68. “The Subway of Italian Food”

Stockholm, it appears, is a place of great quality, everywhere you go. Even the cheapest restaurant we could find was amazing! We headed to Vapiano, an international chain of Italian restaurants that started in Germany. It had an amazing selection of pastas pizzas and salads, not to mention a fantastic set of hilarious food-related quotes all over the world.

I really enjoyed Vapiano, although some Swedes I met scoffed, and told me it was “The Subway of Italian Food.” I can see exactly why – there is no table service, but instead you are given a card that is scanned when you order food or drinks, and when you order the food, you pick a meal base but can customise it with different ingredients added, and you stand and watch the chefs make your meal before you take your meal and sit down. Unlike subway, however, you can enjoy a delicious glass of French Syrah while you watch the talented chefs cook amazing meals with very high quality ingredients. The setting was also really cosy – candle lit tables, each also covered with fresh basil and rosemary plants.

It seemed to be the perfect blend of delicious Italian food, German efficiency and Scandinavian design! Like McDonald’s, I refuse to eat at Subway while there are so many amazing and unique culinary experiences available to me in Europe and in no way at all did I get the Subway vibe. Must be some high Stockholm standards at play with that comment!


67. The Best Semla in Stockholm

Stockholm is famous for a most delicious tradition: between Christmas and Easter, bakeries all over town make Semla, best translated as a cream bun, although that description does them absolutely no justice. Semla are quite incomparable to anything else I have come across, which definitely makes them a necessity to try.

Like restaurants in Japan, as spring draws ever closer, bakeries will display Semla replicas in their windows and there is an annual competition to determine which bakery makes the best ones. These ‘buns’ are a sweat bread-y pastry, (seeds from vanilla pods visible in the dough), with a hole carved out of the bun which is then filled with cream and sometimes a vanilla almond paste, before the lid is replaced and it is dusted with icing sugar. They may not look like much initially, but dam do they taste good!

In my quest to eat my way across Europe, I felt it only appropriate that I track down the winning Semla. It was at a bakery called Tossebageriet in the trendy district of Ostermalm. It was quite the beautiful walk on the way there, with tree lined streets and the sun shining gloriously. The bakery had a whole collection of other amazing treats, but I had my eyes on the prize!

This particular Semla was delicious, and one of the ones filled with an amazing vanilla almond paste. I could absoltely see why this bakery was the 2012 winner and I thoroughly recommend anyone looking to experience Stockholm’s best food to try one.

66. “Are They Drunk or Are They Swedish?”

On our first night in Sweden we decided to venture out to a bar in town called Sturehof that our friend had recommended we go to. It definitely wasn’t anything you’d find in a lonely planet guide – we had to go through a bar, a restaurant, past another bar and up a mysterious stair case to find it. The look of intrigue on the bouncer’s face when we showed our various international driver’s licences confirmed it wasn’t the usual tourist hotspot.

The bar was pretty cool, good music, and more of a chat and dance-a-little vibe – halfway between a lounge bar and a dance club. This was our first real encounter with Swedes, other than those studying on exchange with us. It was like a David Attenborough documentary, as we observed the behaviours of the herd! We certainly noticed that a huge part of the mating ritual was wearing very expensive designer labels, and blatantly being very carefully put-together, despite trying to appear as if they ‘just woke up and threw this on.’ The view from our perch in the raised seating area was almost like flicking through an editorial photo shoot in a fashion magazine.

Given we had had introductory lectures in Denmark about the social norms, behaviours and cultural value of Danes, we were ever so curious as to whether the behavioural patterns we had learned about were similar with the neighbouring Swedes. For example, we had been told (and obversations of the native’s behaviour confirmed) that Danish people are initially considerably more shy and stand-offish than those of many western cultures. One need only see the look of great discomfort on a Dane’s face as he is greeted with kisses by an Italian to have this confirmed. Put a beer in his hand, however, and everything changes, even before he’s taken a sip!

