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The road to the North

Community Highlights Road Trips The road to the North

Our time in Holland provided the luxury of short drives on the road, and much to see. However, if you look at a map and compare the distance we have come to that remaining to Norway, we haven't come far at all. And so after the festivities of Kingsday in Amsterdam, it was time to put in the big ones to make some progress across the continent. After a full day of driving into Germany and spending a night outside of Hamburg, we awoke fresh and ready to venture to the north and cross into Denmark. Before finding the ferry, we stopped by in the small town of Heligenhafen (Germany) for a rest and to stock up on supplies. A pretty town by the water, we were able to say goodbye to our very short time in Germany.

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Crossing the Fehmarn Belt by ferry at Puttgarden, we crossed into Denmark at Rodbyhavn. To be fair, the 45 minute trip at €79 should have perhaps been better researched. Our planned return trip from Norway to the UK will also be by ferries (two of them), with durations of about 11 and 18 hours each. Booked through ferrysavers.com we picked up one of these for about €48...we don't want to imagine what they would hit us up for if we arrived to these at the last minute like we did today! A little travel tip for those interested ;)

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Departing the ferry into a new land we quickly found a place to stop and take in our surrounds. The sleepy community of Maribo was soon introduced to the white stallion; Donald. The perfect stop for a lunch break and a breath of fresh air.

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In the middle of what the Danes could describe as nowhere at all, Ange decided she would like her first attempt at driving on the "wrong" side of the road. It was a seemingly safe bet; a quiet country road with not much in sight. Because our insurance costs skyrocketed with the prospect of an under 25 year old driver at the wheel, all of the driving has fallen to Jeff thus far. Nevertheless, it would be criminal to spend so much time in Europe without Ange having given driving a go at least once. Within 10 seconds of taking the wheel she was faced with the prospect of overtaking a tractor and within 5 minutes she was navigating roundabouts. Within 10 minutes she was forced to test her nerves on an incredibly narrow bridge that was over 2km in length with an oncoming semi trailer. We survived!

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We eventually found a quiet picnic area by the town of Store Elmue. There is literally nothing here but a few houses and a wind powered turbine. The perfect place to unwind and enjoy a meal in the sunshine.

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The sun hasn't been setting until around 9.30pm each night, giving us plenty of time to explore our campsites. Dinner has not proven to be a problem at all, Donald's facilities are not up to catering for an army, however we have been eating like kings! Plenty of vegetables have been used to bulk up our meals, and a 500g packet of mince will dish up 8 bowls of spaghetti bolognese. For "roughing it", we believe we are doing it pretty well.

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The following morning our itinerary returned to the exploring of a city; namely, Copenhagen. Our expectations of the city were somewhat mixed, although our approach certainly took to a rough start. The main arterial highway which would take us there in a hurry resembled that of someone who enjoyed a life of gluttony and a love of meat pies...completely clogged and not letting anything through. And so to save Donald from his own heat, we took the first exit to take an alternate route through a few surrounding suburbs. The first set of traffic lights involved a left turn (which is a right turn by Australian road rules standards) which so happened to be the home to some native road works. In the wild, road works cause delays to those trying to get by, and we were certainly getting our Danish fix of this species. As we waited for our turn to move, Donald's engine was cut to save on fuel and temperature.

When it was finally our time to continue, we were halted by the fact that Donald had slipped into a comatose state...and didn't respond to his usual "turn of the key" prompt. And so, when the cars in front of us started to move, we stayed still. In a short panic, we quickly jump started him and continued on our way to move the 10 metres towards the car that was in front. This wasn't the first time that this had happened...and it must be outlined, that having a second "leisure" battery has come in real handy with a set of jumper leads to match. The two batteries live behind the front two seats, so access is also easy (especially in a hurry!). The first time we had a starting issue was back in Edam, Holland, after we spent a series of days charging our devices overnight, with a few short driving days not able to replace the used energy. Connecting our leisure battery to our car battery was not an issue, and so starting again along our journey was not difficult...but there was another problem that needed resolving: our leisure battery didn't charge through the alternator.

Because our second battery is used to start the fridge each day, we realised that it was only a matter of time until we could potentially be left with two dead batteries. Because of this foresight, back in Marken Jeff armed himself with a few screwdrivers and a multimeter to connect a relay and a few leads to ensure that this second battery would take its' share of the juice.

