Category Archives: Sweden

There’s More To Sweden Than Stockholm : Part ii.

Bee Says: We last left you having done the epic cross-country drive from Northern Riala to Norrhult in the South-East. We hired an Air B&B loft space above a gorgeous home owned by Martin and Hetty. This was my first Air B&B experience and I was blown away by it; from the chatty communication before our arrival, to the warm welcome and then to being invited into Martin & Hetty’s lounge for drinks and nattering long into the night. These hosts certainly went above and beyond their host duty; and really made the holiday extra special. Encounters with locals was what made our Latin American trip so moving; and it was brilliant to share that experience again; it’s the only chance you get to get the real story on an area, and those personal tips and recommendations. Martin & Hetty also owned two of the biggest bear-dogs I have ever seen; who despite a fearsome front then went on to lollop around our feet and welcome us too. And then… when we thought it couldn’t get any better… Martin made us breakfast. Every morning! A feast to rival any 5* hotel buffet; there was fresh coffee, yoghurt, fruit, meats, cheese, hard boiled eggs and various type of fresh homemade bread with butter, jams and insanely delicious honey. I’m slightly drooling just recounting those mornings; the prospect (and tempting smells!) of those delicious wake-ups had as all up and at ’em extra early despite it being our holiday!

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Nick Says: Satisfyingly stuffed from breakfast each morning, we then tried to waddle around sightseeing. One of the major things to see in this part of Sweden is Kalmar. A port city, it was a big deal back in the day when it formed the border between Sweden and Denmark, It also played host to the signing of the Kalmar Union, where Sweden, Denmark and Norway stopped fighting each other and created a supergroup for a while. It didn’t last, but Kalmar made history. Now a gorgeous city to wander around in and explore for a bit (excellent cobbled squares to enjoy a hugely expensive beer in), we of course found ourselves drawn to the major attraction in town – Kalmar Castle. Well I guess we had to keep up the Medieval theme of this trip…

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Kalmar Castle is an amazingly preserved treat for any castle/ornate buildings/luxury history fans. You basically get the run of the place, and can stroll around looking into the royal bedchamber and sit on thrones at will. For both child me and adult me, this was a dream come true.

As the Swedish are so kind, everything was also helpfully explained to us in English – hugely detailed exhibitions about life at the castle meant you could spend hours swatting up on Swedish politics from the 16th century, and how the castle fitted in, or you could just admire the beautiful dresses. Or do both! But the whole castle really carried off a relaxed atmosphere in keeping with the rest of Kalmar that I really enjoyed. Plus there’s loads of rabbits leaping about the place which is always nice.

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Bee Says: We’d had a good few days on the trot that involved hour upon hour of driving. Sweden is stunning and you get to experience it so much better in a hire car; enjoying the fact that they are always playing either Robyn or Abba on the local radio… But realistically, there were five of us and so life on the road was getting pretty cooped and cosy. With our unused hiking boots and itchy feet; we requested a “stay at home” day where Sue and Nigel could head out and spot houses they had seen on Hemnet and Phil, Nick and I could do something adventure-y. We hadn’t decided exactly what, and were lurking around uncertainly when Martin swooped in and in typical nothing-is-too-much-trouble manner, offered us the loan of his canoe!

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We wheeled his pride and joy down to the lake, about ten minutes away, and got stuck in. I’d never been canoeing in my entire life and was practically delirious with excitement and giddiness! I certainly hadn’t expected this to be part of the trip and it was such an unexpected “first”. I let Phil and Nick go out first (yknow, to check it would actually float!) and then I went for my first attempt. At first I was a bit TOO keen, splish splashing all over the place and never getting in the same rhythm as whichever of the boys had been kind enough to humour me out on open water!

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After a few trips out, and one time where paddled too enthusiastically towards shore and nearly flung myself and Phil out, I started to get the knack. There was a surprising level of current on the lake, so it took a bit of huff and elbow grease to get about. This was no joy ride! Actual skill and effort is required. My favourite part was floating out to the middle of the lake and then just basking in the sun, taking in the breathtaking views and listening to the water lapping around me. Something I have missed so desperately since our big trip, is that sense of peace. It was something I started to take for granted; the remoteness, the lack of electricity, the lack of people or technology or distractions. Hurtling straight back in the London rat race and hectic city living has meant that I’d almost forgotten what it felt like just to sit back and take everything in. I loved canoeing so much I am now determined to own a lake-house and my very own (do they make them in pink?) canoe some day.

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On this out and about day, Nick and I also celebrated our three year anniversary. We sure have packed a lot in during the first bloom of our relationship, and bonding over travel has been at the heart of it all. It felt fitting to spend the day stamping around a lake and exploring foreign lands. Thank you for taking the time to read the blog and being part of our journey! I was a very lucky Fjallraven obsessive and Nick bought me an authentic Fjallraven G-1000 Foldsack No.1 FROM actual Sweden; home and heart of Fjallraven!

