For us, camping holidays evoke wonderful memories of leaking tents, collapsing chairs, charred burgers and UHT milky tea. Cross the channel in 2012 and it’s a very different story; in Denmark you find what can only be described as five star luxury in the guise of camping. A toilet block on a campsite should be cold, concrete, poorly lit with the floor awash and those little rock-like soap bars that never produce any lather.
For the Danes at Ribe campsite, a 2am trip to the loo and there are night-lights in your toilet cubicle and Bruce Springsteen piped through all the bathrooms (communal of course!). The children’s bathroom tops this; a floor to ceiling fish tank behind which a huge plasma TV screen plays ‘Finding Nemo’ 24/7 while kids scrub-up in a marine-themed washroom complete with pirate ship baby bath (not that there was any mud on this site). In stark contrast the bathroom for our next nights camping looked like this.
The grass looked like it had been meticulously trimmed with a spirit level and nail scissors and each highly manicured pitch was perfectly symmetrical to the next, separated from your neighbours with a privet hedge.
Primus stoves precariously balancing a pan of beans are a thing of the past; Danish glamping has a modern kitchen with cooking stations dotted around the walls complete with oven, hob and microwave. No more wobbling on fold-out stools around an inadequately-sized formica-topped (bubbled with damp) camping table; there is a dining room with sizeable and stable furniture. Caravans still account for a large proportion of the outdoor-seeking masses but across the channel this alone is not enough. Huge awnings, marquee-sized tents and gazebos stretch out from all sides and people even erect full-scale adjoining decking terraces with garden 3 piece suites.
For Norwegians, the cabin is the outdoor abode of choice; villages of identical, twee wooden mini-homes dot every hillside with a pretty view (ie most of Norway). Complete with fridges, ‘proper’ beds and often satellite television these luxury huts accommodate swarms of tourists fleeing the cities during the Scandinavian summer months. As we head west from Europe into Asia we will be denied the option of checking in to organised camping with it’s hot showers and flushing toilets and face real wilderness survival in the great, beautifully disorderly, outdoors.
Owing to our delayed departure and a pressing need to ‘Rush to Russia’ to maximize our visa validity we motored the first part of Europe- England to Denmark- at quite a pace. Our passports were literally swept from the postman and into our rucksack on Thursday then we hot-footed it down to Dover and watched the white cliffs fade into the distance as we sailed into the channel towards the French coast. On arrival in France we instantly went the wrong direction (possibly not a good omen) but were soon back on track and settled a couple of hours later in a layby nestled amongst a row of camper vans.
A quick diversion into Blankenburg to start the day Belgian style with a hot chocolate sat on the square of a wonderful bustling market. Belgian and Holland were raced through on motorways (a few windmill pics taken at 60 mph) and our second stop for the night was in the ‘Wilderhauser Geest’ woods in Germany.
A glimpse at a sunny Saturday in Germany made us want to temporarily take root in Bremen- rows of tables in beer tents along the riverside with bands playing and Bratwurst vans sizzling but we had culture to absorb and it was in every direction in this city. A staggeringly impressive cathedral and town hall around the main square and a maze of tiny streets packed with haphazard, Lilliput-style buildings housing art galleries, cafes and shops selling kitsch statues of the classic ‘musicians of bremen’ animal ‘stack’. With time to make up we travelled north into Denmark and settled in what can only be described as the most orderly, scarily sterile ‘glamping site’. Due to long days behind the wheel we have been alternating our camping spots between proper camping sites and wild locations.
A meander all the way along Denmark’s stunning sand dune and moorland west coast brought us to Thy national park where we camped more comfortably in silent forested wilderness. To round off our final day before crossing the water to Norway we visited Grenen, the most northerly point in Denmark where a sandy beach tails off into a sandy spit at which point you can stand with one foot in the Skagerrat and one in the Kattergat sea. A Wadden Seal bobbed in the calm waters as we walked back down the beach and headed for Hirtshals and our ferry to Norway.
We have now embarked on our trip and have arrived in Norway after driving Bee-Bee for 6 days up through France, Belgium, Germany and Denmark. After a nice little relax in Tønsberg we are about to heard North into the Norwegian wilds. The country is huge and with a population of just 4.7 million the roads are likely to be quieter than Denmark (which was very quiet). More detailed updates to follow shortly, for now if you missed our BBC film you can watch it here.
