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Fun, Fears & Finances frolicking fulltime for 18 months through Europe

by Ruth Murdoch  |  January 2019  | Summary Blogs, Fun, Fears & Finances frolicking fulltime for 18 months through Europe

Introduction

Fun, Fears, & Finances, Frolicking Fulltime for 18 Months Through Europe is a look into the Motorhome Lifestyle from a couple of Kiwi travellers.  We hope that this account of our journey inspires you to visit some of the sights, attractions, and countries that we have had the pleasure of enjoying.  We are lucky that Alan’s Irish passport allows me, as his wife, free right of movement throughout Europe including the Schengen zone.

Throughout this blog when you see orange text that indicates more information.  To access this, just click on the coloured text and a new window will open and you can read further on that particular subject.

Number of Countries and Capital Cities

We’ve visited 23 countries in 18 months, 14 of these included visiting the capital city. Here’s an alphabetical list of those countries.

Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, San Marino, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and lastly the Vatican City.

Capital Cities included Tirana, Andorra la Vella, Vienna, Zagreb, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Paris, Athens, Rome, Amsterdam, Oslo, San Marino, Stockholm, and again the Vatican City.

Below is the map of our 281 stopping points over the past 18 months.  To look at photos or receive the GPS coordinates, just click on the marker.  The different colours are for the different years, 2017 in blue and 2018 in red.

Biggest Country

Russia (although we only visited St Petersburg and then by ferry, leaving Betsy behind in Helsinki). Russia’s size is 3,972,400 sq km making this the latest country, not just in Europe, but in the world, with a population of 144.5M!

The Winter Palace, aka The Hermitage Palace, St Petersburg, Russia

Smallest Country

The Vatican City is the smallest country in Europe (as well as the world) with 110 acres or 0.44km2, which lies within the city of Rome and has just 840 residents.

The Stunning Ceiling Inside the Vatican Museum, Vatican City

Scariest Moment

Without a doubt it has to be the snowstorm we found ourselves in while driving through the mountains of Norway.  We were enjoying glorious sunshine in the morning, but by later that day it all turned to custard (or snow, actually).  To share our horror and relief when we escaped, have a read of our blog here.

Betsy in the Norwegian Snow

Top Spots

We had to shy away from picking just one top spot because there are so many interesting, beautiful and varied places to see throughout Europe. Choosing just four still seems limiting but more realistic, so here goes. The top four spots of Europe (according to Ruth based on what we have seen so far)

#1       St Petersburg – for the architecture, food, and unique culture.

#2       Istanbul – for the vibrancy and interesting city life, the friendliest people ever, and the unique buildings, eg mosques.

#3       Norway – for the simply stunning scenery, which of course includes viewing of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).

#4       Greece, nice feeling of freedom, great history, diverse culture and stunning landscapes.

Architecture in St Petersburg

Mosque of Istanbul

The Reflective Waters of Engan, Norway 

Delphi Ruins, Greece 

Museums

We have visited umpteen museums as you do when travelling and at one point I am ashamed to say that I felt a bit ‘museumed’ out. (Is that even a word?) However there have been some very interesting finds along the way.  Here’s my pick:

#1 Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden.  This museum has just one ship, the Vasa, which was built in the 17th century and had a short life at sea of about 20 minutes before she sank.  She wasn’t re-discovered until the 1950’s and was raised in the 1960’s.  If you are interested in anything with a nautical theme, then this is worth a read and if you ever find yourself in Stockholm don’t miss out on seeing this incredible sight for yourself.

#2 Nobel Museum in Stockholm.  Just a small museum but packed with the stories and memorabilia of lots of interesting people including ex President Obama and of course Malala Yousafzai, two of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.  What is interesting, of course, is that Obama was awarded this prize and then later as President of the United States, he declared war.  He offered to give his prize back but this was refused.

#3 ABBA from Sweden, again in Stockholm. This was nostalgic because it’s music I grew up with and felt I knew these singers pretty well.  The museum is about them all individually, their life, how they came together, their successful music career and their life struggles.  It’s a very real and moving account and worthy of a visit.

