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Return to the UK from Norway and Sweden: October 2011

A Journey through Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands

Margaret and Barry Williamson
October 2011

Continued from: IN SWEDEN 2011

Click: Images of the Journey South through Sweden

Introduction

Our IMG_1168.JPG12-week, 4,700-mile (7520 km) journey through coastal Norway took us from the southern tip of the country, at Lindesnes Lighthouse, to Narvik via the Lofoten and Vesteralen islands. Turning south through Sweden, we arrived in Malmo after another 1,645 miles (2630 km). Our intention is to cross into Denmark just south of Copenhagen, using the 10-mile Oresunds Link. Later, a ferry into Germany will takIMG_2362.JPGe us further south, then west into Holland en route to the UK.

We usually travel as motorhomers, but on this journey we are trying out a short wheelbase Mercedes Sprinter van pulling a 2-berth Compass caravan. Among much else and ready for anything, the Sprinter carries our Paul Hewitt touring bicycles and a tent.

OCTOBER 2011

Malmo (formerly Sibbarp) Camping, Malmo, Sweden

Open all year, see www.firstcamp.se/malmo.  Price charged (cards OK) 290 SK per day, including electricity and showers. Campsite WiFi 39 SK for 8 hrs or 99 SK for 24 hrs. WiFi also available by paying Telia Homerun on-line (20 SK for 1 hr or 50 SK for 24 hrs) – but Camp Reception do not tell you this!

Joining the southbound E6/E20 at junction 53, 7 miles from our Varberg campsite, we headed down the quiet 4-lane motorway (no tolls in Sweden except for the Oresunds Link bridge/tunnel to Denmark – of which more later).

After lunch in a rest area at 51 miles, we continued for 80 miles to Malmo, exit 12, where we joined the inner ring road signed for Limhamn. This was the SatNav's best suggestion for a route to Malmo Camping, 5 miles of urban traffic south-west of the city centre! With hindsight, it's better to use exit 11 (the last one before the Oresund Bridge), though that is still a busy 4 miles from the camp. With even more hindsight, Malmo Camping is best avoided, albeit ACSI-listed and a member of Sweden's Blix First Camp chain – but it's the only one anywhere near the city!

This vast camp proved to be the most expensive - and least welcoming - site we've stayed on in this year's 5-month tour of all 4 Scandinavian countries (including high-price Norway). What a contrast with the site we'd just left at Varberg! The price (almost £30), which did not even include internet, remains the same year-round, though cafe and shop are now closed and everything looks rough round the edges. The Receptionist could not have been more off-hand, allocating a pitch that was sloping and some way from the facilities – though there was plenty of space. 'No you can't look round and choose you place – if you don't like it, come back and I'll give you another'.

Declining to pay an extra 99 SK for WiFi, we settled reluctantly for a short stay, after shopping at the nearest Lidl (with in-store baked rolls, buns and croissants!) Then, turning the lap-top on, we found we were in a Telia Homerun Hot Spot at half the camp's price for 24 hrs – Reception made no mention of that! As on a couple of previous Swedish campsites, Homerun worked well.

Heinos Camping, Tappernoje, Zealand, Denmark – 69 miles

Open all year, see http://heinoscamping.dk-camp.dk/.  Price charged (cash only) 130 DK per day including electricity. Token needed for Showers. No internet.

Leaving Malmo's overpriced campsite, it was 4 miles and several roundabouts to junction 11 of E20 westbound: the motorway that crosses to Copenhagen via the 10-mile Oresunds Link:http://uk.oresundsbron.com/page/34. The tollbooths are 2 miles later at the entrance to the bridge, accepting Swedish, Danish or Euro currency, or credit cards. A car + caravan (or a motorhome over 6m long) cost 720 SK or 590 DK. Vehicles below 6m pay just over half that amount.

