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Traveldiary chapter 1   [12. May 1999 - November 1999]
(Drop out, France, Scandinavia and (Eastern)Germany)
Drop out, naturism in France, Summer + Autumn in Scandinavia, through (Eastern)Germany back to Switzerland
Before the count down to our drop-out on May 12th 19991999, we have been getting up at 6 o’clock every morning for quite some time, just to finish cleaning out our apartment before going to work. After returning home in the evening, we continued this temporary “hobby” until sometimes 3 o’clock in the morning.
Finally we got there; at 8 p.m. after our last working day and the farewell of our colleagues, the big relief. We handed our apartment keys back to the owners and thereafter, we were free from any obligation – or at least, almost free. We realized later on, that we left our last invoices in a drawer of a pieces of furniture we’ve sold.
Retrospectively, it has surely been naive of us to believe, that we could work until the very last day before our departure. Besides cleaning our 4 bedroom apartment and give it back to the owner’s care. We experienced a good start by selling furniture quickly, but to dissolve our entire household prove a much bigger job than we had expected.
Finally we made it, and in our next live, we can spoil ourselves with a bit more time for preparing our drop-out, so that we drive a bit more rested in our live as “early pensioners”! You can easily imagine, that we really needed the forthcoming 6 weeks holiday!
The first few days, we spent in Switzerland
From there, we said ‘good bye’ to our friends and we drove off to France. After 2 days, we slowly arrived at the naturist camping 'Domaine de la Sablière' on the river Cèze, where we’ve been holidaying many times already. After two weeks, Heinz’ sister and her husband Edith & Kari joined us. We all enjoyed the nature and the peace of this camp and rented a wooden chalet. To us, it was a surprise that they wanted to visit us here, after they had been smiling about us being “naturists” before. But instantly, they were that much capture about nude living, they just ignored the border of the huge resort on their many “nude walks”. At one occasion, they went out to visit a little chapel on the edge of the forest, just in the birthday-suit. They argued, nobody is there, and if the priest would appear, he should be used to such generous visitors…
After 10 days together, we left in different directions. They went back to their old live whilst we went out to our new one. On the Mediterranean sea, we went to enjoy the seafood-restaurants of Cap d’Agde. Here, we pitched up our tent and also the new sun-sail for the first time, obviously, that’s why we were carrying it with us.
In only one day, on a Sunday with very little traffic, we crossed from the Mediterranean to the atlantc ocean, taking that motorway, called 'autoroute entre deux mers' (between two seas), passing by the fairytale castle of Carcassonne on one side, and the Pyrenees mountainrange on the other. By the time we arrived at Arna camping, it was, however, rather late. The reception was already closed and we were thinking of putting up our tent on the parking at the entrance. Then some other guest arrived and they let us drive past the barrier behind them. This way, we unexpectedly got a free camping night, because when we went to the desk to register the next morning, no questions asked, we got the new day’s arrival date put on our card. We had chosen a nice spot beneath big pine trees in an area called ‘espace sauvage’. Not many other people were there jet, in the middle of June. But one german kid once sat down with us, next to the plastic piece, which represented our table, feeling sorry for us, because we didn’t have a table, nor chairs, nor Nutella…
On another occasion, we were chatting to a Frenchman, when washing our dishes. He quite deliberately slandered about Germans in Croatia, in french – which he claimed none of “them” would understand anyway, he said there are too many 'allemands et autres chiens' (… and other dogs).
After two weeks, we followed the coast, another straight 250 km north and it was still lined with golden sand. Leaked by wild waves on the waterfront and reforested pine trees on the inland side.
We now put our tent up at the huge resort of Montalivet, again near the pine trees. After a few days, temperatures rose above 30 °C and because of this, we heard the pine-cones open with loud crackles all around us. In the center of the campground, various shops were selling uncounted goodies. Heinz went to get a fresh baguette twice a day, then fruits, paté or even oysters. Our grill, which we carried along, was never in use, too hot it was! But when the evening approached, we loved to go back to the beach and watch the sun setting into the sea or we met up with some nice neighbors, talking till late at night.
