From Bad to Worse, with Some Fun Times In Between

Wednesday, 2nd of October – Friday, 4th of October

Day Sixty-Four – Day Sixty-Six: Prague (Czech Republic)

We woke up to a very rainy Wednesday morning. So instead of rushing out to see Prague as we had intended, we had a slow morning making and eating breakfast before getting ready to see the city. We took a bus into the centre, which was around 40 minutes away, and went into the heart of rainy Prague.

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It was beautiful, but the rain was pretty heavy and spirit dampening, so we decided to head indoors to a pub, and the closest one we could find was an absinthe bar.

On Thursday, we went out for a bit more exploring, seeing the castle from a distance, walking across the footbridge and seeing the Lennon wall.

We met up with my friend, David, who lives in Prague at the national theatre at around 6pm and the beer crawl began! We had such a great night, one of the best on the trip, sampling different beers in many bars around Prague talking about work, history, music, football, British humour, TV, beer and a lot more. It’s safe to say Prague at night is great fun and Czech beer is good!

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Saturday, 5th of October

Day Sixty-Seven: Prague (Czech Republic) – Krakow (Poland)
Oh, wait, no… Prague (Czech Republic) – Hranice (Czech Republic)

So, feeling good from a nice stay and catch up with David in Prague, we were on our way for another catch up with one of my close friends from Erasmus, Natalia, who lives in Krakow, Poland. So we packed up and jumped in our van. We booked what we thought would be our last Airbnb of the trip. It had parking and most importantly – it had a washing machine! We had planned to wash all our clothes and bedding in the van, give it a real good clean out and then get ourselves back into van life, heading towards Vienna in Austria, Budapest in Hungary, exploring the beautiful lakes and waterfalls in Slovenia and then finally reaching the beautiful beaches in Croatia!!!

Or so we hoped.

Both of us were full of energy and excited talking about all the things we could do in Slovenia and Croatia as we were blasting (well more like trundling at 50mph) down the motorway when suddenly the van started vibrating like crazy. I laughed and told Reece to drive on the road and not on the rumbler.

He said he wasn’t even on the rumbler.

Oh, right, “well I’m sure it’s just the road”, I said, anxiously glancing over to the car overtaking us on the left which seemed to be gliding across the road perfectly smoothly.

BANG!

Okay, that wasn’t the road. I slammed on the button for the hazards as Reece brought Papya the Bongo to a halt on the hard shoulder. Something had fallen off, and it sounded pretty big. We both got out into the pouring rain and luckily the big chunk of metal that had dropped off the van had rolled onto the hard shoulder. It was a big chunky part and now a dented part. It looked pretty important. Oh no, “Do you think this is it?” Reece said.
No, “we don’t necessarily need a van to travel!” I replied, half-jokingly.

But we did need a van to get us to Krakow. Instead, we stuck on the side of the road in the pouring rain with a van who had part of itself lying on the road next to it.

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It wasn’t the best situation.

BUT, thankfully, we did take out European breakdown cover for this trip, and we had a phone signal and even 4G. Honestly, I have no idea what would have happened if we didn’t have these, it was hard enough to arrange anything even with these luxuries.

I quickly jumped up the step of the van, rummaged through the roof bag to find the breakdown kit, we only had one hi-vis jacket and a warning triangle, so we put the triangle out and decided to share the high vis between us depending on who was making a trip to the van. I also grabbed my hat and scarf which had also been hiding up in the roof bag, some thick socks and just hoped we would be picked up before too long as it was freezing cold and raining. We called our breakdown company. They told us to call their European partners. The European partners didn’t answer.

An hour later…

Still no news. Still no answer or call back. We keep calling our UK breakdown, who apparently can’t do anything.

Another hour…

We finally got in touch with the European Assistance. They were going to send someone out to pick us up. Or so we thought.

Another hour…

A Skoda Octavia arrives. An estate car. That wasn’t exactly going to tow our van, even if it is a tiny camper!

The mechanic got out the car, picked up the big chunk of metal that fell off our van, laughed, took pictures of it and finally invited us to sit in the warm car for 5 minutes before kicking us back out and saying a colleague would be back in an hour with a tow truck.

Five minutes later we got a text from him saying no truck was coming, we had to call the UK breakdown again.

Back to square one. By this time, we were getting desperate. We were soaked to the skin, freezing cold and it was misty and dark because of the looming clouds. Yet another forty-minutes passed with frantic calls to both the UK and European breakdown companies.

Now, our battery had also gone flat from leaving the hazards on as we were advised, so there was no way out of here. We decided to jump-start the car battery from the leisure battery in case we had to try to get to the next town before the night started to draw in. It worked.

We called the breakdown to say we had to go. We were getting scared. Not only were we getting colder and colder, but it was also starting to get dark. We just wanted their approval to try to crawl the van the six-minutes down the motorway to the next town. Otherwise, it would be a thirty-five-minute walk straight down the motorway and an exit road with just one high-vis between us. Finally, they said they had managed to arrange a tow truck and it would be there in twenty minutes. We left the engine running just in case.

The tow truck came, and at its wheel was one of the most unprofessional people I have met. We understood there was a language barrier, but we were armed with Google translate. But he was a young lad, completely uninterested and unsympathetic that we had just been stood on the side of the road in the rain for the past five hours. He didn’t ask what transmission the van was, well he didn’t ask anything actually, just attached some electric system to pull it onto the truck without doing anything to the gears. It didn’t work. Reece suggested maybe it needed the handbrake to be taken off and be put into neutral or drive rather than park as it was automatic? Oh yeah, maybe… Eventually, the van got onto the truck and was secured, though I’m not sure how well.

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There were three seats in the cab, one of them was taken up by his girlfriend, which for some reason he had decided to bring along on the job, so that meant we had nowhere to sit. He didn’t seem bothered by this and just got in the driver’s seat. When we asked where we go, he shrugged his shoulders. I honestly thought he was going to just leave us there once again. Reece and I decided the only option we had was to get in our van on top of the tow truck. This was easier said than done, but we managed.

Worst. Car. Ride. Ever. If we weren’t being swung round corners swearing the van was going to just plop off the side with us in it, or fall off the back from his accelerating, we were definitely gonna die when his girlfriend nearly took away his ability to drive when she thought it would be great idea to lie over the steering wheel for a cuddle whilst he was towing a car. Oh no, wait, it was the time he went on his phone probably to text his mate and check some reviews on Google not looking at the road at all, maybe THAT was the most terrifying moment. Anyway, as you’ve probably guessed, we made it to the depot alive. Well, I say depot, it was this guy’s back garden with a few ‘Global Assitant’ tow trucks in it and some smashed up cars. Whatever, I was relieved to be off the tow truck and on land. Papaya came off the tow truck, the guy called us a taxi, told us he would take us there in his truck, so we hurriedly got together a small bag of clothes and jumped in the truck. On the way there, some of his mates were blocking the road. They were messing around putting on sirens and flashing blue lights and laughing at each other. Omg, where on earth had we just left our van. Looking back it was pretty funny, but at the time we were mad and shocked at the complete incompetence of the entire ordeal. We were left at a bus shelter. The taxi arrived and it turns out we were just a five-minute drive away from a town with hotels and restaurants. So the taxi took us to the nearest hotel and we called our insurance to see what to do next, five hours after we originally broke down.

Our breakdown insurance/cover is supposed to put us up in a hotel with breakfast and arrange a rental car and any taxis we need. But that didn’t happen and this is where the ‘pay and claim’ saga began, where we pay for everything and just hope we can claim it back. But right then, we booked two nights in this hotel in Hranice and as soon as we got into the room, we were still freezing cold so we turned the radiators on to the highest setting and just sat in front of them. It was what we had been dreaming of the whole day. The heat was sooooo nice. After a hot shower, we realised that we were actually really hungry, and they had a Vietnamese restaurant downstairs, so we ate some lovely Pad Thai and fried bananas for dinner. After such a crazy day, we slept well.

Sunday, 6th of October – Tuesday, 8th of October

Day Sixty-Eight – Day Seventy: Hranice (Czech Republic) – Ostrava (Czech Republic)

It turned out Hranice was a pretty nice place. It has nice buildings, a quaint little square, nice little restaurants, sports bars and very cheap beer, 90p a pint! But it just wasn’t where we wanted to be.

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So Monday came around, we were hoping to get answers.

By this time, I had been chatting to people on the Mazda Bongo and Vanlife groups on Facebook, as well as contacting different Bongo specialists by email to see which part had actually fallen off. It turned out it was part of the rear prop shaft. Just a £75 part and a thirty-minute job. Thank goodness. Or so we thought. The thing is, it’s a Mazda Bongo, and in this situation, that’s an issue as it’s an unusual van. And this particular part is specific to Bongos.

There was a lot of miscommunication and some confusion. We thought our van was still at the depot. The insurance was telling us they couldn’t find a garage to even LOOK at our van for another ten-days. We needed to get to the van to get some possessions. We didn’t even know where the van was, and no one could sort out a rental car for us, so we were pretty stuck.

It turns out Papaya had been moved to a Mazda dealer forty-minutes away, so on Tuesday, we got a taxi there. Totally different story. They had looked at the van, they knew exactly what was wrong and had even taken the broken part off, they just couldn’t source the rear prop shaft. Luckily, I could. But first of all, we had to weigh up our options. The insurance said if a part couldn’t be sourced by the garage, we did have the option to get Papaya sent home, and we could continue our travels on foot. But it was just a £75 part, and the garage was going to charge just £15 to fit it. We decided to go ahead and order it. It would just be a six-day wait to have it delivered and fitted. We could even go to Krakow on the bus for a few days to make the wait a little easier. Things were looking up.

Wednesday, 9th of October

Day Seventy-One: Ostrava (Czech Republic) – Krakow (Poland)

Yes, finally! It had been delayed twice now with the hospital stay and then the breakdown but we were on our way to Krakow, one of my favourite European cities and home to my lovely Polish friend, Natalia. We hopped on a bus at 15:30 and got there around 19:00. Unfortunately, it was raining the whole evening on the 9th of October, but it was nice to see the old buildings lit up in the dark reflecting in the shiny cobbled pave stones, even if it did make us a bit cold, wet and miserable. We also ate some pierogi, which was very tasty and if you go to Poland, you have to try it.

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Day Seventy-Two: Krakow (Poland)

We had planned to go out around lunctime to see some more of Krakow before meeting up with Natalia, but the apartment was lovely, so lovely we stayed there until 17:00, oops… It had Netflix on the TV and a hob so we could finally cook!

