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Traveldiary chapter 5 [April 2001 - December 2001]
(France, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Germany)
|Scandinavia & Germany||Top|
|Fotos: France, Naturist Scenes|
Early summer in France and the Netherlands
In Switzerland we had met with most of our friends and family during the easter-time 2001, and as there had been more than enough snow down even in the low plains, it was time for us to leave.
So, on the 24th of April we went off. First we took advantage of the short-cut through the mountain and drove our car on the railway carriage which brought us through the tunnel underneath the still closed and snowcovered Furka-Pass. That way, we arrived in the sunny district, (canton) of ´Wallis´ where we had a good snack, now already outside in a garden-restaurant.
Continueing our way towards lake Geneva, we finally hit the french border on it´s southern shore. In Evian, we found a wonderful restaurant and enjoyed the delightful food even before trying to find a hotelroom.
This turned out to be a bit more difficult, however, and only in the second place we were lucky, another 30km down the road...
On the next day, we continued to the mountaineous part of southeastern France, stopping by in some little places, we had visited some years ago with Moni & Bruno. The first one was ´Pont en Royans´ near Grenoble, with it´s houses almost hanging over the riverbank. Later, we followed this lonely road to ´La Chapelle en Vercors´ and Digne-les-Bains.
Near there, we checked out the nudist-camp Origan, which was new to us. It´s set in a mountaineous area, almost 600 m.above sealevel. Never the less, it was warm enough to enjoy the sun. Also the food that was offered in the restaurant was superbe. The people who run it, were very simpathetic - only working 6 months a year and then doing things like going to Tonga or Madagascar for the winter.
From there we explored the beautiful red-rock gorge of Dalius, which was quite an impressive sight.
After the sun had left, we did the same but unfortunately it was not so nice to discover the impressive "gorges du Verdon" in the rain and even fog. At least in the first part, it was still clear and we enjoyed it a lot.
Moustiers Sainte Marie was a lovely little village on the foot of the steep rocks. We loved to wander around and then the rich cakes they served in a cafe, during the time our feet got dry again.
Our next stop was Aix-en-Provence which had its many fountains fed with rain, additionally to the tapwater. As people do in such weather, they check out the restaurants and in this city, that´s not difficult to find an immense variety, for every taste.
So, on our first night we sampled some Sushi and even had to queue to get in the place. This seems not to be the typical kind of choice for the French, as they have a superbe kitchen of their own.
Unfortunately, Aix was welcoming us with pooring rain. All who know Heinz, know about his passion for open shoes. Here he definitely got an advantage as my soes stayed wet all day long, giving me cold feet, whereas his shoes were dry already minutes after going into a Cafe, as the water had run out long ago on the other side.
After 2 days we went on to 'Les Saintes Maries de la Mer' in the Camarque. After passing several industrial towns, we finally encountered its picture-book like wild beauty. We saw unexpectedly many Flamingoes but the 'wild horses' were mainly saddled, waiting for Tourists who wanted to go for a ride.
There was also a bird-parc where they lured the Flamingoes very near to the people, with a landscape and, we suppose, additional food that suits them. We could walk along the kilometers of sandy beach for hours, before spoiling ourselves with french delicacies in the restaurants. The village, as well as its neighbour Aigues Mortes, were very touristy, but still in a nice way, as it was off season.
With the weather becoming more stable, we moved on to our favourite naturist heaven 'La Sablière' near the Ardèche-gorge which shared its wild natural beauty with us once again.
We enjoying this peaceful camping in the woods on the steep river-bench and rented a luxurious cabin down by the river. Daily, Heinz went to pick up some of the ovenfresh Baguettes from the shop, occasionally we cooked by ourvelves, some times we went out to the Restaurant of the camping or in one of the surrounding villages.
Suddenly, we had just been talking about extending our stage here, a paper was delivered from the reception, asking us to call back Moni & Bruno. They had phoned to check out whether we're still here on a Saturday, thinking of spending a long week-end with us (the long bridge from Sunday to Thursday, which was a public holiday). We phoned them back and on the next day they were already here. We had a very good time together, especially as we shared all the memories of our first time in Sablière, when we had come here together. Every night we went out to the "crème de la crème" of the restaurants which we had discovered together 6 years ago and spoiling ourselves with the french delights.
