Monday, July 09, 2012

I'll Have the Whale

Yesterday was the halfway point of my trip. I feel like I've been gone for approximately a month so I think this vacation is doing what it's supposed to. Lobotomize me. I mean, refresh my brain.


Before the weekend, it was stunningly beautiful here. Perfect sunny weather. We tried to go to the famed Bird Island of Runde, known for its many, many puffins. It was a beautiful drive and then, just a few kilometers away from the island, this extremely dark and large cloud started to roll over the mountains in front of us.


By the time we got to Runde, the temperature had dropped and it was cold and windy. (It actually looked a lot like when the fog rolls into San Francisco this time of year.) So we bailed on bird island and found a sunny spot for a hike.

Foreground: Mashall learns to blow dandelion seeds.

Background: Chrissy applies SPF 2000 to Josie.


This was the view from the top.

It's hard to tell from the picture, but I think we were walking on some kind of bog. It was very spongy moss that was rather springy underfoot. Kind of like that gluten-free McDonald's bun from Stockholm. (By the way, did I mention that the Big Mac is called a McThomas in Sweden?)


Chrissy's husband Will has been on a business trip to Singapore so the next day, Chrissy and I took the kids on a mini vacation to Trondheim.

It takes about 6 hours to get to Trondheim, including two ferries, and a lot of tunnels and bridges.

This one looked like a modern version of the Golden Gate bridge. Only not golden. And only two lanes.

Six hours is a loooong time in the car but the kids were really, really good.

Trondheim is incredibly charming.


Our hotel, the Rika Nidelven, was lovely and situated right on the river that runs through town.

When we arrived, we took the kids to the Trondheim Science Center which is a kid-oriented museum with LOTS of hands on activities. It was super fun.

Josie especially loved the spinner.

She was on it for hours.

I also loved that to the side of the kids' outdoor play area was this:


Yes, that's a catapult. A discarded catapult. Not, like blocked off or anything. Just put aside. It doesn't even have a sign on it that says not to touch it or play on it.


I guess the Norwegians just assume that people don't need to be told these things.



I also loved that one of the "Did you know?" signs in the museum had information about when the cheese plane was invented. Norwegians are very into their cheese planes. It's how they slice brunost, a traditional Norwegian cheese.


After the science museum, we were all ready for dinner. We took the kids to a fancy adult restaurant. While Josie and I were washing our hands after touching EVERYTHING at the Science Museum, the waitress came over to tell Chrissy about the dinner specials.


When we came back to the table, Chrissy was very excited.


"The fish of the day is halibut with a tomato-y sauce, and the meat of the day is whale."

Whale! Obviously, we HAD TO have some whale. When else do you have a chance to have whale?

Hopefully it wasn't baby whale...


We order.


Chrissy: "The kids will have child portions of the halibut with all the vegetables and sauces on the side and I'll have the whale."

Waitress: "The vale?"

Chrissy: "Yes, the whale."


Here's the whale.

You might notice that the whale looks a lot like VEAL. Because it is veal. Turns out that "veal" said with a heavy Norwegian accent sounds just like "whale."

Anyway, the whale was delicious.

So was the halibut.


We followed this delightful meal with some ice cream, because Norwegians love two things: dessert and hot dogs, and then rolled ourselves back to the hotel. We had a big day to prepare for on Sunday.

There was a massive breakfast buffet at the hotel for us to take down.


I didn't photograph it all but this is by far the best hotel breakfast I have ever seen in my life. It had everything: cured meats, many cheeses, hot meats, several kids of eggs, at least half a dozen types of salmon, a giant yogurt/cereal buffet, salad, a fruit buffet, a fresh-squeezed custom juice station, a slice-your-own-bread-station, and many, many trays of baked and griddled breakfast treats.

They even had a special section of gluten free breads and crackers. I love it here.

Fishcakes in the foreground.
Many delicious cold fishes. Don't worry, I sampled them all.
Josie's very excited about breakfast.
That brown flat thing toward the back of my plate is brunost. Please also note the half-eaten soft boiled egg in the middle. Look at how yellow (orange!) that yolk is! These eggs did not come from a factory farm.
After lunch, we rolled ourselves over to Nidaros Cathedral, which was originally built in the 11th century. It was really impressive, although we were not allowed to photograph the inside, so all I have for you is this:
Then I went over to the train station and bought a one-way ticket to Hell.

You know, just in case. It's good to have these things onhand. You never know when you're going to need to give this to someone.


It was a rainy day so we skipped the outdoor museum and headed home. Not two minutes outside of the city, it was lunchtime and the kids were claiming hunger despite our enormous breakfast binge, so we stopped for gas and a very Norwegian lunch of cheese-stuffed bacon-wrapped hot dogs.

No, seriously. Modern Norwegian cuisine bears a striking resemblance to carnival food.

We also had ice cream on the ferry. It was a banner day for food, that's for sure.


We also discovered an awesome Swedish pop song.

We really can't get enough of it.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Is it Still Night if it Doesn't Get Dark Out?

