferry382.00
9Accommodation Puskha Inn Hotel328.87
Totals€ 1,626.78
1Rastila Camping,
GPS coordinates are N 60º12'24'' E 25º7'16''. The cost was €17 per night x 4 nights
Book here
2Three dinners average price €48, dearest [and least impressive] was on the ship @ €65. We took sandwiches for the first night on the ship to reduce costs.

Three breakfasts, average €22, dearest was on Ship €30, hotel €20.40

Note we didn’t eat lunch at all (didn't have time and breakfast was ample)
3Drinking out twice €29.60 [average €14.80]

€24.10 on ship on trip over was expensive
4Cheap for two haircuts on the ship (male €14 and female €20)
5Cheap place for prescription medicine (we had the script with us)
6Scarf €4.50 and small Russian Doll set €13.49 (called Matryoshkas). These dolls are the most recognised symbol of Russian tourism.
They are a set of traditional dolls (its origin dates back to 1890) that are hollow, and in each doll there is another and another, typically five is a common number but they have been made up to 75.
7Church of Spilled Blood €6.38 (250 RUB)

Hermitage Museum US$34.90 (€30.05). Here is where we made a mistake. We ordered the tickets online (because the research suggested this was how we could avoid huge queues). However at the end of August there were not any queues and we could have purchased tickets inside the gate from electronic kiosks. We suggest you think about the time of year you are visiting and if it’s the height of summer (July and beginning of August) then this might be worthwhile, however outside of these times we suspect it’s not necessary to pay extra. The Hermitage Museum has a number of separate entries and we didn’t ever see people lining up to go inside.

St Isaac Cathedral €9.56 including Guide's entry (at local rates)

Peterhof Gardens €26.14 including Guide's entry (at local rates)

Seaman's Church FOC – great value

St Nicholas Cathedral – FOC – we like this price

Swan Lake Ballet €279.92 To book go here http://www.GetYourGuide.com

Taxi to and from Ballet and night lights sightseeing €17.85

Guide €150 (paid in Euros, €25 per hour including vehicle)

One of the best guides I’ve come across that helps you buy tickets and to learn about the schedule is here. I wish I’d come across this before our trip.
Also if you need an extended visa, the process is here in simple to understand language.
Visa and other Resources
8Shuttle €25ea (mandatory), 3 hour bus tour €45ea (optional), Ferry €121ea includes ‘pet’ (standard) cabin 98m2 (small but adequate). To book your tickets from Helsinki Visit here
9Pushka Inn Hotel is located at Moyka river embankment, 14, Tsentralny District
We booked two nights in standard room and were given the only room with a bath (oh what a luxury). Great location, very central to the city and attractions. Would definitely stay here again. We booked using Booking.com
Or book direct here

A Work Of Art

Faberge Eggs

Matryoshkas (Russian Dolls)

Other Blogs in this Series on St Petersburg, Russia

Follow my series of blogs below to find out how we filled in our three days in St Petersburg and more…

Introduction To St Petersburg, Russia includes how we arrived into St Petersburg and from where, about the 72-hour visa-free visit, motorhome parking in Helsinki, Finland, Currency, Internet, Water, Our Expectations and Top Attractions

Day 1 St Petersburg includes the Ancient Sphinx, Rostral Columns, St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, Isaakievskaya Square, Kazan Cathedral, Church of the Savior on Blood

Day 2 St Petersburg –  includes The Hermitage Museum, Swan Lake Ballet, and photos of St Petersburg by Night

Day 3 St Petersburg – you are reading now, includes Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Peterhof Gardens, Kronstadt Naval Cathedral

Summary: Hiring a Guide, History and Interesting Facts, and Costs – you are reading this now.

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From Glorious Sun to Snow Storm in One Day

From Glorious Sun to Snow Storm in One Day

by Ruth Murdoch  |  1st October 2018  | Norway
The first day of October dawned bright and clear and pretended to be just like any other day, only it wasn’t.  This was a sheep in wolf’s clothing day.

Today was a day of firsts, not only as in the date but in many things that happened along the way.  We woke in Ulsvag, Norway and by 9am were on the road.  That was the first ‘first’ as we don’t usually move too early in the morning.

We had no set destination today, again a first.  We typically make a point of plotting our destination but today was different, we just hopped on the road and started driving, south. Hmmm.