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I am so glad Nick had the good sense to purchase me a bag I’d actually use; rather than my first choice…

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Nick Says: After a har day adventuring, we left Bee napping in the house while me and Phil joined my parents snooping around Swedish houses. We went to one in a remote village that had been on the market for awhile, but looked lovely so we weren’t sure why. Perhaps this creepy doll that greeted you as you entered the house had something to do with putting potential buyers off?

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After fleeing the house and the doll curse it had probably put on us (if you’re reading this, it’s watching you,,,) we headed into the village to see what delights were there. The answer was not much, apart from this massive wooden spoon in the middle of a patch of grass which grandly claimed to be the world’s largest. Now I’m no expert, but I remain sceptical.It was pretty damn big though so I live in hope. Are any of our readers wooden spoon enthusiasts? Can you help answer this?! I mean, this photo doesn’t actually show the whole spoon, so for all you know it goes up a mile into the sky. Which would be amazing, if a slightly bonkers project for the Swedish spoon carvers of this unknown village to construct.

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Bee Says: I wasn’t sure what it would be like gate-crashing my future in-laws precious family holiday time. I soon remembered that Sue, Nigel and Phil couldn’t make me feel more welcome and that I had nothing to worry about, in fact it was just like being on holiday with my own relations. It was so much like being part of the family that by the final day I had morphed into one of the kids” and Nick, Phil and I rummaged through the guide books and leaflets before using the classic Lisa and Bart Simpson tactic on our poor, unsuspecting parents. “Can we go to the moose park? Can we go to the moose park? Can we go to the moose park? Can we go to the moose park? Please? Please please please?” They were powerless to our pesky ways, and agreed to take us to the moose park as long as they could go see the hand blown glass factory on the way home afterwards. With this fine compromise negotiated, we set off to Grönåsen Moose Park. The Moose Walk started off slowly and um… not very Moose orientated. We saw some chicken, some baby goats and a giant pig. Cute, but not the big guns we had in mind. We were then led into a room that house three dioramas that I can only describe a something out of a waking nightmare. They showed moose in various horrific situations; such as being eaten by wolves or, my personal favourite, hit by a car.

10597304_296097547241646_1440474282_nWe hadn’t quite expected our first moose sighting to look like this. After scuttling through the horror hall of moose death; we hit the nice bit of the park. A wooded path led us past forest, plains and fields where we could climb up look out points and take a look out for happier moose types. After a disappointing start; we were walking along a narrow pass-way trying to stay quiet as moose, I mean mice!, when suddenly we heard branches cracking next to us and suddenly a majestic female Elk was pottering along beside us. It was such a magical moment as she observed us observing her, and we all froze in our places.

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We walked another mile or so around the park, eager to get to the main attraction. They weren’t just your bogstandard moose at this park, oh no! We were about to be greeted by the King and Queen of the Moose world! Named after the King and Queen of Sweden; Karl-Gustav and Syliva awaited us and lived up to their royal reputation. At the very end of the Moose Park you were encouraged to eat… a Moose burger. Which we all found a bit weird considering we had just been enjoying these magnificent creatures in the wild. So we all politely declined.

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What a perfect final day in southern Sweden! That night we were treated to the best sunset of the holiday and another dinner of snacks and local brew beer from the ICA supermarket whilst we made the most of our cosy loft home one last time, before the giant drive back up the country to Riala.

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Nick Says: Back in the loving embrace of Stephan and Carola, we once again feasted like kings and enjoyed the companionship of friends determined to treat us to the best hospitality possible. After drinking copious amounts of wine, Stephan decided to show me and Phil the best thing of the entire holiday – this amazing documentary about a crazy group of Swedes who built an exact replica of an 18th Century sailing ship and then spent two years sailing it to China and back, where they proceeded to become huge media stars on Chinese television, Oh, and the captain of the ship was this Norwegian dude who spent most of the time topless thereby displaying his giant eagle chest tattoo. I don’t ask for much in life, but to meet that man would do it.

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Our last morning in Sweden was spent taking a walk around Riala to some of Carola’s favourite places. It’s such a beautiful country, and lakes such as the one above that we spent time admiring just demonstrate why. It had been so long since I really appreciated forest, and just how dense and magnificent it must have once been across all of Europe, Living in the UK, and especially London means you are surrounded by urban development, so it’s refreshing to spend time getting that out of your system,

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I love Sweden as a place to visit, and even though it had been over 10 years since I was last here, it felt like no time had passed at all. It’s one of those places that rewards you the more you explore. So many visitors just see Stockholm, and while that city is undeniably great, it felt like a breath of fresh air to go off-piste and see some more of this country. It’s a huge place, and seeing the south just made me want to jump in a car and head up north – where Stephan told us was really isolated. Considering we had barely seen anyone about down south, there must only be hunters and bears up there. I already can’t wait to go back and investigate.