The massive suspension bridge, a double-decker with trains beneath, is sometimes closed to high-sided vehicles in strong winds. This morning was certainly windy - but fortunately a head-wind rather than gusting from the side - and our combination of small caravan and heavy tow-car (Mercedes Sprinter van) is very stable. The 4-lane dual carriageway bridge is 5 miles long, arching 60m/200 ft above the shipping lane before descending onto the man-made island of Peberholm, where the highway apparently disappears into the sea – a strange feeling as you drive towards infinity! After 2.5 miles across the tiny artificial island, there is a well-lit 2.5-mile submarine tunnel, which surfaces near Copenhagen's Kastrup airport on Dragor island! The whole breathtaking feat – Sweden's only road link with mainland Europe, except via Russia and St Petersburg – was completed in 1999. It was opened with a symbolic embrace, halfway across the new bridge, of Sweden's Crown Princess and Denmark's Crown Prince (ahh!)  

After this novel way of crossing a border (underwater!), our onward journey was straightforward, following motorway E20 west. At 21 miles a short bridge crossed to the large island of Zealand, where we continued, past all the exits for Copenhagen, with no further tolls. During a break on the first services, at 35 miles, we noted the international mix of vehicles: trucks from Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Germany, Holland – and the first British we'd seen in over 4 months was a motorhome! 6 miles later we turned south on E47 (E20 continues west to another mighty toll bridge - the Great Belt Bridge across to Funen).

We left E47 at exit 38, at 65 miles, and drove east to the small agricultural village of Tappernoje. Turn left at the traffic lights and there are 2 basic campsites along rd 151 (the old north-south road). We knew the first one, Heinos Camping, from a night there during our swift return to England last June, for the funeral of Margaret's mother. It's a quiet farm site, with level grassy hedged pitches, a few cabins and simple facilities (no washing machine or internet here). The friendly old owner, who lives on site, keeping busy with his tractor and bees, calls round in the evening for the money. Otherwise, we have the place to ourselves.

Maribo So (= Lake) Camping, Maribo, Lolland, Denmark – 45 miles

Open 1 April to 23October, see www.maribo-camping.dk. Price charged 209 DK per day including electricity and showers (card payments incur a 3.5% surcharge). WiFi 50 DK for 2hours - or 100 DK for 3 consecutive days.

Just 3 miles from Tappernoje back to E47, southbound. At 18 miles there was a rest area overlooking the bridge ahead, from Zealand to the next island, Falster. After another 11 miles we were across Falster, entering a short submarine tunnel to Lolland, Denmark's southernmost island. There were no bridge or tunnel tolls. We paused in the next rest area at 33 miles, noticing fields of sugar beet with recently harvested piles awaiting collection at the roadside. Polish immigrants probably still come to work in the fields and sugar processing plants, just as they did in the 18th century.

Taking exit 48 for Maribo at 43 miles, we drove into the centre and followed signs to the ACSI-listed campsite, set among Bangshave Woods on the side of Sonderso Lake, next to an Open Air Museum. Despite this very rural setting, it's only half a mile back to the town centre, with plenty of shops including Lidl and Aldi! The Receptionist was particularly welcoming – as were the ducks.

Canoes and boat trips are available on the lake in summer but, according to the signs, bathing is not recommended 'unless the water is clear enough to see your feet when it's up to your knees', due to algae! Do ducks have knees?

The internet worked well for our 3-day stay, during which we finally (and reluctantly) worked out a schedule for returning to the UK. No reservations are needed for the short ferry crossing from Rodbyhavn (just 10 miles south of Maribo) to Puttgarden in Germany. We did, however, book on-line for a Stena ferry from Hook of Holland to Harwich.

Cycling round the Lake (27 km/17 miles): On the third day rain and hailstorms subsided, though a cold wind persisted. We rode clockwise round Sonderso Lake, following a signed bike route (about 25 km) for much of the way, except where the woodland path was waterlogged near the end. It made a splendid ride for an autumn afternoon, on which we saw barely a soul – and only one other cyclist, taking his dog for a walk.

From the campsite, the route took us through the centre of Maribo, then along quiet lanes past the modern St Birgitta Convent, on the site of its medieval forebear. Towards the eastern end of the lake, the cycle/footpath left the road and ran through lofty mature woods, the forest floor thick with russet leaves, acorns crunching under our tyres. Out at the far end of the lake there was a bird hide and picnic tables, where we had a break and watched Coot, Swans, Grebe and Ducks.

