Swedish holiday

2013-07-30

The past two weeks we've been out camping in Sweden. We've went out camping every year so this year isn't any different. I went to Sweden once before in winter time and all I could remember is the huge fields of snow. That's why I was a little held back on camping there, but I was assured that their summer was about the same as ours. Unfortunately our summers can be very crap as well, but whatever. I don't care for sun, I just don't want the rain or low temperatures.

Temperature was not a problem. There was a heatwave pretty much throughout our stay. Only one day was a bit cloudy, well and our trip home had clouds but they are welcome (we drove a black car...).

When going camping it's always a bit tricky to find the right spot. There can be a huge difference in the quality of camp sites, both in price and comfort. We settled for south Sweden and found a bunch of possible sites. While initially we wanted to go completely south (near Ystad or Trelleborg), we decided to go a little higher and drive to a campsite called Orebacken, next to Sjöbo.

We usually don't make a reservation. We camp with a tent so all we need is a place with electricity and we're happy. Orebacken didn't appear to do reservations so that's a bonus. We couldn't find too many reviews on the camp site though, so that was a bit worrying. The ones we did find were old and varied a lot in terms of praise. Not a good sign, though we discovered later that the cause was kind of unexpected.

As we usually do, we drive (by car) the trip in two legs. The majority of the trip we do on the first day so we can arrive at a camp site early which usually gives us more choices to pick from. When you're going home you'll usually leave early (before 10am..). The trip itself was pretty uneventful. We borrowed a car because it was faster, slightly bigger, and ran on gas (LPG). We went to Italy in our own car last year and while it managed to drive up hill at 80 km/h, we were happy to be able to do so with 140 km/h this time. No more trucks passing us.

Driving from (west) Germany to Sweden gives you about two major routes to choose from, regarding Denmark. You can either take the boat (1.5h?) or you can take a detour of about 150km. While the boat sets you back about 80 eur, don't be fooled about the detour being much cheaper. There's a huge bridge on the detour route (it's actually called Storebæltsforbindelsen, or the Great Belt) and it's not free to pass. The toll is about 40 eur, though half that if you travel with a brobizz or E-Z pass. These are small boxes that allow you to travel through the toll gates without having to pay right there. Hooked to your credit card, the chip in the box will activate as you drive through and you'll pay with your credit card.

Thing is, this way should cut the fee in about half (wow?). Thing is, you have to order one of those boxes up front. You can't really buy one at the border or at the bridge. However, the brobizz box took about a week to ship (to the Netherlands). Both brobizz and ezpass are used in all nordic countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland), though we obviously only used it for the Storebæltsforbindelsen and Øresundsbroen). There's a 8 eur (I think?) deposit for the box and they seem to be rather lenient about giving you the discount retroactively, as long as you have the receipts. We went with brobizz because their website was better. I don't think there's any difference between the two systems from the user point of view.

So the Øresundsbroen, the bridge connecting Denmark to Sweden, is also about 40 eur. Which is also cut in half by using a brobizz/ezpass. So a potential 120 eur (boat+bridge) was cut back to about 40 eur plus the price for 150km gas, of course. Yeah, worth it. There were no toll roads in the south part of Sweden, so we only used it for those two bridges.

We stayed in a small bed and breakfast in Denmark the first night, near Taastrip. We got a good example of what Sweden was like right there. We didn't fully realize that yet, though. Anyways, the roads were empty. Hardly any people around. We finally found a decent place to eat. The waiter didn't speak a whole lot of English, but he managed. It was a bit surreal for me. I dunno.

We continued our journey the next morning, onwards to Sweden. What surprised me about the entry roads to the Øresundsbroen was the lack of notifications that this was actually going to cost you a lot of money. Don't get me wrong. The signs were there. And plenty of warnings about some exit being the last exist in Denmark. But normally we don't really care whether an exit is the last in the current country or not. In the Netherlands we can cross the borders to Germany and Belgium and make a round trip and nobody will care. But this is different, you were heading to a border that cost (in our case) 20 odd eur to pass. And yet I found the advance warning for this fee rather lacking. Yes they were there, but I had to search very hard to find them. And I knew they were there. I mean... We actually almost went over the bridge from Sweden when traveling to Malmö and wanting to stop for gas (for which we needed the very last exit). I mean, miss that exit will cost you 40 eur. Oof.

