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When Is The Aurora Borealis In Norway?

When Is The Aurora Borealis In Norway?

by Ruth Murdoch  |  September 2018  | Tromsø, Norway

When is the Aurora Borealis in Norway?

It is with an air of anticipation, our fingers crossed, and a belief that we have the best luck in the world when it comes to all things weather related, that we head towards Norway in an attempt to fulfill my lifelong dream, to see the Aurora Borealis in person.

We drive into Norway from northern Finland and realise that we really have struck the jackpot by arriving in Norway on a perfect day.  The best part was that we didn’t actually plan for any specific date.  Whilst many said “it’s far too early in the season to see the Northern Lights in September“, other sources (the ones we chose to believe), said they could appear as early as mid-September.  We have a tight window of opportunity due to our need to avoid the winter snows, which can arrive as early as October.  Our motorhome has summer tyres and no chains, therefore, finding ourselves ‘stuck’ in the winter conditions must be avoided at all costs.

So we proceed into Norway leaving the doubters in our dust, hoping to prove them wrong.

What is the Aurora Borealis?

Also known as the Northern Lights, or Polar Lights, the magical Aurora Borealis are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights can, in the right circumstances, be seen above and close too the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres.

The Southern Lights are the Southern Hemisphere’s equivalent to the Northern Lights and given the right conditions, these can be seen in the far south of New Zealand’s South Island.  I never had the pleasure of viewing these in NZ and Norway has always been my first choice of location to experience this natural phenomenon.

Planning our Trip

The entire reason for coming to Norway is to see the Aurora Borealis.  Anything and everything else would be a bonus.  This amazing night-time spectacle has been on my bucket list since before bucket lists were invented.  I’d seen photos of the Aurora Borealis somewhere along my life’s journey and I may have possibly seen a documentary about them, narrated by David Attenborough (who else?) at some point over the years.

Just those words the “Aurora Borealis” still puts butterflies in my tummy with excitement and anticipation.  For many years I couldn’t even get my tongue around the words Aurora Borealis, let alone try to spell it.  Thank goodness it was also known as The Northern Lights, which is much easier to say.  Whenever someone mentioned the words Aurora Borealis I was suitably impressed, thinking they must be highly educated to be able to pronounce such complicated words. And if they could spell them, well, I was uber impressed.  Here’s a little help for your pronunciation practice, should you need it. Aurora (Ah – Raw – Ah) and Borealis (Bore Ree Alice).  Easy eh???

So, is it possible to see the northern lights in September in Norway?

The short answer is “not usually”.

In fact, an Australian lady I recently met on our travels in Finland scoffed at me when I mentioned we were on our way to Norway to see the lights.  She informed me that she and her husband flew to Norway in February (the height of the Aurora season) on a guaranteed Northern Lights tour.  They stayed there for two weeks, braved the snow and below freezing conditions, and ventured out every night on guided tours.  Did she see the elusive lights?  No, no, NO!

Eek, perhaps I’ve over-estimated my expectations to see these elusive creatures in the off-season!

However, we somehow tend to have the luck of the Irish when it comes to these things, and other weather-related matters.

Alan, my husband, found a free app called ‘My Aurora Forecast’, which provides excellent information on the probability of seeing an Aurora, based on a particular location.  The most important factor is something called Kp.

So what is a Kp I hear you ask?

Turning to Google (because I’m not a scientist) for the official answer, here’s what I found.

“The Kp number is a system of measuring aurora strength.  It goes from 0 to 9 (0 being very weak, 9 being a major geomagnetic storm with strong auroras visible).

So when looking at the aurora forecast we want to see high numbers, and the higher the better.  Anything above (and including) Kp5 is classed as a geomagnetic storm.

Coming from the German words “Planetarische Kennziffer”, Kp is better known in English as the planetary index.” 

I hope that bit of insight helps.

Arriving into Norway

The date is Monday 17th September 2018 and we have just driven in dark gloomy conditions from northern Finland, to reach Norway.  You can imagine our delight to be bathed in sunshine as we poke our nose into Norway.  It felt like we’d just shed not only northern Finland’s cold winter coat but had also left the rain and an overcast day in our wake.  The autumn colours are once again stunning; the sun is shining on the still waters of the lakes, which reflect the fluffy clouds from the skies above. There is a small stirring deep inside of us that we might have some good days ahead.

 

The Still Water Reflects Fluffy Clouds

Stunning Autumn Colours In Norway

We check the Aurora app and are delighted to see the Kp is showing 4 for tonight!  Wow, 4! that’s awesome.  Not only that but the forecast cloud cover tonight is minimal.  Finding a prime location is the next agenda item.

We head into the township of Tromsø where I spied a ‘Light Tour’ shop and called in to glean some information.  Their Aurora hunting tours cost $1800 NOK per person including dinner cooked on an open fire and hot drinks.  So we decide to keep the €189 x 2 to ourselves and ask for advice on the best places to see the lights.  Knowing it was a bit cheeky we were surprised that the lovely lady happily showed us, on her enlarged wall map, exactly where she rates the best light viewing place around Tromsø.  It’s about a 45-minute drive away and includes, on the way, the perfect stop to watch the autumn sunset.

So we’re off to watch the sunset first and then to find the lights (hopefully).

 

A Rare Perfect Norwegian Sunset

The sunset spot was near Ersfjordbotn (GPS coordinates for those wanting to follow are 69.6966, 18.6327).  We found the perfect elevated rock with a view directly between the two headlands running down to the sea.  Between the tips of the headlands was a small stretch of water and the sun was already sliding down towards the awaiting horizon.  A lovely Dutch couple, who have made Norway their home, already occupied our chosen rock however they were happy to share.  They informed us that the sun setting on the water exactly in between the two headlands only happens two or three days per year!  Then factor in that those days need to coincide with fine weather and you realise to actually see this happen is a fairly rare occurrence.

Well, someone is looking down on us and smiling because we shared this perfect sunset experience with our new Dutch friends.

A Rare Sight of The Sun Setting Between The Headlands

Next we were off to find our vantage point for the lights, which our app was now indicating are likely to be showing tonight, yay.  Our Dutch friends tell us that they have only seen the lights once so far this season and they too are off to watch them with their friends.

 

The Elusive Aurora Borealis

We pulled into the parking area at Grøtfjord (69.7745, 18.5270), some 18 minutes, or 15.4 kilometres of narrow, lumpy, bumpy, windy roads later.  Arriving unscathed, despite having to reverse to allow a truck to pass us at one point, we parked up and cooked dinner while waiting.

We didn’t have to wait long.  Dinner wasn’t even finished being scoffed when Alan poked his head out of the motorhome and…

Guess what…

“THEY’RE HERE!!!!  RUTH, COME OUT AND SEE, THE LIGHTS ARE HERE!”

YES, to all those non-believers, WE SAW THE AURORA BOREALIS IN SEPTEMBER IN NORWAY! WOOHOO!

My heart jumps into my throat and I hold back tears of joy.  I can’t believe I am here, in Norway, seeing the most amazing scene right before my very eyes.  I’ve waited my whole life for this moment and I watch stunned in awe.  If I was to think back as a child, seeing the Aurora Borealis in Norway – well, words just don’t even start to convey what I’m feeling at this point in time.

To my delight the lights danced mystically around the sky for hours, swaying backwards and forwards, changing colour from light green to darker green, one moment they are streaking upwards, the next they are moving horizontally and low across the sky.  They would fade, then strengthen and swirl around once again.  It was difficult to stop watching in case something spectacular was about to show itself, and it never disappointed.  The night sky was alive and here we are in Norway watching, transfixed by this phenomenon.

Alan had his camera and tripod out immediately and through trial and error found the right settings to get some great shots of the action going on upstairs.  My iPhone could not even start to compete with a good quality camera in capturing Mother Nature at her best.

We continued to stand outside, in the cold 2-degree temperatures, all rugged up, our eyes peeled skyward and mesmerised for hours by this exhibition.  The cold seemed to be secondary to our excitement until we suddenly realise we can’t feel our toes anymore.

Upon reading this, it may seem quite normal that someone can just turn up in Norway and see the lights.  However, there are three things that must coincide for a good viewing experience.  The first is a reasonably high Kp number, preferably 4 or above (the further you are from the poles, the higher the Kp needs to be), the second is a clear night with minimal clouds, and thirdly, darkness, which means sometime around the winter months and away from light pollution as well as late in the evening.  Tonight we were in luck and it was probably a one in a hundred coincidence that it happened for us.  Oh and did I tell you, it’s September!  Lol.

