Isby On Tour
Welcome to Finland
Sauna, Reindeer, Midnight Sun and the Worst Day of the Trip!
In Helsinki, we are welcomed by bright sunshine. But already the next day this changes. The first time, since Italy in February, we get rain for a couple of days in a row! This does not bother us too much, then after almost a year on the road, we are well organized and connected to other travelers! People, who have kind of the same travel route like us, some of whom are ahead of us, others are behind us. This is great, as we can give each other tips about weather conditions, pitches and attractions.
One tip like that, is sent to us from Northern Finland by a French couple. They have 27 ° degrees and the best weather! This statement is enough for us, to drive north through forests and past innumerable lakes for the next two days. At Rovaniemi we cross the Arctic Circle and visit Santa Claus' official post office! This is where children from all over the world send their wishes every year and Santa tries to answer them all ;) https://santaclausvillage.info/
Video Explanation for Midnight sun and Arctic Circle:
Just after we have crossed the Arctic Circle two surprises await us:
We have been waiting for a long time for one of them and finally it comes unexpected and stands in a field between houses and not in a Finnish birch forest! It is OUR first reindeer! We are very excited! It is an extra beautiful example and even poses for a few minutes in front of our camera before disappearing into the nearby forest.
The second surprise follows shortly afterwards. We have just found a place for the night on a beautiful river, as it knocks on the van door. Outside is a Finnish couple. They laugh and greet us friendly and explain that they are the owners of the nearby holiday home. Right now, they are on their way to start the sauna next to the river. If we would like, we can use it after them as well! Of course we want! So it happens that on our first evening north of the Arctic Circle at midnight we sit in front of a Finnish sauna on a beautiful river and enjoy the midnight sun! More clichéd and beautiful it is not possible!
The next day we catch up with our French (Weather Tipp) friends in Kolari and inflate our kayak for the first time on the whole trip! At first, Isby is not astonished when he is supposed to take a seat in this wobbly thing. But after only a few paddle strokes, he sits quietly and with his head held high up in the back of the boat.
Finland is a beautiful country with many outdoor opportunities, which we enjoy a lot, if only there were not this many mosquitoes! Not surprisingly, it is them who crown the worst day of our entire trip!
We are about to start a hike onto a Lappish Fjäll (high plateau), when it happens:
Isby eats something from the wayside. Soon after, he starts wheezing and coughing. It does not stop anymore. We control his throat, but cannot discover anything, also drinking water and eating grass does not help him either. We are realizing that this is something more serious and are questioning where the next vet would be. The closest one, according to Google Maps, I cannot reach, only a Finnish Voice Mail is answering.
Finally, I call any vet in Finland. Fortunately, the vet that answers the phone, speaks perfect English and is very supportive. I send her my coordinates via SMS and she looks for the vets in the area around us and then sends back their phone numbers to me. To our great relief, one vet is available in a "nearby" village. It's only half an hour away in Munio. This is huge luck, as she works only two days a week in this village. This area of Finland is sporadically populated, that’s why she works in three different villages, far away from each other. Luckily, today she is in the closest one to us. We are racing to the vet’s office. . It is tiny and the vet works on her own.
Isby gets a general anesthetic and I’m quickly appointed to assistant the vet by keeping Isby’s mouth wide open. Finally, she pulls out a long grass haulm, which was stuck between Isby’s nose and his breathing tube. The relief is huge! Especially as the vet mentions, that she could not do more for Isby anyway, as the nearest clinic that could perform surgeries, ultrasounds, etc., would be in Rovaniemi, which is over 3 hours away from here!
Although Isby is feeling a bit better in the evening, we decide to drive quickly towards the Norwegian border, so that we get closer to the next veterinarian, in case we need one again.