Ok so that didn't happen. Just something that surprised me. Also, the Danish didn't really seem to know or care about the brobizz/ezpass thing. We asked a few at a gas station because we wanted to be sure it was positioned properly (the manual said a certain side should be facing the glass when in fact it should be facing you, very confusing thank you). But the people we asked seemed to be clueless about the system. Kind of weird when there's a toll bridge separating your country and another toll bridge that splits you from a neighbouring country. I dunno, I would expect that to be basic knowledge about the country you live in... :)

We passed through Denmark on a single (40 liter?) LPG tank. Gas is very cheap in Germany and the most expensive in Denmark. So we just figured to get gas in Sweden. But while LPG is frequently found on gas stations in Germany (and so I dunno about Denmark), not so in Sweden. We had looked up one just across the border (first exit) and drove to the gas station. It stated CNG, but we figured that was the Swedish thing for LPG, seeing no sign of LPG. The CNG nozzle looked similar to the LPG one so that didn't surprise us so much either (there are three different nozzles in Europe for LPG... sigh, but you can get safe converters to use them anyways). So as we were looking to make sure that CNG was in fact what we were looking for, a lady (employee) comes up. Turns out LPG is not quite the same as CNG. Sweden doesn't really do much in LPG actually. But she directed us to a place across the road where we could get LPG.

So Sweden only has a couple of places where you can get LPG. These are not your classic gas stations but, well, the one near Malmö at operated from a shed (and is closed on Sundays..). And we were told all LPG stations operated like that. So if you're looking for LPG in Sweden, I hope you know where to look. Even when you know the positions, the signs are very easy to overlook (usually cardboardish in nature).

Oh speeds. We have a max of 130 km/h over here. Germany has no limit by default, though many high ways limit the speed to 120 / 130 km/h. Denmark has a max of 130, though 2/3rd of the high way used to cross that country limits the speed to 110 km/h. Sweden has a max of 110 km/h, but the south roads usually maxed at 90 or 100. While I do prefer to drive fast, I don't mind to drive a little slower. But when you have to make a trip that's over a 1000 km and want to make that in one day, these limits do become a bit annoying. I know I know, safety and environment. Why don't you start about that after you've just made such a trip, ok? This is not an argument you'll likely want to have with me... :)

Apart from the above the trip itself was pretty uneventful. We swapped every two hours or so. Spend a little more at rest stops on our way there than on our way back. But other than that, it's just travel by car.

Arriving at Sjöbo was a bit confusing. We knew where to go but the roads seemed to be blocked. We tried to take a detour but ended up in a dead-ended neighbourhood. So even though we could see the caravans through the houses, we would need to travel through the houses to actually get there. No go. When we turned back we did pass the roads where people were trying to sell tickets for parking or whatever. It was later that we learned that we arrived in the middle of the big yearly market and carnaval. Being the biggest place in middle of Skåne country (the south of Sweden), it was actually pretty big. Many people, many stands, many attractions. We quickly found our way to Orebacken. There were temporary camp sites put up next to it, which were used extensively. Sweden has a camp-where-you-want policy. We figure that it was part of this policy.

We did a quick tour over Orenbacken but found that there was no electricity at the tent area. That's annoying because we do want electricity. We only use it to power a mini fridge and occasionally our phones. But regardless, we do want power. No way to keep stuff cool in a tent otherwise. So we almost decided to leave for another camp site when we did see a spot that pleased us. It was a caravan spot but we figured we could at least ask. Some sites don't care whether you're putting up a tent in a caravan spot, some do.

