Friday, 7 October 2016

Ferry - Hook of Holland to Harwich - Thursday, 6 October

This morning, we drove about thirteen miles across beautiful flat farming countryside, through villages, with canals sometimes running parallel, to reach the town of Gouda, famous for its cheese. Although we have seen plenty of wind turbines in The Netherlands, there are still some old-fashioned windmills and we actually saw one working today which was a fine sight to behold.

Plunging right into the centre of the town, we suddenly found ourselves driving along narrow tree-lined, cobbled roads, one way along one side of a canal and, on the other side of the canal, traffic going the other way. Needing to park, we found a space next to a canal and I very cautiously reversed into it, being very careful not to end up in the canal. I'm sure that vehicles get fished out of canals from time to time.

We wandered along picturesque streets, amazed by the number of bicycles being ridden by people of all ages. In a town such as Gouda, where the roads are absolutely flat, it makes so much sense.

We went into the tourist information office, occupying the ground floor of a historic building, constructed in about 1686. Here, we paid to visit the cheese museum on the first and second floors. We were the only visitors and were given a personal potted history of the building by one of the museum curators. Upstairs, there was short film about the cheese-making process. Going back downstairs, we sampled various examples of farmhouse Gouda. Gouda, together with Edam, are cheeses that I tend to avoid at home as they are generally rubbery and tasteless. I assume that those are factory-made rubbish. The cheeses we tasted were delicious and we parted with some cash.

Around the corner from the museum was a traditional cheese shop and we couldn't resist going in just to have look. Well, that was the idea. There were so many Gouda cheeses to try and we were persuaded to buy some, saying that it could go in the freezer for Christmas. We have Gouda flavoured with green pesto, red pesto, Gouda made from goats' milk, from sheeps' milk, young and mature. In chatting to the lady owner, we established that her in-laws live in the same very small village in England as our son.

For a late lunch, we made our way to Toko Ina, an Indonesian shop that sells all sorts of spices and food ingredients, together with cooked Indonesian food to take away. They also have tables providing seating for just six people to eat in. We each chose a meal comprising rice, two meat dishes and two vegetable dishes, together with a drink, all for €11 each. It was a cracking good meal and a fine way to round off our tour of Northern Europe.

We then drove through rush hour traffic to the ferry terminal, in plenty of time for the night crossing home, following signs for Hoek van Holland and then Engeland. Disconcertingly, the check-in opened a good hour earlier than scheduled and we were in our cabin by 7.30pm, the time check-in was due to start. Just before take off, the captain announced that we would have a "moderate to rough, but steady, crossing" but hopefully being horizontal will make it bearable.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

IJsselstein, south of Utrecht - Wednesday, 5 October

An early morning walk around Bad Bentheim made a good start to the day. The satnav took us to Lidl but only to where it used to be. We eventually found the new one not far away. We got various odds and bits of wine and beer. A lot of it is ridiculously inexpensive. The beer, for instance, (good German beer) was €1.99 for six 500ml bottles.

It was then only a few miles to the border into The Netherlands. We took the motorway towards Apeldoorn and then Utrecht and the traffic was horrendous. Bunches of articulated lorries and then having to wait for a space to move out to overtake. Then, exiting, in no time at all, we were on a single carriageway road and then on a single track road to our camperstop. It is a marina on the River IJssel. There are just seven places and it all seems quite new. We are parked looking out on to the river.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Bad Bentheim, Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) - Tuesday, 4 October

Nienburg didn't detain us this morning, although I'd gone out for a walk into town before breakfast and found some excellent wifi in the high street. We chatted with an older couple from Schleswig Holstein. He was most impressed with our compact camper van. We told him he was not the first! He said that he prefers rather more space and comfort at his age. Will we feel the same way in a few years time?

Having experienced some odd noises from the camper yesterday, we espied a VW garage a few miles out of Nienburg. I thought it was a wheel bearing noise. The garage was very helpful and in no time a mechanic drove the camper with me as a passenger and then got it up on a lift. It seems that it isn't wheel bearings but uneven tyre wear and this is causing road noise. Certainly, there shouldn't be a problem in getting home so nothing to worry about. There was no charge for which we were extremely grateful. What excellent service.

Today was mainly a driving day. We drove to a Lidl and bought a few odd bottles of wine. We are particularly interested in German red wine so bought two bottles with a view to having a tasting this evening.

We ran into some very slow traffic for a while but then some rather scary autobahn. Overtaking was OK but it was necessary to check the near side mirror very carefully as cars tended to hurtle at breakneck speed in the outside lane.

We arrived at Bad Bentheim late afternoon. The Camperstop is in a car park just below a castle. There are about a dozen others here. There are loos nearby and we even have free wifi in the camper, all for €8. We took a walk into the village this evening and it is really nice. Apart from the castle, there are also museums and rather nice bars, restaurants, etc.

We had our wine tasting and will find another Lidl tomorrow (which isn't difficult) to buy some bottles to take home.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Nienburg, Mittelweser (Germany) - Monday, 3 October

We breakfasted on the ship, having prepaid, and disembarked around 8am. We headed straight into Lübeck, only a few miles, although as it is on the south of the city, it seemed that we went quite a long way round. The city was very quiet for a Monday morning. We parked by the river and had a wander round. It was very pleasant, people fishing, sun shining. It was all a bit too early so we moved on. We wanted to avoid the inevitable traffic around Hamburg so planned to take a route south to Lüneberg.

Before we left Lübeck, however, we located a Lidl. As we drove into the car park, we realised it was virtually empty. I went over to the entrance and saw that it should be open. What was going on? As I walked back to the camper, a lady came over and said today was a "feiertag" (holiday) and so the shop was shut. Anyway, we found a garage open and bought some long life milk and a few bread rolls so we wouldn't be destitute. Amanda went online and ascertained that today is German Unity Day, a public holiday, presumably since 1989.

On we went, a very pleasant drive down to Lüneberg. Parking was a problem initially as there seemed to be a disproportionate number of "parking houses" which are out of bounds to our camper, unless we want to lower the roof. However, going down a side street, Lüner Straße, we found a space just by the church. It was then just a short walk in to the centre of the town. Here, our ears were assailed by the sound of live music and found a crowd gathered round a band, Lazy Beat Bones. They are a school band whose members are disabled and able bodied and were rather good.

Going on to the town square, there was more music and suddenly we were among numerous stalls. Far more (and better) than a Christmas market. It was a three day event, the fourteenth annual Lüneberger Sülfmeistertage, celebrating the town's history and heritage of salt mining. There was music, food and beer stalls, crafts and all sorts of other things. We grabbed our lunch for later, one roll each of brown shrimps and Bismarck herring. Apart from these festivities, none of the shops were open.

We had a quick look round the church of St. Nicholas, just over the road from where we were parked, an impressive building dating back to the 1400s. Neither this, nor any other buildings in the town suffered damage in WWII. Lüneberg is noteworthy for being the place where Montgomery accepted the German surrender; also, Heinrich Himmler's ashes are buried in an unmarked place somewhere in the surrounding Lüneberg Heath.

We planned our overnight stop at Nienburg and had a meandering drive across country to arrive here around 4pm. We are amongst other camper vans alongside the River Weser. I took a walk into town, pleasant enough but not particularly noteworthy.

On board Finnmaid from Helsinki to Travemünde - Sunday, 2 October

At sea.

Monday, 3 October 2016

On board Finnmaid from Helsinki to Travemünde - Saturday, 1 October

Not an eventful day, which is no bad thing once in a while. On going to empty our on-board loo (part of the deal is that this is my job), I surprised a red squirrel only four or five feet away. It froze for a few seconds and then scampered away. I have seen a few others on and off on this trip.

We left the site for the ferry terminal via Lidl. Fortunately, the terminal is only about three miles from Rastila Camping. We got there nice and early around 1pm. Check-in opened at 1.30. No problems and we were directed to lane 5 and it was another one and a half hours before we were able to board. This was done in batches by convoy. The ferry being very much a cargo ferry, we went quite a windy route of about a quarter mile to where we went on board.

Cars are loaded on forwards and, on unloading, will drive to the end and go down the other side and then off. As there is a bulkhead towards the end, we and other higher vehicles, had to reverse into position. I made rather a hash of it.

Our cabin is absolutely fine with a large rectangular window. The ship is in the process of being facelifted and modernised and so facilities were a little limited and the duty free shop quite small and also limited. Leaving just after 5pm, the weather was fine but breezy. We went out through the archipelago, enjoying the views. It is a 29 hour journey and very calm so far.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Rastila Camping, Helsinki - Friday, 30 September

Up really early to get to West Harbour by tram and Metro. Our ferry to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, left at 8.30. We had a cabin, reserved as we went in, and it was nice because it was quite a choppy crossing and I find that the best thing to do when the ship is heaving around is to lie down. Anyway, if I'm going to be sick then I'd rather have privacy. However, all was well.

We walked into Tallinn, which wasn't far from the ferry terminal. We had a few sights to tick off. First was St. Olaf's church, a massive structure completely hemmed in by closely packed streets all around. Then we were in need of a pick me up. A café beckoned, the Bogapott. Here, we had excellent coffee and a slice of Tosca cake each. This was a meld of dried fruit and nuts on a marzipan sponge base. Definitely one to be replicated at home.

Next was the Alexander Nevsky cathedral, onion domed, and filled inside with icons and lots of gold. We then walked through to the Raekoja Plats (town hall square), lined with ancient pastel-coloured buildings, most of which seemed to be restaurants which spilled out into the square. The sight of the restaurants reminded us that it was lunchtime and we didn't fancy eating later on the ferry, particularly if if was going to be choppy. Nor were we tempted by any of the restaurants with photos of the meals on offer and/or where staff tried to get us to go in.

Having rejected a few others, we liked the look of the menu of the Olevi restaurant in Olevimägi, entered by descending steep stone steps into a cellar. It had a slightly eastern feel to it but we took to it right away. We both started with a lovely fish soup.  I then had stewed wild boar (a casserole) topped with mashed potato and a side dish of red cabbage and berry sauce. Amanda had Estonian pork cutlet. We were both very pleased with our choices and stayed quite a long time feeling very relaxed.