On the day when our friends left, we had to change to a Chalet, because our mobile-home was rented out to somebody else long ago for the ordinary short holiday.
After 5 days we now left as well, and we went to visit a swiss Family, who have a house in Vaison-la Romaine. They have 3 children and didn't work either for the last 7 years. They were touring around Europe by Mobile-home and teaching the kids by themselves, as the mother is teacher.
As the weather was sizzling hot by now, we were very glad they have a swimming pool, and after some skinny-dipping with our friends, we had some hot discussions as well. However, there was still time between, to bring our car to re-charge the airconditioning, so we could cool down easier afterwards again.
With only a modest meal-stop in Cap d'Agdes best Seafood Restaurant (bed & coquillages), we continued our way towards the Pirenees. Near Toulouse we camped for the first time this year. For 2 weeks we stayed at the very tranquil naturist camping L'Eglantière with its nice atmosphere thanks to the funny owner's family.
From there on, we moved to Agen and the Dordogne area, some places of which we had already visited in pooring rain some months ago. Now only did we appreciate Agen in sunshine, we also bougth lots of new "shoes"; 4 for our Twingo and 4 for Heinz - we'll see who's are going to last longer...those for the car got a 40'000 km warranty and Heinz' are airconditioned. As well we appreciated, to find a properly equipped internet-access again, the first time for 7 weeks. Of course, before out in the countryside we sometimes could find access as well, but in general they were pretty slow and disconnected sometimes as often as once a minute. So, even free access on the camping's reception costed us lots of nervs.
Afterwards, we went to Cro Magnon, a naturist campsite on the Dordogne river and just in the center of the most interesting tourist-sites of that area. Of our intended 3 days there, we finally extended to 2 full weeks. We were delighted by all the beautiful castles decorating the river benches and the many tiny villages beneath them, there were also lots of beautiful caves and archeological sites from the cro mangnon and neandertal times, so we toured around quite a bit. Also, this area around Sarlat is full of good and better places to eat. We found quite some ´gault mileu´restaurants where we eat many delights that are even for french standard outstanding and relatively cheap. Each course was beautifully decorated and served in small but most delicious portions, so even with small stomachs, one could easily "endure" 7 course menues.
On July 1st, we came to Euronat on the atlantic coast, where we enjoyed the hughe waves of the beach. After a very hot day, sadly the weather turned into beeing typical for that region; colder and rainy, so we could go on the long sandy beach only every second day. This was quite a change for us, since the 10 weeks before spoiled us with only 5 days of bad weather.
Then, we´re sure you laugh at where this e-mail has been written: it´s the regions second large Naturist-Camp the CHM Montalivet 10 km down the road. The Reception of Euronat, the site where we stay, has sent us there, as well as the Tourist Information-office in Montalivet, without even mentioning that this is a "nude-place". We wonder if this is no problem for all other bypasser´s as well, but as they are equipped with 8 pretty good computers, it suited us fine.
We were impressed to find quite some more differences between the 2 competitors, as we have been staying in CHM in 1999. The majority of guests at Euronat seem to be Germans, but in CHM, we have the impression, there are more French. As we remarked in Croatia´s Valalta versus Koversada last summer, Germans always demand spottless clean toilets, whereas the southern Europeans as Italians, Slovenians - or here the French, are happy with average cleanliness BUT good food in the restaurants and a good selection in the shops is much more important to them than to Germans. Actually, in all those gourmet-temples in the Dordogne, we never saw (or usually one hears them...) any Germans around. Although the dutch and americans, who have no famous cusine, seemed to enjoy these places a lot.
As we moved on to the atlantic coast, we´ve probably been too much complaining about the heat that had risen at times up to 38 °C. Because, one day after we arrived at the giant Euronat camp, the good weather was gone. Sure, it still was nice to play in the waves but the rain spoiled it a bit and so we packed our wet tent after 2 weeks and moved on. As soon as we reached St. Malo on the north coast of France, the sun was back and with it masses of tourists and traffic who came to discover this beautiful fortrified township. However, here it was calmer still than in Mont St. Michel. This is not much more than a rock with a big monastry built on it, out in the tidal sands. That´s how we saw it, but at high tide, even the parking in front of the rock can go under water. It´s a very impressive sight.
