Finland, Finland, Finland …

Aww go on, how many of you remember the Monty Python song? I recall sitting in a lecture sometime during my nursing training in the early 1980s and the guest lecturer, probably a doctor, mentioned something about Finland, and Sue Sanossian (waves to Sue if she’s reading) and I spontaneously burst into song. Do you remember that, Sal? I still giggle when I think of it.

Finland, Finland, Finland,
The country where I want to be,
Pony trekking or camping,
Or just watching TV.
Finland, Finland, Finland.
It’s the country for me.You’re so near to Russia,
So far from Japan,
Quite a long way from Cairo,
Lots of miles from Vietnam.Finland, Finland, Finland,
The country where I want to be,
Eating breakfast or dinner,
Or snack lunch in the hall.
Finland, Finland, Finland.
Finland has it all.
You’re so sadly neglected
And often ignored,
A poor second to Belgium,
When going abroad.Finland, Finland, Finland,
The country where I quite want to be,
Your mountains so lofty,
Your treetops so tall.
Finland, Finland, Finland.
Finland has it all.Finland, Finland, Finland,
The country where I quite want to be,
Your mountains so lofty,
Your treetops so tall.
Finland, Finland, Finland.
Finland has it all.Finland has it all.

written and sung by Michael Palin

Anyway, here we are. In Finland. Lots of trees, lots of lakes and lots of mosquitoes at this time of the year. We have camped ‘in the wild’ for the last couple of nights in nice spots in forests, and last night we were near a small lake as well. Tonight is our last night before we get to Helsinki and we’re staying at Vaihelan Tila, a ‘farmstay’ hostel a couple of hundred kms north of the capital. It’s still a small working farm, but the large barn has been converted into accommodation. It’s lovely – all timber inside and sleeps around 14. There are several self-contained huts on the property as well, but tonight we’re the only ones in the large converted barn, which also has a wood-fired sauna. Our hostess told us about the various accommodation options and mentioned that her house has an electric sauna ‘and it’s not as good as a wood-fired one’. So we have had a sauna which Greg liked so much that he’s planning to have another one in the morning. I did like it but I tend not to sweat (and that’s nothing to do with ‘ladies don’t sweat’, it’s actually a nuisance as I don’t cool down easily when I’m hot).

We have been so excited to be back in a country that doesn’t require a second mortgage whenever you go shopping that we have visited at least one supermarket a day, mostly just to see what’s available. Norway is not part of the EU and the range of food available there is quite limited and more expensive than in EU countries. Here in Finland, food, fuel and accommodation are all cheaper. We still have some food that we bought in Sweden a couple of weeks ago – pasta, mashed potato, pasta sauce and a jar of beetroot (what was I thinking I would cook with that when I bought it? I have no idea) and I’m looking forward to being able to use an oven in the apartment we have organised in Helsinki, I’m a bit tired of one-pot cooking on a camp stove.

I thought I’d share a recipe that I kind of made up last night:

Mince and White Bean Hot Pot
250g mince
1 small onion, diced
tomato paste
1 can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
1 small can corn

Fry onion in oil, margarine or butter, add mince and cook until browned. Add a couple of tablespoons tomato paste with some water and cook for a couple of minutes. Add cannelini beans and corn, cook until hot.
Note: Don’t try this at home, it probably only tastes any good when you’re camping and you’ll eat almost anything and think it tastes great.

How to pay a parking fine in Norway

This post probably won’t be of interest to our regular readers, but after spending ages searching the internet for information after we got our parking ticket, I thought it might help any other unfortunate tourists who get caught like we did.

So, a few nights ago we were staying in Tromso and decided to go out for dinner. In a restaurant, our first restaurant meal in Norway. We parked in a small private car park which had a parking metre in one corner. I went to buy a ticket and noticed that it gave a price of 23 kroner per hour, up until 2100 hours, or 9pm. I didn’t read any further, just put in enough coins to get to 9pm, took the ticket , put it in the car and we left. I really should have read all the instructions because there is also a charge after 9pm, of 10 kroner per hour. We got back to the car at 10pm to discover a yellow parking fine on the dashboard. For 760 kroner.

The parking fine is, of course, all in Norwegian, but it’s fairly self-explanatory. You can either pay with a bank transfer, or they give a website where you can dispute the fine. I visited the website and then searched all over the internet to see if I could just pay with a credit card online, but there doesn’t appear to be any option to do so. Paying with a bank transfer was really just all too hard to organise with one of my Australian banks … not to mention costly. So I did some detective work and by searching on the SWIFT code given with the banking details, I learned that Europark Norway uses DNB Bank to accept payment.

We found the DNB Bank in Tromso and I went to see if I could pay the fine there. Success! Kind of. They will process the payment, but they charge a 75 kroner fee on top of the 760 kroner fine. I had to show ID (passport) and got a receipt for the payment … and I made very sure that all the reference numbers on the yellow fine and the receipt matched up so that there would be no further issues.

Of course, it goes without saying that it’s better not to get a fine in the first place, but if you do, I hope the above information helps.

More about the Midnight Sun

Why do people applaud natural phenomena?