Emerging from the restaurant, we though we would gradually make our way back to the ferry terminal but I was attracted by another church to visit. This was the church of Saint Nikolai the Miracle-Worker, orthodox and all very ornate inside; not mentioned in Lonely Planet but it ought to be.

The ferry back to Helsinki was actually a little calmer than this morning. All in all, an excellent last day in Finland. Tomorrow we take the ferry over to Germany.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Rastila Camping, Helsinki - Thursday, 29 September

Not quite such a calm crossing as going over yesterday but it wasn't too bad; certainly it didn't stop us sleeping well. We got up and were ready to leave the cabin just as the ship prepared to dock.

We took the opportunity to book our passage tomorrow for a day trip to Tallinn. Camilla joined us for coffee in the terminal café. Neither she nor we were in any hurry so we had refills until we ran out of excuses not to be on our way, us to get the no. 9 tram to the Metro station at Kampi, she to walk into the city centre. We came straight back to the camp site where we have been all day, although I popped down to Lidl for some essential shopping. Meanwhile, the weather steadily deteriorated as the day went on and we have had rain on and off all evening with no sign of it stopping.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Princess Maria en route to Helsinki - Wednesday, 28 September

Reaching St. Petersburg around 8am, we left the ship to go through a rather stern passport control and then take the last two available seats on a provided minibus into the middle of the city, St. Isaac's Cathedral to be precise. It came as something of a shock to the senses to be in such a busy, noisy city. Helsinki is calm and quiet as a village by comparison. Once we got our bearings, we headed for the Hermitage, possibly the principal unmissable attraction of the city. Passing the statue of Peter the Great, we made a rather haphazard way to the Hermitage.

Apparently, the director of the Hermitage once said, “I can’t say that the Hermitage is the number one museum in the world, but it’s certainly not number two.” With over three million works of art and treasures, it is amazing. I read that it would take eleven years to view all the exhibits and that much as can be seen in the museum, there are twenty times more in the vaults. We had about three hours, once we had found the correct entrance (we first started queuing at the entrance for organised groups), then negotiated the queue to get in and then the queue for tickets. The entrance fee of about £7 was very reasonable.

We had a note of the must sees so plotted a route around the many rooms. These were the Peacock Clock, a remarkable golden peacock. A revolving dial in a toadstool tells the time and, as it strikes the hour, the automaton peacock spreads its wings and toadstools, an owl and a cock come to life. In fact, this performance only takes place once a week but it is shown happening on an adjacent screen.

Next was the Great Church, a dazzling sight of gold, recently restored and then the room containing a good number of works by Rembrandt. Not having done much research, we failed to find the Italian rooms featuring Da Vinci, Canaletto, Michaelangelo and Raphael.

After this, we walked across the Palace Square to the General Staff Building where we first of all found a café to have a reviving coffee and pastry. We then went into the gallery housing many works of art. The building itself was quite a shock. From the outside, it was a long period structure built on a curve. Inside, was a completely ultra-modern building. Our main purpose was to view the works by Monet and but there were also rooms featuring Gaugin, Van Gogh, Degas, Matisse, Picasso and many others. It was all quite overwhelming.

The Nevsky Prospekt is probably the most well known thoroughfare in St. Petersburg and we cut through and walked along it for a little way, if only to get a flavour of it. We next walked alongside a canal to see the Church of the Saviour on the Spilt Blood, so named because it was built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was murdered in 1881. Its distinctive coloured onion domes and mosaic facade make it a popular sight but, unfortunately, it was closed today.

Time was beginning to close in. There were three hourly minibuses back to the ship and we were warned not to risk relying on the last one in case there was no room on it. Therefore, we boarded the last but one but one. Here, we started chatting with Camilla, a Swede who lives in Stockholm, who was travelling for a few days before going back to work. She was easy company and we put the world to rights.

This evening we ate Italian on board as the ship started to make its return journey to Helsinki.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Princess Maria en route to St. Petersburg - Tuesday, 27 September

A lazy morning on site at Rastila Camping. I walked to Lidl, fifteen minutes each way to get some ciabattas. Around lunchtime, we took the Metro into Helsinki and then the no. 9 tram to West Terminal. We're beginning to feel like locals now on the public transport system.

At West Terminal, we went through a couple of passport controls and boarded the Princess Maria ferry bound for St. Petersburg. We boarded early and had plenty of time to familiarise ourselves with the on board facilities. Our cabin is functional; it is Russian, after all. There are a couple of restaurants, one Italian and the other, Russian/European (The Explorer). There is also a buffet restaurant and a cafe/bar. For our evening meal, we reserved an early table in The Explorer which proved to be a good move. Although the ship is by no means full, there was a bit of a rush shortly after we sat down, maybe due to the fact that we didn't depart for forty five minutes after the scheduled time.

It was an interesting menu. As starters, Amanda went for the Finnish cream of salmon soup; I had the Ukrainean borsch. Both were good. For the main course, we both had pike perch fillets. These were excellent. Unlike in the UK where chefs can't seem to cook fish without drenching it in butter, these were just lightly grilled and were perfect. We had a very good bottle of dry German Riesling.

We wandered round the duty free shop. Purely for cooking back home, we bought very inexpensive bottles of brandy and dark rum. Also available were litre bottles of vodka for as little as €2.50 (much cheaper than lighter fuel!).

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Rastila Camping, Helsinki - Monday, 26 September

We took the Metro to Central Station and then a tram to the market place quayside. It took longer than anticipated. Amanda took charge of identifying the right tram and we did almost a complete circuit of the city instead of just three or four stops. Still, we saw parts of the city that we wouldn't otherwise have seen.

On the quayside, we went back to the covered market that we visited last week and bought some freshly sliced smoked salmon and prawns in mayonnaise. These went in some ciabatta bread I'd bought earlier. It was an amazing lunch.

We ate lunch by the terminal for the ferry across to the fortress of Suomenlinna, a journey of about fifteen minutes. This sea fortress is a Unesco World Heritage Site, constructed from 1748 on islands, now linked by bridges. It has played a role in the defence of three states, Sweden, Russia and Finland. It was bombarded by an Anglo-French fleet during the Crimean War. Now, the buildings there are a visitor centre, museums and places to eat. There is also a church, originally Russian Orthodox but now Lutheran. About 800 people live on the islands which have 800,000 visitors a year.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Rastila Camping, Helsinki - Sunday, 25 September

A very quiet night and woke to another dull, overcast day. Driving round Kouvola, we drove south down the E6 to where it meets the E7, which took us to Porvoo (Swedish: Borgå). We passed through Porvoo last Monday on our way along the coast. It is Finland's second oldest town and is well worth a visit. We parked just the other side of the river bridge and walked back. Our first sight were the brick-red former warehouses along the river. Lonely Planet told us that they once stored goods bound for destinations across Europe. The other ends of the warehouses front on to cobbled streets and house antique, gift and craft shops. There are also a good number of cafés and restaurants as this part of the town is definitely a tourist attraction.

We hauled ourselves up a steep cobbled street to the Tuomiokirkko (cathedral), white painted, of stone and timber construction. It is where the first Diet of Finland assembled in 1809, convened by Tsar Alexander I, giving Finland religious freedom. Damaged by fire in 2006, the church has been completely restored. It has a free-standing bell tower. This was similar to the arrangement in Lappeenranta. We managed to get in just before a 12 noon service in Swedish. We weren't able to look around properly and listened to the first five minutes. The pulpit was pretty impressive.

Wandering around, we came across Lilla Chokladfabriken, a tiny little shop with a kitchen viewed through a glass panel where they make their own chocolate. Of course, it would have been rude not to have bought some.

We then felt the need for coffee and Sachertorte in Café Fanny although this was only an excuse to get some free wifi.

We are now back at Rastila Camping where we shall be based until next weekend with some interesting things planned for the coming week.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Camperstop at Herransaari, north of Kouvola - Saturday, 24 September

Today was mainly a day of travelling, generally heading towards Helsinki, although we are not planning to be there until tomorrow afternoon. We aimed for the area around Kouvola. Here, there is a campsite but it is a large one with an amusement park. Not at all our sort of place, particularly as their charge would be around €32.

I had identified on Pocket Earth a possible wild camp. We drove there and it is fine. It is a parking area surrounded by woodland, close to a beach. Pocket Earth only shows a path going to it but this couldn't be right. Anyway, there is a road and there have only been a few other vehicles here for short stays. There is a single earth closet WC. The GPS co-ordinates are 60.92648°N 26.74552°E.

I walked the paths around the car park. Along one, there are some weekend cabins but the path goes west right to the end of the spit of land there. In the other direction, east, there is a beach walk for a quarter mile. In the summer, I should think the car park would be full, as it would take at least fifty cars. Anyway, it's now 8.30 and in the last hour there have only been two cars going to/from the cabins. An occasional flock of geese has gone overhead rather noisily.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Huhtiniemi Tourist Resort, Lappeenranta - Friday, 23 September

We went into Lappeenranta. The centre of the town wasn't at its best as there was major construction work going on. We were able to admire from the outside the wooden Lappee church, built in 1794, having a 'double cruciform' floor plan, the only one of this kind in Finland. It was locked, of course. It has a separate bell tower a short distance away.

We had planned lunch out today and made our way to the Wolkoff Restaurant, of which Lonely Planet says:

"This grand old-world restaurant utilises organic produce and seasonal ingredients to create gourmet Finnish cuisine with adventurous flavour combinations like reindeer tartare with Dijon mustard ice cream, and duck breast with plum, sweet potato and dark wheatbeer sauce. The laden lunch buffet is a veritable bargain."

Fortunately, the reindeer tartare wasn't on today. We went for their lunch buffet and the main course was chicken wrapped in saltimbocka on a bed of sliced runner beans and quinoa. Quite delicious.

The restaurant is named after a Russian merchant family who lived in the adjacent house from 1872 until 1986. For much of the year (until August) it is open to the public furnished as it would have been in the late 1800s.

Having been a cold, dull and overcast day, it had started raining while we were in the restaurant. We there drove over the cobbled road that passes through Linnoitus, a very large fortification which was begun by the Swedes and finished by the Russians in the late 18th century. On either side of the road, are galleries, craft workshops and museums, including the South Karelian Museum, Cavalry Museum and Lappeenranta Art Museum. Its Orthodox Church, pale blue with a green roof, Finland’s oldest church, was completed in 1785 by Russian soldiers.