On the coast, we found many oister farms and of course we tasted quite some of them. On the shore where the channel is the tightest, we saw cliffs just as in the area of Dover. But in France they were quite colourful and in some area also formed by the water making beautiful arches, especially in Etretat and Fécamp where we stayed for a few days.
Next we left for Belgium, where we only visited Brugge, a most beautiful town with mostly brick-houses and big plaza´s surrounded by palacelike governmenthouses. We didn´t get tired strolling the alleys. Our hotel on the other hand, was situated in Zeebrugge one of the biggest ports in the area and therefore a chaos of container-piles and trucks.
Already, 2 days later we arrived in the Netherlands where we came to the fist windmill right after the border. We took a ferry over to Zeeland and visited some of the little cities there. Our best impression was in Gouda, which is situated in the ´Polderland´ where men has freed a lot of land from water, since half of the country is under sea-level. Today, whole villages and cities lie below that level. The impression of the landscape is most beautiful since it´s roster of channels divide every cow´s meadow, every row of houses and all is connected again by bridges.
The people have made nice gardens down to the water which is also home to an uncounted number of waterbirds. They are so used to people, they completely lost their fear and so one has to drive careful, not to overrun them when they rest on the street. The Dutch really live after their reputation as a very open people and what we were told, was absolutely true; they have hughe windows and no curtains at all. So at night, curious tourists sometimes wander the streets and peer into their kitchens and living-rooms, watching how they are cooking, eating, ironing, sitting in front of a PC or most often: in front of the TV - ordinary as anyone in the world...
On our way, we visited Gisela & Klaus, a german couple who live in their holiday-home for already 7 years and stayed in Costa Natura last winter with us. They showed us round and explained a lot about the Friesian area. We got to know how 80% of the people in the north own a boat and how they travel through the channels from one lake to another or into the Ijsselmeer or Northsea. The Ijsselmeer is a giant area that has been isolated from the sea by a manmade deich,in order to regulate the waterlevel and gain more land. In the meantime, its content has become freshwater even as it is connected to the northsea by locks. Of course, some people also roam around in cars and so the streets have many bridges that can be risen or turned around so the sailing boats can pass. Even motorways sometimes are interrupted like that. After a week in Holland, we had learned that even a country not stamped "exotic", can bear a wealth of things unusual to us
|Naturism in France & Benelux||
|Fotos: Netherlands + Germany - Sweden - Norway - Finland - Denmark|
Scandinavia: late summer and autumn up in the far north
On August 1st, we drove on to Germany, visiting our formar flatmate Teresa from the Dominican Rep. who is presently studying German in Berlin. She was already very well mastering the language and it was the first time we spoke to her in german. We went around Berlin downtown on a few days and discovered that by far not all of those futuristic looking buildings have been completed. As we were here 2 years before, we thought, everything should be tidy by now, but not at all. We could see some changes, but by far not as many as we´d expected.
From Berlin we were passing through the former GDR and drove up to the island of Rügen. We quite liked the tiny town of Bergen but unfortunately so many other Tourists did, there was no cheap accommodation left for us. With the help of a hotelowner, we ended up staying far out in the middle of nowhere, after our car had to shake us through some ageold east-German kobble-stone tracks. Still, it was here where we paid the highest price for a room during the last 2 years. The place once should have become a private TV station, however the Government denied the permit and so the owner converted the building into a apparthotel.
Next day, in pouring rain, we took the ferry from Sassnitz to Trelleborg in Sweden, where we arrived 4 hours later in warm sunny weather.
Taking advantage of this, we camped for the next 3 weeks on different naturist campgrounds (near the new Öresund bridge at Malmö, Olofström and Karlskrona), enjoying sunny days but didn´t have to suffer the sizzling temperatures of Spain. Still then, it could become 28 Degrees and we got even more suntan. Because we camped in club camps, we could enjoy the good facilities they provide for their members. We were surprised to find that the swedish prices are not as high anymore as their reputation, especially as the currency fell pretty low. What one has to find out, is that usually it pays to buy hughe portions. (e.g. our ice cream index:) One flavour of 3 big scoopes costs 17 kronars, but 3 flavours (with 9 hughe scoopes) "only" 23 kronars - who wouldn´t take advantage ? Not everything is that way, but it´s quite affordable to go out for a meal, especially for lunch.
