Amsterdam House boats

Mothers restaurant Amsterdam

Foodhallen Amsterdam

More house (million euros +) boats Amsterdam

Canal Houses (2million euros +) in Amsterdam


Flower market Amsterdam

Services connection Houseboat Amsterdam


All the pictures ever taken are here

We’ve been a bit quiet here, mostly because of awful internet access. The Airbnb place we stayed in in Wormerveer near Amsterdam was marketed as a ‘business listing’, but their wifi was terrible. We complained a few times, they claimed that no one else had ever complained, they turned the router off and then on again and so it went on.

It’s the last day of our trip today, we’re starting the long journey home from Amsterdam tonight. We have about 20 hours in Dubai between flights and we’ll get out and do some stuff, then do another overnight flight home to ADL.

We were lucky that we had lovely weather for a couple of days in Amsterdam, not too cold with blue sky and sunshine. We drove into the centre of AMS on Tuesday and walked and walked and walked. Greg had done some research and paid EU10 to park in a parking station for the day – a bargain as everywhere in the city charges EU5 per hour. I’d noticed when we used a parking station in Rotterdam that our car’s number plate was on the ticket we took out of the machine … and that’s how it all works. Number place recognition. So we drove into the AMS parking station, then when we got to the boom gate to leave, it just magically opened up for us after the number plate had been scanned.

We spent the day walking along the canals and streets and lanes. I had read about a colourful street, Wijdesteeg, so we went to find it, but it’s been demolished! It had been taken and ‘decorated’ over by squatters a few decades ago and I guess someone decided it was time it all went. There were other tourists standing around looking puzzled when we were there, so the tour guides haven’t caught up with the news that it’s gone.

Next day we drove to Haarlem, west of AMS. Lovely old town square and we sat on the edge of a canal and ate lunch in the sun, then drove to Edam, north east of AMS, because …. cheese!

Thursday we had a ‘home day’. Greg went to try and find a laundromat, then we did a big walk along the Zaans River and streets near the apartment, and walked through Wilhelmina Park, where there were more hints that Spring is on its way. All the snow from last weekend has now melted, and we don’t need to worry about slipping on icy footpaths.

Yesterday, Friday, we drove across the whole country  – 140kms,  it took just over 90 minutes! – to Nijmegen, to catch up with our favourite Dutch people, Mickey and Jaap. We had dinner at their place and caught up on each others’ lives since we last saw each other a few years ago. I can’t think of a nicer way to finish our holiday.

Applebol – cooked cored apple covered in puff pastry

Lunch on the canal in Haarlem

At the Foodhallen with Bitterballen

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On Sunday we drove from Zedelgem near Brugge to Wormerveer, which is to the north-west of Amsterdam. We’re staying here until Friday so we can explore Amsterdam and surrounds.

On our way north, we visited the Windmills at Kinderdijk, just east of Rotterdam.  It’s the largest concentration of old windmills in the Netherlands, and we really enjoyed seeing them and having a look inside the 2 mills which are now set up as museums. The 19 mills at Kinderdijk were all used to pump water, as opposed to the sawmills, oilmills, dyemill and grainmill that we saw the next day at Zaanse Schans, just down the road from where we’re now staying.

The older of the 2 museum mills, the Blokweer, is also the oldest mill of all the Kinderdijk mills. Built sometime in the 16th century, exact date unknown. The living quarters inside the mill are as they were in the 1950s. When we visited, the mill was working and it was quite noisy both inside and outside the mill. I commented to Greg that industrial deafness must have been a family affair back when each mill had a miller and his family living in them. In fact, the mills do still have millers and their families living in them, but the area isn’t reliant on these mills to pump water as there now are 2 huge diesel pumping stations to do the work. As well as seeing inside the mill, we wandered around the snow-covered small-holding, where the miller and his family raised livestock and grew fruit and vegetables for their own consumption.

From the postcards in the gift-shop, I gather the fields around these windmills are full of flowering tulips in Spring, but they were all looking very white and bare when we were there

The rest of the mills were built in the first half of the 18th century. We also visited the Museum Windmill Nederwaard, which is a ‘ground-sailer’ that was built in 1738. The last inhabitant left the mill in the 1950s, and the living quarters were preserved, with lots of earlier memorabilia and photos also on display. One family who lived in that mill had 13
children! There were alcove beds tucked into corners on 3 floors of the mill. The ‘master bedroom’ was an alcove bed in the living room, which had the mill’s only source of heating, and there was a built-in cradle at the foot of the bed. The mother cooked and washed in a separate brick building. She was tragically killed by one of the windmill’s blades when she got too close to it trying to keep one of her kids safe.

