2018 saw the dawn of a new travel project “DESTINAZIONE GRANDE NORD” that kept us busy from mid-July for a fortnight, as we toured across Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden and Denmark to discover new places and gather new stories to tell.
There was no fundraising project on the agenda, just a desire to set-off, to discover, to observe with just a handful of coloured balloons ready, if the occasion should arise, to put a smile on the face of the local kids and mark our journey through those places. The common denominator is the desire to take a look at new countries, new habits and new cultures, all different from one another, in addition to the smiles of the children we will meet which will be the only and truly great gift for this new adventure.
GREAT NORTH DESTINATION
Up at 5:00 am.
The journey from Milan to Nuremberg, passing through Switzerland (San Bernardino, Splugen, along Lake Constance), with quite cool temperatures (13°) has us wearing thermals under our jackets.
First stop: Nuremberg (D)
We highly recommend the Hauptmarkt, the market square, where you will find yourselves right in the middle of German life, with its citizens and their customs. For dinner we treat ourselves to Schnitzel, with sauerkraut and a couple of good beers.
Location B&B Nurnberg-city. Strengths: secure underground parking, generous buffet breakfast, air-conditioning, Wi-Fi. Friendly, young, energetic staff, lift, clean with basic furnishings.
Second stop: Gdansk (PL)
The distance to the next stop is about a thousand km, so we will just be taking a rest break before setting off again to our next destination.
Location Studio Hevelius. Strengths: courtyard parking but with gates, very large room with simple furnishings, generous buffet breakfast, good Wi-Fi, located in the city centre.
Third stop: Riga (LV)
We decide to take an alternative route instead of the main road, which is faster but also much busier (State road 22), to Bartoszyce.
For dinner we have a traditional local soup, made with cabbage. We take a quick tour of the city where we are pleasantly surprised to discover an exhibition of bear statues in the central square, the “United Buddy Bears”.
Given the short distance between Riga and Tallinn, we allow ourselves to wake-up without an alarm and a few hours exploring the shops and buildings of the old town centre; we highly recommend Rigensis (Tirgonu tela, 8) an excellent bakery and pastry shop.
Location Hotel Garden Palace. Strengths: central city location, large, clean room, lift, Wi-Fi, secure, covered parking close to the hotel, breakfast buffet.
Fourth stop: Tallinn (EST)
The distance covered is around 350 km along a flat route with wide stretches of cornfields and very little traffic.
The city stands on the shores of the Baltic Sea, with a fortified old town centre, characterised by cobbled streets with plenty of cafes and shops.
For the evening, we organise dinner at one of the characteristic and very good breweries in the city, the Beer House.
The next morning we board the ferry to Helsinki where we will be staying for two days.
Location City Hotel Tallinn by Unique Hotels. Strengths: clean, modern room (in an annexe), Wi-Fi, excellent location, outdoor parking but with gates, very generous and varied breakfast buffet in an enchanting location.
Fifth stop: Helsinki (FIN)
Boarding the ferry with a bike is always a very emotional moment, almost as if it is the start of the real journey.
The ferry, booked on the internet (Direct Ferries), is beautiful and extremely clean, it has several restaurants, self-service and fast food outlets, slot machines, bars, duty free shops and a well-equipped outside veranda where we lunch on excellent smoked salmon! The prices are fair.
In the city you can visit a very good covered market (Old Market Hall), a destination for many tourists with kiosks that serve dozens and dozens of varieties of smoked salmon. There is also a lovely open market, called “Kauppatori” where you can eat fried fish, grilled salmon and drink cold beer.
The restaurants are all very beautiful and characteristic but, as you can imagine, quite expensive!
Location Hostel Domus Academica (Hostel). Strengths: central location, uncovered parking within the structure, general cleanliness, friendly staff, private room with bathroom.
Weak points: lack of air-conditioning, very small rooms, dated structure.
Sixth stop: Rovaniemi (Lapland-FIN)
Up at five in the morning for a journey that sees us reach Rovaniemi, in Lapland, after 850 km.
