Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

October, 2011

October, 2011
Chess in Lausanne, Switzerland

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Sveden! I know I know it’s Sweden but something about it wants me to pronounce it with a v.

Good Friday 2011 found us en route to Heathrow for a mid-a.m. flight. Busy place, Heathrow, but we made it there in short order after paying an arm and a leg for the Heathrow Express. Seems like the fares are all over the map when you purchsa e on board. Captive audience, I suppose.

But alas, once there we moved through the process efficiently; one never knows how the security business will go. Therein we had plenty of time to pass along with plenty of other travelrs – people in London/the UK in general seem to very much value being well traveled, as conversations and interactions with cab drivers, teachers, pilates instructors, other mums often gravitate toward holidays spent abroad.

Our Stockholm flight happily left on time and a couple hours later we entered Sweden for the first time. After the fastest customs experience ever we grabbed the right bags – always a plus – and were whisked off to our hotel by driver Patrick, who pointed out tennis pro Bjorn Borg in his van near ours in the parking lot. Now that’s an auspicious start to the weekend.

From the airport to Stockholm central took about 45 minutes over land that resembled Minnesota, I suppose? Lots of trees (think evergreens), some lakes, no mountains, plenty of wide open space.

The buildings we saw from the road were big and square with a contemporary warehousy look. The sun beamed and it was a beautiful, warm day.

Central Stockholm we found charming – older buildings, classic in style, well kept and colorful as they graced the water’s edge. Our fine Diplomat Hotel was in the city centre near the water, with tour boats in the harbor close at hand.

Therein our first order of business was to ditch our stuff and get tickets for the “Under the Bridges” tour – an hour and 50 minute boat ride around the city. Ours left at 4, which worked perfectly. With audio guides and our choice of language we learned a bit about the city of islands – lovely place with historic buildings dating back to the 12 century. We passed under 15 bridges and trhough two locks connecting the Baltic Sea with Lake Mälaren, with views of the inner city, the Old Town, the islands Södermalm, Lilla and Stora Essingen, the new area Hammarby Sjöstad and the green areas of Djurgården.

Despite the apparent suckiness of the headphones (per the kids) they managed to tune in for the most part, and Joe got a few winks in. Boat tours and naps are a common theme for him.

Back ashore we got ready for dinner and headed to Gamla Stan, the oldest part of Stockholm for a meal at Fem Sme Haus. We found it a lovely, elegant cellar setting with lots of nooks and crannies. Our tall, friendly server led us through the menu. The kids had the option of smaller portions of any entrees or the famed Swedish meatballs. Claire opted for the former – halibut – Ava the latter. Upon our waiter’s recommendation Joe and I also had the halibut, served with fabulous potatoes.
For a starter I had a herring and cheese tasting plate – herring served pickled, with a sweet raspberry sauce (tastes much better than it sounds), with a dill cream sauce and in a smoky fashion. Pickled and the sweeter one held the most appeal for me. Joe had lobster bisque, which he said was tasty.

And for dessert, ice cream for the kids, something wickedly chocolate for me and a more traditional Swedish something for Joe, again per recommendation of the waiter.
Quite satisfied, we headed back to the Diplomat, a lovely walk next to the water upon the return, with cool crisp weather and a sky devoid of clouds overhead.

My Saturday morning started in the hotel’s exercise room. I’d read that you need to make an appointment (hmm?) so I’d set something up after hearing there was a Jacuzzi, sauna and “all in one” exercise room, available for free for one hour.
Since I do enjoy hitting a gym when I can, and since I am of the mind that one should take full advantage of hotel amenities, I reported for key pickup at 6:30 a.m. (No I’m not a fanatic but with the hour time difference I was up and ready to sweat.)

The exercise suite turned out to be a bit like what one might have in a very nice home – a room with couch and next to it a state of the art elliptical machine (lots of gadgetry) and a weight machine behind it. This piece of equipment could be modified to work a myriad of body parts.