The closer we got to Amsterdam, the more snow there was on the ground. It had snowed up until sometime on Sunday morning, and even now there are still patches lying mostly in shady areas. We’re staying in an Airbnb apartment in Wormerveer until Friday. It’s right on the Zaan River and our apartment is right across the river from Olam Cocoa, one of the largest cocoa processing factories in the world! We can smell the cocoa when we’re outside.

On Monday we visited Zaanse Schans, which has a great collection of windmills and historic buildings from the late 16th century onwards. Some of the buildings were moved from elsewhere in the 1960s & 70s, and in addition to the mills and museums, there are shops and residential houses. We walked around the area, still very snowy in parts from the weekend’s snowfall. There were a few people like us, wandering around looking at things, plus locals going about their daily business. The nearby high school had just finished for the afternoon and there were lots of kids riding home, plus a few walking home.

Kinderdijk windmill built in 1600

Kinderdijk windmill

Kinderdijk windmills

Climbing down one of the Kinderdijk windmill

The Cocoa processing factory opposite our AirBnB apartment

Zaanse Schans windmills

Zaanse Schans windmills

 In side the Bakery at Zaanse Schans

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Dunkirk & Ypres

On Friday we nipped across to France to go to Dunkirk. I was going to say that we did it as a day trip, but that sounds like it took us much longer than it actually did. The distance from Zedelgem to Dunkirk is about 60kms, and it took us 45 minutes.

Dunkirk/ French: Dunkerque / Dutch: Duinkerke means ‘church in the dunes’ and it is the world’s northernmost French speaking city, with a population of around 100,000. It’s 10kms from the French/Belgian border. We headed straight to the beach for a look and a photo or 2. In summer it would be a seething mass of holiday-makers, but there were just a few well-rugged up people walking and one crazy wetsuit-clad person swimming in the surf. We spent 20 minutes or so there, and he was in the water the whole time. Then we drove to the museum, which is only open from April to September, and on a bit further to East Mole, the long stone and concrete breakwater to the south of the beach where nearly 200,000 troops embarked on ships in late May-early June 1940. More info about Dunkirk here, and the 1940 evacuation here

There is so much war history in the area, and also in Belgium, and it’s a hot destination for war history buffs. We could have spent days or probably even weeks visiting places and museums, but it’s not really our ‘thing’ so we just visited one more place. And that was thanks to a movie we stumbled into by mistake a few years ago. We got free tickets to see The Last Station and went into the wrong cinema and saw Beneath Hill 60 instead. We did eventually watch The Last Station and thought that Beneath Hill 60 was a much better movie. So we drove to Ieper / Ypres, then a few kms out of town to Hill 60, which was originally created when the railway line was built in the mid-19th century. You can read more about it in the Wikipedia link above, and here, but one thing that really amazed me was how little distance there was between the 1915 German front line and the British front line, which both run through the boardwalk on Hill 60. There’s barely 30 metres of ‘no man’s land’ between them!

While we were in Dunkirk, we stopped in at a large French supermarket, can’t remember the name, but it wasn’t a Carrefour. We bought essentials – baguettes, apple tarts and far too much French butter (but really, it’s probably one of those things that one can never have ‘too much’ of), and a couple of other things just because it was my birthday the next day and I was going to cook what I wanted to eat rather than eat out. Cocquilles St Jacques, and raclette cheese. The raclette was sort-of influenced by popular culture. One of the first books I read all by myself after learning to read and getting beyond learn-to-read books was Johanna Spyri’s Heidi. When Heidi goes to live with her grandfather, he put a wheel of cheese by the fire and when it had melted, he put slices of the melty cheese on boiled potatoes or bread or both. Almost 50 years later, I finally got to try it for myself

It started snowing on Friday night, and we woke up to it still snowing and quite a lot of snow still on the ground on Saturday morning. Definitely a memorable birthday, this one, my first snowy birthday. We went to an outdoor market in a square in Brugge. The square is being renovated, so there are piles of cobble stones and dirt, but I’m sure it will be looking good by summer. The market sold mostly clothes and food, and lots of locals were there doing their food shopping. There were at least 6 huge stalls selling rotisserie chickens, roast potatoes and prepared meals. I wanted to buy everything, but settled for a bag of roast potatoes to take home and have with the raclette for lunch. There was a young man selling mini Belgian waffles, so we had a few of them too.