At first we were almost turned down. Then we made it clear that we intended to stay there for about two weeks. Suddenly everything was okay. We almost didn't realize that many people might only come there for the market or carnaval! We found a description in a brochure later that explicitly said you were required to stay longer during the market days in July. Makes sense, this is not a camping for young people that just want to drink booze all day. The spot we had in mind was available and it was no problem putting up a tent. Yay!

So a bit about the Orenbacken camp site near Sjöbo. Since recent reviews are lacking, maybe this will help you. There are about 100 spots for caravans/campers, each has an option to get electricity. Besides that there's a small area for tents which has no electricity. I think there were one or two single faucets where you could water (not sure, we didn't use them). There is one building with showers and toilets. I think there was a small toilet shed near the camp site as well, didn't check. The bathroom area was a bit weird, but perhaps that's due to expanding. Either way, there are three toilets and two showers designated for men. Three toilets and three showers designated for women (these are smaller than the one for men...). But besides that there were two large rooms in the same building, which contained both a shower and a toilet and were very spacy. There were two additional rooms that also have both a bathroom and a shower but which were quite smaller. These last four are unisex (one of the bigger ones also had a immobility sign, though I'm not sure anybody cared about that, it didn't seem to be only for that purpose). The bigger showers seem to be running on a boiler though, which caused cold water for me once. But all the other times I took a shower it was fine. You just have to time it properly :)

Apart from bathrooms there's also a space for doing the dishes, and even (electric) cooking. There is a common area with a kitchen and a fridge (very helpful for freezing up bottles of water for our return trip). The camp site also has cabins and a large house where you can rent a place to sleep. I guess they would use these cooking spots and kitchen, but I don't know. The building also has a space for chemical toilets and to get water and such. The place is cleaned once (around 10). This did mean that the bathrooms were kind of dirty before going to bed and when waking up. But, well, it's a camp site. Not a hotel. So whatever.

The reason we couldn't find that many reviews online is simply because virtually all of the residents stay there for the entire season. Most of them are Swedish or Danish. Many of the caravans were completely built in, clearly in there for the long run. The camp site doesn't really do much for entertainment. However they do host a public swimming pool (5 eur entry, even when you're staying at the camp site) and a putput golf course (well maintained). There's a small restaurant where you can get some food and drinks. And every now and then they organize a taco night, which seemed to be a well oiled machine. Good food :)

The camp site was relatively quiet. The first nights there were clearly a few visitors of the carnaval staying, but apart from that, it was pretty quiet at night (we sleep in tents, any noise comes through). I guess your experience might vary depending on circumstances.

There's a huge super market withing 5 or 10 minute walking distance from the site. It's open 7-21h 7 days a week so there's no need to do expensive grocery shopping if you don't want to. There's also a liquor store across from it (I don't think super markets are allowed to sell any liquor) but we didn't visit it. Prices are normal (we were expecting higher) and it turns out that they only have 12% VAT (we have 21% VAT over here), except on alcohol which seems to be 25% VAT. Of course grocery shopping is going to be more expensive if your camping, but that's a different story :p We must've visited that store once or twice every day, heh.

Having said that. Sweden is actually pretty non-touristic. It was quite surprising to us to see how much it was lacking any kind of tourism. For one, everything was in Swedish. Not even German or Danish, except for a few (bigger?) spots. Lucky for us Swedish is a good mix of English, German, and Dutch. At least in scripture. So we managed to read pretty well, often laughing with how certain words translated to Swedish. It's like a big puzzle. We would often look at a word or a sentence and then suddenly realize what it meant (of course, context helps a lot here :)).

But the lack of touristic landscape did not stop at non-translated signs. I was actually surprised by how bad the average English was. I always thought that the Danish and Swedish spoke pretty good English. And I'm sure you're thinking right now that it's about the younger generation. But I can tell you that no, it's not. Very weird.

