Part of van life is to try to make it feel like a home from home, especially if you’re using it as a long term base. For me, this means eating as healthily as we did at home, and to trying to ensure a varied diet. So, I’ve been out foraging – trying to find fresh, free ingredients on our travels. Sweden in particular was great for this, not just because of the timing of our visit there, but because foraging and fishing are allowed pretty much anywhere. Since then, we’ve kept our eyes open along the way – through Germany, Holland, Belgium, France and now back in the UK.
I’ve made several pies and some lovely jam. I’ve also added them to our morning smoothie.
On the Dutch coast, we found plenty and enjoyed it blanched with a sardine salad and also with tuna pasta dishes. It’s salty flavour really goes well with seafood.
A type of hazelnut, I waited for them to go brown, toasted them and added them to our breakfast bars instead of almonds. We don’t have a nut cracker in the van… so I used the pliers!! Everything has more than one use, it’s about time those pliers earned their keep.
Apples and Blackberries
Now we’re back in the UK, there’s plenty of blackberries and apples, so I’m looking forward to long walks foraging with the dogs, and a surfeit of crumbles… mmm!
Wild raspberries too – Didn’t find a huge amount (Boo learned how to pick them, so we lost a good few!) but they were great on top of our breakfast cereal.
Our good friend Guy has lent us a fishing rod, so if and when we head back to Europe, we’re going to be spending some time in the lakes of Germany and Sweden trying to catch our supper. We’ve had a first foray in the North sea at Robin Hood’s Bay, hoping to catch sea bass…will keep you posted…
I made some scented wardrobe hangers from flowers we collected in Hungary and Slovakia.
In addition to baking breads and pizzas as previously reported, I’ve made all sorts – Here’s a selection of the best efforts…
Cracked this now – the secret is turning it 5 times in our Thetford gas oven. Home-made blueberry jam on home-made toast – perfect!
Melting peanut butter chocolate puds
Another favourite comfort pud from home, works a treat in the van.
A Swedish recipe, from our friend Ucci’s Dad. They are thin, coconut and orange biscuit – deliciously with or without buttercream filling.
Pizza, Ciabatta and garlic bread
Thin crust pizzas, made from scratch – they require careful turning in the oven, but well worth the effort.
Sticky, cinnamon goodness – Another firm favourite!
White chocolate and cranberry! We had mixed results with a certain batch of Italian butter, but these are usually a quick and tasty treat.
After our moonlit flit from the wild west of Sweden to Denmark, we had a lazy day wandering forest trails and eating Bev’s van-baked blueberry pie. Then, with a few days to fill before my next gig in Odense, we had time to explore some of the sights of northern Denmark…
Strandby Church – a really striking modern design
The so-called sunken church – only the tower remains, as the rest was demolished after being repeatedly buried under drifting sands
Grenen Beach – at the convergence of two seas. We joined thousands of Danes and tourists to wander to the end of the spit of sand and ‘stand with one foot in the Skagerrak and the other foot in the Kattegat’
Råbjerg Mile – the largest migrating sand dune in Northern Europe. A bizarre and eerie sight, some distance from the coast
Aarhus – with a fantastic botanical garden and distinctive art museum
Middlefart – we stayed by a marina by the Lillebælt bridge and caught a glimpse of harbour porpoises at play
Live ‘On the Roof’, Odense
The last gig of our summer tour was at a cool bar in Odense – PåTaget – which is literally ‘on the roof’ of a multi-story building and car park right in the middle of the city. There was a fantastic jazz, blues and folk festival on – with the likes of Larkin Poe and Jamie Cullum and UK bluesman Lawrence Jones playing. One of the Jam Days festival acts, a Faroe Islander with the awesome stage name ‘Johan Solo’ hosts a regular jam night at PåTaget and I was booked to play an acoustic set before the jam. It went well, great bar, fun bar staff, friendly crowd. Johan jammed with me at the end of my set, adding a cool electric guitar solo to my song ‘Cold Wind’.
On our last night in Sweden, I played the opening set for the Wild West night at the Bison Farm at Gate, near Hjo on lake Vättern. We stayed there a few days before the event and I saw the poster – listing the headline bands ‘plus ???’. I asked if they’d sorted the ??? and offered my sevices. I played in the saloon bar as people arrived, got drinks and tucked into the excellent bison burgers and smorgas.
The main stage in the barn was fantastic. I saw most of Erika Baier and the Business’s set – a really tight band, bluesy with the occasional country twist which I thought suited the Wild West theme of the night perfectly.
Just caught a bit of De blev Handgemäng, which google translated as ‘It became a handgun’. Very cool band…
We missed headliners ‘Grass Tank’ as we had to high-tail it across the country to Gothenburg for a ferry to Denmark at 4am! Bev drove, so it was a cool moonlit ride for me. We didn’t bump into any mooses on the road. An hours kip before the ferry and we found a park4night close to Friedrikshavn in Denmark as soon as we disembarked, for a proper sleep.
Guided by our amazing friends in Sweden, we discovered so many wonderful and strange things during our 4 week exploration of the south of this fantastic country – a real highlight of our tour so far.
