Saved by Switzerland

Sorry folks that it’s taken so long to write another blog entry. Time goes so fast on the road. That’s why it was definitely time for us to slow down. After staying in a caraven park with no shower or toilet in Amsterdam we were both so sick of living in our van.

Early morning we headed to Switzerland. It was a very very long and hot day. Travelling in 35 degree heat with no air conditioning. By lunch we couldn’t take it anymore so we had to pull over and have a nap under the trees for a few hours.

All in all we travelled between 5 countries and 24 hours (with a few hours pit stop in France I think for a sleep in the early hours of the morning). Needless to say we were so grateful to finally get to Vappu’s Aunt and Uncles house. We arrived late morning the next day.

Vappu’s family were so lovely. Over the next few days we stayed in their amazing 4 story house on the top floor. The location was so Swiss. It was next to a little canal and on the other side was a small hill covered in goats with bells around their necks. Down the road there was a beautiful  church which rang its bells every hours. So many picturesque sites and sounds.

One of the high lights of the trip was being able to use their sauna. I huge sauna where we could lie back, chillax and have a beer.

I also got to meet some of Vappu’s cousins and their families. They were all so welcoming and gave us really helpful travel advice for the next leg of our journey. Everyone in her family seems to have the need to travel in their veins. It was always interesting chatting to everyone because there were people with so many languages mixed between them. Vappu had to translate the conversation for me from a range of different languages. For example her uncle didn’t speak a lot of Finish so they had to chat in Swedish (which she is not as fluent with) and so at times I would talk to Vappu who would tell her aunt in Finnish who would translate it to her uncle. Even though it took a while, it was so interesting.

One day we decided to cycle around and explore some of the neighbouring towns. A concept I was very nervours about. I hadn’t rode a bike in over 10 years so to say that I was a little rusty would be an understatement. Picture me quietly freaking out going walking pace on this bike as small children over take me casually. After a while I got a little better but I still need a lot more practise.

We arrived at a flea market and we soon found a record section. Box after box of great records in good condition. Even though I don’t own a record player I dived in and grabbed a few. Finally I have started my very own record collection. Adam and the Ants, Cydia Lyper, Simon and Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen and Cat Stevens. Tintatively I tiptoed to the counter thinking I had to pay a small fortune. 4 euros for each please. Really! Some are still their rappers. I gladly paid and danced my way out of the shop.

In our last full day we travelled to Zurich. It is a very beautiful city with lots of incredible churchs. We met up with an old work friend of Vappu’s called Tina. She brought along with her, her beautiful dog Camilla. A sweet little thing. We chitchatted over cupcakes and it was quickly decided that both Tina and Camilla would join us for a few days in Italy. We were all so delighted by this.

Switzerland was such a good chance for us to slow down and rest. A huge thank you to Vappu’s family for everything!

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Detour in Denmark

Last time I wrote a blog, Vappu and I had just said goodbye to our travelling buddy (partner in crime Salla) in Norway. We had originally planned to go to England but plans had to be changed. We were going to catch a ferry from Norway but we soon found out that the ferry stopped running in 2008. Whoops! So we choose a ferry going to Denmark instead.

It was a ferry that reminded me a lot of the Spirit of Tasmania, only with a lot more dining options. We were not classy enough to purchase a room so we were assigned a chair to sleep in for our journey. The idea of getting out of our van and being able to move around was a very appealing concept.

The trip reminded me even more of my trips on the Spirit of Tas when we realise most of our fellow travellers were families. Irritable parents completely giving up hope of getting their overtired ultra-stimulated brood to calm down and go to bed. We found a seat and focused all our energies to staying awake for a few more hours while children ran around us (a site that two teachers find very difficult. You can probably picture my eye twitching from the other side of the world).

Finally it was time for bed and as the seats were to uncomfortable, crawling under the seats and making a bed there was our next option.

Early next morning we arrived in Denmark. We drove out of the ferry and set a course to Vappu’s friend Peter’s house. The idea of a possible shower and meal was just enough to keep us moving.

We spent a big part of the day exploring a town called Fredericia. A beautiful town with lots of old stone buildings. I’m not sure about the history of the town but instead of little men shown in the walking lights at intersections, a soldier is shown instead. I’ve heard this is the only town that does this.

