Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Gastronomical Delights in Stockholm

Is pickled herring a traditional Swedish food? You bet! There is a limited range of seafood in Swedish cuisine and pickled-sweetened herring is one of them. Pickled herring is a delicacy in the Scandinavians and the traditional flavour is a mixture of salt, sugar, vinegar to which peppercorn, onions and bay leaves are added. Traditionally, herring is eaten on knäckebröd, a kind of thick crackers. Sometimes the pickled herring is served with salad and potatoes for a really filling meal. Other traditional flavourings are sherry, mustard and dill. For first-timers, eating the silvery, smelly and slimy fish could be quite a task but experiencing Stockholm entails forking some inlagd sill and putting it in your mouth!

Husmanskost is not a dish but pertains to traditional everyday Swedish dishes. Ingredients used are fish, pork, milk, cereals, cabbage, onion, berries, apples, root vegetables such as potato. Potatoes are a staple carbohydrate, more widely eaten than pasta and bread. Berries and apples are the most traditional fruits and are cooked and served in a variety of ways - pies, cake, pastry, sauce et al.

Gravlax on crisp bread with pepper and lemon
Photo by Charles Haynes, Flickr Creative Commons

Traditional Swedish food are commonly cooked by boiling and by cooking in fat and flour. Historically, spices were not dominant in Swedish cooking and up to now spices are sparingly used. Popular in most Swedish homes are ärtsoppa (pea soup), rutabaga and potato served with pork, boiled and mashed potato, variety of sausages, bacon and meat. Beef and lamb are cooked sparingly as pork is the more preferred meat. Other Husmanskost are palt which is actually potato dumplings and meat or kroppkakor which is potato dumplings filled with pork and onions; ragamunk (potato pancake); kalops (meat stew with onion) and more.

Swedish Köttbullar (meatballs) is made of a mixture of pork, beef, and veal, breadcrumbs soaked in milk, minced onion, broth and cream. Seasoned with spice, salt and white pepper, the dish is usually served with boiled potatoes, gravy, lingonberry jam and pickled cucumber. There are plenty of restaurants serving Köttbullar. There are high-end restaurants that charge exorbitant rates for a meal of meatballs so consider opting for dagens ratt or set lunch meals for a more affordable fare. There are RV-ers (motorhome vacationers) who troop to the market, buy the ingredients for meatballs and cook the dish themselves for a cheaper option.

Other traditional Swedish main dishes are:
  • Blodpudding - or Black pudding which eaten with potatoes, lingonberry jam and grated carrot
  • Falukorv- or big fat sausages
  • Gravlax - cured Salmon
  • Blodkorv - blood sausages which is made of pig blood, pork, flour and spices
  • Janssons frestelse - which is a casserole made of grated potato , anchovy, fish, onion, cream and spices
  • Julskinka - is Christmas ham, cured, boiled, breaded with mustard, egg and bread crumbs.
  • Kåldolmar - cabbage rolls!
  • Blodpalt - blood dumplings!
The Swedes are fond of pig’s blood, potatoes, dumplings, sausages and pickled herring. If you have tasted all these then maybe it’s time to level up to Surströmming, which is fermented herring said to have the most putrid odour of food in the whole world.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Stockholm Zoo Day Trip

If you are travelling with your kids in a Stockholm campervan, they will love to see the Stockholm Zoo. Skansen Zoo is one of the most famous zoos in Sweden. It is located in Stockholm and is known for keeping the largest variety of native and imported animals that come from different parts of the globe. Cast aside any thoughts of animal mistreatment in the Skansen Zoo as the animals that are kept there are well-taken care of in terms of space, food, health and the animals’ social interaction with their own species.

There are six sections for the animals: Wild Nordic animals; Swedish Native Breeds; Domesticated Animals; Wild Exotic Animals; Animals in the wild and the Aquarium.

The Nordic animals have been a part of Nordic tales and legends and real people as well. Located at the upper part of the Skansen zoo the Nordic animals are the brown bears, wolves, wolverine, moose, lynx, wild boar, red fox, European bison, seal, different species of owl and otter. The brown bear is the largest known predator in Sweden though in the zoo the bear cubs are best known for their playfulness. There are two types of seals and three types of owls housed at the zoo. As part of the Zoo’s program, feeding time for the owls and seals are posted as events for zoo visitors to watch.

The Swedish Native breeds are actually domesticated native breed animals that have adapted to sparse pasture. These native breeds are tough and quite resistant to some known animal diseases. Such animals are the Gotland pony and sheep, mountain cattle, Hedemora hen, Jämtland goat, Linderöd pig, some goose and other variety of hens. The mountain cow is interesting as it can remember the voice of its master even after years of separation.