Stockholm was the city of museums, as you can see above. There are fifty-three museums in Stockholm alone!

Here’s some others of note that we visited:

#4 The Holocaust Museum in Norway provides a real sense of true stories from wartime and
#5 The Renaissance Museum in Oslo also is worthy of visiting.

ABBA Museum

Vasa Museum

Nobel Museum

Cathedrals

I could probably write an entire book on Churches and Cathedrals of Europe alone, and may do this one day.  You would think that once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.  That is not the case and I strongly urge anyone travelling through Europe to pop your head into any church or cathedral as you pass, there are some real gems out there.

#1 Monreale is my pick of the most beautiful church.  It’s situated just on the outskirts of Palermo, Sicily, Italy and really must be seen to be believed.  The time, effort, expense, and creativity of this church left us speechless.  It is one of those places where no matter how many photos you see, they can’t do this justice.  If you are in the area please don’t miss the opportunity to be wowed.

#2 Milan Cathedral – from the outside this cathedral is stunning, but head inside and it continues in that vein.  This church took 600 years to build, possibly by several generations who dedicated their life work to this beautiful building.

#3 Erice – There are several cathedrals and churches in Erice and all are worthy of a visit. For more information here’s our blog.

#4 The Sanctuary of Vicoforte in Northern Italy is worthy of a mention and a wee look too.

Cathedrals To Wow You

Wild Camping Number of Nights

In the past six months, we have used camping grounds 15 nights (8% of the total nights), camper parking 5 nights (3% of the total), and 162 nights free camping which represents 89% of our sleeping places. 

Over the past 18 months (547 nights) we have stayed at 281 different stopping point, and of these 49 (9%) were at camping grounds, 54 at camper parking (10%) and 444 or 81% were FREE camping, thanks primarily to Park4Night.

The only reason we stayed at camping grounds typically is due to family or friends, country regulations (Croatia), safety (Turkey), and requiring EHU (electrical hook up) for electricity (Norway).

 

We have been fortunate to encounter no problems during our free camping and in fact we have a routine that we follow to ensure the maximum safety for us and Betsy.  If you want to know our method then read our blog on how to safely and successfully wild camp by clicking here.

 


Costs

When analysing the costs over the past six months I looked back on the previous twelve month period to see how we compared. Given we travelled from July to November 2018 in the Scandinavian countries, including seven weeks in the notoriously expensive country of Norway, I was expecting the costs to be somewhat significantly higher. What I found instead was that the past six months came in just marginally higher on a per week basis, ie €403 per week, compared with €394 per week in the previous twelve month period.  It may have helped that we did stock up on groceries, wine and beer in Germany before heading further north, something I highly recommend if you are heading into Scandinavia.

For an entire account including a breakdown of our costs over the past 18 months, click here.

Motorhome Running Costs (aka Betsy juice)

For all you petrol heads out there (or should that be diesel heads?) who want to know about Betsy’s juice, here’s the stats showing the number of kilometres travelled and how thirsty our girl is.  Alan’s even included miles per gallon for the English folk reading this.

Betsy is built on a Renault Master base and sports a 2.3 litre 130bhp diesel engine.  We think that getting close to 27 mpg dragging 3.5 tonnes around Europe isn’t too bad.  If you want to see more about Betsy, how we came to have her, and all the extra bits that make her a wee bit special, then click here.

Like every proud parent, we think our girl is rather special.  Nice to have that external validation when Betsy’s photo was chosen to adorn the Inspired Campers Calendar for 2019.

Best Gadgets for Motorhomes

As times goes by, there are more things we discover we ‘need’ to make life easier.  One of these has been a window vacuum for the condensation issues from the colder countries.  This has become Alan’s all-time favourite gadget.

Next, I’d like to introduce you to Jenni.  She is my best friend and has saved us quite a bit of money on camping grounds and saved Alan stressful periods glued to the battery readout. (Ladies, do your husbands do this too?)