Fredericia

Fredericia

(this picture I found on the internet)

Finally we arrived at Peter’s, who was so welcoming. It was great to have a chat with a person who has the same taste in TV shows (introducing Vappu to Archer was fun!). Being able to sleep inside was wonderful. Travelling really makes you realise how much you miss the basics. Thank you Peter! I hope one day you’ll be heading to Australia and I can return the favour.

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Amsterdam!

After a lot of discussion it was decided that Amsterdam should be our next stop. This meant a long drive which we were determined to do in one go. It was a long day and as poor Vappu only had me as her map reader, at times the day was quite stressful. With two teachers in the car, trying to keep the stress level down meant that a lot of teaching lingo and forcibly calm voices were used a lot. “What exactly do you need me to do?” “Can I offer you a suggestion?” “Good job, you’re getting better”

I think we did rather well considering we were using a German map, google maps on a Finnish phone and two tired people who don’t share a first language.

We arrived at the caravan park around 12am. We soon discovered it was not a park but more like a parking lot. There were no toilets and no showers. It was the cheapest we could find and the views and location was excellent. Worth the sacrifice I think.

The manager of the caravan park was very lovely and helpful. We became a burden on him, always asking questions about where everything was and joking around with him. You know you’re doing something right if the conversation starts like “Sorry to disturb you again” “Don’t worrying, you’re not disturbing us, its always entertaining with you two!”.

First directions he gave us was to a pub down the road. We wanted to stretch our legs so we followed his suggestion. It was great! A pub that looked a lot like a green house covered in lights. A good place to start our adventure on. After a quick drink it was off to bed.

So excited to visit the city, we headed down towards a ferry that would take us straight to central station. The ferries are awesome here. They are free and run every half an hour. Most people that live in Amsterdam use bicycles to get around. Everything is tailored for bikes; the roads, ferries. There are car park style places where bikes are packed in layer upon layer, its amazing! To see the amount of people that drove their bikes and motorbikes onto the ferry was crazy!

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Once we got into central and checked into the info centre (very helpful place) we started the search for the flea market. The city is incredible! My kind of town. Everyone is in a good mood and seem to just wonder around from bar to coffee shop (does anyone actually work here?) Nothing like Melbourne, where everyone is always rushing around in a bad mood. I would love to live in Amsterdam for 6 months or so.

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The  flea market is kind of like Salamanca Markets but a fair bit smaller. It’s also not got a lot of arts and crafty stuff. A lot of second hand stuff can be found there. Piles of clothes line the walk way in certain sections ready for people to scrounge through them. Running by canals its a picturesque scene with a lot of interesting oddbods around. Good combination.

The plan was to visit the neighbouring pub to see if there was some live music. Instead of live music however we found live storytelling. A great concept, if you spoke the same language.

With the pub now not being an option we went back to our helpful tour guide, Mr Caravan Park Manager. He told us of a great coffee shop to pop into further down the road and offered us his bike. He then also offered us a second option, his convertible. We thanked him very much but gratefully accepted the bike.

The bike trip was interesting to say the least. I have not ridden a bike in many years and have had bike safety pounded into my head for so many years that the concept of sitting on the back of a bike without a helmet (most people don’t wear helmets in Europe) meant ultimate doom!

Off we went with Vappu driving and me clinging onto dear life and screaming on the back. A fun site for all the passers by, who were all overtaking us.

The search for the coffee shop didn’t go well. After travelling round in circles we asked a group of people relaxing outside on a sofa where it could be. They told us that it was already shut and that we were welcome to join them instead. Chairs were quickly brought out for us and so began, I think, one of the most interesting conversations I have ever had.

There were about 8 or so people of different ages and ethnicity who were all living in the three adjoining houses. They were squatters who had been camping out in these abandoned houses for months. They had no idea in total how many people there were squatting between the houses, nor did they seem that phased at keeping track. One of the guys told me that before this, he had lived in a warehouse where they kept old ships and that over 200 people squatted there.

Everyone was so lovely and friendly and so relaxed about life. They offered for us to stay their over the next few days so that we didn’t have to pay for accommodation. A very welcoming offer but we thought we would need to think about it for a while.