Saimaa is Finland's largest lake but it has numerous islands within it. We took a delightful drive, a circular route across some of the islands. The autumnal colours of the trees added to the enjoyment, despite the rain.

I think that, at this point, we are probably at our farthest distance from home.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Huhtiniemi Tourist Resort, Lappeenranta - Thursday, 22 September

Leaving the campsite, we went for a meandering drive towards the Russian border. It was a gravelled road, no other traffic and just the odd farm house. We stopped by a sign headed "STOP" and, in several languages, "Border Zone - No entry without special permit". Across the road was a wooden tower which I climbed but there was nothing to see except trees towards the border. At one point, we were only 100 metres away but still only trees. We drove up to the main road leading to the border crossing. Here, there were a couple of shops. One was a discount store, clearly catering for Russians who presumably couldn't buy the goods at all or at the prices. It was rather a shabby place. We went in and our way was almost barred by stacks of vehicle tyres. Also, coffee is probably in short supply in Russia, judging by the range and quantity.

There were a couple of shops selling nothing but fish and caviar. I went in one out of curiosity. There were large whole fish (species unknown) and salmon vacuum packed.

The rest of the day was spent immersed in Finland's experiences during the Winter and Continuation Wars of 1939-1944. We went first to the Bunker Museum. I knew that it had closed for the year at the end of August but as I thought much of it was outdoors, it was probably worth taking a look. We weren't disappointed. The main building and ticket office were closed but we were able to walk around.

Part of the Salpa Line was visible, as well as some wood lined trenches and military hardware. The Salpa Line was constructed after the Winter War (against Russia) in order to secure the new border. Terms of the truce involved Finland ceding parts of its eastern territories to Russia. Knowing that Russia would come back for more, along a line of 1200km, rows of jagged rocks were embedded in the ground, making the line impregnable against tanks and other vehicles. In the event, in 1944 Russia launched a massive offensive, avoiding the Line. However, it remains in place and is regarded as one of the strongest and best preserved lines of fortification in Europe built during the Second World War.

We went on to the Salpa Line Museum in Miehikkälä, which was open. Here were far more fortifications, trenches, underground bunkers and hardware. We also watched a short film telling the history of the Salpa Line. Altogether a fascinating day.

We finished with a longish drive to Lappeenranta, a town on Lake Saimaa, Finland's largest lake. We haven't seen anything of the town yet as our stop for the night is 2km east and we bypassed the centre. Huhtiniemi Tourist Resort is a large site comprising two hostels, self catering apartments, cabins and pitches for campervans/caravans and tents. Apart from two caravans nearby with no apparent occupants, we have this part of the site to ourselves.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Vaalimaa Camping - Wednesday, 21 September

We drove the short distance into Hamina, parked at Lidl (to shop there later) and walked into the centre of the town. Hamina is an interesting place and has long been a military town. It was founded in 1653 as a Swedish outpost, its fortifications were begun in 1722 after Vyborg fell to Russia but Hamina was later captured by Russia in 1743. Work continued and construction was eventually completed in the early 19th century but the fortress was closed in 1836 once it lost its military importance. Much of it was dismantled over the years but there has been a steady repair and restoration, largely completed by 1998. At the north end is the restored central bastion of the fortress, which hosts the annual Hamina Tattoo and other events, covered by an enormous open sided canopy.

The centre of the town is based on an octagonal grid and the streets radiating out are dotted with churches, houses and other buildings built in the 1700s and 1800s, painted in various pastel shades.

Both the Lutheran and Orthodox churches were locked but the town museum was open where we were welcomed by the lady curator who said they didn't get many English visitors. She gave us a guide to the displays (and a torch because some were badly lit!). One of the rooms was set up to represent how it would have been when there was a historic meeting there between King Gustav III of Sweden and Catherine the Great of Russia in 1783.

From Hamina, we took a minor forest-lined road to Virolahti, then the E7 for a few miles before turning off to take the road to Vaalimaa Camping, a rustic year round site looking out to an inlet of the Gulf of Finland. Reception was not manned but I rang the number given and the lady site owner said to settle in and she'd be along later. I went off for an hour exploring forest paths nearby.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Rampsi Marina, Hamina - Tuesday, 20 September

We didn't have to be off the site till 3pm and our 24 hour transport tickets were valid until then as well so we took ourselves back into the centre of Helsinki. The Hop On Hop Off red double deckers doing city tours with audio commentary cost €30 for each of us so, being the cheapskates that we are, we had ascertained from Lonely Planet that the number 2 & 3 trams did a circuit of the city and we obtained a leaflet detailing the sights to see from the site reception. The cost was covered by our 24 hour tickets so, effectively, nothing.

We had gone only a few stops before Amanda pointed out Café Ekberg, apparently the oldest café in Helsinki. We were right outside at the time but the tram was moving off so we got off at the next stop and walked back. We ordered coffee and a very ornate (and expensive) pastry to share. Getting back on a tram outside, we continued on our tour. It was pleasant enough just watching the city go by.

Having time to spare, we wandered round the square beside the station which was occupied by numerous stalls flying national flags and selling food from their countries. There was a British flag, the stall selling a vast range of fudge, teas and china ware. Feeling peckish, we opted for a Finnish stall and enjoyed a plate of tiny battered fish like whitebait, fried potato and vegetables.

Later, leaving the site, we made our way to the nearby ferry terminal for our passage to Travemünde in two weeks time to check out where it was and also to reserve a cabin for the night the ferry arrives in Travemünde as we are able to disembark the following morning, rather than leave late evening and then have to find somewhere to park the camper overnight.

We then headed east to Porvoo where I had thought there was a camperstop but I must have had the wrong co-ordinates so we carried on, switching to the motorway E18 towards Hamina and covering fifty miles in good time. There is a campsite a few miles beyond Hamina (called Hamina Camping, not surprisingly) but we weren't sure if it was still open. However, we had the co-ordinates for what we found to be Rampsi Marina (60.55911°N 27.18329°E) and found it open. It is on a little peninsula beyond a car park and café. We are in a gravelled area, with hookups, overlooking water that ultimately becomes, I think, the Gulf of Finland. Anyway, it has only cost €15 and facilities are very clean. We are about 30 miles from the Russian border.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Rastila Camping, Helsinki - Monday, 19 September

On the move again, we set our sights on the capital, Helsinki. Rastila is a year round site, very convenient for the city centre. We had an uneventful drive of 98 miles, arriving early afternoon. On the way we saw a road sign to Pietari/St Petersburg, an indication that Russia isn't so far away. After a brief lunch on the site, we headed for the Metro station only five minutes walk away. The journey time to the Central Station stop is twenty minutes.

We went straight to tourist information and made enquiries about trips by ferry to St Petersburg. The price was very reasonable for two nights in a cabin and various necessary add-ons - a total of €164. We decided to go for it and we depart on 27 September.

We had nothing else we particularly wanted to do this afternoon. We wandered around the stalls in the Market Square, then sat on a bench from where we were able to see the Uspenskin Katedraali (Uspenski Cathedral), an imposing red-brick building which stands on nearby Katajanokka island. Built as a Russian Orthodox church in 1868, it features classic onion-topped domes and now serves the Finnish Orthodox congregation. Maybe we will have time to visit it tomorrow.

Much closer to where we were was the Vanha Kauppahalli, an ornate market hall, built in 1889 and recently renovated. Inside were numerous stalls, most of which were selling food, much of if traditional Finnish, but all sorts of other things as well. We saw tins of bear meat; also elk, reindeer and many different kinds of smoked fish.

Making our way back to the Metro, we went inside the domed Tuomiokirkko, the Lutheran cathedral, very spartan inside but its lofty position overlooking the city and striking white stonework made it impossible to miss.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Camping Silversand, Hanko - Sunday, 18 September

A relaxing day today and the weather continues to be dry, clear and sunny - war is but definitely not hot. We hear of monsoon and flash floods in the UK and we haven't had a drop of rain for at least two weeks or more.

Before breakfast, I took a walk out of the campsite and into the adjoining forest, following a clear path which eventually led to a waymarked path to a rocky outcrop with clear sea views to the north of the Hanko peninsula. It was maybe a mile each way.

All that we had on the agenda today was a walk around Hanko. We had a delightful little booklet that provided a route taking in some of the more notable turn of the 20th century buildings, mainly large villas, the Regatta Hotel and what was a restaurant and dance hall (now a casino and sushi bar).

Hanko is a very popular summer resort and we have been very fortunate, helped by the good weather, to have been able to enjoy it when it is quiet. We shall be moving on tomorrow.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Camping Silversand, Hanko (Swedish: Hangö) - Saturday, 17 September

We set the satnav for Camping Silversand and overrode it to make sure that we went by what we thought would be more interesting minor roads and we were right to do so. It was a delightful drive with very little other traffic. Inevitably, we had to join the 52 main road for a few miles but then turned off at Tenala to return to minor roads, before following the 25 for 33km to Hanko.

We went straight to Silversand and were pleased to find it open. In fact, as the owner/manager told us, rather proudly, it is open all year. It is a lovely site and the unenclosed bays are dotted amongst tall conifers. We are by no means the only occupants but it is far from being busy. Behind reception is a cafe and behind that is a "pub", both of which are open. We had coffee and pastries whilst using the wifi. The beach is about 100 yards away and then the Baltic.

We then drove the 4km into Hanko. It's an interesting place. It was a well to do Russian spa town in the late 19th century and opulent seaside villas from the era line the principal road into the centre of the town. As the southernmost town in Finland, Hanko was a strategic base well before its foundation as a town in 1874. It was also a point of emigration: between 1881 and 1931 about 250,000 Finns left for the USA, Canada and Australia via its docks. At the end of the Winter War, the March 1940 peace treaty with Russia required the ceding of Hanko as a naval base. Its inhabitants evacuated as the Russians moved in with a garrison of 30,000 and constructed a huge network of fortifications. Hanko was isolated from the Russian front lines and eventually abandoned in December 1941. Citizens then returned to their damaged town and much restoration work was carried out.

Many of the buildings in the centre of the town also date back to Russian times. Outside the centre are a number of blocks of flats which have an Eastern European feel to them.

Slowing down on seeing a crowd gathered and a woman addressing them on a microphone, with a police presence, we were told later that it was a protest against the transporting of live pigs to or from (not sure which) Finland and Poland/Hungary.

