Tag Archives: sunset

Finland – a Scandinavian Anomaly

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Where am I? And why have all the mountains disappear? Why is that people all of a sudden look strange – somewhat grim and where have all the brand new 60th Anniversary Land Cruisers gone?

There answer my fellow readers is that I’ve crossed the border from Norway and into Finland. And when God was creating Scandinavia he’s created Norway… then Sweden… and then he sneezed… and so came Finland.

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They don’t smile but they are very… VERY sociable compared to Norwegians, they aren’t afraid to look you in the eye… or, in fact, to stare at you if they find you strange or amusing and believe me, unless you’re born in Finland they will find you amusing and will stare at you.

Clean streets? Forget it! Modern clothes? Hah!

You’re now a Finn, take off your Bad Balance baseball hat and get you all-black coats and bean hats.

Everything is strange! Everything is just… not Scandinavian.

They like sedan cars…. I don’t know what needs to happen to a Norwegian so that he does not buy an estate… a mid-life crisis! But in Finland a sedan is the way to go… and then they try and carry stuff on the roof because it does not fit in.

The Arrival

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That morning I woke up in winter wonderland. The 11th of October had just as many degrees on the dial of my frozen car, -12, everything has been chained into ice, it felt as if summer has never even been to these places. And the main reason why I am writing these words is because I found a way to keep my car’s living quarters at above freezing line through an electricity feed which powered my heater.

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I’ve decided to run for my dear life, I estimated that it’ll take me 1000km to get back to Autumn so I hit the road. I was not meant to make the 1000km drive however, as I was passing by a lake I decided to have a look around, the place looked like a perfect spot for taking photos of the Northern Lights, what I wanted was to have some water between me and the horizon in the right direction so I’d get reflection of the lights in water. It is by this lake where the story of Serge’s Finland really begins.

The lake had a shallow waters, was close to a road and a forest, the banks were full of rubbish and rotten fish which must have been pulled on shores using a net. Rubbish is what differs Finns from the rest of Scandinavians the most. It is everywhere, piles of it. When in Norway you feel like people have only been around for a few days and all the houses been build by the Creator himself while in Finland – make no mistake, this stuff is all man-made.

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Next to the lake I noticed a small hut. It was the size of a London’s studio flat, probably 25 square meters and I could not connect it to being a living home, after a quick look around I concluded that no one used this hut for a very long time, this finding created my entire Finnish adventure.

A Hut in the Woods

 

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The hut was tiny and ran down, it greeted me with an open door and a lot of broken glass. I knocked on the door and when I finally stepped in I saw what was basically a long-forgotten 70 or so years old Finnish Sauna. From that moment I knew exactly what I was going to do next – I was going to make my place a temporary home and use its proximity to a near-perfect Northern Lights photography spot to wait for my perfect Northern Lights display.

Tidying up took four hours. Gone was the broken glass, bottles, cigarette buds and left-overs from someone’s attempt to make it back into a sauna, the wood burner was fully functional and there was even some left-over wood I could use to test it. Soon, creaking fire was roaring in the burner and the hut started filling with warm air. After days of sleeping in three sleeping bags in a damp car I could not be more excited.

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The best thing was that the hut was also in a spot of very good mobile internet reception and I used to to quickly identify my location in relation to the nearest town with its supermarkets. I needed to go shopping.

Candles, matches, food, a dust brush and a smoke alarm have been sourced same day, I could finally drop my clothes off, light the candles and enjoy spending an evening in an upright position. No longer did I have to be just laying down at the back of my car, the change was so striking that I did not even bother checking for Northern Lights that night.

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The night came and brought with it something that I did not expect to experience.

Fear

Every night brought with it fear. I do not know if I am unique in that but something about the hut just radiated insecurity. The door had no locks, passing cars would shine their hi-beams through broken glass of one of the windows, I was constantly afraid of someone coming in while I was asleep. Not breaking in because the house did not belong to me but coming in. I was somehow afraid to be told to leave in the middle of the night.