There’s More To Sweden Than Stockholm : Part i.

Bee Says: Sweden is an extremely special place to my soon-to-be-bee-in-laws. Nigel (Nick’s dad) has a best friend called Stephan who came over for a years schooling in England and who Nigel was put in charge of looking after during that time. I don’t know how much looking after he did, as just seeing them together as adults makes it abundantly clear that there are a TON of naughty stories buried which no amount of bribery will result in either of them spilling! Stephan’s partner Carola is also a great friend of Sue (Nick’s mum) and Nigel, which means they spend a lot of time holidaying together over there. As a result, Sue & Nigel have lost their hearts to Sweden and as much-deserved retirement looms in their future, they want to have something more permanent over in Scandinavia and are planning to buy a summer house. Cue a family trip (which I was honoured enough to be invited along for) to house hunt! Introducing Team House Hunt: Nick, Sue, Phil and Nigel.

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Due to land not being a scarce resource in Sweden (it’s Europe’s third largest country), once you move away from the big cities, house prices are obscenely low and you get a lot of space (and style!) for your money. In the lead up to this trip we all got completely obsessed with a website called Hemnet; it’s worth browsing if only to admire the fairytale style gingerbread cottages and “the norm” additions of outhouses, saunas and acres of land or forest. The real point of this trip wasn’t to find an actual house, but it was really a fact-finding mission to explore a few different areas and work out scale, distances and the vibe of various neighbourhoods.  We were excited for the opportunity to get to know this beautiful country a little better; and we definitely learnt there is so much more to Sweden than Stockholm.

Nick Says: This was Bee’s first holiday with my family, and it was nice to see them spend time together outside of Christmas, birthdays etc. I came out of the loo at the airport to find the Horton’s crying with laughter and making Bee repeat the word, ‘giraffe’ before doing it themselves. For those who don’t know, Bee’s broad Yorkshire accent makes it sound like, ‘g’RAFF’.  I knew it was all going to be ok. It was also lovely to get the chance to go back to Sweden, a place I’d been to three or four times before, but not since I was a teenager. I also hadn’t been on a proper family holiday for years, so was looking forward to spending time with the parents and Phil too. Plus time off work is always nice! We flew BA like fancy folk and arrived safe and sound at the super stylish Stockholm Arlanda aioprt. While you can bus it into the city, the benefit of family holiday was splitting the cost of the car. So unlike most of our adventures in Latin America, we wouldn’t be at the whim of a crazy bus driver or tour guide…Naturally we got a Volvo (true fact, there are no other cars allowed in Sweden) and set off to Stephan’s country pad. We hadn’t set the sat nav  to Swedish, so we had a few interesting pronunciations of directions, including describing a road that sounded suspiciously like “shit the bed”…

Riala is a small village about an hour or so north of Stockholm near the major town of Norrtaelje. Like a LOT of Sweden, it’s beautiful, heavily wooded, and sparsely populated. Wolves have been known to roam in the forest, and numerous sparkling lakes are dotted about waiting to be discovered. It’s also where Stephan has set up shop after moving out of Stockholm. After a cross-country adventure in the car (thanks sat-nav!) we finally pulled in to his cosy house to be greeted by Carola waving from the porch. Stephan quickly followed, and it immediately felt like we were home.

I can remember Stephan visiting since I was about 4 years old. Him coming over was some of te=he most exciting times of my tiny life. I then got older, became a teenage, and visited him instead in Sweden. There he took me, my brothers, and my Dad around the Stockholm archipelago on his boat, and set in my mind the idea of exploring the world and having adventures.  But the last time I saw him was at my eldest brother’s wedding 10 years ago. How had so much time gone by? But in 10 years, nothing had changed. He was still the same Stephan, generous and welcoming. Crola was as brilliant and lovely as I remember. As we found on our travels, making (or having) friends in a different country really creates a strong bond and experience. It brings you closer to the place, and invests you more into it. I was really happy to be back in Sweden, and had that warm glow you get when the whole holiday stretches in front of you. I also had a incresingly warm glow from the amount of alcohol Stephan and Carola were plying us with. Wine, mysteroius local schnapps, whisky, beer… I didn’t think I could keep up with my parents and our hosts!I

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Bee Says: Safe to say there were a few sore and fuzzy heads the next morning, but these were swiftly eased as Sweden do breakfast (and well, most things) SO well. Stephan and Carola managed to be fresh daisies, despite drinking their fair share of box wine the night before, and scuttled around us making toast, hard boiled eggs and fresh coffee. We ate it with cheese, ham and freshly baked bread, although none of us indulged in the local caviar; bright orange and fresh out of a tube! All the while we could gaze out at the forest surrounding the house; Stephan says he sometimes finds curious deer and elk peering back.