Returning, the path continued through woodland, then joined a long straight lane along a former railway line, back to Maribo. We didn't take a lakeside short cut on the path leading to the Open Air Museum, knowing it was flooded (having set out that way and turned back!)

DENMARK TO GERMANY

Campingplatz Lübeck-Schönböcken, Lübeck, Germany – 71 miles (+ ferry)

Open all year, see www.camping-luebeck.de . Price charged (cards OK) €18.50 per day including electricity. Showers €0.50 for 5 mins. WiFi €1 for 1 hour.

After a stop in Maribo to spend our remaining Danish currency on diesel, it was only 2 miles back to the motorway E47. We drove south to Rodby, at 12 miles, for the Scandlines ferry across to Puttgarden – the shortest crossing from Scandinavia to Germany (45 minutes away). We arrived in time to see the 10.15 am boat casting off but they run every half hour.

On the surprisingly crowded ferry, there was time to walk round, check out the shops (bought 3-for-price-of-2 chocolate bars) and change money if necessary. There was also a busy cafe. We talked to a group of about 20 extremely smart Pakistani gentlemen with a range of intriguing headwear and discovered they were a textile trade delegation, returning from Oslo. Several of them hailed from Bradford and we were given warm handshakes when they learnt we came from Huddersfield, another Yorkshire woollen mill town.

Landing at Puttgarden, on Schleswig-Holstein's flat sandy Fehmarn Island, the weather had turned wet again. We followed a line of traffic south-west on B207 (E47) for 9 miles to the bridge that carries road and railway onto the German mainland. After a further 8 miles (with road widening work underway), E47 becomes the 4-lane A1 motorway. There was a parking/WC area 16 miles along this old Autobahn, then a simple service station 8 miles later. By now the rain was torrential and we decided to turn off at Lübeck for a campsite we remembered using years ago in the Four Winds motorhome.

Taking exit 23 (Lübeck-Schönböcken), we followed signs for Schönböcken and Camping to the friendly ACSI-listed site, just a mile off the motorway. From here it's an easy 2-mile cycle ride into the centre of the charming Hanseatic Town of Lübeck – but not in this weather! Or you can take a bus from the gate.

Camping Aschenbeck, Dotlingen-Aschenbeck, Wildeshausen – 130 miles

Open all year, see www.aschenbeck-camping.de . Price charged €16.00  per day including electricity and WiFi. Showers €0.75 for 6 mins.

It was an easy mile back to the A1 motorway, to drive south-west in the rain. After some 40 miles we passed many exits for the extensive city of Hamburg (designated HH for Hansestadt Hamburg) - Germany's largest port, despite being about 40 miles inland along the River Elbe. We crossed the river, to the east of the city centre, via a short tunnel and 2 bridges, then continued on A1 towards Bremen.

There were very few service stations, and several rest areas were blocked off by lengthy sections of road-widening works. After 82 miles we turned off at exit 49 for a lunch break in a huge lorry park (Autohof), then faced more road works along the A1.

At 106 miles we crossed the River Weser, near Bremen. After a further 20 miles, we took exit 60 for Wildeshausen. The campsite lay 4 miles north of the town, along increasingly narrow country lanes – not an easy access. On arrival it appeared closed but a phone call to the number displayed at Reception soon brought a man to open the barrier and take our money.

The site is mainly statics with twee gardens, but there are 3 grassy areas for tourers. Mature woodlands skirt the site, home to a colony of rabbits, and there is a good restaurant (closed this week!) 

INTO HOLLAND

Camping Mounewetter, Witmarsum, Friesland – 158 miles

Open 1 April-31 Oct, see www.mounewetter.nl. Price charged (cash only) €16.00 per day with ACSI Card discount, including local tax and electricity. Showers €0.50, washing-up water €0.20. WiFi €20 for 12 hrs (!) but not working.

After returning 4 miles and crossing A1 motorway, we took rd B213 which skirts Wildeshausen, then runs straight through dense woods (with many Wild Deer warning signs) via Ahlhorn to Cloppenburg. We passed 2 campsites a mile apart on the right of B213, conveniently near A1 exit 61 - if only we'd known, Camping Burgerpark was open despite Caravan Club guide's 'end September' closing date.