This is what midnight looks like in early July when you're at the 62nd parallel:


I'm not exaggerating. I took that shot at 11:55pm last night. Or 23:55, if we want to be all European about it. With no tricks of lighting or flashes. It was actually light enough out that I was still reading in bed by the light of day. Or night, as it were.

I am really far north.


Here's Alesund. It's beautiful here and the weather has been perfect.


I wasn't really prepared for how stunning Norway would be. Flying into the tiny Alesund-Vigra airport, it looks like a sunny day on approach into the airport on the island of Myst. (Remember that computer game? It was like LOST. So confusing. I hated that game.)

Even from a dirty airplane window, you can kind of understand why that Norwegian Blue would have been pining for these fjords. They are breathtaking.


We had a lovely 4th of July celebration here. It was a real American picnic, with grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, and ice cream.

We had everything but the fireworks, and we even got to eat outside. It was perfect.

On a totally unrelated note, Norwegians have a strange sense of humor.

This poster was in the Oslo Airport, advertising a bar (duh.) I don't know why there is a naked, angry baby on it but what I do know is that everything about this creepy poster makes me want a drink. Immediately. A strong one.


It's another gorgeous day here today, so we're off to hike and picnic on the bird island of Runde.

Tomorrow we're off to Trondheim, a university city a few hours north of here. We tried to go to Tromso (above the Arctic Circle) but it turns out that flights are almost $600 per person. (As 4-year-old Josie said "OH MY GOD! SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS?!?!) So we scrapped that idea. Now we'll drive to Trondheim where we're staying in a hotel noted for its' massive, amazing breakfast buffet. The breakfast buffet is noted as #54 on Chrissy's list of 99 Things You Must Do In Norway.

There's also an Ikea in Trondheim. And a science museum. A little something for everyone.

Road trip!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Stockholm, Highbrow and Lowbrow

I guess it's fitting that I spent day two in Stockholm experiencing a mix of highbrow and lowbrow culture. After all, these are the people that gave us Ikea and H&M: high style at low prices. Turns out it's hard to escape Stockholm without being buffeted between the two.



I started the day with a walk over to the Stadshuset, which is both Stockholm's City Hall and also where the Nobel Prizes are awarded. I got up at 6am without an alarm (it really doesn't get dark at night) and wandered over there since practically nothing opens until 10am.

I believe this is some kind of symbol of Stockholm. I like it because it reminds me of one of my favorite Matisse line drawings:

(Fata with Hat of Light, Memory of Mallarme, 1933.)


Nobel Prizes awarded through these doors.
Proof I was here.

You can kind of see Gamla Stan (the Old Town) over my right shoulder. You would have been able to see more of it but the stranger who took my picture clearly doesn't know anything about framing a shot.

Here's what the view really looked like:



Then, I walked through the Kungsholmen neighborhood (which is fairly normal and non-touristy) to a supermarket, because I always think it's so interesting to see where the locals buy their food. You can tell a lot about a culture by what's in its grocery stores. The Swedes love cheese, fish, bread, and bulk bin candy.


They do actually have Swedish fish in Sweden. Only they are just called "pastelfisk" and, oddly, they are not all red but are a variety of mixed colors. Unfortunately, my attempts to photograph them failed.



Next up was a visit to the Moderna Museet, followed by a jaunt over to the Historiska Museet, i.e. the Viking Museum. Sadly, there were no hats with horns in the Viking museum, although I did see a lot of old gold jewelry and treasures. Very fancy.


At this point, I was starving and tired from walking around for the last 5 hours. I was hoping to lunch at an outdoor cafe in Ostermalm but couldn't find one that was crowded enough to probably be good, but not crowded enough that I could get a seat outside



So I caved, and went to McDonald's.


I know, I know. Here's the thing.


McDonald's in Sweden actually has gluten-free buns for its burgers. I couldn't resist.


As you can see by the glop of ketchup on my hand, the Swedes are very into their condiments. I somehow managed to get ketchup in my hair (!) while eating this thing...ketchup that I only discovered the next morning. Classy.

Also, the bun...the bun was spongy. It's hard to get the full effect from this picture, but when I say "spongy," I mean, literally like an object which might absorb soap and clean dishes. It had the kind of texture that causes one to wonder if it is actually digestible. Oh well.




Post-McDonald's picnic, I did a bit of shopping, including a trip to Marzio which had fabulous shoes and bags but unfortunately not in my size, as most of the store was on sale (a benefit to traveling in July). I also made a trip to NK, which is like Swedish Harrod's. Very cool and lovely.


Dinner that evening was at B.A.R., a restaurant I read about in a few places, including in a recent Elle Decor guide to the city.


I sat outside and enjoyed the loveliest meal.


To start, I chose the Ocean Plate, which featured cavian, smoked char, pickled herring (obviously), a langoustine, and some shrimps.

Also, because this is Sweden, where they don't act like you are a pariah if you can't eat wheat, the restaurant quickly swapped out the normal bread basket for some gluten-free bread THAT WAS DELICIOUS.


