16 – 31 May 2019
Where have we been? A good question as we are not sure, the time has passed so quickly. Opening dates at various places have determined our movements. The site in Copenhagen did not open until 24th
May and in Oslo 1st
June. It is always possible to find free or very cheap sites open but the city sites only open when they expect tourists to arrive at the start of the summer.
Jim is quite pleased about this as he has been monitoring temperatures in Norway and they are still in low single figures during the day and even lower at night. We hope that by the time we have spent five or six days in Oslo they will be creeping up. Days are long and as we travelled through Sweden it seemed that there was only a couple of hours of real darkness.
Some of you might like a better understanding of Astrid's functions and how we keep her operating efficiently, or fail to do so occasionally. If you don't want to know skip the next page or so!
Astrid can provide hot
and cold running water, a flushing lavatory (by means of a chemical cassette, more pleasant than it sounds), central heating, fridge, microwave, full cooker with three gas rings, one electric ring, separate grill and oven, and television. Unfortunately, she cannot take care of all these by herself so requires human assistance.
This is where it starts to sound complicated to non technical people like me. After eight weeks I am getting to grips with it. Most people would grasp it sooner. She has an information panel by the door through which you can scroll to see how she is doing. This tells you everything you need to know and more besides including the state of the main battery, state of separate leisure battery, amount of clean water in the holding tank, amount of waste (grey) water, ( surprisingly this only tells you there is space until there isn't then it plays a tune), inside temperature, outside temperature, charge/discharge current, whether main power and water pump is switched on, time, and whether you have set an alarm or noted a special event!
There are three sources of power for all this. The easiest is to
be plugged into the mains which we do by connecting a cable from a socket on her outer wall to a post provided on commercial sites and sometimes provided free at stopping places run by local councils. When connected to the mains everything works including the microwave and electric kettle and then we only use gas for the oven if e need it.
When we drive during the day both batteries are charged which means that all the low consumption usage such as for lighting, television, charging cameras and toothbrushes, water pump and fans (needed when gas being used) continue to function at night.
The second main source of power is gas (LPG) from our fixed tank. We have to fill it up at a filling station just like diesel. We are due to do this for the first time tomorrow. Hope it is easy! If we are wild camping we use the gas and then we switch the controls over so that the heating, if we need it, the fridge and oven all run on the gas. Each of those three have separate on/off gas switches in the wardrobe cupboard which I like
as I know we turn it off there when it is not in use. So for example I will only have the oven supply on when actually using the oven. Jim says we don't really need to switch off if we are stationary but gas makes me nervous. Having said that I am becoming more confident with it and because of the controls I am happier using it than I was in Astrid 1. Jim is ecstatic about the gas controls being inside Astrid 2 as in Astrid 1 they were outside and he hated having to go out to switch on and off especially if it was raining. When we are on gas one of the hobs has to be used to make tea and coffee in place of the electric kettle.
The third power source is the solar panel which tops up mainly the leisure battery. It provides a surprising amount of energy here because of the long hours of daylight and enables us to free camp more often.
Then in addition to power, we need to fill the water tank to have running water in kitchen and bathroom and to flush
the loo. When settled on site we fill the tank to maximum and that lasts four or five days. If we are travelling we try to keep the tank between a quarter and half full which will last a day and night. That reduces our weight to improve mpg and lessens the chance of the water tank falling off in transit which seems to have happened a few times. We keep drinking water separate in bottles and top them up every couple of days.
So power and water go into Astrid but what comes out? As we use water it is stored in a grey water tank which again we try to empty before a journey. How this is done varies depending upon where we are and the facilities. Often we just need to park over a designated drain in the road and turn on the external tap so the water pours down the drain. Other places Jim has to empty it into a bucket and carry it to a nearby drain. A full tank produces eight or nine buckets I have been told. Then yesterday Jim was about to use his bucket when a neighbour stopped
him (not being able to speak English) and brought him a portable drain tank provided by the site to pop under the vehicle and then wheel away when full. Easy peasy! First time we have seen one of those.
Then of course the toilet cassette needs to be emptied into a properly designated point. In Norway they provide a list of all these points which is very helpful. Depending upon where we camp and whether toilet facilities are available the cassette can last anything from three to five days.
