Summer trip 2023
03 October 2023 at 3:26 pm
Our plan for this summer was to go further south - hopefully all the way down to Croatia. Given that the van is old and have no cooling system other than a small fan, the heatwave across Europe killed that plan. Instead we covered the northern shores of Germany, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.
The trip kicked off with a drive through Sweden and the bad news that my friend Frode had died. This was expected at some point, but not a fun start. We drove straight through Sweden and down to Trelleborg where we caught a catamaran ferry across to Sassnitz. This was a really good choice and we’ll us this way of reaching the continent from now on. Rather than a boring 12-16 hour trip just to follow the TaxFree rules, this ferry by FRS Baltic was only 2,5 hrs from Sweden to Germany. Much better than having to sit on a ferry that is intentionally slow to make you buy alcohol. The price also wasn’t that bad since we took the night ferry, arriving an hour+ past midnight.
Prora and Binz
Another genious thing about this is that we arrived close to the Prora ruins from WW2 and this turned out to become a them for the trip. Close to the ferry, there was a beach where we could stay overnight. We drove 15 minutes from the ferry and went to sleep. In the morning we got up, had a dip in the ocean and went sightseeing. Prora is a very interesting artifact from WW2 - primarily due to it’s size and history. Part of the complex is now refurbished to lush holiday apartments. It’s quite a contrast when you walk through the edge between old and new to the beach?
After spending the day here, we headed off to the seaside resort city of Binz. The first night was spent at a very basic car park, somewhat off from the town center. This cost 20 EUR for the night, despite the complete lack of facilities (not even a working toilet). The second night was spent on a public parking close to the luxury hotels and the best beach. That cost us 3.5 EUR for the night and with lots of bars, hotels and cafe’s nearby, it was a much better location.
While driving around, we noticed a small track railway and looked it up. The railway covered many of the classic seaside resorts across the Rügen, so we decided to spend a full day by train to see Sellin and Gören. Very interesting to see these places as they remind me of British seaside resort cities, but they have quite their own unique architecture/style.
From here on out, we didn’t have any plan due to the extreme heat. I just looked around the map and found a place called Peenemünde. Funky name and they have some nice mueeums there? Let’s just head there! This turned out to be a really good choice. On the way, we also dropped by a “Bauzentrum” to swap out the hoses in our water system. Leaving water in the hoses over winter had caused them to “flake” off small plastic bits in the water. Much easier to replace than fix, and as usual - stores that have gear for house and cottages, will usually have stuff to fix your van.
We did not know at the time we went to Peenemünde, but this is the area where all the German rocket research happened in WW2. It’s literally the home of the V1 and V2 rockets and a beautifully made Technical and Historical Mueeum. I loved seeing how the entire history of rocketry played out - from early Russian pioneers to how the German experts split out to the Allied Powers after WW2.
Many advances in rocketry came from Peenemünde - and so did many of the scientists on Apollo Program when Werner Von Braun escaped to the US. Highly recommended and the nearby Phänomenta science museeum also wasn’t bad. In Peenemünde, we stayed the night at the Strandparkplatz close to the Düne74 restaurant. Very nice and calm spot with lots of entertainment, bars and cafe’s in walking distance by Strand-Vorplatz.
Szcztin, Sopot & Gdansk
Next up was Poland. We did a detour inland to Szcztin. Given the amount of mosquitoes there, that turned out to be a bit of a mistake. We were itching for more than a week after that as the Polish mosquitto’s were clearly carrying something different than the Norwegian ones. We had hoped to see a city rich on culture and history, but it’s all just reconstructions and new buildings? We were quite disappointed so we left the next day to get to Sopot and Gdansk.
That was something different and just what we had hoped for. Staying in Sopot and taking the train to Gdansk is pretty smooth. I was sick for a day so I chilled in Sopot, but the day after I joined AM to Gdansk and we had a blast. On our way to catch the train, we heard a live Jazz consert at a cafe & just dropped in. So glad for that as it was easily the best Jazz consert I’ve been to in many years. If you ever get chance to see the Jazz trio “Product may Contain” - do so! The day after, we dropped by the Westerplatte memorial to keep with the WW2 theme (as suggested by @DerSchmale on X).
Malbork Castle <3
In the northern part of Poland, there really isn’t all that many tourist attractions compared to the south, but there’s one major exeption! Throughout the years, we’ve taken our kids to see castles all across Europe, so when we found that the worlds largest castle was just a detour away, we had to go there. And what a timing! A huge medieval festival took place just that week, so we stayed for a full day to see both the festival & entire castle.
It’s massive and it was the home of the Teutonic order in the 13th century. The Teutonic knights ruled for 150+ years until passing the castle on to Poland, Sweden, Poland, Germany and then back to Poland after WW2. Overnight parking next to the castle was 60 polish sloty, so not bad.
We had a couple lovely days here, but then decided it was time to plan the return route and head to Lithuania. This trip took a while… Poland has excellent roads - as long as you stay on EU funded roads. The minute you deviate, follow Google Maps or go to small towns, it’s like you’re back in time. When out with the van, we’ll often do detours into local villages, but in Poland we got punished for doing so on a couple occasions. It’s interesting how Poland is changing politically these days and how some feel that they don’t need the EU. Looking at it from the outside - Poland really needs EU. At least to finance more and better roads 😊
On the way to Vilnius, we dropped by Trakai’s Island castle. Coming straight from Malbork to this, it was quite a disappointment. While lovely located, the castle is not very original. It’s fully reconstructed based on very little actual knowledge and the exhibits were ... disappointing to say the least? It seemed to be quite a random hodge-podge of what other museeums wouldn’t want in their collections?
I might be picky here, but to us it really wasn’t worth the visit. Vilnius on the other hand - what a lovely city! We found a super-nice public parking spot just above the Old Town and next to the coffee shop Kava Tau, so morning coffe & breakfast was super easy. We spent two days here, caught the Barbie movie, washed clothes, did a dump’n’refill for the van, tried Georgian food, visited the National Museeum & Grand Dukes Palace and generally had a really great time. We’d love to come back here again! A charming city with so much opportunity? But time was ticking and we also wanted to catch yet another vacation-town by the coast over in Latvia.
Latvia & home
At the resort city Jurmala we caught the first really bad weather, but it cleared up during the same evening. If you’re ever designing a holiday home - Jurmala is the place to go for inspiration? I don’t think I’ve seen this many unique holiday homes in one spot ever? A lot of it is quite worn down, but it’s all very charming so we loved just walking the streets & beach.
We had a couple of calm days here and also took the train to Riga for some sightseeing. It’s incredibly convenient to just go to a place, park your van and you’re all set! No hotel to check into, no luggage to carry and no planning. You’re completely free to do what you want (as long as you park somewhat legally).
Riga is also somewhat unique architecturally, so fun to see. As a Norwegian, it’s also amusing with all the Narvesen / Rimi shops around the Baltic countries. After about two weeks, it was time to head home. We travelled via Ventspils to Nynäshamn and the idea was to go pretty much straight home. We needed a sleepover through Sweden and our brief stop at Taxinge Castle may have been the most amazing part of the trip?
If you ever go from Oslo to Stockholm, you should always drop by this castle. It’s basically cake heaven! Just have a look at the table below!
In addition, the local SAAB club had an event there, so (as former owners of a 9-3) we had lots of fun with that as well, rounding off a very nice summer trip!