Sweden – Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Tjörn Island

When Qatar Airways had some troubles with their neighboring countries I took advantage of the panic sales and purchased roundtrip tickets from Bangkok to Stockholm well in advance for dates that would be good for me and my Viking Princess.

A few months later she transferred to a different department in the company. Unfortunately due to work requirements she wouldn’t be able to go to Sweden to visit her family during the dates that I booked. Fortunately for me I have a great relationship with her family and wasn’t at all feeling deterred from swapping sweltering Thailand heat for comfortable Sweden cool weather. In this article I will highlight some of the wonderful fun and food I experienced along with the loving hospitality of my other family.

Stockholm – One of the most beautiful capitals in the world!

I spent my time in Stockholm with my gal’s brother (Håkan) and his family. My first full day in the “Land of the Midnight Sun” was spent exploring Stockholm. Our first stop was the Vasa Museet (Museum).

Finished in 1628, the Vasa ship was the Titanic of its day. The most powerful ship in the Baltic sea, equipped with 64 cannons, it was HUGE. Similar to the Titanic it also sank on its maiden voyage–though 1,300 meters was the length of its maiden voyage. It was incredibly top-heavy, lacked enough ballast, and as a result it was capsized by a slight wind before the astonished eyes of the crowds of spectators. The story of this catastrophe isn’t atypical when great things fail–yet many are not surprised by the failure. What is amazing is the story of how it was raised from the deep and how well was preserved.

Kaknästornet – Lunch with a view!

Exploring the Vasa ship is hungry work. Afterwards we went to the Kaknästornet, Stockholm’s 155 meter tall TV tower for a bite to eat. Unlike Bangkok, Stockholm doesn’t have numerous 200+ meter buildings.  As a result the Restaurang Kaknästornet is able to combine impressive dining views of Stockholm with excellent food from its 28th floor vantage.

I enjoyed the view with a large cold Mariestad’s beer and Toast Skagen (shrimp salad with lots of yummy dill on toast). If you’re not drinking Mariestad’s beer when you come to Sweden then you’re doing it wrong.

Stockholm – Beautiful architecture

There’s a saying about modern minimalist Swedish architecture, which paraphrased  would be “take away until you can take no more then the design is perfect“. Newer buildings might appear “boxy” but they afford wide expansive windows to let in lots of natural light (something the Swedes crave during those times when there’s only a couple of hours of daylight), the spaces are very functional and open, and it’s quite cozy. Stockholm has found that balance between maintaining their historically significant buildings whilst erecting new construction without making an obvious contrast between the two.

Rag and Bone

Rag and Bone Statue

One interesting landmark is a bronze statue of a homeless fox wearing a tattered blanket. “Rag and Bone” is located near the corner of Drottninggatan and Strömgatan. When I first turned the corner and saw it I was taken aback. The statue was so out of place in this well to do area of Stockholm. It also took a bit to realize that it was, in fact, a statue. The purpose of the statue is to make you think about all those unfortunate–for those that live and work in a neighborhood of such wealth this statue can be pretty effective at providing a reflective pause.

Recreational public space…

Chess Anyone?

More than architecture, Stockholm also contains a lot of really nice recreational space. Parks, biking and  jogging paths, and well as public gardening areas. When the sun is out, so are the people of Stockholm. I thought this public chessboard in the park was pretty neat!

Drottningholm Palace

I was incredibly lucky during my time in Stockholm. Historically October can be a pretty wet and dreary weather period. Though there were a few showers, for the most part each day that I was there had beautiful blue skies with crisp air that a jacket easily compensated for. Our visit of the Drottningholm Palace couldn’t have happened on a nicer day, and since it was off tourist season we had many picturesque moments without crowds. The Drottningholm Palace is the private residence for the Swedish Royal Family (there are many palaces).

Monster Meals

Tunnbrödsrulle – The monster

One day Håkan and I took an “Under the Bridges” boat sightseeing tour. But before we began our adventure we grabbed a bite to eat from a little hotdog stand. I had no idea what was in store for my stomach. We each got a Tunnbrödsrulle. This GIANT meal contains two hot dogs, generous scoops of shrimp salad, mashed potatoes, relish, mustard, ketchup, and salad wrapped up in a flat bread. They give you a spoon as a joke I think because the only way to eat this thing is to wrestle it with both hands.