You see, we discovered that in Norway the sun hardly rises above the horizon in the autumn time which means it doesn’t get high enough to effectively charge the batteries from our solar panels.  Therefore, it doesn’t take long before this power hungry couple runs out of power.  We knew that our batteries were not holding charge as they should and looked at replacing them with AGM batteries.  AGM’s can be discharged more without damaging them which would effectively give us more usable power between charges.  A Norwegian chap we met was going to sell us some top-of-line Exide AGM batteries at a really great price, however they were bigger than the current batteries and just wouldn’t fit.  Instead, we opted to buy a small compact generator and now have as much power as we need.  This one is actually relatively quiet and we use it sparingly and considerately so as to minimise any disturbance to others.  Alan wrote a review of Jenni here.

We love to cook, hence our name Travel Cook Eat, and without an oven, cooking a variety of foods becomes challenging.  Therefore we purchased an Omnia oven, which you’ve probably heard us talk about before, but now there’s a review of this baby and you can read all about it here.  Or if you are in need of some inspiration or would just like some new recipes, please see some of our favourites here.

We have recently invested in the Tyrepal TPMS (Tyre Pressure Monitoring System), which has individual sensors on each wheel sending the tyre pressures to a small display on the dashboard.  This will alert us if any of our tyres develop a leak, which is important because we don’t carry a spare wheel.

Generator

Omnia Oven

Window Vac

Saddest Place

Without a doubt this would have to be the little French village of Oradour-Sur-Glane. On 10 June 1944 the German SS stormed the village and rounded up and killed all those people who lived here before burning the buildings.  The village remains standing as it was left back in 1944 as a sobering and constant reminder of war and what happened.  For more information, I highly recommend a read of our blog and if you are in the region make this a ‘must visit’.

Main Street Burnt Out; Forever A Memorial

Town of Oradour-Sur-Glane

Biggest Lesson

History is everywhere you look in Europe, and this is especially apparent to us when we reflect on how young New Zealand is.  November 11 2018 signified the 100 year anniversary of the end of World War One.  Throughout Belgium and France we visited many of the WWI sites and paid our respects to the thousands, actually no make that millions, of young men who lost their lives fighting for our freedom today.  What really struck me was that each white cross or headstone not only represented one person who never made it home, but the family and friends behind that person.  I really struggled when thinking about the ripple affect each death had and how a generation of men were wiped from the world, forever!

At school I didn’t take history as a subject, however actually being here and seeing the places that history talks about has changed my perspective.  So I’ve devoured as much information as I can to finally learn what really happened, thereby coming to realise that history is an important subject. Better late than never, eh?

Thousands of Remembrance Poppies

Special Moments

#1 When staying with Paul in the Netherlands we went for a cycle to an oyster processor and scoffed oysters and chardonnay in the late summer sun overlooking the two varieties of oysters that were being cleaned and prepared for sale. The reason this was so special is that Oysters and Chardonnay are two of my favourites.

#2 We paid homage to those fallen soldiers of the First World War at a ceremony of the Last Post played nighly at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.  This tradition started on 1st July 1928 and apart from one exception (during the German occupation of Belgium in the Second World War), the bugles have sounded every night since at precisely 8.00pm local time.  It was November, so we stood, wrapped up warmly against the bitter cold, with about two hundred others waiting in anticipation of what was to come.  In complete silence we witnessed four buglers and one bagpiper carrying on this unique tradition.

#3 Not long before heading to Europe I was told about my great uncle Bert from the small town of Te Aroha, who came to fight in WWI alongside his brother. Sadly Bert didn’t make it home and we visited his memorial where his name is engraved on the New Zealand Memorial wall at Buttes New British Cemetery outside Zonnebecke.  Sadly his body was never recovered so he doesn’t have a grave.

Fresh Delicious Oysters in Yerseke with Paul

Stunning Reflection of Menin Gates, Ypres

Buttes New British Cemetery

Fun Times

Everyone said it was easy to catch fish in Norway, so being keen fisherpeople we decided to give it a go. We headed out on a small boat and learnt how to use the traditional hand lines.  Alan caught the first fish, followed by me catching a small coalfish, before I then showed the skipper how to fish NZ style and caught a large (>10kg) fish by hooking it in the tail! That filled our freezer with about 16 meals of fresh fish and required me to be creative on recipes to try.