The extent of our planning, however, was to not use the coastal route due mainly to the high costs of taking ferries.  That decision was to save us €100.  In hindsight, which is a wonderful thing, we are now thinking that perhaps it wasn’t worth it.  Or maybe it was, otherwise I wouldn’t have a story to tell.

We are making our way south to leave Norway hopefully before the winter snow set in.  The surrounding hilltops have been sprinkled with snow that looks like icing sugar (powdered sugar) and makes for amazing photos, particularly in the reflective waters that can be found everywhere we look.

We don’t go far before Betsy, our motorhome, is stopped on the roadside for us to jump out and take some photos.  A two-hour trip usually turns into three or four depending upon the landscape and photographic opportunities. On route we stop at a place called Drag for this photo.

Snowcapped Mountains in Drag

Half an hour later at Innhavet, we come across the camping ground where we had expected to stop the previous night.  It was closed.  That seems to be the common thing around here after the summer season.  This one however offered a wonderful photo opportunity so we wandered over for a closer look.  The row of cabins were mirrored perfectly in the reflective water.  The golden hues of the autumn trees were resplendent in the foreground reflections of the snowcapped mountains behind.

It’s really not difficult to take wonderful shots here when the scenery is so spectacular.

Camping Ground Hut Reflections

Not a breath of wind!

By this point we continue south, to where we don’t yet know but it doesn’t matter.  We are just enjoying the ride and there is only one road south.

The opportunity for more photos presented itself, however it was more of the same, albeit still stunningly beautiful.  I made the decision that we would only stop again for different scenery and forty-five minutes later this arrived.

Engan gave us rocks of greys, blues, browns diving into the again reflective waters.  When I first saw this sight my brain couldn’t comprehend what my eyes were seeing.  The scene in front of us was one of seamless rocks in an unusual shape, until I realised it was the water playing tricks on my eyes.

We asked [the universe] for different landscapes, and Norway provided these for us unlike anything I had ever seen before.  The colours had been carefully chosen from nature’s palette by the most experienced of artists.  Should anyone care to paint this scene, it would simply look too contrived.

But here in Engan we stood with jaws dropped and eyes wide, trying our best to take it all in.  It was still morning, just, and there was not a ripple of wind on the water, and the clouds above are soft and fluffy.  The day is stunning, there’s nothing to worry about here, yet.

Engan’s Rock Formations Repeated In the Still Waters Below

After a lunch stop we are on the road again and at about 4.30pm it only took ten minutes to come across more of nature’s glory, this time a roaring waterfall.  It was as though someone had turned on a fireman’s hose, the sound was deafening and the water rushing in a hurry to find the end, wherever that may be.

Another hour or so later the surrounds had changed and changed dramatically.  We knew we were heading through Saltfjellet National Park and had been climbing for a while.  However there was nothing, and I mean nothing, to give us any warning of what was to come.

We’re in the snowline, says Alan, excited to see the white around us.  We pulled over to frolic in the snow (okay we’re from the other end of the world where snow isn’t common).  We take photos of Betsy surrounded by the snow.  Gosh it’s cold outside.  About 1 degree showing on the dashboard.  It was a quick stop.  That was 5.59pm.

We continue climbing and drinking in the sights of the beautiful white snow and the barren mountain slopes.  The beautiful autumn colours were left far behind us and it was just black on white.  What a picturesque scene before us.  Until…

Six minutes later at 6.05pm we are still climbing and then it starts to snow.  Gently at first and we are pleased to have just replaced our dashcam with a better one now so we can capture the stunning scenery here in Norway.  I also capture a video on my iPhone, and the delight of seeing snow is clearly obvious in my voice.  The roads are clear and there’s no concern about driving, yet.

The next video is taken at 6.08pm when the snow is coming in heavy and just starting to land on the roads and is staying there.  The sound in my voice has a little more concern than the previous one and I say “I hope we don’t get snowed in”.

The third video is just one minute later at 6.09pm.  We are in Rokland.  My voice is quiet and I state the obvious ‘we’ve really been caught out here today’.   The road is white, Besty has slowed right down and we’re in trouble.  We don’t have winter tyres on, nor do we have chains.  We have snow ‘socks’ but there is nowhere to pull off the road to fit them.  I look at the other vehicles on the road, what few of them there are, and notice they also haven’t put on any chains.  Phew, that’s a relief.