First at Västervik and then in Vimmerby, we were welcomed, entertained and generally spoilt rotten – by 4 generations of the Ask family and Tony and so many other lovely people! We’ve been immersed in Swedish culture, traditions and family histories and shared in the current excitement around Andy and Ucci’s new house and Robin’s plans to build an off-grid summerhouse in Durjsala.
I mentioned the breakfasts last time. Other culinary delights include Ostkake (cheesecake), korv (hot dog style sausages), raggmonk (potato pancakes, served with bacon and lingonberry jam) and last but not least – kebab meat pizza with chips (served on the pizza) and ‘pizza salad’ (a pickled cabbagey thing). And of course we had Swedish meatballs!
We did so many fantastic things but highlights would have to include:
Chilling/ messing about on ‘the rock’, swimming, paddleboarding, playing guitar and banjo with beers at sunset and so on.
Watching the Queen/Freddie Mercury movie, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, at the film festival in an outdoor cinema in the ruins at Slottsholmen.
The Stadsvandring – an evening stroll around Vimmerby with actors in period dress telling stories, often based on real people and events in local history. It was all in Swedish but we really enjoyed it!
Seeing the Elk. We would have loved to see them in the wild (but not at night on the road!) but this was the next best thing. Huge beasts, very soft mouths – ‘like a peach’ says Tony. Bev was the only one in our party to go for a kiss…
I only hope we can repay such wonderful hospitality someday!
One of the traditions in Sweden is to celebrate ‘name days’ and there were two while we there with our friends – Margareta on 20th July as it’s one of Ucci’s many middle names; and Christina on 24th July, which we celebrated with Chrisa and Mickaela (it’s her middle name) with a big family breakfast and cake…
I felt a bit sorry for young Winston, because as it’s not a traditional Swedish name, he doesn’t have a name day!
Buying booze in Sweden
Systembolaget is the government-owned chain of off-licences in Sweden. Since 1955, this is the only place (apart from bars, restaurants and night-clubs) where you can buy strong alcoholic beverages. The one we went to was nice – plenty of range and reasonably priced (compared to bars). Felt a bit like a duty free shop in an airport. Apparently, the staff are usually quite knowledgeable and you can order anything in if its not in stock.
Turns out they have names for the different categories of öl (ale), based on the strength:
Lättöl 0.0% – 2.25% – Light
Lätt Folköl 2.8% – introduced more recently to align with EU
Folköl 2.9% – 3.5% – ‘the people’s beer’
Mellanöl 3.6% – 4.5% – in-between beer
Starköl 4.6% and above – Strong beer
You can buy cans of beer in the supermarkets, but only up to 3.5%.These are 3.5% versions of beers we normally see at 5.0% here in the UK, so were heartily dismissed as ‘piss ale’ by some of our party.
And one more thing on beer – each can has a deposit or ‘pant’ of 1 Krona which is an incentive to drive positive recycling behaviour. You feed the empties into a machine in the supermarket and it gives you a receipt for money off inside. We saw the same in Denmark and Germany.
This is the habit of regular breaks for coffee, chat and little cakes or nibbles. Someone pops by – fika time! Job done – time for a fika! We got into it. Lots of cinnamon whirls, little biscuits, etc. One of our faves was an orange and coconut biscuit/flarn – which was so good Bev asked Ucci’s dad for the recipe.
You see this on handwritten signs everywhere – it means ‘flea’ and points towards a flea market. Some are temporary car boot style, some more established. Some have fika! I half wanted to visit one – I’m on the lookout for some specific bits and bobs for a secret musical project – but had to remind myself that we don’t have room in the van for any ‘tat’.
This is the word for the Swedish craze for all things American and vintage – Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles, 1950s music and dress, and so on. Some estimates say there are now more restored vintage classic cars in Sweden than in the USA. One day we passed car after car after car – heading to a massive meet-up at Falköping . Our last night in Sweden was a Wild West spectacular at a bison farm – we thought we might see a few there and weren’t disappointed. Chevrolets, Dodges and this immaculate Oldsmobile…
In Sweden, this is an ancient law that provides the legal right of access to private, uncultivated land. You can:
Wander freely in forest and fields.
Pick berries, mushrooms, and wild flowers if they are not endangered.
Camp one night, without permission of the landowners, if it is not too close to a populated area.
Bathe, row, sail, paddle and drive motor boats on lakes, rivers and archipelagos.
Make fires (proceeding with extreme caution).
But you must not:
Damage growing trees or bushes.
Walk over fields in crop or through newly planted forest areas.
Take bird’s eggs or bird’s nests.
Leave garbage (paper, plastic, glass, etc…) in countryside.
This is amazing for wild campers! We found that nature reserve car parks were an ideal place to spend the nights – most of them had:
a toilet, often a compost toilet but most were really nice!
a fire pit
spectacular views, walks or paddleboarding
Bev got into exercising her Allemansrätt, picking bilberries/blueberries for some amazing pies…
As a result of staying at friend’s houses and free nights at nature reserves, our camping costs for Sweden were far lower than we expected and we loved it so much, we stayed a whole month.