But by the time we’d showered and got ready to go out, it was time to meet up with Natalia! We met her by the Eros Bendato head in the main square of Krakow.

We headed straight to Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter, and a vibrant and quirky district of Krakow. We began by going to a really cool vodka place, Wiśnioffka, where they distil their own vodkas and make very tasty cherry vodka which we had a couple of glasses of on their suspended tables, chatting about anything and everything.

Then, it was time for some €1 shots! You can find these €1 shots, well more like shooters, and wine and beer at Pijalnia. There’s a few around Krakow since it’s a chain, and although it doesn’t have the prettiest decor, it has a pretty cool vibe and is a great place to get some tasty shots. I had Kokosanka, a really tasty coconut and cream shooter, and Chupa Chups, which tastes like the lolly, but with a sprinkle of pepper on top for a twist.

Afterwards, we went to Alchemia (aka Narnia, because you walk through a wardrobe to get to the other room and it’s all magically lit by just candles and they have the best wheat beer ever!) We spent a long time there with the conversations getting deeper and the beers going down very nicely.

Then, it was of course time to get a zapiekanka from the street vendor! Which is like a pizza on a very long baguette (or an open faced sandwhich) with an array of different toppings and sauces. We walked with our zapiekankas to the beautiful Bernatek bridge, which looks amazing all lit up in the evening with the Olympic sculptures eerily strung up in the air.

We had planned to go back to Natalia’s apartment to meet her boyfriend and pick up our parcel which Natalia had been taking care of for us the last few weeks, but it had gotten so late so quickly, so we decided to just meet up tomorrow.

Day Seventy-Three: Krakow (Poland)

So on the Friday, we did actually get up and go out exploring the city. We wandered around the main square, into the market, around the multi-coloured cathedral and then we headed towards the castle, climbed all the stairs and took in the beautiful view of Krakow. We then looked in the cathedral on top of the hill which was beautifully ornate inside and then into the courtyard of the Wawel castle before heading down and into Kazimierz.

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We were hoping to get a coffee at Cheder in Kazimierz, but we accidentally arrived at luntime so we couldn’t get a seat, which is a shame as the coffee there is traditionally Jewish and absolutely amazing. Hopefully, I will be able to take Reece there next time… We walked around the Jewish quarter for a little while, taking in all the old, almost untouched buildings of the ghettos.

After this, we went to meet Natalia at work, who had been looking after a parcel for us that my mum had sent over from England with some chocolate, food and things for the van. Goodbyes aren’t the nicest, but I’m sure we’ll see each other again soon!

Saturday, 12th of October

Day Seventy-Four – Seventy-Five: Krakow (Poland) – Ostrava (Czech Republic)

After getting up, making pancakes, watching more Netflix and cleaning the apartment, we headed back to the bus station. We had to get the bus back to Ostrava, a bus that happened to be delayed by two hours. Just our luck!

We had a pretty nice night in a hotel, with breakfast being delivered to our room. But I don’t know whether we’re just in the wrong part of Ostrava, but we can’t seem to find much to do here. It just seems to be very tall buildings, wide lanes and lots of cars kicking out fumes, unsmiling people and cheap beer which seems to be drunk at all hours in the day.

Day Seventy-Six: Ostrava (Czech Republic)

Monday rolled around, the day we were going to pick Papaya up!

But the part hadn’t arrived, so we had to wait until tomorrow.

Day Seventy-Seven – Seventy-Eight: Ostrava (Czech Republic)

Tuesday rolled around, the day we were going to pick Papaya up!

But Papaya’s alternator was lying on the floor in reception. Uh-oh. Not good.

The prop-shaft had been fitted, no problem, just £15.

The week prior, we asked for the battery to be replaced as it kept going flat. At the time they said Papaya didn’t need a new battery. They must have explored the battery issue and found out it was the alternator that had blown, that’s why our leisure battery hadn’t been charging and why the car battery was going flat. They had sourced us a new alternator, but it was very very pricey.

For some reason, it was ordered before we even agreed to it, so now we have no choice but to pay the 11,000 Czech korunas (or £400) for this new alternator. If we’d known before, we would have definitely got the van sent home when we had the choice. Now that choice has been taken away from us and we’re still stuck. Luckily, we’ve finally, after a lot of searching, found a hotel that has a small kitchenette so we can keep our costs down with cooking. Though at least we have been stuck in a place that is very cheap to eat out (approximately £3.50 each for a dish), we have missed being able to cook!

Day Seventy-Nine: Ostrava (Czech Republic)

So, that brings us to today, Thursday the 17th of October. Exactly eleven weeks into our trip.

We’ve had two weeks unexpectedly spent in Berlin for my surgery and £500 on unexpected Airbnb’s whilst I recovered.

Now, two weeks unexpectedly spent in Ostrava for the van breakdown and £500 on unexpected bills for Papaya to get fixed.

But I guess it’s all just an adventure, and I’m sure it will all turn out okay in the end. We’re so lucky to even be able to do this trip, and difficult times were always expected, but maybe not quite so crazy. Our plans have changed and we’re no longer able to go to Greece, but we still plan to see some of Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, France, Spain and Portugal. Now, we’re looking into partaking in Workaways so we can stretch our time out on the road a little longer by working on some eco projects and house builds in exchange for all our meals and accommodation.

But we will see where this next stretch of our journey takes us…

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Emergency Surgery in Germany

Friday, 13th of September

Day Forty-Four – Forty-Seven: Gdansk (Poland)

As we had found a really good spot in Gdansk which seemed relatively safe, very close to the centre and had access to toilets and showers in the daytime, we decided to stay there a couple of nights at least. However, after booking a massage – since we both had been endlessly achy – for Monday afternoon on Saturday, we actually ended up staying for 4 nights until Tuesday morning.

The city was really nice, quite small, but this meant that everything was in close proximity. And best of all, it was cheap! For a meal for two in a restaurant, it would cost us around €10 with drinks! Unfortunately, I still wasn’t very well with what I thought at the time was acid stomach pains, so I was still being careful with what I ate and drank.

During these four days, we walked around a lot, taking in all the grand buildings and also ate in a few different restaurants whilst the prices were low. We were even lucky enough to have good weather during our time in Gdansk, and quiet nights where we slept well. Although one night we did stay in a hostel as I felt so ill, the next night we were back in the van!

Day Forty-Eight: Gdansk (Poland) – Hel (Poland)

The night in Hel was true to its name.

As we drove up the road on the thin, long piece of land stretching out from northern Poland, the heavens opened, and we were submerged in rain once again. We managed to find a parking spot on a concrete port surrounded by the sea and boats, and an apparently derelict (well, probably just out of season) campsite with caravans stretching as far as the eye could see. We parked up, set up really quickly as it was still pouring it down, deciding to leave the roof down but swivel the passenger seat as we would need to have comfort inside the van as we definitely weren’t going out. Well, that was until I needed the loo so me and Reece went out to face the crazy wind, rain and hail storm that was stirring up. When we got back, we were absolutely sodden, so we decided to get changed and cook some food to make the van a little warmer. Easier said than done when you have two people in such a small space, but we managed.

As we settled down for the night, the winds picked up even more, and it felt like we were trying to sleep on one of the boats docked next to us. The van was being pushed to and fro by the strong winds. It honestly felt like it was going to fall on its side at times. The ships outside were rattling and banging. And the wind was howling past the boats’ masts and the few trees that were surrounded us. All the ground outside the van had turned into a huge puddle from the downfall, so we just stayed put and tried to sleep.

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Day Forty-Nine: Hel – Slowinski National Park – Hotel (West Pomeranian District, Poland)

In the morning, after a pretty bad night’s sleep, the sunshine showed its face and from our van, we could see windsurfers in the sea. All the puddles from the night before had cleared it up and the air was less bitter. It was almost if the storm of the night before hadn’t happened. I can imagine that in the summer Hel is a fantastic place, it had the vibe of a really cool little surfer town. But unfortunately, it didn’t seem to be built for winter, and when we did finally emerge from the van, everything appeared to be closed.

After walking a little closer to the beach, which seemed to stretch across the side of the entire outlet of land, we did find a little café serving food and coffee. After a pancake for breakfast and a walk on the very windy, but beautiful white sand beach, we headed back to the van and onto Slowinski National Park.

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By this point, as his hair was annoying him so much getting in his face all the time with all the crouched down tasks of van life, Reece and I had made a deal about the sand dunes at Slowinski National Park. Reece had agreed that he would let me take some pictures of him with his luscious locks (which I had grown rather attached to), but afterwards, I had to cut it all off!

It was the first day where I felt really good. I had barely any pain and we went for a three-hour trek to the sand dunes through some pine forests which I managed perfectly fine. The fresh air and walking felt really good after spending so long in the city. The sand dunes were really impressive, all pale white sand, with that fab squishy texture underfoot which leaves a slight concave where you had just stepped. So, after taking some photos and trying to slide down a few dunes (we both just fell over at this attempt), we headed back and got some ice cream on the way.

As we drove off, I felt good and I was ready for a night in the van, but Reece decided that he wanted to get a hotel so we could use a shower and maybe cut his hair, plus it was so cheap we may as well. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. As we got to the hotel, I still felt pretty good and had no trouble helping unload the van and getting settled in at the hotel, which was actually a venue hotel, quite similar to where I worked before starting the trip, which hosts private dinners, conferences and weddings, amongst other events. The room we got given was huge, with two bedrooms, a seating area and a large bathroom. We were hoping to get food at the hotel, but they seemed to be setting up for a big event, so we just found a restaurant in the town next door and ate some Thai food, which was nowhere near as good any Thai food I’ve had previously, but we were hungry so we ate it all the same.

When we got back to the hotel, that is where it all started. At first, I had similar stomach pains to what I had had before, across my ribs, but I had also developed a sort of cold sweat at the same time. As I sat, the pain only got worse and spread across my whole stomach. Still, I wanted to stick to my side of the bargain and cut Reece’s hair for him, so I got out all the bobbles, lined them for each section. But before I could even finish that, I started to feel awful, and just lay curled up in a ball on the sofa, with the cold sweat making me feel horrible. I decided that a shower might help, and whilst I was in there, I felt almost normal. But within a few minutes of coming out, I was again doubled over with the pain in my stomach. I tried my best to ignore it, trying to watch a YouTube video with Reece, but I fell asleep for around 30 minutes. And that’s when I became incredibly sick. I thought it must be food poisoning, what else could cause such acute pain in the stomach and sickness?