The Aurora Borealis ARE Here, In Norway, In September!

Us Enjoying The Light Show, Check Out The Shooting Star To The Top Left

Even Betsy, Our Motorhome, Gets To Enjoy The Auroras

Click on these to enlarge the photos

Aurora in Finland

Not to rub it in or anything, but we were actually treated to a short sneak preview three nights earlier (Friday 14th September) in Finland!  We couldn’t believe our luck then either.

It was 11.30pm and we were tucked up nice and warm in bed when Alan announces the Aurora app suggested a 33% chance of seeing the Aurora NOW with a Kp score of 4.  Sceptical and not understanding what a Kp of 4 really meant back then, we climbed out of bed, clad ourselves in multiple warm layers of clothing and braved the low single digit temperatures outside.  We looked skyward and couldn’t believe what was right in front of our eyes, the Aurora Borealis, here now, in bright green colours, bopping across the entire sky for our viewing pleasure.  Wow, wow, wow was all that come out of my mouth.

Mesmerised by the beauty of Mother Nature I was leaping out of my skin with joy.  The butterflies in my tummy had taken flight and I was jumping around with them.  This was real, this was the actual Aurora Borealis and I am here, in the flesh watching this show.  I needed to pinch myself.  Being here, watching the magic unfold before my very eyes is everything and more than I expected and hoped for.  This experience heightens every sensory element of ones being.  You feel your feet firmly planted on the soil of this safe and inviting foreign country and feel privileged to be here, you look skyward while Mother Nature is inviting you to her most rehearsed show on earth, your body tingles with joy and you hope with every fibre of your being that it lasts and lasts while you drink in her glory.  It is one of those things that you must just experience in person yourself.  Oh, how fortunate am I?

What’s more is I am in Rovaniemi, Finland, watching this for the first time.  We hadn’t even reached Norway and I had no expectation of seeing the Auroras on this particular evening, but here they were, the Auroras eager to show off and eager to be seen by us.  WHAT A TREAT!

The display of dancing lights however only lasted for a few minutes before fading away.  Half an hour later a second fainter aurora appeared, which showed up well on the camera but was less obvious to the naked eye.

Therefore we were very thankful for the longer display of stunning lights as showed to us in Norway, in September.  Plus thankful that Alan had time to experiment with his camera settings.

Aurora in Finland

Aurora in Finland Taken on iPhone (not recommended)

In Summary

So, when can you see the Aurora Borealis in Norway?  Well, the official word, according to me, is that the Aurora Borealis CAN, in fact, be seen in September and not only in Norway.  Finland can also provide a lovely display.

However, if you want the best chance to see this magical show the main season to view the Aurora Borealis in Norway is from October to March.

So don’t wait any longer, elevate the Aurora Borealis on your bucket list, and make it a priority to book your trip up here to experience this sensational spectacular for yourself.  You won’t be disappointed.

Awesome Åland Islands

Awesome Åland Islands

by Ruth Murdoch  |  August 2018  | Location Åland Islands, Finland

Barking dogs, loud parties and fast trains are things you won’t hear in the Åland Island.  Particularly when you arrive on the back of their “three-week” summer high season.

Getting to the Åland Islands

While staying with fellow motorhoming friends in Sweden, whom we had met in Greece in January 2018, we were advised to head over to Finland via the Åland Islands.  We checked out the cost difference and worked out that it was a better deal and an opportunity not to miss, especially as we had plenty of time. The cost of traveling by ferry from Stockholm (Sweden) to Turku (Finland) was €321 during the day and €351 for an evening sail (8pm – 7am) including a cabin.  We spent €65 from Grisslehamn (Sweden) to Eckero (the first main Island of the Ålands) and then €94.50 for all the ferries within and across the Åland Islands to Turku.  This price included a 10% discount for booking online for two people and one 7.5 metre long motorhome.  Here’s the link; www.alandstrafiken.ax/. So comparing our actual journey which cost us €159.50 to the more direct route of €321, we saved ourselves €161.50 and visited this wonderful area over twelve glorious sun-baked days. It is interesting to note that once you are inside the Åland Islands the ferries are all free, however, they do ask that you book in advance, especially in the high season (July).  We booked and didn’t have any trouble, although we did see other motorhomes being turned away when the ferry was full (in August).  The ferries reserve 17 metres only for motorhomes (ie two at any one time), hence the need to book ahead.

The Åland Islands are a popular tourist destination for the Finnish people during their summer break and we met quite a few during our travels.  Here was our schedule 7/8/18     Grisslehamn to Eckero (1.5-hour ferry ride)

12/8/18   Hummelvik to Kumlinge

14/8/18   Kumlinge to Lappo 16/8/18   Lappo to Torsholma

19/2/18   Ava to Osnas

Aside from the ferries above that typically take less than an hour per journey, the other islands we visited are connected via either bridges, causeways, or by cable ferries.  We lost count of the number of islands we actually set foot onto but believe it to be in the region of thirty or so.  Once we arrived in Osnas it was a short ferry ride (free of charge) to arrive onto mainland Finland where we stayed at the small settlement of Kustavi.

Ferry from Sweden to Åland Islands

Besty is Last on Board

About the Åland Islands

Åland is a Swedish-speaking, autonomous province in Finland and has its own flag.  Its population boasts 30,000 people with around 11,000 living in Åland’s only town, Mariehamn. There are 16 municipalities of the Åland Islands, an archipelago made up of 6,700 named islands and over 20,000 unnamed.  Whilst the islands are Finnish owned, the language spoken is Swedish and the currency is Euros.

The pace of life here is typical of island life.  Cars meander at their own rather slow pace rather than forging ahead at anywhere near the suggested speed limit.  No-one is in a rush, possibly because there are not many places to rush off to.  To come to the Ålands is to slow down and breathe. I want or rather need a haircut and expect there will only be one hair salon on the island and I would be able to get an appointment quickly.  Oh, how wrong was I?  There isn’t one, two or even three salons in Mariehamn there are eight!  What’s more, they are all fully booked until next week (it’s only Thursday).  We are told the summer rush is over and tourists have already left to get their children ready to start school again next week after the six week mid-summer holidays.  Hmmm, obviously the locals like to look well groomed around here.

The Economy

Driving around we wondered what the mainstay or their economy is.  There are apple trees in abundance, possibly more than is necessary for local consumption.  Then there are tourists.  The numbers swell from 11,000 in the winter to three times that number in the summer.  Surrounded by water, one has to think fish would play a part in the Åland Islands exports.  Apparently, timber is also up there.  Granite replaces grass in people’s backyards and we see paddocks of granite rock where one would expect to see crops or livestock.  The few white cows and a handful of shaggy Highland cattle we saw hardly constitute a dairy industry however, there was a lot of Aland Island milk and cheese on sale so there must be some decent sized herds somewhere.

The Aland Islands are one of the few places in the world where the honey industry is still free of the varroa mite, a fact which a local producer  (apiarist) was very proud of. The Aland honey is apparently a very prized and valuable export product.

Winters are obviously harsh here and the barns which shelter the livestock animals over the cold winter months sport chimneys.  The barns are built half from double layered stone insulated for housing the animals in winter and half from timber for the storing hay to feed the animals.

Notice The Two Building Materials

This Barn Has Seen Better Days

The Churches

In every small settlement stands a church proud and tall.  Visitors are welcome and a brochure in English explains the colourful history of each one.  We unfortunately just missed the opening season for the Kumlinge church which is renowned for its unique wall paintings from the 15th century.

In common with many other churches around the coastal regions of Scandinavia, there were one or more models of ships hanging from the ceiling.  These are ‘votive gifts’, were given to the church by sailors who had been caught up in some peril at sea and who had vowed to offer the ship if God delivered them home safely.

Kumlinge Church

Geta Church

Eckero Church Model Ship

Geta Church Model Ship

Our first night had us stopping in a very large and thankfully flat parking area outside the church just five minutes from where the ferry landed us at Eckero.  In the morning, after Alan checked with the groundsman that it was okay to use the water from the cemetery tap, the opportunity to get our clothes and sheets washed was too good to resist.  Deciding this was one of those times to ask for forgiveness rather than permission, Betsy was manoeuvred into a discrete location with the intention of minimising offence to anyone who might not like the sight of our dangling washing. The glorious sun had followed us from Sweden and combined with the wind, our clothes were dry in record time.