We parked outside tourist information. Although it was shut, the building was open as it also housed a gallery. Nevertheless, the TI could be accessed as it was in an open bay; it is simply not manned at weekends out of season. In the gallery, there were two separate photographic displays, one of wildlife and the other of black and white photographs taken in Rio in 2008. Both photographers were present manning their exhibitions and gave us personal tours of their work. The photographs were for sale, either framed or unframed. We could have been tempted.

We have decided to stay a second night here and will explore more of Hanko

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Ylönkylä, Southern Finland - Friday, 16 September

Getting up quite early, I went for a stroll before breakfast, walking along the waterfront parallel with the street Läntinen Rantakatu, passing under two road bridges busy with morning traffic. I could have gone much further but needed to cross the river so went across on a pedestrian bridge. I then followed the waterfront path alongside the street Itäinen Rantakatu, going past where the camper was until I came to the passenger ferry. This runs every day from 6.15am to 11pm, back and forth endlessly. It only takes a couple of minutes. By the time I arrived back at the camper, all the parking spaces either side of it were filled. The city had come to life again and was quite busy.

We went to the maritime museum hoping to find free wifi but there was none. We took the opportunity to have a closer look at the castle, which was open but we had no particular inclination to go inside and shall find out more about it later. Here is what Lonely Planet has to say:

Founded in 1280 at the mouth of the Aurajoki, mammoth Turku Castle is easily Finland’s largest. Highlights include two dungeons and sumptuous banqueting halls, as well as a fascinating historical museum of medieval Turku in the castle’s old bailey. Models depict the castle's growth from a simple island fortress to a Renaissance palace. Guided tours in English run several times daily from June to August. Swedish Count Per Brahe ruled Finland from here in the 17th century, while Sweden’s deposed King Eric XIV was imprisoned in the castle’s round tower in the late 16th century. He was moved to several prisons including Åland’s Kastelholms Slott to prevent his discovery by rebels. Today most Finns recognise its distinctive architecture as the logo for Turun Sinappi (Turku Mustard).

We set the satnav to help us exit the city. As the route took us past tourist information, we went in to take advantage of their wifi. Having missed the entrance to their car park, I went in through the "no entry" exit, no problem.

Having found Sweden such a meticulously clean country, Finland is a bit more like the UK, judging by what we've seen in Turku.

Once we left the city's environs, the countryside we drove through was really attractive. Many fields where grass had been cut or arable fields ploughed and the rest was forest, but all quite open and not at all oppressive. It came as something of a shock to see that Autumn has arrived here. The silver birch trees had turn a golden colour and were beginning to shed their leaves.

Our Camperstop book provided details of our overnight stop, where we arrived early afternoon. It is a slightly odd place, close to a road junction where we have been very aware of traffic noise although we son got used to it. There is a cafe here where we went in to pay. The food smelled delicious but we were not aware of any customers during the day. We are the only camper van. There are three touring vans which are unoccupied and seem to be permanent. There are showers/loos and also what was described as a summer kitchen. This is a part open sided building with full cooking facilities but rather on the shabby side. We were told that some workers (who were at work) were using it and inspection showed this to be the case. I remarked that it looked as if they had been abducted by aliens as food and all sorts of things were left out as if they had left in a hurry. There were pans with cooked food in them and, notably, a whole salmon, minus its head but still quite large, marinating.

We took a short walk to see what there is of Ylönkylä and the answer is, not much. A few houses, a church that doesn't look like a church and a monument, with no indication of what it commemorates. It is a rough red granite monolith some fifteen feet high, with probably machine made scores on one side.

The workers, maybe up to six in number, returned from work around 6pm. Apart from being manual labourers, judging from their three VW pickups, have been very quiet and spent the evening in the summer kitchen.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Turku waterfront - Thursday, 15 September

We had a leisurely start to the day. A bit cooler than previous mornings. On looking at our surroundings in daylight, we saw how lucky we were to have chanced on this place last night. For anyone wanting to find it, the GPS co-ordinates are 60.18130°N 21.63705°E, taking a turning to the left just before reaching the bridge and following the roadway that drops down parallel to the bridge.

We went to see what lay the other side of the bridge. It is an island called Wattkast, largely forested with just one road going through it and ending at a holiday complex of log cabins near a lake. On the way back over the island, we stopped at a large greenhouse-like building used for growing tomatoes and other salad vegetables (yes, I know the tomato is a fruit). We bought two types and a cucumber at their serve yourself, enter the amounts and prices in a book and put the right amount in a tin. It was refreshing to know that we would be trusted to do this and everyone else would do the same. We found a similar mentality in Sweden as well.

We then headed towards Turku, a recent European City of Culture, of which I had never heard before we started planning this trip. On arrival, we headed for tourist information for wifi and details of what to see here. We liked what we saw of the city centre, based around the river which flows through the middle. We went in search of the Sibelius Museum (www.sibeliusmuseum.abo.fi) which happens to be very close to the cathedral, dating back to the 1300s. We both had a look round this and were impressed by its Lutheran plainness. I went to the Sibelius Museum on my own. In fact, I was the only visitor there. I was expecting to learn much about the composer and his life but was disappointed. The museum, under a different name, was originally established in 1926 by Otto Andersson as a repository for musical instruments, sheet music, letters and pictures. Over the years, manuscripts and much Sibelius material was gifted to the museum. I spent my time looking at the many musical instruments covering much of the main part of the museum and its ground floor but, for the life of me, I couldn't find anything specifically relating to the man himself, and his life, which was my main interest. Unfortunately, when I wanted to ask about this, the girl on reception was nowhere to be found. A bit of a disappointment in retrospect.

We then went to locate motorhome parking on the waterfront. There are no facilities but the location is good at GPS 60.44197°N 22.24823°E. There is a loo about 200m along the waterfront towards the road bridge. We went for a walk towards the castle and maritime museum (with a number of historic vessels of different kinds moored nearby). There is also a large "sculpture" of a daisy and long green stem.

Close to where we are parked is the Esposito, a bar on an old ship which also does food. We sat on the deck on wooden benches and table and ate fish and chips. Not the best I've ever had but quite edible. We have spent the evening just watching the world and many of the city's inhabitants go by on bicycles, motor bikes, roller blades or just walking and jogging. It looked as if it might get rowdy earlier when a noisy crowd came across the river on the pedestrian ferry but they got on to some coaches that were waiting for them. They will have come from the city's football ground which is quite close.

There are museums here worth visiting but we feel "museumed-out" at the moment.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Galtby, Korpo island - Wednesday, 14 September

The site owner or manager turned up this morning around breakfast time and we duly paid for our stay. It was amazing having the site and its facilities to ourselves.

We took off to explore more of the island. Our first stop was at Karlby, the main village. There is a cafe/bakery but it was closed. A hotel (closed). A bank that appeared to be open but I'd say that it probably opens for just a few hours a week. Our map showed a shop and we found it down a dirt track by a small marina. It was small but with quite a decent range of comestibles. We bought a few necessary items to help the local economy.

Our drive then took us first of all to the tiny island of Finnö but we didn't get very far. Once we'd crossed the bridge, there was a little cafe (closed, of course) and then two dirt tracks, both marked as private, so we turned round.

On then to the adjacent islands of Sommarön and Hellsö. It was all farming country and deserted roads, often just dirt tracks and houses scattered about. We just followed these roads to see where they would lead us - generally a dead end. We stopped at the Kökar museum (closed) but wandered around its surroundings and down to an inlet which was very pleasant.

One of these dirt roads was signed "Peders Aplagård" which sounded possibly interesting; something to do with apples? The road ended in a farmyard and an open barn-like building with tables and umbrellas. Going in to the barn to investigate, we found a farm shop, the speciality being apple based products, non-alcoholic apple drinks, ciders, jam, spicy sauces. The lady owner told us that they grow their own apples which are sent over to Sweden to be processed into what we had seen. They are sold at the shop and in many other outlets. We parted with some cash.

We then looked for a lunch stop. Out of Karlby, we followed a dirt road which, after a few houses, was nothing more than a cart track and not really meant for camper vans. We pulled over and had a leisurely lunch overlooking a lake called Oppsjön. According to a legend, it was once the home of a troll whose mission was to discourage locals catching fish there.

We moved on to near where we spent last night where there is the finest Bronze Age site in Scandinavia, Otterböte. It is a 600m walk over expanses of smooth rock and woodland paths to a verdant clearing where there are about six stone circles. The site was where men of old came to catch seals. To be honest, these are best views from above, I think, as I couldn't make out much at ground level. Anyway, it was a nice walk.

We then headed off with plenty of time to the ferry, only five minutes away. We thought that we might as well spend the time there as anywhere else. It being yet another fine day, the views over the water to the various islets were splendid. We chatted to or rather, communicated with, a Russian couple in the car stopped behind us. They were from St. Petersburg but spoke virtually no English. We took the opportunity to have our evening meal here as we leave the ferry at Galtby around 9.15pm and our main concern then will be to find somewhere discreet to park for the night.

The ferry arrived and all cars and passengers left so we entered a totally empty ferry with just two other vehicles. There are two young girls as the on board staff and just us and the Russian couple in the saloon. The occupant of the other car appears to have stayed in it for the two and a half hour crossing. The ferry went into port backwards so we had to reverse off, which was interesting.

 I'd had a couple of ideas for overnight parking but it was too dark to see so we joined the road in the Turku direction. Sections of the road we being resurfaced and there was more traffic than I'd have liked. We'd have settled for a lay-by but then there was a left turn to Wattkast so I took it. Just by the start of a long bridge (over to Wattkast island) there was a murky area off to the left. Investigating with the aid of headlights, we found an old road descending gently to a metal barrier, the other side of which was a river. It would appear that we are at what would have been the ferry crossing before the bridge was built. We could just about make out a similar one on the other side. It should be a quiet night.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Sandvik Gästhamn & Camping, Kökar - Tuesday, 13 September

A very quiet night in the car park. We were up and about in good time for the thirty second drive down to the ferry. The queuing is organised in lanes according to which island is your destination and whether you have booked or not. I'd say that the ferry only takes around fifteen vehicles so booking is probably essential. A ferry employee had a list and motioned each vehicle on board in the correct order. We left promptly at 9.15.

