Archives for the month of: August, 2014

The trip from Kristiansand in Norway to Hirtshals in Denmark on the 27th July on Fjordline’s catamaran only took two and a half hours and was uneventful. We reached the camping site near Haderslev, Denmark after about four hours and we were glad we hadn’t booked a holiday there like so many of the other campers with fixed sites as the rural odours of the countryside were a bit much!

We continued early the next day to Lubeck to spend a few days with friends. Katrin one of our friends surprised us with a trip down the Kiel canal (of great interest for years to Maurice) on a paddle steamer complete with a wonderful lunch. It was a long day as there was only one loch in working condition so we went around and around in circles in Kiel harbour for three hours before we could continue into the loch and down the canal to Rendsburg. We got back to Lubeck about 10pm and after starting out at 6.45am. It made for a long but very enjoyable day and the weather was good, about 30 degrees and the sun was shining.

We detoured on the 31st July to Dollern (east of Hamburg) on the way down to Holland to have lunch with friends and then continued to Mander where we spent the night before driving on to see the towns of Gouda and Delft and then on to Hoek von Holland to catch the ferry on the 1st August to Harwich. There seemed to be an inordinate amount of traffic in Holland especially around the spaghetti junctions near Utrecht and Rotterdam.
We arrived into Harwich and went straight to Hitchin where we spent a couple of days getting minor things fixed at the caravan company where we bought our motorhome.
Over the next few days we caught up with Maurice’s niece in London and our friends in the Chilterns and had a nice day out on the Thames on our friend’s boat. The weather was kind to us and we had a mostly sunny day.
We had wanted to visit Bath to see the Roman Baths in particular. The two hour trip took us nearly four hours with many delays on the highways and we then drove around looking for a parking spot (none to be had) and somehow also managed to get into the pedestrian area with thousands of tourists wandering around. We decided to head away when we eventually found our way out of town and continued on to Stroud to meet up with a friend we made in Bali. We were not so disappointed as we decided to go back to Bath another day. We spent a couple of hours chatting with our friend and then headed for the campsite between Cheltenham and Gloucester.
We were going to continue up to the Lakes district however the weather turned foul so we decided to stay put and instead visit
that area for a few days.

Five pounds (56p to the dollar) got us a day ticket to visit both Gloucester and Cheltenham and the bus stop was directly outside the camping site. We spent most of the day in the Gloucester visiting the Cathedral with it’s magnificent architecture and sculptures inside and out. It was to date the most beautiful cathedral we had visited. We went past the house where Beatrix Potter of the Tales of Gloucester fame lived. She was one of my favourite storytellers as a child and still is.
The sunshine was warm as we walked to the renovated docks area which had a very good shopping centre and many cafes and one with particularly good coffee. From there we caught the bus to Cheltenham and walked around the pretty town doing a bit of shopping. There were no such amazing landmarks there but interesting buildings and lovely gardens and a very impressive Municipal building with scores of beautiful hanging baskets and an ornate fountain in front of it.
Cheltenham had a distinctive English feel about it, different from many other towns in England now with it’s multi cultural population.
On Tuesday we decided to travel the hour back to Bath and this time we found a park and ride just ten minutes by bus from the centre of town. The Roman Baths had the only hot spring in the UK so we hurried there before the masses arrived. We were early enough and were
amazed at the amount of excavation and restoration done in that area which is in the middle of town. There is apparently much more to excavate however the foundations of the buildings above the ruins have to be made stable before they can attempt any further work.

Bath had such interesting architecture and was larger than I thought with many impressive Georgian buildings and rows of townhouses, many churches, monuments and beautifully sculptured gardens. The river meanders around the town and the hills surrounding it made for an interesting looking landscape.
We had to try a “Bath Bun” so went to an establishment called “Sally Lunn’s Historic eating house and museum” which is over 300years old.
The round slightly sweet toasted bread bun with jam and clotted cream was delicious.
There were thousands of tourists in town who all dispersed quickly when it started to rain rather heavily. This continued
throughout the day interspersed with bouts of sunshine. We visited the house where Jane Austin lived and where she wrote her many novels.
The lush crops were about to be or had been harvested in the various counties we visited with bales of hay lying in the fields and a procession of tractors with trailer loads of hay being transported around the countryside. It made for a beautiful patchwork of green, yellow and brown landscape everywhere.
We saw huge fields of hops around herefordshire, most hidden behind tall hedges.

