Leaving Scandinavia

Hard to believe we have already been away a month, and have another 4 weeks’ travelling to go before we get back to the Land of Oz.

We’re spending tonight in Riga, Latvia which is a stopover on our Air Baltic flight to St Petersburg. All Air Baltic flights hub through Riga, so we picked the flight with the longest time between landing here and taking off for St Petersburg to give us a chance to explore another central European city. We’re staying in a hotel in Old Riga. Greg has already been out for a walk to check out the local sights by night. We’ll do more walking and exploring tomorrow.

Before I get distracted by more sights and experiences, I thought I’d write down  few observations about our travels in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland. It was all great, and I would love to re-visit any or all of these countries in the future We found all the ‘locals’ we talked to wherever we went to be universally friendly, helpful and nearly everyone speaks excellent English. Prices of most things in Sweden, Denmark and Finland were around the same as at home, with the exception of fuel which cost more everywhere. In Norway, everything was expensive. We had read about it before we left, and I think I was secretly hoping it wouldn’t be as bad as people claimed …. but it was. Everything just cost a lot of money. Getting a $165 parking fine didn’t help much either. We were very glad that we were able to spend most of our time in Norway camping and self-catering.

The economies of all 4 countries seem to be in good shape, with little or no foreign debt, limited exposure to the GFC, and Finland and Norway have both covered their future age pension commitments … I’m not sure about Sweden and Denmark.

People in Scandinvian countries seem have children earlier than they do at home. We saw lots of young parents out and about with babies and toddlers. Good, secure, well-paid work, generous parenting payments and parenting leave probably go a long way to bringing the average age down – this is just our observations, I haven’t gone hunting around for any statistics.

Summer is short. Very short. When we left Stockholm 4 weeks ago, everything was green and lush. Yesterday we went to Uppsala for the day and lots of the fields are now golden with grain crops, flowers have started going to seed and some of the trees have started turning yellow. Berries, currants and chanterelle mushrooms are the hot seasonal sellers in markets everywhere at the moment. In Finland there were also lots of peas in their pods, but I looked for them in Stockholm and didn’t find any. Must be a Finnish thing.

And I have to mention one last thing, even thought it’s not really relevant to anything else much, I just want to remember it – at the apartment complex we stayed at in Helsinki, the area around the car park and near the 4-storey building had been landscaped with white- and red currant bushes which all had almost-ripe fruit on them. I don’t know if anyone picked them to eat or preserve, but every time I walked past one, I would pick a handful to eat!


The dry fields around Uppsala

The dry fields around Uppsala

Viking burial mounds at Uppsala dating back to 600AD

Viking burial mounds at Uppsala dating back to 600AD


Ferry to Stockholm

We cleaned up the car, left our camping equipment at the apartment in Helsinki, and drove into the centre of Helsinki to catch the Viking Lines ferry. It was a warm day with the car thermometer measuring 30C sometimes. It was somewhat of a tortured drive through the centre of Helsinki – 30kph speed limits, cobblestones, traffic lights every 30 metres – but we made it to the terminal.

Leaving Helsinki in the bright sunshine was fantastic, and a great way to remember a city we really liked. We were allocated a cabin at the stern of the ship, no windows (cheap tickets! ) but there were windows in the corridor that looked over the stern of the ship.

I got up at 4am when I heard the ship docking at Mariehamn in the Aland Islands.

Later in the morning we wound our way through the islands of the Stockholm archipelago.

Leaving Helsinki on a sunny afternoon the Ferry weaving its way through the islands

The islands off Helsinki

leaving Mariehamn in the Aland Islands at around 4am in fog

Winding our way through the Stockholm archipelago

Winding our way through the Stockholm archipelago


North to Oslo

We woke up in our tent with a bit of a cloudy day, but the cloud soon lifted and we had a another warm day. We drove back to the Freeway from our forest camp (we were only camped about 4km from it) and headed north. We needed to get more supplies in cheap Sweden before we got to expensive Norway. We stopped at a holiday town of Stromstad, just south of the border with Norway. In the nice town of Stromstad we found other people doing the same as us, stocking up before Norway. There was a large supermarket with camper vans and other travellers parked outside, buying cheap Swedish food inside.