Domesticated animals at the zoo are not exactly all native breeds to Sweden but are imports from other countries. The most famous of all are the reindeers. The Ardennes draft horse is a sturdy, hard and tough breed. The Norwegian pony is the purest and oldest breed of horse. The Shetland pony is a very strong miniature horse. Other animals in this area are the peacock, African pygmé goat and Leicester sheep. It would have been interesting to go on an RV trip in Stockholm and actually come face to face with any of these domesticated animals.

A very popular section in the zoo is the “Our Africa” area where wild exotic animals are housed. The Colobus monkey and Crowned Crane are the only two residents here at the moment. The Colobus monkey is born snowy white but its fur gradually darkens as it ages.

In the zoo are some wild animals native to Scansion. Some of these are the grey heron, Barnacle goose and squirrels. In the spring small birds arrive at the zoo searching for breeding grounds. The Skansen Aquarium and the World of Monkeys have about 200 species, exotic and native. Zoo visitors are allowed to interact with some of the animals.

A renovated and revamped Lil Skansen will reopen in the winter of 2012. Lil Skansen is intended for children as sort of a petting zoo and will be open all-year round.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Take your Camper Van to Gamla Stan

It seems that every major city in Scandinavia has its own version of an “Old Town” that invariably depicts a fairytale like ambiance with its candy-coloured charming houses lining up winding and narrow cobblestone streets. On snowy wintry days, such district could very well be a scene plucked from an illustrated story book.

View of Gamla Stan across Saltsjön
Photo by Max Anderson , Wikimedia Commons

Stockholm has its very own version of an Old Town, Gamla Stan. The old town is a maze of cobblestone streets that seem to have been designed and built for small people with powerful ankles as the streets are mostly narrow, winding and steep. The earth-coloured buildings in rust, orange, red and cream seem to lean towards each other in complete camaraderie for they have “endured” time and elements since the Medieval Renaissance period. There was a time after WW II when parts of Gamla Stan were demolished due to disrepair. There came a time when Gamla Stan was doomed to be a squatters’ area but sometime in the 1980s the old town was revamped and thereby became a tourist spot. Today there are more than 370 properties in Gamla Stan and on average are about 300 years old.

Gamla Stan is definitely one of the well-preserved and largest late medieval cities in the whole of Europe. The main streets of the old town that cuts across Gamla Stan are Västerlånggatan and Österlånggatan. The old town was once surrounded by a city wall that is now part of Prästgatan. In the middle of Gamla Stan is the oldest street in the city of Stockholm, Stortorget. The narrowest street in the old town is Mårten Trotzigs grand, an alley with a width of 3 feet.
If you are on a leisurely RV trip you should definitely include Stockholm in your itinerary. A stopover in Gamla Stan is a must! Founded in 1252, Stockholm rose from the area that is now occupied in Gamla Stan.

Mårten Trotzigs Gränd,the narrowest alley in the city
Photo by Mastad, Wikimedia Commons

Walking through the streets of Gamla Stan is akin to a walk through a “living” museum. The old town is full of historic sites, attractions, cafés, restaurants, bars and countless curio and souvenir shops. This is the place to source for expertly crafted wooden Vikings, Dalahasten (small wooden painted horses), handcrafted dolls and more. If you are out on a personal shopping spree, there are boutiques and shoe stores that you can visit. The souvenirs and curios are not exactly cheap. If you think you cannot afford to buy souvenirs for back home just have some pictures of you in and around the picture-perfect Gamla Stan.
The Stockholm Cathedral and the Nobel Museum are situated in Gamla Stan and so are a handful more of museums and churches. The Royal Palace is the “largest” attraction in the old town with its 600 rooms. If you care for pageantry be sure to catch the parade of soldiers and the daily changing of guards.

Enjoy Gamla Stan, Stockholm by foot. Walk around in and out the old town to enjoy its beautiful sights from different vantage points.

Take your Campervan to Sigtuna, Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm is the beautiful capital of Sweden. The famously beautiful, modern and vibrant city could be summed up as a vision of terra-cotta and saffron-coloured edifices caught glittering between the blue skies and water of summer. On the other hand the city could be described as blanketed in snow and speckled with lights in the cold winter. Built on 14 islands linked by historic bridges, Stockholm could very well serve as a starting point for a great vacation in the country of Sweden.

Some 35 minutes away from Stockholm is Sigtuna, the oldest and one of the most picturesque towns in Sweden. The town is an all-year weekend destination for both local and international travellers and it has been noted that there are a few free-spirited travellers who bundled up their possessions and rented an RV or motorhome to see the sights and sounds of Sigtuna at their own pace. The town was founded in 980 AD and up to now, the ancient layout of the town is still apparent.

