Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Taste of Scandanavia - Stockholm Part 2

After a busy first day, I was excited to spend the second day in Stockholm, with Mattias and see another local point of view of the city. With a good top-bunk sleep in me, I met up with him and we headed to an island near Gamla Stan (the Old Part) called Djurgården. On this island, is a park that showcases old-time Swedish life, an amusement park and a few museums. Mattias and I skipped all that, and instead grabbed some Swedish fast food and walked around the island looking at the colorful houses. My tunnbrodsrulle as it is called in Swedish was quite a meal-on-the-go. A tortilla filled with a hot dog, mashed potatoes, ketchup, mustard, lettuce and tomato, I wouldn't say it was the tasiest meal I've had, but I guess eat as the locals do. The bright colors of the houses contrasted with the stark white snow on the ground and the blue and yellow Swedish flags blew in the light breeze. With a loop of the island complete and the majority of the hotdog suprise finished we headed back to the center of the city. A short stop for a coffee and at this point I was used to the glorified Folgers coffee that is served in cute little cups with graham crackers. At this particular café, an 80-year old lady was so excited that someone walked into her shop that she insisted on treating us as great as possible...water, coffee, cookies, a candy and her big smile.

It was then that I started to realize how much she looked like som
eone I know...Grammy! My Grammy has Swedish roots and as the trip went on, I started seeing her face in all of the little grandmas running around Stockholm. Sure made me miss her!
Full of Folgers coffee we made our way back to the neighborhood where my hostel was. The trendy little area is filled with second-hand shops, small cafés and other random stores that we poked in and out of throughout the day. One of the stops was at a Swedish candy shop. Filled with candies and treats I had never seen before, the black licorice flavored sweets were quite prevalent. Not a fan myself of black licorice, I gained an understanding why Grammy always wants the black jelly beans - it must be in the Swedish blood! I did my best to like it, but couldn't convince myself it tasted good and instead opted for the Swedish fish. Known as the little red fish gummies in the States, Mattias had never heard of them called Swedish fish, and I was even surprised to see that Swedish fish came in orange and yellow too - hooray Sweden! Even funnier was that Mattias had never heard of red licorice. I tried to explain the little ropes we eat at the movie theater but he had no idea. With bellies full of sweets (probably not the best idea since all I had eaten that day was the yucky tunnsbrodrulle) Mattias had to go home to get ready for an interview the next day and I walked a few steps to my hostel.

When I arrived an American girl was laying on her bed and I asked her if she wanted a trashy gossip magazine from Britian two Scottish girls had given me the day before and I had already read. It's not so exciting when you don't know any of the celebrities. That olive branch started a conversation and we decided we shouldn't be in the hostel and instead should be out in the neighborhood trying some Swedish beers, and so we were off! My new friend, Mira, is a law student who is studying abroad in Copenhagen for a semester and was starting a two-week trip like me, but hers included Oslo, St. Petersburg and Moscow. Both in the info I had from the tourist office and in her guide book was a bar called Oliver Twist that was recommended for their beer selection, so that was our destination. Extra plus: it was about 5 minutes from our hostel! With hundreds of beers to choose from, it was a difficult decision but in the end I tried a beer from Yakima (the Washington pride still lives on in this girl!) and a special Swedish Easter brew. Called Påsköl in Sweedish (Påsk means Easter), a lot of northern European countries make a special beer for the holiday. Traditionally stronger than a normal brew, it was a heavy dark beer, that I don't normally crave but I figured celebrating Easter with an Easter beer was a good reason to make an exception. Another Swedish Easter tradition I found out about was the decorating with feathers. I had been passing outdoor markets full of gorgeous daffodils and tulips and oddly neon colored feathers and I couldn't figure out why someone would want to put feathers up, but as it turns out, the Swedes welcome the Spring and celebrate Easter by displaying birch branches and delightfully-colorful feathers. With beer bellies, we went back to the hostel and had dreams about hopping Easter bunnies and hot pink feathers.