We left our good campsite of “Briarfields” near Cheltenham and wound our way along the backroads and across undulating fields
to near Chedsworth to see the best example of the ruins of a vast Roman Villa which was discovered by a gamekeeper who found
small mosaic tiles while out ferreting in 1864. The site lay buried since 360AD but has since been protected as a heritage site.

We headed to North Wales throught the Cotswolds and the counties of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Wiltshire to spend night
at a rural campsite 10minutes from the ferry terminal at Holyhead. We had an early start (before 6am) so as to get to the
terminal for a 8.55am sailing to Dublin. Once at the ferry terminal and after the usual check in and passport checks there was always more than an hour’s wait so I used this time to write the blog and sort photos.

The Welsh sound like the Swedes on steroids. Most of their signs are unpronouncable and luckily most have English subtitles.
We saw a lovely sign on a deliver van with the stores name “Wing Ho” and underneath “All the Chinese you need to know” Very clever!

We arrived into Dublin port after the two and a half hour crossing and Ireland gave us it’s usual welcome with some heavy rain although travelling on the highways there was very easy with very little traffic as we made our way across to Ballivor in County Meath to visit friends. I cooked an Indonesian meal for thirty people one night and it was nice to have a large kitchen to prepare the meal.

Everyone we spoke to said that up to the time we arrived the weather had been good but it rapidly changed into Autumn weather with heavy winds, rain and it got cold enough to have to wear several layers and
raincoats again. It didn’t matter much as we were visiting friends and family for the two weeks we were there. We helped celebrate three birthdays, two in Dublin and one in Wexford as well as having our routine health check ups. Maurice had managed to break a tooth when he nearly knocked himself out and cut his head back in Tallinn so he had that repaired as well.

Good as new we drove down for the night to another of Maurice’s cousins who has a house surrounded by fields and cows near Avoca in County Wicklow. It is a beautiful part of the country with rolling hills and quaint villages. She took us to “Kilmacurragh” the National Botanic gardens in Wicklow where many exotic trees and plants from the Himalayas and South America had been planted by the Acton family in the 18th century.
Unfortunately most of the family and their gardeners died during the first world war and after changing hands a few times was given to the National gardens in 1996. It was very overgrown and it took nearly four years to clear the site and find many of the exotic trees and shrubs in the garden. There was also a Japanese cedar tree which looked like a clump of trees and which had an amazing root structure around which we walked. It was like something out of “Lord of the Rings”.

The following morning after breakfast we drove the hour down via
Kilmuckrigde to visit our friend from Ballivor who had rented a holiday cottage by the seaside there with some of her family. In the afternoon we drove an hour to Wexford where we spent a few days visiting old and new friends.

We stayed at the campsite on the Irish sea and were rocked at night by the very strong winds. We went back to Kilmuckridge to spend the night with our friends and then headed for Rosslare on the 29th August after saying our goodbyes to friends in Wexford to take the
overnight ferry to Roscoff on the southern French coast.