End of August we crossed the southern part of the country to the Bohuslän coast, which is situated between Göteborg and the norwegian border at Halden.
We spent about 1 week discovering the many islands of this beautiful stretch of coast. What is typical about it, are the bare rocks and small red fishing villages, like Fjällbacka, on the shores. We really liked to drive out to every possible island that were connected by impressive bridges or car ferries. Especially the area around Stengunsund with Tjörn and some other islands, as well as Smögen, impressed us with their beautiful scenery. In swedish they called it "Bestkuste" and that really said what it was!
From the northern end, Strömstad, we went inland to see the Dalsland-channel, which connects several lakes through locks and even one aquaduct at Haverud, that is already 100 years old. We continued on the ´inlands vägen´ to the Siljan lake. We were staying in a nice Hostel in Orsa, making several daytrips around this beautiful lake and it´s villages.
Our next stop was in Östersund from where we left after 3 rainy days to Norway. We went along a dirtroad called the "Olafsvägen" and before we even crossed the border, the sun was out again. The area had as well mainly forests, but also lots of swamps and water. Here we saw a fox and some reindeer right from the street.
Shortly after coming into Norway, the scenery changed suddenly; it was much greener and there was even more water, either in Fjords or lakes. This was an obvious sign, that it rains more often here than over the mountains in Sweden, but once again, we were saved from this experience and lucky to enjoy almost sunny and warm days only.
Our starting point was Steinkjer, north of Trondheim from where we were going to follow the so called "Kystriksveien" the coastal road up to Bodo and on to Tromsö. This road has become famous as a very scenic part of Norway, passing mainly along Fjords and islands, conected by impressive bridges and many ferry crossings. It´s said to be one of the most impressive parts that are also served by the Hurtigrute-Postships, that today rather resemble cruiseliners.
One of our first stops was in a place called Hofles, just after the first ferry crossing. We stayed in a well equipped holiday cottage as were offered on many campgrounds, and explored the surrounding islands. We couldn´t get any off-season discounts, however, we usually got the much nicer and bigger cottages than one gets for the same price in high-season.
After 3 days we continued north to Bronnoysund that is famous for its mountain with a little hole accross. From beneath we couldn´t see it, but the next day, after we went back from a beautiful daytrip 100 km along one more Fjord, we could see it from far away right into the sunlight that shone across. Unexpectedly the temperatures rose to almost 20 degrees and we grabbed our shorts back out again. After enjoying our breakfast with delicious darkbrown fresh baked bread (readily available in Norway) on the sunny terrasse, we continued 120 km north. This was one of the most impressive parts of the journey, passing over the Helgelands-bridge and boarding 3 ferries one which took us 20 km within 1 hour. We passed by many bizarrely formed mountains, that started here to become increasingly higher.
From the overnight-hut we rented that day, we were not very delighted, as it´s kitchen was rather basic equipped. Our attitude changed quickly, when we saw the first northern lights flickering outside on the clear sky. Even though it was not the first time we had such a fortune to see them, it is always a very impressive sight and they are never the same.
After crossing the arctic circle by ferry, we ended up in a nice cottage in a spot called Holand. It was just opposite the impressive "Svartisen breen" a glacier that comes down right to the see. It was just a sidearm of a real big glacier that is covering several mountains. The view accross the Fjord to the ice was particularly delightful as it still was very warm. Later the same day, we were spotting a dolpin that problably was exploring the blending of freshwater and saltwater towards the last part of the long Fjord. At night again, northern lights illuminating the sky of a clear and freezing cold night. So Holand offered us the perfect show, with everything a tourist could want to get, but money can´t buy!