After getting another few more days food (we have about 8 days), and petrol, we then drove north, and crossed the Norwegian border. At the border there was customs. We had 19 cans of cheap Swedish beer, and 2 cans of cheap Swedish meatballs, did that count as something we should declare? Luckily we didn’t have to answer the question as no-one on Sunday was manning the customs booth.

We paid our first of many Norwegian road tolls. 23Kr (about $4) at the border, and then about 3 more of another 23Kr-30Kr that will be charged automagically on our credit card at some future date. We got to Oslo and headed for our third airbnb accommodation.

This airbnb did not go as well as the previous two. The complication with Airbnb is you have to meet someone to get a key. In this case the owner was on holidays and we had to meet someone else to get the key. The someone else was in the middle of the city, and our experience of Oslo is it is very hard to go straight between two points. Oslo is a city of cul-de-sacs. Our mobile phone was sending SMSs but somehow not receiving them. The person we were picking the key up from was not totally sure where the apartment was. Anyway, all the running around took 4 hours. We eventually got into our very nice but sparsely furnished apartment at 6:30pm.

As for Norwegian prices? Well it cost $A2 to go to the toilet at Oslo Central Station. A good way of comparing countries costs is to compare the cost of fast food. The Big Mac index is used to compare living costs worldwide. A Big Mac meal in Australia costs about $A8, in Oslo it costs $A16. Fuel costs $A2.70 a litre.

Judy using the internet

Judy using the internet

Loading up supplies in cheap Sweden before reaching expensive Norway

Loading up supplies in cheap Sweden before reaching expensive Norway



On the road


We picked up our (tiny) rental car this morning and by lunchtime we were on the road. We have driven about 450km south along the E4 towards Copenhagen, We detoured next to one of Swedens lakes. There are two lakes in the west one little and one large, we drove down the coast of the little one, it was enormous. You could barely see the far shore,

As it got later we started looking for campsites. Sweden (and Norway and Finland) have a law called :”Allmansrätten” or public right of access. This means you can camp all sorts of places as long as you follow some basic rules. We eventually went down a little country road, followed a dirt track into a pine forest and found a nice quite place to camp next to a creek.

Tomorrow we get to Copenhagen.


Walking Stockholm

The Stadsbiblioteket Stockholm the central city Library, circular and designed in the 1920s

Tim Winton books in the Stockholm Library

Tim Winton books in the Stockholm Library


Australia wine in cardboard containers

Australia wine in cardboard containers



Note to self: In Sweden, they are just called ‘meatballs’. Asking for ‘Swedish meatballs’ in Sweden is grossly overstating the obvious.

Today, being a Sunday, we did what many other Swedish people do on this day of rest and went to worship at the Altar of the Flatpack and pay homage to the great god of consumerism at the biggest Ikea in the world. And it really is HUGE! 3 storeys full of stuff. The entire display area is arranged in concentric circles which spiral downwards from the 3rd floor, accessible via ramps, steps and escalators. There is a large dining area on the top floor, plus 2 smaller cafes, a food hall and a fast food bar. There are a couple of ‘I live in 25 sq metres or less’ displays. I thought there would be more, but then realised that while those displays are fascinating for us Aussies who live in much larger spaces, to the Swedes it’s real life and they don’t need Ikea displays to tell them how to do it.

We got there early, just after it opened at 10am. The carpark was fairly empty and there were some people inside the store, but that was nothing compared to the mass of people there when we left at 3pm. Huge queues at the checkouts and heavy parcel pick-ups, heaps of people just wandering around the displays, full cafes and dining room. Despite the much larger scale and there being more of everything in both quantity and range – I counted at least 6 different high chairs – it felt familar as we are used to navigating our way around the Adelaide store. We started at the top, on the 3rd floor and wandered around the displays for a while, then fortified ourselves at the cafe on the 2nd floor with pancakes (Greg) and coffee and a cinnamon roll (me). There were a couple of things that we wanted to buy, but we left them until the end of our visit, so we didn’t have to carry them with us.