The closer we came to the end of June, the more Brigitte started to get itchy feet and urged to start our trip to the far north. Off we went, taking our car on the ferry to cross the inlet to Royan and the headed north-east. At Poitiers, we passed an enormous site with all very curious and abstract building. The compound was called ‘Futurscope’ and housed a giant variety of multimedia shows and IMAX-cinema’s, mainly designed to attract children. At the entrance we learned that we could only get in, if we bought an expensive cinema-day pass, no way to let tourists stroll around and only look at the architecture of those special buildings. A bit disappointed, we continued our way along the famous Loire river. On both sides of the river bench, we saw these beautiful castles. We were allowed to look around as much as we liked it – free of charge!
We spent the night in Blois, a medieval little town, which we explored before and after going out for dinner. The next day, we drove until Nancy, as we hadn’t been able to find a room somewhere before. Due to a petanque-competition, all hotels seemed to be booked and we continued asking everywhere. In the end, we were very lucky and got the last room available in the midst of the center, in a historical building, housing the formerly noble 'Grand Hotel de la Poste'. It had very high ceilings and therefore, doors and windows were enormous. As we had visited Nancy on Easter, the year before, we remembered, there was a pleasant boulevard lines with restaurants / but first, we had to find it again…
Then came Sunday and we tackled the Autobahn-Marathon across Luxemburg and GermanyGermany. Taking advantage of the one day in the week, when there are not that many lorries on the road, we really made it all the way up to Hamburg. From a restaurant, we phoned the Etap-Hotel in Quickborn, to make a reservation. We were told, there should be no problem at all, even if we’d arrive after 23°°h. Well, there was one, once we stood at the closed door and the automatic check-in console refused to accept our credit card. What could we do ? It was after a while, when the good luck sent us a young businessman, who agreed to pay our room with his own credit-card and trusted us to disappear in the night at the search of some teller machine, somewhere in a hopefully closely village, since we didn’t have German money to pay it back immediately (Euros would have been good already 2 years earlier…). Nervously, we drove around about 3 places, but they were small hamlets only. Finally we got what we needed and went back to the hotel., knocking on our survivors door and thereafter sinking in our beds, tired to death. The next day we went out to Quickborn and ate black bread before going our way to Scandinavia.
On June 30 we arrived at Denmark and moved in to a sweet little Bungalow on an almost deserted camping in Faaborg. When exploring the center of the town, we came across the public library, which offered free internet access. This was a thing, hard to find in France, everywhere we had been told, that they would only have it in high-season, well when did it start? All over Scandinavia we would from now on find free Computers. However, there where often time limits of ½ hour and we wished we could find a cyber café where we could stay as long as we needed it and then just pay.
From Faaborg, we set out to explore the islands of Fyn and Zealand. Thereby we where surprised by the many grass-covered houses and also by the wind generators which busily produce clean energy.
Later, we discovered the lively capital Copenhagen, where everyone, especially woman, seemed to walk around as if it was already really hot, wearing light summer cloths and enjoying an ice-cream. For our feeling, it was only just getting warm, but Scandinavians certainly need less temperature to feel warm. Next thing, it became now really warm for all of us and we went camping on a club ground for naturists near Kirkke Hillinge. It was directly on the sea and haed a sauna, as well as a camper’s kitchen, something you never found in France.
As the bridge connecting Copenhagen and Malmö was due to open in one years time only, we had no choice but to take the ferry to Helsingfors.
Now landing in Sweden, we discovered the beauty of the coastline with it’s many rocky islands all the way up to the Norwegian border. We made a stop to explore Gothenburg and this was a perfect timing, as the city was in the midst of a European sportscompetion ‘Gymnaestrada’ and everything was joyful and very lively, with lot’s going on everywhere.
We crossed various swing-bridges to go out to the outer islands, which again, were most beautiful. Then, we stopped in Dingle and Strömstad with it’s small fishing harbour.
Already, we stood on the gigantic viaduct that spans across the border river and which let us enjoy a breathtaking view down on the boats, far below us.
On the other side, we were in Norway. Can you imagine, that after so many new impressions and experiences, we felt like having a break already again ? Even more, as temperatures reached 30 °C again and we were constantly sweating. There was help: also in Norway there are naturist campings. Funny was, that before we had finished checking in, the manager had already sent for a swiss flag to be hoist, as foreign visitors are very rare on their site. Well, no wonder, who would travel to Norway for this ?