But as it continued throughout the whole night and I could not even keep water down, I got more worried. Plus, Reece felt absolutely fine and we had eaten the same thing, but I could just be more sensitive. The pain got even worse and it seemed to settle itself at the bottom of my stomach. Sleep came in fits. Nothing seemed to ease the pain.

We were ten minutes away from Germany, so I looked into the different options, GP in Poland, GP in Germany, Hospital near the border, Hospital near Berlin. I narrowed it down considering language barriers and the acuteness of the pain. Near Berlin, which was just an hour away, there were two large state hospitals and a GP within 30 minutes of one another. As soon as we had some light, as driving in the dark was pretty terrifying in a different country with bad headlights and no streetlights, I wanted to head towards there.

Friday, 20th of September

Day Fifty: Hotel (West Pomeranian District, Poland) – Immanuel Hospital Bernau (Germany)

The pain had gotten so unbearable, the idea of going to the GP had left my mind, I knew that I needed a hospital. Luckily, because I had done the research the night before, I just went with the one closest state hospital in Berlin.

As soon as the sun started to rise, around 6 am, I woke Reece up and we quickly packed everything away into the van and left. We were slightly worried that we wouldn’t be able to get out of the hotel as there was no staff around at all, but thank goodness all the doors we came across were unlocked, so we could make a quick getaway!

We drove as the sun rose around us, and we reached the hospital at around 8 am. After parking up just outside and going into different building asking for accident and emergency, we finally found a+e. When we got to the a+e reception, no one understood us, so we got sent to the main reception, who simply sent us back to a+e reception, who seemed to point us towards the exit and say ‘phone’. After trying this three times with no ‘phone’ to be seen, we got pretty frantic and made it clear we didn’t understand at all. Soon, one of the receptionists came back with someone who spoke English, and she took us straight through to the office of an a+e nurse, which was in the direction of where we had been pointed before, but we didn’t grasp what the receptionists meant. After explaining my symptoms and handing over my EHIC and insurance documents, I got taken to a private room with a bed where I saw a doctor within the hour, had my bloods taken and an ultrasound done, which showed something ominous around my appendix. Uh-oh. At the time I wasn’t too worried, this had happened to me once before and at that time the doctors had concluded it was some sort of stomach infection, which went away with a course of antibiotics. So after being sent around the hospital to get an array of different tests and somehow being ‘lost’ by the a+e doctors even though we had been sat in the a+e waiting area for hours and hours…

Finally, we were ‘found’, after going to the receptionist and doctor’s office (just a few feet away from where we sat) a few times to see what was happening. So, 8 hours after we came to the hospital, we got the blood test results, which were inconclusive but showed infection. I was booked in for an MRI scan. After a bit more waiting, I had the MRI. After around 20 minutes, I was given a little CD with my scan results on there and I was told to now wait for the doctor. Thinking I had to show the doctor my CD before anything else happened, I was quite surprised when a student nurse, who had been helping us throughout the day, with broken English told me to follow her and I was presented with a hospital bed. I was told to undress and put a gown on. Assuming that they just wanted to keep an eye on me overnight, I asked if I could just wear my own clothes, but when I was met with a ‘no’, I got pretty worried. Plus, who really wants to put on one the most unflatering piece of clothing ever made? I asked what was happening, but she couldn’t tell me anything. She said a doctor had to tell me. But there was no doctor. I asked if they had the MRI results, which they did. I got even more worried. What an earth had the MRI came up with that I had to be rushed onto a bed just 30 minutes after having it?

After what felt like FOREVER, the doctor arrived and said I was being prepped for surgery. WHAT? She was surprised and said, ‘The MRI shows that you have appendicitis, did nobody tell you?’ No.

I was pretty scared about going into surgery but very relieved that it was nothing more serious. The doctor said I had around 40 minutes before I went in, so I could call who I wanted and sign a few forms. I asked all the questions I could think of:

‘Is it general anaesthetic?’

‘How long will I be in hospital?’

‘Can I see Reece afterwards?’

‘Is it keyhole surgery?’

‘This is definitely a state hospital, right?’

Feeling a little more at ease until the student nurse said, ‘I hope your insurance covers it!’ And suddenly the 40 minutes was more like 15 and I had to sign a million pages of paperwork which were mostly in German, whilst having a brief phone call with my mum letting her know I was heading into theatre (like, right now!) with the pen still in my hand probably signing my life away.

After the phone call with my mum and saying, ‘see you later’ to Reece, I felt a lot better as I was wheeled along the corridors into theatre and even better when a lovely lady came in and said ‘Ah English, no problem!’ amongst the jumble of hurried words I could not understand.

It was the anaesthetist and she explained that she had actually worked and studied in Cardiff for a few years, and her English, like so many Germans I have met, was flawless.

She told me that we were in Eastern Berlin, so most people learnt Russian as a second language in school, not English, which is why there was more of a language barrier.

She explained to me exactly was going to happen and translated everything the surgeon was saying and I felt so much better about the whole thing that by the time I had the sedative which made me feel like I had had quite a few glasses of wine, pretty much all my worries had disappeared.

After the surgery, I had no idea what was going on. All the worries came flooding back. I had a bag of blood hanging next to me and the pain was tremendous. The nurse who was with me didn’t speak any English and I didn’t know whether the surgery had gone well or not. I had heard before that some patients don’t even stay in hospital after an appendectomy, so I was pretty concerned that maybe it hadn’t gone to plan as I felt so awful. I managed to communicate that I wanted my phone. I don’t really remember exactly how that happened as I was so out of it. All I knew is I wanted my phone and some water as my throat was so sore and dry. My phone appeared in my hand; it was almost out of battery. I was denied water.

I managed to message my mum and Reece, apparently quite coherently, and I received the good news from Reece over text that the surgery had in fact gone well. I still had no idea why I had a bag of my blood sitting next to me, but I figured at that point it probably was part of the surgery and that it wasn’t abnormal for a ‘minor’ keyhole appendectomy. I remember at some point seeing a doctor I had chatted to in a+e, I don’t remember what I asked, but I got a smile and a thumbs-up, so my mind was settled further.

I got pretty upset when Reece messaged me saying that he might not be able to visit until the morning, the doctors had said that I needed ‘some time’ after coming out of the general anaesthetic, but I had been told that he would be in the ‘station’/ward when I came out of theatre. I just wanted my familiar in all the unfamiliar.

Reece finally was allowed to come up to the ward about an hour and a half after I got there. I still wasn’t very with it, but it was so nice to have him there. Somehow, a charger floated over to me in the hands of a nurse, I must have asked for one, but I don’t really know when or how. The pain was bad, but I felt better after seeing Reece and knowing I had some way of contacting the outside world. I managed to drift off into sleep.

Day Fifty-One to Fifty-Five: Immanuel Hospital Bernau

I ended up staying in the hospital for five days.

The pain straight after the surgery did surprise me, for some reason I expected the pain to be a lot less than the night before, but it wasn’t any less, just different. I couldn’t even go from lying to sitting in the morning which was pretty horrid. But the second day after surgery, I was able to just about get up on my own. The third day I was finally allowed to eat proper food (I had been on a potato and chocolate soup diet, which was really not good) and that seemed to help my strength a lot. On the same day I had the drainage bag on my wound removed and the pain lessened hugely! On the fourth day, I thought I was going home, but I had to stay one more night as my blood results weren’t quite right. I was managing to walk a bit around the hospital now and shower, yay!

In the end, I was very much ready to leave as constantly being woken up to more needles and more drips and being in bed all day was not my favourite pastime, although I am very grateful for the amazing care that I received at the hospital.

On the fifth day, they let me out!

Wednesday, 25th of September

Day Fifty-Six – Sixty Three: Hospital – Oder-Spree (Berlin, Germany)

When I got released, I was pretty happy and ready to get to the bungalow we had booked, which was around 30 minutes away from the hospital. But, in Reece’s apprehension to get me out of hospital, he had left the van’s headlights on, and Papaya was dead!

Feeling pretty deflated, we considered our options: call the breakdown company, ask someone in the car park to jump-start us or try to jump start ourselves with the leisure battery.

We tried to jump-start the van ourselves, although since we had a pretty rubbish leisure battery, cheap jump start wires from eBay and a teeny tiny car battery – we weren’t at all hopeful. But nonetheless, we connected everything up and waited for 20 minutes.

Reece turned the key. She was back!!! It had actually worked.

The bungalow we had booked was lovely, with a nice, modern kitchen, underfloor heating and the possibility of some countryside walks – and super friendly hosts! It was the perfect place to recover, and although at the start of our stay there, I was still pretty weak and in pain, but by the end I felt sooo much better and could manage a 30-minute walk outside and pottering about the bungalow with no issues.

The time arrived where I had to hold up my end of the bargain and cut Reece’s hair off. As his hair was so long, we found out that it was possible to donate it, so I followed the instructions on the Little Princess Trust’s website and banded his hair up carefully and cut each section off separately. So, at least the hair that I was pretty sad about cutting off will be going to a good cause.

Shaving it into a flat mohawk before it all came off!

The only real concern now is we have no idea how much the surgery and hospital stay cost us, or whether the travel insurance will cover it, but the invoice is going to my home address, so I guess we’ll worry about that when it arrives!

Tuesday, 1st of October

Day Sixty-Three: Oder-Spree (Berlin, Germany) – Prague (Czech Republic)

It was time to get back on the road and head to our next destination – Prague.

After some debate as to whether we should spend a night in Dresden before Prague to make the day a little easier for me, we decided to just plough ahead and get to Prague, we were in need of some sunshine sometime soon anyway, and the next Airbnb was only three and a half hours away!

The drive went smoothly, and as we reached the Czech Republic, it was nice to see mountains once again. We reached the apartment, which was a lovely ground floor apartment with a garden, at around 6pm and decided to spend the night in since it was the longest day I had done since surgery. We made some fresh pasta and sauce and just chilled out before heading to bed. We were looking forward to seeing Prague in the morning!

On the next blog, I will write about our time in the beautiful city of Prague and our next disaster, which happened just 10 days after I got discharged from the hospital… I guess it’s all an adventure though, and hopefully, we can continue as normal very soon.

