A photographic look back over some of the favourite places we visited in 2017
A photographic look back over some of the favourite places we visited in 2017
Rolling off the ferry in Holland, with a quick overnight stop before heading into Belgium. Our first stop was on the outskirts of Antwerp to meet up with Chris & Peter, a motorhoming couple who invited us for dinner, before a quick city explore.
We began this trip in the same place as our previous Scandinavian tour ended – in the carpark of the Bricklayers Arms, near Harwich port. We had a tasty meal in the pub, our final fling with good British grub before re-joining the continent and relying on our own home cooking. The next morning, facing an early start, we packed up and drove the final few miles to catch our 8am ferry to the Hook of Holland. The crossing was uneventful and passed by quickly. Off the ferry, we drove through stuttering rush-hour traffic to finally pass around Rotterdam, before cutting south to reach a quiet, parkland aire at Oud-Beijerland where we overnighted. We walked through the park in the morning, glad to see the area well used, with runners, cyclists, dog walkers and trainers, and even a grass-munching horse.
From Holland, we moved quickly on into Belgium. We had received a kind invitation from Peter and Chris, fellow Motorhomers and followers of our travel blog. They were in the early stages of planning a long Scandinavian trip, similar to our recent travels, and wished to pick our brains on various aspects of the experience. We were happy to be able to share with them what meagre knowledge we had accumulated. We first called into a nearby leafy aire in Brasschaat for a few minutes to examine its available services, before making our way to their address. After a short dilemma with local road signs seemingly denying us entrance, we found Chris and Peter’s home and parked up on their drive, a little nervous to be meeting, effectively, total strangers. Our initial fears were soon assuaged as we were warmly greeted by this lovely Belgian couple and immediately treated as their honoured house guests.
We relaxed into their beautiful home as we all completed full introductions over cups of Yorkshire tea accompanied by Belgian chocolate. After tea, we drove to a nearby park and casually walked well-worn paths sprinkled with a thin covering of fallen leaves, through long avenues of tall late-autumnal trees. The low buzz of traffic on a nearby road mixed with the crisp crunch of our feet on the multi-coloured dried leaves. Our conversations continued as we wandered under cloud-filled skies filled with a hanging, constant threat of rain. Thankfully, the day remained dry for our walk and the sun even made a brief appearance as we reached the central Orangery building, brick-built with high arched windows. Its formal gardens were filled with neat planted beds of various plants and vegetables, many still in colourful bloom. Some volunteers were tending the vegetable beds, preparing them for the coming winter.
We were treated to local Belgium beers as aperitifs, accompanied by tasty savoury snacks and more lively travel-orientated chat, from all parties. We were then beckoned to the dinner table for yummy mushroom soup followed by a tasting table of cheeses and complementary local beers, a social, sharing meal that enhanced our interaction over the table. We talked long and late into the evening, swapping stories, before saying our goodnights and retiring to Benny for some welcome sleep. In the morning we returned to enjoy breakfast with Chris (Peter unfortunately had to leave for work early), where we received detailed instructions for a flying visit into nearby Antwerp. The city was currently in the midst of major traffic issues due to construction works for a new tunnel. We caught a local bus, about a half hour journey to the end of the line, close to Antwerp Central train station. Due to the extensive works and subsequent road closures, all further progress towards the historic centre had to be on foot.
The day was cool and overcast, with a muted grey sky that seemed bright but somehow sucked all the colour out of the city’s buildings. Everything looked pale, lime-washed, devoid of deep shades or shadows, and the ever-present expectation of a deluge following us with each step. We first visited Antwerp Central, a huge style-defying building (Neo-Classicism, Baroque, Rococo, Art Deco?) constructed in the early years of the 20th century. From there we wandered towards the historic centre, only stopping off briefly to purchase a new pair of walking shoes for Nicky. We passed a statue of Rubens in a lovely square before reaching the Cathedral and the large market square in the heart of Antwerp.
