Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen

We dragged ourselves away from the marina with the promise of another of the world’s great bridges. This time the Great Belt Bridge, linking Fyn to Zealand, really two bridges linked in the middle – the box girder bridge is 4 miles long, followed by the suspension bridge which is just over 5 miles.

It is one of the most incredible structures we have been on, which is just as well as the toll was a wee bit more than planned. We are under the 6 metres for the cheapest class, but the lady spotted the bikes on the back which pushed us over and another £12 so £35, still worth it though if you are bridge addicts like us.

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Great Belt Bridge

We pulled off at yet another marina and were really impressed as they did meals on wheels – a delicious pasta and a tasty curry were both delivered – gratis :). Or maybe it was the very kind, Tracy and Dave from Deal (small world syndrome – Tracy knows my god-daughter). A very entertaining evening with them and Thomas and Lisa from Sweden, putting the world gently to rights and swapping tales of places been and seen.

Much as we thought of staying to see if more leftovers were coming our way we moved on to Copenhagen. Not on our list to see, but there is a campsite in the city centre, plus we needed to drive through the city to get to Sweden so why not.

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A city of giant Lego

We started our tour around the city with the river bus – excited like two giddy kippers we were. Running from side to side taking photos, whilst the backs of my legs turned redder by the second, its been baking weather all week. Just £2.50 each for the complete river bus tour up and down the city which lasted just over an hour.

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Iain synced with the river bus perfectly 🙂

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Danish David!

The next day we headed for the old town and time to tick off some of the must see and do. The Little Mermaid, obviously, along with a couple of hundred cruise boat tours. I will join with the general consensus of every person there “it’s loads smaller than you think it will be”.  The brave and the good climb down onto the rocks to get a photo, if not any photo will include the “selfie sticks” of a couple of hundred tourists.

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She needs no tag – beautiful 

The main must do had to be having a Carlsberg on Nyhaven in the old town. Nyhaven is the iconic Danish view, the old harbour buildings are painted in Tobermory colours, the canal runs through the centre and is lined with stunning house-boats and the quays are lined with restaurants and bars. It is without a doubt a massive tourist trap but it’s none the worse for it, postcard pretty and the place to catch the massive canal ferries that take from 120+ on trips around the city.

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For us, one of the camera shutter moments of life when nothing could be more perfect was our beer at Nyhavn- the scenery, the sunshine, the cold beer – ok the price of £4 for a half pint maybe could have been improved upon but it was ‘probably the best beer in the world’ that we will have 🙂

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Carlsberg on  Nyhaven

There must be enough to see and do to spend a week in Copenhagen and we only briefly touched the on most of it. The Royal Palaces, the churches, the canals and rivers all deserve a few days. We both loved Frederiks church, known as the Marble church it’s rococo architecture forms the focal point of the Frederikstadn district. Inside hundreds of people were sat in the pews in silence, looking upwards to the 31 metres span domed ceiling, the largest dome in Scandinavia and possibly one of the most beautifully painted.

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The Marble Church

We did have lunch in the old city, our top tip if you are going to try the Famous Royal Smushi cafe as we did – eat well before you go! The tiniest, one forkful of ‘smushi’ each and one bottle of coke between us was £14. Tasty but didn’t touch the sides – it’s not a cheap city even if it is one of the most beautiful.

Our last stop was the Amalienborg, winter home of the Danish Royal family. Not just one but four identical palaces facing each other around a courtyard. Not sure how the Royal’s go about flitting from one to the other with a million tourists wandering through, not gated off like most palaces you could wander right up to the front doors. Each palace was guarded by a lone sentry, a hot and unhappy looking four fellas who suffered many. many photos being taken – mine included.

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Smile it’s another tourist camera

With the city temperature gauges showing 34 / 94 degrees it was too hot to do much more and we gave in by mid afternoon. Back at camp we met up with some fellow travellers -known to us as the Woolly Wanderers. Shaun and Jude, plus three adorable poodles have been traveling around Europe for a year too and we have followed their blog weekly, brilliant to meet up at last and discuss the many highs of a year out in a motorhome, including hearing about their exploits travelling through Russia a few months ago. A great evening to finish up wonderful couple of weeks in Denmark – next stop Sweden.

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 Nyhavn – again

Fahr’n und fun on the autobahn

The German border passed us by but we didn’t actually see it. Straight through onto the famous autobahn, truth be told we don’t yet get the fuss! Our second experience and we were still under-whelmed, thinking it similar to the M62. Mostly two lane, reasonable road surface, plenty of road-works. The occasional nutter passes by at 130 something per hour but other than that we are missing where the excitement is – for us the Dutch have better motorways.