This time, Alan couldn’t claim his baiting skills were responsible for me catching a bigger fish than him, because we didn’t use bait!

Alan’s Fish

Ruth’s Fish

Unusual Local Foods Eaten

Horse – in Italy (dried). It tastes like any other red meat that’s dried, like beef jerky.

Reindeer in Finland. While in Lapland we partook in Reindeer cooked three different ways.  Sauteed and simmered with sliced Reindeer roast, lingonberries, pickled cucumber and buttery mashed potatoes.  Then sliced Reindeer sirloin, and slow-cooked Reindeer neck with creamy juniper berry sauce, cranberry jelly, local root vegetables and game potatoes breaded with rye.  Dining in a restaurant allows one to taste this meat cooked properly, and our preferred option was by far slow-cooked.  While it might sound unusual, the meat was lovely and there was nothing I could think to relate it to, or how to describe the taste.

Elk in Norway at a truck stop.  Not exactly the place you expect to try exotic meats, but there you have it and it was tasty enough, served with cranberry sauce,  boiled whole potatoes and crunchy vegetables.  Alan’s meal was another traditional treat, bacon with a creamy cabbage and potato mix.  Wasn’t really my cuppa tea but it was tasty enough.  We can’t remember the name, so if you know it, please send us a message below.  Thanks.

Wild Moose in Sweden while staying with friends.  The Swedish Government allows one moose and one calf to be shot per year per 1,000 hectares in order to regulate the numbers.  For our friends who cooked and served us the Moose they have a group of ten shooters and they share the meat between the group. Otherwise, the moose become pests to the farmers.  It tastes similar to beef.

Don’t freak out when I tell you about the most unusual food we tried in Norway.  I am already feeling a little defensive when writing this but stay with me.  The meat, again tried in a restaurant, was Whale!  I know, I know, it sounds like I’m supporting an industry that is reviled around the world.  However, keep reading for more education about this dish before judging.

The whale was served lightly fried (meaning almost raw) with mushroom stew (aka sauce), fried vegetables, red onions and potatoes.  My first impression of whale meat was that it reminded me of liver.  Then I felt the meat was rather dry, and then it had a gamey taste. By the end it was just like eating steak. No fishy flavour whatsoever, obviously. The restaurant cooked it extremely rare and it had sinew or veins running through the meat, but it wasn’t really chewy.

I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat it again and by comparison, Elk and Reindeer were much tastier.  Overall I was happy to experience just once in my lifetime.

Now here’s the thing about eating whale in Norway.  The Minke Whale, which is native to Norwegian waters, is not endangered, the catch is very strictly regulated and the is 100% sustainable.  The industry is far smaller than historical levels, largely due to the relatively low demand but whaling seems more a cultural thing for the people than just a source of protein. 

The Norwegian Government recently ran a promotion of whale meat as a fine dining experience.  It was a complete failure.  Younger, environmentally conscious people struggled with the whale meat concept and now all government funding has ceased.  It will gradually die out over time.

A local ex-fisherman we spoke with said the economics of whaling are poor, people have stopped eating the meat and therefore less and less people are fishing them.  He also told us about the problem that the large whale numbers were causing to the declining small fish stocks.

Reindeer Sirloin

Reindeer Slow Cooked

Elk Steak

Pork and Cabbage Delight

Tasty Homemade Moose Loaf

Whale Steak

What Took Our Breath Away

Without a doubt it would have to be the Aurora Borealis, aka Northern Lights and also a unique sunset that is only possible to see in Finland during two or three days per year.  We, in fact, also witnessed the Aurora Borealis in Finland before reaching Norway, however the Norwegian light display was ten times more powerful and spectacular.  For a detailed account, plus to find out what time of the year we saw them, read our blog on the Aurora Borealis.

Most Beautiful Scenery

The Åland Islands. This archipelago of 6,500 named and 20,000 unnamed islands lies between Sweden and Norway and island hopping across them was a fun and enjoyable alternative to taking a direct ferry for Stockholm to Turku.  We spent an idyllic 12 days there in total. The scenery was lovely, the weather warm, and given their three-week summer peak period had finished, it was lovely and quiet.

