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Thursday, 26 June 2008

THE OLD CHURCH TOWN NO LONGER BY THE SEA





An interesting Church Town, (Kirkbyn in Swedish) named Gammelstad or “Old Town”, in Sweden right next door to a huge cemetery and “Godsterminal” not “cemetery” as we might have hoped, which John says means Goods Depot! Pity! Appropriately a funeral was in process when we arrived.
The Church is medieval and the town was the main seaport for this part of Sweden but the land has risen a metre every century since the end of the Ice Age so the sea is now a long way away. The photo of the field was once the harbour. Folk from the surrounding farm hamlets built little overnight log cabins so that they could attend the church. It was also the only opportunity to go courting that young people had. Actually they ‘bundled’ what with the snow being too deep to go walking together. So look up ‘bundling’.

BEYOND THE ARTIC CIRCLE





Lapland is an area of reindeer husbandry.
There are reindeer everywhere husbanded or otherwise loose-living on the road.
The Reindeer, even the females, were on the whole unimpressed by John’s attempts to husband them into photographs for small T. As I have much African experience of taking photos of trees and grass with small black dots just out of focus, I made no effort to help him though I knew I would never dissuade him from trying. These are the edited results after I deleted the 120 that John took on foot while the fleet fled. So here you have –
Female reindeer, young reindeer, reindeer on snow, handsome reindeer with fuzzy antlers – yes! We have been to Lapland!
These photos were taken especially for T.
No one is to tell him that the best shots were taken while we were eating reindeer jerky and reindeer salami, though the rock art shamans might agree that it is the reason the reindeer allowed us to photograph them in the first place.

REINDEER FOR SMALL T





Hello, Grandson.

We said we were going to the Arctic Circle to see reindeer and You Know Who. We met these reindeer at the side of the road and they were not afraid of our motorhome but they didn't like it if we got out and tried to be friends with them. I expect it was that they didn't want us to take their pictures. Ruth took these photos from inside the van so they didn't get frightened. We saw some little ones and they were differnt colours, some dark brown, but all the grown-up ones seem to be light grey (like the snow is at this time of the year).

Love, Granddad and Ruth.

GUNS AND BASKETBALL PLAYERS FOR SMALL T




Here are some pictures for T – that is small T.
Here is John by the big gun fighting Finland’s enemies and John at the WW2 Finnish submarine on Suomenlinna Island where we spent a pleasant afternoon walking in the sun.

The railway station has some very serious-minded giants playing basketball outside it. They have to hit the clock tower sideways.

ALTA AND ROCK PAINTINGS NORWAY



Our first stop after North Cape on the way to Kautokeino was on the fjord at Alta to look at the Rock engravings there.
There are over 3000 engravings made between 6000 and 3000 years ago. There is a 3 kilometre board walk among the rocks at the head of this very beautiful fjord.

The battlecruiser, Scharnhorst, lay in wait for WW2 British convoys to Russia in Altafjord until it was sunk in December 1944. (John says this date is wrong) * [who am I accusing of being wrong? The Official War Diary? And how, in the absence of easy internet access or a complete historical library – something oddly lacking in our motorhome – am I expected to check the facts?] It is hard to believe that the war reached as far as this lovely and ancient place but in the museum we learnt that Hitler ordered a scorched earth policy in Finnmark – this part of Norway - when he knew Germany was losing. At the start of a long and bitter winter he evacuated the entire population and burnt the towns to the ground. People hid in dugouts in the forest with little food. The curious thing we learnt was, the very day Hitler ordered the policy, the Russians decided to advance no further in Norway.

Back at Rüdesheim in Germany some 2 months ago, we took a ferry across the Rhine. Cycling from Geisenheim next day we came across the ramparts of a ruined bridge. Wondering if we, (the Allies) were responsible for its destruction, we found a plaque that said that it was blown up by the German army 2 weeks before the war ended - a hopeless, useless waste of a necessary resource for people.