Our next stop was Cuxhaven for a night before catching the ferry up the coast and avoiding Hamburg. Our first real experience of the Stellplatz – the German answer to campsite aires, upwards of 90 pitches, and  looking very much like a car-park. We went through a painful process of  registering with Frauline Unhelpful, two forms / 15 minutes cost us €5.60 tourist tax, then the meter wanted €10, plus €2 electric to Herr Elektrische, €1 shower and even 50 cents for the loo – it all seemed a bit chaotic and there was us expecting it to be very German and very organised – not a bit. It actually cost us more to stay there than on a campsite – not one of our better choices of overnight stop.

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You meet the best people on a roundabout

Cuxhaven, most famous as the exit point for millions of German emigrants is now more known as a holiday resort. It felt very like being in Eastbourne, according to Iain, a 12 km promenade lined with private beaches, shops, cafes and hotels and lots and lots of retired people.  Very few younger people or family groups, possibly still a bit out of season but the attractions seemed more directed to the older generation. It was busy, very busy,  possibly the most people we have come across anywhere on our travels.

We were both very taken with the German alternative to deckchairs – Strandkorb – a two seat affair, for a couple of Euro you receive a key to remove the little picket fence. The seat tips back, the awning comes down and hey presto you have your own mini cabana on the North Sea. Once we saw them in Cuxhaven we saw them pretty much everywhere, even a couple seemingly abandoned on the dykes.  P1120154

Cuxhaven Cobanna beach

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The best deck-chair ever?

After seeing all that Cuxhven had to offer we looked up details of the ferry times – to find it no longer runs!! Bit of a bugger and there is a moral in there somewhere. Alternative was the shorter crossing at Elbe. It took 100 km off our journey but we had to wait nearly 2 hours as the ferry queue stretched back over a mile. My German severely let us down when I ‘heard’ the ferryman ask for €70, when in fact he wanted €17 – thankfully an honest German ferryman :).

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in 600 metres take the ferry (or get very wet!!)

For the last few days we have been keeping very much to rural Germany. A couple of days on the coast staying on a wind-surfers campsite, to one side the dyke and the Wattenmeer,  to the other a large lake with crowds of German wind-surfers taking advantage of the gale force winds.  We were welcomed in to what seemed to be a bit of a makeshift set up, charged a few Euro and given a free cup of coffee.  Miles from anywhere we attempted a walk on the dyke but it was way to windy, so we made do with learning the art of wind-surfing from the warmth of our van.

Saturday morning we were up and away before 7.30am! Iain felt the need to see the day fully so we took the quiet roads North, within an hour we happened across Tonning, where we promptly stopped and pitched up overlooking the river. It’s a small village with a historic harbour on the edge of the River Eider just a few miles in from the North Sea. A new one on us here is the apparently popular ‘ring jousting’ tournaments. Twenty or so blokes on horses riding along a narrow stretch of park trying to lance metal rings suspended in the air. It may sound a bit dull, but was actually quite entertaining.

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The only shop open was a bakery where we bought the last of the days bread. We then needed a cart to carry it home. Not due to the quantity, we bought half a loaf, more due to it being heavier than a brick, whilst its very tasty it is surely the densest bread known to man. 

North Germany to us feels very similar to Norfolk (language and bread weight aside). Very flat, lots of waterways, mostly thatched houses, antique shops in every old house and plenty of evidence of some well to do inhabitants. The people are friendly, if a little more reserved than most countries we have visited. Possibly here it was due to my putting the proverbial towel out – staking our claim to the washing machine for several hours yesterday to do over two weeks worth of washing!

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Norfolk meets Germany

Today we cycled out to coast to see the Eider Barrage, the largest coastal defence in Germany. Built following the floods of the 1960’s the barrage is now a popular tourist attraction with two nature reserves, a couple of cafes and cycle paths galore around parks and coast.  On the two ends of the barrage a small colony of Arctic Terns have established breeding grounds, we were fortunate to witness the parents feeding chicks from just a few feet away, brilliant to see – pretty disgusting smell though.

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The Eider Barrage

Arctic Terns

Moving on up

We are back at the sea again 🙂 not sure we have ever been away from the sea so long before. Quick update – it’s Day 193, driven 8000 miles, stocks are low on Marmite and Tetley tea but other than that we are not wanting for anything. Our budget is holding out amazingly well – we have some expensive countries to come but we are massively under forecast so all looks good. The sink has not leaked a drop since the second fixing, all other running repairs are holding out. So over all – everything is very rosey in our garden :).  Added to which photos of these little beauties appeared in our email inbox this week – loving the mini-me Baxterbus (thanks Rickster).