For my third day, I was committed to being a good tourist. I had spent my first two days being a local with my guy friends, seeing off-the-beaten-path cafés and shops and neighborhoods most tourists don't venture to, but for this day I decided I should pay attention to the sights Stockholm is famous for. Erika, my boss, had recommended that since I was in Sweden for a good amount of time, that I should really try to visit part of the archipelago that makes up Stockholm. With more than 24,000 island and islets, it is the biggest archipelago in Sweden and competes to be one of the biggest in all of the Baltic Sea. Funny thing about the word archipelago (which basically means a large collection of islands) is that I only learned it two weeks ago in Spanish class and honestly had no clue to pronounce it in English haha. Regardless, I found the boat to Vaxholm, a large and very popular summer island and boarded alongside people all over the age of 60. I guess if you want to feel young, just hang out with older people! Me and my retired friends were blessed with a sunny day and for the hour-long ferry ride we gazed out the front glass window at the small islands we were speeding past. Some islands only had one home or two on them and the docks looked like a small bus stop instead of a boat dock! After taking a short walk outside in the brisk fresh air, I noticed a young couple sitting near me and heard her say something in Spanish. Then I saw them trying to take a photo through the window with a disposable camera. In Spanish, I told them that they could go to the deck of the boat and probably get better photos than through the glass. So surprised that I spoke Spanish, they thanked me and I showed them the outside deck and they explained to me that upon arrival their digital camera had broken so they had to spend their week-long trip with disposable cameras. I would have died! For the remaining hour we had a nice conversation and I kind of patted myself on the back for being able to speak a decent level of Spanish with people from the south of Spain (who have a much more difficult accent to understand). Imagine the faces of the old Swedish grandparents on the boat with us. They all speak English perfect but I bet they didn't have any idea of a single word we said the entire trip! Secret language!

When we got off in Vaxholm we parted ways and I made off on my own to explore the little island that has been important to Sweden since 1558. The King at the time realized how instrumental Vaxholm could be in the defense of Sweden and ordered a defensive tower and fort to be built. A good move, a war vessel never dared to pass Vaxholm. Until the 1800s there was a customs post on the fortress island but in the mid 1800s the town changed from just a defensive line to a merchant's town. When the steamer came out, people could get from Vaxholm to Stockholm much easier and the boat ride I had just taken became a regular route in 1860. At this point it became a favorite summer spot for Stockholm residents and all of the bright houses that pop up all over the outline still maintain that era of construction with wood, carvings and decoration. On the island there isn't specific I HAD to see, but instead I was happy walking the winding roads that hugged the coast and investigating each house for it's own special intricacies. Pale yellow houses with bright blue wooden birds houses, rusty orange homes with just-ripe red berries and sky blue houses with pristine white roof decks were some of my favorite places that I stumbled on. My favorite place however was a private dock alongside the road where a post-worker had just sped by on his bike to deliver the mail. The dock had a view of not only Vaxholm but also the archipelago stretching in front of you. For 30 minutes it was a great place to relax and have some Amanda-time, closing my eyes and hearing small waves lapping into the island and then opening them and slowly watching ice chunks make their way in from the water. After figuring out all of the world's problems from my private dock, I got up and decided I deserved some chocolate. I headed back to the busy part of town and found a cute candy shop and walked in. The store clerk was helping an older woman pick her Easter treats from a huge array of options - marshmallow cakes decorated like Easter bunnies, bite-size treats covered with pastel-colored chocolate and sprinkles and of course licorice. Once the lady had spent about 215 kroner (only about $30) on pure goodness it was my turn, but I had no idea what any of the chocolates were and so I asked both of the ladies their favorites and that I would take one of each of their top picks. I ended up with 3 delicious home-made treats but still am not sure if I know what they were. I think I had a truffle of some sort decorated with pink chocolate, a passion-fruit filled dark chocolate ball and lastly a milk chocolate ball filled with a creamy something and then coated in powder cocoa. The lady was so cute that she tied up the plastic bag with a yellow ribbon and even curled the ends for me before I left the shop to go eat some lunch.

After a filling lunch and a few hours on Vaxholm, I caught the bus back to Stockholm. While it is an island, in 1926 a bridge was constructed to connect it to the mainland. This route is much quicker but I had earlier wanted the whole ferry experience, but oddly enough, there were no ferries back so the bus was my only option. When I got back to Stockholm, I met up with my new friend, Mira, and we went to the most popular Swedish museum - Vasamuseet. If anything in Scandinavia makes you feel like a Viking, it will be this museum. The dark entrance was misleading, and as soon as you enter through the tinted doors before sits a massive 1600s warship. Named the Vasa after the Vasa family that ruled Sweden for many years, this ship was built in 1626 as one of the finest and most elaborate war ships to date. At about 225 feet long, this wooden boat was painted with bright colors and decorated with detailed carvings to the point where it doesn't look like a war ship but instead more of a vacation cruise ship. On her maiden voyage from the ports of Stockholm through the archipelago, the sails caught the wind but the ship started to lean sideways and then again and again until it sunk, meanwhile sailors were throwing themselves overboard. Saddened and shocked, Sweden continued with their ship-building ventures, obviously learning well from the mistakes that they made with the balance of the Vasa. Miraculously in 1961 she came above water again when a huge team unearthed here from the water! Because the ship only made it 1300 meters, she didn't sink so deep and in 1961 teams of divers were able to blow tunnels underneath the ship and run cables through them to start the initial lifting process. On April 14th with all of Sweden holding their breath in hope that the last lift would be successful, the Vasa reemerged intact and still in amazingly good shape. Now she is only display at the museum and you can stand next to the massive ship and get an idea of what a 17th century war vessel was like and take a tour through the museum to understand life and times on the boat for the sailors. Most impressive to me were the carvings, which seemed to be so intricate for something that eventually might have just been blown up. From a lot of scientific research, they have been able to determine the original paint colors that were splashed all over the ship and they have a model showing what the ship would have looked like on it's first trip. With three floors that all wrap around the boat you are able to peek inside the old cannon doors into the boat and imagine the swirly sailors, admire the Vasa Coat of Arms and chuckle at the fact that it includes an olive branch - the sign of peace - on a war ship, and gaze at the ship hull that was built with more than a thousand oak trees and basically just marvel at the fact that this ship was built almost 400 years ago and here you are standing smack dab in front of it. Quite astounding.