My birthday dinner was probably a bit strange to everyone else, but we were happy … I ate all 4 serves of the frozen Cocquilles St Jacques on the shell that we’d bought in France, Greg ate rhubarb & raspberry crumble and we drank Belgian beers – Belle-Vue Kriek Extra, a fruit beer brewed with cherries. Gorgeous colour, and it tasted good too.

Deserted Dunkirk beaches

The remains of East Mole Dunkirk Harbour

The front line at Hill 60

Memorial to Australian Tunnellers at Hill 60. The bullet holes happened during WW2

The two opposing front lines at Hill 60. Judy is standing on the German front line marker

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In Brugge

We realised recently that at least some of our travels have been influenced by popular culture. Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books were pretty much the only reason we initially went to Botswana, although once we got there, we found a lot more reasons to stay, explore and return. Likewise with Swaziland; we went because we both enjoyed ‘Wah Wah’, Richard E. Grant’s movie about his childhood. The TV series ‘The Bridge’ took us across that bridge from Sweden to Denmark. Larry McMurtry’s bookshops in Archer City, Tx, Anthony Bourdain’s restaurant Les Halles in New York and now here we are In Bruges/Brugge, thanks to the 2008 movie starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson

Once again we’re staying a few kms out of the city centre, on a property just outside Zedelgem. It was built in the 1930s and the original owners ran it as a hobby farm. The current owners seem to be very keen gardeners, although there’s not much happening in the garden at the moment. When we drove along the road towards the house, we knew we had found the right place because our hosts had a blackboard sign out which read ‘Welcome Judy and Greg’. That was a nice touch, and I wish more hosts would do it – finding some Airbnb places can be a major pain.

It snowed for an hour or so yesterday morning. Big, fat snowflakes that melted as soon as they hit the ground, but it was pretty to watch. We drove to the Brugge central railway carpark in the afternoon, then walked into the old town centre. Not much activity, not many people around, but I’m sure it is a popular place to be when the weather improves. I had worn the wrong glasses and couldn’t see very far in the distance, but it was foggy all day and not really possible to see very far in the distance anyway. We sought refuge in a chip shop on the town square and shared groot frienten and a frikendel large hot chips and a sausage, sitting upstairs to warm up and look out at what was happening in the square.

We walked back to the car through side streets and along the canal and I spotted the first hint that Spring might make an appearance soon – a drift of tiny snowdrop flowers just starting to flower, and some other bulb just poking some leaves up on another grassy bank. But otherwise it’s very, very wintery here still.

Our Welcome sign at the AirBnB

Why add chocolate sprinkles to your bread when you can add slabs of chocolate?

The choices in chocolate sprinkles in Belgium for your bread

Brugge tower town square

Brugge town square

Brugge canal

Brugge curved streets

groot frienten and a frikendel


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Out & About in Rotterdam & Gouda

It seems to us that nothing is far from anywhere else in this country. When we drove from the Tulip Inn to our Airbnb place at Kandelaar, it took us less than 90 minutes, and that included a visit to the supermarket! We’re heading to Bruges tomorrow for a few days, and Google maps tells us that it will take 2 1/2 hours if we take the roads without the tolls on them.

We went back into Rotterdam on Sunday, so that we could have a walk around the centre of town, find some lunch and have a look at some of the interesting buildings that this city is famous for. We parked in the Markthal carpark again and headed to the shopping mall nearby. Fine day, but cold, and this time we’d brought our gloves and hats, so it was quite nice to walk in the 7C weather. It was the final day of the Rotterdam International Film Festival and we wandered into the Imax theatre, but they were just showing non-Imax films for the festival, so we kept on walking … to the beautiful modern Central Station, then to Witte de Withstraat, a street full of restaurants, nightclubs and a ‘coffeeshop’ or two or three. Then back to the Markthal, with a few stops to look at the 2-level bike parking near the metro station, and the Cube House and the outside of the Markthal, and a visit to one of the many bakeries inside for afternoon tea. This article has some great photos of the Markthal.

We drove to the Hook of Holland yesterday to have a look at the Maeslantkering, the storm surge barrier on the imaginary dividing line between the Nieuwe Waterweg waterway located at Hoek van Holland and the river Scheur, and one of the largest moveable objects in the world. Then to the coast to look at the beach and the North Sea. Not many people around on a chilly February day, but if the size of the carpark is anything to go by, it’s a popular place in summer.

And then on to Gouda, which is a bit north-east of where we’re staying. Greg did a very impressive parallel park along one of the canals, and we walked to the town centre to find … cheese! Of course. We tried a lot of different cheeses in one cheese shop and bought some smoked gouda and some farmers cheese with holes.