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The 16th July on a cloudy day we drove about six hours through Sweden to Norway to stay the night in Ringerike after getting lost in Oslo’s maze of highway construction around the city. We stopped in Honefoss and went into the shopping centre for some supplies. It looked very small but as in many places with harsh winters it was enormous with two large storeys underground.
We enjoyed the leisurely drive through the mountains and stopped at the Gardnos meterorite park. It did not look like the
desert craters you often see with meterorites but was heavily forested and green because of all the rain in Norway and also
because it was 500million years old and 5 kilometres across.
The weather deteriorated as we got into the mountains and we had heavy rain and a cold 7 degrees but as we drove on down to the
Sognefjord it was a bit warmer and the temperature doubled.
We stayed a couple of nights at the beautiful little town of Undredal right on the Sognfjord and boasts the smallest church in Norway and goat’s cheese. There are 100 inhabitants and 500 goats.
The following day it was Summer again 25degrees and sunny. We drove the 6kms back to Flam and took the 2 1/2hour round trip
on the Flamsbana (train) up the mountain to Myrdal which was very scenic and we had a stop to see the magnificent Kjosfossen
waterfall on the way and back. The trip cost about $75 each which was very reasonable considering a 250ml bottle of water from
the cafe cost $5.
The railway museum in the the dock area was interesting but apart from that there were only souvenir shops, one cafe selling
espresso coffee and a couple of icecream vans. Flam seemed to be a stop for cruise ships which didn’t seem to be too popular
with some of the locals by the sign we saw on the plastic wrapped bales of hay with “no cruise ships” written on them.

Norway has such an abundance of water – fjords,lakes, waterfalls and rivers. On some of the mountain tourist routes there was still a lot of unmelted snow and ice. Cows, sheep, goats and horses appear to roam freely in many places which made for cautious driving especially in some of the older darker tunnels where in one we found three sheep huddled together.

Most businesses and shops seem to work Monday to Friday 9-5pm and even most of the cafes in the towns were closed on Sunday even in peak tourist season.

The camping places didn’t seem to open until 11am but worked later until 10pm. A lot of the the service stations only had a self service facility. The price of diesel was a hefty $2.35 a litre. Prices in Norway we found pretty steep.
Coffee or an ice cream are $5-$6 and a small pastry could be up to $10. At the camping site near Bergen they wanted $20 forone day’s internet which we declined as that didn’t guarantee good access.

To catch the ferry for a trip along the narrowest fjord the following day we walked a few metres to the small dock area in
Undredal and switched on a light which flashes to let the local ferry know to stop and pick us up. The ferry started from Flam to Gudvangen and the round trip took about three hours depending on how many stops it had to make at the few small villages along the fjord. The Naeroyfjorden was spectacular with steep rising mountains on either side.
The local ferry had a loudspeaker to give us points of interest on the way in six different languages. The cost was about $70 per person round trip and well worth it.

Our friends in Norway recommended we take a route over the mountains “the snow mountain road” down to near Laerdal and we were glad they did as it was a spectacular drive with patches of snow that had not turned completely to ice, dripping into many
areas to form lakes. In some places the snow looked like sand on a beach.

We drove on to Fodnes and took the ferry to Manheller which only took 15 minutes and from there to Sogndal to spend a couple of nights there at the camping site at the base of the fjord. The camping sites along the fjords have the most ideal positions.

The ferry services from every side of the fjord were excellent and we didn’t have to wait more than 15minutes at any of the ports. The longest services only took 20minutes and some only 5minutes. The camping site at Kjornes was ideal being only 1 kilometre from the town of Sogndal.

We found a small cafe (the only one open on Sunday) run by an Italian and his Norwegian girlfriend. They had only been open
for five weeks and served excellent coffee. The Italian had come to Norway 18months previously as he could find no work in Italy.

Another day we spent driving along a national tourist route along the Lusterfjord to Turtagro with spectacular views along
another mountain road. We felt as though we were on top of the world. We stopped on the fjord in Marifjora where I had stayed
in 1989 which was a small town with a lovely hotel called the Torvis.

Our Norwegian friend Olaf ordered good weather for and he kept his word because for our entire stay in Norway we were blessed with hot, sunny days with temperatures of 26-30 degrees even in Bergen which is normally renowned for constant rainy days.

We decided to drive up to the National park in Nigardsbreen to see a glacier. A small boat took us across to within half
an hours walk of the glacier face. There were many guides to accompany people onto the glacier if you wanted to walk
or hike on the ice but we didn’t feel the need to do that and the glacier was a spectacular sight from it’s base anyway.