Week Six: Baltic Cities and Quaint Towns

Day Thirty-Seven (6th of September): Pärnu County (Estonia) – Riga (Latvia)

After a shaky nights sleep, due to the dripping of the rain on the forest floor sounding like footsteps, we awoke to beautiful sunshine once again. I woke up with some extra energy, so I decided to go for a run, and luckily for me, there was a trail all the way around the lake with the lovely soft ground underfoot. I only got some of the way around, but I felt so much better having actually done that.

I had a bit of article writing to do when I came back, so I got on with that on the chair outside, until I got too cold and decided it was time to get Reece up so we could move on to Riga, the capital of Latvia.

The drive there wasn’t the most pleasant, with the roads being unusually structured (sort of a huge hard shoulder on either side and then single lanes for each direction of traffic), which meant if you drive inside the actual lane – like most places – it is likely that you will be driven off the lane by overtaking oncoming traffic, or even bullied out the lane by those wanting to overtake behind us. So, the road etiquette seems to be to simply straddle the hard-shoulder and normal lane and hope that the lorries don’t scrape the side of the van! Though some came worryingly close… Once we arrived at the parking spot for the night, after getting slightly lost in the ridiculously trafficky city, we were pretty happy. There were a few other campers, and the restaurant we were parked next to had pleasant toilets and free hot showers!!!

Not wanting to wait around any longer, we wandered into the centre of Riga. After nearly getting run over a few times by the crazy drivers who seem to think it’s okay to drive through a red light when people are trying to cross over the pedestrian crossings, we found a lovely park, with a river running all the way through, quaint bridges and water features. We were pleasantly surprised and spent a while walking round in the gorgeous sunshine before heading into the old town.

The old town was lovely, with cobblestones and beautiful buildings stretching across a large plot of land. The best thing – there was no roads or crazy drivers! We found a bar to grab a pint and make plans for our next stretch towards Poland and also find somewhere to get some dinner.

By recommendation from the waitress, we went to a place called Ava for dinner. As we walked down into the basement with crates and beer barrels covering the stairs and hallway, we were a little apprehensive, but as we reached the actual restaurant, it exceeded our expectations. It turned out to be a super-cool underground place, lit by candles and some low lighting at the bar. Unusually for the Baltic countries, whose food generally consists of potatoes and meat, they had a good selection of vegetarian meals. I had a dish with pumpkin, pulses, veg, some gorgeous seasoning and lots and lots of garlic. I was very happy! Reece not so much with the amount of garlic my food consisted… But we both enjoyed the food and also the interesting beer they had on offer, ginger and hemp was the one I went for.

Feeling good after a great meal and nice walk, we watched some Netflix and were just about to fall asleep… that was when the club, well more a gazebo on a pier (no bricks and mortar to muffle the sound) began playing music. Very, very, very loud. And with an incredible amount of bass. So much bass the van shook. Oh, but this wasn’t the usual kind of club that closes at the acceptable hours of 3 am. Oh no, they went on blasting music out until 5.30 in the morning…

Day Thirty-Eight: Riga (Latvia) – Kurėnai (Lithuania)

Somehow, we managed to get some sleep through all the noise, but I can’t say either of us felt refreshed when we woke. However, I must say, having a hot shower in the morning made it worth the bad night’s sleep.

After our morning’s bowl of muesli with fruit, oat milk and soygurt, we went back into the old town for the 12 o’clock free walking tour, which took us away from the old town, which we were pretty disappointed about, but we still got to see some interesting parts of Riga, such as their huge marketplace, the science academy (originally built by the Soviet Union) and the suburb of Moscow, which is home to the memorials of all those who were victims of the ghettos and burnt synagogues of the second world war. It felt like a city still very much in mourning of their dark past.

After the tour, we got a snack, jumped in the van and left for Lithuania. Now, every time we pull up at traffic lights or services, the smell of fresh diesel is so strong and when we drive off, we always leave a puddle of diesel behind. So the diesel leak is definitely a problem that we need to get fixed sooner rather than later! It’s just a case of finding a garage who can understand the problem, understand the van (which is the Japanese import with a mid-engine) and not charge us a fortune for the work.

Since there were barely any places on park4night, we just slept in a restaurant car park opposite a service station.

Day Thirty-Nine: Kurėnai (Lithuania) – Vilnius (Lithuania)

Waking up after both having a good night’s sleep was a nice feeling, we had a pretty early start cleaning the van and eating muesli, then we left for Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, which was just an hour’s drive away from where we had parked for the night.

The drive there was pretty frustrating as a lot of the roads around the city centre were closed, so we couldn’t get to the place we had wanted to park. This left us with little options – go back into the centre and face the crazy traffic and hope to find a space or park outside a funeral parlour which some people had recommended on park4night. As we were sick of the traffic, we chose the latter.

Walking into the centre was really nice, we had parked near a place called Užupio Res Publika, which, although we didn’t know it at the time, is classed as a different country. It is sort of like Christiana in Denmark, but more integrated and they do follow the law, but the area is very artistic and quirky, with prayer flags, sculptures, rustic grand pianos left outside and interesting rules for their republic.

As we continued into the centre, we could see the main square was bustling with people and tents, and we soon realised that we had just walked into the Vilnius marathon! Which also made sense of why all the roads were closed in the way in.

At half three, after having a fallafel wrap and watching the runners, we went on a walking tour around the city. It had quite a familiar history to the other Baltic cities we’d been to, and quite a sad one with the Soviet deportations and Nazi invasion. But the city had rebuilt itself, and it was beautiful!

After the tour, we went for a beer and dinner with a German lady called Christina who met on the tour. The dinner was unusual, consisting of a cold, creamy beetroot soup which you dip boiled potatoes in. Afterwards, Reece had a potato rottie with curd and I had potato pancakes with raspberry jam and curd. It was very tasty, but incredibly stodgy. Unfortunately for me, my stomach does not like stodge.

Day Forty: Vilnius (Lithuania) – Varėna (Lithuania)

We had planned to stay another night in Vilnius, but I woke up feeling pretty terrible, incredibly weak, faint and dizzy with an awful burning feeling all the way across my ribs. It’s a feeling I often get after eating too much rich and stodgey foods, and it certainly isn’t a pleasant one.

Although it got slightly better throughout the day and another pleasant walk around the old town, it was the first time I really couldn’t bear the thought of putting in all the effort to cook in the van, or even sleep in the roasting heat with the pop-top down again, which makes it feel 100° warmer than it actually is. So instead, we looked for Airbnb’s around where we were and found a few that were actually the same prices as campsites in Lithuania, so I chose one that was around an hour closer to the Polish border (which is where we’re heading next) and had parking outside for Papaya to stay close to us as well!

The apartment was very homely, and nice and spacious with a hammock on the balcony. We spent the the rest of the evening relaxing, cooking and sleeping!

Day Forty-One: Varėna (Lithuania)

In Varėna, we simply had a relaxing day. Enjoying the hammock, the huge squishy sofa and the Wi-Fi.

In the evening, we did go for a walk around the area which was noted for its beauty on the airbnb ad., and got lost in the pine forest for quite a while (thank goodness for phone GPS), but luckily we hadn’t wandered too far away.

I was so excited about having an oven for the evening, we made a huge lasagne with lots of roasted vegetables and garlic bread on the side.

Day Forty-Two: Varėna (Lithuania) – Augustow (Poland)

Still not feeling great, we re-packed the van with all the fridge and cupboard stuff and the fresh laundry we had managed to do in the airbnb and set off to Poland. Interestingly, the van seems to have stopped leaking. It’s probably not a good thing, maybe some dirt got stuck in there, but it’s nice not to smell diesel all the time. We are still planning on getting it fixed when I’m better.

We had planned to drive a couple of hours, but the pain got too much and I just wanted to lie down, so I found a parking spot near a hotel and we went there so I could have a nap in the back of the van.

After the pain had eased a little, we went for a walk around the town, and it was gorgeous! It seemed like we had stumbled on a holiday town, just during the wrong season. There was a beautiful river with willow trees lining the sides, and cobbles all around the pretty little town.

After a walk, we went to find some dinner and, thanks to Google, found a cute little Italian restaurant just 10 minutes away from our van. I treated myself to some very plain garlic pasta and a half pint, whilst Reece had a creamy spinach pasta with two pints and the bill came to just £10 for everything!

Day Forty-Three: Augustow- Mikolajki

We left Augustow, having had another walk around and a green tea and strange berry sorbet for breakfast, and we were aiming to get a little bit closer to Gdańsk. After driving for about an hour and a half, I noticed that where we’d stopped for lunch (lovely boiled rice) was just 10 minutes away from a town that my lovely Polish friend, Natalia, had recommended to me. So we looked for a place to sleep and went there.

Again, it was a lovely little old town with just a few restaurants, but this place seemed a little more bustling, even at the start of Autumn.

We explored the town a little more and eventually went for some dinner overlooking the harbour and watched the sunset, which was really lovely.

Apologies for the late posting of this blog, the stomach thing has taken it out of me and I’m still struggling with it. Fingers crossed tomorrow will be the day it goes!

We’re currently in Gdańsk now and it’s lovely, such a grand city. We’ve been here two nights and tomorrow we’ll be leaving and driving to Hel! That is a place in Northern Poland, not the undrworld ruled by Satan… So on the next blog I will pick up from Gdańsk as it’s definitely a place worth writing about.

Our selfie near the wheel we’re parked near in Gdańsk.

Week Five: From Lapland to the City

Day Thirty (30th of August): Vatungin – Marjoniemi Camping (Pyhajarvi)

Hannah and I (Hannah is too busy writing other articles to do the blog this week) have been very much enjoying the surprisingly warm and dry spell we’ve been graced with over the last 4/5 days, but this was no more. I awoke to the rain belting down onto the pop-top, and to an unamused looking Hannah who had just been rained off from her Seaview, article writing set up she had created. “So this is Finland”.

The mood slightly improved after we decided to skip breakfast and hit the road to look for somewhere less soggy; when we discovered that diesel was actually around 30p a litre cheaper in Finland than it had been in Sweden. It improved even more so when we stopped at the services and found reasonably priced coffee, pizza (yes, for breakfast) and a lovely older Finnish lady that wanted to talk all about what northern Finland had to offer, from wild moose roaming around on the streets surrounding to bear and wolverine watching in the forest! We had sadly missed the viewing season as summer is very much on the way out now, so that opportunity wasn’t an option this time.

As I was driving, Hannah found a nice little spot to camp around about an hour away from the services, right on the beach of a lake and a seemingly perfect spot. As we arrived all appeared to be in order, though the crystal clear Norwegian lakes had nothing to worry about; this one had a slightly rusty look to it… But that wasn’t an issue, we set up camp and as the day was still young we decided to make use of the improved weather and get our boots on, and set off for a walk.