Central Station Rotterdam

Light-ship Rotterdam Harbour

Two storey bike racks at Rotterdam Metro Train Station

Cube Houses Rotterdam

Outside Rotterdam Markthal

Drying our washing in the AirBnB barn

Boat repair yard on the Canal

Driving to Hook of Holland we saw dozens and dozens of large greenhouses covering many acres

Maeslantkering, the storm surge barrier

Gouda Town Hall

Gouda Square

careful parallel parking in Gouda

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We’re staying in Kandelaar,  a little hamlet between Delft and Rotterdam, for a few days. Our Airbnb accommodation is in a converted stables on a farm and it’s really lovely. Modern and comfortable, with a bathroom and kitchen downstairs, and a huge loft with living area and bedroom upstairs. There’s a fireplace in the living area and an almost-endless supply of wood, so we’re keeping warm, although of course it’s nowhere near as cold as what we’ve just experienced in Lapland.

Behind the property is a canal, the Delftse Schie, across the canal is the Hoftwijk Crematorium, and in front of the property are more farmhouses and fat, woolly sheep. To get here, we have to drive along a single lane road for a few kms. The road is also used by cyclists, walkers and horseriders, but there are small ‘pullouts’ every half km or so for cars to pass each other, no one is going fast and it all just sort of works. We’re close to Rotterdam Airport and can hear the planes taking off.

Yesterday, Saturday, we visited Delft and Rotterdam. There’s a Saturday flea market in Delft, in the streets around the old town square, so we went to have a wander and a look. First stall we spotted was selling stroopwafel and other sweet Dutch treats, but rather than jump right in and buy some, we walked for a few blocks to build up an appetite. Oh, the cheese shops! and the flower shops! and the smallgoods! Some of our Facebook friends are either Dutch, have Dutch relatives or have visited the Netherlands and liked the food,  and we seem to have crowdsourced lots of recommendations on what to eat while we’re here. We popped into a bakery and tried a couple of sausage rolls – one with minced meat, the other with sausage. We ate half of each one, then swapped.

We didn’t find anywhere else selling stroopwafels, so went back to the stall and got a Super stroopwafel each, hot off the griddle, and a pack of smaller ones to take home. 2 layers of thin waffle with syrup spread between them. Delicious!

Then we headed to Rotterdam. Greg had read about the Fenix Food Factory in an old warehouse on the south bank of the Nieuwe Maas River, so we went to find some lunch. Great variety – Moroccan, Asian, bakery, cider, microbrewery, waffles, cheese. We had pork belly rolls from the Asian stall and they were delicious. This area of Rotterdam looks like it is being trendified, but I imagine in the not-too-distant past it probably went through a long phase of being the dodgy part of town. Just across a footbridge is the New York Hotel which is located in former head office of the Holland America Line. The HAL moved its head office to Seattle in the 1970s, and the hotel was opened in the early 1990s

We drove and parked in the Markt carpark in the Rotterdam CBD, so we could have a look at the Rotterdam Markthal  Market Hall, a new building which opened in 2014. It has amazing artwork on its arched roof, and in addition to the food stalls and other shops on the ground floor, it houses offices, apartments and the city’s largest underground carpark. We found a stall selling hot chips friet in paper cones, so we shared a large one and watched the chips being cut from whole, peeled potatoes while we ate.

There’s a well-stocked kitchen shop in the Markt and we wandered around it for a while and  found an electrical brand we had never heard of before – Expressions of Australia. There was an interesting-looking slow cooker / sous vide machine, some coffee machines and a portable grill all with this Expressions of Australia brand. Some online searching and it seems to be the Sunbeam brand, renamed.

By then, it was around 4pm and raining so we came back ‘home’, stoked the fire and settled in for the night.

I’ve just found a website called Stuff Dutch People Like and I think Greg is going to apply for Honorary Dutchman status – top of the list is Bicycles, and number 3 is Hagleslag chocolate sprinkles!

Rotterdam Markthal

Some of the roof of the Rotterdam Markthal

Ordering pork belly buns at Fenix Food Factory

Canal in Delft

Another canal in Delft

Sprinkles or Hagleslag choices at the supermarket to put on your bread

Ordering a Stroopwafel

The delft flea market

The Barn we are staying in and the canal

The other side of the Barn we are staying in

Bikes are are parked everywhere

prepackaged ingredients at the supermarket

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More Lights

We arrived in Amsterdam last night, but before my short-term memory fills up with Dutch food and landscapes and experiences, I’ll write about our last few days in Scandinavia.