The ruins of St. Olofs Church in Sigtuna
Photo by Brorsson, Wikimedia Commons

Old world splendour is evident in Sigtuna. The main town centre has a medieval ambiance with its quaint little wooden houses and establishments with brick-coloured roofing. There are church ruins and runic monuments that were raised in memory and in honour of family and friends. If you wish to decipher the text on a runic monument, a key aptly called the futhark is readily available for translating. It has been said that one runic monument read: “Killroy was here.”
For families with children there are museums, toy stores, and miniature golfing and boat rides for attractions. There are shops near Lake Mälaren that cater to those who crave for freshly ground coffee and newly-baked and mouth-watering pastries. There are art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, hotels, Bread & Breakfast peppering the historic town.

Stora Gatan in Sigtuna
Photo by Brorsson, Wikimedia Commons

The Stora Gatan or Main Street is venue to numerous festivities especially during summertime. The present-day main street still follows the same line a thousand years ago. The town is not as populous at 30,000 that is why occasions such as birthdays, weddings, christenings, and engagements as such are “shared” in a sense. The great ambiance and intimacy compels people from all over Stockholm to hold their celebrations in Sigtuna. There are venues to accommodate small and grand celebrations. The picturesque views contribute to for an unforgettable experience.
The holiday season is fast approaching and during this joyous time of the year Sigtuna has the Julmarknade or Christmas market. There are two such markets in the old town during this season - the Julmarknad near the town proper and the one at Steninge Slott. The Julmarknad happens during the four consecutive Sundays before Christmas Eve. The outdoor Christmas market boasts of famous Swedish smoked sausages, reindeer meet, sweets, handicraft and glögg. The indoor Christmas market at Steninge Slott opens from late November to December 23. The “barn’s” ground floor has restaurant and eateries while the second floor is full of shops that sell local handicraft and Christmas decorations.

Truly the town of Sigtuna is worth a visit.

Leksaksmuseet - the Toy Museum of Stockholm

There are plenty of sites and tourist attractions to see in Stockholm and its neighbouring islets. Sweden is a motorhome-friendly country that a convenient and affordable method to tour at your own pace is to rent an RV. Stockholm is a great start-off point for an RV vacation. If you have children, troop to the Toy Museum first.

The Leksaksmuseet or Toy Museum in Stockholm, Sweden is the place to see antique toys that became part of children’s life at some point in the last century. There are literally thousands of antique toys and playthings that are systematically displayed. Cutting across the length and breadth of the museum are two sets of model trains laid-out in such a way so that museum guests can take turns in running the model trains. The curves and twists of the train track fascinate youngsters and adults.

As with the trains, not everything in the museum is for display. To entertain the children, the museum is gracious enough to provide a play room for the younger children. A video game centre is provided for the older children and for the parents and other adults, manual pinball machines reminiscent of the 60s and 70s are available for use.

The Toy Museum was originally located in Mariatorget. For more than 20 years it was its home. The museum’s growing collection necessitated a move to a bigger venue and today the Leksaksmusee is at Tegelviksgatan 22, on Södermalm east of Sofia near Danvikstull. It is hard to miss the entrance as it is behind the café inside the Transport Museum (Spårvägsmuseet).

The Toy Museum is not a hodgepodge of toys and gadgets. The layout is thoughtfully considered. Transportation toys are grouped as Boats, Cars, Airplanes and Motorbikes. Here you will see the different designs of toy transportation modes from manual to mechanical to electrical system over the last century. A special niche is given to Steam Engines. The collection is from the 19th to the 21st century.

A tribute to Mickey Mouse toys and gadgets is housed in the Leksaksmusee. The collection is from the 1930s up to the present. There are Dioramas that depict the history of mankind up to the Apollo 11 historic landing on the moon in 1969.

There are allotted areas for dolls and teddy bears, with priceless and precious dolls dating back to the 16th century. There are mechanical toys too from the collection of the German producer Lehmann. As recent as March 2011 a burglary at the Toy Museum transpired and it was reported than more than 100 toy cars and motorbikes were stolen.

A special section for figurines made of materials such as plastic, elastolin, lineol and pulp paper are on display mostly depicting historic scenes. Other brands of toys on display are: Lego, Meccano, Brio, Playmobil, Barbie, McDonald and more.

The Toy Museum in Stockholm is opened everyday from 10am to 5 pm and on weekends from 11 am to 4 pm. Entry fee is from 20 kr per head to 100 kr per family.