We passed a very pleasant few hours wandering the main sights. We walked to the cruise ship terminal, surprised to see such a large ship in dock. We passed Antwerp’s medieval fortress, Het Steen, built to defend the port. It was previously a prison and barracks, but now houses a museum. We passed the 16th century red-brick and sandstone Butcher’s Hall, built by the oldest Guild in Antwerp, now also a museum. We spotted luminous Segway tours and numerous groups of cruise ship passengers having guided city walking tours. We ate our lunch sitting in a raised, covered bandstand in Groenplaats square, people-watching and enjoying a fine view of Notre Dame Cathedral.
We walked south out of the main medieval centre, to visit a few more key sights on our way home. We passed the MoMu, the Mode Fashion Museum in Theodoor van Rijswijck plaats before crossing over to visit the small Botanic Gardens. We wandered through the plants, although little was in bloom on this grey October day. From there we reached the covered plaza outside the modern municipal theatre. The square was filled with active groups of skate-boarding teenagers and chatting students, relaxing under the nominal cover provided by the extended brise soleil.
We caught the same bus back, passing near to Zaha Hadid’s impressive Port House building on our route home. But, three quarters of the way back the driver stopped and insisted we all got off, much to the chagrin and confusion of local passengers, and us. Rather than the uncertainty of waiting for another bus, we walked the final mile and a half back, with the threatened rains finally catching us up on the very last stretch. We arrived back rather drenched to collect Benny and to say our final goodbyes to our lovely host Chris, before we headed off through more busy traffic to overnight in the city of Ghent, in anticipation of our next Belgian city break.
A huge thank you to Chris and Peter for their open, friendly and very welcoming hospitality and we wish you both fine weather and smooth roads for all your upcoming travels. We look forward to having the opportunity to follow your travels, and we hope someday to return your kind invitation and genial hospitality, once we are settled and have a place we can once again call home, wherever that may be.
A & N x
6 months touring Scandinavia in our motorhome – how much did it cost? A look at our spending, activity and overnights stats by month and by country.
So, our 2017 Scandi trip; it wasn’t quite six months, but close – We had a total of 170 days away, from late-April until mid-October. We left the UK via Harwich to Hook of Holland and travelled through the Netherlands to Germany before reaching our first Scandinavian country, Denmark. A month there (to the day) and we ferried over to southern Norway to drive a wiggly route by fjords, mountains and tunnels to reach Trondheim, where we headed east to Sweden. We crossed to the Baltic coast before turning north to eventually reach Juoksengi and our midnight time-travelling Arctic Circle Swim. From here, a straight run north to Tromso was followed by a visit to the Vesteralen and Lofoten islands, before turning sharply south all the way to Oslo. We crossed back to Sweden and, via many lakes, we reached Stockholm then followed the coast to Malmö and back into Denmark. A few further weeks exploring then led us back into northern Germany and the Netherlands, before heading home by the same route.
Our route map (sketch)
Our Scandi trip overview in key figures:
Length of trip – 170 days
Countries visited – 6 (Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland)
Overall expenditure – €5419.37
Average daily cost – €31.88
Miles driven – 9087 ( Aaron – 4452 [49%], Nicky – 4635 [51%] )
Miles per gallon – 31.3
Cost per mile – €0.17p
Distance cycled – 596km
Distance walked – 619km
WorkAways undertaken – 4
Time-travelling swims – 1
Scandi Skinny dips – 16
Our Trip costs by category
The above image outlines our spending for this trip. With the distance driven (9087 miles), it is of little surprise that diesel for Benny (29%) has been the biggest expense we encountered, closely followed by food shops (inc. booze) at 27%. The next largest cost, at 18%, has been our campsite fees, with many more stops in ASCI campsites than on previous trips. Transport costs also featured highly, at 12%, as driving through Norway brought with it the necessity of many ferry journeys and also 953 NOK (billed so far) of road tolls. Several bridges between neighbouring Danish islands also carry a hefty cost.