As we leave the sky does not look at all promising… in actual fact it starts to rain just a few minutes later.
The landscape is a succession of fir and pine forests and a crescendo of signs that draw our attention to the danger of crossing reindeer. And the light… which at these latitudes, in this period, doesn’t dim even in the middle of the night. We decide to have a quick dinner of hamburgers with the usual local beer and a typical soup of salmon and milk.
The next morning is the great day for the visit to Santa Claus Village, which also marks the passage to the Arctic Circle, Napapijri, where we write the obligatory postcard to our relatives.
Location Penthouse Luxus City Apartments. Strengths: central location, covered parking in private garage, lovely, clean room
Seventh stop: Umea (SWE)
The next morning we leave at five to head towards Umea, in Sweden, where we arrive in the middle of the afternoon on a particularly warm day. Life seems calm although with a vitality that is decidedly unknown to the Finland that we have just left behind.
The city is crossed by a river where, on both sides, there are stretches of green occupied by people enjoying picnics, as they admire the beautiful villas surrounding them.
The hotel is just a few hundred metres from the city centre and is of relative importance as it is home to the university and several medical research centres.
Location First Hotel Dragonen. Strengths: central location, spacious, clean rooms, secure covered parking just at a short distance from the hotel.
Eighth stop: Orebro (SWE)
This destination offers us wonderful scenery, green landscapes stretching as far as the eye can see and beautiful lakes.
The villas on the river and in the old city are a delight for those who decide to spend their holidays in this part of Sweden.
Location First Hotel Orebro. Strengths: central location, spacious, clean rooms, affiliated parking just two minutes from the hotel.
Ninth stop: Copenhagen (DK)
The traffic gradually gets busier as we approach Denmark, and an increasing number of camper vans start to appear.
Before reaching Copenhagen we stop for a few hours at Malmoe to visit Francesco, a Sicilian who moved to Sweden several years ago where he now works and lives with his wife and their beautiful little girl. On leaving Malmoe we take about twenty minutes to reach Copenhagen, crossing the Oresund Bridge: kilometres of cement directly over the North Sea.
The crossing is very exciting, thanks to the majesty of the infrastructure and the fact that you feel you are truly on the sea, completely isolated from the land.
Copenhagen welcomes us for two intense days full of sun, relaxation and tours. The city is a pleasant surprise and is by far the most beautiful of those we have seen during our entire trip; so much to see and do, and excellent food made for a wonderful two-day stay.
Location Steel House Copenhagen (Hostel). Strengths: central location, very clean structure, young, energetic staff, covered, private parking next to the structure.
Weak points: rooms too small, perfect just for a very short stay
Tenth stop: Leipzig (D)
We have to leave Denmark, to board the ferry once more, this time heading to Germany, and more precisely Rostock. Once we leave the ferry the motorway for Leipzig is already very busy and we are forced to take several detours and sit in traffic because of various forest fires.
This route sees us surrounded by a completely different Germany to that of the Bavaria we are used to, and at last we manage to reach Leipzig.
A quick tour of the old town centre, pleasantly lively as it is the weekend, gives us the chance to enjoy dinner with the inevitable pork knuckle and beer, in one of the most famous and historical breweries of the city.
Location Apartment Central Leipzig. Strengths: central location, spacious, clean rooms, secure parking within the structure
Eleventh stop: Augsburg (D)
The journey is coming to a close and for the last day we decide to stay in Augsburg, in Bavaria, one of the oldest cities in Germany with an old town centre full of houses in mediaeval architecture, situated on the shores of the River Lech.
Location Intercity Hotel Augsburg. Strengths: central location, spacious, clean rooms, secure parking within the structure.
Piero and Debora, husband and wife who love travelling and motorcycles, creators of the project/association “Insellaperlavita”.
In 2015 they decided to discover Northern Europe, while in 2016 they undertook a challenging journey towards the east, reaching Russia, up to Moscow and St. Petersburg…
Getting back on the bike now to face the challenge of a new journey, after two years and some misadventures, has taken on a new flavour, there is greater awareness, but it is always such a beautiful experience!