We couldn’t go past the simply sublime scenery of Norway.  Not only were we blessed with fine weather, we had the autumn colours and a sprinkling of snow on the mountains.  Take a look at some of our favourite scenery photos.

Calm Waters of The Åland Islands

Kumlinge Island Boathouse

Original Farm Buildings

Norway, Spectacular Countryside

Videos

Sometimes the best way to show the beauty of a country is with video.  Take a look at these two videos of the stunning scenery in Norway and let us know what you think.

People We’ve Met

One can’t help but meet people along the journey and we consider ourselves very fortunate to meet some of the loveliest travellers around.  Some of them have even invited us to stay with them as we passed through their home countries on our travels.   Let me introduce you to the people we’ve met.  The place name in the box is where we met for the first time.

If we’ve met you and you can’t find your photo here, please email me at ruth@travel-cook-eat.com and include details of where we met and a photo. Thanks.

Hover over the text for the right arrow to appear, then scroll through to see our friends.  These appear in the order we met people.

Vojo & Susi

We met Vojo (Croatia) & Susi (Switzerland) in Arenzano, Italy.  They were the first ‘other’ motorhomers we met and interestingly enough they didn’t speak any English but thanks to Google Translate we managed to communicate.

Mr & Mrs Emichetti & Ettore

I first met Ettore in New Zealand many years ago and had the pleasure of meeting his parents in 2017 & 18.  His mother was concerned we didn’t eat enough – her cooking was superb!

The Family

The great thing about being in this part of the world is getting to see family. Here Carrie (Alan’s sister from the UK) and his Mum Jan (NZ) came for a visit and to meet Betsy.

Jan & Marja

This couple are bad news! Especially when it comes to lavishing us with food and alcohol.  We had two ‘filling’ visits with them and their children in Holland, they took us around their countryside and introduced us to many yummy foods, including bitterballs and fricadelles.

Pip & Ross

Love having friends join us for a wee sail around the Greek Islands.  I used to sail with Ross & Pip in NZ and now they live in the UK it just made sense to hire a yacht in a gorgeous location.

Spyros

Like a Knight in Shining Armour, Spyros helped us tie up the yacht in a fresh breeze on Skopelos Island. We were indebted to him. We then met up again in Volos where Sypros played tour guide sharing the beauty of the surrounding mountains.

Paul

Paul (lives in Holland and is from Belgium) kindly opened up his home to us for a few nights.  We shared a special time together, in particular cycling to the oyster farm and tasting the oysters with Chardonnay.  Paul is an uber-talented photographer, pity his skills didn’t rub off on me when taking this photo.

Detlef

Originally from Germany, but living in Turkey, we met Detlef in Greece.  He’s working with local government to install campervan stops in their towns and increase tourism.  Detlef is very knowledgable about most things, including the politics of Turkey and Germany.

Mesut

Mesut is the owner of the Boomerang Cafe in Eceabat, not far from Gallipoli.  If you are in the area stop by and have a drink with him.  He has memorabilia from Australia and NZ, although not enough from NZ, hence the tea towel we gave him taking pride of place in the middle of his cafe.

Naciye

Mrs Savas is the mother of the owner from Troia Pension & Camping where we stayed in Canakkale, Turkey.  She taught us how to make Gozleme’s, Turkish Style. Yummy.

The Chef

Affectionately known as ‘The Chef’ by everyone around him, this chap has a huge heart for people.  He ran the Yanecapi Sports Centre in Istanbul where we hung out for four weeks and he would often invite us over for a meal.

Tommy & Zoe

We first met this cool couple, Tommy & Zoe, in Istanbul, Turkey in November 2017, then again recently in Spain.  Tommy is from Ireland and Zoe from the  Canarias Islands.  Here we are celebrating Tommy’s birthday with a shop bought delicious and well-decorated cake.

