Jonna and Alan's two month summer camper-van trip through Scandinavia

For our big 2019 vacation we headed north. Specifially, we headed to the artic countries. On May 25th we flew to Hamburg, Germany. We then to the commuter train to nearby Luneburg where we picked up a rental camper-van. From there we were traveling for 68 days, returning the camper-van on August 1). By the time we flew back home we had racked up 6,000 miles (10,000 kms) on the camper-van driving through five countries: Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. We visited all the major capital cities: Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki. We literally lost count of the National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage sites. Roughly half the time we were north of the Artic Circle so the sun never set.

It was an incredible trip!

Here are some of our favorite photos from the trip (each photo is a thumbnail linked to a higher quality picture.):

1) We took the commuter train from Hamburg to Lüneburg where we searched our a SIM card for one of our cell phones then took a taxi to pick up the camper-van. After a stop to load up with groceries it was early afternoon before we started driving north through the pastoral landscape of the Baltic coast. As we neared the ferry port at Puttgarden the sun was setting and we were treated to a colorful end to our first day on the road.

2) Because traveling in Scandinavia is so expensive so chose to do this trip in a camper-van so we could minimize our lodging and eating costs. There are a couple of smart phone apps that list free camping spots and we used it the first night to find a nice roadside park on the small Danish island of Farø just a little ways from the ferry terminal where we entered Denmark from Germany. We chose a small Fiat Ducato based camper-van with a conversion done by Etrusco (model# T 5900 FB) in order to stay under the 6m length which is the least expensive size for things like ferries and paid camping spots. It was also small enough to semi-comfortably drive around in the larger cities.

3) Our parking app really paid off big time the next night where we found a quiet trailhead parking lot right across the Sydhavnen harbour area from downtown Copenhagen. We brought our old mountain bikes with us from the US and carried them on a bike rack on the camper-van. We unloaded them and joined the throngs of Danish bike commuters to pedal over to the Torvehallerne market. We enjoyed seeing all the stalls and booths as well as sampling traditional open faced sandwiches for lunch followed by an authentic Danish ...uh...danish (called wienerbrød here) for desert.

4) A block from the Torvehallerne is the Copenhagen Botanical Garden which was just starting to blossom. We worked off the wienerbrød calories walking through the park and enjoying the views.

5) Across the street from the Botanical Garden is the historical Rosenborg Castle. This was the castle of Danish royalty during the 17th century when Denmark was one of the major Baltic powers. It was stunning! Unlike the southern European royal castles Rosenborg is dark, stark and a bit harsh. It is also home to the Danish Royal Crown Jewels so there was some bling to be seen as well.

6) Our second and final day in Copenhagen we focused on the city museums. Our first visit was the Danish National Museum to learn about the history of the country. The museum was excellent - starting with the stone age and then progressing through to modern times. This overview ended up being useful for understanding Scandinavia history as a whole so it paid off for the rest of our trip!

7) After walking through the Christiansborg Castle grounds, and having lunch, we next got our art on by heading to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek which is an art museum focusing on sculpture. It has a beautiful indoor garden and a few floors of exhibition space where a large permanent collection, as well as touring shows, are displayed.

8) After our very brief visit of Denmark we crossed the (expensive!) toll bridge into Sweden. Our first stop in Sweden was in the town of Växjö where we had lunch. While we were stopped we explored the town including the House of Emigrants museum - a museum dedicated to the Swedish diaspora in the mid-19th century that resulted in millions of Swedes immigrating to North American. It was a cluttered and somewhat disorganized museum (with a few humorous paper-mache mannequins) but it did have a lot of interesting information.

9) Next door to the Emigrant museum was the Småland Museum, also known as the Swedish Glass Museum, that highlights the region's history as a glass manufacturing hub. The museum had a lot of information about how industrial glassworks operate but mainly displayed a huge array of glass products, both functional glassware and purely artistic glass pieces.

10) After our stop in Växjö we continued east to the east coast of Sweden and the island of Öland. We found a great camping spot at a little harbor looking onto the Kalmar Strait. The next day we did a slow, scenic drive around the island enjoying all the small villages and the many hundred 19th century windmills. We really liked Öland and would love to return to explore at an even slower pace - maybe on bicycles or motorcycles.

11) For the afternoon we headed to the city of Kalmar where we paid to park the camper in a marina parking lot and explored the city on foot. Our first stop was the Kalmar County Museum which has the artifacts from a mid-17th century Danish warship called the Kronan which sank in 1676.

12) Continuing with the Swedish history theme our next visit was to Kalmar Castle. The castle was originally built in the 12th century and was in use for next 400 years. It is mostly empty now but the grand scale of the fortifications and royal residences still show how impressive the castle must have been in it's heyday. Jonna tried out the reproduction throne and found quite comfortable. Kalmar ended up being one of our favorite stops of our entire vacation - it was just the right size for a comfortable visit. Very walkable, some interesting historic sites, plenty of restaurants but not so touristy as to feel fake.