That afternoon we drove to the only town, Mariehamn to take a look around.  The tourist information was open and the lady there was very helpful.  With map in hand and points of interest noted, we headed off.  We drove to Lemland and checked out our planned overnight stop which was also a local swimming spot.  By this stage it was getting later in the day and I wasn’t so tempted to get cold.  Alan braved the late afternoon sun and at 8pm dove into the brackish waters.    Not to be out-done I swam the following morning when the sun was warmer and we enjoyed having this spot to ourselves before more visitors arrived.

Stunning Swimming Spot Near Lemland

The next day we drove to up past Geta north to the island of Dano and stayed beside the road for the night.  There were not many options here but thankfully the road was a dead end so we only had one car an hour drive past us.  One of these was the same car, so obviously a local.

 

The Maritime Museum

The maritime museum was calling our name, so back we headed to Mariehamn for some culture and education.  The cost of €10 each for entry was reasonable when you consider how good the displays were.  The Åland Islands have an vast nautical history This museum showcases the importance the sea had on life from yesteryear. We learnt about the genuine pirate flag.  Apparently, there are only two authentic skull and crossbones flags known in the world.  It is about 200 years old and came to the Ålands from North Africa’s Mediterranean coast where piracy existed well into the 1800s.  It used to be black but has been faded by weather and time.  The museum also tells the story of Wihelmina “Mimmi” Widbom, a rare female professional sailor who rounded Cape Horn eight times and was even torpedoed once in her long career.

Godby was next on our itinerary which once again provided a great swimming spot.  Alan found this by scrolling around on Google Maps looking for somewhere near the water and big enough to park Betsy.

Calm Day for Swimming

Lifeboat If Needed

Kastelholm Castle

Ålands only castle, Kastelholm has been around since the medieval period with its heyday coming during the reign of the Swedish King, Gustav Vasa.  At just €6 each to enter we headed in to see what all the fuss was about. First mentioned in writing in 1388, Kastelholm was strategically situated in what was once the middle of the Kingdom of Sweden.  At that time Sweden extended to present-day Russia and the waterways united the realm.  The landscape has changed somewhat in the 700-odd years since then.  From the start, the castle was completely surrounded by water and was naturally sheltered by the Slottsundet’s steep beaches. Towards the end of the 1300’s Kastelholm was a typical fortress with a tower, residence and curtain walls.  Following much rebuilding and extending, the castle ruins today consist of two sections, a higher main castle and a fortification that is surrounded by a curtain wall.

In the 1400s Åland became a castle fief of its own and during the troubled century that followed Kastelholm was also drawn into the war between Sweden and Denmark.  The castle was besieged by the Danes several times but was recaptured by the Swedes in the end. In 1745 a devastating fire broke out that reduced most of the castle to ruins.  Sweden lost Åland and Finland to Russia in 1809 and the centre of power moved to nearby Bomarsund. The most recent restoration was started in 1982 and was completed in 2001.

As with most museums we are visiting over here, the displays are not only visual but interactive and we get to try on some of the clothing and armour the locals used to wear.

We had also heard about the Russian Ruins in Bomarsund so decided to check it out.

The Bomarsund Fortress & Russian Ruins

The biggest military facility that had ever been built in Åland was the Bomarsund fortress. After the war between Sweden and Russia in 1808–1809, Sweden was forced to give up Finland and Åland as part of the peace. Over 2,000 Russian armed forces, fortress workers and convicts lived and worked in Bomarsund.  A whole community developed in the area.  The foundations of the empire-style wooden houses in Nya Skarpans show a small town settlement with a post office, school, shops and offices. The Crimean War of 1853–56 led to the English fleet sailing into the Baltic Sea and attacking targets along the Finnish coast. The most tempting target was the Bomarsund fortress and August 1854 saw the landing of 12,000 English and French soldiers. At the same time about 40 steam-driven warships approached from the south whereas the defences were built to withstand attacks from ships coming from the north.  On 13 August the soldiers went on the offensive at the same time as the warships subjected the fortress to massive gunfire. On 16 August the Russian commander, General Bodisco, capitulated.  Bomarsund was never completed and a few weeks later the fortress was demolished by the victors. The bricks from some areas were kept and put to use – they can be seen in buildings like Uspenski Cathedral and the Alexander Theatre in Helsinki. When the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1856, Sweden pushed through an international convention prohibiting the Russians from fortifying Åland. Since then Åland has been a demilitarised area and Ålander men are not obliged to do national service. Åland belonged to Russia until Finland gained independence in 1917.

We stayed the night beside the ruins of the Notvik Tower which defended the channel approaching Bomarsund.  This took five years to build but just three days for the English to defeat.

Notvik Tower Ruins

Strategic Position for The Guns

Notvik – a Perfect Position for Defending the Channel

Bomarsund Fortress – How it Looked

Bomarsund Today

The Locals

The locals are all so friendly. On Bjorko island we parked up next to the rubbish recycling ‘house’ and found it’s a great way to meet the locals. That evening we were invited to watch the sunset over the water while drinking French liquor and soaking up the last of the day’s warmth from the smooth granite rocks.

Stunning Private Sunset

Meeting The Locals

What To Bring to Åland

I would recommend stocking up on your favourite groceries before coming across as some of the prices are on the tad expensive side.  The cauliflower was €4.40 each and one wasn’t much larger than my hand.  Coffee can set you back over €10 with a packet of biscuits just under €4. There is usually a store on the bigger islands but don’t expect to find a dairy at every corner. It’s remote here which adds to the charm. Looking around we see many of the locals tending to their own vegetable patch.

Would We Recommend A Visit To the Åland Islands?

If you have the time while heading between Sweden and Finland, and you are happy to enjoy a few peaceful days, then certainly make sure you take the opportunity to slow down a wee bit and meander your way across.  There’s no need to take twelve days like we did, however, we have no regrets.   The locals are friendly, so make sure you engage them and ask a little about how life on the island suits them and their family.  You are bound to be richly rewarded with their stories.

Aland Reflections

Once Loved House

Cafe & Shop on Brändö

Table With A View

Motorhome Facilities And Stopping Places

Water was relatively easy to find on most of the islands, however I recommend you taste this first.  On two occasions the water was brownish and tasted ‘dirty’ – we drink straight from our tank so didn’t fill up there.  Nevertheless, we were never far from the next island where we would try again.  We filled up at marinas or cemeteries after asking permission first.  We spent a minimum of two nights on each island group that we ferried to and never came close to running out of water.

Each island has its own rubbish collection area, so ridding ourselves of daily rubbish was a piece of cake. Grey water disposal again wasn’t an issue given the number of gravel roads and laybys away from the public.

Mariehamn Marina has facilities for emptying toilet cassettes.  We used biological washing liquid in our cassette which made it environmentally friendly for carefully emptying into the public toilets we found along the way.  Below is a map showing our stopping points.  Click on each of the points to see a photo of where we parked and for more information.

How Finland Reduced Our Gas Consumption Part 1

How Finland Reduced Our Gas Consumption Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series LPG

For those of you who are seasoned travelers and/or have been to this part of the world in your moho, it may come as no surprise to learn that Finland does NOT have LPG.

We were aware of this fact and filled our Gaslow twin gas bottles up to the brim in Sweden before heading over.

Having lived full time in our moho, Betsy, we really hadn’t considered the need to conserve gas.  After all, it’s cheap enough to buy, it’s relatively easy to find (although Italy did give us some grief) and it lasts quite a while.

We use gas for our fridge and freezer, to heat our water for showers, for warmth when it gets cold (although this isn’t yet needed in Finland), for making tea/coffee, and of course to cook meals.

At what I would consider our usual consumption rate, we would get up to six weeks from our two bottles.  Then we started baking bread every second day and cakes on a regular basis, which took us to about a four-week cycle.

We arrived in Finland but were shocked to notice that after just twelve days, with considered usage, we were one bottle down already.  The weather has been relatively warm which could contribute to greater gas consumption for the fridge/freezer.  So what is considered usage I hear you ask?  We had just stopped baking cakes and bread but continued to cook dinner every night (we eat out infrequently).

We expected to be in Finland for another three or four weeks so it was time to get serious, look at how we were using gas and drastically cut down our usage or we were going to run out and have to make a break for the Swedish border for a refill.  Here’s what we did.

1.              Stopped all baking of yummy, non-essential food, ie bread, cakes, etc and bought bread a couple of times a week and a cake now and again instead.