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During that moment of panic at the lights, we were reminded of that time in Edam...except the only difference being that we had just completed a couple of long driving days, so the battery should have been charged! However, it is important to note that in the Scandinavian countries, it is illegal to travel without your headlights on, even in full daylight! This resulted in two incidents of leaving them on while Donald was taking a quick nap (although surely not enough to drain it completely). The penny drop at the lights (where again we left ours on) was the realisation that while we were driving, we were charging two 12V batteries, powering a radio, charging an i-Pad and driving with the headlights on; it didn't take a genius to realise what had happened.

Anyhow, with the second battery now disconnected and us running our luck with our lights off in the sun, the main battery was able to soak up as much as it could. We did eventually make it to the outskirts of the city of Copenhagen with a sigh of relief. We couldn't drive too close however, for we did not have a special permit to prove that we were compliant with their low emission laws (otherwise known as a LEZ). So we instead found a 'park and ride' and attempted to catch public transport to the centre. Unfortunately, we needed a prepaid card to use the trains, or cash to buy a ticket on the bus. With a new currency for us to deal with and no ATMs in sight, public transport was also out of the question. However, we were determined to find the centre and so we ended up walking the 9km from Donald to the Danish capital. Admittedly, we found an ATM after about 4.5 km into our trip, but by this stage we found a path that would keep us entertained for the trek. Our first point of excitement was well timed, a relaxing break in the sun at the Sondermarken - one of Denmark's national palace gardens.

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Leaving the gardens all refreshed, with Ange humming the tune "Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen" (reminiscent from a favourite childhood move - "Hans Christian Andersen"), we ventured closer still to the ever elusive centrum. There was much to marvel upon arrival; a very pretty city with yet another cobblestone centre, with a church that any creator ought to be proud of. The architecture of our surrounds was also worthy of appreciation. We strolled by the Nyhaven with an ice cream in hand as well as through a variety of parks, shopping districts and streets. All great photogenic opportunities!

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However, it must be said, that unless you are willing to spend up on the shopping and explore the paid entertainments (like the planetarium!) it really is just another city. Our memory of Copenhagen however will be hugely impacted by a district known as Christianshavn...or more namely the community of Christiania. Upon entering this commune we were immediately captivated by the intoxicatingly bright and beautiful street art that adorned the walls of what were once decrepit old buildings, now restored to resemble something you may find in wonderland. Quite fittingly, we followed the signs to 'Wonderland', and entered into an area that was known as the "Green Light District".

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A large sign welcomed us as friends, and informed us of three rules that were to be strictly adhered to:
- have fun
- don't run, it causes panic
- no photos - buying and selling hash is still illegal.

With the camera powered off, we entered an area that would put even Nimbin to shame. Bob Marley inspired market stalls and shady camouflaged huts, apparently selling all kinds of hash, were dotted throughout the square. Feeling somewhat out of place and strangely welcomed at the same time, we left the Green Light District with a broadened view of another way of life.

We found a bar just outside to sink a Carlsberg or two and do a spot of people watching. The community and it's surrounds were very well kept, clean and self governing. Christiania, which we stumbled across thanks to our trusty Lonely Planet guide, is a community that almost considers itself a separate state within he EU. We found a set of guidelines clearly posted informing newcomers of the rules and regulations of life in Christiania.

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As tourists ourselves, we found this community fascinating in both it's liberal ways and the diversity of its residents (children, elderly and everyone in between). At one point (outside the Green Light District), we thought it best to attempt to capture the atmosphere with a short video. However, we very quickly learned of the paranoia also inherent among many community members, when one particular gentleman didn't take kindly to the filming of our surrounds; which could potentially include his group being caught on film. Whoops!

Exiting under the sign that announced "You are now entering the EU", we wandered back through the streets of Copenhagen and caught a train back to Donald, who was safe and sound at the Park and Ride. We found a campsite about 5km out of town where we put up our feet and reflected on what was a big day.

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Awaking fresh in the capital of the land of the Tasmanian princess, we aimed to leave Denmark for the time being to cross yet another border; this time Sweden was in our sights. A little shocked at the price of the toll for the crossing of the Oresund bridge (€47), we knew we made a good move in pre-booking our ferries back to the UK after this Scandinavian adventure. Either way, halfway across this bridge we had reached a new country; Sweden.