With the sun still shining we left the 1600s and jumped back to reality with some food from Max - sort of a Swedish version of McDonald's. The most curious thing and the main reason for stopping by was to check out the menu - which tells you the carbon footprint of the food you are about to order. A cheeseburger for instance makes a carbon footprint of 1.8 kg of CO2. I'm not a good enough environmentalist to understand the impact of that but it's odd to eat your cheeseburger and think that you're helping destroy the world. Regardless, only an experience you can get in Sweden! Next was the King's Garden - a large park area that faces Gamla Stan and that really used to be the King's vegetable garden. While it is about 6 city blocks large, you sort of wonder how many veggies the King and his men really needed...but we didn't think about it too hard and instead enjoyed some wine in the sunshine after a day of being super tourists.

On our way back to our neighborhood I made sure to buy my ornament! This one is a small red horse with paintings on it that really symbolize the Swedish life. 150 years ago in some small log cabins during the cold winter nights, people started carving little horses to play with and painted them with a technique that involves using two brushes with different colored paint at the same time. Named the dalecarlian horse and once a toy for kids, it is now the symbol of Sweden. The first was sold in 1624 and I bought mine in 2010 and will remember it always!

The only must-do left on our list was the infamous Swedish meatball. And I'm not talking the meatballs that everyone knows and loves from Ikea, but real home-cooked ones. We showed up at a restaurant that looked as if it were once a huge beer hall that had been converted to a low-lit eating hall. With all the Swedish whizzing around in the air, it felt like we were the only tourists. We also thought this because they sat us in the corner (don't want to ruin their local reputation). This didn't bother us and we went ahead and ordered the same dish - Swedish meatballs with lingonberries. Never before had I heard of these lingonberries, but they are quite abundant in Sweden. Almost like a cranberry in both size and shape, these berries are somewhat tart but sweetened a bit with cooking before being served. How do you eat them? Well, you can eat them just by themselves, in a jam or in a sauce (think cranberry sauce), which makes me feel like they are just the cranberry of northern Europe. When sugar was a luxury in Sweden people often used lingonberry jam to add some sweetness to their lives. It was really odd to me to be eating a berry I had never heard nor tried before. In the Pacific Northwest we are blessed with so many delicious berries that I thought I had seen and tasted them all, but I guess traveling opens up more than your mind, it opens up your taste buds too! But back to the important stuff - the meatballs! The plate had 4 and Mira seemed disappointed, thinking it wouldn't be enough. Quite the opposite, as neither of us could finish the humongous balls that had a peculiar taste that I couldn't quite put my finger on but my tongue enjoyed!

Full and happy we ended my last night in Stockholm with another Swedish beer and then called it a night. The next morning I had a few hours to kill before my flight and thought I should start the day the same way I had when I arrived in this city - with a coffee. I ventured back to Gamla Stan to the oldest coffee bar in the Old Part called Sunbergs Konditori, established in 1785. With an elaborate set-up, the Folgers coffee seemed to taste a little better. This time, upon Grammy's suggestion of how her mom used to drink coffee, I put a sugar cube between my teeth and drank it that way. Maybe that's what made it taste better. After writing my postcards and eating one last apple strudel I said hej-då to Sweden.


1 comment:

Ron Trembath said...

Sounds like a great trip. It's great how you meet people random people to share the experiences with. Here's some irony, there is an Oliver Twist in downtown Portland. I don't think it's nearly as elaborate as Sweden. But then again, nothing really is in America.