Sunday, November 23, 2008

London Fog

Woke up early the other day and found a city of fog and mystery.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

48 Hours in Stockholm

See more photos here!

We flew into Sweden on Friday morning and landed in the tiny little airport of Skavsta in the middle of nowhere. It was like landing in the interior of BC - trees and trees and fresh crisp air. Got through customs and hopped on the bus that took us to Stockholm.

Skavsta's a looong way to Stockholm. Seriously. Thank God we had a sandwich. One hour and twenty minutes of cold wet weather and trees and a napping boyfriend later, we arrived at Stockholm's central train station. The couple in front of us on the bus (who, having been happily reunited, made out most of the bus ride) seemed to know where they were headed so we followed surreptitiously and eventually found the Tunnelbana (Stockholm's subway system).

Our hotel, the Clarion Stockholm, was on the island of Sodermalm and perfectly situated near lots of transit. It might also have been one of the cool hotels mentioned on certain cool websites and guidebooks. There was art everywhere - 59 works from 18 contemporary Swedish artists. The elevators had little sparkly lights in the ceiling. The bathroom had a shower room. It was the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. The breakfast buffet, which was substantial, had smoked reindeer and pancakes.

After quick check-in, we were off to explore Stockholm. The one thing I wanted to do was to visit the Saluhall - Stockholm's gorgeous ode to food, rather like Borough Market (but inside and more atmospheric). It was beautiful, cosy and filled with stunning foodstuffs. All sorts of fashionable people were buying their groceries. We had a quick coffee and wandered out and around in the cold in Ostermalm, checking out beautiful stores and spying on people through their windows. Surprisingly, no one seemed to have IKEA lamp shades. We got a bit lost but found our way back to the Saluhall and grabbed some open faced sandwiches to munch on. Factoring in the exchange rates (Swedish Kronor to British Pounds to Canadian dollars), they may have been the most expensive sandwiches ever. One was smoked salmon and the other was shrimp, both served on the seediest, densest bread. Absolutely delicious with a spritz of lemon.

Cold and a bit wet, we went back to the hotel and then headed out in search of a restaurant I had heard of. We found ourselves in a residential area and decided that where ever the restaurant was, we weren't there so we had better start looking for another option.

Anyone who's ever had the pleasure of traveling with me will know that I have trouble choosing a restaurant and have certain standards and criteria. We wandered around for some time and ended up finding a warm, cosy restaurant that was full of people. Five minutes later, we were seated and the (really sweet) server brought us menus in English and Swedish. We ordered and spent the time waiting for our meal by translating the menu. This proved useful as we looked very smart for the remainder of the trip while we translated egg, ham, cheese, and various types and cuts of meat.

Dinner was delicious. C had beef tenderloin and mushrooms in a rich, creamy veal gravy with potato gratin. I had butter fired arctic char on a warm potato salad with wilted greens.

Afterwards we wandered, full and happy back to the hotel where we laughed at bad MTV reality TV and went to sleep.

Saturday morning (after the smoked reindeer), we caught a bus which did not take us in the direction I thought it would so we ended up going for a nice long walk along the water with a beautiful view of Stockholm. Then we headed up to the State library and observatory to look around. Had a great coffee (Stockholm does coffee really well) in a little cafe (Aside: many of the cafes keep piles of blankets near the windows, ostensibly so people can sit and look out without freezing. How thoughtful!).

Wandered some more, saw pretty things and interesting buildings and decided we should head back to the hotel to meet up with Sarah et al. But. It had been HOURS since our breakfast. We were hungry. What would we do??

So we stopped at one of the (many) street stalls and had a Tunnbrodsrulle. What's that, you ask? A Tunnbrodsrulle is a flat bread wrap with mashed potatoes and a hot dog. With relish. Oh god. Who knew? It was so good. And not just in a "oh dirty street food" good. This was awesome. And also a little funny.

We picked Sarah and the birthday retinue up from their hostel down the street (how convenient was that!?) and headed into town. We found a cute and cosy little bar with a warm upstairs and soft pillows. The feeling of being cold and then going inside somewhere warm is wonderful. You forget when you don't live in place with proper cold. Anyways, after a few drinks and some chatting, we headed towards the restaurant I had picked out - Pelikan. Naturally it was busy so we had drinks in the bar before sitting down in a beautiful room for beautiful food. I had roast elk. C had meatballs that were WAY better than IKEAs. Lovely, and most important Sarah was happy. Honestly, I had been more than a little stressed about finding a suitable birthday restaurant in a city I didn't know.

After dinner we headed to a club and danced to 90s retro dance music for a few hours before packing it in and heading back to the hotel's ever-so-comfy bed.

Sunday was raining. Not pouring, but wet and cold. We wandered up through Sodermalm to Gamla Stan, Stockholm's Old City. With the cold, we decided to visit the city's museum. It was much like many other museums of royalty - though the Royal Apartments are still used and Nobel prize winners celebrate there, which is pretty cool. We were just finishing up in the museum when we heard the cannons go off and rushed outside to witness the changing of the guard. And, it started to snow. Not the piddling British kind of snow that melts the moment it hits the pavement. Swedish snow. Big wet globs of gorgeous white snow. Delightful.

But once the guards were done and the snow had stopped, we were all really cold and really wet so we went in search of food. We ended up in a small (and cosy! sensing a theme?) restaurant called Adolfini Kok and had elk meatballs and rack of lamb while drinking wine and being warm and it was great.

Still cold, but at least full, we made our way through the winding streets of the old city, popping in and out of shops and looking for somewhere warm to drink hot chocolate. We found one, drank our fill and then headed back to the hotel to grab our stuff to start the (ridiculously) long journey home to London.

Stockholm was great. A beautiful city, polite, nice people, great food. The Christmas lights and trees were up and that, combined with the cold, made me feel hugged. Reminded me of Canada home in a way that was good but not homesick.