Following B213 into Cloppenburg, at 23 miles we turned into a large free car park on the left at the Museumsdorf (Germany's oldest open-air museum). There is an area signed for motorhomes (max 24 hrs) and it's less than a mile to walk or cycle from here into the town, where parking is virtually impossible.

We cycled into Cloppenburg to leave a pair of jeans needing a new zip with the obliging Turkish tailor in the town centre. We had met Ufuk Esentac in June, on our way back to England for Margaret's mother's funeral, when he shortened the black trousers bought for the service. While waiting for the repair, shopping at Lidl and Netto (resisting the Christmas goodies already on sale in mid-October) and a Burger King lunch passed the time.

Back on the Cloppenburg ring road, we headed west to take rd 213, then 402, to the Dutch border. Along the way a pair of plain-clothes police in an unmarked black VW car stopped us. They politely checked all our car's papers and passports, queried why the caravan had the same number as the tow-van (each must be separately registered in Germany), then waved us off.

The sun finally broke through as we crossed the Ems River at 62 miles, followed by the Dutch border at Schoninghsdorf  8 miles later. A quiet 4-lane motorway A27/E23 continued west, with lunch on the first services at 89 miles. We took exit 24 at 105miles near Meppel, to link with north-bound A32 after 3 miles. Turning west on A7 at 132 miles, we continued across the flat green Friesian Cowscape past Sneek. Exit 16 at 156 miles took us into Witmarsum, where the ACSI Card scheme lists a campsite at €15, open to end October. We   had phoned to check this and intended to stay for a couple of days.

Following signs through the narrow maze of a housing estate, we finally reached the campsite – with a closed barrier and a locked Reception. The disembodied voice on the intercom asked us to wait and after at least 15 minutes the 2 wardens turned up in a car. The price was actually €16 (with local tax), there was a charge for showers (which turned out to be lukewarm), the unisex toilet/shower block was cold, there was no toilet paper, and even the washing-up water was coin-operated. The wardens demanded that we park on the driveway opposite the toilets, as the grass pitches were too soft after rain. There was one other tourer (also parked on the drive) and many statics.

Walking round, we saw a row of hard-standing gravel pitches, all nicely hedged and empty. No, we were not allowed on those either! Clearly, the staff regarded the site as closed and acted as if doing us a favour. The WiFi charges were excessive but it wasn't working in any case. Since it was late in the day, we stayed one reluctant night (and sent ACSI a frank review).

Kijkduin Holiday Park, Den Haag (The Hague), Noord Holland – 110 miles

Open all year, see www.kijkduinpark.nl. Price charged (cards OK) €19.00 per day with ACSI Card discount, including  local taxes, electricity and showers. WiFi (with Skybites on-line)at €7 for 1 day, €9 for 2 days, €11 for 3 days, €19.50 per week.

Returning 2 miles to the A7, it was only another 5 miles to the large car park and museum at the northern end of the Afsluitdijk. Last summer we had parked the motorhome here and cycled across the dike but today this did not appeal, due to a strong south-easterly, despite the sunshine!

The Afsluitdijk (meaning 'Closure dike'), completed 1932, is an impressive piece of engineering. Built across the former Zuiderzee, the dam separates the IJsselmeer (now a huge shallow freshwater lake) from both the Waddenzee and the North Sea. It lies about 25 feet (8 m) above sea level and is 19 miles (31 km) long, linking the provinces of Noord-Holland and Friesland. The dam was constructed of boulder clay backed by sand and is faced with stone to just below water level, on a base of boulders resting on mats of willow. There is a 4-lane dual carriageway and separate bicycle path along the top of the dam; locks provide passage for barges and small seagoing craft. Large parts of the lake's total area of 1,328 square miles (3,440 square km) have been reclaimed by constructing encircling dikes and pumping the water out. As a result, the land area of The Netherlands has been increased by 626 square miles (1,620 square km) of fertile polders. Statistics aside, crossing it makes a splendid cycle ride or drive with breathtaking views, twixt ocean and lake.