We got back to camp and relaxed outside, but it wasn’t long until we realised that the spot we’d chosen was a little more bug friendly that we were comfortable with. It felt like there was creepy crawlies falling from the sky, literally. After a few screams and headbangs, we decided we didn’t feel welcome anymore and wanted to find somewhere with a few more luxuries. That would mean a campsite.

Hannah continued the drive south towards Helsinki as I looked for camping spots. We were in need of doing some laundry and hot showers were essential, but finding that en route and out of season was a bit more of a challenge than I expected. I finally found a place about an hour and a quarter away and it was perfect, even having kitchen facilities. When we arrived we were told it was the last weekend of the holiday season and would be closing down until next summer. They were having a few bands playing over the next couple of nights, as well as a big bonfire and fireworks.

Although a little tired, we quickly found a spot and went out to watch the band. Although we didn’t understand any of what this Finnish rock band were saying, they were very good! The locals were loving it too, and were taking the dancefloor by storm in their couples, but oddly enough there was less air guitar, and a lot more ballroom dancing. It was brilliant to watch. We learnt more about the Finnish culture when we got talking to nice local who picked up on our English at the bar, he told us that in the winter it wouldn’t be uncommon to reach -30°C here. Also, saunas and day to day life go very much hand in hand, and after a few beers we got invited to drink whiskey and experience a proper Finnish sauna for our selves. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been to a sauna after a few drinks before, but I felt like the idea of using the sauna regularly would be something I could really buy into.

Day Thirty-One: Marjoniemi Camping (Pyhajarvi)

Hannah and I had a lot to do today, mainly reorganise the van and get things washed. It was decided that we should stay another night in the campsite as we had been putting off rectifying a lot of niggling annoyances we’ve encountered in day to day life, and this should be the day to do them.

We had also found a leak, assumed to be an oil leak. We mentioned it in passing to the Finn we met the night before, and fortunately said he and his Father-in-law liked to ‘fix up’ cars in their spare time, and would happily take a look to try and work out what the problem was. They came round to our van about midday and gave it a real good look over, and it wasn’t long before they found the problem. Not an oil leak, but a leak from the fuel lines. We weren’t sure if this was good news or bad, but it meant we were going to need a mechanic sooner or later. It was nice to know the engine was not the problem, and decided to keep an eye on the leak until we find a well respected garage to take it to.

After a productive day, we decided to make use of the brilliant campsite facilities, and cooked in a real kitchen! Everything is more difficult in a van, especially cooking and washing up. This was luxury.

Day Thirty-Two: Kirri

It was time to hit the road. Yesterday was the first day we didn’t make any progress on the journey, so today we would drive a couple of hours south, getting closer to Helsinki. Spending so much time on the road, we see plenty of service stations. So far, Finland has definitely got the best! It’s a nice place to be, it’s clean, friendly, they do real food cooked by real chefs, and if you’re really hungry then you can dive into the buffet! Throw in some singing bathrooms and reasonably priced coffee, you have the Finnish service station.

We got down to Kirri while it was still sunny and decided that this would be a good place to spend the night. It was next to a big lake and had beautiful walking trails all around it. After a short walk, we decided to make dinner and have a movie night.

Day Thirty-Three: Kirri – Helsinki

After sleeping in a little later than we had planned we said to hell with breakfast and just had a coffee, it was closer to lunch anyway. We were heading to Helsinki, which was just a little over 3 hours away. Excited to see the capital and to get out of the Nordic countries, which were proving increasingly unviable for our finances, we booked the Ferry to Estonia for the following night. This gave us the rest of the evening and most of the next day to see Helsinki.

Hannah had found a carpark on the outskirts of Helsinki that had great reviews on our camping app, it was free day and night and when we got there it was nice to see some more self built and rustic looking campervans with the same idea. It was a just a short bus trip into the city centre and by late afternoon we arrived in the city.

It was drizzling as we stepped foot in the capital for the first time but we couldn’t complain too much given the amount of sun we had seen since arriving in Finland. We were quite hungry and cheap eats in the city were few and far between. After looking in a few menus and being taken aback by the prices, we got desperate and settled upon a cheap and convenient fast food restaurant. By the time we finished our meals, the drizzle had turned into a torrential downpour, prompting us to use our initiative and log into the WiFi, another luxury we don’t often have access to. I downloaded some podcasts to listen to for our long drives and Hannah downloaded some movies from Netflix. Data gets used up far quicker when you’re dependant on it daily for maps, music, entertainment and hot-spotting the laptop.

It finally stopped raining and we ventured out into Helsinki, it was getting dark so we decided to head to the student part of town to which was a good walk away to grab a beer. The walk gave us a chance to see the city a little better and appeared similar to some of the other big Nordic cities felt to me, clean, organised and pretty. It was a cosy bar that had a great selection of Finnish beers and wines, a nice atmosphere and a friendly pub dog top it off.

Day Thirty-Four: Helsinki – Tallinn

It was our last day in Finland and we were excited that it would be in Helsinki. We jumped off the bus and headed to the main square, stopping a few times to marvel at the architecture around us. The senate square was gorgeous, and the cathedral is one of the best I’ve seen.

We followed the street opposite the cathedral down to the Market Square were we browsed the stalls. When we were finished another cathedral caught our eye, the Uspenski cathedral.

Still wandering through the city, we came across a roof top terrace next to the harbour with a bar and seating, so we decided to have a sit down and regain ourselves while looking at the wonderful view.

Our ferry to Estonia was still a few hours away but we knew it would be docking in Tallinn close to midnight, we went back to the van happy that we had seen most of the big attractions.

The ferry was lovely, we went to the top deck to watch the sun go down and see some more of Helsinki’s shoreline.

Day Thirty-Five: Tallinn

We had no idea what Tallinn was famous for or what would be in store for us, but we were already impressed with the city from our short drive last night. The surprise only grew when we walked into the old town for the first time and couldn’t believe how amazing this place was. Ancient buildings seemed to be everywhere, and the place was bubbling with so much character.

I had seen that there was a famous free walking tour taking place three times a day in the high season (April till late September) so we decided it would be a good idea to get some context behind all the history we were looking at. It turned out to be a great idea, in our short walk around we had only scratched the surface of this tightly packed archaic city. We learnt all about its fascinating history and why so many nations wanted to invade here, as only for a brief period has it been an independent nation of its own.

After the tour, we decided to have a walk down what we now knew was called ‘Long Street’, for obvious reasons. It split into two at the oldest pub in Estonia, and the near two-hour tour had definitely worked up a thirst… We had a lovely Estonian cider and afterwards headed back to the van, we had loved Tallinn.

Thirty-Six: Tallinn to Parnu County

Eager to see spend another morning in Tallinn we got out early saw more of the city. We had somehow missed seeing a large part of the 13th-century city walls, and to see it up close was captivating. There’s even a small stretch where you can go to the top of the defence tower and walk on top of the magnificent wall.

We had a late breakfast at a famous pancake house, loving the fact that we could finally eat out and not worry about our budget too much. Satisfied from our pancakes, we had a final walk around the old town and headed back to the van. After two nights in Tallinn, it was time to move south towards Latvia!

I found a spot next to a lake just a few kilometres from the Latvian border, it was peaceful and scenic, not too much different to what we had been getting used to in Scandinavia.

Week Four: Norway to Finland

Day Twenty-Three: Glava (Sweden) – Oslo (Norway) – Gjøvik Lake (Norway)

Coming into Norway was amazing, you could feel the difference as soon as we crossed the border from Sweden. I don’t know how to explain it, Reece uttered ‘it’s like Sweden, but on steroids’, and as we’d only yet ventured around the south of Sweden where it was flat, I think that was quite a fitting description as we drove over the bulges of Norway’s land.

The views were amazing, rather than red as we had often seen in Sweden, the houses in Norway seemed to be paler colours – pastel yellow and chalky blue – and the hilly landscape meant better views across the amazing lakes and pine forests. The only problem with the hills is that Papaya the Bongo does not agree with them. With her twenty-four-year-old mechanics and automatic gearbox, the usual purr of her engine turned into an angry growl as she tried to work out which gear was best to tackle the incline. All we could think of was the expensive Swedish diesel being gobbled up by the thirsty engine, and what an earth that meant for the mechanical side of things.

Talking about diesel, we were surprised to find that Norway’s diesel was, in fact, cheaper than Swedish diesel. I had been led to believe that everything, especially fuel, was more expensive in Norway so this was a welcome surprise.

Our first stop was Oslo. I have previously been to Oslo before on a Norwegian cruise with my family, and the most memorable thing about the city was the Vigeland Sculpture, which my step-dad and I went to see and photograph in 2016. I remember the city being nice, but preferring other sea-side towns to Oslo, such as Ulvik and Kristiansund. This time around, Reece and I parked the camper in a free car park outside the city centre and walked in, which took around 40 minutes.

The walk began quite pleasantly, with beautiful views across the city and cute houses, but soon became very busy and industrial as we reached the centre. We walked around for quite a while, finding some cute streets and hoping to find somewhere to sit down and have a pint. We both knew Norway was expensive, but when I asked and found out a pint was £10/€10, it was still a shock, so instead, we continued walking. After buying some overpriced falafels, we went to look at the royal palace and then got the bus to the Vigeland Sculpture Park. Around the park, there seemed to be a bit more of a younger scene going on, with a group of teens having a rave in the sculpture park, people skating outside, older teens following guys with huge speaker systems on their backs, shop-bought beer in hand. After seeing the prices of beer even in the shops, £5 per 33cl bottle, I still have no idea how the students managed to afford anything remotely alcoholic!

After the park, we went back to the camper and set off to find somewhere to sleep for the night. We wanted to make our way further up north to see some fjords, so we drove quite a while, in the dark too, so when we reached where we were staying for the night, again found on park4night, we couldn’t see a thing, only that there were other campers and tents there, so we parked up, set up camp, and went to bed.

Day Twenty-Four: Gjøvik Lake – Lovatnet Lake – Kjenndal Glacier

As we woke, the sunlight uncovered where we had parked, and it was even more beautiful than we could have imagined. We were parked on a grassy lawn with mountains surrounding us, at the foot of the mountains was a perfectly clear lake. Wanting to take advantage of the sun, we bathed in the beautiful, albeit very cold, lake after breakfast and soaked in the sunshine afterwards, drying off our swimwear and towels.