Pinar

One of the best experiences we’ve had was at Turkish Cookin, a class with just Alan and I in attendance.  We laughed, ate, drank, and enjoyed the evening. If you ever get a chance and want to experience something fun, then I can definitely recommend this.  Or to try some of the recipes visit our website.

Dan & Cornelia

We first met these guys in December 2017 travelling with their lovely family from Romania in Alexandroupolis, Greece and then again in Crete.

Vaggelis

Vaggelis showed Alan how to fish in the Greek waters of Nea Peramos in December 2018.  Afterwards, he took us and the fish to the local nearby Taverna where it was cooked and served to us, yum.

Jordan and Alex

Our first meeting was in Greece in December 2017 and I had to laugh when they were running around outside their motorhome in the snow!  That’s Aussie’s for ya. We caught up again in Amsterdam where Alex has landed herself a pretty cool job.

Dorel, Oana, Ciprian & Irina

This photo was taken while celebrating Christmas lunch 2017 in a Greece restaurant in Thessaloniki.  The four people named above are from Romania who we met up with again in Athens around New Years Eve 2017.

Romanian Family

A friendly family who we met beside a hot spring called Thermopylae.

 

Mitch & Sue

We shared a couple of dinners with this lovely couple, from the UK, in Pylos and rode out a pretty terrific storm together on the pier.

Katherine & James

We had a pot luck dinner together in the van of Katherine & James (UK) and also rode out the storm in Pylos.

Helena & Harkin

Kind-hearted and excellent tour guides are just a few of this couple’s attributes.  Having met them in Pylos, Greece (riding out a storm together with others), we were invited to stay with them in Sweden and did so, not only once, but twice.  They kindly played tour-guide and showed us their beautiful part of the country, including a ride out on their boat to a swimming spot.  Louisa, their little dog, is such a delight and also greeted us warmly.

Michelle & Tim

We met Michelle and her partner Tim (from the UK) in January 2018 at Camping Thines camping ground in Greece.  Michelle is the life of the party as you can see here by her dancing style.

Ulla & Bodo

Silicy, Italy was the original meeting place of this fun couple.  We hit it off straight away (the wine helped) and soon were invited for dinner.  It was our pleasure to stay with them in Germany where we were treated as royalty to their wonderful cooking and tourist hosts.  I even attended Italian lessons with Ulla.

The Family Again!

A little cooler this time, but again a wonderful visit in Holland with Carrie (UK) and Jan (NZ).

Monica

We first met Monica online through Facebook and then met both Monica and her partner Chris (from the UK) in person in Denmark. They came for a quick cuppa then stayed for dinner and parked up overnight. Here’s Monica’s first attempt at an eBike.

Lisbeth, Christian, Mikkel & Bertram

Lisbeth is my oldest friend (since 15 years old) and it was wonderful meeting her family again in Denmark where I celebrated and was spoilt on my birthday in July 2018.  We then went camping together for a week in Skagen.

Mette & Polle

I’ve known Mette since I was 20 years, and it was great meeting her husband Polle for the first time (and she got to meet my husband, Alan).

Vladimir

Vladimir was our friendly guide in St Petersburg, Russia.  He was uber knowledgable about his city and gave us an insight into what it was like growing up in the Soviet regime.  If you need a guide I’d be happy to connect you.

Jan

Jan took us out on his fishing boat in Moskenes, the Lofoten Islands, Norway where Ruth caught a large Coal fish.

Grethe & Villy

The parents of my oldest friend, Lisbeth, whom I first meet in Denmark in 1996.  We enjoyed a lovely evening catching up again. I love that the Danish speak such great English. X

Wilbert

Wilbert is responsible for part of my education (NLP Master Practitioner) when we met in Perth, Western Australia.  Lovely to see him again in Holland and share a meal together.

Wilfried & Lisbeth

The very talented Wilfried (artist) and Lisbeth (people person) graced us with their fun, laughter, and project (www.face-europe.eu). Here Wilfried is painting Alan while Lisbeth interviews him about his life.  If you want to be part of this project, please contact them through their website above.

Click here to read about our first six months (including newbie mistakes we laugh about now) and our One Year of Wilding Living.

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