Going to Stockholm around my birthday has become a bit of a tradition, and so I booked a trip also this year. Not just for my birthday, I was actually here for it – but for Swedish spring holiday Valborgsmässoafton. Or Valborg, as usually refer to. The history behind this tradition is a little vague, but we lit bonfires and sing welcome songs to spring, and then eat dinner with our neighbors while teens are out partying. A main concern around the country that is frequently brought up in the media is to make sure that no hedgehog is sleeping in the stack of leaves and branches before lighting the bonfire. Sweden is quite a peaceful country…
I didn’t go to a bonfire this year, but Jonas and I had Valborg dinner at Villa Godthem on Djurgården, one of the national park islands in Stockholm. As the evenings are already light, it is a beautiful time of the year to visit! Here are a few evening pics from our way to Valborg dinner:
On my way back to DC, I did another quick stop in Stockholm. I still have my old apparent there, which I got right after university, and it’s so small so it has barely had a functional kitchen. And what room in a home is more important, especially for someone working in the food sector?? So I decided, long overdue, to put in a new kitchen and I passed by Stockholm to make the last arrangements. Admittedly, there will still not be a room for the kitchen as the apartment is a studio, but at least I will have a place with proper room for cooking and baking and somewhere to keep my pots and pans, which until now have been stored in my closet when not in use. Or the entire apartment will be transformed into a kitchen depending on how you see it…
Stockholm was lovely, as always, although I got sick before leaving Almaty on my way back from Dushanbe (probably the result of eight flights and five cities in less than a week), so I didn’t do much else than fixing with my apartment. But I still had time to see a dew friends and neighbors, which was nice!
In my apartment (I got a rose on the flight from Almaty) and at our courtyard, with my neighbor on his new balcony.
After my trip to stunning Scotland and the breathtaking Hebrides in early April (one of my most memorable trips ever), work started picking up. Several trips were coming up with preparation and presentations to go with. Little before my upcoming birthday in late April, I all of a sudden got extremely homesick and decided to go to Stockholm for a week. Fortunately, I could work from home, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to go with everything that was going on. But this worked out perfectly and I celebrated my birthday with my childhood friend Jonas, and also got to celebrate Valborgsmässoafton five days later – one of my favorite holidays at which we celebrate springtime with communal bonfires and traditional songs. A lovely week with lots of work but also plenty of time to catch up with friends in the evenings!
For my birthday, Jonas and I had a drink at restaurant Ulla Winbladh and then dinner at Hasselbacken, both on the island Djurgården in central Stockholm. And I had my favorite dessert – crème brulée! And outside the restaurant sat on of my favorite composer, Swedish 18th century songwriter Carl Michael Bellman!
Although it’s my hometown, I think I’m not alone in ranking Stockholm as one of the top travel destinations for a city weekend. Restaurants, cafes, and bars are frankly better than most places, and there is an immense diversity depending on what you’re up for. There is plenty of history, art, and culture (classic and contemporary), and the city itself is incredibly beautiful, situated perfectly on some 10 islands and fairly equally divided between water, parks, and neighborhoods. So I can truly recommend a visit, and also to see some of the areas outside the inner city borders. Like Hammarby Sjöstad above.
I’m in Stockholm right now on my way back to the U.S. I’m just doing a quick stop to take care of a few thing with my apartment and see a few friends. It dark here now – very dark! After almost a month if Southern Africa, the darkness and cold weather is like a smaller chock, but for once I don’t have a yet lag and that’s really nice! I haven’t done much here this time so I won’t write so anything about my stay here. Instead, I wanted to just make a quick note about something that I plan to write more about later, namely Sweden’s contradictory attitude to food. I thought about it when entering a bookstore in my part of town and saw the display on the photos below, in front of three full bookcases with cookbooks.