It is a city man’s worst nightmare. You see, in big cities, people won’t think twice before exercising their right to anything. Such as you know that if you parked your car in a wrong place you will receive a fine – unconditionally so being in a hut which you know does not belong to you makes you fear of being unconditionally expelled by someone who may come passing by. This is what would always happen to you in a city:

Ah, you are sitting here – this table belongs to the cafe and I can’t see you having our coffee, please leave.

This is private property and although you’re not doing anything wrong we know you are not supposed to be here – please leave

This pier is for sailing club members only and no, you can’t spend 30 minutes here enjoying the sunset – please leave.

All of the above makes you feel in vulnerable positions where you should really have nothing to worry about. I really realised how fucked up my city mind was. Staying in this hut had helped me to become a lot less paranoid for my actions, to not have false fears so meticulously planted in us by the society and which serves no other purpose to make us needlessly compliant with all and any rules that may be thrown our way.

First night I spent holding a knife in my hand and when at 3am a stone fell off the stove I woke up with a battle scream pointing my knife towards the darkness of the night. At least I knew I could respond to a situation.

Needless to say that I barely slept that night. Something needed to be done.

First of all in the morning I sat down and analysed the reason for my fears. I knew that mostly I was afraid of people and not animals although all locals were in the woods hunting bears. I needed a way to lock the door. I used a rope and a stick which helped me securely block the door. It could still be opened from the outside but it’d take some time and I was hoping that the noise made in the process would give me some leeway to wake up and brace myself for… what I needed to brace myself for I did not know but at least I had time to mobilise.

The coming night revealed another problem. When I finally managed to get a better sleep I would wake up to terrifying cold at 3am, this is when the fire was long gone together with remaining warm air and I would wake up in cold darkness.

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Try setting up your alarm clock for 3am and then get yourself to make a fire – take a piece of birch tree bark or paper, get an axe and split a log into kindling then wait for it to light up and put some larger logs in. I tell you one thing – what’s not a problem during the day is a huge issue when you’re half awake in the middle of the night.

I will tell you in advance that I still did not solve that problem and all my stay I had to wake up at night and re-fire the stove. I tried everything – from wet wood to unsplit logs, although it would yield me some extra time I have not manages to keep the fire going all night.

On the final night at the hut I was woken up by dreadful screeching sounds, I was sure that it was a bear trying to force his way into the hut, I grabbed my knife, lit the head torch and was waiting for my final battle, the battle which I would give my life a fantastic ending, I’d never get old and I would not to have to worry about my place in the world ever again. The screeching lasted for 15 minutes and then stopped. I sat awake for another hour and when I finally stepped outside the hut with first lights to see the damage I have met the one who kept me awake:)

I sent a photo to my friend and she called him Gregory:

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Meet Gregory, he is looking after the hut now.

Greg was living inside the wood chippings insulated walls of the sauna, he was very friendly and always came to see me when I was standing at the doors enjoying the cold sunny day. I miss him a lot now.

Waiting for the Northern Lights… in Muonio

I was battling for my survival in the woods with one goal in mind – being close proximity to a place where I could do my midnight photography but every night heavy frost would bring icy fox down into the valley and by 8pm one could not see a single star in the sky. I somehow realised that I’ve seen the final Northern Lights of the year 100km up North and that I won’t see them here. The next days I lived in hope but just as I thought, the weather never let me enjoy stunning views of the lights near my reclaimed hut.

I used my days hunting for wood for the night and writing this blog at a Swiss Cafe in the town of Muonio – a tiny and a really boring place.

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Muonio

A walk around Muonio would take an hour, it’s a place to a church, a few supermarkets and three boats on the river. Most people here test cars for a living. Car brands bring their creations to this region in order to see how they perform in extreme cold. This is all top-secret stuff as I was unable to even figure out where the track was, it’s a place which you can’t see on the map.