Our trip costs by country (with daily averages)
Note: Germany and Finland costs are not indicative of travel in those countries as both were transition countries where we filled up with diesel and undertook large food shops.
Our trip costs by month, with accommodation, exercise & driving stats
Our Accommodation / Stopover synopsis
We stayed in free aires where we could, but on this trip we were a lot more inclined to slip into the comfortable ease of a campsite when the opportunity arose. Certain key places demanded it (Råbjerg Mile, Flåm, Melkevoll Bretun) but others we chose over available nearby free stops as we were passing during ASCI-applicable dates. We still only paid for around one third of our nights away, the rest being either wild camps or free aires. Our take on the difference may be specific to us, but we only rate it as a true wild camp if we have found it ourselves without the CamperContact app (or similar).
Almost two-thirds of our overnight stops were free (65%, or 111 out of 170 nights), with the remaining stays averaging out at a cost of €5.63 per night. (a €957.07 total spend).
In summary, for the entire trip, from when we left home to our return all those months later, we spent a grand total of €5419.37, for an average daily cost of €31.88. At current exchange rates that means the entire 170-day trip cost us around £4825.00, or, simply speaking, under £5000 all-in, which is much less than we had expected after all the horror tales of scandalous Scandinavian prices. Back in our salaried years, we had on occasion spent more than that on a special two week holiday, so to be able to experience over 24 weeks of such varied, interesting and fun travel for a similar amount – bargain.
Our final city visit on this tour to beautiful Gouda & a flying visit around the centre of Delft before returning home to reflect on our six month tour.
The next morning started brightly, with the unfamiliar sun lighting up the edges of the clouds and highlighting the tawny autumn leaves. We left the spacious aire in Dalfsen and retraced a few miles back to Zwolle and beyond, heading along fast wide roads past our previously haunt of Utrecht and on into the centre of Gouda. We bagged one of the spots with free electricity in the town’s €8 per night aire at Klein Amerika, checked we could pick up the nearby library’s Wi-Fi from Benny (yes) and then we readied ourselves for a visit into town. During our drive the rain had sneakily returned, defying all forecasts, so we waited a while until we spotted a break in the deluge and quickly wandered over the bridge across the canal leading into the historic centre.
Despite the grey, wet day, we took an instant like to Gouda. There were local flags lining the pretty streets and it had a quiet buzz, a tranquil busyness that stoked our interest. We stopped in to taste lots of cheeses in the specialist store we passed, with flavours from liquorice to smoke to chili to lavender to wasabi. The brightly coloured cheese-blocks ranged from rainbow to solid black, from green to blue to red to white, depending on the flavours and spices added prior to the aging process. We decided very early that it was so pretty that we would spend a second night here, so we slowed up and took our time, looking into every small nook and cranny we passed on each lovely street.
We circled the very large Sint Janskerk church, flanked by narrow canals and cobbled streets, before reaching the main square dominated by the gothic town hall, set alone in the centre. The square was really a wide triangle, coincidentally (or perhaps deliberately?) shaped like a giant wedge of cheese. On Fridays during summer months it hosted a large cheese market with sellers and suppliers wearing traditional costumes, but on our visit it was almost empty of people. The edges were lined with the covered seating areas of restaurants and cafés, some with watching customers, but mostly quiet. Red and white painted shutters lined the façade of the Town Hall and were repeated throughout the city on many buildings, including the tourist office that housed the Gouda Cheese Museum.
The following day we did more of the same, simply wandering around quiet back streets. We visited the Gouda Cheese Museum where we watched a short video on how the local cheeses are produced, from cows in the field to shelves in the shops. We saw the equipment used over the years and how it brought prosperity to the region, and the political and commercial implications of when the crown, seeing the wealth of the suppliers grow, decided that cheese needed to have its own tax applied. We bought a few small items as gifts as we wandered, feeling glad to have had this one last, very lovely stop on our tour, as after the traffic mayhem of Germany we had thought our travels over and all we had left were the miles home.