Swedes love food and are real foodies. Our restaurants have world class, Swedish chefs have been top ranked in international competitions every year for the past two decades, and cookbooks and cooking shows are more popular than ever in Sweden. We also like to try new things and food trends come and go, while some foreign cuisines become regular family meals in the Swedish kitchen. These past years, the Swedes, just like East Coasters in the U.S., have also tried to get back to basics and dig up traditional recipes and ingredients. Baking sourdough bread was for example the thing to do in Stockholm a year or two ago (I’m not sure if it still is, things come and go so quickly in Stockholm). In addition to this, Swedes are relatively concerned with the environment and do buy ecologically produced products and look for Swedish produced meat when they go shopping.
So what’s the catch? Well, Swedes have very little interest in agriculture and food production. Less than 1 percent of our GDP comes from agriculture and less than 1 percent of the workforce is employed in farming. Sometimes when I go shopping in our grocery stores, I think that people must have forgotten what fresh fruits and vegetables should really taste like because otherwise they wouldn’t buy most of what is in there. People are unwilling to pay the real cost of production and so a lot of our food is imported, also when it comes to products that are traditionally produced in Sweden. It is really ironic in some ways, given our eager interest in food and our interest in cooking and in trying new things. It seems like some groups and some geographical areas are waking up, but when I’m in ICA or Coop at home in Birkastan, I wish change would be quicker!
There are of course historic reasons for this complete disinterest in agriculture among Swedes and most of our politicians. I will write more on this topic soon.
Since I hadn’t been to Stockholm since before Christmas, I decided to do a quick visit this month. I still have a really small apartment in the city, and although I love my home in Washington, I sometimes miss my Swedish home. Not to mention my close ones there. As always, it was a short stop and I didn’t have time to do even half of what I had intended. Nevertheless, I had time for a bbq party at J’s summerhouse north of Stockholm (grillfest in Swedish – one of our favorite occupations during the summer), several long walks and lunches and coffees at Djurgården (one of the islands in Stockholm that is essentially one big park), drinking rosé wine at outdoor restaurants, having breakfast on my street with my neighbor, and toasting in champagne to the engagement between Swedish Prince Carl Philip and his girlfriend Sofia. (And no, this was not my initiative since I’m not a monarchist, but my friend had arranged a lovely themed dinner for the occasion). So a couple of intensive but enjoyable days. Here are a few photos of Stockholm at its best. Now it’s time to enjoy summer in DC and start packing for Florida. In a few days, I’ll be on a flight to Miami for a beach holiday with J. My first real beach holiday in about 15 years – I can’t wait!!
//Djurgårdskanalen and Östermalm //functionalistic architecture and the playground egg sculpture at Gärdet //Rosendals Trädgård at Djurgården // Karlbergskanalen with my neighborhood on the right side behind the railroad tracks // Swedish meatballs, crisp bread and Apotekarnas raspberry soda: traditional Swedish lunch with Mia-Lotta at Blå Porten at Djurgården //
I have been planning my summer today. Or the summer is of course here already, but I will not be off until July. I was on skype with Miss T we finally decided to spend almost a week in the South of Europe. I also plan to have a week or so in Stockholm, to just be in my little apartment, enjoy Summer Stockholm, and spend time with my close ones. And then, this evening, I registered for a three-day conference on Food in history in London. The program includes topics from food culture to food trade, from stories in the Bible to the evolvement of fast food. I am so excited! Miss T sighed and said that she wished that she was equally excited about her job, but I barely see it as a job. I am simply working with my main interest. I realize that I am very fortunate!
After my stay in Europe, Jonas and I will go on a long-planned road trip through the South. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid and read about Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, and later about the American Civil War, and after last year’s road trip through the National Parks in the West (see August 2012 in the blog archive), Jonas and I decided that this summer, we would explore the South. But first, I am off to Montenegro for work next week. And June in Podgorica is lovely, with all the restaurant terraces filled with people enjoying the warm evenings in each other’s company. and with wonderful seafood freshly fished from the rivers and the Adriatic Sea. So though I have a very busy 1.5 weeks, with a conference over the weekend, I really look forward to the trip.
Late summer evening in Stockholm last year