On this drive, the second shock of the day happens:
Abruptly the engine stops! The ESC lamp in the dashboard lights up. Simon turns the key and the engine starts without any problems. We drive on, but already on the next slope, in 5th gear the engine goes off again. This happens three times more, then we drive only high speed in 4th gear, like this we succeed for the moment. When we finally find a parking for the night, Isby is fit enough to loll around in front of the bus. Suddenly, I see that he is surrounded by mosquitoes. I'll call him back into the van, but it's too late. He is black, surrounded by thousands of little sandflies whirring around the poor dog. First we try to kill them by hand, no chance. Simon jumps out of the van with Isby and chases him into the nearby river. Then I call the dog back into the car, shut the door and dry him off. These horrible creatures have eaten right through his skin. He looks horrible and has red spots everywhere. I think, from Isby's point of view, this was the worst day of the trip even before the mosquitoes, but now we all have enough and just want to go to bed! But the night is nothing better. We have no idea how, but now normal mosquitoes get into the van somewhere. I give up long before Simon and crawl deep into the sleeping bag. Luckily, tomorrow is a new day!
3 countries in one week! Hungary, Slovakia and Poland and Midsummer Festival in the Baltic States
We drive at full speed!
Since it is clear, that we will be back at OBS in October, we are feeling a bit “stressed”;). Then it is absolutely clear to us, that we want to explore Scandinavia! That's why we have to increase our travel speed now. We cross through Hungary, where we spend some nice days with Simon's family and give the bus a thorough cleaning (Thanks to Simon's mom, who has washed 14 machines laundry for us). Then we continue through Slovakia and Poland. Two very beautiful countries, but unfortunately we have too little time for them. Slovakia surprises us with beautiful mountain ranges and in the east of Poland there are the last free living bison in Europe. Unfortunately, we only get the warning sign on the street (Watch out Bison Crossing!) in front of the camera lens. Only in Lithuania we take the foot off the accelerator and return to our normal travel speed.
We enjoy the white sandy beaches of the Baltic Sea and are amazed how pleasantly "warm" the sea is here. In Riga, the capital of Latvia, we celebrate the Midsummer Festival. On the 21.06. is the longest day of the year, further north the sun will not set any more tonight. At least here it is not dark anymore, only dusky. For Midsummer Festival, people throw themselves in shell. Young and old weave flower wreaths diligently, which are worn on this day and then placed in the rivers, as a sign of fertility and life. The landscape already looks surprisingly "Finnish" to us. At least that's the way we imagine Finland. Then we cross many lakes, birches and moors. Estonia turns out to be a great camping country, because everywhere there are free parking spaces, with fire pits and toilets. Here we perfect our pizza art over open fire. The crowning glory of the Baltics is Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. It enchants with a beautiful, medieval old town, which is completely surrounded by a city wall. Here we make a big purchase. Two full shopping trolleys with supplies are then stored in the bus, then we are prepared for the ferry to Helsinki. Scandinavia we are coming!
Central and Northern Romania: Transylvania, Maramures and Turda
On Dracula's hunt in Transylvania, with the Steam Locomotive through the Northern Carpathians and an Amusement Park 120 Meters Underground!
The plain, through which the Danube winds its way into its delta, has disappeared. Now, we turn on narrow roads through the dark pine forests of the Carpathians. Many castles are in Transylvania (in German Siebenbürgen). The best known one, is probably Bran Castle, now known as Dracula Castle. The whole place lives from Dracula tourism. Dracula Camping, Vampire Crêpes, postcards, liquor, masks and tons of other vampire souvenirs are available for purchase, though it is not even proven that Count Dracula once came here! But fact is, that the farmers are just putting a lot of garlic cloves on their fields, which seem to be thriving here. J More about Dracula: https://www.welt.de/reise/article133932638/Blutrote-Suppe-und-Gruselmusik-auf-Draculas-Spur.html
After the vampire hype, we are drawn to the remote province of Maramures. In the very north of Romania it already borders Ukraine. Here, we suddenly meet a piece of Swiss history, as we drive with the wood-fired narrow-gauge railway through the water valley. The steam locomotive pulls the train over the narrow-gauge railway, similar to the RHB in the canton of Graubünden and when we enter the old wagons, I realize something. All signs are written in German, French and Italian, because they are all old Swiss wagons! Sometimes even the blackboard with the track information hangs on the compartment! www.cffviseu.com
We also marvel at beautiful wooden churches in this region. Since it was forbidden to build orthodox churches with stones, the monks built their wooden houses of worship, with impressive carvings, shingles and bell towers. In Sapanta we visit a cemetery, on which countless colored wooden crosses stand. Carved and painted, each cross shows what the deceased person did as a profession, what their life's work was or how they died. Of course I found the teacher of the village.
