Baltic Sea Roadtrip

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.

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Museum Island
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Checkpoint Charlie
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Remnant of the wall near the Topography of Terror museum
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Giant Canadian coin at the Bode museum in Berlin
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Spiral walkway at the Reichstag

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.

The van!
Yea!

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).

Making supper at the campsite in Denmark
Sunset. At 10:00 p.m.!
View from our campsite in Denmark

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.

Giant lake near Trollhättan
Sweden, doing its best Canada impersonation
Ready for a hike!

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!

This should give you some idea of what it was like
Oslo is somewhere down there

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.

Scenery on the drive from Oslo to Voss
Friendly troll in Voss 🙂

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 🙂

Amazing waterfall near Voss
Sheep!
The great sheep chase!
We drove by dozens of waterfalls like this one
Awesome scenery
Winter!
Cross country skiers in July
Our campsite in Lom. The sun finally poked through!

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.

Drive to Trondheim
Cabins at our campsite near Trondheim
Lovely view from the dock

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!

Entering Northern Norway
Yea! We made it to the Arctic Circle! Naturally, I’m freezing!
Rock sculptures at the Arctic Circle Centre
I took this photo at around 9:00 p.m. at our campsite just above the Arctic Circle

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.

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Tromsø

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.

370 km from the Nordkapp!
View to the north from the Nordkapp
Cliffs at the Nordkapp
Midnight sun!

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.

Drive to Finland
Reindeer!
Sauna at our campground near Inari
River outside the sauna. Jörn’s awesome photo 🙂

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!

We stopped for a quick hike before crossing the Arctic Circle again
Path? No, too easy!
View from our campground near Kokkola

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.

Yea!
They made us wear helmets to go down the toilet bowl slide. I have no idea why. I think they make us look, really, really cool 🙂

We drove down to Helsinki and spent a few hours wandering through the city and chilling out in the parks.

Lovely church!
Lovely park!

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.

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Tallinn old city and port
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Tallinn main square
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Rappelling down the city wall! Some students had set up ropes for tourists to use if they so chose 🙂

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!

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Prison
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Prison operating room

Musing

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.

4 thoughts on “Baltic Sea Roadtrip

  1. Aunt B

    Wonderful to read the details finally! It sounds as if you got a very good overview of life in those countries. I’m glad for you that it went so well.

  2. Mary Ruth

    Hi Helenka,
    I’ve been enjoying your blogs and following your travels with great interest. I particularly liked your photograph in the land of the midnight sun….”There are strange things done in the midnight sun/By the men who moil for gold”. Do you know that poem by Robert Service? Ive always been fascinated by the North.
    I’m looking forward to hearing about the highlights of your travels first hand. Until then,
    Mary Ruth

    1. Thank you for your kind comment! I am unfamiliar with that particular poem, but I am also fascinated with the North. I am even more inspired now to see Northern Canada! I can’t wait to tell you all my stories in person 🙂

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