After a week of life in the hut it has become a little warmer and I decided to flee towards the South. A friend waited for me in Budapest but something was telling me that Budapest was impossibly far, I learned that on at my own expense when I started driving.

But it was time to say goodbye to the hut. I threw a final look at what’s been my home for three nights and shut the door. Inside I left a notepad with a welcome note and I’m hoping that someone will find this hut as useful as I did and I also hope to come back there one day and see many more noted in the notepad.

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And of course, I hope that Gregory is doing well there.

Towards the Southern Finland

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See the other side? That’s Sweden – where everything in different!

After a 10 hours drive I was still in Finland. Having quickly checked Torino – a place where the Swedes and the Finns wage a shopping mall war and where all of Finland seemingly comes to buy stuff I took a photo of a beautiful sunset and drove a little further to spent a night at a camp site near the town of Oulu.

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Torino

Finland just wasn’t exciting to be at the time. I really tried but it was vast and just not as exciting as Norway or even Sweden. I mean in Norway you have mountains, in Sweden you have Swedes but in Finland… in Finland I guess you’d better like fishing. And fishing for me it was not.

The next day it was finally Helsinki and after a quick walk around the frozen city I took a same-day ferry to Tallinn, something was drawing me back towards the Soviet Empire.

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Helsinki

Serge Fog (11-16 Oct 2016)

The “Little Britain” Denmark and the Beautiful København (8-14 Jun ’16)

When God was creating Denmark he wanted to base his designs on the rest of Scandinavia but somewhere half-way through he got distracted and looked at the UK instead.

Britain with its high-streets, greasy spoon diners, trashed roads and incredibly unsociable and in may cases obese locals.

 

Denmark complements Britain in so many ways that it makes it look like its major colony.

They like small cars and their cars are all scratched. I think to get a TUV (MOT) they kick a tyre and send you off.

The music… oh my God, I feel as if I am back to Britain… Britain of the early 2000s because their radio is full of unpopular pop music that I can not listen to! And you’d be lucky to hear pop because most of the time they’re just chatting away… in Danish!

You will be missing German Radio in Denmark! Or Belgian! And especially Dutch! Central Europe has an edge for good music. I’m terrified to go to Sweden now!

Food? Forget it, after Germany you’d struggle to get an edible breakfast. Food here is pretty much British – deep fried. Every time I got a sandwich somewhere I felt like my mate Les would walk into the diner and suggest that we go for another round of clays! It literally felt as if I never left!

But we’re loosing the plot. Here is what you see when you’re boarding the ferry – Danes and Swedes carrying alcohol. Loads of Alcohol!

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How bad does it need to get to be carrying beer crates from another country is beyond me. Even if it’s twice the price in Sweden… well just drink less and enjoy the taste of what you’ve got. Why travelling hundreds of kilometres to get it from Germany?

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I guess alcoholics make up for the most travelled social group in Sweden:)

 

For the boys

Did I mention they like small cars? I can understand that when a boy racer buys a Mark I Gold but they also like buying NEW small cars, things like a Peugeot 208… or even a Hyundai  i30.

Do you know what needs to happen to a German so that s/he buys an i30? He’d need to loose a job (probably three times over including that job in a cafe), loose all his savings, family heritage, then he’d need to loose his 24 year old Mercedes which he bought new when he was 18. And then, under the treat of imminent death he’d buy a small Hyundai.

The Danish… well, they enter a show room and go “I’ll have an i30 please, yes, with the optional spare wheel and the radio).

Their favourite cars – Peugeot 308 – in Black! In Black! You have to have mental issues to buy a 308 in black because black belongs to big executive cars… not the 308. But how would you compare if the 308 is the biggest car on the roads. My Allroad looks like a giant in the streets in comparison… it’s also the fastest being really a family saloon.

Køge

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I started my trip in Køge following Eyewitness Travel’s guide and the first city “of historical heritage” was so shocking I would go back to Germany if not for the 101 Euro ferry ticket.