Our second monthly update in Gallery Magazine can now be viewed online, this months theme for issue #7 is Miniature. You can view it here and also catch-up on issue #6 if you missed that one too.
... or face-to-face with an entanglement of red tape for not just one, but three central Asian countries.
We decided to apply for our Russian, Mongolian and Kazakhstan visas from the UK before we left to allow a few clear months of bureaucracy-free motoring. Good plan; more time in the wilds of Siberia. Bad plan; a month behind schedule while our passports go back and forth between central Asian consulates and agents.
A visa is essentially an authorization by the government of a country granting you eligibility and permission to travel there, mainly in the form of a stamp in your passport. Visa types vary massively; tourist, business, transit, student, employment, diplomatic (marriage?) they can be single, double or multiple-entry, vary in validity and duration and cost anywhere from nothing to over £200. A Russia visa is the highest-priced in the world, costing 3 times more than the next expensive country. Then there are the ‘support documents’, the additional paperwork that a government requests along with your application form. The best advice is “know before you go”; check out any restrictions on countries you plan to visit here.
The first step in obtaining a Russian business visa is the ‘Letter of Invitation’; impossible to get independently as it comes from Moscow and is written in Russian, so you need to pay an agent whose speed in obtaining this depends on how much you pay them. The Russian authorities want to see 3 months bank statements (verified and stamped by your bank) with a minimum balance of £3,000. We had to state that we do not have dangerous mental afflictions (!) and we have no skills in firearms, nuclear explosives or biological substances or have a military background. For Kazakhstan we needed to provide a hotel booking confirmation, despite the fact that we don’t need to stay there or even visit that particular town. Kazakh officials want to see a cover letter explaining why you want to visit and outlining your itinerary. Only Mongolia wanted to check we were insured!
Rest assured this is by no means a moan; as British citizens we are fortunate enough to possess a passport which allows us huge freedom to travel to most countries worldwide, globally we rank 5th in facing the least restrictions. Check out the Henley Visa Restrictions Index to see how your country ranks in ‘travel freedom’; the Danes and Swedes are onto a winner but spare a thought for Nepali, Pakistani and Afghan citizens who rank bottom when it comes to visiting other countries. We Brits are incredibly lucky in this regard, something we generally take way too much for granted.
After a month’s wait we are relieved to know that all 3 of our visa's have been granted and we are now only 24 hours away from our passport being released from the last consulate. I may be tempting fate saying this, but next day delivery of our passports should see them back in our eager hands Tuesday morning to be quickly packed in the car and heading East before the sun sets. We’re finally off and are sure to encounter much more visa ‘fun’ along the way.
For more detailed information about Visas for Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan visit our 'Logistics' page.
For me, Lush was a natural choice (literally) when it came to all things soap-like. Although we are travelling without access to ‘normal’ bathroom facilities, that is no reason to let personal hygiene slide! However, as most of our time will be spent camping in the wilderness we are conscious of ‘treading lightly’ so don’t want to leave any nasty chemicals, artificial bubbles or plastic bottles in our wake. In addition, bottles of liquid shampoo, soaps and moisturisers are heavy and every extra gram makes the car heavier and less economical.
Our shampoo, conditioner, hand moisturiser, soap and even deodorant are all solid bars; no water as an ingredient means no preservatives and no packaging (minimising waste). Each shampoo bar lasts between 80 and 100 washes and barely weighs anything. Our deodorant does not contain aluminium to block pores (most anti-perspirants do!) using gentler elements to minimise sweating. ‘Dream Cream’ contains Camomile and Calamine to soothe sunburnt or ‘stung’ skin in addition to moisturising. Toothpaste tubes cannot be recycled (taking over 450 years to degrade!); we use solid ‘Toothy Tabs’ which weigh 5 times less and come in a recycled cardboard box. Our seaweed Sea Vegetable soap contains sea salt and antiseptic lavender oil (to banish ‘nasties’) but will not leave horrid chemicals on the ground when we wash ‘al fresco’.
We like companies with strong environmental and ethical values; Lush does not test on animals, everything is hand-made with fresh, fairly-traded ingredients (and they don’t even advertise their products). It’s good value too- with most expensive face creams you pay more for the supermodel who tells you how ‘great’ it is than the actual ingredients. Through careful choices like this we can be clean and smell nice for 800 days whilst minimising our impact on the planet we are exploring.