After 4 days, we felt like moving on, because we couldn’t really get out of the heat. There were no trees for shade and the fridge didn’t manage to cool the drinks either. Further north, we figured, it must be cooler.
Leaving on a ferry from Moss, we could avoid Oslo’s traffic. Soon thereafter, we came inland over green hills and from far away, we saw even the first snow-covered mountains. We drove along those famous fjords that are cutting their way sometimes up to 200 km into the countyside. Incredibly soon, we were ourselves on the way over passroads, that partly were still snow covered. We stayed in a small village called Uvdal, where we found a cosy Youth Hostel. Here we had our first encounter of those heavenly dark breads. In the future, we would eat of them, till we started to get heavier…
The landscape all over Norway was of such a stunning beauty, we felt like driving through an enormous national park. The further north we came, the more spectacular it was. We often came along big fjords, small akes, romantic little rivers, waterfalls or swamps, there was always water in some form around and it was always crystal clear, as was the air. We learned to tell by the vegetation on the beach, whether we were standing on a freshwater lake or on a saltwater fjord; water-lily or algae ?
How good, there was so little traffic on the roads and we could look around with no danger. Or we would, as many locals did, simply stop in the middle of the road and gaze at the scenery.
If we came across three cars in a row, it seemed to be almost like a Nordic traffic jam. If there were more than five cars in a row, we could be sure, there was a ferry ahead and next thing we could open our purse once more.
There were not many big villages on our way, and those were not that pretty anyway. But two things that were manmade, are worth mentioning from the mid-eastern part; those old storage houses on pillars that usually were very neatly decorated and the wooden stavchurches. They were several hundred years old and to us, they resembled a little bit thai temples, with several little roofs reaching for the sky.
Passing north, we stayed at the places of Voss, Skei, Molde, Trondheim and Mosjøen finally reaching Bodø end of July. This is from where the boats leave to the Lofoten Islands. We reached them after 4 hours on a car-ferry on the not so calm sea, thus Heinz was quite pale. We got a room in a youth hostel in the village with the funny name Å. The houses all around were a museum as a whole. Since bad weather stoke for the first time, we waited and amused ourselves by chatting to the many tourists that passed by with their cameras and who were starteled when they realized that not each and every door was really part of the museum, but could lead into somebody’s dormitory or shower. We then proposed them to see around the bakery, which was probably better than the YHA
After four days of rain, we set out in the first ray of sunshine, to explore the islands. What is so typical about them, are the rough steep rock-cliffs that rise sharply out of the sea and which are only covered with grass. On the shore, colorful wooden fishinghouses line the coast and we traveled past countless bridges and even a tunnel underneath the water to get north to the neighboring island-group of Versterålen. On the sightseeing trip in a boat, we were lucky to see many nesting seabirds and a big colony of pretty Puffins.
Had we been comfortable to sleep in our tent further south, we started renting these tiny bungalows, that where called "ledige Hytter" on campgrounds, as we preferred warmer lodgings now. Sometimes, we stayed at Youth Hostels or student accommodations, that were hired out during the summer holidays, or we had a room in a so called "Rorbuer" that was usually housing fishermen. We got to meet many other tourists and were surprised, how many came from Switzerland or Australia and how many were in our age or older. The occupancy of the hostels was completely uneven. Sometimes, they couldn't take us, because they were fully booked or somewhere else, we had the whole house all to ourselves, as the very beautiful YHA in Ringstad, right by the fjord.
Even if Norway is a very expensive place, it's beauty and high standard are rewarding any visitor.
Further north, we crossed into
Another difference, we felt was obvious, was in culture. Many more museums, guided tours and parks were inviting the interested visitor, often for free. And if we were the only foreigners in the group, the guide would explain everything in English only, poor Swedes - but they all seemed to master this language with no problem. This way, we got introduced to the biggest iron-ore mine of Europe. Also to the architectural price-winning building of Kiruna's town-hall, and on a most interesting tour to the Esrange space-center, we learned about the research and results of the scientific rockets and stratospheric balloons, that are being launched there, above the arctic circle.