2.              Purchased a low wattage (1000W) electric jug.  We have two solar panels and a large inverter, so by swapping from a stovetop gas kettle to an electric jug (when the batteries are well charged) has made a huge difference to how long we have the gas running every day.  We have reduced our tea consumption, which can’t be a bad thing.  The jug is also used for boiling water for washing the dishes, which we usually save for the morning when the sun is up so the batteries can maintain a higher charge.

3.              Monitored the hot water system for showers.  In the past, we would turn on the switch to heat the gas then forget it for half an hour or an hour before jumping into the shower and leaving it on until the second person had finished.  Now we set the timer for 20 minutes, the heater is turned off and both showers taken quickly while the water is hot.  We have found there is ample hot water for two satisfactory showers and we may experiment with reducing the heat time to 15 minutes.

4.              After we both have showers the residual hot water is sometimes used to wash the dishes, hence making the most from the gas heated water.  Previously we would just boil the kettle for the dishes.

5.              Reduce our shower time (I know this sounds obvious, but I really like to stand under hot water and contemplate the world).  Now I contemplate it quickly when drying off.  However, our shower routine has typically been to get wet, turn the shower off, lather up with soap and shampoo, then turn the water back on, job done.  We have also noticed a reduction in our water usage as a result.

6.              The biggest step we took was to check into a camping ground for a night, which we normally only do when we absolutely have to.   It had to be done, so just for one night we bit the bullet, paid our money, and then made the most of this resource.  We arrived at 11am and set about in the kitchen cooking up meals that we could freeze or chill so we wouldn’t have to cook for a couple of weeks.  This took the rest of the day and part of the next day.  Thankfully the camping ground had a 3pm checkout time.

We made nacho mince, (2x meals); Swedish meatballs (2x meals); Caponata (yummy on bread for meze type meals), Aubergine rolls (3 x meals); Beef and Guinness pie (3 x meals); honey-soy chicken wings (1x meal); Thai Chicken Curry (2 x meals); and our famous lemon cake.  Then we had to cool everything down and pack it neatly into our fridge and freezer.  To read more click here for the full lowdown.

7.              We have a microwave oven that will allow us to heat our pre-made meals up in no time, reducing our gas consumption.  We will just use the gas for cooking up fresh vegetables for the evening meal.

8.              Of course, while we were in the camping ground we plugged into the power (to give the fridge a break from using gas) and also used the campground’s showers.  That’s something I wouldn’t usually do even if we do find ourselves in a camping ground.

9.              We turned the temperature of the fridge up (warmer) one notch so it would use less gas.  Everything is still frozen and cold as it should be so that seems okay.

 

At this stage, we don’t know how well our efforts will be rewarded, but we are hoping to stay in Finland for up to four more weeks so fingers crossed.  We believe that we have cut our usage by at least 80% which should be more than enough, but time will tell.

I will update this post when the experiment has Finnished (excuse the pun).  If you have any suggestions or recommendations please feel free to share them.  We are keen to learn from others.

To find out what happend, click on Part 2 for the Finale.

Denmark in 2018

Denmark in 2018

by Ruth Murdoch  |  July 2018  |  Denmark

On 2nd July 2018 we were Denmark bound, the gateway country to Scandinavia and it’s nice to be back in this part of the world after a 22-year break.  The countries of Scandinavia include Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway, the latter three are unexplored as yet by us.

There’s plenty to learn in Denmark, from the many ‘traditions’ about food, their way of life, the ancient Vikings, and their strong sense of family.

At the age of 15, I started writing to a girl on the other side of the world, and Lisbeth from Denmark was to become my long lasting ‘penfriend’.  This term ‘penfriend’ is likely to be foreign to many youngsters these days, with the introduction of Facebook, email, YouTube, and the Internet in general.  ‘Penfriends’ exchanged real, handwritten letters, sent from post offices, using real stamps!

Lisbeth and I forged what has become my longest lasting friendship.  I lost touch with childhood friends after away from my small hometown of Te Aroha.  Although our pen and paper writing has now moved onto email and Messenger, we have managed to catch up in person every ten years.  Not bad going without conscious planning efforts.

Spending my birthday in July with Lisbeth and her family was planned months ago and we were looking forward to seeing them all again.

Beer and soft drinks are very expensive in Denmark so the Danish stock-up ‘tax-free’  at special supermarkets just inside the German/Danish border.  We attempted to buy a load for our friends from one of these places, plonked several slabs of canned refreshments in our trolley (wondering where would we stow these in our already heavily food and alcohol laden Betsy) and headed to the counter to pay.  We knew we had to complete a declaration card, however no-one told us we had to be a Danish citizen (or Scandinavian) with a permanent address and show our ‘Danish’ passports or ID Cards before we could escape with our newly purchased goods. Damn, back they went onto the shelves. It wasn’t worth trying to dodge a system and face the authorities over a few drinks.

Skiffervej

Finally driving across the border, I could remember Denmark being flat from my last visit here, and over the past twenty-two years it hasn’t got any lumpier.  Our first destination was supposed to be Rømø, in the region of South Western Denmark. Upon reading that we could not overnight or wildcamp on the island of Rømø, we stopped short at Skiffervej, Højer about 30kms away.  The sunset was rather inviting, maybe some sort of welcome and a promise of the good weather that was to come.

Skiffervej Sunset

The internet is wonderful , and we soon discovered quite by chance, that a fellow motorhome traveller and blogger on Facebook was nearby.  So we made plans the following day to catch up over a quick cuppa before they headed back home to England.  We got on like a house on fire, and after a ‘five-hour cuppa’ they decided to stay on for the night so we could finish our conversations.  A shared meal, a few vinos, deep and meaningful conversations – we really enjoyed Monica and Chris’ company and were sad to see them heading off the next morning for their jobs back in the UK.  Before they left we gave them a ride on our electric bikes and think we have converted them.

Love the look on Monica’s face

Rømø

Next day we were off to Rømø, just a couple of days later than planned (gotta love the freedom to stay put if the mood suits or newly acquired friends stay on).

I don’t’ mind saying that in order to find out some points of interest about Rømø, I turn to Wikipedia (the font of all things knowledgeable). Here’s what I learned about this small settlement.

Rømø is an island in the Wadden Sea, (I’d never heard of the Wadden Sea) linked to the Danish mainland by a road running across a causeway, and is part of Tønder municipality. The island has 650 inhabitants as of 1 January 2011 and covers an area of 129 km². Rømø is now the southernmost of Denmark’s Wadden Sea Islands (the previous being the small uninhabited island of Jordsand which sank in 1999).

One has to wonder how an island just sinks?

The day is a little bleak and uninviting for swimming just yet, so we resolve ourselves to a short wander around outside until it starts to rain.  We don’t do rain so we hightailed it out of there, having ticked this ‘must see’ destination off our list. I could see the appeal on a fine day, however, the Danes seem to flock out here for picnics in droves even when the weather is a bit inclement.

Rømø in the Rain

Jelling

With a day up our sleeve to ‘kill’, I mean explore, before seeing my penfriend for the first time in ten years, and Alan meeting her and her family for the first time, we head to Jelling, a small settlement of just 3,400 odd people as of 2016. It seems like a reasonable stopping place halfway to our final destination of Tranbjerg, just south of Aarhus.

A message from my penfriend asking of our whereabouts the conversation goes like this.

L: Where are you now?

R: We’re in Jelling.

L: Great place – seeing the stones I guess

R: I didn’t know about the stones but they are just five minutes walk from where we are parked. Thanks

L: Ohh great you would need to see those – very historically important 

After this timely conversation, we soon discover that Jelling is in fact a UNESCO  listed area with some really ‘famous stones’.  The next day we headed out in search of said stones and discovered this place does indeed have interesting historic significance (well done Alan on inadvertently finding a place of interest on our way north).   Here’s what we learnt.

The year is 965. Viking King Harald Bluetooth* bids farewell to the Norse pantheon and embraces Christianity.  He has this message chiselled into a large rune stone in the town of Jelling close to the rune stone erected a few years earlier by his father, King Gorm the Old. On the rune stone, Harald boasts of having conquered Denmark and Norway and brought Christianity to the Danes. The inscription reads: “King Harald ordered this monument made in memory of Gorm, his father, and in memory of Thyrvé, his mother; that Harald who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.” The rune stone is considered Denmark’s baptism certificate and the figure of Christ inscribed on the stone is also featured in all Danish passports.

*Bluetooth technology, used everywhere in mobile phones and computers for wireless communication, is named after the Danish king Harald Bluetooth due to his communicative skills in bringing warring factions together.