Leaving the camper, we went up to the indoor passenger area. There is seating for around a hundred comprising PVC benches around the outside with tables and six round tables with chairs in the middle area. A cafeteria provided coffee and snacks and a couple of passengers ordered a hot meal of some kind. It was simple but very satisfactory.

The weather was, yet again, just perfect - a clear blue sky and the water as calm as a mill pond. We made our way through myriad islands, islets and skerries, most of the time travelling straight ahead but, now and then, appearing to make a sharp right turn. Our first stop was the quayside of the island of Sottunga where probably more than half of the vehicles drove off. The next scheduled stop was Husö but presumably, as no-one had booked to go to or from there, it didn't stop. The same went for the next small island whose name I don't recall. Consequently, our next and final stop was Kökar (www.kokar.ax) where everyone who was left disembarked.

We made our way the mile or two to our campsite (described in Lonely Planet as "fabulous"), situated a quarter mile down a dirt track. It is in a smooth rocky cove. There are a number of wooden holiday cabins, tent areas and a few grassy spaces for camper vans. The facilities are very good - a cafe (closed), a large and well equipped self catering kitchen/dining room overlooking the cove, showers, laundry, saunas and many brightly coloured bikes for hire (and excellent wifi). We located the reception (a wooden shed marked "Information") but it was locked. In fact, we realised that the whole site was deserted and we were here on our own. A phone call enabled us to report our arrival and details of codes for facilities. The person we spoke to was in Turku, some eighty miles and a couple of ferries away and he said he'd probably around tomorrow but, if not, to leave money in a letterbox at reception.

We went off to explore. First, we drove a mile to Sankta Anne Kyrka (church), only open until August. It is quite old and was built on top of a medieval Franciscan monastery. The remains of the monks’ chapel have been enclosed by wooden walls with a conical roof and inside is a display showing its history and artefacts found here. Unfortunately, it was all in Swedish. Some ruined monastery walls were outside but there was not much to be seen. However, the far reaching views out to sea and the archipelago were memorable. The colour was amazing.

From here, we went back to the road and took a dirt track which ended at a coastguard station after about half a mile. What I was looking for were the ruins of wartime fortifications. In 1915/16, the Russians built a radio and surveillance post and coastal battery. It was never finished and was demolished in 1919. Then in 1939/40, it was fortified by Finnish troops with naval guns. It was never used in anger and in 1940 at the end of what is called here The Winter War, Russia demanded that Åland be demilitarised and the fortifications were again demolished. Then, early in what is called The Continuation War (1941-1944), Kökar was fortified for a third time. The same coastal guns were brought back and a strong permanent fort was built. There was accommodation for 120 men and a field hospital. A term of the cease-fire between Finland and Russia in 1944 was that Åland should be demilitarised again and so the fort was yet again demolished, this time for good. There is now very little left to be seen but the history makes it worth a visit together with the sea views.

Back then to the still deserted campsite. A couple of vehicles came down to the simple harbour and a small power boat came in for a while but we have otherwise been left in peace. Amanda braved a dip in the calm waters but I wasn't tempted (nothing new there).

Tomorrow, we shall visit the village of Karlby where most of Kökar's 251 inhabitants live.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Långnäs ferry terminal, Lumparland - Monday, 12 September

Our first task this morning was to call at the Ålandstrafiken office in Mariehamn to book our ferries through the islands of the southern archipelago. Our route will be from Långnäs to Kökar tomorrow morning, spending one night on Kökar and then, on Wednesday, taking an onward ferry to Galtby in the Turku archipelago. It works out much cheaper spending a night en route. This is because the ferries between the islands are mainly intended for locals and making the route in one leap is deliberately made more expensive to penalise visitors. There is an open campsite on Kökar. By booking ahead, we saved 10% of the cost which worked out at €93.

That done, our next port of call was at the Alko alcohol store with the idea of buying a bottle of Åland's take on Calvados. However, it proved to be prohibitively expensive, (€111!) so we gave it a miss. After a shop at the nearby Kantarellen supermarket, we went on to our next destination. When we used the kitchen at the hostel adjoining Godby sports centre, I inadvertently brought away a glass saucepan lid, thinking it was ours. It wasn't and I was anxious to return it, particularly as we had no use for it. I gave it to a lady in the sports centre reception who was quite amused.

We now set out for Långnäs, taking a  backwoods route, as usual meeting virtually no other traffic. On the way, we crossed a bridge between the islands of Lemland and Lumparland. The water we'd crossed, Lumparsund, not very wide, was apparently the main shipping route between Sweden and Russia until it silted up in the 1600s. We went on only a few miles for our lunch stop, in the car park adjacent to Sankt Andreas Kyrka, the oldest surviving wooden church in Åland, built in 1720 and still in regular use. It would have been open had we called by earlier in the year.

There was a path from the car park opening on to a grassy recreational area. Here, there were swings, picnic table, volleyball court and a jetty for swimming from. There were also a couple of earth closet loos and changing rooms. So civilised.

Långnäs consists of just a ferry terminal, although it is used by more than one line plying different routes around the archipelago. We ascertained exactly where we need to be in the morning. We then drove back to Lumparland village and took the road out to the island of Norrboda, at the end of which was a chain ferry to Ändösund, another small island, beyond which were two yet smaller islands, whose names I don't know. However, the ferry was on the other side with no vehicles to bring across. We could have summoned it by pressing a button but as we would want to come back after only maybe a quarter of an hour, it didn't seem a good use of Åland's resources to do this. We then went back to the church car park for a relaxing end of afternoon and evening, it being preferred to the terminal car park and we had time to spare. We had our evening meal there and then drove the short distance back to the ferry as light was beginning to fade. We are in a car park close to the ferry but not the one in front of the Viking Ferry building as Amanda ascertained that other ferries would be stopping briefly just before midnight and about 2am to drop people off so there might be some disturbance.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Gröna Uddens Camping, Mariehamn - Sunday, 11 September

A walk before breakfast for a mile or so alongside the water's edge from the campsite in the opposite direction from the town. There were some holiday cabins on the land side of the path, then larger houses and then plain residential, all completely different from what we'd see at home. I went as far as a spit of land jutting out into the water, along which was a path. At the end, by the water was a single wooden loo hut, a single changing cubicle, a couple of benches and a little beach. I then retraced my steps back to base.

We had not such a full day today. Around lunchtime, we drove to the Sjöfartsmuseum. There were so few people around and almost no traffic so we were able to park immediately outside the museum. The museum itself is very modern and on three floors. It tells the history of Åland's seafaring, how they built small boats to take wood, firewood and other goods they produced to Stockholm in one direction and Turku (Finland) in the other. In time, and in order to compete, they bought larger boats and ships built elsewhere and were able to go further afield, taking not only their own cargoes but also carrying cargoes from other ports and taking them all over the world. There were many interesting exhibits, including reconstructed living accommodations of both captain and crew.

Outside the museum, and moored alongside, was a clipper called the Pommern, last used commercially in the late 1930s but in its present position since 1952. We went on board, first of all to the lower two decks that would have been used for stowing the cargo. They were cavernous. Then upstairs to the accommodation. The captain had his own saloon, small cabin and separate bathroom (actually with a bath). The cabins, etc. for the first and second mates and the crew were much more basic, but no less interesting.

We had the Pommern to ourselves and there were only a couple of other people in the museum.

On the way back to the campsite, we indulged ourselves with a return visit to Pub Niska for another of their pizzas, although Amanda went for a baked potato.

Tomorrow, we head for the interesting named island of Lumparland to sort out our onward travel to the mainland of Finland. We have decided to go island hopping rather than a single voyage.

An evening walk took me up and into the woodland across the road from the campsite. It was an elevated clear path and quite delightful. Eventually emerging from the trees, I walked through a few roads of housing until I reached the path alongside the water and followed my this morning's walk back to the camper.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Gröna Uddens Camping, Mariehamn - Saturday, 10 September

Another short driving day today, it was about 13km from Godby to Mariehamn. Pocket Earth showed the tourist office in the wrong place. We passed a rather large one in Storagatan, but it was closed (we've found that tourist offices and libraries often close at weekends) and when we arrived at where the satnav thought there ŵas a tourist office, there wasn't. Anyway, we were at a large ferry terminal at that point and a helpful security lady rang the tourist office and established that, indeed, it wasn't open today. She was nonplussed as well.

We had a brief wander around along the quayside, establishing where one of Mariehamn's main attractions, the Sjöfartsmuseum is as a possibility for tomorrow. We fell into conversation with a German cyclist who was bemoaning the fact that his Visa card was causing problems and, as a result, he was having difficulty booking a ferry to Stockholm and was miffed that so much seemed to be closed at weekends. He wasn't having a good day. Anyway, we said we were wondering where we would be spending the night with the camper as the only campsite in Mariehamn was closed. He said it was open as he'd been there last night. Things were looking up.

We first went to take a look at a camperstop on Österleden by a marina that I'd found online. It turned out to be just a row of ordinary parking spaces overlooking the water, with a loo disposal but nothing more. It would do for one night maybe. We then went on to Gröna Uddens Camping, which was very open. The proprietor said that he wasn't advertising the fact that the site was open as the cafeteria/restaurant on site wasn't open and he didn't want people to be disappointed! Because of this, the charge per night would be €25 instead of €35. We said we'd be back tomorrow.

We then went to investigate Pub Niska, owned by Michael Björklund (see yesterday's entry) in the Sjökvarteret area on Österleden. This was a rough wooden building, apparently built around part of a ship, a courtyard with wooden packing cases as tables and bench seats, all very rustic and looking out across the inlet. A masted schooner was only feet away. Most of the menu comprised plåtbröd (Åland-style pizza) with some very appetising toppings. We both had smoked trout, horseradish sauce and rocket and it was possible the best pizza ever.

We wandered around among the other buildings. A large craft shop (which had closed while we were having lunch), a jeweller's, a maritime museum and a reconstructed seafarer's chapel which we visited, right on the end of a jetty.

Back to the campsite where we found an excellent pitch only feet away from the beach. There are very few people here. I was persuaded to book us in for two nights here, it is such a lovely place. I took a walk into the town this afternoon, an easy walk along a gravel path. In a park area are some large cages housing rabbits of various kinds and poultry (although a considerable number of jackdaws had found their way in); there were also some peacocks strutting around.