The day after we saw The Lights, we had a play with the kick-sleds we’d borrowed from our host, Benko. He advised Greg that they worked best on an icy surface and told him that we should take them down to the road. So yeah, we went and played on the road. Cool.

It’s quite easy to get a good speed up with those things, it’s just that stopping can be a problem. I didn’t need to resort to throwing myself into the snow banks by the side of the road, thankfully. Benko lit the fire in his BBQ hut for us, so we went and sat in there for a while, on the benches lined with reindeer skins around the hut. A bit later in the day, he gave us some moose steak that his wife had shot a few months ago and we had it for dinner, sauteed in butter. By then, we were also watching more Aurora, so we cooked the steak in the cottage rather than down in the BBQ hut.

We went for a walk along one of the cross country ski trails near the cottage. Benko zapped past on skis with his dog Huma, part Husky, part Siberian Laika, to see how his wife was going with her moose hunting. Huma is a good hunting dog, but apparently they had a lot of trouble with her mother, who killed 3 reindeer near their house. The reindeer all belong to the Sami people, and each dead reindeer cost Benko at least AUD$1000. I think that dog has now gone to the big reindeer hunting ground in the sky.

The Aurora on that second night were even better than the previous night. Really vivid and active and amazing. They started just after 5pm, by which time it was completely dark and the moon was just setting, and lasted a couple of hours. Then it got cloudy and while we knew there were probably some spectacular lights happening, we couldn’t see them for the clouds. So that was it, we’ve been lucky enough to see some great Aurora on this trip.

Next day, Wednesday, we drove south towards Lulea. Stopped for lunch at Ikea at Haparanda on the Swedish side of the border with Finland. Ikea is currently renovating their restaurant kitchen, so they were offering a buffet lunch with meatballs, chicken balls and vegie balls plus potato bake & salad. We took a short side-trip back into Finland and south to Kemi, to look at the Snow Castle. We’re too frugal to pay the 15 euros per person to look inside it, let alone stay in the accommodation which starts at 600 euros per night, and we’d already seen its Swedish sister hotel at  Jukkasjarvi on our last trip, so we walked around the outside and past the north-ish facing cabins, er, Seaside Glass Villas,  with huge glass fronts that have obviously been talked-up as being good for viewing aurora. I still have a problem with places that claim it’s possible to see aurora from behind glass. I wouldn’t accuse them of outright lying, but they’re definitely stretching the truth.

And then back to The Old House at Palange, where we stayed for a couple of nights when we first arrived. We like it there, we like Petr the owner and we knew the place and the procedure, so it all worked well for us, with just an hour’s drive to Lulea to return the car and fly south on Thursday afternoon. We were lucky that we could stay there again, as Petr is flying to Czech Republic today to visit his family.

We had some spare time in Lulea so we drove to have a look at the outside of the Facebook Data Centre, just because we could. I was disappointed that there isn’t a huge ‘thumbs-up’ sign at the entrance, just a small sign that said ‘Facebook Entrance’, but we got a photo of Greg standing beside it. As he pointed out, Lulea is the perfect spot for a data centre with all those thousands of computers … no need for airconditioning, just let the outside air in to keep it all cool.

Returning the Volvo at the airport went smoothly – in the 2 weeks we had the car, we drove just over 1000kms, and used less than a full tank of diesel. It cost us just over AUD $100 to fill the car with 51 litres before we returned it, but that was the first time we’d visited a servo on this trip. Great fuel economy

Our flights to Stockholm and then on to Amsterdam were good. We flew Norwegian and got exit row seats to Stockholm, and then seats 1A and 1B on the flight to to Amsterdam. Which is possibly about as close to the pointy end of a plane as we’re going to get. Norwegian offers free wifi, so Greg had a lovely time watching TV shows and surfing the ‘net and seeing where we were flying, all on his phone.

We stayed at the Tulip Inn last night and had a lovely time at their buffet breakfast this morning. Greg wants to move to The Netherlands because they have chocolate sprinkles on bread for breakfast. And he hasn’t even tried the stroopwafels or appelstroop yet!


The sign to the Facebook data centre

Facebook data centre – lots of cool air around to cool those computers

The ice walls of the Snow Castle

The glass villas near the snow castle

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This is what we came for

Greg has been watching his favourite websites for clues as to when we might be lucky enough to see more Lights and it all seemed like the planets – or rather the coronal hole in the sun, the magnetic field and the solar wind – might be aligned last night. We went to bed and set the alarm for 10:30pm and  … there were Lights. Incredible, moving, shimmering, bright lights!