So important were these stones that houses nearby were removed to create an ample distance barrier and the road was redirected away from the monument. Then in order to further protect the Runic Stones from erosion and to keep them in their original position they are protected from the weather by being encased in Perspex.

 

Old Friends and New

The following day we arrived at my penfriend’s house.  After copious big hugs and some tears (from us both) , Alan was introduced to Lisbeth and family.

Have I mentioned food in Denmark yet?  Stay braced for what is to come.  Upon arrival, we were seated for coffee and tea and a classic homemade traditional Danish coffee cake of sorts called Brunsvigercake.  It apparently comes from Fyn (Funen) in Denmark, the island where Hans Christian Andersen was born.  It is a soft yeast dough topped with a generous serving of butter and brown sugar.  We are told that it’s not so good the next day so we have to eat it all up. Just as well we brought our hungry tummies with us.

Brunsviger Cake

Christian & Lisbeth

Bertram waiting patiently for the cake

But that’s not all.  We were apparently having an early dinner because in true Danish style Lisbeth has organised for us to be eating a very special treat tonight called Smørrebrød.  Although simple Smørrebrød is eaten very regularly, these are to be the special ones often saved for festive occasions (or when old friends turn up).  They can be described as open sandwiches on rye bread with all sorts of cold cut meats of roast beef or pork, cold fried and crumbed flatfish, prawns, cucumber, egg, tomatoes, bean sprouts, horseradish, liver pate, to name a few, with a remoulade sauce (similar to a mayonnaise or aioli) and packed full of flavour, and colour.

The photos show just how inviting these stacked open sandwiches (Smørrebrød) are, and it’s little wonder they are saved for special occasions.  Thanks Lisbeth.

Delicious Smørrebrød

There is also a tradition of what drinks must accompany Smørrebrød. From lager with herrings, to schnapps and of course wine (especially for those of us who don’t drink anything other than Chardonnay).

Now stuffed full to the brim, we recline in the lounge to be served up an array of chocolates and licorice (just in case we’re hungry).

The next day we venture into the city of Aarhus (officially spelled Århus and known as the European Capital of Culture), the central city in the East Jutland metropolitan area, with a total population of 1.378 million in 2016.

We walked over a Perspex walkway cantilevered out over the pedestrian street below. From our vantage point, we could see out past the cathedral, towards the port and beyond, and the yachts enjoying the wind and sun on a beautiful summers day.

The Danes are a patriotic lot, they love their flag and their monarch and when the Queen’s ship is spotted in the harbour we make a quick trip over to have a gander (look).  We learn that the version of the Danish flag with the two pointy ends can only be flown by Royalty or those members of a yacht club.

The Royal Yacht

The Royal Flag

The next stopping point is the Infinite Bridge at Ballehage Beach. Originally built as part of the Sculpture By The Sea event in 2015, the locals loved it so much that the Municipality of Aarhus bought it as a permanent piece of art.  However, it’s only set up from May to October each year, making me wonder what happens in the winter months to stop it being available all year round?  Is it too dangerous, does it ice up and become an ice-skating bridge where unsuspecting locals and tourists alike plop off the side, or do the waters crash over and cause damage?

Celebrating Birthdays Danish Style

The next day is my favourite all year, my birthday.  In traditional Danish birthdays, the birthday girl/boy must be woken with chanting birthday songs, with furious flag waving, and lots of smiles.  Waking to find four others singing wholeheartedly in our small motorhome bedroom was a first for me.

The neighbours, up and down the street, all put out small Danish flags in their garden to celebrate the birthday event.

Then there’s breakfast, in traditional Danish style with small paper Danish flags lying on the table, and miniature wooden Danish flags standing tall in front of the birthday girl’s seat, along with presents to be unwrapped.  The tradition extends to not being able to partake in the food until all presents are opened!

Breakfast was special bread style buns with cheese and jams all washed down with what else but sweet delicious Danish pastries.

It was such a unique experience to celebrate my birthday Danish style, and I couldn’t have wished to be anywhere else on this momentous occasion.

During the afternoon we take a quick trip south to visit Mette, Lisbeth’s cousin whom I have previously met, once in NZ when we went travelling together, and then again 22 years ago at her small flat in Aarhus.

Drinking Aperol Spritz with Prosecco in the hot Danish sun with old, and new friends, isn’t a bad way to while away some time, especially on one’s birthday.

A quick scurry up the ladder to pick fresh juicy delicious cherries before heading home had us set for the return journey, in time to relax before going out for dinner.

Waking the Birthday Girl

Ahh, Fresh Cherries

Polle, Mette, Alan, Ruth

Our dinner venue this evening was at Bondehuset, a half timbered, thatched roofed restaurant located at Saksild Strand by a beautiful beach that seems to go on forever. The dinner was delicious, a traditional Danish feast that was scoffed and enjoyed with lovely wine to boot. Thanks Lisbeth for my birthday dinner.

Don’t be fooled by the weather, it was a swimming day

Saksild Strand Beach

Legoland

The next day we visited that well known Danish icon – Legoland!

No trip to Denmark would be complete without a visit here and it’s a full on day with the entire family.  An hour’s drive east of Tranbjerg we arrived soon after opening time on a rather warm summer’s day and we left about an hour past closing time!  A full day of walking around, going on rides, seeing small cities made from Lego and being genuinely amazed by the imagination and time that has obviously been devoted to building this amusement park from scratch.  It’s only open during the summer months and I wonder if they put everything away or cover it up somehow to protect it from the below freezing temperatures they have here in winter.

The Famous Danish Icon

The next day we headed to the one and only high point of Tranbjerg to a lookout point to see the view overlooking the brown fields (due to the serious lack of rain) and out to the ocean.  The day was once again warm and we are soaking up the unexpected summer rays.

Aarhus Art Museum

On the list of things to see and do in Aarhus is the art museum and this is one I can highly recommend.  It has a rainbow walkway lookout that doubles as a hothouse in warm weather!  We braved the humid conditions and walked around taking photos of the views below through different coloured lenses.

The museum itself requires a mention.  It was nothing like I would imagine and I can see why Aarhus has the reputation for art culture. “The boy” was …. Hmm I really don’t know how to describe him, so I will let the pictures tell the story.

“Boy”

One exhibit that really hit home to me was the beggar’s signs – the artist travelled the world and collected the signs that beggars had made.  He bought them from the beggars, swapping them for money  (presumably for a good price) and then framed each and every one of them. Language was no barrier, they are in Spanish, Italian, English (USA, Canada), Greek, Russian, Hungary and many more.

This suitcase made entirely of clothing depicted the iconic buildings of Aarhus and plonked them together in the lid.

Then we came across a black and white collage of old and broken boats, which was sad to see and I couldn’t help but think about what these boats had seen over their years and the happy memories they must be hiding in their hulls.

Do you think she is real? How could she stand so still for such a long period of time?  It took me a while to realise however, this is a statue of someone pretending to be a statue.  Pretty clever.

The following day Alan and I took a drive out to the lovely region of Ronde, about an hour towards the east coast. We were told to take a walk out to the end of the peninsula for ruins of an ancient castle. However the day was rather warm, and the walk long, so we opted for half way.

An introduction to a Norwegian

First it was time to stop for lunch, and Alan managed to park Betsy inside the car park at the outside end of the parking boundary straddling two parks and she tucked up there nicely out of the way, or so we thought. We were just finishing lunch and had the cabin door open towards the café where people we sitting having lunch or sipping on their afternoon coffee in peace and soaking up the sunshine.

The next thing I hear someone yelling in my general direction (in a foreign language no less). I called out that I didn’t understand and was hit with a barrage of abuse and was told we couldn’t park there, and that I was a ‘f****n idiot’.  Absolutely shocked at such foul language from a complete stranger, I in no uncertain terms told him there was absolutely no need to use language like that and it was uncalled for.  He pulled his head in with a shocked look my way and drove away, with his kids in the car.

Silence overcame the lunchtime crowd who had heard every word (English is widely spoken in Denmark) and their eyes were focused in my direction.

A couple walked up to us and shrugged their shoulders as if to say what was that all about. I was still fuming at the exchange of words and the couple said don’t worry, he’s not Danish, he’s from Norway. And by the way you speak very good English (obviously thinking I was French because we have French licence plates).  That explained the shocked look on the Norwegian’s face.

With plans afoot to be heading into Norwegian territory, I was starting to wonder if they were all like that. Then I realised that every country has ‘them’.