The part of Mariehamn I saw is modern and pleasant enough but nothing of great interest. Our German friend from this morning has returned to the site for another night, having now booked his ferry. He is much happier now.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Ålands Idrottscenter, Godby - Friday, 9 September

Quite a full day today. First on our agenda was to visit Jankarlsgården. This is an open air museum of typical rural buildings of Åland. It was established in 1931 and is named after a local farmer, Jan Karls, whose farmhouse is the main exhibit. There is also a summer cottage and numerous barns, stables, four windmills of different kinds and even a smoke sauna, used as an ordinary sauna but also for smoking meats, all of which have been brought from their original locations in the islands and reconstructed. Admission to the museum was free but would have been worth paying for.

Within the museum site, there is also a small prison building called Vita Björn (white bear). It is stone built and was actually in use in its present location from the 1800s until 1975. One half of it comprises four prison cells, each representing particular periods, showing how a prisoner would have lived at various times. The other half of the building would have been occupied by the warder and his family and was in 1930s style.

Leaving here, we went to investigate some buildings over the road with a cafe/restaurant sign (crossed knife and fork) and the name Smakbyn. There were tables and chairs outside but nothing else to indicate what it was. On going inside, we found a shop display of crafts and wines for sale. It also appeared to be a restaurant with some lovely aromas of cooking. We ordered coffee and one each of a local speciality we had read about, Åland pancakes (Ålandspannkaka). This is a rice puddingy base with cardamom-marinated prunes, topped with whipped cream. Further south, the base is made with semolina so we shall have to track that down. One word for it - yum! It was only this evening that I read Lonely Planet about the place -
"The brainchild of award-winning chef Michael 'Micke' Björklund, this 'taste village' incorporates a farm shop, cookery courses (with/without drinks €90/120), distillery making spirits like Ålvados (Åland-apple calvados; tours and tastings available), bar, and an airy open-kitchen restaurant using seasonal organic produce in dishes like parsnip cheesecake with air-dried ham and pickled chanterelles, and butter-fried perch in shellfish sauce with crayfish compote."
Tempting to go back there! However, he also has a place in Mariehamn which we shall have to find.

Just a short distance down the road was Kastelholms slott, a castle dating back to the 1300s and originally built as a fortified stronghold. It was added to over the years. The Swedish 16th century king, Gustav Vasa, who we have come across a number of times during this trip, spent time here and one of his sons was imprisoned here. We followed a numbered trail around the castle building with boards at various points giving information and history, going up and down stairs and along raised walkways. It was really well done. I was persuaded to try on a rather heavy suit of chain mail and a helmet.

After this, we drove to Godby, vaguely looking for somewhere to spend the night. Godby is a nothing sort of place. We called in at the sports centre, where we knew they had hostel accommodation. Amanda worked well on this and we have ended up being able to park in their car park right next to the hostel, for which we have a key and access to their kitchen, loos and shower. It is all very good and we were charged €15. There is also wifi. We keep landing on our feet but I have warned that there may come a day when we spend a night parked in a lay-by somewhere.

We called in at a large supermarket just down the road. I was aware that Godby has a micro brewery, Stallhagen, and the supermarket stocked its beers. We bought a couple of bottles. We then actually drove to the brewery. There was a restaurant and bar but it was easier to have bought the beers where we did.

Amanda thought she had picked up a few ticks on her feet. I don't know what they were but they weren't ticks. I then found what definitely a tick just below my left kneecap. Fortunately, I had brought a tick remover with me. A nasty little blood sucking beast.

We have spent the evening in the hostel kitchen cooking, eating and taking showers as well as FaceTiming children and grandchildren. We chatted to a Swedish man who was over here to buy a sizeable quantity of a particular kind of paint which he will resell in Sweden. He told us of his hobby of collecting 1970s push button telephones. He has twenty five in different colours. He also told of the summer house that he and his parents/grandparents have rented since 1920 on a lake about two hours from Stockholm which sounded idyllic. He gave us each a plum from his garden.

We are going to the islands' main town of Mariehamn tomorrow to make enquiries about ferries to the mainland. There is lots to see and do there. The campsite there is now closed for the season so we haven't any idea yet where we shall be tomorrow night - it may be a lay-by!

Friday, 9 September 2016

Near Kastelholms slott, Sund - Thursday, 8 September

Looking at the map, I was curious about the two islands (East and West Simskäla) immediately north of where we were. They seemed impossibly remote. Turning out of our campsite, we turned right and followed the only road. In fact, I realised that our site hadn't been on the island of Vårdö, it was on Sandö. I said yesterday that the islands merge into each other sometimes and that was the case here. After a short drive along the forest lined road, we went on to a causeway with a single track over a bridge, with traffic lights. The road was a pinkish colour in the sunshine, being made of the local red granite. Either side of the bridge was water as far as the eye could see, with trees surrounding it and the odd wooden house of boat shed. Traffic was so light as to be almost non-existent.

At the tip of Sandö, the road continued along a causeway for maybe half a mile before abruptly coming to an end at a ferry point. We could see the ferry in the distance, stopped at the far side. It is a chain ferry that takes traffic 1.5km to East Simskäla. Further on, a bridge leads to West Simskäla (and you can't go any further from there). There was a sign which we didn't really understand which we thought gave the times the ferry operated and we didn't want to wait so we turned round and headed back the way we'd come. In retrospect, I think that if we'd waited a bit longer, the ferry would have come our way. Anyway, we drove slowly, soaking up the beauty and remoteness of the expanse of water all around.

We retraced our steps of yesterday, crossing the bridge by the Bomarsund Museum, pulling off into the car park on the other side. We wanted to explore what was left of Bomarsund Fortress. It was built by Tsarist Russia in the early 1800s because, at the time, Finland and the Åland Islands were part of the Russian Empire and Russia wanted to protect its possession against what they thought might be an attack by Sweden. This never actually happened. What did happen, in 1854, was an assault by a joint British-French force, which overran the fortress very quickly as, at the time, it was only quarter built. Altogether, something of a shambles on Russia's part. On the island of Prästö, the other side of the river from the fortress, is a walk of about 5km, taking in points of interest relating to the fortress. I'd have liked to have walked it but there wasn't enough time. We just looked around at the fragments of wall that remain, seeing also an engraved stone commemorating the 1854 assault erected on the occasion of a visit by HRH The Earl of Wessex in 2015. Apparently, the first Victoria Crosses were awarded to some of the fighting force.

Both the Puttes and Prästö campsites nearby were closed for the season, unfortunately. We might have stayed in the Bomarsund car park as there were a couple of festival loos there but it was too early. As we passed by the hamlet of Vartaga, I caught sight of a shop, a K-Market, so we took the next turn to get to it. Amazing to find a decently stocked little supermarket in such a location. All we really needed was bread. Just opposite the shop was a sign pointing to "Bokboden". I guessed what it was but it was a little gem. It was a small shed painted pale blue. On opening the door, we were bathed in light from the windows at the back. Inside were two chairs with a little table between them and at the side were some shelves of books. This was a little community library.

We then went on to find Jankarlsgården, a free open air museum of mainly farm buildings, and the nearby Kastelholms slott (castle). We had a quick look but decided to leave these until tomorrow. We are tucked away in a secluded spot for the night so we shall be the first visitors in the morning. There is free wifi at the castle entrance, a short walk away.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Sandösunds Camping, Vårdö - Wednesday, 7 September

We were rather sorry to leave Söderhagen Camping, debating whether or not to stay for a third night. It's nice not to be in a hurry to do anything. Sven's son came round with a card machine so we paid €40 for the two nights and that really made the decision for us. Our young German friend, Stefan, had gone to catch his ferry back to Sweden. Amanda took rather a shine to him ;-)

We set the satnav for the island of Vårdö, where we knew there was a good camp site (providing it was still open). We had a leisurely drive on quite deserted roads. We stopped off at Frebbenby supermarket again and this time found the milk. The yoghurt drink is actually very nice so it won't go to waste. Amanda bought a large jar of locally made apple sauce (she's partial to it). It will go well with the tin of pulled pork we bought yesterday but later on she attacked the jar with a spoon.

The road took us over the islands of Jomala, Finström, Saltvik, Sund and then Prästö (where we stopped for lunch overlooking the road bridge by the ruins of Bomarsund fortress), over the cable ferry (which was waiting for us - thirty seconds later, the barrier came down) and on to the island of Töftö, and then to Vårdö. In most cases today, there has just been a bridge linking islands or sometimes nothing discernible. The weather today has been just perfect, not hot by any means, but still and with a clear blue sky. The sky reflecting on the various waters we crossed gave them a beautiful blue hue. We'd obviously seen photos of similar scenes and assumed they'd been touched up, but no, it really is the colour in magazines.

We arrived at Sandösunds, about a quarter mile down a dirt track. We had no idea if it was open. On arrival, reception was closed but there were odd signs of life - a bicycle here and a fishing rod standing against a wooden chalet there. We 'phoned a number in the reception window and were told to choose a pitch and someone would find us later. We are amongst trees with a hookup. There are rather a lot of biting insects (we've both been attacked) but decided to stay here as anywhere else might well be the same. It's just the time of year and the warm spell that has brought the insects out.

A short walk through the woodland on the site brought me to a wooden viewing tower. The views from the top of the surrounding waters and forest were worth the climb but not that far reaching.

I tracked down Olof, the owner of the site, and paid €18, which is less than we've been paying in Sweden and the facilities are very good, even a well-equipped kitchen. The wifi is also good. I asked Olof when the site closes for the year. Although he has a house in the nearby village, he prefers to live on the site so it never closes. I think I understood him to say that he owns a nearby island and spends time there as well, probably for the fishing. Most men I've seen on the site have been carrying a fishing rod. I wish I had one here, although I haven't fished for years. Maybe it's something to bring on a future trip to Scandinavia.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Söderhagen Camping, Eckerö - Tuesday, 6 September

A lazy day. Pottered around the site this morning; explored a couple of paths that led towards the surrounding woodland but they didn't really lead anywhere.

We drove early afternoon to see something of Eckerö and also to find a food shop. First, we went a couple of miles along the dirt road by the site to Degersand, giving its name to a caravan site amongst trees and an adjacent beach in a wide cove, rock and tree lined on either side, absolutely picture perfect.