So I did both, passed on the Jacuzzi as I wasn’t crazy about getting wet before I’d had coffee, checked out the sauna and moved onto the quest for caffeine.

Now thoroughly awoken, I made my way to our room, wherein Joe did a couple miles around Stockholm and the kids had a lie-in (good British term, I think). Then it was off to see how the Swedish breakfast buffet measured up.

It’s great fun to see what restaurants offer up at their buffets – generally plenty of western goodies but one can always find local favorites. Here, alongside the bacon and eggs we found pates, pickles and herring. And some very good breads with lots of grains and seeds. The jams and jellies accompanying them were particularly tasty, as were the cheeses. Ava went for the salami and pickles and watermelon (what a combo), Claire the bacon and bread.

From the hotel we headed to the island of Djurgården, where the “must-see” Vasa museum is located. “The museum displays the only almost fully intact 17th century ship that has ever been salvaged, the 64-gun warship Vasa that sank on her maiden voyage in 1628.”

Built around a very tall ship that had a very short tenure on the water (it sank within a few minutes of setting sail), the museum does a thorough job of illustrating how it was made, life at the time of the Vasa, how the ship was recovered (it was well preserved in the brackish waters – a mix of fresh water/sea water) in the 1960’s, how some of the crew may have looked and what they ate (based on skeletons studied), etc.

It’s a very tall, imposing ship and all the levels built around it give great perspectives from the literal views of the ship to the various aspects of ship building, life at the time, getting it out of the water, etc.

Upon leaving the Vasa we went to the very conveniently located Astrid Lundgren Museum (think Pippy Longstocking). The museum’s name is “Junibacken.” There we spent a couple of long (for the adults) hours. We came in as a show was wrapping up in one of the downstairs play areas so it was jampacked with adults and kids racing from one play spot to the next.

Eventually Joe saved my sanity by finding other play areas upstairs, where a bit more breathing room was to be had. This play area housed, quite appropriately, Pippi’s house. So the kids played while we watched the clock, thinking that the 1:45 train ride (THE thing to do here) was a long ways off. However, we opted for lunch in Pippi’s cafeteria, which was not bad, actually. I had the Swedish meatballs, which I guess are generally served w/ potatoes and lingonberries. And after resuming some playtime we queued up for the all important train ride, wherein we were escorted to a Disney-like carriage of sorts and esconced behind a safety bar. The car slowly took us through scenes from Lundgren’s books, through a messy room, for example, up into the sky, past a giant rat, down into a lovely valley, all acompanied with a recitation in English. Very well done and definitely the high point of the museum (a.k.a. over priced play area teeming w/ the 3-4 year old crowd).
Naturally all paths lead through the gift shop at this place…

From Pippy’s playtime we wandered over to Skansen, a huge outdoor museum set on a hill overlooking Stockholm. It features old historic buildings, a stage, restaurants, Scandinavian animals, a farm area and more. So after paying more exorbitant museum fees (costly place, Stockholm), we went on a mission to find ice cream. Once secured and enjoyed, we sought out the Scandinavian animals, some not so Scandinavian. Buffalo, bears, a sleeping lynx, some seals (one very itchy, sunbathing next to the glass wall where we were leaning), various birds including peackocks (which did look a little out of place, I thought), two elk moose and I’m sure I’m forgetting some others.

On the way out we passed the cows, goats and their friends.

After all our wandering we were museumed out and collapsed at the hotel. But not before enjoying a beer near the water, of course. The kids had tall fancy mocktails –plenty of soda and sugar.

For dinner: Ulla Wimblah, which we were told was easy to find and close by. How was it, then, that we couldn’t find the place…after walking away from it and being thwarted in our attempts to find anyone who knew it or the area or even a taxi, we came upon a very nice man (a Polish French man or French Pole – not sure what’s correct or if it matters) who was pushing his bike. He told us we were within 50 meters of our destination and to follow him. I’m happy to say he led us to it. My heart sank, however, when the matir’d informed us kindly that she’d just given our table away.