When we were in Jokkmokk, the weather was again warm as in a real summer elsewhere. Driving out to Quickjokk, we even realized the spontaneous idea of an afternoon nude on a beach, as we had found a lonely sandbank on one of these beautiful blue lakes.
Further south, we reached Luleå, on the very top of the Bothnian Gulf. There was a "Technikhuset" with all sorts of interesting things to learn and see. To get explanation on the northern stars and northern light phenomena, we queued for a tour to the Planetarium. It was fascinating to hear all about it and we were free to ask anything we wanted, as once again, the tour in English was held for the two of us only. After 70 minutes, somebody was impatiently knocking on the door, because 20 Swedes were waiting to get their tour started...
As the weather-forecast was still good, we decide to go back north and follow the polar-coast till Russia. For the chosen route, we traveled into
Arriving back to
When we passed near the North Cape, the sea shone in a funny milky-greenish color. We wonder, whether this might have been ice-water ? We headed for Lakselv, where we planned to stay at the YHA, which was maybe 5 km's out of the village. On the locked door, we found a phone number, but we were not part of the common Scandinavian, who all have their portable phones at hand. And because it is like that, it's almost impossible to find any public telephones; to find internet access was definitely easier - the 21st century was on the doorstep!
We went back to visit the helping Tourist Office again in the next few days as well. The weather was misty and it was drizzling and we got to use their internet for quite a while, as we were among the few tourists left. Now it was the end of August, but a month ago, the lady assured us, it was very busy here, with thousands of people heading for the North Cape. Now, we also noted on the road, that every week, there were fewer foreign cars.
Our own little car has been managing the big distance very well so far. We were proud to fit everything into our trunk, apart from the icebox and some road-maps, which we left on the back bench. Many things could also be placed underneath the seats, as we carried quite a bit of excess-luxury along, as for example the kettle, our Bodum coffee-jug, or a rain/sun-sail.
The final town on this edge of Europe, is Kirkenes on the Russian border. The city had a very international flair and speaking to some people, it seemed as if the inhabitants really came from all corners of the world.
Even more special, however, was "Grense Jakobselv" the border. We drove out to the little river, looking across, over the scrub-covered hills. Nature was so calm and peaceful here, we realized, how the cold-war has been made up artificially by the Super-powers to hold on, to their power!
East and West have been divided for the people, no bird cares, along this 5 meters wide and only 30 cm deep river. Even today, we still saw many high-tech watch-towers. But there was no fence. According to some stories, the Norwegians loved to make fun of the border, by fishing on the forbidden side. If NATO-troops got hold of them, they had to pay a hefty fine. The Russian Customs Officers on the other hand, never worried for them. They new for sure, that each of them returns back, no need to tell them.
After this experience, we continued our way south into
Also Finland has great beauty, especially the 188'000 lakes with 100'000+ islands in them, thousands more lye off the coast.
But since the forests are much more dense and trees are larger, we couldn't just drive along the water as we did before in Norway. Always, some trees were "in the way" and we needed to stop and go down to the lakeshore, if we wanted to admire the scenery. This was absolutely worthwhile and so, we often took a break of the journey after only a short distance. That way, we would allow ourselves to get to see these picturesque islets covered with high birch or pine-trees at close.
Slowing down had the advantage, that we caught up with the automn-colors and thus giving the drive through all these forests a magic touch. It did´'t matter, that temperatures came down now, we compensated it in the evening whenever we could, by sweatting in the sauna.
It was the beginning of September, when we came past Ivalo, Rovaniemi, Kemijärvi and Kuusamo. From there, we arranged for a bungalow on a lake near Posio, where we spent 1 week. Our logcabin was equipped with a sauna with floor-heating and with an ordinary W.C., not the usual dummy. Further we could use a rowing boat.
