Tag archives for Summer

Top 5 Money-Saving Tips for Traveling in Sweden

Despite not having an official vacation from work, I am in the middle of an amazing travel spree that has taken me to Helsingborg, Stockholm, and Båstad over the last three weeks, and this weekend I’m taking off again for Gothenburg! (Or Göteborg, as it’s called in Sweden.)

In the midst of all this traveling, I’ve been using a few tricks that I’ve learned over the last year to avoid spending all of my savings in one month. Every country has their own little peculiarities when it comes to what’s expensive and what’s not, so here’s the insider’s guide for Sweden on ways to stretch your budget and save a little for the splurges that are worth it.

1. Choose your mealtimes wisely.

To be more specific, choose which meal you’re going to eat out wisely. Eating in a restaurant in Sweden can be much more expensive than a similar restaurant would be in another country… with the wonderful exception of lunch.

My friend Elaine and I, maximizing our lunch money. 8 delicious dumplings with an enormous side of soup or salad and rice for 88 SEK? Yes, please. Oversize soup spoon-ladles are just icing on the cake. (At Steam in Stockholm) Photo: Kate Wiseman

Many, if not most, restaurants have fabulous lunch deals that are almost the same as the dinner menu, but go for half the price and include a drink of your choice. This is especially true with the ethnic restaurants for some reason, which often have a reasonably-priced buffet (score!!) or a sampler platter for 100 SEK or less. That’s a good deal!

2. Pick your poison with care.

The reasons behind the establishment of the Systembolaget and the sky-high alcohol taxes are a discussion for another time, but for now let’s just say that alcohol is expensive.

Alcohol is taxed based on the percentage of alcohol it has in it, so the price of a drink is much more influenced by how strong it is than how good it is. This means, of course, that if you’re trying to save money while going out, drink beer or the cider. Cocktails are a one-way ticket to Poorsville. (Been there, done that.) Wine is marginally less expensive.

One big plus of the drinking culture in Sweden, however, is that in many towns you’re allowed to drink in public areas. No open container laws here! If you want to sit and enjoy a nice evening with a glass of wine, you can bring a bottle with you wherever you want, whether it’s the park, the town square, or the harbor in a little beach town.

Another way to save money on booze is to buy a box of wine instead of a bottle. (It's not trashy here, I promise.) But then if you buy it on a Saturday, you may have to carry it around all day until your arm feels like it's going to fall off and you're forced to take a break that leads to a little nap on the aforementioned box of wine. Hypothetically speaking, of course. Photo: Elaine Hargrove

Word to the wise: You’ll have to buy that wine at the Systembolaget, and their opening hours are not, ahem, accommodating. Buy before 6 pm on weekdays and before 3 pm on Saturdays. (Closed on Sundays.)

3. Get your wireless at a café—but double-check that they have it before you buy.

A lot of cafes have wireless available for their customers, but some places require you to use their company gift card or rewards card with your purchase to get the code. The system isn’t really posted, either, so it’s best just to ask if they have wireless and what you have to do to use it.

For example, Espresso House (a Swedish Starbucks lookalike) has free wireless with the purchase of any item, but you need to put money on their Espresso House card and pay with that card. It might seem like a hassle, but at least in the case of Espresso House, using the card also gives you a 20% discount on all coffee and food, plus their lunch deals are only available for purchase with the card.

In the end, it works out pretty well. I get discounted coffee and lunch deals with my wireless, and there’s no real cost to me besides the hassle of recharging the card every now and then.

4. Go to the train station in person and get the inside scoop.

The Stockholm subway system has an onlin3 visitor’s section (http://sl.se/en/Visitor/Plan-your-journey/), but the public transportation in other areas doesn’t always have as good information on the internet. Even if you’re traveling by bus or trying to take the subway, your best bet is to go directly to the train station and find the customer service desk.

In Skåne, for example, a company called Skånetrafiken is responsible for the busses and trains. If you’re traveling in a group of two or more, you can buy a discounted duo or family pass. (You don’t have to be related.) You can also buy a Jojo card that you add money to and gives you 20% off ticket prices. For the Swedish national train system, there are student discounts as well as “youth” discounts for people 25 years old or younger. Nice!