That night, our last abroad on this trip, we sought out a specialist craft beer bar we had read about, called Biercafé De Goudse Eend. When we arrived we were the only customers except for one other, so we sat at the bar and chatted to the barman and owner Jeroen. We tried a selection of beers and made many unsuccessful attempts to beat the challenge of moving a bottle opener over a metal strip shaped like the skyline of Antwerp without contact. We learned about the history of the bar, with its ever-growing collection of rubber ducks, and grew slowly sozzled with the bar and chilled atmosphere. The bar busied up very quickly later on, with many more beer aficionadas arriving to join the chat. It was a great night to top off our travels and leave us with lasting memories of Gouda.
The following morning we rose early, heads a little fuzzy, to pack up for the last time on this trip and head to the Hook of Holland. We were only an hour or so from the port, so we had plenty of time to spare before our afternoon crossing. On the way we decided on one last flying visit, and called in to see Delft. Other than being synonymous with blue and white pottery, we knew very little about the town. After a struggle to park, and then with no means to pay for a ticket as neither cash or Visa cards were accepted, the parking attendants let us off if we promised to only be an hour. We would, so that was a bonus. We walked along a canal into the main square, seeing several churches and the impressive town hall, amazed by the scale of the main square and the beauty of the surrounding streets.
We had a rather boring and rocky six-hour ferry trip, arriving into Harwich port just after 8pm. After a winding queue through the port and customs areas, we broke free and drove around 10 miles to the nearby village of Little Bentley and parked up in the empty car park of the Bricklayers Arms. After confirming it was fine to stay, as they are a BritStops listed pub, we spent a lovely two hours drinking with Liz, the proprietor and owner. We were the only customers in the bar during our stay, and we couldn’t help but draw a comparison to the previous night’s bar in Gouda, so very different but so similar too. The following morning, excited to be back in the UK, we headed off to meet up with friends, our Scandinavia trip now at an end. It would be some time before we could process all we had seen over our incredible trip, almost six months of travel, with such a variation of experiences, scenery and activity.
Leaving Germany to visit Groningen in the Netherlands before an lovely overnight in the town of Dalfsen
From stormy northern Germany and the town of Brune, we drove across the border to the Netherlands and straight to Groningen, a town we had missed on the way through, back in late April. It was here we planned to sit out the worst of the weather and hopefully sneak in a quick city visit too. We arrived at the free motorhome aire set about 4km to the north east of the centre. There were several other motorhomes on site, but no one was parked in the designated motorhome area. It was all signed to be on grass verges that were currently ankle deep in muddy puddles; instead the vans commandeered another little-used stretch of hard-standing car-parking.
A huge yellow climbing wall with a deep overhang dominated the skyline, with several external bouldering walls and traverse climbing walls filling the park around the complex. We saw artificial pitches for football and hockey, a full indoors sports hall complete with a 25m swimming pool and a leisure pool with external slides, a go-karting track, a ski centre, a muddy BMX track, a skate-boarding park, a skating and ice hockey rink. Groups of runners floated past and a further rowdy group were, slightly worryingly, practising their archery in the car-park. There were wake-boarding tow lines and jumps set up in a nearby lake, complete with a sandy beach and swimming area with timber pontoons. The entire area was a sporting mecca, and most visitors we saw were making their way there by bicycle.
We walked into Groningen in a light drizzle, stretching out our legs and feeling good to be moving, as we’d been cooped up for too long. We crossed bridges over canals and passed neat brick houses, all looking so quintessentially Dutch. We headed to a long green park, Noorderplantsoen, to the north west of the centre and followed leaf-strewn paths through the overhanging yellow-red trees alongside pretty lakes, passing around the periphery of Groningen. We were passed by lots of cyclists and runners enjoying the park; it was good to see it being so well used, even with the atrocious weather of the day. We crossed another canal and reached a modern pedestrian centre and mall, leading us to the bottom of the historic centre and the true heart of Groningen.