Despite agreeing to head for the Hill of Crosses we changed plan and went for Klaipeda so we could visit the Curonian Spit. Once a part of Germany and then incorporated into Lithuania by the Russians the city of Klaipeda is most famous for gigantic shipyards, dockyards and fishing ports. The docks were like something from 1950’s Britain, cranes working hard unloading dozens of container ships and warehouses all still in use. Most freight must move on railways as we have never seen so many lines all with train after train hauling massive lines of wagons – we counted 60-80 wagons behind most trains.

A big percentage of the city still speak Russian as a first language as the city was re-populated by Russians after the USSR took control and expelled the Germans. As the city is built along the coast it’s reasonably easy to negotiate – you can head either North or South – no arguments on navigation for us then!  We didn’t go too far into the city centre but the bits we did see had lots of open spaces, parks and some very beautiful old buildings – added to which were some pretty gruesome 1950’s apartment blocks which kind of spoiled the aesthetics.

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Lithuanian unification monument, 1923 – in the centre of Klaipeda

Our campsite was a good few miles out of the city, seemed good but we were unsure when Group 3 Security started patrolling on the hour every hour – maybe it was meant to make us feel secure, it didn’t it made us wonder why we needed a dedicated security vehicle! In the night we heard what sounded like gunshots! it was probably something to do with the freight train lines behind the site but late at night with shot after shot it was a little daunting to say the very least.

Rather than drive over to the Spit we planned to take the bikes, according to receptionist there was a cycle path along the coast to the city and down to the ferry. What she meant was there will be one day 😦 We followed the map and it actually had us carrying our bikes over railway line – no not on a crossing, just picking them up and crossing over four lines where massive freight trains were ambling along. Plenty of cyclists, walkers and joggers doing the same – seems to be the norm here to walk on the lines.

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Checking the map before we risk life and limb on the tracks

The ferry over to the Curonian Spit took less than five minutes it was like a speedboat, bikes were free and we paid 40 cents each return – bit of a bargain. Once over there the best way to describe it was think Liverpool (Klaipeda) and the Wirral (Curonian Spit). Pathways galore through woods and along beautiful beaches, very old wooden houses and a fair few tourist attractions including the new Dolphinarium being built. Very scenic and incredibly windy, the wind whistles along there at a rapid rate of knots, great for riding with it, horrendous coming back.

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  The Curonian Spit from the ferry

Whilst the spit is over 98 km long – its ends back in Kaliningrad – we didn’t go that mad – just a few miles to the furthest point North on the spit we could go before it was fenced off for safety, possibly to prevent us being blown into the sea. Very mixed H&S here – risk of injury by a train deemed less than drowning falling off a 40 ft wide path into the sea. However, it may be that it’s less likely people will end up in the sea as there were several signs denoting “No falling into the sea”.

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Whilst there is supposedly a very trendy and wealthy resort on the Spit at Nida, we instead went 50 km North to the resort of Sventoji, accordingly to local tourist information the ‘poor man’s resort’. If it is then it really is none the worse for it, very charming and old-fashioned resort being dragged kicking and screaming into the current century. Everywhere there are wooden holiday shacks, some must be over 60 years old and standing by the skin of their teeth, others slightly newer but all built in the style of your garden shed with a few extra windows. The beach is mile after mile of white sand stretching as far as we could see. Nothing on the beach in terms of tourist cafes, shops, parasols – oh except a wooden sauna, closed for the day but open for the summer season!

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The only building on the beach for miles – The Sauna!

Hidden away in the sand dunes was a sculpture called the ‘Fisherman’s daughters’, unlike most of the many sculptures we have seen that are post 1989 this one was dated 1980. Awaiting the return of their father from a fishing trip they were joined by  a tiny person (ok, the sculptures are 4 metres high). As with many sights in Lithuania there is nothing to point out they are there, you either come across them or you don’t.  Tourist literature is very much aimed at locals as it is only in Lithuanian, then again we have seen a couple of German and Dutch registered vehicles and nothing else so possibly they don’t have a great number of foreign tourists here.