13) From Kalmar we headed north to the little town of Nynäshamn. We found another fantastic camping spot, this time in a coastal park looking out across the water to Inre Garden island. The next morning we parked the camper-van in public parking and took a big ferry out to Gotland island. We spent the day exploring the medieval city of Visby with it's fortified walls, dozens of church ruins, narrow stone paved streets, a handful of museums and a very nice botanical garden. The art museum was a let down but the Gotlands Museum, the county history museum, was great. It covered the stone age, pre-Viking societies, the Vikings, the Hanseatic era and post-medieval history. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site so definitely worth the (again, expensive) trip.

14) After another night in the park outside Nynäshamn we drove north to Stockholm. We found a pay parking lot near the cruise ship docks and walked to Fotografiska - The Museum of Photography. Wow! What a stunning museum. We ended seeing all the exhibitions that were on display. There were a few photographers whose work we really liked but Rahul Talukder’s “Made In Bangladesh” exhibition blew us away. Part art, part journalism and part social commentary - very powerful images. We also had lunch in the cafe with a great view out across the harbor to the historic parts of Stockholm. It was one of our favorite museums of the entire trip! Definitely recommended.

15) Again the parking app found us a very convenient camping site in a major city, though we did have to pay for this one. We were on the island of Langholmen, right across the Riddarfjärden and within easy bicycling distance of the major historical sites. After parking we immediately unloaded the bike and headed to Gamla Stan - the royal residences of the Swedish crown. We got there too late to tour the palace but we did get to peek inside the Royal Chapel. It is a pretty area with cool medieval streets but it was jammed shoulder-to-shoulder with tourists - literally every street curb on the perimeter was packed nose to tail with tour buses. After paying way too much for some fruit juice and a slice of quiche we pedaled back to the camper-van for the night.

16) One of the highlights of our visit to Stockholm was definitely our trip to see the Vasa. We started our second day in Stockholm off by cycling over to the island of Djurgården which is part of the Royal National City Park. Our first stop was the Vasa Museum and it was incredible! A complete 17th century warship salvaged intact, restored and now on display. This ship was the showcase of the Swedish Navy and was the most powerful warship of her day. Sadly, she rolled over and sank immediately after she was launched in 1628. She was raised in the 1950s and is now one of the most popular museums in Europe. Amazing!

17) Just a short distance from the Vasa Museum is the Skansen open-air museum. This park has pulled together historic structures from all around Sweden and built a museum collection that you can walk through to see how Swedes lived in various parts of the country and in various time periods. Definitely a hot spot for middle school field trips but still interesting to walk through and get a sense of Scandinavian architecture in the 18th and 19th century.

18) We finshed our last day in Stockholm with a visit to Moderna Museet (The Modern Art Museum) which took our already expanded minds and twisted them into pretzels! Good stuff ranging from "traditional" modern artists like Picasso and Henri Cartier-Bresson to contemporary artists Jordan Wolfson and Francis Bacon. Wolfson's video piece named "Riverboat Song" in particular was a quite provoking but all of the pieces in their permanent collection, as well as their special exhibitions were interesting. Unfortunately, no photographs are allowed inside so the only photo from our visit to the museum is of their outdoor sculpture space.

19) The next day was primarily a travel day as we left Stockholm to venture out into the "real" Sweden (or so said a lady we talked to at the Skansen park). We took a driving break in Uppsala to grab lunch and see a couple of sites. Our first stop was the university to see the Gustavianum - the museum that shows the history of the school’s studies - significant given that it is 400+ years old. Egyptian and Greek artifacts, a collection of 19th century scientific instruments, an amazing curio cabinet from the early 1800s and a Viking grave display. My favorite was the Theatrum Anatomicum. This is a theater build in the early 1600s to teach anatomy with a disection table and then a steeply tiered amphitheater when student stood to observe. We had a lunch at a food truck in the shadow of Sweden’s largest church while watching a nearby high school literally send their graduates out into the world - by loading them into the back of a truck and hauling them away.

20) Our last stop in Uppsala was on the the edge of town at Gamla Uppsala - a late iron age/early viking town that has been partially excavated. We skipped paying to go into the museum but we did walk out among the 700 year old burial mounds. We ended our day on the shore of Lake Siljan. Our parking/camping app led us to a superb spot right on the shore of the lake.