MORE NORTH CAPE



NORTH CAPE




North Cape was fantastic.
As we travelled closer to it we were told by campers who had been there that it was ‘not so good’ – ‘ there’s snow’ – ‘the wind rocks the van – very cold’ – ‘its very expensive’ – ‘its foggy’ – ‘no midnight sun’ – and so on.
I really began to wonder if it was worth the bother – and the cold and discomfort and the money! It is also a long way (c. 350 miles north of the Arctic Circle) but I knew John was determined to get there.
The landscape is incredible – very beautiful, very harsh, frozen lakes, no trees, snow, rocks, cliffs, lowering skies but no sunset.
There is a rather odd and very expensive ‘theme park’ type place at the Cape and we free-camped there in the car park (free-camp after you have paid £20 to get in) in the wind and cold with hundreds of other campers and bus loads of people off tours and boats. We saw disappointed tourists photographing posters of the midnight sun! Poor people! It was surreal but not to be missed. Perhaps our photos give some little idea of the place. It does feel like the end of the earth. It was cold but the van was fine and the silk duvet and the feather duvet and the heater and the booze kept us warm.
To get there we went through four tunnels, one was 6.78 km. under the sea (and cost us £50 both times we drove through it!). The first was 4 km. long and was old, narrow, dark, twisty, and wet. I hated them.
We had seen the midnight sun at Inari and had no illusions about the likelihood of seeing it at North Cape but the experience of the landscape more than matched our expectations. It was wonderful and I didn’t want to leave something so unique and extraordinary.

(Caveat: North Cape is not the most northerly point on the European mainland. There is a headland about a mile west on the same island which is marginally more northerly, but it is inaccessible by road and you need to walk 18km to get to it and it isn’t dramatic and 1000ft. high. Notice that word “island”? There are other islands more northerly – cf. Spitsbergen – so how is it the most northerly? Well, most people think it is and we were there and most people weren’t. So there!)

(NEW) AGING

Elsewhere in this blog are some comments by Ruth which, in an unfavourable wind – and aren’t they all? (see note) - might be read as tending towards the pessimistic.
Here is my attitude to aging:-
1. Never act your own age. Try somebody else’s younger and more attractive instead
2. Never admit to it unless it’s undeniable. Don’t own up to anything. Get away with it for as long as you can.
3. Even then, say it wasn’t you.

Note: Evidence of inescapable pessimism reinforced by several years sailing experience.

THE MCDONALD CONNECTION

WiFi, McDonalds and Communications.
Here are our feet under a McDonalds table at Warsaw station.
McDonalds have the cheapest coffee and WiFi so I swallowed my distaste for Mc Donalds and we tried it out.
Everything in our life depends on using the internet. From Germany to Latvia there were McDonalds/McDrives at practically every junction. As we got further east we found less or no McDonalds but campsites had WiFi often for free but time-limited.
The problem turned out to be our equipment. John’s new computer connects to WiFi but John’s brain like mine rejects passwords faster that the computer does. Our Skype phones don’t and John’s never worked as a mobile. My Blackberry made life possible by getting e-mails to us on Blackberry and Yahoo but it is impossibly expensive if I use it to Google.
We have managed just about to keep on top of banks and bills but it is a sweat. Unfortunately we haven’t managed to set up online management of phones etc from abroad.
Thanks very much therefore, J for your management and care of our post – it is a real reassurance to trust that we can connect with it.
Our Blog has turned out to be a good way for us to record and revalue our experiences. It is also hard work because of the internet connection problems we have encountered. Downloading, sorting and editing requires new skills from us and takes time. It is primarily to keep you informed and in touch and saves you ever having to sit down with photos and slide shows at the next family gathering so we hope that it is useful, interesting and fun.
Communicating is important - I seem to have a lot of photos of John texting from his mobile.

INARI AND THE MIDNIGHT SUN AND THE SAMI




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, It is an extraordinary experience watching the sun not set.
Endless day for months.
It feels so strange and so magical – mythical. I think we both felt elation and excitement – I know I did. It feels like a gift of infinite time in which you can do as you please. No more need for lighting and not quite so much for heating. Unfortunately the camera, when pointed at the sun, thinks everything else ought to be in shadow so darkens all the other objects. In fact everything was in broad, bright, daylight.
You think, mistakenly, that you can do without sleep.
These photos were taken at Inari where there is a Sami knowledge centre and an island in the middle of the lake sacred to the Sami. It can be seen behind Ruth in one of the photos.
I am so glad I have seen the Midnight Sun and experienced endless day . . .
For a moment, R, I grasped the concept of a Heaven of eternal light.
John says to tell you that the camera lies. These photos all look as if it was dark - it was broad daylight in fact. I don't know how to adjust the camera for the direct shot into the sun.