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We are pitched up in someone’s back garden here for £8 a night, a few metres from the beach and have decided to stay a few days. Sventoji is at the end of the so-called “Amber Road” which runs up the coast from Klaipeda. The next resort back down the coast, Palanga, advertises a stack of amber shops and museums so weather permitting we are cycling there tomorrow to see if we can pick up an amber bargain or two.

Once we leave here it’s a week on Cold War attractions – Plokstine Nuclear Missile Base and the abandoned Russian secret military town of Karosta – thrilling stuff! However, our route has changed again and the Hill of Crosses is back on the itinerary so there is good to come too.

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 Sunny but windy on the beach at Sventoji

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 We left our mark 

Trouble at t’ mill

The main attraction of the Brezno area for us was  its proximity to the Low Tatras mountains, we didn’t plan to climb the mountains but instead climb the hills behind the site and view the mountains. We may as well have gone for the mountain, the climb up was vertical for over 30 minutes, it was a very hot day and possibly our lack of fitness contributed in making it one hell of a hike. One of those fun outings when no conversation takes place, just looks that say “who’s stupid idea was this”. Saving energy by not talking we did make the top – the views to the mountains took away most, but not all, of the pain. On one side the Low Tatras and on the other across the valley to Brezno and beyond.

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Low Tatras mountains

We walked along the ridge following the ‘blue walk’, we had a basic map and there were signs painted on trees and rocks. It was guaranteed these signs would stop – and they did. We continued for a few miles and actually found the route on the map back down through the villages and meadows. The village of Rohanza is another that time forgot, the houses come from picture books, the people takes things slowly and it feels a million miles from civilization. Yet the main town of Brezno is just over 6 km away and there is a train service through the village. There is a lot of building work going on, mainly new houses all in the traditional Slovak style. Three hours and just over 10km later, fairly proud of the effort and totally knackered we retired back to the van for an afternoon.

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Route back via the valley

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Rohanza shabby chic des’ res’

It’s safe to say the nearby town of Brezno is not at all on the tourist trail. We used the local bus service and took the ‘wait till everyone else gets off’ approach and found ourselves in the town square. It could have been the rain, but for the first time we felt it was a little bit black and white, Eastern bloc and in need of some colour. The majority of people wore tracksuits and shell suits, the women wore these with incredibly high stiletto shoes – seriously 4-5 inch sandals with socks and jogging bottoms, the men went for the builders bum look with tracksuit bottoms as low as they dared.

We went to a cafe ordered coffee and then asked for a panini, as advertised on the wall, the woman basically said no you can go to the hotel next door if you want food! There were lots of gypsies around, they lived in shacks on the edge of town, houses without roofs or just a few sheets of corrugated iron bodged together.  It all felt like we thought an Eastern Bloc country would feel, that’s the first time we have come across it. Our day out in Brezno came to an early end as we tried to find the bus stop we neeed to get home, not a hope. We got on and off at least three buses being told it was the wrong one, so we gave up and treated ourselves to a taxi.

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 Martin Razus – politician, writer, priest, all round good Brezno chap

Later on a peaceful afternoon was somewhat spoiled by the latest van problem – water gushing out from under the cooker – no not the sink the cooker! Basically everything was very wet, including Iain (he was actually wet and very annoyed as he had his head in the cupboard under the cooker with water pouring all over him). Iain can best describe all the technical stuff, so here is his contribution to the Blog, written whilst he was wet, cold and way annoyed with everything 🙂

Me thinks the trails and tribulations of travelling across 2 countries (Bulgaria, Romania) and one not much better (Hungary) – with what must be the worst roads in Europe (AND they charge extortionate tolls to use ’em what’s more!!), are now beginning to take their toll on the campervan. The kitchen sink waste has worked loose and dripped copious amounts of waste water over the insulation and cabling to the oven unit, the kitchen sink combo tap is now split and leaking in three places, one of the fresh water feed pipes, again to the kitchen sink, is happily spewing MORE water over the oven unit, which in turn has now shorted out and blown a fuse feeding both the oven and hob units ignition circuits. Fuse replaced, ignition still not working.Pulled everything apart last night to sort out the leaks (as I thought) (over 3 hours of cursing & swearing), only to find out tonight that the ignition circuit has gone off again and there is still a water leak somewhere.