Pocket Earth showed a food shop in Storby, near the ferry terminal, but there isn't one. We collected some helpful literature about Eckerö from the ferry office and were told that the nearest (and only) shop was at Hammarland, on the next island. It was only about seven miles so off we went, although first we went to take a look at the Eckerö Mail and Customs House, an imposing building built in 1828 at a time when Finland and Åland were part of Russia. It functioned then as the Russian border station to Finland, although it has had other uses since then, a quarantine hospital during a cholera outbreak in the 1830s, connection with the Russian Revolution, German troops landing in 1918 and Finnish troops quartered there in WWII. It is now used as a culture house with exhibitions, crafts and cafe. Everything was end of season closed for us, of course.

We then drove to the decent supermarket at Frebbenby, just before Hammarland. A new currency, the euro, now we are in Finland. I was in charge of getting a litre of milk and found later, when making tea, that it was soured milk, like a rather runny yoghurt. Quite nice but not for making tea with!

On the way back, we stopped off to have a look at Eckerö church, very old, having been built in the 1400s, but like so many churches over here, they really don't look as old as they are. The stonework had been repointed and the roof tiles (wooden, maybe) looked quite new.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Söderhagen Camping, Eckerö - Monday, 5 September

We were up a bit earlier than usual and were at the ferry terminal gate at 9am. The ferry duly arrived and we were aboard just after 9.30 for departure at 10. All very straightforward. The boat was quite busy but by no means full. We settled ourselves in a comfortable bar area next to a window and ate sandwiches and coffee that we'd taken with us. This ferry is used by many for day trips as I think the duty free shop is an attraction. What the Swedes also seem to like is bingo. A man with a microphone announced it and a large number of passengers went over to queue for bingo cards. When he started the calling, we "made our excuses and left".

We spent the rest of the two hour voyage on a top deck in the open. The weather was breezy but otherwise perfect and we enjoyed looking out at various rocky islets.

We disembarked at Storby and went straight to Käringsunds, a little resort and camp site a couple of miles up the coast. We parked by an inlet lined with wooden fishermen's sheds. Our Lonely Planet mentioned the Bodega Gastropub here. We saw the menu and, it being around 1pm, resolved to have lunch out, only to find that, in September, it opens only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Instead, we made do with our breakfast cereals that we hadn't had time for earlier and the rest of the sandwiches. Oh well.

When we met Paul and Sheila Langford the week before last, Paul mentioned a good camp site on Eckerö, Söderhagen Camping, near the hamlet of Torp. We arrived at reception and found that the owner, Sven Eklund, was in the car following us so he welcomed us immediately. Name dropping Paul and Sheila obviously made a difference. He told us to go and find a pitch we liked and he would be along later. That was at about 3pm and we've seen nothing of him since. Maybe he'll be around in the morning.

We were the only occupants on the site. It is quite lovely, on raised ground overlooking a wide inlet which splits in two the lower part of Eckerö. Walking down to the water's edge, we found a number of rowing boats (Sven offered the use of one at no extra charge), a wooden jetty stretching for about fifty yards into the inlet and also a sauna in a wooden shed - all very Scandinavian. The whole scene was idyllic.

Later this afternoon, a German lad on a motor bike turned up - Stefan from Paderborn. We chatted for a while and shared the site kitchen with him before he went off to get the sauna going. As he is camping, the sauna might warm him up as it is going to be quite a cold night. Autumn has set in rather quickly.

Our original plan had been to take the ferry from Sweden directly to Turku on the coast of Finland. We had never heard of Åland. It is an autonomous part of Finland, has its own stamps and tax regime and is very much a foodie paradise. The main town is Mariehamn, which we shall probably visit the day after tomorrow. Our plans, such as they were, have been thrown up in the air, and we may spend a few days exploring the various habitable islands in the archipelago.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Grisslehamn - Sunday, 4 September

We had a leisurely breakfast whilst a number of caravan owners finished their end of season packing and moved their vans off site. In light rain, we drove the very few minutes to the ferry back to Öregrund. We had a wait of about half an hour and then the crossing took no more than ten minutes.

Driving straight through Öregrund, we headed for Östhammar for wifi at a Swedbank to post our blogs and download the paper. We then drove for maybe twenty miles along a really lovely country road, mostly tree lined, before crossing a river bridge which took us on to the island of Vädoö. Our purpose was to find out about one of the ferries to the Åland archipelago although we hadn't decided exactly when we would go on to Finland. The Åland archipelago, although being quite close to Sweden, in fact are part of Finland, but Swedish is the principal language spoken there and its currency is the euro.

We first took a drive around the hinterland of Grisslehamn, windy roads and more forest, before having a lunch stop. Then back to Grisslehamn where we found a camperstop overlooking the harbour and ferry terminal. I walked over to the ferry office to get some information about the ferry. It is operated by Eckerö Linjen and does the two hour crossing to the island of Eckerö three times a day (08.00, 15.00 and 20.00). We had actually been vaguely planning to do the crossing further south from Kapellskår to Mariehamn, maybe spending another couple of days in Sweden, but the weather isn't so good (quite chilly this morning and now rainy) and we have probably seen as much as we want to see in this part of Sweden. Therefore, we made the decision to go for the 10am crossing tomorrow morning. We paid for our overnight stay here and the collector of the money gave us a couple of vouchers. He spoke no English so we had no idea what they were. On booking the ferry, we found that they saved us the SEK35 each as passengers so we just pay the one way cost for the camper of SEK350.

So, rather unexpectedly, we leave Sweden tomorrow. We shall probably spend a couple of days around the Åland archipelago before getting another ferry to the mainland of Finland. This evening, we have watched the rather large ferry arrive, disgorge its contents and then, with people and vehicles loaded, go back to Eckerö.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Gräsöbadens Camping, Gräsö - Saturday, 3 September

We walked to the library after breakfast, I thought for us to both download today's paper. However, the library is closed on Saturdays. I was able to download the paper by standing outside the library building but the code I had clearly could be used with only one device, namely my IPad. A quick shop at the ICA supermarket and we drove literally round the corner to the free vehicle ferry across to the island of Gräsö, no more than ten minutes. On board, a lady was very interested in our camper so we gave a quick guided tour. Small high tops such as ours are very unusual here.

There is only one camp site on the island, just a few minutes from the ferry. It is quite big with about 300 places. We headed straight there and booked in. It is very much end of season. Only one of the loo blocks is open and there is no wifi at any time. It was our most expensive site so far, 320SEK. There are mainly seasonal caravans here. Most are unoccupied and some were being cleared out for the winter. The site is on the shore of the island, looking across to Öregrund, where we were last night.

This afternoon, we drove on the island's principal road to the northern tip, looking out towards the small uninhabited island of Örskär. The road simply stops at a turning circle. There were some scattered houses but nothing else. We then drove back down the road, diverting on the way to take a minor road for about 3km to Öster-Mörtarö. There were scattered houses on the way but the road reached the coast and then nothing. Back on the main road, we stopped briefly near the ferry to take a photo by the church of an odd conical building, rather like a witch's hat. The southern end of the island looked out to the island of Rävsten, very wooded and, I think, a nature reserve. A few houses to be seen and a couple of small power boats out on the water but nothing else.

On the way back to the site, we stopped briefly at a little building housing a very nicely done display of Gräsö gård, now a nature reserve but historically I think it formed part of the estate acquired by King Gustavuz Vasa in the 1400s. He evicted farmers to get it.

The island of Gräsö covers some 36 square miles. It has a population of about 800 (increasing in the summer season). I assume those of working age work off the island. It is largely covered by forest and farm land.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Öregrund - Friday, 2 September

We took a walk this morning to a weir on Laxön. I'd been there earlier before breakfast. We were able to see how the island probably got its name (lax being Swedish for salmon). Water came tumbling through the weir or sluice and downstream of it salmon were leaping out of the water, some of them quite sizeable. It was an amazing sight.

I was given a haircut this morning. At the Clas Ohlson store the week before last, I bought a hair trimmer with all manner of attachments. Today it was used for the first time. Amanda did a pretty good job of giving me a 12mm all over cut.

We didn't have too far to drive today. We will have a leisurely meander down the coast over the next few days. The road today was almost deserted, with delightful forest on both sides. At one point, I ordered that the sky ahead be photographed. It was a clear blue and the small clouds looked as if they had been stuck on. It looked so unusual.

We are in Öregrund, a small town on the coast. There is space for just three campers  next to the water; we were first to arrive and bagged the best spot. The other two are now occupied. There is actually another place not far away with a further five spaces. I took a walk this afternoon, via the library to find out about wifi and then through woodland next to the coast. So much of this area is built on smooth rock and there was a rocky outcrop I went on which ended with metal steps down into the water for anyone brave enough to take a swim. The centre of the town is very attractive.

There is supposedly wifi on the harbour where we are but a code is needed from the tourist office. However, that closed for the year on 28 August!

From where we are, the island of Gräsö is maybe half a mile away. We can see the ferry going back and forth. It is yellow and, apparently, that indicates that there is no charge to use it (part of the transport infrastructure). We plan to go over to Gräsö tomorrow.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Älvkarleby Turisthotell - Thursday, 1 September

At the start of today, we had no idea where we might go today. Nothing planned at all. Anyway, a rough idea formed and we blasted (at a sedate 60mph) up the E4 towards Gävle (pronounced "Yervla"), I think. Our late lunch stop was at a rest area next to the E4 but on raised ground so there didn't seem to be much traffic noise. There was very little traffic altogether. It was all laid out very nicely with a main parking area and then an adjacent area with tandem parking spaces either side of a central roadway. Next to the parking spaces were picnic benches and tables, some with roofs covering them. The loos were good and there was even a WC emptying facility so overnighting in the camper would be fine. However, we had further to go.

Our Camperstop book showed a possible place at Älvkarleby so we made our way to it, via a Co-op and a post box to post a couple of cards. We then located our stop for the night, a tarmaced area with ten camper spaces, with hookups, surrounded by trees -very nice. It adjoins, and belongs to, a hotel. We have the use of excellent showers and loos and even a sauna! All for 100SEK - about £9.