The last week we spend together with Pierre and Lauren and their little dog Zuia. Isby enjoys the vibrant company and the two romp (Isby lies on the ground and little Ziua climbs and rides over him) for hours together. Finally we visit the huge salt mine in Turda. Originally salt was mined here. During the Second World War it served as a shelter for the population and afterwards it was used to ripen cheese and sausage. Since recently, the mine has been converted into a tourist attraction. An "amusement park", with minigolf, ping-pong, playground and Ferris wheel, as well as rowboat ride on the underground lake, is offered. The dimensions of the mine are gigantic. It is over 120 meters deep and consists of many, different courses.
Southern Romania: Drum Bun! (Romanian for a good trip)
With full power into a folkloric festival, comfortably through the Danube Delta and visually on the moon!
The country life hits us with full force. Already on the first morning in Romania we are awakened by the noise of sheep. We are surrounded by them! The shepherd wishes us a good morning and smiles, then pulls away with his sheep herd and 5 dogs. In general, the time seems to have stopped in Romania 50-100 years ago. Horse-drawn carts roam the streets, beautiful vegetable gardens lie in front of the small, colorful houses, cows, sheep, goats, donkeys, chickens and geese stroll through the villages and of course countless stray dogs. Although these have significantly lost in size compared to Greece.
We are on the road again with our French friends, whom we met in Bulgaria. Actually it should be an hour's drive from our sleeping place to Tulcea, the capital of the Danube Delta, but that can be deceiving in Romania! After a few kilometers, the Navigation system sends us on a gravel road, 11km we should follow this. We stop, consult and decide, instead of the gravel road, to continue on the asphalt road. There will surely be a better way to Tulcea, we think. Not even close! Soon after the next village, the asphalt road turns into asphalt between holes and finally the locals seem to completely avoid the remaining asphalt between the holes and drive straight across the field. This has already created a "new road". Isby is sitting shakily on my lap, because it shakes and wobbles tremendously and finally we have to roll on the "dirt road" as well. It is adventurous, because the mud path is washed out heavily by rain. Fortunately, it is dry today, otherwise we would have been stuck long ago. Simon has to be careful that he stays on the hills between the tracks, if he slides we will fall and that would be the end. After more than an hour (the time we had actually planned to get to Tulcea!) we'll get back to a proper road! The joy is huge and we all congratulate each other. Quickly we want to continue now, but already a few corners further, the police is regulating the traffic. We stop, because driving on is not possible. In front of us people dance in the most colorful robes on the main street.
It does not seem to bother them at all that the car lines on both sides of the dancing group are getting longer and longer. We are of course excited about this kind of roadblock and after the police officer has explained to us that this is the start of an international folkloric festival (on a road in the absolute nowhere), it is clear to us, Tulcea has to wait a few hours more. We turn the vans and steer into the next dirt road, which leads to the festival area. Together with Isby, we explore it. A large, mown meadow with 3-4 food stalls, a stage and people from Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Ukraine, Russia and Turkey in their most magnificent robes. Only tentatively we try to photograph the beautiful costumes, we are not sure if people like that. After all, we are the only obvious tourists. But, as so often, this problem is solved by our white weasel. Isby is surrounded in no time by children who want to stroke and photograph him. A win-win situation, the children get pictures with Isby and us the traditional costumes.
In the evening, we finally reach Tulcea, from where we take a boat tour through the Danube Delta, the next day. First we follow on one of the three main arms, but soon we turn off into a smaller arm and again into a smaller one and so on. Soon I have lost the orientation and marvel at this endless water landscape, which offers a unique habitat for many animal and plant species.
