Throw back to that one time I drove over 3,000 miles through Scandinavia with nothing but my foreign lover and 3 boxes of illegal alcohol.
Ok, ok…. I concede…. it was with my German husband, 3 boxes of supermarket wine, and a bottle of sub par whiskey. But the illegal part is true enough. Fare warning to all you prospective road trippers wanting to cross the Norwegian border: you are not allowed to bring your stockpile of wine like we did. You first cross the border, then sell your firstborn and one of your organs on the Norwegian black market in order to afford alcohol and knock on wood that nothing happens to that second kidney.
This past summer we spent July, August, and September living out of our van. Our home was where the heart was, and the heart was wherever we could occupy the maximum amount of shade while accruing the minimum amount of parking tickets. T’was a dream. (Feel free to read my previous blog post on the subject, titled ‘‘A Quarter Year In A Van.’’)
I’m going to be honest with you: we could never have afforded to spend three weeks in Scandinavia if we were needing to pay for accommodation and meals out. I don’t think we could really afford that anywhere, but prices in the North were especially hard on the pocketbook. So given those circumstances, and the amount of miles we covered and striking things we were able to see along the way, I can honestly say it was a dream vacation.
As I have mentioned before, my husband and I work as freelancers and wedding and event singers. Living in a van while parked in our own city, we came across as creepers. Living in a van and taking advantage of a superb opportunity to visit a dream destination, we come across as adventurous. So, in summary, we are creepy and adventurous. We were fortunate enough to enjoy great business this summer, and even turned down work in order to make our dream a reality. Believe me, we hemmed and hawed and debated and consternated if we were making the right decision as freelancers to turn down employment and instead carve out a definite adventure time for ourselves. It would have been super easy to alter our plans, to cut our road trip short, push it back ‘‘till next year.’’ As if next year our schedules would be milder, our bank account more bountiful, or our resolve more unflinching. Nope, we wanted to sieze the damn day!! Next year the schedule will NOT be milder and my resolve might even be weaker. We decided that we would rather have richer experiences than richer bank accounts. And so we sallied forth to Scandinavia.
We started in Mannheim and drove through Germany in one day, reaching Flensburg, the northernmost German city, at night. Here we loaded up the van with food and necessities because we knew once we crossed the border out of Germantown, things were going to get pricey. The next day we crossed the border into Denmark and headed straight for Copenhagen, beginning our journey in the north and reveling in the beginning of our excursion. There is such promise when you experience the first few days of vacation. Elated to be away from the every-day norms, and tittering with expectations of what happy memories you are about to make.
When we left Copenhagen we crossed some expensive-as toll bridges and made our way up to Sweden where we decided on a little area by the water in what seemed like a park for the night. During the day the ducks were at play in the water. At night some hooligans came to throw rocks at beer cans, smoke something we’ll call ‘‘cigarettes’’ and play loud music. So…. a really round experience. This was our first taste of the diversity we would come to expect from our parking spots on the road. Some desperate nights we wedged ourselves into whatever parking spot we could squeeze into and hunkered down for the night. However, the desperate nights were few and far between, and normally we managed to find cozy spots with stimulating views.
Something I really enjoyed about Sweden were those classic red wooden houses scattered like gabled tulips across every nook and cranny of the countryside. Being an American, I felt that Sweden had a very American feel. But in reality, it is America that has a very Swedish feel (go figure). Swedish immigrants brought the log cabin over to the American colonies with them in the 17th century. They are all painted red because a certain mineral found in copper mines there was easy and cheap to dye wood with. The most suitable, albeit uncreative words I think of when I look at them are ‘‘classic’’ and ‘‘sweet’’ and I never got tired of examining them as we parked illegally in their neighborhoods or rumbled past in our delivery van.
While in Sweden we also hit up Oslo, the island town of Marstrand, and Fjällbacka (adopted hometown of legendary Ingrid Bergman). But my favorite place was Smögen. The middle of it was tourist-central. But we scurried outside the main shopping peer to enjoy some absolutely gorgeous views of the quaint harbor and took a hike around the wild, rocky island.
When we left Sweden we were already high on life and ready for more nature. We drove for weeks through the most gorgeous countryside…. winding roads and lush green foliage speckled with fanciful cottages and endless bodies of water. I was stunned every day by the natural beauty to be found in that magical area of the world. Scandinavia is famous for its folklore and fairy tales (mostly pretty gruesome, but I guess there’s always a lesson in there somewhere if a cannibal witch is part of the story).
It was so easy to see why so much imagination and innovation has been cultivated there. We hit up many a sight in Norway, and it the experience of driving through it and experiencing it on the road was unparalleled. The fjords are aplenty, seemingly laying just around every bend in the road. The mountains are lush with strange orange and burnt red colored plants and huge rocky facades, magical in all it produced.
Life in the van was good. We parked and slept everywhere; by the water, by a glacier, on city streets and in the countryside. We bought fresh produce locally when we ran out of stockpiled meal options. We ate well while on a dime, which is the absolute luxury and joy of having a kitchen in your car. We never missed a chance to refuel with some espresso and cookies, enjoy a breathtaking picture every time we swung open our van doors.
My hubs bought, after great resistance on my part, a portable shower with a pump and pressurized shower head, containing enough water (which we always warmed to a toasty temp) for an ample shower. I resisted because I imagined myself to enter into Scandinavia and instantaneously become the woman who cooly and without thought dived gracefully into ice cold water, laughing as a dolphin washed her hair and drying herself in a rainbow.
Turns out I am just as big a weenie, if not bigger, on the road. That shower saved my mood on many an occasion and proved to be titular to some of my most amazing memories. There is nothing so luxurious as a warm shower out in the middle of nature with a breathtaking view to make you a grateful wife. My husband often opted for the more hypothermic route, claiming invigoration or something, I dunno, I wasn’t listening.
Bergen, Norway was the northernmost large city we visited, and in my opinion the most enjoyable city on our route. We planned our route to visit a few cities and make memories in them, but ultimately what was most important to us was to enjoy the outdoors. We hiked, we kayaked, we bumbled and trundled around at our absolute leisure and made memories we will never forget.
I sincerely encourage you, dear reader, to acknowledge your dreams; the experiences you yearn for or the places or things you have interest in and have not yet explored. Making a dream (however small) a reality is many things, but never regrettable. We will never ever think about the money we didn’t make while gone, or the work we turned down and didn’t do. We will hold our memories dear; our experiences our lifeblood, Johnny Cash our soundtrack, the Norwegian hills our friends.
Below is a small clip where I give you a tour of our van, tell you our secrets, and irritate my husband. Enjoy!
Thanks for stopping by. See you next time. xo