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This kind of stuff being sold… in a town with NO SEA next to it!!!

Everything seemed wrong. I walked up its narrow cobalt streets towards the oldest half-timbered house in Denmark which by the way you should definitely see. It has wooden beam structure filled with stone, it does not sound special until you realise it was built in 1527.

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The streets are narrow and the high street bears every resemblance of a UK high street – back is cheap Chinese stuff unseen in Germany, back are people would would not look into your eyes and Heep their heads down. Back are the fat people. I generally believe that the problem with obesety in both DK and the UK is food. Look at what Germans eat and go much they exercise and now compare that to Denmark.

There are more similarities too. Gone is the culture of quiet restaurants – music must be heard in Denmark so when you are out in a bar you’ve go to shout at your mate and if s/he shouts back at you in Danish, well, it will he a while before you realise you don’t understand a word.

I quickly lost interest in Køge and decided to cut my losses short by going to Roskilde – a formerly 10000 people-strong capital of Denmark.

The Beautiful Denmark

It is on my way to Roskilde where I have witnessed a truly beautiful Denmark – no more high streets with stalls of cheap Chinese plastic, no more locals who aren’t looking in the eye – just beautiful Denmark!

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These guys know how to make beautiful country houses!

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I could not stop driving from one small village to another – anywhere you go is this beautiful stuff which you can see because they don’t hide it behind “the English fence”. I even walked into this house with a collapsed hay roof, it smelled like my family’s country house – a bit of wood, a bit of rot:)

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And here is a farm house – forget the ugly barns of continental Europe! Switzerland could learn a lot from the Danes on how to make their farms look cool!

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But you know what is the most beautiful thing you can see in Denmark – it’s their flag. Normally flags are what, 6×4 square pieces of fabric? Have a look at the featured image in this post – the long almost ribbon-like think on the flag pole is their flag, when no wind it almost reaches the ground and once the wind picks up you will witness a beautifully waving Scandinavian flag – a white-red stripe!

Roskilde

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Two days spent there revealed more or less the same picture. On the first day I went to the harbour to sail a Viking ship which was a great experience and is well worth the 200 Kronen you need to pay.

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You get to row and then they put up the sail and you glide in such a quiet serenity of creaking mast and even the smell of the boat reminded me of my childhood when my dad used to tar the skis for us.

The ticket includes admission of the wharf where they keep old craft alive and you can see the very boats like the one you’ve just sailed being made as well as all the components for them such as sails and ropes (I think that’s all there is to a Vikings’ boat)

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Roskilde is a beautiful town, I would say I have not met any interesting people there because that just don’t talk to strangers there these girls were an exception and I’m sure they’ll be seeing nightmares about talking to a stranger for weeks now:)

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…but the architecture is beautiful – the church, the town hall, everything is very solid and is beautiful in its monumental simplicity.

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København – the city of best church domes in ‘de World!

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It was time to go to Copenhagen, I would not stay an extra day in Denmark if not for the camera charger which was posted for me to a friend’s address there. But Copenhagen was worth it.


At first glance Copenhagen is just like a bigger Edinburgh with its monumental historical buildings and the sea front. But in my second or third day I began to appreciate this beautiful city.

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Truth must be said, I was here in June when the sun is high and I am sure there are at least 8 month of weather hell here but hey, let’s live the moment. And in that moment I started seeing the beauty of Scandinavian architecture. Lift your eyes off dirty pavements, Chinese takeaways and you will see the beautiful spikes of churches, I think the Danes are probably the best architects when it comes to making a church dome!

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High, pointy, elegant, gilded or in green copper in a combination with black brick – swirls and twists, everything the rest of the building does not have goes into the pointy dome!

And the wide streets where the eye meets perfect walls of old warehouses.