I don’t like to waste food but I just couldn’t finish it. For the next few hours of the boat ride I could feel it sticking to my insides and weighing like a brick. There weren’t many pictures taken on the boat ride…this is one of the few that actually came out well.

Pelikan – Historical food in a “new location”.

I had an authentic “old school” Swedish dinner with friends and family at the very famous Pelikan Restaurang. The “Pelikan” has operated continuously since opening it’s doors in 1664. It has moved around the city a few times and now sits at its new Blekingegatan location since 1904. What has not changed over time is its menu. Here you can try historical dishes of plain Swedish food. Pelikan is famous for its “golf ball sized” meatballs (note: do NOT ask for Swedish meatballs in Sweden. Just ask for meatballs.). They are also famous for their super tender fläsklägg med rotmos or boiled pork leg with mashed swedes (note the lowercase “s” as it is a root that looks a bit like a large turnip and tastes a bit like carrot and cabbage and is not mashed actual Swedish people). I also recommend their älgcarpaccio or moose carpaccio as an excellent starter.

A train with a beautiful view…

Räkmacka (Shrimp Sandwich)

Taking the train from Stockholm to Gothenburg is a comfortable 3 hour and 15 minute ride and a very affordable 198 SEK ($23 USD). I highly recommend traveling Sweden by the rails. Unfortunately for me, my window seat was commandeered by a very chatty elderly Russian woman. I didn’t have the the heart to boot her out of my seat (or maybe I had the heart to let her remain in my window seat?).  After about an hour of “chatting” with her via the Google translate app in both Russian and Swedish I finally made the bold decision to feign sleep until she actually fell asleep (with her mouth wide open, I might add). I then bolted to the dining car where I created this beautiful Instagrammable view. It’s Räkmacka (sweet shrimp piled on bread with lots of dill and mayonnaise) and a tall can of Mariestad’s beer. Yum!

Mats (my gal’s sister’s hubby) was awaiting me in Gothenburg. He was a bit surprised to find me weighed down with luggage and a large backpack–I was assisting the elderly Russian woman. Once we got her to the area of her next train we were off to the Island of Tjörn and a wonderful reception of wine and family!

A wine reception! (Mamma Lola, Mats, and Ann-Louise)

Gothenburg – Things to do on a rainy day.

One of the few rainy days during my visit was the day that we went to Gothenburg. But that didn’t stop us from having a good time. Our first stop was to get out of the rain and grab some lunch at a cafeteria style restaurant near the Saluhallen. Here I feasted on a plate of GIANT kottbullar or meatballs in a delicious rich gravy, mashed potatoes, and lingonberry sauce.

Swedish Meatballs
Meatballs with gravy, potatoes, and lingonberry sauce.

Universeum – Feed your mind!

After feeding our bellies we did the next best thing on a rainy day, we fed our minds. We went to the natural museum, an indoor zoo really, called Universeum.

The museum is several floors of wildlife habitat with an impressive aquarium that has a glass tunnel for sharks to swim over the heads of guests, and a large aviary where you can interact with winged friends. After walking about and building an appetite we went back to the Saluhallen for a fika.

Wait….what’s a “fika”?

Good question. I wondered what a fika was when I first heard about it, too. First off, it has nothing to do with feces. Fika is some point in the day when Swedes get together with friends, colleagues, or family and enjoy a cup of coffee and a snack (usually small cakes or desserts). This particular day happened to be kanelbullens dag or Cinnamon Bun Day. These tasty buns are easy to be found normally, but on this particular day they were EVERYWHERE. So of course we had a few kanelbullar with our fika, and I also wanted some chokladbiskvier (chocolate biscuits) with the fika because they are awesome. These little chocolate domed pastry disks are filled with a custard like filling which I suspect is cocaine based. After a few, you kind of get the shakes but you still want more.

I’m on a boat!