I was saddened that a father with kids in the car felt the need to 1) use such bad language to a stranger who really wasn’t causing any harm, and 2) would show his children how to treat foreigners or people who don’t comply with what he considers okay.

We just hope that he gets treated the same way one day to see what it’s like.

I felt grateful that a father who obviously flies off the handle with little or no provocation didn’t bring me up.

Moving right along.

Ebeltoft

Ebeltoft was the next village we visited and it was lovely with its half timbered and somewhat crooked houses.

Do You Think This Will Stay Standing?

The Colours Really Stood Out

The following day saw us all heading to Skagen, the northern most point of Denmark and an obvious location for wealthy holidaymakers.

On the trip north, we stopped off at Fyrak to take in the Viking Centre where a farmstead comprising of nine reconstructed houses lay in wait for our visit. These houses have been erected using techniques known in the Viking Age and based on the excavated remains of more than 1000-year-old houses found at Vorbasse in South Jutland.

In complete contrast to the ancient Greek ruins we had experienced earlier in our travels the thing that struck me most about these houses is that they were built out of timber. Of course they didn’t have the knowledge we do these days, so the wooden posts were dug straight into the ground, causing moisture to rot the timbers. It is now known that the Viking houses would survive no longer than 30-40 years before needing to be replaced. That explains the glaring lack of Viking ruins for us to see today.

Walking through the farmstead, we were greeted with modern day people dressed and toiling away like Vikings of yesteryear. Baking bread in an open fire (on a hot day), moulding clay pots, and sewing leather shoes, the day-residents worked hard to give us a little glimpse of how they believed Viking life would have been.

We arrived in the far north, Skagen, and quickly found the camping ground our friends were staying in.  We rarely choose to stay in camping grounds mainly due to the cost, and given we are totally self sufficient it just doesn’t make any sense to be squeezed into a site like a sardine. Thankfully for us, the pitch sites at Camping Skagen were of a very generous size, allowing Betsy to park parallel to the pitch with the door facing the hedge for privacy away from the roadway. Lisbeth and family were in the throes of pitching their caravan and awning next door and we were happy to join in to help them beat the wild wind.

In Skagen we visited the sand-covered Church, also known as the buried church and Old Skagen church.

During the last half of the 18th century, the church was partially buried by sand from nearby drifting dunes; the congregation had to dig out the entrance each time a service was to be held.  The struggle to keep the church free of sand lasted until 1795, when it was abandoned. The church was demolished, leaving the tower with crow-stepped gable as the only part of the original structure still standing.

The sunsets over the ocean attract hundreds of people every night, especially in the good weather. Check out the sunset at old Skagen.
Ruth’s Hotel and Wellness centre is the place to be seen, particularly if you own a car worth more than the average house. The carparks around Ruth’s Hotel were filled with Jaguars, Teslas, Ferraris, Daimlers, Austin Martins, BMW’s, Mercedes and every other luxury car you can think of. The local constabulary were stopping all these cars for the purpose of checking that they have paid their taxes. In Denmark the tax is a whopping 150% of the value of the car which must be paid when purchased, then there are further taxes depending on the fuel economy of the vehicle. It’s not cheap to drive flash here. Their efforts appeared fruitless however, as every car the police stopped had complied.
Our last evening meal in Skagen was enjoyed alfresco at a local Italian restaurant called Restaurant Casaitautalia. The food was delicious, as was the company and we all left with full bellies and smiles on our faces. If you are visiting Skagen and are in need of a good recommendation, try Restaurant Casaitautalia.

On 19th July, just eighteen glorious sun-filled days after arriving in Denmark it was time to leave. But we will be back, on our way down from Norway we will drive to Copenhagen for some more Danish fun and hospitality.

A big thanks to Lisbeth, Christian, Bertram, and Mikkel for making our stay so memorable.  We look forward to seeing you all again, the next time sooner than ten years!

Wilding in Denmark

Wild camping is allegedly illegal in Denmark so be prepared to be discrete and you may be at risk of being moved on receiving a fine.

Thankfully we only needed to find stopping places for two  uneventful nights before spending the rest of our time with friends and  the in the Skagen Camping Ground.

 

Overnight Stopping Locations for Denmark

#1     55.027, 8.63785         Skiffervej Free Parking

#2     55.75638, 9.41632    Jelling Supermarket and Viking Museum Car Park

#3     57.72176, 10.54216 Skagen Camping Ground

Sandworm To Take Us Out To The Spit

The Point Where Two Oceans Cross

Unexpectedly Awesome South-West Sweden

Unexpectedly Awesome South-West Sweden

by Alan Gow  |  July 2018  |  Sweden

We came to Sweden with no real expectations of what we would find here.  From our distant home in NZ, my preconceptions were of Volvos, snow, herrings and blondes.  However, we have been delighted to find a country rich in varied and beautiful landscapes, with friendly people and some really tasty food.  Oh, and yes, the blondes are here too.

Gothenburg

We arrived in Sweden at about 3.30am on the late night cheap ferry  (€113) from Frederikshavn in Denmark to Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city.  A little lost sleep to save €120 in comparison to the daytime fares seemed a fair deal.  Now desperate for sleep we found a likely looking car park, pulled in, set the alarm and grabbed a few hours kip (with the cunning plan of leaving before the arrival of any overzealous parking wardens looking to get some early parking ticket runs on their board).

On rising way-too-few hours later, the first order of business was to fill our depleted LPG tanks.  For such a large country, Sweden doesn’t have a lot of LPG filling stations but luckily myLPG.eu directed us to the only one near Gothenburg which was just 4km away.

After securing our gas supply for the next month or so we decided to head out of Gothenburg as we were already a bit tired of the big city feel and too sleep deprived to feel up to cycling into the centre.  This, however, presented another hurdle as Gothenburg has an unusual congestion zone which pings you even when bypassing the centre on the motorway.  Ultimately this meant we needed to detour about 45km to avoid getting snapped by the cameras.  It wasn’t that we didn’t want to pay the fee but more that because the fee demands get sent to the registered address of the vehicle we were not confident that would find its way to us in time to avoid us getting a 250 SEK (about €25) late or non payment fine.  After reading up on the zone and confirming our concerns with some Swedish motorhomers, we took the safe, albeit long route around and out of the city.

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Bohus Fortress

The roads were good, the traffic light and the driving easy.  The Swedish countryside was quite scenic with more ups and downs than Denmark but no particularly big hills.  As we approached the town of Kunglav we spied an impressive looking castle up on a hill and being in no real rush, we decided to turn off and investigate.

Bohus Fortress from the Road

Festung Bohus (Bohus Fortress), was built from 1308 and has a particular claim to fame.  It was besieged on 14 separate occasions but was never captured.  There has been a lot of restoration work carried out recently.  Much of this was made necessary because after it was no longer of military value, from 1786, the locals were encouraged to take the stones to build houses and gardens and the fortress was allowed to fall into ruins.

We had a glorious warm and sunny day for our visit and because we arrived just an hour before closing we were allowed to pay the student rate rather than the full adult entry cost €11.55 – a savings of 80 SEK, very nice.

We entered the fortress through the large doors of the ‘Blockhouse Gate’ – doors which were locked when we tried to leave the complex just a little after closing time.  The path led us past the Commandant’s quarters and into the courtyard where there were some people playing old instruments and there was an opportunity to have a go at some archery.  My old skills quickly returned and I managed to place some arrows in the black, impressing the young girl in charge (at least I reckon she was impressed).  Ruth marched up for her first ever go at shooting a bow and arrow and also managed to hit the black after a few pointers from the hired help.

The Entry Gate Locked – Whoops

Robin Hood Ruth in Action

Climbing up a steep path to the top of the fortifications, we were treated to fantastic views over the surrounding waters and countryside.  Bohus was strategically built on an island on the fork of the Nodre and Gota rivers which made it an ideal defensive position.

View from Bohus Fortress

The ‘Red Tower’ is where the fortress was saved from being captured when one of the defenders blew up the tower, himself and several hundred attacking Swedes with explosive charges in 1566.  The Swedes reportedly “flew into the air like crows”.

The ‘Fars Hatt’ tower contains a dungeon which is a 6m deep pit, where no natural light penetrated and into which prisoners were lowered.  Can you imagine being left there for years in the total blackness?  On the next level up were some medieval suits of armour including some pieces we could try on ourselves.  With just a breastplate and shoulder/upper arm protection on I already felt weighed down and with the addition of a heavy helmet you could start to appreciate how strong the knights and soldiers of the time must have been.