But alas! She said she would figure something out and that she did, as a few minutes later we were seated at a lovely table in the warm, comfortable dining area.
The place was bustling; our waiter was very officious and recommended I try a traditional dish of fried herring served with buttered mashed potatoes. The food in Sweden may not be overly spicy but it is flavorful…anything prepared with plenty of butter certainly tastes good.

We had crackers and bread with our meal, as was the case at Fem Sma Hus, too – big wheat/oat crackers that we all liked, along with those grainy breads. My meal was heavy but delicious. Joe went for the meatballs, Claire more fish and Ava lamb stew. For dessert we shared an amazing chocolate thing and carrot cake. This was the most interesting carrot cake I’ve ever seen – served with long slices of carrot on top, next to a dollop of cream cheese frosting. The cake itself looked like a piece of banana bread. Very tasty, just very odd composition. And given the garnish, healthier than your average carrot cake.

Finding the hotel afterward was naturally considerably simpler…

Easter Sunday found us sleeping in – why not? Joe and I took turns walking the city. I hit a path along one of the waterways – lovely way to start the day and enjoy some green space. We were told in the boat tour propaganda (love that word) about Stockholm that people here have some of the longest lives of anyone in the world – late 70’s for men, 82 or something for women. Maybe all the early morning exercisers I saw in action, all the fish and no crappy kids menus contribute?!? We certainly didn’t see many overweight types over the weekend, but one does get a rather limited glimpse of a culture and its peoples when one pops in for a weekend doing tourist stuff. (I do believe the statement someone made to me about Sweden being full of tall, blonde and beautiful people is a myth – or else the majority of them weren’t where we were in Stockholm during Easter weekend 2011…)

After another good hotel breakfast (pickles, it’s all about the pickles) we set off for Gamla Stan again. We checked out lots of narrow, windy medieval streets with lovely buildings, tourist shops, ice cream stores, cafes and an amazing chocolate shop. This one we felt compelled to support – the smell alone was divine. My dark chocolate was fabulously rich.

We also popped into the Cathedral of Stockholm, located between the Royal Palace and the Nobel Museum in the very heart of medieval Stockholm. It is called Storkyrkan or “the Great Church” and is the mother church of the Church of Sweden Diocese of Stockholm.

Stockholm’s medieval Cathedral, built in 1279, houses unique objects such as the St George and the Dragon sculpture (1489), the legendary Vädersoltavlan (1636) and Lena Lervik’s sculpture ”Joseph and Mary” (2002).

Since 1527, the Cathedral has been a Lutheran church. A wide range of religious services and concerts are held. The wedding of T.R.H. Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel took place on Saturday, June 19, 2010 in Stockholm Cathedral.

From the cathedral we caught the changing of the guard – several military types in bright blue and white uniforms following an orderly cadence of gun sclasping amd marching after jogging out from somewhere in the castly. Lots of pomp and circumstance, yet we saw some of them interacting with the crowd. So a bit more relaxed, maybe, than the British guards we see around Buckingham Palace.

After the changing of the guard we meandered through some parts of the Royal Palace – the Treasury, the Royal Chapel and the Museum of Antiquities. The Treasury had a lovely three or four rooms of opulent swords, crowns and other highly valuable ornamentation sporting jewel upon jewel.

The Royal Chapel was also lovely, an intimate place of worship, with doors at end of each pew.

The Royal Chapel is used by the Royal Family for special ceremonies, and its congregation is comprised of employees/former employees of the Royal Court and their families. It’s also open to the public, and the Bishop is appointed by the King.
The Royal Chapel was inaugurated in 1754 together with the Royal Castle by King Adolf Fredrik and Queen Lovisa Ulrika.

It was designed by Nicodemus Tessin and Carl Hårleman in a mixture of Baroque and Rococo.