Days later, on the way to Transylvania, we spend the night in a small campsite on the edge of the moon. At least that's how the volcanic landscape looks like here. In an area of about 20km2 are the only mud volcanoes on the European mainland. Their equals can only be found in Iceland. It smells strongly of sulfur and it bubbles everywhere. From 3,000 meters depth, gases rise up here, which are released by the mud volcanoes. The mud is said to cure rheumatism, but otherwise this environment is more hostile to vegetation. Only a few rare plant species can survive here.s like here. In an area of about 20km2 are the only mud volcanoes on the European mainland. Their equals can only be found in Iceland. It smells strongly of sulfur and it bubbles everywhere. From 3,000 meters depth, gases rise up here, which are released by the mud volcanoes. The mud is said to cure rheumatism, but otherwise this environment is more hostile to vegetation. Only a few rare plant species can survive here.
Bulgaria, has the best roads for washing clothes!
After more than seven weeks we leave Greece. Although reluctant, but it is high time to travel further north!
Bulgaria is a small country, with the highest migration across Europe. This is sad, but for travelers an advantage, as we are mostly in nature and the remaining population is happy to see us and get some news exchange from the worldJ. Soon we also realize that the Bulgarians are an "outdoor nation". Everywhere are small pavilions, which invite you to picnic. At the weekend, everyone is hiking, it seems a little like home in Switzerland, but everything is much poorer.
Bulgaria is the poorest country in the European Union, as reflected in food and diesel prices, but also in housing. The concrete bunkers from the Soviet era are visible everywhere. Even in small villages they are predominant. Only the city centers of larger towns show the actual architectural style of the Bulgarians and this is colorful and very artistic, as in Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria.
We drive north through the valley of roses. This is where Europe produces the most rose oil. Unfortunately we are about 2 weeks too early and the miles long Rose fields are not yet in bloom. https://www.br.de/radio/bayern2/sendungen/breitengrad/bulgarien-tal-rosen-100.html
Our destination is a small, secluded place. Here we meet English friends, whom we met about 5 months ago in Spain. At that time, they were looking for a patch of land to settle on. In Bulgaria they found it and we visit them now. The journey is spectacular. Already 4 km in front of their house we have to leave our van, too deep the trees hang in the street, as that we could continue. With their car, we continue on this path until they also have to stop about 1 km away from their house. The last bit is only accessible by foot. Once their house was part of a small village. But today, all but three houses are abandoned and they are the only ones who want to live here all year round. With their own spring and garden, as well as electricity from the solar cell, they are currently trying to live self-sufficient. We help in the garden and the wood and are happy to sleep again in a real bed. Isby is a bit irritated. Are we really stay in this house overnight, he seems to wonder? But already the next day, he does not want to leave anymore. It seems like he probably would like to settle down again. :)
Why Bulgaria has the best roads for doing laundry? Since northern Greece, it has become increasingly difficult to find laundromats, because the cities are getting smaller and in the countryside people often seem to wash by hand. Even before the trip, we read that travelers put their laundry in a lockable bucket, drive 100km over bumpy gravel roads and then (more or less) have clean laundry. Now it's time to test if that really works! The roads are bumpier than ever before and our laundry piles up quickly. So we try it, and behold, the result is surprisingly good! If the laundry would now dry as fast as we have bumpy roads available, we'll be done with our laundry in no time. :)
Meeting old and new Friends on Travels and the smallest Camper Van ever!
The nicest thing about traveling is, that you always meet new, interesting and nice people. In Greece, we are fortunate enough to meet new friends, as well as get visited by old friends and relatives from home.
Therefore we speed from the Peloponnese over the Canal of Corinth, through Athens, pass by the Oracle of Delphi and stop quickly at the monument for the brave Spartans, who fought the Persian in Thermopiles (Movie the 300 Spartans), to make it to Thessaloniki in time, to pick up Simon’s brother from the airport. We enjoy some relaxing days with him in the vicinity of Thessaloniki.
After this, we get to explore the wild north of Greece with our friend and former neighbor, who comes to visit us for a week. Here we see again a very different landscape of Greece. After the beautiful beaches on the Peloponnese, it now goes up to over 2000 meters in the mountains. We balance in the rock walls of the deepest gorge in the world, the Vikos Gorge, and admire the monasteries' architecture on the Meteora rocks. https://www.discovergreece.com/de/mainland/thessal...
It's fun to have guests in the bus, as we see much more this week than usual when we're slower.
