Sandinavia Overview

50 Days in Scandinavia June/July, 2009

Of course this would be better if I hadn’t waited until late October to write it. I intend to do better with our other visits.

Scandinavia has a very short tourist season and two months aren’t really long enough but we were to meet our daughters in Paris at the end of July so we didn’t have the three months we would have liked.

Overall there are several factors that make S expensive. One, it is big and there is a lot of driving and diesel was expensive—about $7 a gallon. Two, groceries are expensive. Three, eating out is crazy expensive as is liquor of all types. Four, bridges and ferries are expensive.

We had budgeted $400 a month for diesel and spent about twice that. We spent about $500 a month on grocery store items, and we just flat didn’t eat out and stocked up on wine and beer in Germany before crossing the border. Admissions, ferries and bridges for two of us ran $800 a month. Where we were able to save money was on campgrounds. We did a lot of wild camping.

In Denmark you can stay at any rest area for up to 12 hours. Some of them even have water and a dump site. Of course in Copenhagen we did stay in a campground. We wanted to be in the city and so opted for a “parking lot” type with portable (but clean) restrooms. It was $35 a night and one could take the bus (cheap) or the water bus (expensive) or even walk the mile into the city. The campground was right next to a huge shopping center and their McDonald’s had free wifi. Biking in Copenhagen is by far the best way to get around as there are separate bike lanes and the city, like most of the whole country, is perfectly flat.

We bought the city attractions pass and made good use of it despite the rain. We loved Tivoli Amusement Park, which is right downtown and very reasonable if you buy the admission without the rides. The Carlsbad Museum, the beer folks money, is superb and not so large as to be overwhelming. We went to the Viking Ship Museum at , not far from Copenhagen. Be warned, there are several Viking Ship Museums—we went to two of them and they were different enough that we thought them both worthwhile. This one has five ships of different types that were raised from the inlet, plus some life size reconstructions to see—as well as ride on if you wish.

Mark and I very much enjoy visiting ancient stone circles, dolmans, barrow graves and Denmark is full of them. We have a wonderful, though quirky book called The Megalithic European by Cope which gives you pictures and descriptions of all the European ancient sites and directions. We visited a great number of them and often spent the night for free in their various parking lots.

We spent more time in Sweden as it is a larger place with more to see than Denmark. There were lots of ancient monuments near the southern shore and we particularly liked the island of which is reached by a bridge. In Stockholm we stayed at another urban jungle type campground on an island. It is a strange campground as it is partially under a large city bridge and in the middle of the campground is a regular pay and display carpark. We stayed in the campground for several nights and then moved to the carpark as it was only $10 for 24 hrs.

One of the things we did in Stockholm was take the two night cruise to Helsinki leaving our camper in the campground. We had waited until the day before to book the cruise and the cost was only $45 for both of us as they had lots of space. We sailed on Saturday afternoon, spent Sunday in Helsinki, and then sailed back Sunday night. Many things were closed on Sunday but we got to see really everything we wanted. We bought the all day bus pass and the bus system was easy to use. On Sunday evening we ate at the smorgasbord on the ship. It was truly remarkable with over 100 dishes, many of very high quality, and all the wine and beer you could drink. It was about $50 a person and worth it.

Back in Stockholm we bought the 24 hr city admission pass and wore ourselves out seeing everything, but it is a terrific value. We especially liked the Skansen Open Air Folk Museum and the Vaska Ship Museum. They were spectacular. Again Stockholm is easy to negotiate by bus or by bike and like all of S almost everyone speaks English.

Crossing from Stockholm to Oslo is a long, boring drive that would remind you of upper Minnesota. We certainly understood why so many Swedes were perfectly happy to settle in America’s upper Midwest. When you cross into Norway you leave the EU, so if you want to you can use some of the tax free schemes for purchases that you make in Norway.

Oslo is a wonderful small city which is very walkable, but has some very steep hills immediately outside the touristy section. The first two nights we stayed in the outskirts and got caught up on some camper repairs and laundry. However, the bus ride into town from the campground was going to be 45 min each way and pretty pricey, so we decided to move to another urban campground. This time located at the marina at only $10 a day. It even had a pay shower and a café with free electric. We got there too late to be right on the water but were only about 20 ft. back. A grocery was within walking distance as was the subway right into the heart of the city. Here again we bought the valuable but exhausting 24 hr city pass. We loved the artic ship museum and the Viking grave ship was incredibly carved and had all of its “booty” displayed in nearby cases. We also went to another open air folk museum on our 24th hour. We especially enjoyed the folk dancing and music performances there.

From Oslo we headed to Bergen where we actually spent the night on a dead end street by the recycling bins less than a block from the center of town. We had found this free site just trying to find a place to park. Parking in cities is often a challenge and we tried to avoid just driving in but sometimes our satnav would get us right into the city center before we knew what was happening.

From Bergen we headed north into fjord country. I can’t begin to say how beautiful it all was. We pretty much spent the entire month of July in Norway and four weeks just wasn’t enough time. The intense tourist season starts at the end of July and then August, so I am glad we missed that. The scenery was wonderful but the roads scared me to death. We were surprised how easy it was to find free camping spots in even the most touristed areas. Of course, having daylight until 11 pm made for wonderfully long touring days. Anyway, we went to all the famous fjords, took the day cruises like Norway in a Nutshell etc. Then we headed north along the coast.

The coast road is as much water as it is road and tunnel. The ferries were frequent and didn’t need to be reserved. Each wasn’t that expensive but they do add up. We loved the entire coast but what was best was the trip to the Lufoten Islands. They were absolutely unbelievable—a landscape so breath taking it was hard to believe. Unfortunately we had a lot of rain and clouds during our three days, looking back, we should have just waited it out as we didn’t get to hike any and I’m sure we must have missed some wonderful scenery Again, to our surprise, wild camping was easy. It is a place we would go back to in a second.

Back on the mainland we had planned on heading south, but we kept seeing signs for Nordcape. We had been so excited by crossing the Artic Circle that we decided to keep driving the extra miles to the furthest northern point in Europe—latitude 71.20.10 The road was good, the scenery going and coming full of reindeer and Lapland. However, it was very expensive. To our surprise diesel really didn’t increase in price as we went north as we had been told it would. The big expense was the last few miles in the government tunnel--$120 roundtrip, then the $40 admission fee. At least we could spend the night in the campground. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy to actually see the midnight sun—but we did see its reflection. It was also cold and extremely windy—temps at night were about 35, so be prepared if you go. You won’t find LPG in Sweden but it was available in southern Norway so be sure to fill up.

We came back through Lapland in Finland down through --a church village and World Heritage Site. We visited more ancient sites in western Sweden then flew through Denmark and Germany in three days to meet our daughters in Paris. We did make a brief stop at Legoland—after 8:30 pm there is free admission, so you have 90 minutes. That is enough since we weren’t interested in the rides, just the fantastic models of places around the world built in Legos.

On a do over I would probably skip Northcape and turn around at Tronheim and leave more time for Lufoten and walking in the fjord areas. I think 10-12 weeks would make the whole process more leisurely beginning in Norway in mid June to miss the worst crowds of summer and seeing the sites in Denmark last. Finally, we had to get our oil changed in Sweden and our tires rotated. We did go to the Mercedes dealer and with our diesel we need 13 liters of oil. However, the bill was $975. We found out later that the same work in the UK would have been $500! Try not to need any car work done in Scandanavia!!!