One thing I have certainly noticed, is the difference when you come across someone in the street. In New Zealand it is common to wave and say hi or smile if you are walking past someone and you catch their eye. If you are going for a run and come across another jogger, even more so. You share that mutual look of “I’m pretending to be fit, but really I’m dying inside too.” In Denmark, however, I still haven’t fully gotten this habit out of my system, and everyone looks at me like I’m a total creep when I smile or say hi.

As for Swedes, my friend from Sweden had had a few complaints about Danish behaviour, describing walking through hallways at University as “the laws of the jungle” – I seem to be the only one at school that routinely holds doors open for people as they walk through, and am constantly met with looks of surprise. Ride a full bus and you’ll see them all race for the door at the same time as though someone just pulled the fire alarm. With her surprised reactions at how Danes interact with eachother, we had quite the impression that Swedish people would be much more like what we’re used to (Canadians, it seems, have much the same behavioural patterns and common courtesies as New Zealanders, Americans more of a mixed bag but on the whole pretty polite).*

However, this particular bar turned out to be a terrible place for scientific observations. We arrived close to midnight and hadn’t had much to drink ourselves so most people in the bar where on a whole other. Buying a drink was like being in a moshpit, and there were plenty of scantily clad girls choosing really inconvenient places to dance. However, our one major interraction with native Swedes was when a very drunk one climbed up on the bench a friend was sitting on, lost his balance and landed completely on top of her, before falling on to our table and smashing all of our glasses in to pieces. We were already feeling a little sensitive about how much we had just paid for the drinks (apparently a slice of lemon in this bar makes your drink a cocktail, so stick to the beer and cider). Drunk people fall over all the time, so it wasn’t the fall that gave us the terrible impression. When we pointed out in no uncertain terms that it was neither funny nor endearing to flatten an unsuspecting californian and throw a round of drinks across the bar, instead of the apology you would generally expect in such a situation, the response was an aggressive “What? What do you want?” like he was going to fight me, or paying us off was the solution. I would have been happier with an apology than the most expensive bottle in the bar, to be quite honest. We all commented about how in almost every culture we have experienced, such a reaction would never have occurred, but profuse apologies would have been made instantly.

The most expensive round we never had

After many more observations in order to answer the question of the night – “Are they drunk or are they Swedish?” everyone else we meet in our time in Sweden proved the hypothesis that yes, they were drunk, and sadly fell into the unfortunately large category of people that are arseholes when they drink.

Unlike the Danes, it was a lot harder to pigeonhole any particular behavioural patterns of Swedes, apart from the fact that they all dress immaculately.

*Comments about first impressions of Danes are not to be taken to mean Danes aren’t lovely people. Once the ice is broken, Danish people have, in my experience, proved to be incredibly kind, helpful, loyal and friendly!

65. Swedish Smörgås

One of our café recommendations in Stockholm was ‘Sturekatten’ which I’m fairly sure translates to the fat cat. Based on the Danish word for big/large (Store) and the cats all over the signage. This was yet another scavenger hunt of an adventure, as the café turned out to be quite the hidden gem, off in a side street with minimal signage. After google maps sent us in a totally unnecessary circle, we found the place. We only knew we were in the right spot as a result of our detailed instructions “You will feel like you are walking in to someone’s loungeroom.”

As we walked up an old wooden spiral staircase, the description was perfect. With doilies on tables, potted plants, delicate teacups and mismatched antique chairs, we knew we were in the right place. The waitstaff were all in the cutest Victorian style lace aprons, and there was a range of different rooms you could sit in, with majestic curtains and rustic window frames separating them.

The food at Sturekatten was amazing, and we felt it was the perfect time to try a truly Nordic lunch. While smörgås, or smørrebrød, as it is called in Danish, is very common in Denmark, it wasn’t until I was in Sweden that I thought it would be a good opportunity to give it a go. Smörgås is typically on a slice of rye bread (two slices is far too much to consume in one go) and piled with toppings. A very common version of this Nordic delight is a generous helping of mayonnaise, slices of egg and a ridiculous heap of shrimps. smörgås or smørrebrød is usually well decorated, commonly with cucumber slices and at this particular place also had caviar.

