We headed off from Amsterdam somewhat tentatively. Are we ready? Do we have all the things we need?? When you are driving around the world, google has no checklist to follow, and if they did it may be country or car specific. We didn’t know for sure if we were ready but here we are at the first hotel stop and this is only because it is minus lots and snowing outside at the moment and we didn’t want to sleep out in it!
We have a plan, or I should say HAD as it went out the window in the first few days. The plan was to travel first to Sweden and drive up the coast road stopping every few hours to take in the beautiful scenery and relax a little before we push on to the picturesque campsite waiting for us an easy days drive apart… all the way around the world! ha ha ha ha ROFL. In truth, so far is has been far from that. Let me tell you how it’s been to date.
We had planned an early morning escape from Vanessa’s place in Amsterdam but with the last-minute shopping and the really important things called ‘mucking around’ we didn’t end up getting away from Amsterdam until around 3 pm. I thought we should have had another go the next day but we pushed on like the troopers we are. We spent our first night at a camping ground that was closed… well they closed that day, and said we could stay as technically they were open till midnight. They promised not to kick us out till the next day. At this point we should have got the idea and did like the birds did and head south. The next day we headed up to Germany and the autobahn. If I didn’t have a roof rack and a 100kg tent on the back I would have given her a bit of welly but I left that to the Audi and BMW drivers that were passing us as if we were stopped! That night we stayed at another camping ground/camper van place and paid by honesty box as the owner was on holiday in Spain (joke, but you might see a pattern) The days are short up here at the moment and the sun set today at 3:10pm so we are arriving to the campground in what feels like the middle of the night. Sunrise is around 7:40 and I am having big problems laying around till that hour as well..! Christine on the other hand is loving the lie in. So, Sweden. We entered the country from Denmark (choosing to pass straight through Copenhagen and Stockholm to get to the north of Sweden as soon as we could.) Sweden is a place I have been associated with all my life. As a child, I can remember the sales reps from Volvo Penta Sweden that used to visit Dad several times a year and then later when I worked for various Volvo companies I visited Sweden myself. I remember it fondly. Clearly I never went too far north and I also mostly did my visits in the summer time.
We wanted to come this far north to see the Northern Lights. The best time to see them is during the winter. Well, the BEST time to see them is when its dark and up here during the summer its daylight all day AND night so no point coming to see an event that needs darkness when it won’t get dark. The ‘season’ is from late October onwards (till summer) so we are here November and we still have had no northern lights. Turns out you also need a clear sky (duh…) and this time of year the clear sky is a hard thing to find. So is was going to be a bit hit and miss if we were going to see the northern lights this time or if we will have to wait until we have travelled around Africa. When we were drawing up the plan for this trip, we never included the heading north bit at the start, it was south all the way to Cape Town. It has been fun so far though.
In search of the northern lights, we kept making our way north. We went through Lapland, Sweden then headed west into Norway. We followed a route called the Blue Highway (or Bla Vagen) It’s a road that goes from Norway, east to Sweden following the wide river valleys of the Uma River all the way across Sweden. At Umea, you pick up a ferry to Finland then further east to Pudozh, Russia where the route ends. Its called the Blue Highway as in the 1500’s to 1800’s it was used by traders and travelers heading from ‘the west’ and of course they travelled mainly by boat down the rivers and across the many ‘blue’ lakes. The road was completed as a tourist highway in the 1960’s and is now a ‘European Road’ and a popular tourist route. We had a great night staying at a rest area along the route. In Sweden and Norway, freedom camping is legal and allowed pretty much anywhere! We had bought some fire wood and found a rest area with a day shelter that has a fire place. It was nice to have a fire but when the temperature is getting down to minus 10 or lower, the fire doesn’t make too much of a difference. The next day we crossed over to Norway, and then crossed the Arctic Circle 66.33 degrees north. Yahoo!! Driving into the Arctic Circle was something I have wanted to do since we first started to talk about this trip.
The conditions for the Northern Lights were not playing the game for us and we decided to head south. We were not in a position to sit it out in a hotel until the weather and the sun flares provided the right conditions for the lights. Never mind! To be honest, we were not prepared for the cold here in the north and were faced with buying more clothing and gear or getting out of the cold. We chose the warmth. We have been in the cold before but this was something really different. The night we spent in the tent above the arctic circle was something else altogether. I filled a water bottle with warm water before bed, sort of like a hot water bottle but not boiling water as I didn’t want to deform the bottle. When I woke up 4 hours after going to bed, the water was frozen. Not solid but I had to break the ice up to drink some. In the morning, it was completely rock hard, as was the 12 litres of water we had in the back of the Ute along with pretty much everything else we had. Some other things that froze were Christine’s hand cream, the drinks not in the fridge, the water from the windscreen washers was freezing on contact with the window, even with the (very expensive) special anti-freeze additive, our iPhones wouldn’t work below -10c, even cooking was hard as the propane wouldn’t flow very strongly. To put the tent away we have to fold it and tuck in the sides. It was not a nice job to do when its frozen solid. I am sure with the right gear and preparation a trip into the frozen north during winter would be fine and comfortable but we did not have the right gear and had made no preparations… (hehe still went tho eh and got the photos to prove it). We are heading to Oslo now and will spend 2 nights there before we head back to Sweden and Denmark. The drive down the west coast of Norway has been excellent. This country really is beautiful and a real match to New Zealand for scenery and natural wonders. Seeing it in a half frozen state is quite something and we really are glad we decided to do this part of the world during the late autumn.
We have this awesome vehicle, a 4x4 Toyota Hilux. It’s a go anywhere vehicle and just as well too. The roads here are really well made and very smooth and wide. The problem this time of year in the north of the country is that the surface is just ice. In the towns off the main roads they do not scrape the snow completely off the roads. They let it pack down hard and combine it with some grit for traction and leave it till summer. If they salt the roads, rain can wash it away and black ice can form very quickly so it’s easier to deal with the snow. The people up here are well used to the slippery roads and travel very, very slowly on the ice. We witnessed a lot of cars sliding sideways down the roads and even a bus loaded with people drifting through a roundabout. No one seemed to care too much, normal everyday life here in winter. Our car has a full set of new tyres that are all terrain type, good for mud and snow. Combined with the 4x4 we have had no problems at all with the slippery conditions. Its really starting to feel like home now and is turning out to be a great choice of overland vehicle. When things get a little warmer and we have a camp for a few days I will make a video of how we have set up all our stuff in and on the car and how we make camp each day.
it's Our Epic Trip...
David & Christine are from New Zealand and are embarking on a trip around the world the slow way, on foot and by personal vehicle. This could get interesting!