We wanted to see a fjord today, so after watching some youtube videos, we settled on a lake called Lovatnet, which although isn’t truly a fjord as it is not an inlet of the sea, it is fresh water, but it has all the other features of a fjord as it is situated in Lodalen valley. Before the trip, Reece had said he wanted to see a glacier as, with the way climate change is going, we don’t know how long the glaciers will last. At the time, we had no idea where we would find a glacier, but as I was searching for a place to stay, the most highly recommended campervan spot appeared to be at the foot of a glacier, which happened to be attached to the Lovatnet fjord. However, I wasn’t expecting much from the glacier as none of the youtube videos had even bothered to mention it.

We both took turns to drive from Lake to Lake and the views along the way were absolutely breathtaking, with lakes and river of all different shades, icy blue, turquoise, some as green as the grass next to them, other lakes so clear they were almost mirrorlike. As we climbed up the mountain on winding roads and through the craziest dungeon-like tunnels, the weather turned, which ruined the view in some ways, but it created for the most peculiar driving I have ever done – crawling around hairpin bends and flying above and through the clouds.

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The views only got better and better as we reached Lovatnet. The weather improved, and we carried on towards the glacier. The water of Lovatnet was such a crazy colour – bright turquoise from some perspectives. This colour derives from the rock flour, or tiny peices of rock that get ground up from the constantly shifting glacier, that rest at the bottom of the lake.

As we reached the glacier, we were the only ones there, and it was absolutely stunning, with waterfalls surrounding us and the glacier suspended upon the mountain. It was such a magical place.

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Day Twenty-Five: Kjenndal Glacier – Gerirangerfjord – Storfjorden

In the morning, we went for a walk to get even closer to the glacier, luckily for us we had missed both the bus full of tourists and the downpour of rain that took place around 9am, instead we watched out our window, waited for the sun to come out, and went for a walk. We managed to get pretty close, close enough to feel how cold and clear the water was in the stream coming down most directly from the glacier and see the huge chunck of ice in even more detail.

We learnt afterwards that the glacier we had stayed under, Kjenndal, was actually a branch of the largest glacier in Europe, Jostedal Glacier, which is pretty impressive.

After visiting the glacier, we headed back up and over the mountain towards the most famous fjord in Norway, Gerirangerfjord.

On the way down the valley heading towards the glacier, all we could smell was, I assume, the brake pads burning with all the pressure of going down the hill. So rather than pushing Papaya and our nerves any further, we stopped halfway to cook up some lunch, under the watchful eye of a mama sheep and her lambs.

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As we reached the bottom, the weather had slightly improved and it was a beautiful view, but not really much compared to the breathtaking turquoise of the glacier lake at the foot of the valley that we had driven through to get to Gerirangerfjord.

One particularly impressive element of the view from the fjords was the ribbon-like road that we were about to conquer. It was very windy and very uphill. We just had our fingers crossed that Papaya could make it, as there was no alternative.

Of course, with her 2.5 litre engine, Papaya had no problem climbing up the hill and, again driving on incredibly scenic roads, we reached our destination for the night. And it was beautiful, at the foot of get another fjord, and incredibly peaceful, and very conveniently located just behind a coop which had a loo with running water. Perfect.

Day Twenty-Six: Storfjorden – Atlantic Ocean Road – Oppdal

The twenty-sixth was the first day I woke up feeling pretty homesick, I missed my puppies and my pony, van life is hard work, and moving every day is even harder, and I just wanted to nip back home for a cuddle. Nonetheless, after getting up, brushing my teeth with actual running water from the coop and having some breakfast with the blueberries we had picked with an absolutely amazing view in front of me, I felt a lot better.
Our aim for the day was to see the Atlantic Ocean Road and then head towards the border of Sweden, which is exactly what we did. The road was a bit of a detour, so it simply meant we had to go over it both ways, which was actually a blessing in disguise as going over it the first way was a little disappointing, but coming back, it was gorgeous and exactly what we had been expecting.

Image from ‘Feel the Planet’ showing the Atlantic road from an aerial view.

The roads from the Atlantic Ocean Road to Oppdal, which is where we ended up staying for the night, were amazing and the sun was beating down on us, making the views look even more glorious.

Oppdal turned out to be a ski town in the north of Norway, since it was summer it was pretty quiet, but there were a few other campers next to us in the Car park, so it served us well for the evening.

Day Twenty-Seven: Oppdal (Norway) – Alsensjön (Sweden)

After leaving the little ski-town with a coffee and pastry each in hand to fuel us for the drive, we were set on getting back to Sweden before the end of the day.

After we got past Trondheim, failing at an attempt to get free parking in the city to do our laundry as we were reluctant to get another parking ticket, so we didn’t stop; but after we got past, we found a crystal clear lake and it was so hot, we just wanted to jump in! However, this was another ‘drinking water lake’ which had a no swimming sign and some other writing in Norwegian next to this. As we were sulking on our way back to the van, disappointed that we couldn’t jump in the lake, we bumped into an older gentleman who lived in one of the houses right next to the lake, we talked for quite a while, it turned out he was a retired English teacher, and when we got talking about the lake, he told not to worry about the sign, he used it as drinking water and it was fine if the odd person went in, just not the whole of Trondheim. So he pointed us to a place where we could get in the lake without people seeing us, with a parting warning that the lake was very cold. We got there and wading into the lake was beautiful, it was peaceful and cold, but not in an unpleasant way. It was a great pit stop.

The place we found for the night was called ‘Uddens Vänner’ and it was sort of like a free campsite, with lovely mown lawns and a great view across the lake.

Day Twenty-Eight and Day Twenty-Nine: Alsensjön (Sweden) – Norsjo (Sweden) – Vatungin (Finland)

Unfortunately, for these two days, there is not too much to write about as we have been pushing on trying to get to Finland and work our way down to reach Eastern Europe as, although Scandinavia is stunningly beautiful, it is pretty cold, but most of all it is expensive. As we would like to make this trip last six-months in total, we are heading towards Eastern Europe where diesel, groceries and everyday living is a lot cheaper than Scandinavia. We have taken the driving in turns, for the first time in the trip, I am usually very happy to be in the passenger seat, and we have reached Finland now, doing around 5 or 6 hours behind the wheel to get from the Atlantic Ocean Road all the way to the top of Finland. This is also why this blog is a day late – I have either been driving or being a passenger, where I struggle to write a lot without feeling a little queasy.

Our plan is now to take things a little more steady, get to Estonia in around four or five days, and then hopefully catch some sunshine and be able to afford to do a little more as we work our way down to Croatia through Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Czechia, Slovakia, Austria and Hungary.

Last night we stayed in a nice little spot next to a port, which in the sunshine looked gorgeous, but it didn’t look so nice waking up to it in the dreary weather of this morning (30th of August), which made us even more sure of our decision to get back down south!

Week Three: Lakes, Forests and Foraging

Day Fifteen: Stora Kullhög Beach – Kivik – Karlshamn

We reached Kivik quite late on Thursday afternoon as we were enjoying staying by the beach so much. Both Reece and I really like Swedish cider, so my friend recommended the Kivik Musteri to us so we could see where one of the most popular Swedish ciders comes from. It was really interesting to see how all the cider and apple juices are made on such a huge scale, and also how the technique has changed over hundreds of years. Due to the law in Sweden where you can only buy alcohol in one store, Systembolaget (The System), we couldn’t actually purchase any cider from the brewery, so we just bought some very tasty apple juice instead.

In between the heavy downpours of rain, we had a quick look around Stenshuvuds National Park, which had some gorgeous pine trees and sweet, docile cows. After a little walk, we headed to Jenny’s house who lives just on the outskirts of Karlshamn, which was around a 2 hour drive away from the national park.

It was so lovely to be welcomed with open arms, dinner cooked for us, great conversation and cats to cuddle! We even had a bed to sleep in, which was a welcome relief from the camper, which had got pretty soggy and muddy from all the rain.

Day Sixteen: Karlshamn

After a great nights sleep, we planned to explore the area by bike as there was a huge lake around ten-minutes away by foot which we’d had a brief look at the evening before. After making breakfast and having a (hot!!) shower, we went to get on the ones and go for a ride. Unfortunately, that didn’t go quite to plan, having not ridden a bike in around eight-years, I was a little out of practice and all the bikes I’d had previously had allowed me to keep a foot on the floor whilst still being on the seat. That wasn’t the case with this one and I simply couldn’t coordinate pushing off, cycling, balancing and getting on the seat all in one go, so after a good fifteen minutes of Reece desperately trying to teach me, I gave up and decided that a cat cuddle would actually be nicer anyway.

So as Reece went off on his bike ride the heavens once again opened, so I wasn’t too upset that I was inside pottering around tidying the kitchen and sorting out our laundry, until Reece sent me a message saying that he was having the best lunch ever in a vegetarian buffet with all fresh, homemade food in the middle of a forest. I almost jumped in the van and drove there myself, but as I was deliberating, Jenny came back from work early! She’d unfortunately come back because she could feel a migraine starting, but we still had a good chat whilst Reece made his way back from the restaurant in even more rain.

Reece and I then nipped out to the centre of Karlshamn as he has never seen the little seaside city before, I had been three-years prior when I came to visit Jenny before.

After visiting Karlshamn and picking up some cava and wine from ‘The System’, we came back, watched some Stranger Things on Netflix and then me, Jenny and Reece got ready to go to the sauna, which we had planned the day before. I have only ever visited the sauna in the gym and never really understood the appeal, but I was willing to give this sauna a try as it was part of both Swedish and Finnish culture. I’m so pleased I did, it was so revitilising! We did it the proper Swedish way, nude, and it was a strange feeling getting so warm that you cannot bear it, running down some forest steps, then across a little pier, down a ladder and straight into the cool lake. And what a beautiful lake it was, clear water surrounded by an array of different trees and foliage.

We then came back, made dinner and talked ’till the early hours.

Day Seventeen: Karlshamn – Hossmo

We had a relaxed Saturday morning, sleeping and eating a delicious breakfast Jenny and her husband Roger had made for us. We then went for a walk around a little island off the port of Karlshamn, which had an unusual landscape of flat rocks, an abundance of heather and a forest. It was a really lovely walk with the chance to eat some wild blueberries and learn about the different berries and mushrooms we could safely pick and eat on any future walks in Sweden.

After the walk round the island, we packed up all our stuff, filled up our water tub and got back on the road, with a stop at the vegetarian buffet of course (which I was not at all disappointed by). We were heading towards Öland, a large island off the east coast of Sweden.