After an hour or so the doors started shutting in the houses, the signal that people were going to bed and that all partying outside should move indoors. Everyone was quick to cut the conversation short and move everything in. We declined the offer to continue our discussions inside and so they offered to meet up the next night and take us to a squatters party. It was an amazing night and one that I will not forget in a hurry. So many incredible people who know what they want in life and are willing to live each day by their own rules. A society in itself, I would love to find out more about every one of our new found friends.

The next morning we decided we had to have a big Amsterdam experience. We headed into the city for another chance to explore. We found the Amsterdam Museum and a famous secret garden but the heat was really getting to us. Finnish people have a word called “helle” which means when the temperature is over 25 degrees. All of the Amsterdam days were helle and quite uncomfortable.

We headed back to our car park of gravel and made a makeshift shade with whatever material we could find. We filled buckets with water to soak our feet in and sat at the back of the van drinking wine and eating delicious food. It was wonderful! The lovely caravan park managers offered us some of their wine as well and helped us with whatever we needed. They were so lovely!

A night of adventure in Amsterdam still had to be found so we jumped back on the ferry and took to find the red light district. For the next hour we wondered around in a tired daze until we admitted defeat and crawled back into bed.

Amsterdam was so fantastic and we had so many adventures but not the ones we had planned. This trip keeps surprising me every day.

 

Neverland… No wait, Norway!

I have to say that I have never seen any place as beautiful as Norway. We spent a total of three days travelling from the border of Sweden through the middle of Norway down to the bottom at Bergen where Salla had a flight out to catch back to Finland.

Around every corner was a jaw dropping view and a lake or river just waiting to be swam in. I couldn’t believe that we were swimming in 25 dregree days surrounded by snowy mountains.

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One of our beautiful campsites

Just like in Sweden we spent each day driving for hours at a time and stopping to swim or eat food. According to the girls, both Sweden and Norway have many traditional troll fairy tales so I was always on the lookout for the mischievous little creatures. Sadly no trolls were found.

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A quick coffee stop

Although the majority of time was spent on the top of mountains, the rest of the time was spent going through tunnels in the mountains. We went through at least 100km underground through these tunnels, the longest one being 24km. This particular tunnel had stops every few kms in which beautiful lights were set up. We couldn’t resist jumping out and have a bit of a singalong with our echos.

Blocking out the noise from some trucks passing

Blocking out the noise from some trucks passing

The plan was to spend the second last night exploring Bergen before we had to say goodbye to Salla. This however wasn’t meant to be. As we were nearing the end of our drive we came across a barrier in the road. Stones had fallen down onto the road and it was not safe for us to go any further. We backtracked to a beautiful campsite and waited it out for the night. Frustratingly it was still not fixed in the morning so we had to backtrack even further through many tunnels to the alternative route. The route was a big loop and required catching two different ferries.

Finally we made it and had a few hours until Salla’s plane was going to leave. Overtired, thirsty and trying to listen to the soccer grand final in another language on the radio we had one thing on our mind… finding a pub!

The pub we found was full of grumpy, bored Norwegeans watching the soccer quietly. Apparently in Europe, unless it is your country cheering doesn’t really seem worth it. I couldn’t help picturing what the atmosphere would be like in an Australian pub. A lot of loud people heckling everything and fighting over their chosen team (probably chosen walking into the pub 5 minutes ago).

To finish off the night we had a quick 2 hour nanna nap, sleepily drove Salla at the airport an then found a place for another short nanna nap.

I am so glad I got to travel with Salla, even for a short time. To think we have known each other for over 8 years. It wouldn’t have been a true adventure without her! Hopefully we will be travelling together again in a few more weeks.

Again some great pics by the girls

 

Swinging into Sweden

The ferry from Finland to Sweden takes around 4 hours. Its was so nice to be out of the car and able to roam around. We got into Sweden around 12 at night and set up our van. It definitely makes set up easier when the sun doesn’t set. Although sleeping can be a bit of a problem if it never gets dark. Thats right people, we having gone from a country with 3 hours of darkness to no darkness at all! This makes the days very long, but very tiring. I never know what date, day or time it is.

We started our first day in Sweden by going into the city centre to get supplies and maps. The town was very picturesq and the everyone so lovely and friendly.

It was decided that we should go up the middle of Sweden through the forests and camp out as we go. The average day of driving that we have been covering is around 400km. A lot of driving, but it makes it a bit easier with all these amazing views around.