But moving slowly also has many advantages. On a pitch in Thessaloniki we get to know Micha and Philipp. The two are a number for themselves. They definitely have the smallest camper we have ever seen and have been living in this mini mobile for over a year! Their original destination was Mongolia, but unfortunately they were rejected a few weeks ago at the Russian border, so they came back to Greece. We get along great and spend many, warm evenings together. Now you imagine this very idyllic, but keep in mind, that you often meet "interesting" people in the most random places.
This pitch for example, is located directly behind the airport. It’s practical for us to pick up our guests from Switzerland and Germany, but it also means, that we need to accept the noise of planes taking off or landing constantly. Furthermore it lays next to the main road and behind a car wash salon.
But if you might think that this clouded the camping idyll, you are wrong! In good company, something like that bothers not at all. :)
We end up staying on this pitch three times. The third time, we get to know John. He hiked from France to the Syrian border because he wanted to go to Mecca. Since the Syrian border is currently closed, he has turned around and now has pitched his tent between all the campers. It is always inspiring what humans are capable of!
Isby Bericht 39
Greece: Hospitality, Lemons and Culture
We drink a lemon every day!
Greece is a dream travel destination! Already on our first evening we get to know the Greek hospitality. After we got lost in an olive grove and Simon had to drive back out of the trees (I'm standing outside and bending the branches aside), we finally find the cove, described by friends. Soon, the next local resident arrives and greets us in good German. He lives in paradise, he says, and is happy that we had come here for one night as well. In the evening Simon helps him with his fire wood, for which we are given a big bag of fresh lemons from the garden. We are very happy, even though we do not know exactly how to use so many lemons. Then the old man laughs and says: "Drink it, that's healthy!"
In the next few days, we quickly realize that we have landed in Greece for the main season of the lemons, because we are more often presented with lemons. Over a month we drink our lemon every day, as a German saying says, “sauer macht lustig” (sour makes you having fun) and in Greece also healthy. :)
150 trees planted on the Day of the Tree!
On the Peloponnese peninsula, we reach a beautiful beach, where relatively many mobile homes are parked up between the trees. We learn that we are on the property of an initiative "Friends of the Forest". Their goal is that the beach is not overbuilt and anyone who wants to camp can find a place here. For that they plant trees, because how they tell us, one must not build in Greece, where forest stands. Of course we join in and so we plant 150 pines with local and international helpers in a short time. Then there is a big Greek BBQ: Souvlaki (pork kebab), pickled olives, many cucumbers, bread and white wine in a very international group.
Greek history blossoms in spring
Of course you cannot travel around Greece, without dealing with the ancient world. It is difficult for us to understand the many myths and stories, as there is always a new god in it. Luckily we find a great video on Youtub of a Matura thesis, which explains the most important gods succinctly.
Afterwards, we are prepared to visit the birthplace of the Olympic Games. On the grounds of Olympia, Zeus, the father of the gods, was worshiped in a temple, the most important sports competitions of antiquity took place there, and even today the flame of the Olympic flame is lit there. Unfortunately, only a few stones are left of the old buildings, but in the lush sea of flowers of the Greek spring it still looks very impressive.https://www.discovergreece.com/de/mainland/pelopon...
Another day, we visit the Amphitheater of Epidaurus. It is one of the most important ancient theaters in Greece and can accommodate up to 20,000 spectators. It is particularly amazing as you can understand the speakers on stage, who speak in a normal (not especially loud) voice, even in the last row of the amphitheater. https://www.discovergreece.com/de/mainland/pelopon...
Now we are on our way to Northern Greece. I'll talk about that next time. Bye, or as the Greeks say: YASAS!