We stayed just outside the island on another beach by the sea, with quite a few other campers near us – and nice toilets!

Day Eighteen: Hossmo – Öland – Ringarum

After a morning of walking around the beach and little piers where you could go for a swim, we did some yoga on the beach before having breakfast, packing up and heading to Öland.

On the way there, we went over some really impressive bridges, which unusually were toll free. The island itself was motorhome heaven, every other car must have been a motorhome or camper, which was different to the other roads we’d been driving on in Sweden where seeing a fellow camper on the roads is far and few between. The island itself was nice, but the road that goes around the island wasn’t the most interesting, bar the really old, quirky windmills we kept passing by. We had planned to go in the castle, but it was quite expensive and it didn’t look all that impressive, so instead we followed the hiking trail that ran around it, which took us to a cute little beach and through a forest where we spotted a woodpecker.

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We wanted to get further towards Stockholm for the evening, so we we hopped in the van and drove north towards a lake we’d found on Park4Night. The drive was beautiful, past sheer rocks, forests and so many lakes. When we reached the place we were staying for the night, it looked nice, but a little dreary in the pouring rain, so we simply cooked dinner and stayed in for the evening.

Day Nineteen: Ringarum – Stockholm

We woke up to glorious sunshine, and the place reflected in the glory. The lake was stunning, with pine trees all around and, again, it was so clear, we could even see pretty big fish scuttling around near the shore. We even had our own small forest with some beautiful colours in the trees on the floor, with different mosses, leaves and heathers.

After breakfast, we went for a swim and both of us were surprised to find that the water was actually pretty warm. It felt so special to be able to swim in such an amazing place with the sun pouring down us. We spent the rest of the morning sunbathing and letting our towells dry, with the solar panel charging our electrics.

After we were dry, we went for a walk around the area. We had parked near a small lake, but there was an even bigger lake nearby, so we had a walk over to that one. The views were amazing, and it was all set up for campers with shelters, dry wood for a fire and even tables and chairs right next to the lake.

We took a walk through some fields and pretty dense forest, keeping an eye out for berries and mushrooms. To our surprise, we actually came across some chanterelles, the golden mushrooms of the forest, which are very distinct in their appearance, almost like a trumpet or a flower, which makes them pretty safe to eat as there’s not really any poisonous mushrooms that look the same. As we continued further round the lake, the views just got better and better, although the terrain did get more difficult to walk through.

As we were heading back from our walk from the lake, we picked the chanterelles and took them with us.

As we were prepping the chanterelles for lunch, a Swiss couple pulled up in their camper and we talked a little bit, and when they noticed the mushrooms, they were really eager to know where we foraged them and then set off in search of their own!

After lunch, we packed everything up and headed to Stockholm, which was around three hours away. I had found a car park we could stay overnight, so we headed towards the city.

Stockholm was huge and very built up, with high blocks of flats, but the most impressive structures were the huge bridges for the trains and trams, which towered high above us, and even the neighbouring buildings. We carefully googled the cheapest veggie food in Stockholm, which led us to a restaurant called ‘Faloumi’, which was still €9/£9 for a falafel and halloumi wrap! But as we walked round to see the average meal in a restaurant is around €18/£18 and a beer, which is their cheapest drink as usual, is €10/£10 a pint, it didn’t seem all that bad. The rest of the evening was spent simply walking into Gamla Stan, the old town, which took us around 40 minutes, so by then we fancied a sit-down and a medieval basement pub caught our eye. Since beer was off the menu in Stockholm, we simply got some non-alcoholic mead which was actually really tasty and just a fraction of the price.

Stockholm in the sunset, and a leg of one of the huge bridges!
The ‘Faloumi’ restaurant

After leaving the medieval bar, back to modern Stockholm, we realised we had walked almost an hour away from the van. The smart thing to do would have been getting the metro home, but the electric scooters were calling us, so we grabbed one each and zoomed pretty much all the way home.

Day Twenty: Stockholm – Aspen Lake (Julita)

We went back into the city in the morning, we had planned to eat breakfast in the van, but as we had been in stealth mode the night before, the van was a mess and we could barely sit down, never mind make breakfast, so we headed to Lidl to get some pastries and cold pizza to eat for breakfast and lunch, coming to a total of €5 for both of us!

The city was beautiful in the day, the sun had come out, and it was shining in all its pastel colours. Again, we headed north to the old town, we had parked our van in the south, but this time we ventured further in and it was so pretty. Cobbled stones, brightly coloured houses, spires, winding streets and large squares.

We then headed even further north, over another bridge and into the more commercial side of Stockholm. It was interesting to see the contrast of the North and South, with the old town bridging the two in the middle. Here were the huge tv screens, bustling streets filled with shoppers and business staff. We did spot a group of five police horses grazing under the shade of some trees in one of the main squares which was really lovely to see.

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After walking around for around the North for around an hour, we were pretty tired, so we got the metro home, as we were now an hour and a half walk away from the van, and set off in search of another lake.

After a bit of exploring in the van attempting to find our own spot for the night, we resorted back to using Park4Night and found ourselves by a lake called Aspen with a little beach and set up camp there. A couple of campers joined us, a couple from Flensburg in Germany where we had stopped before heading into Denmark, and an older lady from Sweden with two ex-sledge dogs, Alaskan Huskies, who was travelling around in her micro-camper with a dream to one day move to Scotland.

Day Twenty-One: Aspen Lake – Vänern Lake (Kristinehamn)

The other two campers left early, so again we had the woods and a lake to ourselves. Both of us had planned to go in the lake, but the weather had turned, and the lake didn’t look as appealing as the last, with pond skaters and a slightly musty appearance. Instead, we had a movie morning inside, pulling the bed back down after breakfast and watching movies in bed. A nice relaxing morning after being busy the last few days. We then had lunch, packed up, and headed to the next lake.

We had planned to visit Gothenburg, which is to the south-west of Sweden, but as our ultimate aim was northern Sweden and Norway and to spend as much time in nature as we could in Scandinavia, we changed our plans last minute and we are now instead heading towards Oslo in Norway. So rather than heading south again, we went north of the largest lake in Sweden, lake Vänern, around ten minutes away from the town of Kristinehamn. As we pulled up the place yesterday evening, we were taken aback by just how huge the lake is. It looks like a sea, and as it was windy yesterday, it even had waves like a sea too.

Last night, we cooked dinner using up the last of our groceries from Germany, and went for a walk in the setting sun. There are quite a few campers near us, dotted around the lakeshore and in the woods, but we’ve managed to find a little cove for Papaya. As we were walking, we spotted a couple of blueberries, which we picked and ate (they’re sooo sweet and tasty), and as we looked around, we realised the whole forest floor was covered in blueberry bushes and loads and loads of blueberries. So we quickly went back to the camper, grabbed our colander, and got picking! It was gorgeous to watch the sunset as we were picking wild blueberries.

We will have the fresh blueberries on our breakfast this morning, which usually consists of an apple, banana, peanut butter, muesli and apple juice all mixed together – which tastes a lot nicer then it sounds.

Today, we plan to head a little further around the lake in search of a sauna and somewhere to shower, buy groceries then drive in the direction of Norway.

Week Two: Reaching Scandinavia

Day Eight: Amsterdam

After moving to a different parking spot or campsite every night for the past week, Reece and I decided to stay two nights in Amsterdam so we could relax and not worry about the next day.

On the afternoon of the 8th, after having a very relaxed morning sleeping in and slowly making breakfast, we went back into Amsterdam from our lovely little campsite and explored the city in the day, taking in the canals, tulip markets, parks and cobbled streets. It was a great city in the day as well as the night, the only issue we found was the amount of traffic in the centre. Even around famous monuments such as Anne Frank’s house, the market place and the museum quarter in general, bicycles, cars, mopeds, motorbikes, trams and buses were all out in rage, and raging they were at anyone who dare step foot on the road. Nonetheless, we had a good day.

The view from the campsite, Camping het Rietveen in Landsmeer

Day Nine: Amsterdam – Leer

After doing all the camper jobs we had to do, such as washing up, cleaning, packing up, filling up the water tub and having a shower whilst we knew we could, we set off to get across the border and into Germany. I chose a town with a good camping spot on the map and off we went on a three-hour journey, stopping to get some fuel on the way.

The town I had chosen, Leer, was nicely buzzing with motorhomes and campers so we were put at ease already. After parking up, we had a quick wander into town to see where we had parked and were pleasantly surprised to find cobbled stones, pretty houses and a beautiful canal with so many unusual boats on it.After this stroll, we went back to make some dinner, which we could do outside since the wind wasn’t too strong, then get ready to go out and the plan was to have a German beer or two. As we were heading towards the town centre, I could see some lights across a gazebo at the top of one the alleys. So after grabbing Reece’s attention, we curiously walked through the alley to see what was going on. It turns out we had just walked into a Weinfest (wine festival), which is one of my drinks of choice. It was quiet at that point, so we got chatting to one of the gentlemen working at one of the stalls and he explained more about the festival, that it was only on two days every year, and we had just had just happened to stumble upon one of them!

After a couple of glasses of wine, Reece and I went for a walk around the harbour and after strolling around for a while, we settled down to watch some live music and eat a pretzel and a bratwurst for Reece.

As the night drew in, the wine festival got busier, and just as we were about to call it a night after one last glass with both of us feeling rather tipsy, Reece bumped into some locals on the way back from the bar. So after around ten minutes of chatting, he came to retrieve me from watching some more live music and introduced me to all the locals from Leer who were so nice and great fun to talk to, with all of them saying that this was the biggest festival of Leer and they couldn’t believe we had stumbled upon it by accident!

Day Ten: Leer – Oldenburg – Hamburg

The next day we were pretty hungover, so we spent the day walking around Leer, which was actually a bigger town than we had anticipated with a strip of shops, restaurants and cafe’s in the town centre. We had pastries and coffee for breakfast and bought some fresh produce from the market for lunch and dinner.

Then, around 3pm, we set off to Oldenburg to stay the night. As usual, we used the now multitude of apps we had been collecting on our phone, which had maps with pins showing us where all the free camping spots were that people had previously used. We found a place by a lake just outside Oldenburg which had good reviews, so we headed that way.