Just before Bodö we hit the next top-attraction; Saltstraumen the worlds strongest tidal stream pressing through a 500m wide opening from the open sea into a hughe Fjord with several arms inland. When the tide comes in, it looks as if a very wild river was flowing inland. One can clearly see, how the waterstream in the middle is higher than on the shore, causing constant eddys. Every 6 hours, the direction of the stream changes according to the tidal cicle. For only a short time in between, the water lays so quiet, one could not believe how much power it develops at other times.
Further north on the way to Narvik, the road was leading away from the seashore it had followed until here and started to wind over hills and mountains. This included the crossing of countless tunnels. They were often very small and dark, Heinz calls them just "exploration tunnels" compared to swiss standards.
To our surprise, suddenly most trees were without leaves, although just 50 km beforehand, there were plenty of green forests, where automn colours appeared just in small sections. This had one advantage; nothing blocked our view, when we spotted the first male Moose. It was a very impressive sight, as the animal is really big, much more than the reindeer that we almost got used to see along the roads.
As soon as we reached Tromso, the warmth was gone and the temperatures dropped below frozen at night, even though, it remained sunny - we started to walk faster and seek windshelters. The city itself was more pleasant than most norwegian cities. In comparison to Sweden, we were much more astonished by norways even more impressive nature. But when it comes to cities and villages, we found the swedish ones much nicer.
After 2 beautiful weeks in Norway, we continued our way towards finnish Lapland. Time was just right, as snow was predicted for northern Scandinavia.
On our first night in Kilpisjärvi, we rented a Sauna-Mökki (cottage) from a tipical Finn; he did not speak; and if he did exceptionwise; certainly no foreign language ! But still, we were lucky. 20 minutes later his wife came home and she even spoke some Swissgerman, as she has been working in a bank in Zurich.
Our way led along Muonio and Rovaniemi to Posio, where we rented a beautiful holiday-cottage on a lake through a travel agancy. Here we spent a wonderful week in the well equipped house, that had a sauna, a rowing boat, and even a floor-heating system. The setting was on the rim of the forest and several times we saw reindeer grazing just in front of the hut.
We felt one week was not enough but thought another location would be nice and so we booked a similar cottage by phone from Posio. The house turned out to be managed by the same farmer, as we now stayed in, but it was located 20 km away. This second Mökki was even bigger and more luxurious; it even had a dishwasher, washing-machine and tumbler in addition to all the goodies we´ve already enjoyed.
We liked it very much, so we went to see the farmer again to extend for another 4 days. He said "no problem", charged next to nothing, invited us for dinner and gave some of his freshly caught fish along... Also here, we spent our days reading, cooking, walking afterwards around the swampy lakeshore and having saunas at night. It had become pretty cold, and sometimes it was snowing a little bit, so we had to wear warm cloths when going outside.
Afterwards, we felt fit to go travelling again and so we left to Oulu. From there we followed the unusually busy road along the bothnian coast, up to Haparanda just on the swedish border.
From here, the road leading south was much more quiet and we felt, that swedish towns and villages just look prettiest and all around us, people did speak again (to each other and also to us in foreign languages).
After crossing many kilometers of leavless birches and pine forstes, we stopped in Piteå. This place had a beautiful town center as well as one of these famous "kyrkbyns" (churchvillages). These are huts that were built in the 15th century, to accommodate the farmers who had to travel a long way to attend the mandatory church service every sunday. Wonder how many people would have attended otherwise...
Further south we visited Skellefteå and Umeå, two pleasant towns which again had their old churchhouse-villages.
After those towns, we went back to the country side visiting Högakusten (high coast) for a few days. This part of Sweden is famous for its hills, but for Swissies, the tiny fishing villages and the 1.5 km long suspensionbridge were far more interesting. As snow was forecasted, we fled south, as long as the weather was still fine.
First we explored Sundsvall, the ´stone city´ that had burned down 120 years ago. As the sawmill-owners of the time had been quite wealthy, they rebuilt the citycenter in grand stile. The houses are well decorated and many of them surprised us with their finesse. Only a few hundred meters outside the center, we found already the houses of the workingclass families, all built in wood.
Further on, in Gävle, the situation was similar, only that a good part of the old wooden houses survived a fire. Many houses were built together, but still decorated individually. On the map it showed a district, called villastan, which made us curious. So we wandered out, only to find dozens of big lavish villas, all built in wood and very nicely decorated.