Alan in Armour

Fars Hatt Dungeon – 6m deep black hole

We lost track of time as we took our own journey back through the history of this remarkable place and before we knew it, closing time was upon us.  We chose to head back walking around the outside of the main walls however by the time we got back to the Blockhouse Gate, the doors were closed and locked.  There was another exit door however that also appeared to be locked shut.  A few choice words were said and we shared our predicament with another couple who sauntered down the path even later than us.  Just as we were starting to get a little concerned, one of the staff came down the path and demonstrated that the exit door just needed a really hard tug to get it open.  Phew!

Festung Bohus was the first attraction we have visited in Sweden and was a nice introduction to what we will be enjoying over the next month.

That night we stayed in a quiet car park near the beach on the island of Tjorn.  It was so nice and quiet in fact, that we stayed two nights.  The local blackberry bushes were prolific enough to provide enough blackberries for apple and blackberry crumble made in our Omnia cooker – yum. We nearly went for a swim but the wind picked up and put us off (we must be getting soft in our old age).

Our free parking spot: 57.98369, 11.68679

Tjorn Island Evening

The next night we spent tucked into a comfortable Rastplats (Restplace) with a stunning view overlooking the sea, parking areas designated for motorhomes and with a toilet block.  This was our first experience of what appears to be a standard Swedish design of toilet blocks sited on the public rest areas, where there is a separate room at the back setup for emptying and washing your toilet cassette.  We found a lot of these along the main roads and I was very excited to see them.  Isn’t it interesting what becomes important to you when you are wild camping in a motorhome?  Convenient places to empty the loo or fill up with fresh water are godsend to folk like us.  This is another example of how motorhome friendly these Scandinavian countries are.  The reality is that there are going to be thousands of motorhomes travelling the countryside so it makes sense to have facilities to deal with the waste they produce.

Our free parking spot 58.262700 , 11.680155

View from Restplats near Henan

Toilet Cassette Empying Point – Swedish Style

Bovallstrand

I should rewind here and explain how we ended up being in this small part of coastal Sweden.

Back in last January as we were whiling away the winter in the Peloponnese region of southern Greece, and we found ourselves parked up on a pier in the small town of Pilos with about four other motorhomes.  This was a novel experience for us, as motorhomes in Greece in the winter were rare and we could go for days without seeing another.  We all introduced ourselves, then went out for dinner that night, which was followed by a potluck shared dinner the next night.  We made our famous Mediterranean stuffed squid which went down a treat with the others.  Haken and Helena are a retired Swedish couple with a gorgeous wee dog Louise – a cross between a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Poodle.  They had a photo on the back of their camper of the blue seas and islands around their hometown of Bovallstrand which looked nothing like what our naïve conceptions of Sweden could conjure up.  That evening a tremendous storm hit Pylos and their motorhome, in particular, was hit with massive volumes of spray through the night.  The story of that storm is told in this blog. As often happens when you are on the road, they invited us to come and stay when we made it up their way.

The great time we had with Haken and Helena on their home turf just reinforces how important it is for us to connect with our fellow travelers whenever possible because it can lead to the most enriching experiences.

Anyway, fast forward about six months and there we were, rolling into Bovallstrand, following Emily’s (our GPS) directions to their house.

Bovallstrand is a small seaside settlement with a population that winds down to under 800 in the winter and swells to over 5,000 in the summer.  Smorgen, one of Sweden’s most popular seaside resorts, is just a few kilometres down the coast.  Heading further north to Norway is a procession of historic fishing villages now reliant on the summer holiday trade for their prosperity.  We all visited Hamburgsund, Fjallbacka and Grebbestad which all were bustling and attractive with uniformly traditional building designs and colours.

Sweden is having the best (for tourists, not farmers), summer for 250 years and the seaside is swarming with locals and visitors enjoying the warm days and reasonably warm waters.

Bovallstrand Harbour

Bovallstrand Sunset

Smorgen Harbour

Smorgen

Granite

If there was one word that comes to mind about the region, that would be the word ‘Granite’.  Granite is everywhere.  From around Bovallstrand, the famous red granite was shipped around the world to decorate the finest buildings, such as the Empire State Building.  Houses, wharves and other buildings seem to be perched on top of the immovable granite worn smooth from thousands of years of being ground down by the massive glaciers which once covered this land.  Deep cuts worn into the granite now form natural habours which offer protection to the many boats hidden away here.  Granite is used everywhere – for house foundations, piles and columns, as fence posts, and to support wharves.  Although the peak time of the stone cutters has long gone, the evidence of their activity remains in the vast piles of waste stone and the drill marks left in the surviving bedrock.

There is a fantastic local art collective which makes sculptures out of the granite.  The skill and imagination of the artists was immense and there was something almost sensual about feeling the soft, yet hard, polished granite.

Sculpture at the Collective

Meeting the Granite Sculpturer, Linda

The waters around here once supported a massive fishing industry built on the seemingly endless stocks of herring (sil).  The vast fish stocks were depleted by the late 1800’s and now there is only a scant handful of boats operating out of these harbours.  Our hosts generously procured fresh prawns and langoustine straight off the prawn boat for us and we had a feast fit for a king that night with the seafood served on fresh bread with homemade dill and garlic aioli.  We were also served up a range of pickled herrings which to the surprise of both us, and Haken and Helena, we really enjoyed. The herring flesh was firm to the bite but was not fishy at all and the flavour went really nicely with the various herbs and spices that went into the pickling liquid.

Haken Purchasing Fresh Prawns straight from the Boat

A Feast of Prawns and Langoustine

Haken and Helena took us out on their small runabout where we secured the rope to the shore by hammering a wedge into a crack in the rock.  We had a relaxing Bovallstrand style afternoon swimming, eating and exploring.

Traditional Style Boat

Unique Granite and Flora on the Islands

Ancient Vastergotland

Bovallstrand and the neighbouring towns are in the Vastergotland region of western Sweden which has a record of continuous occupation for thousands of years.  Numerous archaeological sites tell the stories of the Bronze Age farmers around 2000 to 500 BC through to the marauding Vikings from 1000 AD.

One of the benefits of having local tour guides is being taken to places that you probably wouldn’t have otherwise known about.  One of these was the rock carvings and museum at Vitlycke.  There are a staggering number of these images engraved into the granite dated from 1000 BC through to 1 AD showing a vast array of scenes and shapes of ships, people, battles, hunting, gods, animals and so on.  For example, there are over 10,000 images of boats or ships recorded in the greater area.  The Vitlycke Rock Carvings, however, are the most famous collection in the area and the free museum of the ancient culture and carvings gives an in-depth insight into the people who inhabited this land.  They really ‘do’ museums well in Sweden with lots of interactive displays and learning opportunities for adults and children.

While most of the world is worried about rising sea levels, Sweden has the opposite thing going on. The whole country is actually rising by about 1cm a year.  Most of the sites for the rock carvings were coastal when they were first cut into the granite but the land has risen about 25m since then and the sea is now many kilometres away.  This is due to the country being pushed down by the weight of the ice during the ice age about 15,000 years ago, and now, like a rubber mattress which has been compressed, it is slowly springing back to its original shape.  This means that some of the ports are facing expensive dredging operations if they want to stay in business.

The ancient church of Svenneby Gamla in Hambergsund (GPS 58.499662, 11.324094) , which dates back to around 1000 AD is well worth a visit and is open most days.  Of particular interest are the racks where the parishioners were supposed to hang up their weapons before entering the main church and the beautifully restored paintings on the wooden roof.

Svenneby Gamla Church

Wooden Ceiling Paintings

We spent our last evening in the area in the town of Fjallbacka wandering the streets of historic buildings, enjoying an ice cream and live music down on the foreshore then finding a flat safe area set aside for motorhome and bus parking just on the outskirts of town.

Rain was forecast for the next day and we were heading inland.  The coastal region of Western Sweden is certainly worth a visit (especially in the summer).

If you are a wildcamping motorhomer like us,  you sometimes have to look around to find free camping spots around the tourist hotspots in the high season but they are there if you look hard enough and take advantage of the on-line Apps available.  The main one we use is Park4Night which has built up a massive database through user contributions.  We always try to do our bit for the rest of the motorhoming community by adding new sites and relevant reviews.

Our free parking spot 58.262700 , 11.680155.