Watching the Lights is both greater and lesser than looking at photos of them. Lesser because our eyes can’t pick up the incredible colours that a camera can, or at least, our old short-sighted peepers can’t see those vivid greens or pinks or reds or purples, it all just looks like lighter bands, mostly towards the north, but sometimes stretching across the sky.

And greater because we can see the 3 dimensionality of them much better than the camera can: the curtains of light that really do shimmer or ripple when you know what to look for, and the way the lights bloom across the sky and shift while you’re watching them.

We spent a couple of hours standing and sitting just outside the front door of the cottage we’re staying in, occasionally nipping back inside to warm up when the Lights weren’t putting on much of a show. And then by 1am it was all over and the sky went back to its usual moonless darkness. We set the alarm to wake up every couple of hours, but there was no more action, although there is more predicted for this afternoon and tonight.

So, we’ve really seen them properly now. It’s taken a couple of trips and a lot of waiting around, but those couple of hours last night made it all worth it!


the BBQ house down by the river Muonio

the frozen river Muonio

walking on the frozen river Muonio

standing on the frozen river Muonio

inside the BBQ hut

looking into the cottage

inside the cottage


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Aareavaara, Sweden

I know, I know! It’s been days since we posted an update.

The last 8 days in our Finnish cabin in the snow seem to have gone past in a white blur of doing nothing much at all, and having a lovely time doing it. It’s the longest we have ever spent in one place, in the 16 years we’ve been travelling together. We weren’t lucky enough to see any more Lights, but we’re now staying just across the border in Sweden for a few more days, so we might get to see them again. The place we’re staying in now doesn’t have quite the same rustic charm of the previous place, but it is very comfortable and has a great view over the frozen Muonio River, which marks the Swedish/Finnish border. We can see across to Finland from the dining room windows.

While we were at Yllasjarvi, we did a bit of snowshoeing in the partly cleared area behind the cabin. It’s easier than just walking in snow boots, but I still kept managing to get stuck in thigh-deep snow occasionally. Greg gave up on his igloo-building and devoted some of his energy to making time-lapse videos of sunrises, sunsets and other goings-on around the cabin. They are beautiful to watch.

We called in to a Swedish supermarket on our way here to stock up on essentials that we couldn’t find in Finland – creamed rice and little hot dog buns – and learnt that older Swedish banknotes and coins are no longer legal tender. Some were phased out in the middle of last year, and others will be phased out in the middle of this year. I’d brought about 170 SEK (AUD $25 ) that I’d had left over from when we were here 3 years ago, and 2 x 20 kroner notes are now obsolete. The young woman at the checkout offered to exchange the rest of the notes and coins for me but I’ll just make sure we spend it all before we leave. I guess we’ll add the 20 kroner notes to Greg’s Zimbabwean 1 trillion dollar note, which is also no longer accepted as legal tender. There seems to be a move towards a cashless economy in Sweden – when we had brunch at Ikea last weekend, it was not possible to pay with cash, only with a plastic card as the checkout operator didn’t have a cash drawer.


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I haven’t written an update because it feels like not much has happened, but now I think about it, we have done a few things over the last couple of days.

We had another go at snow-shoeing on Monday and managed to get down to the nearby river. It’s still hard to get through deep snow in snow shoes, but easier than just wearing boots. When we came back inside we watched a Youtube video and we’d worked it out pretty well by ourselves, although we didn’t try anything tricky like going up or down hills, or over tree stumps. In the afternoon we drove the 5kms to Yllasjarvi, the nearest village, and visited the supermarket. There’s a large lake jarvi which is currently frozen, and we have seen people with dog sleds out on it. The ski resort is near the village and there is also a hotel and other accommodation, a service station and a place that rents out snow mobiles, skis and other snow-related gear. In the summer they probably cater for people wanting to use the lake for swimming, kayaking etc.

It has snowed a couple of times since we got here on Saturday – on Sunday night, and again today, Wednesday. A snowplough came by on Monday afternoon and cleared the road and also our driveway, which was handy.

Greg’s attempts to build an igloo continue. He abandoned the first one that he’d started on Sunday as it snowed a lot on Monday and partially filled the inside. He tried again yesterday, but it was a really cold day and it wasn’t possible to be outside for too long. It got down to -20C yesterday – it was a gorgeous day with clear sky and sunshine, but of course there was absolutely no warmth in the sun at all. It did make for some nice photos, though. I stayed inside the whole day; the closest I got to going outside was to nip out to the enclosed porch where all the snow shoes, toboggans and other winter gear is kept to check the temperature every few hours.