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To be honest, our time in this new land was off to a rough start. Earlier that morning in Denmark, one of our gas bottles had run dry. When we were back in the UK and were first introduced to Donald, he was already equipped with a 'Calor' propane gas bottle; that could be swapped at many locations across the UK. Because we knew we were travelling outside the Kingdom into the greater EU, we quickly found out that the EU doesn't use the same bottles, or gas for that matter. Most EU countries in fact use 'Campingaz' bottles, filled with butane rather than propane; meaning that once our bottle was empty, we would not be able to swap it. To avoid this problem we made sure to get a butane bottle in addition to use on our trip under the advice that they were used across all of the EU...luckily we had the regulators already to fit the bottle! When we left the UK, we made sure to have a full propane gas bottle (UK bottle) as a backup to when our butane bottle (EU bottle) ran dry. This happened once back in Holland where we swapped briefly to propane before very easily swapping our butane bottle at a camping ground.

When the gas hob was dry and the fridge was getting warmer, we knew our first job into Sweden was to again replace our empty butane bottle while we had swapped over to using propane (our UK supply). Because we were lucky enough to replace our last bottle at a camping ground, we thought to try our luck at the first one we could find on our maps. The Swedish manager of the park with very good English was unable to help, and so he directed us to the nearest 'Bauhaus' (equivalent to Bunnings) at a nearby shopping complex and industrial area. As we confidently walked in with our bottle in hand, the workers looked at our little bottle with an expression of unfamiliarity and slight confusion. After a short while, they confirmed they did not have the correct bottle and so we were forwarded to a camping specialist around the corner. Arriving again with bottle in hand, we were informed that they also did not stock the correct bottle but they were able to forward us to a man that could refill gas bottles from his workshop about 30km out of town (just north of Ekeby). Placing his address into the iPad, we followed the blue navigation line through the countryside and down a dusty road to his remote workplace (otherwise known as Anoil Gas). It was here that we were informed that Sweden does not use butane at all, and that they use propane but with completely different regulators and fittings to both the EU and the UK. In other words, he didn't have the right equipment for our bottles and he informed us that nobody in this country would. We had come to a dead end. After leaving with zero gas but a bit more travel experience, we continued to the nearest fuel station to feed Donald and try our luck once more. We were advised of a man that could refill bottles about 10km south - our wild goose chase had come full circle. Without getting down on our luck, we decided to use our UK supply and get a new bottle when we arrive in Norway. Some people collect stickers, badges or magnets when they reach new places, it would seem that our souvenir choice could be gas bottles and regulators!

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As we sat for a lunch break, we took a look at our road atlas and decided for a change of pace; aiming for the tip of a peninsula on the Skalderviken. On the way we realised that we had indeed reached the land of the blue and gold. Not only do many households proudly fly the Swedish flag, but also their road signs, advising of corners and such, too were blue and gold (in fact: it seems that any sign that would be 'black and white' at home are instead the Parramatta combination). Taking this as a sign of things to come for the Parramatta NRL season back at home, we couldn't resist to stop for a quick snap.

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Continuing further from the highway we stopped by in the small village of Viken, a pretty town by the seaside. Peering out to the horizon we could spy the mainland of Denmark poking it's head from the sea. Departing Donald's cabin, we stepped out onto the shores to soak up the afternoon sun.

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Once our short attention spans were exhausted, we started Donald once more to find a place out on the edge of the peninsula, in the town of Molle. The approach to the town was very scenic, although we had little idea of the wonder that we were about to discover. The road we were following led all the way to the top of an escarpment, overlooking the sea and the town below. The township of Molle itself also inspiring in its layout, views and atmosphere. Almost something you could imagine seeing in Greece, we knew we had found a place to explore for the time being. Sweden, things are looking up!

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As the afternoon sun dipped closer to the horizon, we explored the streets of Molle before entertaining ourselves with an improvised game of "bowls", using an unlimited collection of round stones and a pier by the water's edge. A learning curve that kept us fixed, the aim to simply roll your stone as close as possible to the end without it falling off the edge. Meanwhile, a sunset in the background keeping us in a state of awe as to the part of the world we currently found ourselves.