Every 7-10 days we make sure we are on a site with a washing machine and dryer and do two washes, bedding/towels and clothes.
So that is a simple summary of the utilities in Astrid. Hope it gives a picture of our daily calculations and activities. Most of the systems have warnings if they are full/empty/not working for any reason and they get tested occasionally. I was heating a pizza in the oven and on checking it decided it needed another couple of minutes but two minutes later I turned and looked at the oven just as clouds of black smoke suddenly
belched out and the fire alarm started a very loud screeching. Now we know for certain we won't sleep through that but I did feel it necessary to apologise to our neighbours for the ear piercing noise and billowing black clouds. They just laughed. I had pushed the pizza too close to the gas at the back. Won't do that again!
But back to where we finished at the end of the last blog. After the lovely town of Ribe we stopped at various sites in Denmark, usually tiny harbours and marinas where we could park right by the sea and often for free. A couple of sites even provided free electricity. The scenery is pretty but the outstanding characteristic of Denmark is its cleanliness. Spotless everywhere, a real joy to behold. The countryside is covered by huge fields all very well organised and tidy. So orderly that at times I felt I was looking at model fields and villages rather than the real thing. From their appearance I think it is mainly large scale agri-businesses rather than family farms.
Then we reached Copenhagen. The site there is a pop up site, opening on
May. We had been online to book three nights as we thought it might get busy. Arriving at lunchtime on their first day we pulled into a large parking plot in an uninspiring modern industrial estate and a lady came to greet us. She was there to welcome arrivals on behalf of her son who was still busy setting up the power and water supplies. The real benefit of the site was the proximity to the railway station, a ten minute walk, and then the train took ten minutes into the centre of Copenhagen. Perfect.
The next day was cool but sunny so we walked around the whole of the city centre which is small and compact and then spent an hour in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek art gallery which has a good selection of French Impressionist paintings and works by Rodin including 'The Kiss'. We walked eight miles that day! The buildings such as the Amalienborg Slot (castle) where the queen lives, Rosenborg Slot, Marmorkirken (designed to look a little like St Peter's in Rome) and of course Tivoli Gardens give the city a sense of elegance and history but also of fun and
being enjoyed by its residents. The area I enjoyed most was Ny Havn, the neighbourhood around the old merchants port where a waterway links the sea to the town. The old warehouses have been restored and painted in bright colours, there are lots of cafes and bars and Hans Christian Andersen lived in three different houses along the harbour whilst writing his stories.
So after one day we felt we had seen and enjoyed Copenhagen and as the site was functional but not particularly attractive we decided to cut our stay down to two nights and moved on. We drove across THE Bridge, the Oresund Bridge connecting Copenhagen to Malmo which is the one featured in the 5 TV series of the same name. This corner of Sweden is well known to readers of Scandinavian crime fiction with Wallender being based down the road a little way south in Ystad and Torquil McLeod basing his novels around Malmo. We managed to traverse the area without tripping over a body thankfully.
The next night we stopped at a rural site consisting of a restaurant, gift shop and cabin resort but we were the only people
about and everything was closed up. The next morning a couple of coachloads of school children arrived for an activity day. They seemed to be organised into groups carrying out a variety of tasks in the grounds of the 'resort'.
I went to have a shower. External doors set around the central courtyard were labelled as toilets and some as showers. I had a lovely long hot shower, probably a touch overdue as we had been on free sites the previous two nights without any facilities. Then I heard kids rattling the door a few times. I did not understand why as if I knew the difference between toilets and showers without speaking Swedish I expected they would too. Anyway I had just stepped out of the shower and moved towards the door reaching out for my towel hanging on the back of it, when they rattled again and the door flew open. Their pushing and prodding had loosened the bolt. Two young girls about nine years of age stood there, hands to mouth, staring at me in shock and embarrassment. I could forgive them for opening the door but then in their haste to disappear they
let go of it so it swung open outwards taking my towel flying away from me with it. That was harder to forgive as I had to step outside to recover it. Then I heard their giggles from where they were hiding around the back. Just as well I am not easily embarrassed, and it could have been worse, Jim had been in the shower a little earlier. Anyway I believe Scandinavians are laid back about nudity so no harm done.