It was a delicious lunch, and the cabinet of food looked amazing – it was really hard to pick just one thing!

Another particularly swedish trend was on display here also. When you pay for a coffee at many cafes, you then help yourself to a coffee at a tea/coffee stand. A bit of an honesty system and refills are encouraged, but the sacrifice is a lack of espresso machine. No flat whites in this part of the world!

Fun fact: the term smorgasbord (buffet) comes from smörgås.

64. Gamla Stan

Gamla Stan, or the Old Town, in central Stockholm is quite possibly one of the most beautiful spots in all Stockholm, and if I’d been to more places I reckon I’d be extending that area quite considerably. Until then, I’ll stick to what I know.

Stockholm has been called the Venice of Scandinavia, and it is easy to see why in Gamla Stan. The city is made up of a number of islands, one of them being Stadsholmen, where Gamla Stan is found. Every square inch of land on Stadsholmen is taken up by stunning old-style architecture, with the buildings as close to the edge of the island as possible, with only the minimum amount of cobbled pathways separating them.

Gamla Stan dates back to the 13th century and includes the Royal Palace, the Stockholm Stock Exchange building and the Cathedral. Unlike the Old Town in Aarhus, Gamla Stan isn’t an open air musuem or collection of relics and replicas, but instead many of the medieval buildings are still in use as cafes, restaurants, bakeries, antique stores and bars. There is something very romantic and magical about walking through the town in the evening and seeing the cafes full of people, enjoying the music at candle-lit tables. It is like being transported back in time, but with hygienic streets and food safety standards.

62. “The View”

My lovely friend and Stockholm local, Emelie, told us where to find the best view in Stockholm, without dropping a tonne of money on the tourist-filled gondola. It turned out to be quite the scavenger hunt, as we made our way to Sodermalm, walked through the grounds of the Hilton, up and down alleyways and through the hills, hunting down Monteliusvägen – a little path on an (almost) cliff edge. On the way there we were following our friend Marc, who by the end of the trip was dubbed “the map.” Being such a beautiful city, there were many highly aesthetically pleasing spots along the way, prompting repeated calls of “Is this The View?”  “Ok, is this The View?” “Surely we must have found The View now?” Like children on a road trip yelling out “Are we there yet.” I don’t think Marc/The Map was too impressed.

When we got there, it was truly beautiful. From the old boats immediately below us, to the entire north of the city stretched out before us, including the stunning Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Here’s my attempts at panaramic photos, plus a few normal ones:

61. Fall In Love

My weekend in Stockholm was quickly extended, but even with a few extra unplanned days I didn’t want to leave! Stockholm was just amazing, and I had no idea just how hard I would fall for its beauty, excitement, seamless transitions between old and new, eclectic artwork, quirky bars, fashion, cosy cafes, amazing food… the list goes on.

As I wondered through the streets in the often vastly different areas, every single corner I turned revealed a new and different view, a beautiful building (be it old or new), a crazy scultpture or an exceptionally well designed cafe. The city had such an unbelievable amount of character, of all different types. From the Old Town, with every inch of land covered by medieval masterpieces, to the tree-lined streets of Ostermalm, to trendy Sodermalm or the super clean and slick streets of Normalm, with beautiful architecture from all ages.

Perhaps it was the fact that there are over 100 museums in Stockholm, or that even the subway system is famous for being full of modern art. Perhaps the fact I arrived with no expectations or pre-conceived notions of what the city would be like. Or better still, that an absolutely lovely friend of mine, a Stockholm local also studying on exchange in Aarhus, wrote out an amazing itinerary of things to do and all her favourite places. Armed with a list of all of Stockholm’s hidden gems – from best views to cafes, bars and restaurants, this was no watered down touristy adventure. It really felt like a taste of what living in Stockholm was really like, and I must say I loved it!

There’s no way I can do the trip justice in just one post, so stay tuned for posts about my adventures, and an epic photo album.