A Scandinavian Summer

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I’m no Photographer but I could not resist my hand at trying to capture those majestic buildings, I call them Parisian buildings. No offence intended Stockholm! Motiv Stockholm does a better job in their fabulous black and white photos of this beautiful city. Something that struck me on this fourth visit to the capital is the faint underlying spell of Frenchness to the city from the ubiquitous hot dog stands touting “French style hotdogs” to the cafes with their checkered rattan chairs out on the pavement discreetly placed in prime people watching position. And I was enlightened by my husband (a Swede no less and of Wallonian heritage) that King Gustaf the IV Adolf was deposed by the Swedish Aristocracy for whatever reasons and in 1818 they appointed the French General Jean Baptiste Bernadotte to the throne, he was renamed Karl Johan. As further evidence, the residence of the Royal Family, Drottingholm Castle, constructed during the same time as the Versailles and in the same French Baroque style.

Summer is definitely not wasted on the Swedes, and those 18 hours or so of daylight is fully occupied! And so it is the same in the garden, I loved how commonplace it was to have fruit trees in the front or backyard. I captured some of nature’s bounty in Kungsör, the town where my husband grew up. The cherries and apples are sometime away from being eatable but (sigh) wouldn’t that be nice to only have to walk out your back or front door for fresh fruit.

As I sit here writing about our holiday and fruit I’m remembering the Swedish strawberries, the best I have tasted, all the goodness of summer rolled into this single berry. Sweden is blessed with an abundance of berries; strawberries, blueberries, cloudberries, smultron, lingon, raspberries, blackberries, you name it whatever the species you’re sure to find it somewhere in the landscape. I was introduced to smultron this summer and it’s a very small strawberry like berry that tastes incredibly sweet. This wild berry is difficult to come across and the Swedes have fondly adopted this into an expression “smultronställe” to mean someplace special.

See that’s what I like about the Swedes there is a name for everything, such as taking time out for coffee and something sweet. That would mean “Fika” in Swedish as you catch up with a friend, colleague or family, whoever it maybe to discuss the days, weeks events. And what better place to have Fika than at Fabrique Stenugnsbageri . This basement bakery (in Ostermalm) beckons you in as the sweet aroma of their freshly baked bulle (buns) wafts into the street.

And where else would you taste great looking salmon in various disguises than in Scandinavia. Two places where I shared memorable meals was at the casual deli style saluhallen Albert & Jack’s on Drottininggatan and it was salmon fishcake at Gubbhyllan, Skansen The latter is owned and run by the famous Swedish chef KC Wallberg.

The Swedes are big on design and their style like the other Nordic countries seems to withstand the passage of time, the Scandinavian design described the world over as “unpretentious” in its simplicity and having an “understated elegance”. I often think lots of white space with beautiful textiles bringing a level of coziness for those long cold winters. And you only have to walk into the local Pressbyrån to find a large collection of home styling magazines to see what I mean. Or as we recently discovered search the numerous homes for sale online to get a real feel for the Scandic style. Each home lovingly decorated and nicely presented.

Hence I had high expectations for home decoration ideas and furnishings. And I was not disappointed; Granit was one place that caught my attention with its gorgeous range of kitchen, bathroom and glassware selection. I needed to start the ideas rolling as we just got the keys to our Stockholm apartment.

Stockholm for Children; both our girls had the coolest time as we visited Grona Lund and Skansen on Djurgården. Grona Lund is like Tivoli Copenhagen, an absolutely charming amusement park with all your favourite rides of yesteryear. And Skansen is a large open-air museum and zoo showcasing Nordic animals like the powerful moose, bison, wolverine, geese plus many more. You also see traditional buildings from the various regions in Sweden, learn a little about the culture and witness folk dancing in action. Djurgården is an oasis, here is the place to bring your bikes, a picnic or just come for a wander as there are many more attractions.

There are of course many shops stocking fashionable kids clothing but Polarn O. Pyret have a loyal following and I have to admit this successful Swedish brand does it well as their shops scream of bold, bright colours, you would not think twice about kitting your kids out in their gear. Another chain I came across, it was right next to our hotel, was Sprall. It was the pretty display of hanging lamps that caught my eye. They stock various brands of clothes, furniture, toys, and costumes. Seriously cute!

A useful travel tip: mums (or dads) with prams travel free on the public buses in the city. And for a comprehensive guide filled with tips and advice on restaurants, shopping and places to see, the Design Sponge’s Stockholm guide will fill up your itinerary. If only I read it first… never mind I am already planning my next trip to Stockholm (in the winter)!

We visited Gotland as I had read so much about its windswept coastline and country style of life. There was a definite change in the pace of life, a welcoming one as you inhaled all that fresh country air whilst walking around.

And our trip would not be complete without a visit to Pippi Långstrump’s sommarland house, Villa Villakula, as my 4 year old loves watching Pippi movies. She was literally in a dazed state when she entered the house and looked around; it was like seeing the movies come to life for her. We went into the house three times as she slowly grasped the idea of seeing it for real.

Continuing on with the kids theme we journeyed to Copenhagen in our rather large husbil (motorhome). We arrived in Copenhagen early in the evening and headed straight to Tivoli. We had a fabulous evening as there is so much going on there. An abundance of rides to keep the kids busy, various live entertainment areas and a broad selection of restaurants. It was thriving with people being a Friday plus the band Aqua was scheduled to perform later in the evening.

Very close to the Tivoli is a grand looking building, Cirkus, it was built in the late 1800s. Although a fire destroyed most of the building in 1914 leaving only the outer walls and the façade, it was quickly rebuilt to open a year later. Today there is less use for travelling circus companies instead it is the venue for musical events, ballet, concerts etc.

Unfortunately we only spent a day in the city, this was spent navigating (and avoiding getting in the way of cyclists) the streets including Strøget, the pedestrianised shopping area, spending some time in the park and visiting some furniture shops to see some classical danish furniture. Copenhagen impressed me with it’s magnificient buildings, it’s largely cosmopolitan atmosphere and underlying grittiness. One thing I did not realise is how windy it gets, the wind turbines scattered around the country should have given me some clue!

And onward to the northernmost tip of the country, Skagen, dress warm (it was summer too) and get out all your wind-proof gear as this is no place to sit outside for prolonged periods of time. Despite this windy assault it was nice to see this wild terrain battling the elements. And maybe I am a little convinced about the “special light” that makes Skagen famous.

The last stop on our Scandinavian adventure was Olso and I have to say I did fall in love with this city. As much as you can over the course of a few hours. Although the Centre of the city is small it exudes a lovely relaxed ambiance and general friendliness. We stopped at this bakery, United Bakeries for a snack and also as the rotating baskets caught my eye from the street. It serves its purpose by bringing up the freshly baked bread and pastries up from the ovens below. The shop/café is simply gorgeous with its mismatched chairs, freshly pressed apple juice, friendly and helpful staff and delicious breads/pastries. A note of warning on the sweet breads, they are laden with sugar.

Another great shop we happened upon was this beautiful florist, Shishi, stunning arrangements all artfully displayed. I simply adore flowers and this was a gem of a store. And so its true the Scandinavians are big on interiors and all things beautiful. I will be back Oslo to explore all your boutiques!