There was a Royal Chapel in the old Royal Castle Tre Konor from as early as 1284, since the Pope had given permision to have ceremonies in the Royal Castle. In the end of the 16th century King Johan III instituted another chapel in the Royal Castle, a Catholic one. He had married Katarina Jagellonica, daughter of Sigismund I of Poland. It was not allowed to be Catholic in Sweden at that time and the church was not well looked upon and was generally called the Papist Church.

We then checked out the antiquities, the bottom floor hosting several carriages used by Royalty throughout the ages. Upstairs were costumes, ornamentation and personal effects of various kings and queens, princesses and princes. And up yet another level were rooms for kids, with costumes to try on, a toy horse, throne, etc. Naturally we spent sme time there, then wandered through the more recent fashion exhibits.

Outside once more we were just in time to check out a parade of sorts, guards in their bright blue uniforms on gorgeously groomed horses. The group was soon joined by a very smart regiment on foot, which auspiciously marched around the castle and into a…brightly painted bus. Sort of an inauspicious ending to their very royal march.

At this point we were museumed out and ready for food, drink and chairs so we meandered down to the busy pedestrian streets of Gamla Stan. We found a lovely little microbrewery with an inviting table at the open wondow overlooking the street.
There we perched on high-backed stools and shared a very good game burger, fries, coleslaw and cheese/salami platter. With excellent bread, of course…and good beer.

Eventually we headed off in search of the Dance Museum, spent an hour there, then needed ice cream. That we found easily enough at the busiest, most chaotic shop in Gamla Stan. But it had lots of flavors and cone options – mine was Irish cream dark chocolate with chocolate waffle cone. Two thumbs up.

The beer and ice cream led to an overwhelming need for a nap so we took a quick hotel break, then got ready for Mass at Sankta Eugenia, a very modern, sleekly designed church with a non-descript façade (the only overt marker was a gold cross out front).

A full house, we landed seats by the piano and joined Stockholm’s English speaking Catholics for Easter service. The priest asked everyone to close their missals before sprinkling holy water to ensure they didn’t get ruined, leaving us to expect quite a shower. Oddly there was no word of warning about the candle flames and paperwork in hand…

After Mass we meandered to another part of Gamla Stan where tattoo parlors reined. Amidst them we found our quite unique eating establishment for the evening: Sjatte Tunnan.

Established in the 1400’s, the place “attempts to recreate the atmosphere of a banquet from the middle ages; everything from food, drink and entertainment to the clothes worn in that period. As far as possible, the chefs follow historical recipes and ingredients. Sjatte Tunnan serves its own mead, a wide range of beers and buys wine from the same ports used in the 1400s.”

It was another cellar restaurant, this one definitely less fancy – no maitre’d (in fact we were hard pressed to find a waiter). The candle wax build up looked like it had indeed started in the 1400’s. With a cavelike shape, the acoustics were horrific, particularly due to the volume of two large parties near our table.

Despite all that or maybe because of it we were compelled to stay. While I went in search of the loo, Joe and the kids sat themselves at a table and eventually we hailed our waiter down. A very busy guy, he was efficient and we soon had some good brown bread, beer served in old-fashioned pottery mugs and sodas for the kids.

Ava opted for chicken wings, I went with the wild boar, served with blueberry sauce and a strudel side. Frankly it all exceeded my expectations. Claire went once again for the fish – Swedish menus appeal to her – food simply done, accompanied by potatoes. And Joe had lamb, quite appropriate for the holiday.

We opted for chocolate back at the hotel to finish our meal, as it was past 10 by the time we wandered back along the water to the fine Diplomat hotel.

Monday – I got the day going w/ some exercise around Stockholm, then we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and a last walk around Gamla Stan, scoring a souvenir for Claire. And then it was off to the airport! Boy was Heathrow customs a zoo…

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi
Largest mosque in India