Driving in horizontal snow is another first for us.

The weather is really closing in now, the visibility low and I am feeling concerned.  We don’t know how far we are to safety, or how long this is likely to last.  We don’t understand the weather in Norway and we’re miles from anywhere.

It defies belief that the weather conditions in 90 seconds could deteriorate so dramatically.

Watch the dash cam video to check it out for yourself then consider putting yourself in our driving seats.  For those from Europe reading this, it’s probably second nature.  But for those from Australia, or NZ, this situation is far from normal.  In particular look at the colour of the road surface at the beginning of this video then see how quickly it changes.

I have an out of body moment and hear my quivering voice saying “I’m out Alan, I’ve had enough, I can’t do this any longer”.  Then I have the thought, what do you want him to do about it Ruth?  There’s nowhere to pull over, he’s driving slowly, and there are no options right now other than to go straight ahead.  To say I’m not feeling particularly comfortable at this point in time is somewhat of an understatement.

We continue for another ten minutes.  We see a sign for a parking area.  Upon approaching this we could see it’s a steep slope of snow down to a snow-covered carpark.  We bailed on that idea, realising that if we got Betsy down there, there was no guarantee we could get her out again.

We continue forward, now travelling at just 50km/hr.  A van passes us and Alan opts to drive in his tracks giving us a smidgen more traction, or so we hope. Ahead we can see a sign saying we’ve just crossed the Arctic Circle.  We hope there are some buildings or structures and a welcoming rest area to stop.  There is a sign pointing to something but the side road is covered with virgin white snow and we are not about to turn down there.

So we plod on forward with Besty still occasionally losing traction as her feet find it difficult to hold onto the ground through the thickening snow.  Thankfully the road is straight, it’s relatively flat and Betsy holds her line as she connects again with the road and Alan keeps her pointing forward.  Again she slips and slews a little sideways.

Keeping a 3.5-ton vehicle moving forward in these conditions is no small feat.  Alan does a sterling job of man-handling Betsy and keeping her pointing straight ahead.  He also tries to keep me calm, but I know him all too well and realise he’s managing his own concerns for our safety in these conditions.

The snow has now well and truly settled on the road and it’s not going anywhere.  The temperature has dropped from 1 degree earlier to zero and the indicator on the dashboard is flashing, which means that there is a risk of ice – no kidding Sherlock!

We often talk about how the sun follows us around, how we are lucky with the weather, and whenever we ask the universe for something, like different scenery, it delivers.   Well, today it’s delivering and I make a mental note to be more specific in my future requests.

Up ahead we spied some lights.  What was it?  Is there a village there, or some sort of life?  We nudge slowly and carefully towards the lights and see a parking spot.  By now the snow is hammering into our windscreen, the wipers are on high speed, and the snow is caking where the wipers don’t reach, making an unobscured outlook for the passenger rather difficult.  I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing by this stage.

My heart is in my throat, and I don’t mind saying that I’m more than a tad scared by now. It’s made worse by the fact that I have run out of data on my internet plan.  However, that wouldn’t help in any case because we have very little mobile service up here.  No-one knows where we are and there’s no way we can call for help. Great.

I calm myself looking at our position rationally, which isn’t easy when faced with a new situation like this.  My rational mind says that we have lots of food, we had just filled with LPG at lunchtime, meaning we have heating and can cook, we have plenty of diesel, we are safe inside Betsy and we have each other.  Plus I don’t think there are Polar Bears in this part of the world.

We turn into the lit parking lot at Storforshei, especially grateful that the entry is flat and notice a building with lights on.  It’s a toilet block and the toilets in this part of the world are always heated.  Now I know why.

I look outside and can’t help but see the beauty in the scenery.  The bare sticks in front of me have snow clinging on one side from the now horizontal snow that’s hammering them.  They stand staunchly, teaching me a lesson in humility.  If they can brave it outside, then I can toughen up inside.

We park up and decide we’re not going anywhere tonight.  On the side of the road stands tall skinny red pegs that mark where the road used to be before the snows arrived.  The odd truck continues to drive on in the snow and I figure they, the Norwegians, are used to this stuff.  We, on the other hand, are not.