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The next morning, we awoke early to explore the walking trails that outlined the peninsula. The trail we followed, a 9 km loop, weaved throughout the nature reserve following the coastline. This is what we had been looking for!

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We also hiked an extra 3km of additional trails that took us to a series of caves and other lookouts. The caves, as we were informed, were inhabited as early as the Stone Age - we would hate to imagine a Scandinavian winter residing here!

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At the top of the loop, we stopped for a lunch break by a lighthouse before checking out a nearby visitor centre. On the return loop, we realised that the path we took definitely left the best views for last. A horizon of both land and sea could be observed, with both the coastlines of Sweden and Denmark peeling to their own vanishing points.

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Included on the return trip was an extra rope climb section to another cave on the southern edge of the tip. The rewards of this trek were not given up for free, they did have to be worked for...and worth it they most certainly were!

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Returning to our sleepy Donald, we decided to wake him up to make some progress to the north for the afternoon. Before deciding to camp up at Mellbystrand, we thought it was time to get clean and find showers. We strolled into a camping ground nearby our chosen location with our bag and towels routine. Unfortunately, this campground didn't have free use of hot water - and because we were yet to pay cash for anything, we didn't have the correct coins to use in the machine. Deciding to just go for it anyway, we walked away smelling fresh but also traumatised from the seemingly sub zero Scandinavian ground water.

All rugged up, we settled in for the evening and decided on a plan for the following day. With no access to internet, we used our trusty Europe road atlas to simply take a punt as to what may be of interest. Our discovery of Molle the day prior achieved in a similar fashion, we were hoping to strike gold again. With the power of hindsight while typing this, strike gold we did! We decided that to avoid the motorway (booooring!), we would instead take a series of roads that connected a multitude of islands on the East coast, just to the north of what was our current location. The first island on our radar, the island of Tjorn. In fact, it seems appropriate to mention that we have been tracking our progress with this road atlas, a black permanent marker following our every move.

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The following day, we stuck to our plan, however, on the way we realised that no trip to Sweden would be complete without a visit to an IKEA outlet. As Jeff had not yet been to an IKEA before, Ange decided that he was overdue. Expectation was high, and we were again rewarded. Move over Paris, move over Rome...a world of flat-packed furniture, lamps and nonsense articles you simply must have awaited. To be honest, it was nice to find a decked out lounge room playing 'Avatar' and pretend we were living a normal existence.

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Donald, we can see you hiding back there

The entry to the island of Tjorn was achieved by a suspension bridge, overlooking a river system that reminded us of the Hawkesbury in Sydney. For a first impression of the area, we were definitely smitten from the outset.

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Our first point of call was the town of Skarhamn, a settlement literally cut out of the rocks of the surrounding fjords. This particular part of the Swedish coastline, consisting of approximately 1500 islands (most of them uninhabited), was certainly worth the detour. A quick visit to a tourist information centre gave us an itinerary for the next few days. We then found a place in town to camp up before exploring our surrounds. With a few drinks in hand, we sat atop a local peak and watched the sunset over the islands beyond the fjord in our foreground. It is moments like these that reminded us why we planned a holiday of this type.

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The next two days were spent hiking many of the trails on the islands of Tjorn, Mjorn and Orust. We were provided with experiences of multiple 360 degree views over the islands, the exploration of caves as well as learning of the history of the area along the way. The walks within the area, perhaps a sign of what is to come when we reach Norway, were inspiring to say the least. Without boring you of each of them individually, a few photos may do it justice. One particular hike looped around what used to be a settlement in the 16th - 19th centuries, now completely overgrown by forest, a victim of both laws of nature and entropy.

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On the Saturday night (May 3, 2014) we regressed to our Gleniffer selves, cooking over an open fire within a stunning surrounding. The fresh air (although still quite cold!) reminding us that we are not creatures of the city variety.

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Our short time in Sweden came to an end on the following Monday, when we crossed the border into Norway. Last year we hatched a plan to drive around Europe, but Norway and exploring the Fjords was always going to be a destination. During the planning stages back in Australia, there have been some doubts from time to time regarding the logistics of such a journey. As we crossed the border into Norge; the dream became ever closer to reality.

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This featured blog entry was written by Jeff_ange from the blog Our stroll upon a blue marble.
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By Jeff_ange

Posted Wed, May 07, 2014 | Comments