LAPLAND PARADISE






We found Paradise right after we fled from the rain in Lakeland Finland. We went in search of Elk at Wild Lapland where Velli took us on a midnight sun safari. Elk are solitary, forest loving, night beasts. It took two safaris to find them and the photos are terrible because they are so shy. John in fact spotted the first one before Velli!
The camp site was lovely and we were alone. There was a sauna, a lake, and a washing machine.
Old John and I went rowing on the lake and thought of sailing, the sailors and Littlelegs J.
I went fishing. The Finnish supermarkets sell good quality fishing gear and I could not resist the opportunity to get some. I thought I had forgotten how but it is coming back bit by bit as I try out my new Abu Garcia ‘girl’s’ rod. (I did NOT get the ladies’ pink Shakespeare.) I lost two lures and didn’t have a bite. The water is peat-brown so it is hard to see the weeds and judge the depth but I enjoyed myself enormously!

Then Paradise was lost abruptly as 17 German campervans containing 34 people in mosquito masks with a number of dogs arrived en route to Russia. We did still continue to enjoy ourselves but we were surrounded. Instead we went to supper and ate reindeer which has quite a distinctive and strong flavour.

(Note from John. That’s not whole reindeer we ate, just some bits.)

(Second note from John. See how I resisted tired stereotypical jokes about Germans. It wasn’t easy.)

WHEELY CABIN FEVER


Here are two photos.
Our feet on some WW2 debris at Saaremaa.
A couple with Wheely Cabin Fever.

Another taboo subject is admitting the problems of maintaining an amicable or any kind of relationship at all in a confined space. It has been tough at times.
Try deciding which side of the cabin is left and right when you are facing each other in a cabin and you are both tired. We adopted a naval approach rather than a novel one. We decided on port, starboard, bow, stern and hold. We don’t seem to need to use these terms anymore as John has begun to find out where things are and doesn’t have to ask - he still can’t find the bible though. He has less trouble with the wine though he may never find the last two bottles that I have carefully stored/hidden.
Direction finding was also a problem – small road signs, inadequate maps plus I lost my specs in France and it was a month till they were replaced – thanks again G and J! This was largely resolved by buying maps of a sufficiently large scale to show the places we were hoping to visit. Every country has its own idiosyncratic style of road signage and so far our two scores of wrong interpretations are about level pegging but fairly low.
We are still trucking.
Some things like who does what and when and how on the domestic front are always being negotiated wherever you are. It may be more frequent with us as our circumstances and surroundings are constantly changing.
We manage.
John does the driving. When the cabin stops moving he wants to escape from it and I want to set up camp. Wheely cabin fever manifests itself differently in each of us.
We are learning to live with it – but then – what choice do we have?
More might be said but perhaps the less said the better?

KUOPIO AND WHERE WE WERE WHEN WE WERE WHERE WE WERE



It rained.
It rained hard.
It rained all day and all night.
We changed our plans.
Kuopio was the best till then camping site with every facility. A top quality Spa town with smokehouse sauna, and lake - very lovely - but expecting it to rain all week!
We left and drove west to the wilds of Lapland.

The previous night had been a different experience.
John wanted to visit Sibelius’s home at Järvenpää. Another lakeside site.
‘It’s a camping slum.’ I said as we drove up. John agreed.
It looked as if many caravans were derelict in long grass while kids made forays among the tyres around those that seemed occupied.
The reasonable washrooms were being trashed. Drains covers removed, cigarette smoke in the air, pink carpets in the clothes-only washing machine, tampon holders and toilet rolls flung across the floor. In the men’s washroom a toilet cassette rested on the dish-washing sinks. I felt decidedly trepidatious about using the washrooms as they had clearly been taken over.
A car with four young men in it circled our campervan slowly. After a while it drove off stopping first to collect a naked woman in a dressing gown.
‘Ah – off to the sauna.’ I said hopefully, but in half an hour it was back with the occupants and cans of drink from a local store.
‘Will we be safe asleep?’ I asked John.
‘We’ll be woken by men asking us to pay for the new asphalt roof on the van I expect.’ John reassured me.
In the morning there was a police car cruising the site but thankfully, no tar around the van.
Next the Finnish manager came to collect our dues.
‘You are also English?’ he asked insinuatingly.
‘We are not Irish.’ said John very firmly.
‘Yes’ said the owner, ‘They come every summer to work on the roads. I don’t know if they pay tax here, but they pay me.’ And he wrapped his gold-ringed fist around our money and went off without giving us a receipt.