Back to Sogndal for a coffee and some supplies and then we travelled the length of the Sognfjord driving up and over the
snow road instead of the driving through the longest tunnel of 24 kilometres. There was luckily very little traffic along the
way. There were no camping sites close to Lavik so we took a ferry to Oppedal and drove to an idyllic spot nearby in Brekke
with a new camping site “Botnen” which was still partly under contruction. It was 26degrees at 6pm when we arrived.
It was really wonderful to have good weather as the fjords and mountain scenery were so much more spectacular with blue skies
and sun.

The drive the next morning to Bergen took us through the most tunnels we had encountered. The best camping site was about an
hour by bus and light rail away from Bergen but it was a relaxing ride after being in the van for many days and cost about $20
each for a return journey. It was 1989 when I had last been to Bergen and I had forgotten how beautiful the old hanseatic
city was with it’s large harbour, beautifully manicured gardens, rows of colourful wooden houses in Bryggen and the fish market at the harbour’s edge. We found some good small cafes and interesting narrow streets with a lot of street art on the walls.
Once again when we veered off the main tourist drag we were on our own. We spent the afternoon and early evening wandering the treets and getting our bearings.

We planned our trip to Norway and didn’t realise that the tall ship’s race to Esbjorg from Bergen was from the 24-27th July
with an expected 500,000 people and over 70 tall ships and over 3,000 crew. We therefore got up early on the 23rd when some of the ships were due to arrive and made our way to town and up to the Floibanen (funicular)and travelled up to the top of the mountain to see the amazing view of the picturesque city and a couple of the ships sailing into the port. We were fortunate to start off early as the queue for the funicular was very long by the time we came back down again.

The Russian ship the “Kruzenstern” was the largest and second to arrive and we went on board to see the ship which had a complement
of 186 sailors of which 120 were cadets. It made the Leeuwin on which we used to sail look tiny. There were lots of tourists
wandering around the harbour and through the fishmarket and the atmosphere was lively. There was a lot of seafood for sale, fresh and cooked but was very expensive. The giant crab with it’s enormous claws was over $100 a kilo.
We stopped at a bench and had our pre-prepared sandwiches instead. We treated ourselves to a good coffee once or twice a day and most cafes had good free wifi. I had bought some fresh salmon the day before and we had a meal of that in the van.

I took so many photos of the fjords, the mountains and rivers but it really was impossible to capture the majesty of the scenery in a photo but that didn’t stop me!

We found a lot of people of all ages quite obese and we thought that the cheaper junk food on offer may also be to blame. There
was the usual McDonalds and Burger King with their special offers of burgers, chips and drinks and we saw so many people walking
along carrying cans of coke. So many women in particular also did not flatter themselves with the clothes they wore which seems to be a pattern in most countries.

We left Bergen on the 23rd July and the drive to our next stop was via a long and winding road to the next ferry.
We crossed the Hardangerfjord in bright sunshine towards an 11 kilometre tunnel. When we exited the tunnel into the town of Odda it was to cloud and rain for a couple of hours as We drove along another snow mountain road with spectacular waterfalls on both sides of the road. Many of the old houses there had grass roofs and some even with trees growing from them.
The temperature got down to 14 degrees and then by the time we readched the town of Roldal it had risen again to 28degrees.
The next morning we drove the 4 1/2 hours to our friends in Arendal.

Arendal is a very picturesque town and it was lovely to see our friends again there. It was 2years since we had been there and that was without Van Mauriceson. The house is on a small island is in a lovely position on the edge of a forest. We spent two relaxing days there and went on a couple of short walks around the northern and southern tip of the island and had a great fish meal and evening in Arendal
town. The weather knew we were leaving Norway for as we left Kristiansand on the 27th July to catch the ferry to Hirtshals in Denmark. It was raining and cooler again.

Travelling in Europe is a challenge when choosing clothes or rather keeping Summer and Winter clothes out at the same time not like at home in Australia where you pack your winter clothes away until the following winter and the same applies for Summer clothes!

We will return one day to Norway to explore some more of their extraordinarily beautiful country.

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