After a 3 day stop in Sala, we made our way to Stockholm. From November 2nd - 5th, we enjoyed this beautiful city again, wandering around the narrow lanes and along the different islands on which the city-center is dotted, for hours. We stayed on an old sailing ship that was converted into a Youth-hostel superbly situated in the center, neighbouring only luxury Hotels.
As we continued our way, we visited Linköping, near some of those impressive "waterstairs" that connect the lakes of the interior by the 'Götakanal' through many locks as the waters are on different levels. From there, we continued our way towards the westcoast on the other side of the country. Before leaving Sweden from Göteborg, we went back to the beautiful Bohuslän coast and spent 4 days in Smögen. There was a very nice hostel on the ege of the rocks, looking over the coast. Even though it was cold by now, we enjoyed that pittoresque village one more time in the sun.
Already, the 10th of November was here and we boarded the Express-boat, a modern catamaran, to Fredrikstad in Denmark.
On the northernmost tip of Jutland, near the pretty city of Skagen, we had booked a holidayhome. Even though the cottage was equipped with all kinds of luxury as Sauna, Whirlpool, Solarium as well as dishwasher, washing-machine and tumbler, we only had paid a rock-bottom price for it, because we had booked it on last-minute basis. The house was quite modern shaped, with a livingroom that had as many windows that one felt almost as if we were in a wintergarden. In the surrounding area, there was a shifting sand dune, called "Raberg mile" that, according to the touristbrochures, moves about 1.5 meters eastwards every year. We didn't quite believe this until we got there. Even though it wasn't a very windy day, up there the sand was blowing around like crazy and after that experience, we think it moves even further than that, maybe disapearing into the sea one day.
But this open sand dune is rather an exception. On most other dunes grass or even trees were growing and the people use them to grow their crop on it or put their houses on the sandy grounds. No wonder, many of the higher buildings stand a bit lop-sided.
Just after the big Limfjord 150km further south, in Hvalpsund, we rented yet another holiday cottage. For a second week, we enjoyed similar luxury as on the first place. One difference to the holidayhouses of other nordic countries was their position. In Denmark, with most of the land very flat, it was rare to find a house with a view. Most are hidden behind some shrubs and we were not sure, whether this was because of the wind that blows mostly quite hefty or against the sight of the neighbours.
Before leaving Denmark, a highlight was just on our way; the city called Ribe, which was said to be the most typical of all the places with very pretty low houses. Many of them with ageold half timbered wood decorating the walls. The roofs usually didn't come down much lower than to the walls and in many typical houses they still today, used grass to cover the roof.
This time, we had decided to visit some of the cities on our way through Germany, unlike most of the other times, where we thought, let's just close our eyes and rush through those notoriously cramed motorways as quick as we can into the next country. And we were surprised, how rewarding those stops were.
First, we visited Lübeck near Hamburg, a very pretty city indeed. Many old houses look down on the river Trave, some of them, as well as the entrance gate that was guarded by 2 hughe towers, were standing quite a bit inclined.
Also the village of Lauenburg or later, Bamberg and Nuremberg had many old framework houses, mostly on scenic locations on a river. As some of them managed to get on the UNESCO world-heritage list, they still drew a certain number of Tourists even now, end of November in cold (and wet) weather. The famous 'Christmas-markets' had already been installed and we were surprised how many people gathered, warming themselves up with mulled claret, smelling gingerbread or Bratwurst even at night.
On our last stop, in Ulm, the lady that served us our breakfast in the hotel, was from Brasil and she showed us, how different people can take the things we cannot change. As some snowflakes fell down, she was amazed and described how very pretty she felt they were. It was a good lesson to us, since we certainly would have started to complain about this awful weather, now as we were getting so close to the alps. It's all just in our minds - just a matter of attitude !
So, we went out again to walk around the cold city center of Ulm and took off later on the same day, arriving in Switzerland. As we had decided on short notice to spend some months in Spain again before organising our trip to Asia, we didn't stay long and only visited some of our friends and family. As we believe it will be much nicer to do all the preparation work in spring, we postponed many things to later on next year.
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