When you’re in the station, don’t be afraid to approach people who look like they know what they’re doing and ask for help, either. In my experience, Swedes are both incredibly good at English and helpful with all sorts of tourist-related questions. The last time I asked a woman for directions to the bathroom, she stopped one step short of accompanying me to the next open stall and making sure that I had enough toilet paper.

5. Location, location, location… and breakfast.

When picking your hostel or hotel, pay the premium for a central location. You’ll save a ton on public transportation, and it’s even more of a win if you go for one with breakfast included. It will always be cheaper than a regular breakfast at a restaurant or café.

Two hostels I've stayed at in Stockholm: the Gustaf af Klimt hostel ON A BOAT (right by Slussen) and the aptly-named "Best Hostel" (on Gamla Stan). The Best Hostel earned its name with free linens, free breakfast, and an endless supply of pasta for the taking. Oh yeahhhh. Photos: Kate Wiseman

Those are my top five money-saving strategies for traveling in Sweden! If you’ve got more, share the wealth! Leave your own tips and tricks in the comments.

As for me, I’m off to Gothenburg. Fingers crossed for good weather!

Cope With Summer Rain Like a Swede

I posted a brief update earlier this week about how the cold snap had ended and the sun was out and an evening canal boat just made my day by being too-cute-to-be-true.

And then the next day the rains started again.

I would just like to say that I am trying very hard to be positive here, because by suffering through one of the coldest Swedish winters on record I feel like I earned a summer characterized by above-average beauty, unbroken pleasantness, and gorgeous weather.

Yes, some might say: But Kate, you went home to the US for six weeks and skipped most of January! You were barely here during the winter! What are you talking about?? DON’T CARE. WAS TERRIBLE. WANT SUN NOW.

So anyway, positive thinking, zen, ommmmmmmm, rain is dripping on me in my lotus pose, ommm…

In the midst of all this pain and suffering, though, is the truly hilarious range of reactions I’ve seen Swedes have towards the rain. There are a few who have gone into full-scale depression, hiding under blankets and drinking hot chocolate and bemoaning their impending doom/the coming of winter (surely somebody besides me did this), while the vast majority are just engaging in some moderate complaining about the injustice of it all.

Then there’s a third group: a select number of people who have clearly become totally numb to the concept of weather and refuse to pay any attention to it at all.

On Friday, I went to Lilla Torg (means, literally, “little square”) in Malmö for dinner and drinks with a couple of friends to say goodbye to Frida, who, incidentally, is moving to Scotland to be with her Scottish boyfriend. I tell you, these Swedes… just finding love connections everywhere.

Lilla Torg is in extremely old section of town, and it’s really cute: lots of restaurants and bars clustered together, all with outdoor seating areas, umbrellas to sit under, blankets for when it gets cold, heating lamps, etc. We were at an Indian restaurant, and we had just gotten our food when it started to pour monsoon season levels of rain on the whole square. I expected the normal migration of people from outside to in, waiters taking peoples’ food and dinner guests collecting their purses and coats, but people were totally unfazed.

I don’t know if you can really see this, but it’s raining so hard on the cobblestones that there’s about 1.5 feet of bounceback. Crazy! Photo: Kate Wiseman

When the rain started, the people eating shifted chairs and bags and moved a little closer together to avoid the gaps in umbrellas. The waiters took roundabout ways from one table to the next to avoid being showered more than necessary. And people continued to line up outside for a table—people in high heels, silk dresses, and umbrellas.

Can you see the woman's shoes? She's on her way out the door... Wowzah! Photo: Kate Wiseman

Unbelievable! I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It was a little like when I was in college, and there was some sort of policy that dictated the start and end dates for heat and air conditioning. Regardless of whether it was 100 degrees out or 50, the heat would be on between October 15 and May 15. And then when the air conditioning was on (between May 15 and October 15, of course), the ambient temperature indoors was cold enough to give you double pneumonia and the flu if you didn’t bring a cardigan indoors with you… even in July.