More cursing expected from about 10am tomorrow morning! Add to this the loo door is working loose and merrily jamming frequently.  The loo cassette dismounted itself from its fixing bracket a couple of days ago, and disemboweled itself all over the dedicated cupboard (fortunately the cupboard is sealed from the rest of the van!!!)Interior led light strip has thrown a wobbler and is annoyingly flashing away quite merrily.At least I’m fairly handy with a screwdriver, pliers, mop & bucket, multimeter and, if all else fails, a bloody big hammer! Happy days, happy holidays, happy life. Like the boss keeps telling me, you’re a long time dead. ENJOY THE ALTERNATIVE;-)

I think this adequately demonstrates Iain was just a bit pee’d off with the situation? to the degree of looking for a new van on the internet 🙂 . The scenario was made better by assistance from Dion who owned the campsite, a man after my own heart – if it doesn’t work spray it with WD40 and leave it 10 minutes. That actually worked – for half an hour, worth the try though.

Anyway, not being able to face another day of leaks and sour looks we agreed to go to Poland. It seems the sensible plan to be in the country known for DIY, builders and fixing stuff. Plus, if all else fails, there is a motorhome service and repair shop in the centre of Krakow so we have a fail-safe back up to get the van glued and screwed back to how it should be.

The last few weeks have felt a little bit “if it’s Tuesday this must be Belgium” as we have skipped through the Balkans, Hungary and Slovakia, even though we only drive every third or fourth day the change of country name gives the impression of moving faster than we would like.  We intend to slow even further for the next few weeks as we intend to take at least three weeks to potter through Poland, through choice or just to prevent more bits falling off 🙂

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Bright and breezy this morning we pointed the van North and set coordinates for the polish border. Our original plan had always been Zakopane for a few nights, reading up last night I kept coming across reviews that said it a very busy village, queues for the chair lifts and more tourist shops than Skegness. With that in mind we took the Western route around the High Tatras via Poprad and the E50 motorway. Incredibly good road, and we were on the edge of the Tatras for lunch, as we climbed snow started falling and has done so on and off ever since. Not sticking too much and melting in between showers so we hope no panic, in the last half an hour its got a bit wilder – its not all sunshine and picnics this motorhome lark 😦 .

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We are pitched up on a campsite 50 metres over the border at Niedzica. On the border crossing – not a soul, just a shed and the sign was the smallest country sign to date. There is a castle on a lake, a hydro electric plant and a few cable cars up into the mountains here, our plan is to stay for a few days and see the sights whilst trying to do some repairs on the Explora before she collapses into a total heap.

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Get ready, get set…………..

After 12 months of talking about it at last, we are ready for the off! The van is packed to the gills and we have a plan of sorts, a big map book and we think everything else will fall into place as we go, so tomorrow morning our Grand Tour of Europe commences (destination exotic Brentwood!).

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The packing went well, everything we want to take fits, and as long as it fits somewhere I don’t really mind where that is. Iain has built some rather ingenious cupboard spaces in what was previously wasted gaps; such as in the outside locker above our loo (for the non campervanners – no the toilet is inside but there is a locker outside to take it out and empty it) we have a 12 month supply of toilet chemical, not glamorous but essential as now we don’t have to worry about how to translate a request for “blue stuff to stop the toilet smelling” in several languages. I have managed to fit all my clothes into a small cupboard, which is about the size of a hand luggage suitcase, how on earth that will last me a year I don’t know but on the upside it will take away a lot of the decisions on ‘what to wear’.

We are now on winter tyres, our awning is fixed, we have glued or screwed down any wobbly bits in the van (except for Iain) and its polished to within an inch of it’s life. All the essentials are onboard – decent coffee, Tetley tea, Marmite, Weetabix, Bovril, ginger biscuits and shampoo. Other than that we agreed on taking essentials only : walking gear, bikes, a tool kit, a kite (?), Kindle, camera and enough medications to keep a small country fit and well.

Our route could be termed very fluid – we have drawn it on a map in pencil so it’s flexible! The plan, as of today, is head as far South as we can for some sun then go North for several months, then home via the middle bit 🙂 . We appreciate that as plans go it’s probably only slightly better than those of mice, but at least we know which direction to turn when we arrive in Calais so we feel confident with that being covered! The first and most obvious question everyone asks us is how far will we get? No idea, we would like to think we will cover several countries every couple of months but we don’t want to rush, less maybe more.

The budget is very much set and this is neither vague nor flexible. We have a fixed sum to live on each week, if we overspend then we are going to be home much sooner than 12 months. We set the amount by adding up what we can afford – saying “that sounds like a fair amount” and dividing it by twelve, so obviously that is going to be the exact amount required!

We will post here as and when we can find a free wifi connection which should be reasonably regularly we hope. So all that’s left is curry night a la Bate then tomorrow morning the big adventure starts 🙂

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