Travel Itinerary: From Bari (Italy) by ferry to Igoumenitsa (Greek town directly on the Albanian border) -Igoumenitsa-Parga-Lefkada-Peloponnese (once all around)
Bereiste Länder: 15
Schweiz, Lichtenstein, Österreich, Deutschland, Belgien, Niederlande, England, Schottland, Nordirland, Irland, Wales, Frankreich, Spanien, Portugal, Italien
Gefahrene Kilometer: 19‘763 km
50 Days on the Road: Tintagel Cornwall, England
100 Days on the Road: Moher Cost, Irland
150 Days on the Road: Porto, Portugal
200 Days on the Road: Guadix (Höhlendorf), Andalusien Spanien
230 Days on the Road: Rom, Italien
Benutzte Fähren: 5
Dunkerque-Dover, Cairnryan-Larne, Rosslare-Fishguard, Dover-Dunkerque,
Gefeierte Geburstage: 3
18.09. Plymouth Simon
29.09. Bristol Isby
15.02. Murcia Flurina
Besucher aus der Heimat: 3
Melli und Andre in Lissabon
Mama in Andalusien
Pannen: (Haben wir ständig irgendwelche;)
3x Wasserhahn ausgewechselt –Repariert durch Simon
1x Frontscheibe – Autoglas Bristol
1x Standheizung – Repariert durch Bristol Caravans
1x Dieselfilter - Simon
1x Ölwechsel – Simon
1x Luftmassenmeter -Simon
1x Kupplung – Repariert durch Joteca Chinicato
1x Zahnriemen – Werkstatt Malaga
1x Zündkerze – Werkstatt Malaga
1x Wasserpumpe –Simon
1x Herdplatte – Simon
3x Bus geflutet – Simon und Flurina
1x Fahrradständer - Simon
Pizza, Pasta and Rome on Strike
First of all, we did not find a Pizzeria every day! At least, they were not always open. But we have discovered the most beautiful hot springs and enjoyed their sulphurous water. All around the Monte Amiata (a no longer active volcano) in the Tuscany, there are such thermal springs that are fortunately not yet commercialized and you can therefore bathe in complete nature. There, we meet a Swiss-Italian couple who picks us up at the Van and takes us to a tiny Italian restaurant. Mama Mia, the homemade tortellini with ricotta and pears were delicious :) and on the way back the cinghiale (boars) crossed the street in front of the car! Unfortunately, it rains quite often in Italy, so we either sit in the hot water or in the van. When finally a fair weather window shows up, we do not hesitate and drive straight to Rome.
Road traffic in Italy is demanding. Not only, that Simon is busy avoiding all the potholes, no, here no traffic rules seem to count anymore! Luckily, Simon is more relaxed about it then me. He just pretends our "Blue Wonder" is a Fiat Panda and also pushes and squeezes it into every tiny little gap.
Like that, we drive once through Rome to the official campground. The campground owner immediately tells us that tomorrow public transport will strike throughout Rome. Oh great, that's just what we needed. But never mind, in that case we drive with the bicycles into the city.
Isby has become the perfect bike dog and knows the commands left, right, over and behind (he should go behind the bike) now flawless. In general, he obeys on the bike much better than while walking, as then he mutates and becomes sometimes a park stray dog;)!
Rome itself is beautiful. We enjoy the 2000 year old buildings, the narrow streets and the Dolce Vita feeling everywhere. Only how to get into the Colosseum is still a mystery to us. Because with a dog it is impossible and without a pre-booked ticket you are stuck in the line for a long time, also at this time of the year. Fortune helps, at least me;) Just as we want to make our way home, a tourist guide approaches us. He explains how it works with all the tickets and of course wants to sell us some. But only one! Because YOU (he points to me) can enter today for free! How come, I think? The explanation follows immediately. Today is World Women's Day and therefore all women are allowed to visit the Colosseum for free and do not even have to queue for a long time! So half an hour later, I am actually in the huge arena and try to imagine how it was here 2000 years ago.
After Rome our travel plans change rapidly. Originally, we wanted to continue to the Volcano Vesuvius, but the weather forecast for the west coast of Italy is bad for the whole week. Therefore, we decide spontaneously to turn off, shortly before Naples and drive once across the country, so that we only make a stop above the spur again. On this drive through Campania and Puglia we reach the 20'000km mark! We stop for a selfie, our "Blue Wonder" has actually brought us 20,000km! It’s incredible that we have gotten so far and we really hope it will carry us another 20’000, all the way up to Scandinavia!
Finally, from Bari we take the ferry to Igoumenitsa, I am curious what to expect in Greece.
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