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There were a few options of ways to spend our first day of the holiday, but as soon as Carola mentioned the words Medieval and Fayre, our eyes all simultaneously lit up! A short drive down to a 1330s castle (Penningby Slott) and the second we were out of the car it was like stepping into a time warp. We were all practically rubbing our eyes in disbelief as we stomped into the grounds and past knights, horses, chickens and traditional markets. Smoke filled the air and the smell of gun powder, hay and roasting meat billowed around us. The attention to detail was incredible!

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Long-time readers of the blog won’t be surprised to hear that Nick immediately sniffed out the most dangerous area of the fayre; the WEAPONRY. One field was dedicated entirely to swords, cleavers, archery, axe throwing and various other bits of kit; mostly being wielded by tiny children or people who looked like they’d already had a few glasses of mead. I loved the total lack of heath and safety that you know in a similar event in the UK would be stifling.

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The best game was one where you selected your weapon from a pile of impressive looking swords, some so heavy that the brothers could barely lift them, and then you paid 1 Kroner to have 3 chances at hitting a potato that was flung towards you on a bit of string. It seems like Nick and Phil should really be reborn in the medieval age as they were both really talented at this game and had soon attracted a crowd of locals cheering them on!

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The rest of the fayre was just as entertaining. We saw some canons and synchronised gun fire (I’m sure there’s technical term for this), ate samples of fresh soda bread, local honeys and amazing sour sugar candies. All around us were people in costumes racing around acting out little scenes or playing instruments or demonstrating olden time crafts. The weirdest of which was a game where we paid 1 Kroner to guess which way a mouse would run around a miniature castle, in order to win a magic stone. Sadly, we didn’t win and the mouse didn’t even look too happy about defeating us.

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As we started to grow a little weary and ready for some afternoon fika, napping and reading; there was one final treat in store for us. We stamped over to the castle to take a look at the amazing building and the horses roaming around outside, when suddenly I spotted something on the horizon staggering towards us. MEDIEVAL BABY! Definitely the best bit of the day; if not the holiday.

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Nick Says:  What could possibly top a Medieval Fayre? Not a lot that day as it turned out.  We drove onto Norrtaelje to have a look round, and while undeniably beautiful the spectacular sunshine which had been shining on us so far decided to turn into miserable rain. Which reminded Phil that he hadn’t actually brought a coat on this trip. Still, nothing that an on-brand visit to H&M couldn’t fix!

After a slightly less boozy evening at Stephan’s, the next day we were due to drive down south to begin the house hunt. While Carola had to go back to work, Stephan had decided to take a couple of days off and travel down with us. He immediately commandeered me, Bee, and Phil for his car (a giant monster 4×4, which didn’t look out of place in the giant landscapes of Sweden, unlike the tiny streets of London where I usually see them) we set off down the packed highways (about 4 cars spotted all day). We drove through tunnels which bored into mountains, skirted past endless forests, and eventually came to a service station where I could indulge two of my Swedish passions. The first was a Winner Taco, the greatest ice cream ever invented and sadly no longer available on our shores, ans the second was a cinnamon bun. I also took the time to smash my head on a metal bar while scampering up a children’s slide I was too big for, almost knocking myself unconscious and certainly giving myself a case of mild concussion which I felt for the next few days. Go holiday injuries! It also resulted in me being banned from driving (thanks for nothing head injury) which also meant I was relegated to the back of the car. Bee swiftly sat up front and quickly assured Stephan she would be the official elk spotter on this leg of the journey. It was a grand speech about howshe was honoured to be in Sweden, couldn’t wait to see the mighty elk, and would be his eyes on the side of the road. Powerful stuff. I looked back about two minutes later to find she had instantly fallen asleep instead.

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Bee Says: After nearly 8 hours on the road we finally pulled off the motorway and into a truly picturesque little lake town called Norrhult (Phil said it was like “driving through Hemnet!) where our Air BnB awaited. We had rented the top floor apartment of a home belonging to a super chirpy Dutch couple who had recently moved to Sweden. They were full of handy local tips and knowledge, and showed us to the gorgeous little grotto that we would be calling home for the rest of the week. After a quick trip to the local ICA for beer and snacks, we settled in to watch the sun dip over the lake from our window and started planning for the week ahead.

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Tune in for part 2 next weekend, which sees us meet the King & Queen Elk of Sweden, have a close encounter with the worlds biggest wooden spoon, find some creepy bits and pieces during our house hunts AND… my first ever time in a canoe. Who wants to start placing bets on whether I fell in or not?!