On their journey through Scandinavia, Jim and Karen are reunited with old friends Mike and Sandy, the owners of World Travellers Riccarton. Read about all the amazing adventures they got up to in Sweden and Denmark in their motorhomes Lote and Molly.
When Karen and I first decided to relive our OE of 40 years ago, we never imagined that we would be joined by some of our friends from back then as well.
We are very lucky and perhaps a little unique in that when we travelled on our OE, a number of our friends were also in Europe at the same time. All these people have remained fast friends over the intervening 40 odd years. We have all married since, had kids, live in different places and in some cases become grandparents, yet we have all remained connected.
Anyone who has travelled knows that after a couple of weeks away, especially if you are travelling in countries where English is not the primary language, meeting fellow kiwis let alone good friends is a real highlight. So having two of our best friends meet us again in Europe and travel around together for two weeks is almost indescribable.
Mike Trengrove has been one of my best mates since high school days. We’ve known him and his wife Sandy since our London days in 1979 when they met. Now the owners of World Travellers Riccarton, travel is a core of their world. When we told them 18 months ago we were heading off on our second OE, they immediately said “we’ll meet you in Stockholm and do a road trip together “ and that’s exactly what they did.
The adventure begins
It is hard to describe how great it was to see life long friends in the lobby of a Stockholm hotel after we had completed five months of travel. But this blog is all about what we did together in the following two weeks. Funnily enough our initial meeting started the trend of fun for two great weeks. Mike and Sandy were booked into the Raddison in Stockholm. They had flown in direct from Christchurch, while we of course had driven to Stockholm in our mobile home Lote. We parked up in a mobile home site in Stockholm’s outer suburbs and headed into town on the subway all breathless and excited to see them. Coming out of the central subway station the Raddison was directly over the road.
“Meet you in the lobby” Sandy said.
“We are here,” we said.
“Where are you?” she replied. “I can’t see you.”
Back up the lift she goes to talk to Mike when at about the same time we ask each other over the phone ”how many Raddison hotels are there likely to be in Stockholm?”
You guessed it – we had to walk another few blocks to their Raddison hotel.
The reunion I have to say was worth it. Sandy is ever the thoughtful person so she came equipped with a “care package” for us travellers. Magazines like New Idea, House and Garden, a copy of the Press, Koru mag, Metro, The Palmary mags – you name it she had it. Whittaker’s chocolate, alcohol, plus food items like spices and so on – you get the picture – all encased in the new Swanndri bags from New World. Pretty cool.
So after the hugs, kisses and inevitable catchup over coffee we headed off for a couple of days together in Stockholm.
Now other than ABBA, Volvo and Saab, most people probably know very little else about Sweden, but I have to say after travelling through a few capital cities around the globe Stockholm rates right up there for me. My biggest regret is that we didn’t allocate enough time to see it properly. If you ever have it on your list to visit make sure you have some time there you will not regret it. Highlights for me were the streetscapes and architecture.
The Vasa Museum is a must see. Vasa was a 17th century ship that sunk in Stockholm harbour immediately after it was launched, so it is the most intact and original specimen from the era. Now it’s fair to say it was more on Mike’s and my list than the girls’, but without a doubt all four of us loved it and we spent over four hours there.
But there is so much more. The Swedes have a way with humour that tickles my fancy, unfortunately I couldn’t photograph all the signage but there is a lot of building and remodernisation going on in the city. Along the cramped, noisy, smelly footpaths as you pass one of the building sites is a big sign that says something like this: “Bet Mr Google didn’t tell you Stockholm would be like this when you were deciding to visit.” Classic understatement and Swedish style with all the messages, just cheering you up as you walk past the building sites.
Another must see is the Stockholm subway art. It sure livens up a subway trip, rather than the graffiti-splattered walls you see in other cities.
After a couple of days we all went out to the Northern burgs to pick up Sandy and Mike’s home for the next two weeks. A mobile home Sandy christened “Molly”, so the “Lote & Molly tour” could begin.
The basic plan was to head west out of Stockholm to Sweden’s west coast, then south to Gothenburg, take a ferry across to Denmark, then travel around Denmark finishing up in Copenhagen, before Mike and Sandy would have to drop their van back in Malmö.
What fun as they got the first 48 hours or so under their belt in a mobile home in a foreign country. The first stop was a supermarket to provision it. Now those of you who know Sandy can imagine what I was like after two hours walking round a Swedish supermarket looking for some specific spice that no one else has heard about, because it goes great with the eggplant and mozzarella salad we will have in three days time … some of you out there will know what I mean.
But in reality the first week was a blur, between us we had identified sights and places along the route we wanted to see. You can’t go past Fjällbacka. A stunning wee place that also provides a superb walk around the surrounding hills with amazing views, and your chance to stand under the ice age boulders.
Art and sculpture
Other highlights along the way were the sculpture park at Pilane, with the impressive sculpture “Anna.” You definitely have to hunt to find this park as it is well off the beaten track, but the effort is worth it.
Another goodie is Picasso’s sculpture given to the town of Kristinehamn, just because he loved the town.
Art of a different era can be found at the prehistoric cave drawings of the Tanum area.