It’s the same here, but with people: clearly, it doesn’t matter whether it’s warm or cold, rainy or dry—if it’s summer, they’re going out. The weather doesn’t play a role in the evening. The decision has been made: if they’re going out, they’re going out! They’re certainly not wearing anything boring, either; forget the rain boots and jackets that I was sporting. It’s full force party wear accessorized perhaps with an umbrella that can be discreetly tucked away.

I love it. These people are a total inspiration to me. I, too, would like to be totally impervious to the fickle Swedish weather. I haven’t made it there yet, but perhaps with time…

Mmm... proof that the weather is not going to hold us back from enjoying some of our most-cherished memories of summertime. Photo: Kate Wiseman

And lest you think the pain is unending over here, well… it’s not. The skies cleared for the whole day today, and my friend Malin and I bicycled to the beach where we both had some delicious ice cream. Sooooooo nice… and especially appreciated after the downpour.

Brief Update from Southern Sweden

My proper blog post is going up tomorrow, but I just had to share this story and video with you.

I know that North America is currently besieged by a nasty heat wave, but here in Skåne (the southernmost state of Sweden), we’ve been enduring a prolonged cold snap. Plummeting temperatures, wind, miserable amounts of rain, even a little hail here and there—all of a sudden, I realized that July is almost over, and then it will be August, and then it’s the fall, which means IT’S ALMOST WINTER AGAIN. Ahhhhh!!!

(Don’t mind me, I’m just a little traumatized from last year.)

Well, we FINALLY got some sunshine yesterday, and it was warm enough to wear sandals again, so life is good. I worked until about 7:30 last night in Malmö, and just as I was closing up the office around 8:00, I heard what sounded like an accordion being played in close proximity. Is there a radio in here? I wondered, and took another look through the office. I couldn’t find anything, so I locked up, and then it started again.

I crossed the street, looked over the edge into the canal, and there it was! An evening canal boat full of guests, drinking beer and wine, just cruising through Malmö to the sweet music of an old man and his accordion- and guitar-playing friends.

Check it out!

How awesome is that? When I saw this, I thought: Now this is Sweden. What a great way to spend a summer evening in Malmö.

If you can’t watch the video right now (not that you would be reading blogs at work or anything… right??), here’s a photo.

A lovely evening in Malmö. Photo: Kate Wiseman

I hope you are enjoying summer wherever you are—stay cool, keep warm, whatever it takes!

Oh, snap(s)… it’s Midsummer.

There’s no use trying to be delicate about this. A crucial part of the Midsummer festivities is the drinking. I’m trying very hard to sound very adult-like and responsible in this blog, but even the totally responsible adults I know seem to be prone to, ahem, a little excess during Midsummer.

Snaps! Aquavit! Brännvin! Bål! Where to start?

Delicious glasses of bål chilling out with the Midsummer Head Wreaths. Photo: Kate Wiseman.

Here’s the basics.

Bål (pronounced like “bowl”) is an alcohol-based fruit punch, usually made with soda for a light and bubbly taste.

Aquavit is the traditional pairing to pickled herring and is made from a vodka base (either potato or grain). Like parmesan and champagne, aquavit is an EU-protected label that must be made with either dill or caraway or both, a baseline flavor that can then be paired with other herbs and spices to make distinctive varieties.

Brännvin is any kind of flavored, distilled alcohol, including but not limited to aquavit. The name “brännvin” refers to the “burning” or distillation of an alcohol, and different kinds of brännvin have been made throughout Scandinavia for centuries.

Snaps is not a type of alcohol; it’s the way a shot of alcohol is drunk. Snaps can be any liquor or combination of liquors and other ingredients, but snaps must be taken in combination with food. At Midsummer, snaps of aquavit or other types of brännvin are usually taken after “snapsvisor” (traditional Swedish drinking songs) are sung.