We passed by the Groningen museum, a gaudy post-modern mess of building housing modern art. I always feel a little sorry for large cities who have paid a famous architect (or in this case four separate architects) lots of money for an iconic, city-defining building and end up with quickly dated, garish, 1990s monstrosity. We next passed a glass box art installation by an artist called Charlemagne Palestine. It was filled with scruffy teddy-bears and other toys, whether discarded or donated we were unsure. It was seemingly meant to be a colourful celebration of the collection, but it was more successful, maybe due to the surrounding messy leaf-fall, the grey day overhead and the persistent rain trickling off the glass, as a decrepit, messy piece exploring concepts of loneliness, sadness and loss.
The central square and side streets were host to large food markets but we (okay, I) forgot to bring my wallet and we had exactly no money at all with us, so we deviously sampled their wares but could not have bought anything even if we wanted to. Several churches framed the main pedestrian thoroughfare. We looked in at the Der Aa-Kerk and Martinikerk as we passed, and had a quick glimpse into the pretty internal food markets as we wandered by. We climbed a stage in the main square that offered views over the colourful markets. Heading north, we were the only visitors to the formal Prinsenhof gardens, the rain having driven everyone else back indoors. We found a covered area near here to sit and eat a quick lunch, watching the sheltering crowds, before making our way back east through a lovely residential area.
We returned back to Benny, after 13km of walking, wet, tired, but happy for the walk. We got the kettle on and within seconds the light drizzle exploded in sheets of torrential rain that didn’t cease for the rest of the noisy, cold, dripping night. But with our exercise done for the day and our city sight-seeing completed, we hunkered down warm inside and calmly watched the extensive volume of water falling all around us. The next morning we could see blue, and the street was dry – such a transformation. We moved off south-west, and after an hour or so of easy, clear roads in pretty sunshine we cut off to visit services in a small industrial estate in Harderwijk. From here we popped into the nearby town of Zwolle to visit Lidl for a few last items to see us home, before making our way to the town of Dalfsen to overnight.
The free motorhome-dedicated aire at the train station was empty and to our surprise came with free Wi-Fi too. We were the only van in the aire, so we had our choice of all the marked spaces. There was a large mushroom structure in the field near the aire across from the train station parking. We walked over to see what it was for, but all the available information was in Dutch. The young sheep in the field were entirely unafraid and happily approached us, no doubt searching for some tasty handouts. They nudged us with their noses to attempt to make us part with whatever goodies we might have for them, but they were unfortunately left disappointed.
From the aire we could see a windmill and a few church spires, so we decided to have a wander over to look around the town. It was a beautiful autumnal day as we walked the streets, the sun warming us and lighting up the yellows and lime-greens of the tidy trees around the centre. Immaculately kept brick buildings lined the wide cobbled streets in the town, the bright sunlight lifting the whole walk above the normal to a sublime, inviting and relaxing experience. We passed the newly constructed town hall and council buildings, its architecture contrasting with the surrounding placid feel of the neat residential streets. Later that evening we watched a bright gibbous moon rising over a line of trees, marvelling at the still, lightly chilled air; a perfect autumn evening.
Our first year full-timing in a motorhome – how much did it cost? Here’s a look at the costs, annual and daily, associated with our chosen lifestyle choice.
(4th September 2016 – 3rd September 2017)
It’s been a full year now since we took the plunge, leaving our professions, friends and family behind for life on the road. We thought it might be useful to others who may be considering a similar lifestyle change to see, for their planning purposes, how much we’ve spent over a full year, and on what.
Of course, what we’re happy with on the road may not suit you, and vice versa, so we should say first that our spending levels are absolutely personal to us. Our costs are at a level we’re comfortable with, and they suit our current financial situation; but everyone is different. If required it would be possible to live on much less, with patience and frugality. And it would certainly be very easy to spend much more too, if eating out, guided trips and expensive attractions are what interest you on your travels.