In season, this area is probably quite busy. There are only us and another camper van here. We have had a lovely walk this evening along a path the length of the small island of Laxön which as accessed via a bridge. It used to be used for military training, especially bridge building, as a wide river passes either side, not deep but very rocky. There is also a dam, below which is a lake which winds its way for some distance to the south. The former barracks seems to be used now for holiday accommodation and there is also a restaurant and cafe there. It really is very nice here.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Wäsby Golfklubb, Upplands Väsby - Wednesday, 31 August

Had an excellent breakfast at the hotel. Scrambled eggs at their best and perfect smoked salmon. We arrived at Göteborg Central Station in good time. Our train was waiting but not ready for boarding. I went off to get coffees to take with us. The train was very comfortable, plenty of leg room and wifi. It was a three hour journey to Stockholm. On reaching there, we went straight to the airport on the Arlanda Express, where the camper was waiting for us. A slight hiccup on trying to get out of the car park. We had prepaid but it wanted to charge us 2,200SEK (about £200) but a press of the help button and some human intervention dealt with this.

We are now back at the camper stop we were at last Tuesday. We haven't decided yet exactly where we will go in the morning. We think we shall probably spent a further week in Sweden before heading towards Finland.

Elite Plaza Hotel, Göteborg - Tuesday, 30 August

Our last day on the good ship, Diana. We left Vänersborg at 6.45am. Our first stop, after a couple of hours, was at Trollhättan Canal Museum. This was really fascinating as it told the story of the opening up of a route from Lake Vänern to the sea for commercial use. Outside, the evidence still remained in the shape of the original locks (with all lock gates and mechanism removed), which quickly became obsolete as larger boats than they could take began to be used, and also a later and larger set of locks, although these are no longer in use.

Our boat entered a staircase consisting of four locks, with a total drop of 32 meters. Of the three lock systems here this, the biggest one (from 1916), is the only one still in use. The rest of the day was spent on board, motoring at quite a speed along the Trollhättan Canal where we arrived in Göteborg late afternoon. Last photos were taken, farewells to fellow travellers and the crew of the boat, and we then walked the short distance to our hotel, which is very nice.

We ended the day by going out for pizza and then back to our hotel via the station to check how long we needed to allow for the walk to it in the morning. Göteborg is Sweden's second largest city. We like it very much and would like to make a return visit.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Vänersborg - Monday, 29 August

Lake Vänern is Sweden's largest lake and the third largest in Europe (after Ladoga and Onega lakes in Russia). We were due to spend much of today crossing it, with a stop to visit a castle. However, all passengers were summoned to a meeting after breakfast where it was announced that, after much careful thought, the captain had decided that the weather conditions were such that he did not think that the passengers should remain on board the ship for the crossing. Rain and wind would have made it too choppy for safety and comfort. Therefore, we were to be bussed around the lake.

First of all, we walked alongside the canal for a km or so to Sjötorp and spent some time in a canal museum. There were reconstructed parts of a captain's bridge and living accommodation of how boats using the canal would have been in years gone by.

We boarded our coach here and drove for about an hour to Läckö Slott (castle), although first we had a leisurely lunch at the adjacent restaurant. It was salmon caught from Lake Vänern and it was so good.

We had an English-speaking guide for the castle. Originally built as a fortified castle in 1298 as a few houses surrounded by a wall, it was added to and built upwards at various times in its history. It is now a national monument. It looks so unlike any castle in Britain.

Leaving the castle, we drove for only a short distance before stopping for coffee and cakes at a cafe at Spiken, on Lake Vänern. This was a very leisurely stop as we had to allow sufficient time to enable our ship to reach our overnight stop at Vänersborg. It was all very pleasant. Our drive then continued and we reached Vänersborg at 7pm and the ship appeared 15 minutes later. It was actually quite a tiring day but really very well managed as a last minute alternative.

It was "the Captain's Dinner" this evening. Most people dressed up a little bit. We reach the end of our journey on the water tomorrow.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Hajstorp on the Göta Kanal - Sunday, 28 August

Leaving Motala at 7.30am, we very soon entered Lake Vättern, the second largest lake in Sweden. It was vast. We went about 6km southwards and moored in the town of Vadstena, right next to the moated castle.

Our first visit, led by a local guide, was to the 14th century convent church of St. Bridget (Birgitta) and its adjacent buildings. Bridget never lived to see it built. She had quite an interesting life, though. Born in 1303, she married at 16, had some six children and her husband died relatively young. She then decided the contemplative life was for her and wanted to found the convent. She needed the pope's consent so travelled to Rome. Unfortunately, he was in Avignon so she stayed in Rome to wait for him. She waited for twenty years. The pope then gave her the consent she wanted and she conveyed this and the plans for the building of the convent to those she remained in Vadstena. However, Bridget died in Rome in 1373.

In the church were two medieval triptychs, both very intricate.

Returning to the castle, we went in and explored the various rooms. The castle building itself was constructed and added to over several centuries.

We then crossed Lake Vättern, about 20km, to Karlsborg, through a short stretch of narrow canal into another lake (whose name I don't know at the moment). We went north to enter a lock on the canal at Forsvik, where a welcome committee greeted us — a merry band of singers clutching fresh flowers and playing hymns on accordions and brass, a tradition started in 1915 by the late Henry Kindbom. His family continues to bless every ship that passes by.

Rain set in during the evening. The canal was extremely narrow in places. We came to a fork, where the right fork was the original canal, which is no longer used by boats such as ours as the bend is too sharp. We went to the left which is now the main route. However, we were able to see, a little way up the old route, a stone obelisk which marks the highest point on the canal at 91.5m.

We passed by a tiny ferry, for foot passengers only.

We have moored for the night at Hajstorp, immediately above the Thomas Telford lock. He was brought in to advise on the construction of the canal.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Motala on the Göta Kanal - Saturday, 27 August

We had an excursion this morning straight from the boat. We walked maybe 1km to the church and ruined cloister at Vreta, which dates back to around 1100. This was the very first nunnery in Sweden. There wasn't really very much left of the nunnery but the inside of the church was interesting. In particular, there is a chapel with coffins bearing the remains of various members of the Scottish Douglas family, believed to be mercenaries who fought in the Thirty Years War. It really is difficult to over estimate the effects of that period of upheaval in the heart of Europe. Although the main theatre of the war was what is now Germany, the Scots were in the pay of the King of Sweden.

While we were off the boat, it made its way up a staircase of locks. We were then on the boat for most of the day except for another staircase where it was fascinating to watch the boat make its leisurely way upwards.

We are moored tonight in Motala, a sizeable town. Here, there is a motor museum which we have visited this evening. Lots of interesting exhibits, memorabilia, etc. and there was also a separate collection of old radios and televisions. Very well worth visiting.

Berg, near Linköping, on the Göta Kanal - Friday, 26 August

After breakfast this morning, a local English-speaking guide took us around the ruin of a fortified small castle only a few yards from the boat. It was fascinating and very much tied up with the Swedish monarchy during the 15th and 16th centuries about we, of course, knew nothing. Personally, I'm atrocious at British history, let alone that of other countries. Having said that, I'm learning a little about the Thirty Years War (in a way) by re-reading "1632" by Eric Flint. If you want a serious study of this period then this book probably isn't for you.

At Mem, we entered the Göta Kanal. The weather today started sunny and clear and stayed that way all day, getting quite hot - up to around 30C, apparently.  The boat moored at Söderköping, a lovely town which obviously attracts a lot of visitors. The town was hosting a medieval couple of days and so there were many people around wearing period clothing. There were also many stalls selling leather, wooden and decorative goods with an emphasis on what might have been for sale in medieval times. It is an annual event.

The boat was stopping at Söderköping for a couple of hours. I took a walk up the canal towpath for about 2km. There were a number of locks along the way and I just waited for the boat to come along. I'd taken my Kindle with me to occupy me whilst waiting and dangled my feet in the water of a lock to cool them. I climbed back on board and the boat continued its journey. The canal is very attractive, certainly at this stage. It passes through farming country, mainly arable but we saw a few cattle and horses. There have been a few more locks and also a few swing bridges where roads cross the canal. There was also a lift bridge, carrying a railway.

The journey hasn't been all canal. There have been a few large lakes with the canal joining them up. I assume that the lakes were there before the canal was built. We have moored tonight at Berg, a small village near the town of Linköping.

We have got to know a number of our fellow travellers. At lunch and dinner, we sit at the same table which is shared with four other English-speakers. They are an elderly couple who live in Halifax, Nova Scotia although they are Scottish. They have lived in Canada since 1965. The other pair are sisters, older than us, both widowed. One has been a teacher and has led quite a normal life. The other worked for the Red Cross all over the world and is quite an intrepid traveller.

For breakfast, we sit anywhere. We shared a table this morning with a German couple from Leipzig.

Friday, 26 August 2016

The ship Diana, on the Göta Kanal - Thursday, 25 August

This morning, we went by taxi to the quayside on the island in Stockholm where Gamla Stan is. Unfortunately, the taxi driver was unable to get us as far as we wanted to go as some roads were closed and the traffic was chaotic. He was most apologetic. The reason was due to a state visit by the US vice-president, Joe Biden. So we got out and walked the couple of hundred yards or so.

Our destination was a boat on the quayside, the Diana. It is not a big boat. It was built in 1931. It is 31.66m long and has 28 cabins on three decks. They are small cabins. A lot of them have bunk beds. Think railway sleeper compartments and that will give an idea of their size. Ours is a little larger and has two single beds (which are very comfortable). Each cabin has a wash basin but certainly no en suite. On each deck are loos and a couple of showers.

On the middle deck is the dining room, in one corner of which is the ship's library, comprising a selection of books about Sweden and the canal, mainly in Swedish but some in German and English. There is a walkway around the middle deck and, at the bow end, an almost vertical set of steps up to what is called the shelter deck. There is seating up there and it is under cover. However, we can't walk all the way round as the captain's bridge is at the stern end.

We set off from Stockholm this morning and will be travelling for six days along the Göta Kanal, arriving in Göteborg (Gothenburg) next week. We had a stop for one and a half hours this afternoon at the coastal village of Trosa, the old part of which was rather quaint. We cast off again at 6.30pm and we are due to moor for the night at Stegeborg around 1.30am. We are out in the Baltic at the moment and don't actually enter the canal until the middle of tomorrow morning. It is quite choppy and I'm feeling just a little bit queasy!