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.