AGED AND AGING


AGING AND BEING OLD

On this trip we are both aging and being old. It is considered an unmentionable subject, almost a taboo, but aging is a process like travelling. Travelling brings it particularly to mind because it reminds us as we passage along, of the passage of time. In fact John and I are in part, making this trip as ‘a rite of passage’ between work and old age.
Aging is the inevitable decline towards decrepitude and death. Being old is living with this constant slippage.
‘Oh – don’t think about it! It’s all in the mind! Be positive!’
I hear people respond. As if that girl-guide attitude makes it less apparent to those who see us or if it allows us to escape from the physical reality we live with daily. John is inclined to think the subject depressing. I think it needs to be met head on in a ‘red hat’ as the poem says, or if you like, face to face as one’s illusions of youthfulness vanish in the mirror each morning.
Aging is not what we want, or need, or planned or thought about – it is just happening. It is quite different from our retirement plans. I joked about being one of a cohort of pensioners in camper vans but that is actually what we are. As we journey we see ourselves mirrored in the large majority of other camper-vanners. We are doing what people of our age do.

In our minds we are both still stuck somewhere between 16 and 26. In the minds of people of that age we may as well not exist as they hardly notice us. Grandchildren know we are grand-parents, children wonder if our money will last as long as us or even pay for our frail care home. We look with sympathy at people of our age (unless they are friends who have been to our birthday parties) convinced that we are their younger contemporaries anyway. All this means that ‘age existing in the mind only’ has some truth in it but it is more complex. We are multiple ages not only to ourselves but to the rest of the world. The problem is our bodies know better that us and twinge to remind us that they are us.
I do think old people should be proud of being older and wear the wrinkles we have earned with honour.
However at the same time . . .

We both think we are physically fitter as a result of this trip but we have already learnt the hard way to be careful of our backs and knees. We are very slighter thinner and we are already more weather-beaten. We are scruffier too. Camping is as hard on clothes as on our skin. John is slightly deaf in one ear and I have early cataracts in both eyes. All of these facts that are not in the ‘mind’ sharpen our desire to enjoy this year’s travelling.
My father in his eighties, deaf and almost blind, was most concerned about his sex life. At least, John says, your father still had his memory . . .

BEAUTIFUL FINLANDIA


Finland is absolutely lovely. We expected long boring drives through monotonous forest. Not at all. Lakes, hills, granite outcrops, varied forest vegetation, flowers, wildernesses – all beautiful. Admittedly the midge season (known as the räkka) was not at its height but it is one country that I would tell everyone to visit – at least at this season!

TALLINN





Tallinn was great and convenient. We camped on the Pirita dock at the Olympic Sailing Venue built by the Russians for the 1980 Games so we thought of all you sailing people at London Docklands training for more games and wish you the best - especially littlelegs J.
Old John has done a long Estonian blog so I needn’t say much more. The Tallinn beaches are lovely and there are swans all along the shore. We enjoyed the old town and cycled along the coast.

We had our first free camping experience in Tallinn. We left Pirita for a patch of waste land so that we could get on the ferry at 6.30am. Clever John found us a delicious dinner on the top deck of a small moored steamer, the Admiral from where we had a wonderful view of the Old Town.
The Pirita docks also provided me with a solution to the sad story of my Giant electric bicycle as there was a Giant dealer nearby.
I was so proud of my bike thinking it would allow me to keep up easily with John on our travels. Well it was too big and heavy for me – too Giant. I managed it fine on smooth empty roads near Cranfield but on cobbles, potholes, over roots and up stairs I couldn’t hold it steady or lift it up or brake quickly in a crowd or in traffic. My arms and shoulders ached and my knees hurt. It became a nightmare and I simply refused to get onto it because I was too afraid of crashing.
Anyhow the Giant dealer liked my bike and swopped it for a very ordinary one that I can manage. It is a financial loss but John and I had a lovely ride along the Tallinn beach front.
The bike picture is actually in Lulea Sweden.

HELSINKI AND CAMERA ONE LOST




Here is Helsinki and also photos for A and B of the Brazilian fiesta on our first day there and some scary faces for everyone to remind you of us.
My camera died taking a number of interesting photos to its grave. Quite close to these gargoyles I bought a new camera – and I am now getting acquainted with yet more technology. **!!##!!**