Eventually we reached Gothenburg – a beautiful town but one with bittersweet memories for me. I left my day backpack on a city tram never to be seen again. Camera gone, along with a few other small bits. Luckily Karen never trusted me that day, she kept our passports with her. Women’s intuition perhaps?
Gothenburg is Volvo town. The brand started here and the infrastructure around it is enormous. Mike and I did a tour of the Volvo museum (before I lost my camera, hence the lack of photos). It’s estimated that over 50% of the local workforce and businesses are involved in some way, shape or form of servicing the huge number of Volvo plants. All this aside it is a must see city.
From Gothenburg we ferried for just over three hours to Denmark. It was a very good ferry service with great coffee, food and international duty free shopping. Me thinks our Picton ferry service could learn a thing or two!
Skagen and Aarhus
On reaching Denmark we turned North to go up to the town of Skagen, as far north as you can go in Denmark. Here the North Sea and the Baltic Sea meet and crash together. The winds, tides and the environment are always changing and they have moving sand dunes that are travelling west to east across this spit of land at the rate of 15m per year, covering everything as they travel East.
Next stop was Aarhus. It was a beauty – another gem of a city with the impressive modern art museum complete with Ron Mueck’s “Boy” and the Infinity Bridge.
On our travels I had suggested that it would be great to stop at the home of Lego in Billund. Now it’s fair to say not everyone considered it would be one of the highlight stops, but at the end of the visit to the recently opened House of Bricks, some new Lego converts were born. What a great place to take kids and the young at heart. In the same way most of us would love to take our kids to Disneyland, Legoland and the newly opened House of Bricks rate right up there as well. If you are over this way put it on your list. Very interactive as well as plain fun.
We left Billund heading towards Ribe, supposedly the oldest town in Denmark and an original Viking raid launch centre. What a beauty, probably helped by the fact we found ourselves in a delightful locals bar in the town centre not once but twice within a few hours. Great conversation and fun in a bar that probably holds 20 people max.
It was a little dark when we went home…
On the road to Copenhagen we just had to take a short detour to see the street art and downtown food market in Odense, then over the big bridge to the capital.
You can’t help but love this city – different to Stockholm but just as stunning. After London these two are now my next favourite capitals. I think we really got to see and appreciate Copenhagen after taking a bike tour with “Mike’s bike tours” (not our Mike). Take my word for it if you are heading to Copenhagen he’s the man. Once he got into “let’s bike” mode, he was superb. Three and a half hours around this busy bustling city, and it’s not the motorised traffic you need to watch out for – it’s the other cyclists! The estimate is that close to 60% of the population cycle in the city, and it has an aim to be 80% by 2025.
The traffic lights are largely geared to cycle routes, and on the major roads into the city centre they say a cyclist at a steady 20 km/ hr will hit every light and not have to stop. This is all done to get the cars off the streets, so … back to the future.
Interestingly the future is what Denmark and all Scandinavia are doing their best to look after. Copenhagen has just commissioned and opened a new huge recycling plant in the city to turn Denmark’s waste into energy. No boring square block look here – they built a beautiful award-winning structure to destroy their waste in, and not only that they decided to create an artificial ski run on top of it as well. It was literally opening while we were there and it’s called Copenhill. Well worth Googling.
By now you will know from past blogs I like to get high to look down on a city. Copenhagen has a unique church tower to climb with a spiral stairway round the outside of the steeple. Definitely not for those who don’t like heights, as I have to say it made me breathe in a few times and not just because of the 400 steps to get up it. But to the top Mike and I went, and the views were spectacular right through to the bridge that crosses to Sweden 30 km away.
Speaking of getting high, this church is in an area of Copenhagen that has a squatters commune that has been sitting in prime development land for over 40 years now. It’s a part of Christiantown that is called Freetown, a bit of a law unto itself and definitely 40 plus years of hippy Ville. It’s still worth a look, just be careful of the brownies and the mushroom anything.
All in all the four of us have had a great two weeks travelling together. Motorhomes are definitely the way to see the country. Wee tip if you are thinking of doing something similar with your mates, we got Mike to borrow from a couple of handheld walkie talkies from a mutual friend. Old school technology still works well. Great to have instant communication between the vans when travelling…..”Breaker ..Breaker …time for a coffee stop.?”
But like all good things it has to come to an end, and today Mike and Sandy start their travels back towards London and a catch up with their daughter. Their van is now returned, bags are packed, but best of all we inherited all the partially used bits and pieces from their van. From every spice under the sun you can think of, to chemicals to put in the chemical toilet in our van. It was like Christmas again – presents when they arrived and half-used presents when they left.
There is no doubt we will miss them, the two weeks have been great guys, but I know we have some more adventures planned in the near future.
A wee few stats from our travels together over the two weeks:
- We drove 1,920 km
- We walked 126.8 km round the towns/cities, that equated to some 195,000+ steps
- We cycled 18 km on the bike tour
- And despite all this we still put on weight … go figure.
If you’d like to do your own motorhome adventure in Scandinavia or elsewhere in Europe, give us a call or drop us a message. Between us we’ve got all the tips and recommendations you’ll need to have a truly memorable adventure!