Our journey continued past Gothenburg up the coast to a small town with the Narum shopping centre where we shopped, went online, plugged into the free electricity while we had lunch and pondered the strange statues in the car park, sort of Morph meets Santa's reindeer and sleighs, all a rust red colour. Inside the shopping complex were more of these figures. Then we drove to a nearby rural spot and it was adjacent to a tiny Unesco Heritage site where some three thousand years ago early people of the area carved figures into the rocks. We were parked right by them. Some have been painted and they looked identical to what we had seen in
the car park, others have been left untouched as experts do not know if they were painted originally or not but the paint makes them easier to see. It was true serendipity finding them as the site we had expected to stay at was closed so we reached the rock carving site by default.
Our next stop was in Moss right on the harbour. A lovely sunny day allowed us to sit and watch small and large boats go by as well observe the line of fisher folk with poles only ten metres in front of us. Some seemed very lucky catching three or four fish at once on multi hooked lines but one poor man from an adjacent motorhome just kept catching something like an eel and throwing it back into the water in disgust.
A new day dawned and it was time to head to Oslo. If I had known it was going to prove to be such a difficult day I would have turned over and gone back to sleep. The camp site at the marina in Oslo was due to open that day so we took our time setting off
wanting to arrive about midday. We needed to fill the LPG which was going to be a new experience so Jim had located a supplier less than a couple of miles away and after putting the co-ordinates into the Sat Nav we set off.
All went smoothly for 20 seconds until at the main road Kate (we can choose to have Sat Nav speaker Kate, Serena or James) told us to turn left when Jim thought we should be turning right. He shouted at her very loudly and for a long time. What he hoped to achieve I am not sure but it made it difficult to hear her instructions. Even if she went the wrong way it only took four minutes to arrive at the LPG supplier located on an industrial estate which turned out to be a self service 24 hour kiosk with a small office attached which only opened in the afternoons. Following the instructions, which thankfully had an English version, we managed to locate the correct adaptor from the three hidden in the post box, connected up, fed in our card and pin which was approved and then …..nothing! The pump would not
clear the details of the previous sale and would not let us do anything else. At least it did promise not to charge if gas was not delivered. We looked at all the buttons, read and reread instructions but there seemed no other options so we had to give up. By this time rain was pouring down so slightly soggy we drove off.
LPG was not needed urgently as we planned to be on a powered site in Oslo so we headed there. As we approached the city the style of road changed, there was a bus/taxi lane complicating each road, the slip roads were more difficult to spot than in Sweden and Denmark and then we encountered the tunnels, lots of them and most over a kilometre long. That in itself should not be a problem but sometimes the Sat Nav lost us and twice I lost her, not able to spot in the dark which lane I should be in as they have roads turning off in different directions in the tunnels. It was not easy. Plus in one very long tunnel the surface was so slippery I felt as if I was ice skating.
First time past our turn off we missed it as it was so small and sharp, a nearly 90 degree angle that we could not believe was a slip road. So we had to loop around on the dual carriageway and take a second run at it, still with the rain pelting down. Finally we arrived at the marina site to see the welcome motorhome sign, accompanied by a large notice saying closed until 3rd June, two days later than advertised! Grrrrrr. We then drove north of the city for an hour to the nearest place we could find that was open and had power and water. Not an easy day but we consoled ourselves later with spicy hummus, Doritos and a beer. Our stock of beer and wine has to be tightly controlled as alcohol is so expensive in Norway that we brought supplies with us and cannot afford to replace them. As Norway is not in the EU restrictions meant we could only bring in two boxes of wine and twelve cans of beer. We could have substituted more beer in place of a wine box but felt the wine would last longer.
Perhaps I should have mentioned that we also stocked up with what we hope is two to three months supply of food. We had been warned that food is exorbitantly expensive here and when someone told me he had bought ingredients to make spaghetti bolognaise for two and it cost the equivalent of £40 I started tucking tins and packets in every nook and cranny. I have no idea whether we will end up rationing our supplies and losing weight or be eating corned beef and tuna until Christmas.
So on the 3rd
we set off back to Oslo and as we were familiar with the route in it was much easier. We also filled up with LPG on the outskirts of the city and it really was as easy as filling with fuel, probably because there was a very nice man there to help.