That’s not the start of a riddle, it really does baffle me when people clap in the presence of natural awesomeness. My brother John told me years ago about visiting Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park and seeing people clap, and we saw the same thing when we visited last year … so I guess it’s probably happened nearly every time in the intervening years. And it happened at Nordkapp at midnight last night when the sun stayed high in the sky. Well, not really all that high, but definitely well above the horizon. And it was awesome. But I didn’t feel like clapping.

My mum asked me a couple of questions and maybe other loyal readers are wondering too …. Have we seen the Northern Lights, and can we see any stars at this time of the year inside the Arctic Circle.

The Northern Lights are a winter phenomenon, occurring when the sky is dark. We’ll have to come back in winter to see them, and apparently in Tromso they are at their most spectacular at 6pm.

I must find out more about them, but at the moment I’m still trying to get my head around the whole ‘sun doesn’t set for 10 weeks in summer’ and then the ‘sun doesn’t rise for 6 weeks in winter’ thing. I know it is to do with the earth’s tilt, and I’m sure there are plenty of Youtube videos about it all that we’ll watch when we get home. Or I’ll ask Dr Karl. He probably know lots about this stuff.

And the stars. We haven’t actually seen a star since we left home. Even as far south as Copenhagen, there are only a few hours of night at this time of the year, and the sky just never gets dark enough to have any visible stars in it. Within the Arctic Circle, the sky is always light, although at midnight it’s not quite a bright as during the day, and it does cool down by a few degrees overnight. Our Lonely Planet Guide gives lots of dates of when the sun sets in various parts of Norway. It will set in Nordkapp around July 29th, for the first time since mid-May. And then the first star/s will be visible in late August.The sun sets for the last time in late November and rises again in mid-January. I know, I know – it’s all just strange for us who live in places where our days and nights only vary by a few hours depending on the season ….. and to people who live close to the Equator and have equal durations of day and night all year round it must be almost inconceivable.

And I’m by no means an expert, but if anyone wants to know anything else, ask us a question in the Comments and one of us will try to answer it for you.

We got to Nordkapp yesterday afternoon and paid the hefty fee to go into the Information and parking area. On the way there Greg had been looking out for possible camping spots, but I was fairly sure that there was only one place for us to camp last night … at Nordkapp itself. And we did. There is a field just outside the toll booths into the Nordkapp area and people are allowed to camp there, and lots of people with RVs just stay in the car park overnight. We went and looked at the lookout and read a few of the many obelisks, markers, monuments and other assorted items of interest, took photos and I sent a postcard to my 6 year old nephew to let him know that we’d seen Santa’s reindeer and would keep an eye out for Santa. There’s a pretty good chance that we’ll find him in Finland …. Lapland to be precise.

So then we pitched our tent and waited. For our dinner to cook … for midnight …. for the sun to go down (or not). And it was well worth the wait. We were lucky that it was a reasonably clear sky with not too many clouds. Tour buses kept on arriving and disgorging passengers from cruise ships, motor homes and motor bikes rolled in and one young German woman arrived on foot. I had a good chat with her and found out that she was there to start walking the E1 Walking Trail, which is a 4900km route that starts at Nordkapp and finishes in Sicily. The route was officially opened just last month. She hadn’t been able to find the start, so I took her to the stone marker and took a photo of her with her camera. We had a nice chat about walking  – she has walked the Camino de Santiago, so have we – and I took her to our tent, gave her some water, we wished her  ‘Buen Camino’ and she started off on her very long walk.

Greg put a few more photos on the post below this one, to show where we have been so far this trip, and to give an idea of where we would be if we were in the Southern Hemisphere. I’m just going to state for the record that I have NO PLANS to camp at 71 degrees south, or anywhere within the Antarctic Circle. I’m not that brave. Or silly.


Inside the Arctic Circle

Our "wild" campsite on Lofoten Islands

Our “wild” camp-site on Lofoten Islands

We drove into the Arctic Circle about 15 minutes after we left the campground this morning. There’s a big tourist information centre/cafe and a small sign marking this amazing geographical fact. Amazing to us, because neither of us had ever thought we’d get to such lofty latitudes, although Greg has wanted to since he paddled his folding kayak in Iceland and Greenland 10 years ago. So we drove along for a while reminding each other that we’re inside the Arctic Circle. We were at high altitude when we crossed into The Circle and it was all quite bleak and typical high country terrain, and I noticed that the outside temperature was 6C, but when we dropped lower it all looked just like it has for the last 1000kms or so – fjords, forest, farms and little villages. And the temperature has hovered around 12 – 14C for most of the day.

When it was raining yesterday, we decided not to take the ferry out to the Lofoten Islands, even though we had read about how stunning they are and how it’s the highlight of any trip to northern Norway. It all seemed to be a bit of a waste in the rain, so we headed up the main road. Today the weather is better, and we have seen some blue sky and sunshine. At Bognes on the main road going north to Narvik, there is a ferry across to Skarberget on the main road, and there is also a ferry from the same point across to Lodingen on the Lofoten Islands. Greg initially drove to the queue for the ferry to take us across to the main road, then when we realised where the other ferry queue was going, he turned the car around so we could catch the one to Lofoten.