Reece and I parked up at the beautiful lake, which even had a little beach leading up to it, and made some dinner outside. As it got later, the one camper that was next to us left, but we could see two other campers across the lake, so we decided to drive around so we weren’t alone. As we parked up next to the other motorhome and camper, it felt a little eerie, having come down a single lane track and being plunged into darkness by the trees’ overarching branches above us. We both felt a little uneasy, so we decided to leave the pop top down and get straight to bed.

It took me a while to get to sleep, but when I finally did, I was awoken by a frantic beep and flash of lights. Both of us, already on guard from an uneasy feeling, shot up out of bed and Reece peered out of the tinted window. There were two cars crawling past our own, but we still couldn’t work out where the sound of the horn had come from – was a warning from one of the other motorhomes? It had sounded like it was from someone speeding away. Or was it one of these cars wanting to disturb our sleep? Nonetheless, we didn’t want to be in a place where there were cars crawling around where people were sleeping at 2am, so Reece climbed into the front, quickly ripped all the reflectors down. Keeping an eye where the other cars were, which was quite a while away but now a man had got out one of the cars and was walking around with a torch, I jumped out the side, chucked all the chairs and tables on the bed which we store under the van at night, jumped onto the bed myself as the passenger seat was swivelled the wrong way and we drove off as discreetly as possible.

We drove out of the woods and back to the open car park where we had parked previously, turned the swivel seat back round, put on some shoes for the drive and made the decision to make the two hour drive in the dark to get to Hamburg in the early hours of the morning.

Day Eleven: Hamburg – Flensburg

After a pretty bad night’s sleep, stirring each time a car went by, we gathered ourselves together and went off into Hamburg.

The city was quite contemporary and was clearly growing as half the city was a construction site, but it was redeemed by the beautiful churches and cathedrals that were spread out amongst the city.

As we happened to go into Hamburg on a Sunday, all the shops were closed, which left for an incredibly busy train station, but very peaceful city, with only the churches and cafe’s left open – which was a welcome relief after the previous night.

After exploring Hamburg, we packed up and drove to the border of Denmark to a shopping centre’s car park, which was specified for campervans and motorhomes who wanted to buy cheaper goods before heading to Scandanavia, which was exactly what we needed to do. We got there, cooked up some dinner and Reece had a chat to our next door neighbour, who was taking a holiday to Denmark in his motorhome from France, whilst I relaxed, read and had our last Belgian beer.

Day Twelve: Flensburg – Egeskov Castle

In the morning, we got up, made and ate breakfast, then went into the shopping centre to buy a coffee, raincoat and lots of food to fill up our fridge and cupboards ready for reaching Denmark. We then cleaned the van, packed up (which takes a lot longer than one may think), and then set off to see Egeskov castle in Fyn, recommended to me by my lovely friend from Denmark.

As we were on our way, I checked our (rather) trusty app, park4night, to see if there were any overnight spots near the castle – and as it happened the castle actually let campers and motorhomes sleep outside! It even had free toilets and a cold shower, which is now a luxury in our eyes.

Day Thirteen: Egeskov Castle – Copenhagen

After my first experience (probably not my last) of a cold shower, one I can’t say I’d recommend, we had a walk around the site of the castle. We had planned to go inside, but after checking the prices online, we decided it was out of our budget, so we simply had a movie day in as it was pouring down with rain, and then moved on to Copenhagen around late afternoon.

There was no well recommended spots to camp for free around Copenhagen, so we paid for quite a cheap campsite on the outskirts and got the bus in. As it was reaching evening by this point, we decided to head to Christiania first whilst it was still light and then walk into the city later. Luckily the rain had cleared and it had turned into a beautiful evening. I’d heard about the place from my best friend, Emily, who had been before and my other friend who lives in Copenhagen (who currently is on a trip to Australia so I unfortunately couldn’t meet up with her) and I’d seen mixed opinions online about the ‘free town’, but both me and Reece were pleasantly surprised, the place was so cool. I think because of the in-your-face presence of marijuana plants around the town, and because it is people’s homes and gardens after all, photos can’t be taken after you enter the gates, which is unfortunate as it’s such a quirky little place, with unique houses that people have built, furniture and sculptures made out of recycled wood, tyres and scrap metal, lots of veggie and vegan stands, (which I was happy about!) and a really cool indoor skate park. It had such a good vibe and every corner had something new and interesting to see. I think it is somewhere people should visit at least once in a lifetime.

Walking into the centre during sunset was beautiful, and we had a lovely time meandering around the dusky streets before deciding that it was late and we probably should get back.

Day Fourteen: Copenhagen – Malmö – Stora Kullhög Beach

Today, we drove to Sweden! With Sweden’s ‘freedom to roam’ law where wild camping is legal, getting here has been our main goal. We now plan to take things a little steadier and enjoy Sweden and Norway for the next month or so.

We drove from Copenhagen to Malmö across the huge bridge and spent a few hours exploring Malmö. I have been in Malmö before with my friend Jenny, but it was Reece’s first time in Sweden, so first of all we walked along the beach, then headed into the centre. It was as great as I remembered it, a lovely vibrant city. We happened to arrive as a food and music festival was going on, so we treated ourselves to a bit of street food and sat and watched the music for a while. It was reaching the limit on the car park, and it had just started to rain, so we decided to grab one of the electric scooters that are dotted around the city, ready for people to use (luckily we had a little go on them earlier so the app was already downloaded) and speed our way back to the car through the park. It was so much fun, as we were speeding through the park, the heavens opened and we got absolutely soaked to the skin. I couldn’t see through all the rain and steam on my glasses and could barely talk through laughing. We reached the car in around 15 minutes, it took us around 40 minutes to walk in, so much quicker, but unfortunately walked to the van to find a parking ticket! Although it was 4 hours free parking, you still had to display some sort of disk, which we didn’t know about. The ticket had been issued almost as soon as we had left the van. It wasn’t a crazy fine, but we both felt disappointed as we’d rushed back early to avoid a ticket, and got one anyway!

After the slight disappointment, we picked ourselves up, still drenched, and drove towards Kivik, a nature park not too far from my friend’s house where we will be staying tomorrow night, and found ourselves a little spot by the beach. As we reached here all out worries about the trip disappeared, this is what we had been waiting for! Everyone that has walked by have been so friendly, the campers that have now joined us have also been really considerate and kind too, and we can camp without the fear that a police officer will come knocking in the middle of the night.

We are loving Sweden so far!

Cumbria, Nature’s Blessing

“The earth has its music for those who listen” – William Shakespeare

As much as I love travelling abroad, I do also appreciate the countryside of my home country, England. Since the last few weeks in Madrid have been difficult (though don’t get me wrong, I am still infatuated with this city) I would instead like to share with you my favourite place from home.

My most treasured British national park is the Lake District. It is particularly special to me as I visit Cumbria at least once a year and I have done since I was just an infant to visit my Granddad who lived in the quaint little town called Ravenglass, but despite my own personal attachment to this place, I believe it to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet and I know many who agree.

My favourite places in Cumbria include: Windermere, Keswick, Drigg, Whitehaven, Muncaster, Seascale, Millom, Wasdale, Boot, but most of all Wastwater and Ravenglass. Those I speak about below are just a few that are really worth a visit if you’re in the Lake District.

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Wasdale

Wasdale is the home of Britain’s deepest lake, smallest church and highest mountain. Not only do its great facets draw people to this place, but the way it makes victims of even the most seasoned traveller with its enchanting essence and haunting beauty; the way the summit of the mountains spear the clouds and their backbones carry the weight of aging dry stone walls built over one-hundred years ago; how the lake on a calm day mirrors the mountains creating the illusion of the already immense valley to appear twice the size, engulfing its visitors in its perplexity. Yet on a stormy day the mountains tower over you, the calm lake turned to turmoil making you feel as though you are the pinpoint of the earth, or the main witness of nature’s grand gestures. As though you have stepped into another world.

There are many walks around Wastwater, both challenging mountain hikes across screes and pikes, but also easy strolls in the valley. Of course, there are a couple of pubs situated on the mountains of Wasdale serving traditional British ‘pub grub’ and an interesting selection of local beers and ciders. If you’re feeling brave you can even take a dip in any of the lakes within Wasdale, but take care as the stream can be strong and the water extremely cold.

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Ravenglass

I have seen this little fisherman’s village in the dark of the night, when the air was so still and the sea so calm it looked liked glass delicately frosted and on it’s dreary days when I would blunder through what seemed like a tempest, where the grey sky hung over, the sand turning to a perilous mud, sucking in my trusty boots and compelling us to fall onto our bums in a graceless fashion and the ethereal times when the waterfront was shrouded in a cloud of mist, only shadows of gauntly boats could be seen.

Though this village is particularly special to me, as it is where my grandfather lived for much of his life, thus I would spend most summers here. But other than a personal affection for this place, Ravenglass holds it’s own with hidden treasures and a charming appeal to visitors. There are splendid walks across the fells, the beaches and bridges of Ravenglass that will lead you to the Roman Bath House, Muncaster Castle and beautiful views across the area.

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Boot

Nestled amongst the mountains and rivers of Eskdale, Boot is a small village comprised of old stucco cottages, traditional stone bridges and a tiny railway that can take you to and from Ravenglass. On a warm day, it is perfect to bring a picnic to one of the pebbled river beaches and spend the day relaxing by the picturesque streams.

Although my perception of Boot has been tainted as I was there during the Cumbrian Shootings of Derrick Bird in 2010 where 12 people lost their lives, this devastating and frightening event really shouldn’t put you off this beautiful village. It offers peaceful walks around tiny streams and vast waterfalls and again some tremendous local food and drink in their pubs (my favourite being Boot Inn, shh don’t tell Brook House!)

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Millom

I must admit there is little feeling better than the wind rushing through your hair and being one with the full power and speed of the ten-ton beast beating it’s hooves on the golden sand beneath. Just me and this beautiful creature thundering across the beach without a care in the world, the backdrop of lavender fields and mountains on one side and the endless ocean on the other, there’s nothing that can be done now but to trust my stead and laugh with joy as we recklessly crash through the waves.

Now if you know me, you will know I am a huge horse-lover, hence the mention of my experience with the horses at Murthwaite Green Trekking Centre, which is a perfect riding school in Millom for experienced riders and beginners alike. However, even if you are not into riding, Millom is still perfect for a beach-day with its combination of cliffs, fields, mountains, pebbles and a vast stretch of golden sand.

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And for now, thank you to the beautiful British countryside and the people in England that still make it my home, maybe it is still ‘Great’ Britain after all.

(Credit to my step-dad, Marlon Cole, for his beautiful photography)