Today was a much milder day, with very overcast sky and occasional snow. Temp this morning was around -10C, and now at 9pm, it is currently 2C. We drove 40kms to Kitilla, the town to the north of here, to have lunch and do some grocery shopping. There is an airport there. We found a pub which claimed to have a cafe that served burgers and kebabs, but after a minor miscommunication in which we thought we were asking the publican where the cafe was, and him bringing us 2 cups of coffee, we learnt that the cafe is currently closed. So we went and had burgers & fries at one of the servos.

No Northern Lights action at the moment, but there is something predicted for the 27th or 28th.

Meanwhile, we’re loving this cabin we’re staying in, and we’re really happy to be spending a week here. When we leave here on Sunday, we’ve booked another one just across the border in Aareavaara in Sweden for 3 nights. It’s only about 70kms from here.

The cabin after even more snow


The car got covered by about 4cm of snow

cutting snow blocks for the igloo


An attempt at an igloo wall

Snow plowing the driveway

Sunrise at 11am

Judy inside in the warm while outside its -18C

Shopping for supplies in Kittilä

the choices of Reindeer meat

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Yllasjarvi, Finland

We’ve seen them!

After settling in to our Finnish cabin in the snow and exploring it – you know, opening cupboards and drawers, switching lights on and off and on and off, finding power points, moving furniture and making a mental note of where it was originally so we can put it back the way it was when we leave next weekend – Greg checked his favourite Aurora websites to see what was happening, and what they were predicting. It looked like we might see some Lights in the early hours of Sunday morning and the sky was clear, so if there was anything happening, we’d probably see it.

Our bladders always take longer than the rest of our bodies to get used to a new timezone, so when we were awake at 1am, we figured we might as well don all the layers of clothing and go outside to have a look. And … there they were! We’d left some lights on in the house, so we nipped back inside to put even more clothes on and turn the lights off, then walked down a path away from the road to an area behind the house with fewer trees and a better view of the sky. There’s a ski resort a few kms from here and its lights were still blazing, but we were able to stand and look at the sky without those lights interfering. Looking north, we could see a band of light above the horizon, not super-bright, and not really much colour, but it moved and it really was The Northern Lights! We stood and watched for 30 minutes or so, until they moved away from where we could see them well, so we went back inside to warm up.

That’s been it for seeing Northern Lights so far. Last night it was cloudy and there was no aurora activity predicted. It started snowing some time during the night, and is still snowing now, at 10:30am.

A bad picture of the Northern Lights

The cabin in the Finnish Woods

Judy snowshoeing

It snowed covering the Volvo

Inside the cabin with the fire going

Where we are in Finland


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Palange, Sweden

It’s been a couple of days since we wrote an update, so I’d better get it down ‘on paper’ before I forget. Not that much happened really. On Friday morning, on our one full day in Palange, Greg went out for a walk around the village while I drank coffee and tried to wake up.

In the afternoon we went out for a drive around the area and as I was scraping ice off the windscreen, our host Petr came out for a chat. He’s a night-shift worker at a nursing home in the next town. Works 5 nights a week, and also runs his Airbnb accommodation & the attached campground (summertime only). There seems to be quite a lot of summer accommodation in the area as it’s close to an inlet, so there are lots of water-related and outdoor activities for locals and visitors. There’s some agriculture, but we’re not sure what else the locals do for work … maybe like Petr, they work in the larger towns around.

Petr recommended that we drive, then walk, to the highest point in the area, so that we could see the inlet and the surrounding countryside. We drove a couple of kms, then turned off and went down a road which is maintained by the military – there were radar towers and a few closed-up buildings, and lots of snow plough tracks. We walked a km or so to get to the top of the hill. Great view from the top, and the walk warmed us up.

Yesterday we were up and away by just after 8am, to head to Finnish Lapland and our next Airbnb accommodation, where we’re staying for the next week. We stopped for a smorgasbord brunch at Ikea at Haparanda, on the Swedish-Finnish border. And yes, we drove our Volvo there. The only thing missing was some Abba music to really remind us of where we are. Then across the border to Tornio to buy a local Sim card for internet data, which was the best deal we’ve ever had – EU25 for unlimited data for 30 days. Greg is in heaven!

We drove up the border on the Finnish side on the E8, which follows the mostly frozen Torne River for quite a few kms. Stopped for the obligatory photo at the Arctic Circle and kept on going to our Airbnb cabin in the woods & snow at Yllasjarvi. We had the usual minor hassles finding it in the dark and with minimal signage, but we eventually found it and were all settled in by 6pm. Really lovely place, we’re delighted with it all and very happy to be spending a week here.