By the way, every Dame would tell you they are the nation on bikes. With 8 months winters, really? They have not been to Holland… but I admire the fact that they are still keen:)

Carrying a passenger in these front trays is a norm here, I have been seeing it done on a daily basis. It’s fun. I would get a bike like this to carry my drunk girlfriend around:) But for the money? I think I’d add it to buying a better car, not the all-famous 308 in Royal black:)

I spent a night roaming the drunken streets of Copenhagen with the highlight of the night being a fabulous gig by a group if what I think must have been a music school students. Three guitars, loads of weed, amazing singing!


Would I spend the rest of my life in Copenhagen…. most likely not. But it is certainly worth seeing, just make sure you come here in Summer and take a few days to walk around.

Next day greeted me with Nana and her Icelandic horse who came to seemingly eat EVERYTHING she (the horse) could reach out to:)

Nana used to be an oil&gas lawyer but quit her job 5 years ago and has been living free ever since, she tried an other job but then decided she’s better off with just doing the thing called “Life”.

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That day I spent at the beach – yes, they have a beach in Copenhagen and you know what, this is where you realise that you don’t wanna live at a place with millions of people share same amnesties. The Copenhagen beach is a relaxed place with few people by English standards and incredibly clean (and cold!) water!

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I also went to the local Botanic garden which was indistinguishable from the Kew Gardens near London (but unlike the 25-quid London “miracle” this was free!)



And spent most of the day basking in the sun among tropical trophies of Denmark’s collonial past.

I also bough a small medical-looking jar from the museum of biology. I hope they did not use it for storing Anthrax samples:)

Every evening I the road was taking me through the southern parts of the city, across neighbourhoods that looked exactly like what you’d see head Hastings or any other sea-side town in England. Even ice cream shops looked similar and were full of English-looking people.

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I stayed in million dollar hotel which in the past I could not even have dreamt of. I fell asleep to the sounds of hundreds love-singing frogs and woke up to the noise of hungry seagulls and airplanes and then I come outside to look at the planes and which airline they are. And in the evening there is a moment where maybe 20 planes land within 40 minutes or so and they light up the sky with their headlights!

And of course, the sunsets, although not as spectacular as in Fehnarn but still beautiful.
It was time to go to Sweden. I had to wave a goodbye to the strange and beautiful København with its landing planes and beautiful church domes.

 

Stand-up Paddling and the Amazing Fehmarn Island (June 3-7 ’16)

​It was time to go up North. A totally useless night of heavy drinking in Hamburg signified that I had to be on the move and on Friday afternoon I’ve put one of the light houses in the North of Germany into my navigation and was off. When I don’t exactly know where to go I always go towards a light houese.

I was driving to Denmark but the final night before I dwell into Scandinavia had to be spent in Germany where I also needed to stock up on alcohol.
The night was going to be spent in Heligenhafen – a town stuck in its Soviet past. This is East Germany and it it the poor part of it and in all their wisdom the Soviets built this:

The situation was ever so bizzare because the town is full of nice houses, there is a beautiful coastline, yachts at the harbour and yet they built this utterly ugly estate! And people live there!

Heligenhafen just radiates USSR vibes. It reminded me of a trip to Russia I took not so long ago and I am not talking about Moscow. I don’t know what makes towns depressing, it must be a combination of factors like the architecture and how happy people who live there feel, everything must be tangled together.

I had a depressing walk along the harbour where I saw flocks of drunk locals, depressive immigrants and I thought… this is where some of the politics just does not make sense. Immigrants do not bring anything special to these places, they just add up to the grey landscape. The answer to these places’ issues is definitely not migration.

And then came the sunset and it changed everything! The “sinking” sun painted grey building into a million shades of beautiful orange! Everyone was smiling, pulled their cameras out if their pockets, surfers filled the beach bar and the pier! The thirds of June 2016 ended with a spectacular Caribbean sunset! A sunset like no other just a few hundred kilometers from cities like London, Brussels or Hamburg! Heligenhafen has fully revealed its secret self.