We like cooking, so eating out only very occasionally is fine for us. Most of what we really enjoy doing is free, like hiking in the mountains, wild swimming, cycling off-road or running trails. The one big exception to this is skiing, which is definitely an expensive week (or two) whatever way you look at it, even if bringing your own accommodation helps reduce the costs a little. We like seeing cultural sites too, but we’ve learned to be selective, as paying into every church, museum, fort, gallery or other attraction we pass would be exorbitant. We have occasionally volunteered our time at WorkAway projects and these social, volunteer efforts offer a variation that invigorates us, offers a welcome change of scene and keeps our costs for that time at a minimum. We also have a few winter house-sits coming up which will enable us to live a more rooted, normal life for a time, and allow a more detailed exploration of specific portions of rural France.
More detailed country Route Maps: (paper maps marked up by hand)
Our travels during our first year were split into two long trips of roughly six months (France, Spain & Portugal) and five months (Northern Europe and Scandinavia) respectively. We had a month or so in between where we returned to the UK for servicing, maintenance and a catch-up with friends and family. We sneaked in a quick two week trip to Scotland (no map) during this time too. The Scandinavia trip is still on-going as our ‘one year on the road’ anniversary has fallen mid-travels.
We have tracked all our costs and distances as we travelled, noting down spending and mileage counts at driver changes or stops as they occurred. We added these to a bespoke spreadsheet set up to record, count and analyse our activities month by month and county by country. Synopsis tabs with some complex formula then collate each category into, hopefully, easy to understand tables or charts, for a quick overview. Yes, indeed we do have too much time on our hands.
France / Spain / Portugal trip:
Scandinavia Trip: (note: still on-going)
After the completion of our first six month trip we tweaked the spreadsheet categories a little, adding in new columns to allow for a more accurate breakdown of our spending. This meant the spend percentages between each portion of the trip were not perfectly aligned, but the spend totals remain unaffected and it’s these we have used for this post. We also added in a column for type of accommodation, to track where we spend our nights. Here’s a typical (actually, untypically expensive) month from our current spreadsheet (June 2017) , for interest. (note our serious lack of cycling in Norway!)
Outside the daily costs of living on the road we also had many one-off or annually reoccurring costs that enabled the trip to proceed initially. (note: these are all included in the totals and are shown here purely as examples of other costs that you will / may incur)
This doesn’t include purchasing our Benny (a new Benimar Mileo 201) in the first instance, so the cost of your chosen van, whether new or used, should also be factored in here. All our ferry costs to and from mainland Europe, or within each country are included within the daily cost totals under the category ‘transport’.
We tracked everything in euros, as this was the predominant currency of our first six months and it made sense to continue with the same base. All Scandinavian currency spends were recorded in euros at a fixed exchange rate, that of what it was when we first entered the country, so there may have been some fluctuation in value during our time (in either direction) that we didn’t capture.
Our annual totals by portion of year:
This equates to (at current exchange rates) an approximate spend of £13354.00 for our first year travelling in Europe, or an average spend of £36.59 per day, all in for us both.
On the Road spending pie:
FOOD – Food from a supermarket/shop. Includes wine & beer, but not eating out
FUEL – Diesel for Benny
LPG – Propane gas for cooking, heating and running the fridge when not on sites
TRANSPORT – Tolls, vignettes, ferries, bridges, public transport & day parking
EATING OUT – Eating & drinking in restaurants & bars (includes snacks & ice cream)
OVERNIGHT STAYS – Cost of sites, aires or parking overnight, where a cost applied
CLOTHING – This includes personal items such as clothes & shoes and laundry costs
ENTRY FEES– Entry fees for museums, galleries, castles, cathedrals and other events etc..
MISC. – All other items not separately designated (from stamps to ski passes)
If we removed all the up-front facilitating costs and only looked at expenditure on the road, we are spending under €950, or £870, per month, and for the incredible experiences we’re having and the beautiful places we are seeing, this seems like a very good deal to us – long may it continue.