Heading into Betsy’s garage Alan retrieves the snow socks that we purchased in Sweden.  They are our insurance policy should we get unexpectedly caught out.  I think this situation qualifies for the inaugural snow socks outing.  Snow socks are lighter than chains, are made of a fibrous type material, and can be used to gain traction in the snow, providing one drives at no more than fifty kilometres per hour.  According to the marketing material on the outside of the packaging, these socks are designed to ‘get you home’.  I am now thankful for the €86 investment we made during the searing 31-degree summer heat.

Alan comes back into Betsy looking like a giant snowflake.  He’s covered in snow, it’s in his hair, on his shoulders, and all over his clothing.  He is also looking rather cold.  By this time the temperature had dropped to minus one and it doesn’t look like it’s about to let up any time soon.

Alan takes a wander over to the toilet block to suss it out and I start to set up the cabin to bunker down.  The heating is turned on, the blinds are lifted to cover the windows, and the front screen covers put in place.

We check out the forecasted temperatures for tomorrow and OMG!!!!  Have a guess what it says?  Go on, you can give it a guess.  Well, we are expecting to wake to a balmy minus five, tomorrow morning.  What on earth?  Minus five, do people really live in these conditions?  And what’s more, it’s due to ‘warm up’ to minus three by mid-afternoon.

My mind runs back to an earlier conversation we had with a local chap just a few days ago who said that the snow sometimes doesn’t come in until December.  December!  Not October!  Did I really hear him correctly?  Didn’t anyone tell the weatherman this news?

Then another conversation comes to mind from not one but two locals on two different occasions.  ‘We don’t mind minus ten, it’s when it gets to minus twenty or thirty that it becomes too cold.’  Really?

By now the snow has turned to rain, which possibly means that it’s warmed up outside.  If you can call it ‘warm’!

The amount of snow on the roads has visibly decreased with the help of the rain.  Alan returns from his reconnaissance trip to the bathroom and strongly suggests that we should continue driving tonight, now!  He recommends that we’re not to stay here because with the minus five conditions tomorrow, then minus six the next day, the wet snow is likely to turn to far more treacherous black ice and the roads could be closed.  The black ice is more dangerous to drive in than the option we have now.  Black ice is the name we give it when water on the road has frozen clear and becomes invisible to see.  It acts like a skating rink for cars and I don’t think Betsy would like that. 

My mind races back a couple of years ago when my sister, travelling during winter in the South Island of New Zealand, had a head-on accident with someone who skidded on black ice and wrote off their motorhome.

Local Weather Forecast For The Next Two Days!!!

I look outside and am thankful that we can actually see the tarmac on the road again.  The couple of inches of snow that had previously been hiding the road have now melted.  It’s now or never!

I agree with Alan and we make a run for it.

So the cabin gets prepared for moving, the blinds go down, the TV is put back into place, and we are bravely on the road once more. Betsy’s feet firmly connect with the now wet tarmac and she’s much happier.

Before long a truck comes up behind us, so Alan pulls over to let him go by.  Ah, following a vehicle lit up like a Christmas tree makes for much easier driving.  Although just trying to keep pace with him proves a challenge.  He’s honking.  Before long the truck is just a distant blur ahead and we’re on our own again.

The Norwegians are prolific road builders and they are constructing a new one alongside us.  Kilometre after kilometre of workmen, excavators, and dump trucks are still working away in the pitch darkness and freezing cold.  Road barriers, temporary traffic lights, diversions, and dug up roads all try to slow our progress but after coping with the snow earlier, these are mere trifles. The snow has stopped and between the roadworks, the road is actually reasonable. The seal is in good condition and the roads provide a comfortable enough width when meeting trucks coming towards us.

We slowly and safely make our way down the mountain and arrive, relieved and happy, an hour later at the small settlement of Storforshei.

We find a cheeky parking spot outside an abandoned building and gain some shelter from the elements for the night.

It’s now the following morning as I write this and we awake to the most glorious of days, the snow is now more than just a sprinkle on the hills around us.  The beauty of Mother Nature again takes our breath away as the clear blue sky shows off the fully covered mountains with her clean crispy white snow blanket.

Our day of firsts yesterday will make for a good story in our future.

In the words of a friend ‘we know we are alive’ and are happy (now) to have had this experience.

Our lesson with this new knowledge is to never attempt driving over a high mountain range in the late afternoon if there is a risk of snowfall.  We just need to be a little more mindful of the elements and how vulnerable we can be.