The next day I went to the Fehmarn island with a group of freelancers who travel and work remotely. One of them was Hannes.

Hannes does a form of IT and he does not own or rent a flat. Instead he lives in a Mercedes Camper van. But He is no camper – he carries a different ideology. Hannes likes surfing and kite boarding… and basically everything related to the beach lifestyle. He spends summers in Northern Germany and Denmark and for winters he goes to the South of Spain.

Other guys and girls were examples of less severe cases of people who are no longer willing to do office jobs. Startups, marketing – you name it. The difference is that we now have a class of highly educated and smart people who choose not to choose lives they’ve been being sold ever since they went to school. They are not downshifter white collars, they want to live and work at the same time. This is new and I am sure it is disturbing the current system!

So we went to a harbour at the island and did stand-up paddling.

We crossed the harbour which took us about an hour for which we were rewarded with the tastiest fish in the world served in a small family-ran tavern called the Aal-Kate. In short – you must go there!

Stand-up paddling is an amazing sport. I am writing these lines two days after I did paddling for 3 hours and every single muscle in my body hurts! Big tim! When you stand-up paddle your whole body works – from your toes to the tips of your fingers! Rowing is a bit of a commitment but stand-up paddling with its relaxed style is just right! Average speed: 1.5 km/h 😉

(By the way, there’s been at least 20 pictures taken and this is the only one where I managed to stand upright:)

The Fehmarn Island


The Fehmarn island is a popular holiday destination for people living in Northern Germany. It is also a transition hub between Germany and Denmark.

I noticed that it had two classes of tourists: active water sport people and old… seriously old people riding electric bikes up and down the island’s farmlands.

It costs you €2.1 to be there for a day and the money goes towards the island’s upkeep. And it can be seen! The beaches are spotless, there rubbish bins are kept tidy and things like soap in toilets are just always there. The locals complain but to me, these must have been the best spent €2.1 in the country!

Christiane.

None of this would have happened if not for Christiane whom I met at the pier of Heligenhafen. She was sitting there watching the sunset and I was walking back to my car after a shocking day of seeing the locals of Heligenhafen. And there was her sitting on the pier with a little bag and two empty beer bottles. I really wanted to take a photo of her in front of the setting sun, so I’ve approached her and we started to chat. We must have spoken for hours that night. 

Christiane was somehow special. For a long time I lived in the world where women fought for equality and rights but they would not get in a car alone to go further than 50km away from their house or spend over a month without a boyfriend… what am I saying, those women won’t even go to a bar unless they got someone to tug along with them. 

All that equality and women-empowerment is nothing but a fake. They blame more traditionalist countries like Germany for not being modern… but they’re wrong. Who’s truly independent and empowered are girls like Christiane but somehow politicians and the meadia ignore them and make us believe in what is effectively a false inmage of an independant woman.

Christiane is also no downshifter and has an office job. I really liked the fact that she comfortably resides in both of the opposite worlds, a white collar desk job and the world of windsurfing. I liked her smart face… you know when you can tell a person’s intelligence by lookiing in their eyes.

I really enjoyed watching Christiane brush her teeth. She had a posh electric tooth brush in an immaculate white box and that tooth brush was the only visible link between her beach-loving wind surfing self and the office worker who on any other day stands in front of a big mirror in her large bathroom before going to work to do… marketing stuff. I really liked that.

But Sunday was coming to an end, we went to the beach, someone stayed to illegally play golf at the golf field near the camp site, someone went swimming and Christiana went for a final stand-up paddle, although, she spent most of the time sitting on the board like seals with two other people:)

Then there was the final trip to Aal-Kate, sitting on the pier, saying goodbye to each other like it’s done among freedom-loving people – they don’t say the usual kind of a goodbye to each other, they know they will meet you again, maybe not you and not at the same place but they will meet someone just like they met each other this time and spend another great few days riding the wind.

Serge, 6 June 2016