We’re currently sitting in our tent, surrounded by wildflowers, beside the water and overlooking some magnificent mountains. It really is breath-taking.


Roadside stop for Lunch

Roadside stop for Lunch


Travelling along fiords

Travelling along fiords

Waiting for the Ferry to the Lofoten Islands

Waiting for the Ferry to the Lofoten Islands




Just outside the Arctic Circle

It started raining just before we started packing up the tent this morning, and it didn’t really stop raining all day. We had planned to drive the scenic route along the coast, which involved several (more) ferry rides, but it all seemed to be a bit of a waste if we weren’t actually going to see anything. So we headed back to the main (inland) highway, the E6, and headed north. The scenery along the main route is still incredible, at times going along the sides of mountains and fjords. It seems like every time we go around another bend, there’s another perfect postcard-worthy picture of green fields with assorted red, cream and yellow buildings, or a granite mountain with stripey white waterfalls running down, or fir trees growing all the way down to the deep, clear water of a fjord.

I’m really hoping it stops raining soon and we get some blue skies, but even with cloudy grey skies, this scenery is amongst the most beautiful I have ever seen. We are still driving through a combination of forest and farmland, mostly grain crops with an occasional small herd of sheep or dairy cows. It’s just at the end of the hay-making season, and occasionally we have seen fields of cut hay being dried on long racks – I guess the ground is too damp to leave it lying there as it would never dry. Today we drove through 2 really, really long tunnels. One was 5.9kms, and the other was 8.6kms. The Norwegians are incredible tunnel-builders.

The ‘free-access camping‘ we had planned to do hasn’t worked out as we thought it would. We thought we’d be able to just drive down smaller roads off the highway and find somewhere to pitch our tent for the night, but there are little villages, farms and houses just about everywhere. Last night we camped at the campground at Vennesund and enjoyed using their cosy camp kitchen. An unpowered tent site cost us $30. Tonight we’re in a cabin at Krokstrand, just 20kms south of the Arctic Circle. A few reasons for being in a cabin – an unpowered tent site here is $40 (!!), and a 2-berth cabin with fridge, hotplate, heater, table & chairs & covered verandah is $60. It took us less than a nano-second to opt for the cabin and forego putting up a wet tent on wet grass in the rain. Funny about that.

Update: 300Kr does not give you a hot shower, that’s extra 5kr (A$1) for 3 minutes.

Eating lunch at a roadside stop in the rain

Eating lunch at a roadside stop in the rain



Cabin near the arctic circle

On the road

We’re feeling pretty lucky in the aftermath of the flat tyre mishap. The replacement car is so, so much better than the little tinny Kia Picanto we had, and the fuel economy is amazing. We put 60L of diesel in it yesterday, which cost us $170, and the fuel economy calculator thingy in the car reckons we’ll get 1800kms! Every time I look in a place I haven’t looked before, I find another panel of lights and buttons. It beeps whenever one of us does something ‘wrong’. We’re somewhat concerned that we’ll accidentally lock the keys in the car or something equally catastrophic, but I’m sure we’ll get used to it all … eventually.

We’re heading north up the coast to the Arctic Circle. For the last 2 days, we have driven through rural areas, mainly farmland and forests. It’s all so incredibly, impossibly green here, with such beautiful scenery it’s very hard to resist stopping constantly to take yet more photos. There are lots of little villages everywhere, and they look like thriving little communities, most of them with a service station AND a supermarket, and often a school and one or more churches. Most of the buildings are timber, the houses are white, cream or yellow and the outbuildings are red.

I’ve seen the most beautiful wildflowers growing beside the roads – lupins, linaria, foxgloves, canterbury bells, daisies, mostly in shades of white, pink and purple. I found some ligonberry bushes yesterday but the berries weren’t ripe yet. Swedish meatballs are traditionally served with mashed potatoes, a cream-based  gravy and ligonberry jam. We had meatballs & gravy (out of a can) with mashed potatoes (out of a packet) for dinner last night.

I found something cheap here ! A 1 litre stainless steel thermos for $9. Although it’s been a long, long time since I priced one at home and maybe it’s not so cheap in comparison, but I bought one in anticipation of needing lot of hot drinks as we head further north. We’re in a little town at the moment – Namsos – where the sun sets at half-past midnight and rises again at 3.30am.,


Greg checking to see if the water was really cold in the river - it was

Greg checking to see if the water was really cold in the river – it was


One of the many fantastic roadside stops in Norway.

One of the many fantastic roadside stops in Norway.

We have driven around many fiords, this one had a waterfall flowing into it.

We have driven around many fiords, this one had a waterfall flowing into it.


Camped at Vennesund

Camped at Vennesund

We have passed many buildings with sod roofs. This is a cabin at the camping ground we are staying at at Vennesuns

We have passed many buildings with sod roofs. This is a cabin at the camping ground we are staying at at Vennesund

Close-up of the sod-roof "garden"

Close-up of the sod-roof “garden”