Driving south on the seaward side, 6 miles after the museum there is a bridge to the lakeside picnic area and service station, where we paused to read the information boards. The creation of the lake has seriously affected the habitat, with a loss of diversity in the bird, fish, plant and animal life. Regulated by sluices, the formerly brackish water of the Zuidersee has been replaced by fresh water, partly by inflow from the IJssel River, a branch of the Rhine River. The original fishing for herring, anchovies, and flounder has been replaced by freshwater fisheries, chiefly for eels. In spring, the eel larvae, born in the Sargasso Sea (a large tract of relatively still water in the North Atlantic Ocean) enter the lake through the locks. Most of the seals that once lived in the Zuiderzee now inhabit the Wadden Islands.

Continuing along the dike for a further 7 miles, there is more parking on both sides of the highway, with a lookout tower and cafe on the lakeside. This is the spot for photographs – ours was taken by a Dutch biker out on his classic Harley – both handsome in black leather. Regaining the mainland 3 miles later, we continued south on the A7, with lunch in the next rest area at 29 miles.

The polders of Noord Holland are flat and green as a billiard table: Quintessential Netherland, with traditional thatched windmills as well as modern wind farms, and acres of market garden with glasshouses. Grey heron, cormorant, ducks and geese feed by the canals; everyone, old or young, rides a bicycle along the safe Fietspads.

Suddenly it all changed! Joining the A8 at 62 miles, and A10 a mile later, we then crawled round the 8-lane Amsterdam Ring Road for 6 slow miles until we reached the busy A4 - the motorway linking Amsterdam with the country's capital at The Hague. After passing Schiphol Airport at 73 miles, A4 actually tunnels under its runways!

Exiting A4 onto N222 (for The Hague and Hook of Holland) at 103 miles, we followed signs to the coast at Kijkduin. The huge holiday centre had long queues at Reception (dealing with both accommodation and camping) as today is the start of a long weekend and school holiday, though there was plenty of room on the sprawling wooded campsite. This is an ACSI off-season bargain, the campsite being ideally placed to visit The Hague or catch a Rotterdam ferry - and the Skybites WiFi worked well for the 2 days.

Next day we shopped in Kijkduin (Lidl) and filled with diesel (less than English prices).

In the afternoon we cycled north along the coastal bike path to Scheveningen, The Hague's port. The busy Fietspad ran through the dunes, with its own speed bumps to slow the racers. Let Op – Fietsdrempels! Reaching the capital's suburbs, the cycle route was very poorly signed round the port to the promenade, where there are cafes, a pier, surfing clubs, a lighthouse and plenty of people enjoying Saturday by the beach. After delicious coffees (topped with whipped cream and toffee syrup, served with cinnamon biscuits!) we returned (total ride 27 km/17 miles). We hadn't noticed that the last section of promenade actually banned bicycles (with a paying bike-park) but no-one stopped us, though we did have a close encounter with a tram!

RETURN TO ENGLAND: HOOK OF HOLLAND–HARWICH FERRY

Stranger's Home Inn & Camping, Bradfield, Nr Harwich, Essex – 20 miles (+ ferry)

Open all year, see http://www.strangershome.co.uk/. Price charged £18.00 per day including electricity and showers. Free WiFi in the bar. Excellent full English breakfast in the bar - the last or the first!

Leaving Kijkduin at noon, it was an easy 11 miles along the N211 to the Stena Line terminal at Hook of Holland.

We were very early for the 2.30 pm ferry but were ushered straight on board the Stena Hollandica (launched May 2010). It shares the twice daily 7-hour crossing to Harwich with a sister ship, Stena Britannica (Oct 2010) – currently the world's largest passenger ferries. Each ship can carry 1,200 passengers and 230 cars, travelling at 22 knots. We took one of the 538 cabins (en-suite, TV, free WiFi) for only £20 or so extra (they cost much more on the overnight sailing). Even the food was good: a choice of 'meal of the day' for £8 included a free drink (Heineken, naturally) and the chicken curry, rice and nan bread was well above average.

After a smooth crossing we docked on time soon after 9 pm (or 8 pm British time). We drove 9 miles of dark lanes to Bradfield and the welcoming lights of a traditional country pub. The Stranger's Home also offers B&B, meals (including Full English Breakfast) and a level grassy campsite. We were soon asleep, dreaming of that FEB next morning ... 

(Continued atTravel Notes: Scandinavia 2011)