21) June 6 is Sweden’s National Day holiday. There was a modest gathering of mainly senior citizens in a park in the town of Mora with a few speeches, awards given out to youth athletes and some traditional dancers. Given the global trend of rampant nationalism it was very refreshing to be in a country that wasn’t chest thumping and whooping about their national identity. A few more observations from our time in Sweden - in our week+ in Sweden we saw exactly one homeless person - on a street corner in northern Stockholm. This wasn’t a scientific study by any means but homelessness is striking in its absence. Likewise, all the cars, houses, clothes, etc that we saw pointed towards a general income equality - we didn't seen old, rickety cars anywhere, didn't see houses in disrepair, didn't seen much bling nor tattered clothes. Again, not a thorough study but whether in tourist areas, residential big city or out in the rural areas the overarching level of economic status seems pretty standardized. Finally, there were also signs of diversity and inclusiveness everywhere. Just about every major museum had displays about minorities - either discussions about colonial impact on other cultures, women's role in war and politics, the contribution of immigrants, etc. For example, the National Day speeches included an Iraqi man and a Japanese woman. The Vasa Museum had a room dedicated to the women who helped build, supply and crew the ship and the Kalmar palace had as much information about Swedish Queens as it did about the Kings. For all three of these we may just be seeing aspects of the culture that appeal to us and might be missing things which we would find negative but all three of these seem to have been constant during our time here.

23) We entered a new country - Norway! We had a pure riving day that brought us to Drøbak just outside Oslo where we stayed at a lovely farm owned by a friend-of-a-friend. The next day was all about seeing Oslo. We took the bus into the capital and then took a harbor shuttle ferry out to Bygdøy - the peninsula that houses some of the major Norwegian museums. Our first stop was the Norwegian Folk Museum (an open air collection of traditional Norwegian buildings). As with other Scandinavian open air museums some of the buildings were staffed with costumed guides who told the history of various areas and various time periods. We even snacked on traditional Norwegian Lefse potato crepes cooked on a stone warmed in a wood fired stove.

24) Our next stop on Bygdøy was the Viking Ship museum. The museum houses three Viking ships that were buried in burial mounds around 800-900 AD as well as all the funerary artifacts that were included in the graves. It was a deep dive into the world of the Vikings and definitely worth the visit.

25) Continuing the nautical theme we next visited the Kon-Tiki Museum. This museum houses a balsa wood raft that was built by Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl in the 1940s and sailed across the Pacific Ocean from Peru to Polynesia. It also houses the Ra II which is a reed boat he built in the 1970s and sailed from Northern Africa to the Caribbean. The museum is sort of a "cult of Thor Hayerdahl" space but having seen the film "Kon Tiki" just before our trip it was very cool to see the original raft in person.

26) Our final stop on Bygdøy was the Fram Museum. This maritime museum houses the Fram - a 19th century polar exploration ship used most famously to carry Roald Amundsen on his famous expedition to discover the South Pole. This museum was incredible - visitors can walk through the interior of the ship, stand on the deck and go through multiple exhibits explaining the history of polar exploration. Fantastic!

27) After visiting all the history museums we ferried back to downtown where we rushed over to the Astrup Fearnley Museum (modern art) to catch it before it closed for the day. With all the sites closing for the day we jumped on a bus to the theater district where we found a cafe that both served traditional Norwegian food *and* offered a discount with the city pass. Tired and sore we called it a day and took the evening bus back to Drøbak. It was a great day of sightseeing and we both learned a lot about the spirit of adventure and exploration which is celebrated as a national trait in Norway..

28) We spent three nights with Annette and Thomas, the friends-of-a-friend that have a farm in Drøbak. We parked the camper in their back yard and used their guest cottage for power, bathroom and laundry. They were amazing hosts and their farm was lovely. We shared a few meals with the family and feel lucky to have made new, fantastic friends!

29) Our second day exploring Oslo was another marathon day of sightseeing. We again took the bus into Oslo and beelined it for the Oslo City Hall. It is a rather drab design outside but the inside is full of fantastic art - mosaics, tapestries, sculptures and murals. Our favorite were the murals in the rooms on either side of the council hall. The main hall is where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded every year.

30) Next we went to the neighboring Nobel Museum to learn about the man but more importantly to educate ourselves more on the Peace Prize recipients throughout its history. Inspiring stories but the current display about the 2018 recipient’s fight against sexual violence was disturbing in its truth.

31) From the Nobel Museum we jumped on a city tram and went out to the Frogner park. It was sort of misty-raining but we had rain gear so that didn’t slow us down. We walked all through the park seeing the 200+ amazing sculptures which were all created by Oslo artist Gustav Vigeland in the early 20th century. Next up was a walk around the architecturally amazing Oslo Opera and Ballet house. The views from the top weren’t as impressive as the tour books claim but the building is so stunning inside and out it is worth the visit. We ended our last day in Oslo by walking through the old city fortress.

32) But the sightseeing wasn’t over! We after boarding a ferry for a 1 hour cruise back out the Oslo fjord to Drøbak. Host Thomas picked us up at the dock and gave us a driving loop through town: up to an old artillery battery above town and on a tour of the new Montessori school were he teaches. We really ended the day with another delicious family dinner with our hosts and then a personal post-dinner tour by Annette of Drøbak's historic waterfront area. An awsome day of sightseeing!

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Alan Fleming