It is also important as full time motorhomers to talk with other people who obviously enjoy this lifestyle.  We want to say a massive thanks to Helena and Haken for their incredible generosity, opening their home to us, being wonderful tour guides, and providing the most delicious food for us to sample.  We look forward to returning the hospitality in the future.

Vasa Museum

Vasa Museum

The Vasa is the world’s most important marine salvage bar none.  She is the only almost fully intact 17th century ship existing in the world today.  This makes her incredibly unique, especially when you learn that when these ships were built, they had a life expectancy of just 30 years.

So how is it that we can see this ship some 390 years after her launch?

Sadly for those involved at the time, including the 30-50 people who lost their lives, the 64-gun warship sank on her maiden voyage at 4pm on 10 August 1628 having traveled just 1,300 metres down the Stockholm harbour.

Salvaged in 1961, 333 years after her sinking, the Vasa rose to become world’s most significant historic marine artifact, as well as a momentous archaeological find.

Her resurfacing allowed marine experts an unprecedented look into the reasons for her demise. It also provided an opportunity for modern-day archaeologists to study the population from the 16th century including what they ate, their health and ailments.

Fifteen significant skeletons were found, some were still clothed and one sailor even had his shoes on. The brackish water helped to preserve the bodies and even the brain of one person was intact.  The remains of these people are visible in the museum, complete with clothing and known facts on each person.  Look carefully at the photo on the left, you can see the shoes still attached to the feet.  On the right are the skeletons meticulously laid out.  Unfortunately the naming of these people has not been possible, although it is interesting to learn that DNA testing has started.  Could you imagine being told this is a relative of yours, after all these years?

The photos below show a reconstruction of three men whose remains were found when the ship resurfaced.   Isn’t modern technology fascinating?

Vasa’s Statistics

 

Here are some stats about Vasa.

  • Built by Dutch brothers Henrik and Arendt Hybertsson and constructed strictly according to the plans at the time.  Unfortunately, there are no surviving blueprints for us to view today.
  • She sank after sailing just 20-30 minutes when a gust of wind heeled her over, allowing water to pour into the open gun ports and she couldn’t right herself.
  • She was built tall at 52 metres high, 69 metres long, 12 metres wide and weighed 1,300 tons. Back then there were no mathematical calculations to determine her stability.   Clearly, she was built too narrow with insufficient counterweight below the waterline to keep her upright.
  • She carried 64 cannons, each weighing more than one ton.
  • There were between 135-200 people on board and she was on her way to pick up about 300 soldiers. Their lives were spared.
  • Of the 64 cannons, only three originals remain today and are in the museum, having been preserved due to the brackish water of the Baltic Sea.  With a cost of €25,000 each in today’s dollars, it’s no wonder that the others were salvaged back in 1660 and it is expected were used in future war vessels.
  • Vasa is reportedly the most visited museum in Scandinavia.

Who found Vasa?

So the question remains, how was she first found and then salvaged? It’s an interesting story and part of the story about her future is still being written. Let me explain.

An explorer by the name of Anders Franzén recovered a core sample of wood from the suspected wreck site, and it was Per Edvin Fälting and Sven Persson who confirmed on 4 September 1956 that the small plugs of wood came from a ship.  Further dives confirmed the identity as the Vasa.

Armed with the knowledge of the ship’s history and the divers’ reports, Franzén threw himself into building the coalition of institutions that could raise and restore the ship for the museum he envisioned.  The task would require technical expertise of many kinds, from diving and salvage to preservation.  It needed historical and archaeological knowledge of the early 17th century.  Most of all, it would require money, manpower and heavy equipment.

Known by some people as Sweden’s Apollo Program, the dramatic and complex technical effort took several years to do something few thought possible: raise an intact 17th-century warship from the bottom of the sea.

How was Vasa Raised?

The first attempt at raising Vasa failed as they could not lift her from the top as she was too heavy and it started to inflict too much damage. The first salvage attempt was in the 1950’s, but she didn’t resurface until 1961 when technology had improved.

Between 1957 and 1959, navy divers dug six tunnels under Vasa and pulled massive steel cables through them to suspend the ship in a basket. These cables were taken to two floating pontoons at the surface.  By pumping the pontoons almost full of water, then tightening the cables and pumping the water back out, Vasa could be broken free of the mud and was eventually lifted and moved into shallower water.

As the divers dug with high-pressure waterjets and dredges, they encountered a fascinating array of finds that had fallen off the ship, from rigging hardware to gunport lids, and the first of more than seven hundred finely carved sculptures. They also found the mainmast lying next to the ship, and the ship’s longboat.

One of the first things to be raised, on 5 September 1958, was a cannon.

The reason it took such a long time to raise her, apart from the thousands of suggestions that came in from around the world, was that the technology had to be readily available locally.

What was involved in the Salvage?

For more than 18 months, a small team of commercial divers plugged holes where bolts had rusted away, fitted covers over the open gunports, and rebuilt the bow and stern to make them watertight.  Steel rods were fastened across the hull to help hold it together.  It was also important to make the ship lighter. The central part of the upper gun deck, which was covered with mud and debris, was cleared. More than a thousand objects were found: coins, personal belongings, gun carriages, tools and the bones of five of the people who had been on board when the Vasa sank.

Thousands of tons of mud and water had to be pumped out of the hull to refloat her and the ship had to be moved onto a pontoon of its own, where it could be excavated and conserved.  Archaeologists had to come onboard to excavate the interior, and conservators had to begin the arduous process of treating the ship so she would not shrink and crack.  Divers would spend five more years recovering thousands of loose pieces from the beakhead, sterncastle and upper deck, which lay around the hull where the ship had been, together with the ship’s longboat and anchors.

Finally, in April 1961 Vasa came to life once more.

The ship was raised and placed on a reinforced concrete pontoon and supported by temporary shoring struts.  Excavation of the interior took place from May to September 1961, raising over 40,000 separate objects of different materials.  All the while, the hull was sprayed with harbour water to prevent the wood from drying out.

Vasa’s Preservation

When waterlogged wood is allowed to dry out without treatment, severe cracking and shrinkage can occur. The wood may look sound, but the wood cells are weakened by bacterial decay.  Conservators chose the synthetic polymer polyethylene glycol (PEG) to treat Vasa’s wood.  PEG is a synthetic wax that is soluble in water; it is a common component in cosmetics, such as lipsticks and face creams, and is widely used in the pharmacy and food industries.

Experiments showed that a PEG solution could diffuse into the wood structure to replace the water, and prevent cracking and shrinking.

PEG spraying began in April 1962. Initially, the work was carried out by hand which was time-consuming and not very efficient.  It took five men five hours to spray the entire surface of the ship.  More efficient spraying was achieved in 1965, when an automatic spray system was installed, with 500 spray nozzles directed over the inside and outside of the ship.  The PEG concentration was gradually increased from a low concentration of 10% and ending up with a 45% solution.

Boron salts were added initially to prevent micro-organism growth but later also to neutralise acids.

The spray treatment lasted 17 years, from April 1962 to January 1979, followed by another 9 years of slow air-drying.  A final surface layer of PEG 4000 was applied as physical protection to the ship and melted into the surface with hot-air blowers.

The photo below shows the effect of shipworms that eat wood submerged in saltwater.  Thankfully the Vasa was sitting in brackish, low salinity water, where the worms can’t survive.

Vasa’s conservation began as a huge experiment but the pioneering research by Vasa’s conservators have paved the way for numerous other shipwreck projects around the world.

Work and studies continue on Vasa even today and the replacement of the 5,000 bolts with stainless steel ones is an ongoing process.

Below are remains of the sails, found in the sail locker.  Read the plaque below in yellow to find out how the sails were preserved and how long it took.

Will Vasa survive another 100 years?

This is an interesting question. One thing that struck me upon entering the museum was just how dark it was.  I tried to take a video but the lighting didn’t allow this to be successful.

We learned that in a dark, cold room without oxygen Vasa could be preserved forever.  However, then she wouldn’t be a gift for us to ogle over.

Projects are currently underway to provide a better understanding of the chemical and biological processes in Vasa’s wood.  The goal is to be able to preserve the ship far into the future.

So to answer the question above, no one knows today how long Vasa will survive.

Vasa stands as the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle and is 98% original in her current state. After more than five hours of visiting we were still learning about this historic vessel.

If this story has interested you, or you are a marine enthusiast, I suggest you add a visit to Stockholm on your bucket list. This is without question the most profoundly interesting museum I have ever visited, and I have been to countless.