Another side effect was the simple lack of places to visit, or even restaurants and bars to eat. Getting an ice cream at the beach was problematic as well. Not in the least because half of the coast of Sweden seems to be rocks. We had to drive quite some distance across the shore lines to finally get to some beaches. And when we got there, there were no cottages in sight to get ice cream. What the hell? Is the warm season too short or did nobody notice the blatant open market there for tourism? Wow..

That's actually pretty much the story of our vacation; there wasn't much to do. We visited a museum, a lake, Ystad, Malmö (ok, there's some tourism going on there), a castle, Ale's Stones and a harbor village next to it. But seriously, apart from Malmö, all the other cities/villages were just too small to have anything serious going on. Maybe more north, but we were told that it's pretty much the same there as well. So apart from that, it's just miles and miles of nature, quietness, and emptiness. Kind of unexpected for us.

Not a big problem though. We enjoyed our peace and quietness next to our tent. I read Inferno (yeah, that one) in three days. We played games and did a lot of logic puzzles. Me mostly in the shade, she in the sun.

As you might know I once a year tend to not touch any computers during a holiday. My cellphone was reduced to a glorified overpowered camera, watch, and alarm clock. Not even a phone call or text message (there was no wifi either, or I might have used it for gps). I don't play any games on it and I don't use it to surf the web. This year I confirmed that the battery time of the HTC One X+ indeed is what they advertise. As long as you just us it for camera and to tell time.

I'm not going to tell you about "disconnecting from the web, back to roots, blablabla". I really don't care about that shit. I just want to disconnect for a short period once a year. Camping is the perfect time to do so, being completely detached from a computer and internet (the latter depends on the camp site.. ;)). And I'm perfectly fine doing so. I'm also perfectly happy with being back behind my computer, make no mistake about that.

We had very good warm weather. We've had blue skies and 28-ish degrees (celcius) sunny days most of the time. It seems the last day all hell would break lose though so we decided to go home before that started. That night it rained a little but nothing serious in our region. We heard all did break lose higher up in the country though. Happy to have missed that while sleeping in a tent ... :p

And as I said already, the trip back was pretty uneventful. We drove a 1050 km in about 10.5h, doing a good average (and only one relatively short traffic jam) on the way back. Leaving at 10:20am and arriving home at 8:45am.

Camping is great, you should try it! :) Also, congratz for making it this far..

TIL about Sweden:
- It does not care much for tourism (at least it's not being exploited much, in the positive sense of the word, nor the negative)
- By far most text is not translated to English (or anything else)
- The Swedes on average don't actually seems to speak English that well
- Prices are normal to Dutch standards
- (Sand) beaches are hard to find across the coast
- There are junctions where you have to turn onto a road where they can go 100 km/h (cra-zy)
- Short off ramps (like Germany and Denmark) on highways, usually followed by sharp curves without warning (also like Germany and Denmark)
- On ramps have a decent amount of road to adjust to traffic, but only a very short space to actually merge into it
- Swedish markets are very repetitive
- Swedish carnavals even more so (and not spread out, which was weird)
- There's a small deposit for cans and small plastic bottles, but not glass
- Swedish text is easy to learn for us, speech is a completely different story
- The Ø is actually Danish, because the Swedes use an Ö for that (sounds like the o in "bow")
- (In summer time at least), it gets light very early (like 4am?) which is very confusing and a bit annoying in a tent
- Takes a toll bridge to drive from Denmark to Sweden (the alternative is a boat, so there's no free way to travel between the two)
- Practically all roads in the south are unlit
- Swedes drive like crazy on local zig-zag hill roads
- Still a large amount of trust (parking is limited in time but no proof seems to be required, renting a boat amounts to depositing money in a hole and writing your name on a card then taking the boat for a spin)
- Less populated than I thought, the south has just a few small cities
- Stores tend to put prices in parts of Kronar and round them, but the least-valued currency unit is one Krone
- Supermarket we used sold a lot of meat, but no supermarket or bakery sold any meat-containing bread / snacks

All in all, we agreed that we probably wouldn't mind living in Sweden. It's a pretty laid back country :) Good times.