Seriously, I can't express how good this bread was. It was nutty and wheat-y and multi-grain-ish and awesome. America needs to figure out this bread.


After the feast of fishes, I had some reindeer, because when in Scandinavia... and also, I'd never eaten reindeer before.


This reindeer was so tender and delicious. Really incredible. Like beef, only less..beefy. You know how sometimes you can taste beef up in your nose? Like that charred beef-ness gets up way up in your palate? Reindeer doesn't do that.


Then I realized that the reason that the reindeer was so tender was because this was not a reindeer that had spent any time pulling a sleigh. This was reindeer CALF.


Oh my god, I ate baby reindeer.


Well anyway, it was delicious.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Dispatch from Stockholm

Ok. It only took me half a day of real time (or one full day of calendar time) but I finally made it to Stockholm. It's wonderful here.

Sorry in advance if this blog post (and subsequent posts) are off-format. The ipad presents some challenges to blogging that I'm trying to work around. Please bear with me.

Yeah, so here I am. It's almost 10pm and it's 7pm light out. Very confusing!

So far, I have a few observations:


1. Everyone here speaks English. This is enormously helpful since I did a crappy job preparing for this trip and therefore learned basically no Swedish prior to arrival. I am a bad American tourist. This impression was not helped by my walking around in airplane clothes all day, i.e. yoga pants and a tshirt.


2. The Swedes love their coffee. This was also enormously helpful as when I arrived at my hotel at 9am after not sleeping on my flight here, I discovered my room was not yet available. Without the mid-morning latte I procured, I would surely be passed out on the street somewhere in the vicinity of the Kungliga Slottet.


3. I'm typing this from the hotel bar. The dj of the hotel bar playlist seems to have a strong affinity for the Jackson 5. Rockin' robin, tweet, tweedly-deet. Also, the Swedes seem to be very into American pop music. I heard Carly Rae Jepsen no fewer than three times in various stores today.

I know I had more observations in my six hours of walking around aimlessly and half-delirious before my hotel room was ready to accept me but of course, I didn't write them down which means they have now departed my jet-lagged brain. So here are a few pictures.


Luckily, it's hard to get lost here, even though I did several times. It's such a small city, though, that getting lost just meant I wandered upon things I wanted to see anyway. So that was kind of awesome.


First, the lovely bellman who stored my luggage suggested I walk across the bridge in front of the hotel to visit the old town, Gamla Stan. I think he suggested this because he knew I could find caffeine there and also because it is a small island that is hard for jetlagged visitors to get lost on. He was right on both counts.


I serendipitously happened upon the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace.


I also saw this awesome sign.

I have a question. Why is this written in English? Seems like it should be in Swedish, no?


I then wandered around somewhat aimlessly but managed, by the grace of God, to come across the Ostermalm food hall right about at lunchtime. I had wanted to visit there anyway as of course I love nothing more than local grocery stores and food halls. I spent at least an hour wandering around in there (p.s. it's not that big). One of the highlights was the presence of Stubb's BBQ sauce and dry rub. Good job, Stubbs! Way to get distribution.



It was a much prettier day than this pic would have you believe. Partly cloudy and about 70 degrees, despite this one rainy-looking gray moment. Works for me.

After great fatigue-fueled indecision, I picked up some items and had myself a little a picnic lunch in the square right outside the food hall.


This was awesome. Please note, from 6 o'clock, moving clockwise:

Teeny tiny Scandinavian shrimp. I ate them plain with a fork. They were freaking delicious. So sweet!

Coca-Cola Light. Still desperate for caffeine at this point. (Honestly, why can't they distribute this stuff in America? It's so much better.)

Swedish Cheese. You can read about it here:ästerbotten_cheese.

The guy behind the counter assured me it was the MOST Swedish of cheeses. (Like I needed to be sold on cheese. Silly man!) Despite the tiny holes, it tastes a lot like a slightly sharper Parrano, if you are familiar with that. Or like a cross between gouda and parm, if you're not.

Brown bread. OMG, you guys. There is a bakery in this food hall that sells gluten-free crackers and brown bread! I'm in heaven!


Seriously. Heaven. I don't know who Friends of Adam is, but today at about 12:15pm, they were my hero. I bought two packets of crackers and the very dense loaf of bread, of which I ate about 1/4 inch. To call this stuff hearty does it a serious disservice.


Then I wandered around a lot until I couldn't take it anymore and found my way back to the hotel where they finally had my room ready. Upon arriving in my room I discovered two things:

1. There's a lot of teak in the room. Floors, door jambs, etc. Quite lovely but also gives the impression one is staying in a cruise ship.


2. The hotel staff gave me a welcome treat of four chocolate truffles. Cute.


I ate two truffles and passed out for a solid 2.5 hour nap.


I think I may have taken more pictures on my camera that may be worth sharing, but I left both the camera and the adapter up in my hotel room so you'll just have to wait for those since this hotel bar is getting crowded and I don't want to pack up and lose my seat! In the meantime, though, I'd like to show you my mobile blogging setup:



This is so meta.

It's 10:33. Still not dark out.

This is crazy!