We continued our tour in a zig-zag between as many lakes as possible and tried to use ferry-crossings, wherever we could, since the view from a boat was usually the most marvellous part of the journey. That way, we came accross Suomussalmi and Kajaani. The latter was the place, where we got the prettiest little "Mökki" (bungalow) one can imagine. Following the finish/russian border south, we saw almost no other cars on the road and even less foreigners, apart of some Russians. Further on, we came to Kuopio, where Heinz celebrated his 40th birthday. Then to Savonlinna, Lapeenranta and Korpilathi. The south was more densely populated and therefore also more industrialised. Especially those paper-pulp factories were sometimes polluting the air of the whole city. We were more than motivated to pass through such places as quickly as possible; it was stinking like hell!
Turning west, we stopped in Kannonoski and relaxed again in a luxury Mökki. It had 70m2 groundfloor plus 20m2 loft and all the neccessities we liked, as a big kitchen,an open fire-place, a Sauna with floor-heating and more. As often, this cottage had an idyllic setting on a lake with view over several little islands. Also this one, had a rowing-boat, waiting for it's guests. With it, we explored the lake which was now surrounded by beautiful automn-trees.
Had it remained day for almost all of the time in our first two months, after the 21. September, the days got shorter very quickly. An advantage we found in this, was that we now started to see Northern lights flickering quite often.This was new to us and a most spectacular phenomena to watch - which we usually did, till we got freezing cold... Also in the forest, more was going on now. The usually very shy Moose were now feeling like mating and therefore came out of their hiding. We've been lucky to see one of theses animals much bigger than a Buffalo, at three occasions.
As the landscape didn't have that many lakes anymore, we drove over to the westcoast. After taking many of the free car-ferries, which all are part of the national finish road network, and explored the island in the archipelago, which was quite astonishing. Via Westerå, Vaasa, Malax, Skaftung and Pyhäranta, we reached Finlands Swedish-speaking region. We continued to the pretty town of Turku and from there, we went on an island-hopping tour. By taking several impressive bridges and two ferries, we reached Korpo. Still, we didn't have enough. We boarded another car-ferry and after 3/4 of an hour, we reached the island-group of Houtskär (pronounced Hutsha), on the entrance to the Bothnian Sea.
Distributed over 14 islands, only 730 people lived there, all relying on ferry-connections. Here, we hired an other cosy holiday-cottage with sauna. The freshest Salmon we got directly from the farm, just 10 minutes drive and 5 minutes by car-ferry away. As well the library with free internet access, as the shop, had been just a few kilometres and a car-ferry ride away. Only, to find a public phone, it was a bit more difficult. We had to take at least 2 car-ferries. On the beginning, we had a bit a bad conscience, if the ferryman came to our side of the shore to collect us, even though he'd been waiting on the other side. Especially as he mostly sailed exclusively for us and had to probably move over from the other side again, when we came back after only a short while - and all for free. But you get quickly used to it and the locals use those "swimming roads" several times a day too, of course. In the winter, we heared, the sea is frozen and the cars would drive over the ice. But the ferry would still keep running empty, in order for the water not the freeze in it's channel as twice a day, the schoolbus and a lorry have to pass and for them, the ice is not solid enough, so they will be the only ones to use the ferry then...
The weather conditions here in southern Scandinavia were just great. Between July and September, there was almost no rain, although, according to statistics, August should be the wettest month. Temperatures where at first constantly between 15 - 20 degrees and so we could experience most of the finish lake plateau in it's full postcard beauty.
From Houtskär, we hopped back to Turku, from where we boarded a giant 12 storey ferry boat to Stockholm, bigger than most luxury-liners. This journey was really faszinating. For 11 hours, we passed by countless islands, which all belong to the giant archipelago between Finland and Sweden. Of course, the giant boat stopped briefly in Mariehamm on the Åland Islands. This was enabling it, to offer duty-free articles on board. We weren't interested at all, but at least all the other passengers, which were crazy for alcohol and tobacco, did subsidise our trip. The entire ticket for just 37 Euros, including 2 persons and a car, was really quite a deal!
After a few days, we could't get an extention of our accommodation-booking at the Skepsholmen Sailingboat YHA and unsuccessfully tried to find another bed somewhere else in the city. But caused by a Soccer-match, all budget places were booked out! Finally giving up our searching by car in the outer suburbs, when it became night, we left and drove all the way up to the universitytown of Uppsala. Not findind anything decent now at around midnight, we drove out to a forest and slept the one and only time in our car.
