After my adventures in Israel, I arrived back in Vienna and spent the day napping in the sunshine at the park beside the Prater before taking the overnight train to Berlin. This time, I had a pleasant experience on the train. I actually slept well! And although we passed through the Czech Republic before arriving in Berlin, there were no middle-of-the-night passport and cigarette checks. I am a big fan of the Schengen Agreement.
The weather was fairly dreadful for my first few days in Berlin, so I bought a museum pass and indulged myself. I visited all five museums on Museum Island, as well as the Anne Frank museum, the Checkpoint Charlie museum, the Jewish Museum, the Topography of Terror and the Berlin Wall memorial. I particularly enjoyed learning about all the crazy ways people escaped from East to West Germany back in the day. I toured the Reichstag, where you can take a spiral walkway up to the top of the building and look down on the politicians below. I’m glad that all the wall and war business is in museums where it belongs, and that nowadays Berlin is just a really cool city with awesome parks and a crazy nightlife.
I took the train from Berlin to Flensburg to meet up with my friend Jörn, a fellow backpacker whom I had met in New Zealand. Back in April, he had asked me to join him on a roadtrip around Scandinavia, and I immediately said yes. I had been wondering how I would do Scandinavia on a budget, and our schedules worked out perfectly.
Before we left on our trip, we had to prepare the van. Jörn and his father, who both have extensive experience in construction, spent the day building a bed that had compartments underneath where we could fit our stuff. I busied myself with cleaning things (anyone who knows me knows that I probably shouldn’t be handling anything more deadly than a butter knife!) We spent a very pleasant night at Jörn’s parents’ place (I love being with families!), then headed off to Denmark on July 1.
Our first campground was right by the sea, and there was an in-ground trampoline so I was very, very happy. We visited Copenhagen the next day, which turned out to be quite stressful. It was very tricky to find parking and to navigate through the city centre in a giant van. We walked around for a bit and ate ridiculously expensive fast food, and then decided that for this trip we would prefer to stick to nature and the open road. (Most of the pictures from now on were either taken by Jörn or by me using his fantastic camera).
We crossed the giant bridge into Sweden, and spent our second night at a campground near Trollhättan. As we headed north, the sun started setting later and later. I loved it! It’s so much easier to take things slowly, to cook and to do all the logistical stuff that comes with life on the road when you don’t have to worry about it getting dark. It’s a little strange, however, going to sleep when it’s still light outside. It’s a bit like being jet lagged, or taking a nap.
From Sweden we went to Norway, and it started absolutely pouring rain. We could only see Oslo from our campground through a hazy mist. Luckily, Jörn is fabulous company, and we amused ourselves by telling stories and playing trivia games while waiting for the rain to let up. It never did, so we decided to skip touring through Oslo. There’s always a next time!
We drove north to Voss, the adventure capital of Norway. I say “we” drove, but Jörn did all the driving on this trip, and he did an amazing job. I have never mastered the art of driving stick shift, and there wasn’t really the time or opportunity for me to learn. Anyway, Voss was a lovely little town.
The drive through the mountains from Voss to a town called Lom was spectacular. I learned how to take pictures through the passenger window. A highlight of that day for me was chasing the sheep that strayed in front of the van as we were parked. Instead of running away, they kept running in circles around the van. Silly creatures 🙂
From Lom, we went to Trondheim, and parked at a campground just outside the city. It was finally sunny, and we lay down by the beach. I made a valiant attempt to go in the water, but it was beyond freezing.
After Trondheim we crossed the Arctic Circle! Fittingly, it was windy, rainy and absolutely freezing. I bought a very touristy hat and socks just to get warm. It was still an awesome experience, and we were in the land of the midnight sun!
We had intended to do some hiking around Tromsø, but the rain and cold were fairly relentless. Instead, we walked around town and indulged once again in outrageously expensive fast food.
Our final destination in Norway was the Nordkapp, the northernmost point of continental Europe. You can drive right up to it on beautifully paved roads, and at the tip top of Europe you can find a visitor’s centre, museum, and busloads of cruise ship passengers all congregated to catch a glimpse of the midnight sun. The wind was crazy, but at midnight the sun burned through the clouds and was quite spectacular.
You can actually sleep in the parking lot of the visitor’s centre, but there are no facilities like showers or kitchens. After one night of being rocked and rolled in the van by the wind, we decided to head to the much calmer Finland. The first thing we did at our campground near Inari was hop into a sauna. It was reasonably hot, and it was great fun jumping into the river between sauna sessions.
After Inari, we headed down to Kokkola, where we jumped into our second sauna. This one was much hotter, and I couldn’t handle anything above the first level of the bench. Actually, I sat on the stool in front of the first level. I really don’t deal with extreme temperatures very well, either hot or cold!
Our last stop before Helsinki was a town called Vaasa on the Baltic coast. I was in the mood for a water park (I’m usually in the mood for a water park!), so we went to a place called Troplicandia. We had such a blast relaxing by the pool, racing down the slides and indulging in the sauna.
We drove down to Helsinki and spent a few hours wandering through the city and chilling out in the parks.
We took the ferry over to Tallinn, where Jörn dropped me off at a hostel before heading to another part of the country. I spent a week in Tallinn, taking it easy. I toured the old town, and visited the KGB museum at the Hotel Viru, where communist spies used to be stationed.
I also visited one of the creepiest places that I have ever seen, the Patarei Prison. It was closed only in 2005, and you pay two euros to walk through the prison, which had been abandoned in a hurry. It is incredibly grim, and you need a flashlight to go through some of it. You can see the cells, some of which still have mouldy beds in them, and you can even visit the room where they used to hang people. I went alone, which was a bad idea. I kept tagging along behind random people!
My Baltic adventure was an absolute blast. I really enjoyed the van life, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. There is no better way to visit Scandinavia, except maybe on a bicycle if you are truly motivated. That being said, be prepared for everything to be expensive, from groceries, to gas to campgrounds. But I do think it’s worth it.