The next day we bought our Oslo Pass and set off to see the sites. The Pass is great as it gives free entrance to most museums and places of interest as well as free transportation around the centre using trams, buses and trains. It is so easy
to get around we were able to see everything in two very busy days. We could have taken longer but the site is not especially comfortable despite being expensive so we decided to stay three nights and walk fast during the day.
It took only 20 minutes from site to the central station where we decided to visit the toilets before setting out. Jim gave me coins for the turnstile and then sorted some out for himself. When we met up again he asked if I knew how much the toilet stop had cost. I suggested 20pence but was horrified when he told me it was £2 EACH, £4 total! And they were not even very clean. Suddenly Jim realised why I had been obsessed with stocking up on everything, food, drink and household items.
However, once we were out and about we loved the city. It is full of fountains and statues. There are numerous places of interest to visit all easily accessible by walking or using very efficient public transport, and we were lucky that the weather was good. First day we saw the sights around the centre, the Queen's residence, the
beautiful Opera house which is meant to represent glaciers entering the sea but reminded us more of ski runs, the fortified Akerhus overlooking the harbour with the Resistance Museum in its grounds, Frogner Park containing hundreds of statues created by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, the Munch museum where viewing The Scream was treated as a spiritual experience, the Nobel Peace Centre and finishing off at the Reptile Park. We had hoped to watch the snakes and crocodile being fed at 5pm but we were so exhausted we left just before to make our way back to Astrid and put our feet up.
It was all interesting but highlights for us were the Reptile Park, the Vigeland statues (consisting of people in lots of poses, individuals and pairs with many children included and all naked. He said it was to make them timeless, outside the orbit of fashion), and the Resistance Museum.
The following day was even better. There are five museums collected together on a peninsular across the harbour and we visited four of them, only giving up on the fifth before our legs gave out on us. First was the Fram Museum where
the explorer ship, Fram is displayed as she was when Nansen searched for the north pole, starting in 1893 and Amundsen reached the South Pole in 1911. This is really what a museum should be like. You can wander all over the ship, see the personal items still there, look at the mess room, with piano music playing as it did during the long months on board, read diaries, learn about the scientific research that was so important, see their stores, animal skins, the games played during dark arctic nights even the Christmas gifts they carried from home and presented to each other. Technology is used to enhance the experience so out of pretend windows film plays to show the scenes they would have seen, the Aurora Borealis, men unloading stores, taking weather readings etc. Then when you are on the Fram deck the icebergs move past by courtesy of video projections over the walls and ceiling, followed by a storm and rough seas, all very atmospheric and very enjoyable. Of course, as you walk around all the factual information about the voyages, climate, backgrounds of individuals, funding of trips, details of scientific research, supplies, statistics of ship and every
other piece of information connected with the ship is available, well presented and easily accessed. You can take in as much or as little as you wish.
As Amundsen was racing Scott to the South Pole details are included of his expedition and the tragic outcome. I had not realised that one of the main reasons for the failure of the British expedition was that they took dogs, ponies and new, largely untested, motorised sleighs. The sleighs failed very quickly and the ponies could not cope with the environment and died off quickly, leaving the party then with too few dogs to carry out the necessary hauling of supplies. Amundsen had taken a full complement of dog teams.
Next came the Kon Tiki museum with the original balsa wood raft used by Thor Heyerdahl. I loved this book from the age of nine and although the scientific basis of his argument that people from South America sailed in similar rafts to the Polynesian islands is still unproven it is still such a wonderful tale of adventure and risk taking that the science seems irrelevant. The fact that Thor was very good looking and had
friends in high places (which explains the funding etc) might have proved factors in his success. His later raft, Ra built with reeds from lake Titicaca is also on display. Once a day they show the actual film shot by the team during the Kon Tiki voyage.
After these two museums it was hard for anything else to compete but the Viking ships display of three ships used for Viking burials and discovered in Oslo Fjord is worth visiting as is the Open Air Folk Museum but by that time we were starting to flag.
That was the end of two fantastic days in Oslo and tomorrow we set off for the fjords. Keep your fingers crossed for us that it doesn't snow!
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