Me and Mats

I was lucky to have arrived to Tjörn in time for the lobster fishing season. That’s about as far as my luck went as far as catching lobsters go. Not a single sign of the “black gold”. That being said, I’m a freaking crab magnet! What we couldn’t find in lobster we made up for in loads of crabs. After awhile we had to start throwing them back in. Deadliest Catch…pshaw!

Partying with the ladies of Tjörn…

I spent a lovely afternoon partying with a couple of ladies from Tjörn, Lola and Ann-Louise. We did some shopping to prepare for the upcoming crayfish and crab party (our recent catch providing lots of crab guests). We did the shopping and then had lunch at the Hotell Nordevik, a hotel where many of the furnishings and decoration are original since its opening in 1952. It’s a great place to step back in time. Every day they have a lunch special and on this day we got the salmon filet with cream sauce and potatoes.

Salmon Filet Nordevik Hotel
Salmon Filet Lunch Special (Nordevik Hotel)

After lunch, and the food put away, we enjoyed some beers with a view, and took the dogs for a walkabout. When Mats got home we did some boozy experimentation with a new snaps and invented a new drink with the peppermint snaps, cranberry juice, and soda water. After several of those we were pretty certain they would be a HUGE hit (make sure you use cranberry juice and not orange juice-it’s pretty gross with orange juice).

Lola made boiled pork knuckle with mashed swede (fläsklägg med rotmos) and it was well received by all.

Salt and Sill

We had a lovely dinner at a restaurant and boatel called Salt and Sill. This restaurant faces the sea and dishes out some pretty tasty seafood. I had the herring board which was a sampler of 6 different herrings with accompanying classic accessories and boiled potatoes, the catch of the day (I believe it was flounder) with a rich butter sauce, a chocolate mouse with marinated cherries for dessert. I was excited to try Tjörn beer–it’s always nice to try the local brew.

Crayfish party!

September was the time for crayfish parties in Sweden. Fortunately there’s no such thing as a “bad time” to have a crayfish parties and my family was super kind enough to put away buckets of langoustine (also known as Norway lobsters). The langoustines with the fresh crabs we caught and plenty of Swedish snaps and other drinks made for a fantastic evening.

Time to say goodbye!

The trip had gone so fast and the day to say goodbye seemed to come so quickly. I had a long way to get back to Bangkok, though. First I had to take the train from Gothenburg back to Stockholm, then overnight there before an early flight home. But before I left the Land of the Midnight Sun I had just one more mission to accomplish (aside from the getting all the stuff on the extensive and detailed shopping list provided by my Viking Princess). I had to have a Max Burger. It might seem strange to end this travelogue of amazing food and experiences with a fast food burger. I’m not proud but it is what is.

I had a couple of hours to spend at the train station in Gothenburg. My gal’s always talking about this Max Burger thing. I thought why not? For once Googlemaps actually guided me directly to the nearest Max burger joint without routing me through a mine field, neighborhood of warring gangs, or shark tank. I ordered a Max Burger Classic with fries. It’s not a gourmet burger, mind you (if a gourmet burger is your thing go here), but for a fast food burger it’s pretty good! The patty is a bit like salisbury steak, but the bun and veggies are good (the processed cheese is forgivable as it’s fast food).

Final thoughts…

I had a wonderful time in Sweden. I’d spent a few months acquiring some Swedish language skills through a free online site called Duolingo. Though I certainly wasn’t a fluent speaker, it was nice to be able to speak some simple phrases and also hilarious when boozing it up. I’m glad I did it.

Though I am sure I could have had a lot more fun with my gal being there I’m glad I did get an opportunity to go alone. It gave me time to get to know the family a little better and for them to better know me. I’m super grateful for the time they took take such great care of me. All I wanted to do was eat good food, drink good drinks, and laugh (a lot). They made sure I got all of that plus much, much more.

I know that there’s a popular misconception that Sweden is a cold and expensive place. That wasn’t my experience (though I admit I was pretty lucky with the weather). I will say that whatever the weather be, the Swedes can be very warm and welcoming to make up for any chill you feel. The Land of the Midnight Sun is also able to accommodate most any travel budget and if yours is pretty tight then ride the rails and take advantage of the korvkiosk  (hot dog stand). A Tunnbrödsrulle ought to have enough calories to last you an entire day and you will feel it for most of the day!

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