Scrapping the Ice of the windscreen

Walking up the lookout

Stopping for the Reindeer

Sunset near the Arctic circle

Crossing the Arctic circle again

The river bordering Finland and Sweden

1kg of creamed rice for $2.50

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Back in Sweden

3 plane fights, a 1 hour drive and about 28 hours after leaving home, we reached our first Airbnb accomodation at Palange in Swedish Lapland last night at 8,30pm. Our flights were good, and the third flight from Stockholm to Lulea cut off a couple of days’ driving time for us.

When we were here 3 years ago, we drove the 900kms each way, and the drive north was nice because we camped in a forest and woke up to snow everywhere the next morning. The drive south was horrible though, with the sun sitting on the horizon and limiting visibility, snow flurries making it even harder to see and getting to the airport with the bare minimum of time to catch our flight to Dubai.

Anyway, that was last time. This time we’re doing it differently. For a start, we have brought hardly anything with us – no camping gear, hardly any electronics, just warm clothes and a couple of other things. My checked bag weighed 12kg, and my carry-on weighed about 4kg; Greg’s checked bag weighed 15kg, but he is also carrying a couple of  very lightweight Helinox folding chairs and a folding table, because we might need them for sitting out and looking at lights (we hope!), and they can useful in hotel rooms as there is often only one chair and space for just one laptop. Greg’s carry-on weighed around 7kg as he carried both laptops and various other bits of electrical equipment. Compared with our usual combined 60kgs of checked baggage and 14+kgs of carry-on, wrangling such a small amount of baggage is a breeze.

We picked up our rental car at Lulea airport and to my great delight and amusement, it’s a Volvo! With heated seats (we call them ‘pizza warmers’, not that we have ever used them to keep a pizza warm, but we could) and very smart headlights which automatically dim from high beam when they detect an oncoming vehicle, then go back up to high beam when we’ve passed it. We’d actually booked something else, but when I looked at all the rental cars in the Hertz parking area, there only seemed to be Volvos. So Swedish!

Our Airbnb is a 100 year old timber house which is set up to offer group accommodation for at least 12 people, and is part of a campground in summer. It’s warm and very well insulated. We can see cars drive past on the road a few metres away, but can’t hear them because of the snow on the road and the triple-glazed windows. We’re spending a couple of nights here, then tomorrow we’re heading across the border and further north to Kolari in Finnish Lapland, and we’ll spend a week there. At the moment, sunrise there is at 10:30, sunset is 2:30, so there are plenty of night-time hours for watching Northern Lights. Greg is keeping an eye on the SpaceWeather website for information about solar activity.

Oh! And I’ve  just remembered one other thing that Greg brought in his checked bag … a pruning saw. To build an igloo. As one does. Watch this space!

Old Timber House in Palang Sweden

Camping in summer but accommodation in winter

Yes its a Volvo!

The rental Volvo came with the usual studded winter tyres

The local school with sleds parked outside. Kids outside during recess playing with their toboggans in the mild -4C

11 am and the Sun is just above the horizon as we are still south of the Arctic circle

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Dreaming of snow

It’s been a bit warm here. No actually, it’s been really, really hot! 42C-type hot for the last couple of days. It’s cooler today with a forecast top temp of 26C and when I was out and about earlier and the temp was around 20C, it felt cold. Nothing like the cold that’s going to hit us in a day or so though.

So this is Attempt No 2 to find the Northern Lights, and hopefully we’ll have better luck this time. Or at least, this time if there’s even a tiny glimmer of green in the sky, we’ll make darn sure we hang around and watch them, unlike last time where we made the classic newbies’ error of seeing them and thinking we’d see them again.

We’re flying to Stockholm, and then north to Lulea. Spending a couple of nights in an Airbnb  house at Kalix, which is north east of Lulea. Then we’re heading across the border and 200kms north to Kolari in Finland and spending a week there. We’re going to spend second half of the trip in The Netherlands, but don’t have many plans on what we’ll do there, other than hopefully catch up with our Dutch friends Mickey and Jaap.

Here’s something I learnt recently – you know how the plane cabin lights are dimmed for take-off and landing? I never really thought about why they did that, but it’s to get everyone’s eyes used to seeing in dimmer light in case of an emergency. Window shades are raised so that flight attendants can see if there’s a fire in one of the engines, or any debris that could affect an evacuation. And while it won’t be offered on any list of movies to watch on in-flight entertainment, ‘Sully’ is a really great movie, with a happy ending!


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