Later on, we visited the Archipelago north of Stockholm, where we stayed on two islands of Skepsmyra and Blidö. After a week, our tour led inland again. First, we looped around the big lakes Vänern and Vettern in Southern Sweden. Via Karlstadt, Motala and Huskvarna, we reached Eksjö. This charming little town had many particularly neat wooden houses, even though one finds already very many in Scandinavia and especially all over Sweden.
Turning south-east, we reached the "Kingdom of glass" or "Glasriket" how Swedes call it. Here, about 20 glass-works were open to the curious public. It was very interesting to watch the glass-blowers at work. Even the sales-exhibitions were very attractive, especially, if you enter them with the attitude, that you won't buy anything at all, anyway. Even though, the high prices seem to be justified, taking into consideration the big efforts it took to produce such products. Sometimes, up to 6 blowers were working simultaneously for several hours, and it needed a lot of skill, to bring out those special effects inside thick objects. Our first stop at such a place fascinated us that much, we finally visited 10 works, all situated around Hofmanstorp and Boda. One night, we've become that hungry, we even swallowed down an entire "Smörgas-Tarta".
Thereafter, we visited the island of Öland with it's windmills and castles.
It was the middle of October, when we went to Ystad on the coast and here we sighted the first fog. On the next day, we continued to Lund and Malmö. In the old university-town of Lund, we visited the Australians Lyn and Alister, whom we've met a few weeks ago on the Lofoten Islands in Norway.
After 4 months in the far north, we felt it got definitely too cold and it started to get dark pretty early, around 3 o'clock in the afternoon. So, the ferry from Trelleborg to Sassnitz on the island Rügen in the former GDR, was the quickest way south.
After we just arrived in
In general, most of the historical buildings were situated in the town's eastern part. The ex-GDR government has spent loads of money to set them afloat. So for us, the east was more charming in the centre, but had many ugly trabant-citys on it's outskirts. On the other hand, Western Berlin seemed to us rather modern and sometimes sterile.
The Berlin-wall had entirely disappeared, except some leftovers, which got converted into a wall memorial.
The mental and ideological gap between the east and the west of the town will, most probably, remain for at least one more generation. This became very clear, when we talked to the people, who live in the once divided town (whole country). Also the opinion-research, carried out on the 10th anniversary of the fall of the wall, did send a clear message: still today, 45% of Berlin's population could still NOT imagine to have a partner from the other side of the city ! Many "Ossis" hoped for a long time, to participate in the advantages of the western system, without having to live with it's disadvantages.
Also Potsdamm, with it's giant park called "Sans Souci" and it's neatly renovated old-town, was quite worth to visit.
Afterwards, we continued to Dresden and Meissen. Both had many historical buildings, which were quite amazing. The famous "Dresdner Frauenkirche", which was sacrificed in the second world war, was under reconstruction. In general, we got the impression, that just after the fall of the wall, most of the former GDR citizen's, must have had a criticless believing in the West. Apparently, it was just common, that people scrapped brand-new East German Cars and swapped them against 20 years old second-hand models from the West! Then the many new shopping-centers from the West, had gotten euphorical welcome. The construction-permits were (almost) just a formality. Of course, the building-quality in the former GDR wasn't that good, as in the West, but in Southern Europe, you find examples, which are much worse ! Also, the price-level in Eastern Germany was still quite a bit below the West.
After 10 days in the former GDR, we visited our friends Anita and Klaus, who lived near Regensburg. This was a pretty town as well. Soon after leaving them, we got caught by heavy snow. We had left Regensburg (translated: raincastle) in the rain and the road rose, without us realizing it, to an altitude of 1000 meters above sea-level, up to the Allgäuer Hochalpen. The snow, which soon started to cover the road, forced us to stop overnight in Kempten. But anyway, we had liked Kempten quite a lot, so we didn't regret, that we had to stay there. The snow hadn't melted over night, but at least the road was cleared again, in fact, everything was white until lake Constance, which we reached on the next day.
Now it was November 1999, and via Liechtenstein we reached Switzerland again, the first time, since our drop-out. For 2 weeks, we enjoyed the reunion with our friends and relatives, before we continued towards Spain.
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