We broke the Ikea experience up by visiting a few other shops nearby – an electronics shop, a couple of specialist sports shops (golf & horseriding) and a big supermarket which offered customers a handheld scanner to use as they placed items in their shopping trolley. Not many people used them, but as the queues for the ordinary checkouts were so long, it would have saved a lot of time not having to wait in line.

We went back to Ikea for lunch and to do our shopping and the whole place was full of people browsing, eating and shopping. We bought cushions to use as pillows when we camp, plastic containers, a wire colander that we’ll turn into a toasting rack to go over our little woodburning fire and a neat little folding table. I’m sure when we’re camping there will be photos of it all. We dropped into the Food Hall on the way out for a few supplies, then headed back to our apartment on the subway.




It’s all there, 2 storeys below ground level. The music, the costumes, the photos and music video clips, lots and lots of memorabilia. The ABBA museum opened less than 2 months ago and it seems as if its already on every tourist’s Stockholm ‘must-do’ list. Well, it’s our first day here and we’ve ticked it off.

It was great, really great. We booked our tickets online and collected them from an ATM in the museum foyer. We booked for 11.15am (it’s open from 10.00am to 10.00pm daily), thinking that would give us enough time to get the subway into the centre of the city and then walk to Djurgarden Island, which is full of museums, including Skansen the world’s first open-air museum, where Annifrid ‘Frida’ was ‘discovered’ during a singing contest. Our knowledge of ABBA-related trivia has increased exponentially today! We got to the museum with an hour to spare, so we wandered around past some of the other attractions and found a little well-stocked supermarket and bought drinks and a Danish pastry.

The museum is set up in ‘rooms’, with interactive stuff throughout. You can sing onstage as the 5th member of the band, do quizzes, record yourself singing ABBA songs, and with all the activities you can scan your entry ticket and then look at the videos/photos/quiz results online later. Sorry to disappoint but we didn’t sing or perform and our quiz results were so woeful that we’re not sharing them with anyone!

There are reproductions of the music room where Bjorn and Benny wrote lots of the hit songs, the recording studio at Polar Music, the sewing room where a lot of those amazing glam-pop costumes were designed and sewn, and there is a whole room full of the costumes, with hundreds of album covers and gold records lining the walls. There are recent videos of each band member, remembering their lives pre-ABBA and one of my favourites – Lasse Halstrom the film-maker who at the time worked for Swedish Television and made a few music videos on the side, remembering the early days of making ABBA video clips. The museum plays ABBA: The Movie on a continuous loop. A lot of that movie was filmed in Australia.

We spent just under an hour and a half in the museum, and by the time we left it was getting very busy. We did the right thing going in the morning.








Stockholm arrival

We arrived in Stockholm at Arlanda airport on time, after leaving home 30 hours before. We waited at the luggage carousel and got our first bag (mostly camping equipment), but the second bag never appeared. We were waiting with a few other people whose bags also didn’t appear, and after a about twenty minutes we found out that they were never going to appear. We found out one of our two bags was sitting at Heathrow Terminal 5.

We put in a form for the missing bag, and then got a Taxi from the airport to Kista. We has a great Iraqi taxi driver who not only took us to the right place but rang George the person we were meeting to make sure that it was the right place. Every Swedish person we have met so far has been very friendly.

We are staying in an apartment in Kista that we arranged on AirBNB. It is basically student accommodation in a building over the top of the Galleria shopping centre. The apartment is an Ikea size 25 square metres, but it has a kitchen so we can save some money cooking food ourselves. There are 3 supermarkets in Galleria, and prices are similar in most cases to Australian supermarket prices.

The 25 square metre apartment

The 25 square metre apartment


Judy choosing bread in a stockholm supermarket