The first night we camped out in a beautiful field with a lake that has a jetty and diving board. So refreshing. I could have stayed there forever!

The next few days were spent by driving then swimming, driving then swimming then sleeping. I can’t even begin to describe the views. So incredible!

Thanks to Vappu and Salla for the beautiful pictures!

 

The beginning

Although I had arrived at Finland, there was still a lot of things to do. Vappu and I set to work packing and sorting the van. It took a fair amount of effort as Vappu lives in the 6th floor of her building but eventually we were all packed. While we were packing the van, we had accumulated an audience. Several kids from the building found the whole site very interesting and spent a lot of time chatting to us and asking us millions of questions. Unfortunately I was not very good at answering these questions (they being in Finnish an all).

The final product of our labour was a beautiful van with a double bed, moscito net, table, bags for our clothes hanging off the wall and millions of boxes tucked in everywhere for all our other junk. We even have some herbs in the back for cooking. Yep a true hippy van. All that was left before leaving Finland was a few stops and another traveller to pick up.

Our little home

Our little home

After eating the wide selection of sandpit cakes and coffee our lovely little friends had baked for us in their sand pit kitchen, we were off to Vappu’s parent’s house for a few knick knacks. We stopped off on the way at Vappu’s Aunt and Uncles house for a traditional Finnish meal of fish and potatoes. They were both so lovely and welcoming.

Our little chefs

Our little chefs

Once we got to the house we crashed on the couch with Vappu’s brother to watch some of the festival that we would be picking up Salla from the next day. A festival called Ruisrock which is a huge festival that goes for 3 nights. It’s a lot like Falls fest, only theres 90,000 people. It looked great and gave me a chance to listen to some new Finnish music.

The next morning we awoke to find that Vappu’s parents had gotten back from their holiday abroad. They were both very funny and full of helpful hints for our trip. Vappu’s dad gave me a beautiful pair of sunglasses for the road. Purple to go with the van!

Off we went driving off towards our big adventure and as soon as we had our final partner in crime (a very tired Salla) we jumped onto the ferry at Vaasa to go to Sweden.

Waiting for the ferry

Waiting for the ferry

 

The day that never ends

I now know what jet lag is. An I am told that jet lag is even worse if you were going from Finland to Australia.

The last leg of the Hong Kong airport was hard. I knew if I rested my eyes I would be out like a light and miss my flight so I decided to keep myself awake by walking around the airport over and over. The airport is huge and had so many shops to look through.

At last the time came where I could get on my flight and as soon as I was seated I fell asleep. The 10 1/2 hour flight was pretty short as I floated in and out of consciousness. The Chinese man at the end of the journey asked me in broken English where I was from and when I told him where I was from and how long I had been travelling he laughed and said “that’s why you” and then pulled a drooling dead scary sleeping face. Oops.

Finally I came into Finland at 6 am (12 pm Aus time) and after a grilling from the Finland passport people I was free.

Vappu my wonderful travel companion was waiting for me and brought me into Jarvenpaa where she lives with her boyfriend Matti. We were just in time to go to a sweet little morning market where we bought some vegetables and delicious strawberries. Her apartment was filled with other travelling Australians. Three of us in total and I’m told two others had just left to go to the UK. Not a bad way to wean my way into Finnish culture.

I then got to meet my baby, my van that is. The van that Vappu and I are going to live in over the next two months. It’s beautiful… and purple. It is now all washed out and ready to be filled with a bed, table and luggage.

We finished the afternoon with a picnic at the park with my fellow Australians. and a trip to the shopping centre to get our last needed bits and pieces.

To make the adjustment to this time zone it was decided that I should stay awake until 9pm before crashing. This was not an easy thing and I definitely went into zombie land for a while. Just before the time came the boys all came back to start drinking. Noooo! Thank goodness Vappu offered her bed for a nana nap until they left at round 2am,

To make matters even more tricky, in Finland it doesn’t get dark until 12pm and it gets light at 3am. So time really doesn’t exist here. So when I woke in the morning I wasn’t sure if it was 4am, 7am or 1pm. It all looks the same. I soon found out it was 11am and I had gotten in well over 12 hours of sleep. Hooray! To the end of a long day everyone!