Kate and Anna’s home brew… sort of

People tend to be on their most Swedish behavior around me as though they owe it to me to show me what a real Swede would do. This system works out really well for me, and whenever I get an idea in my head of something we should do because it’s Swedish, chances are really good that people will play along. Not only that, but since all the old traditions are new to me, I am having a lot of fun taking part in all the things people usually stop doing when they’re children. The “be a good cultural ambassador to the foreigner” complex is awesome. I quite like it.

Which brings us to the snaps situation.

I love Johanna Kindvall’s Kok Blog, and ever since I consulted with her on my Holy Herring! blog post, I’ve been curious to try her recipe for aquavit—she said herring is at its best when paired with the strong and spicy liquor, and I knew that herring was definitely on the menu for Friday. Fortunately, Anna said she was up for the challenge, so we went for it.

Measuring, grinding, steeping, smelling... and voila! Our very own homemade snaps. Photos: Kate Wiseman.

Final result: delicious. I can’t even tell you how many people were like, “Well, I’m not much of a snaps person, but I’ll try it anyway since you made it,” then took half a shot, then reacted with a great deal of surprise: “Wow! That’s not bad!” Two minutes later, another drinking song has started and they’re making a grab for your bottle instead of the store-bought bottle sitting on the table…

You can find the recipes for both the black currant and aquavit varieties on the Kok Blog. The black currant might be a little hard to make if you don’t grow the bushes yourself, but perhaps some readers can suggest where to find them.  I highly recommend both varieties. I liked the aquavit better, but the black currant is lighter and perhaps a little easier to drink if you’re not into spice. Just be sure not to let the black currant leaves steep for too long, otherwise it will start to taste a little grassy.

Back to the bål

For those of you who are not into shots, the bål (fruit punch) that we had at our party was amazing. And therefore dangerous. It was somewhere in the middle of my fourth glass that I thought to myself, “Hmm… I hope this isn’t too strong because I am drinking it really quickly.”

There are almost endless variations of bål and while most are fruity, they can also be made with bitter ingredients, like angostura. You can see an abbreviated selection of the flavor combinations suggested by Systembolaget, the national alcohol monopoly.

A small selection of the wide range of bål variations. Photos: Systembolaget.se.

For those of you who might want a taste of Sweden at your next summer party, here’s the punch that I can vouch for as totally tasty, with thanks to my friend Matilda for sharing the recipe!

Matilda’s Midsummer Bål

Will make two punch bowls full

4 bottles of white wine (or one box)

2 bottles of Sprite

¼ bottle of elderberry cordial/concentrate (find recipe here; can also be bought at Ikea stores worldwide)

¼ bottle of rhubarb and strawberry concentrate

A generous splash of Bacardi lemon

Frozen chopped mango pieces

Fresh lime, sliced thinly into triangles

Frozen strawberries

A few fresh strawberries

A few last thoughts

For those of you who are wondering how I felt the next morning, well… I wasn’t exactly jumping out of bed, itching to run a marathon, but overall I was fine. Water! Water is good for you. Thank goodness I drank a lot of it at the end of the night.

Happy Midsummer!

I started writing this last night in the quiet of my apartment, feeling a little like a child the night before Christmas. All the preparations for Midsummer were in order, there were certain tasks that need to be completed in the morning (among those: making another flower head wreath), and now, this morning, all that stands between me and the Midsummer festivities is time.

Although the weather is less than perfect at the moment, I’m excited to see what the day will bring. Undoubtedly herring and snaps, fresh potatoes and a strawberry cake. (See fellow Sweden.se blogger Anne’s Midsummer strawberry cake for an example.) But what else? Should I have bought a traditional folk dress? Now I’m just making myself nervous.

I thought about live blogging Midsummer from beginning to end for a moment, right before I realized that combining aquavit consumption with internet access was not a good idea. I’ll be taking lots of photos instead so I can report back to you all later.

Will we dance around a maypole? Will traditional songs be sung? Will we channel the spirit of the Vikings and summon the ghost of Leif Ericsson? (I really hope so.) On a related note, do you think that Ikea makes ready-to-assemble maypoles? Because that would be awesome.

Here is a small sampling of photos from the week’s Midsummer preparations—making snaps, weaving our own flower head wreaths, and tapping centuries-old Midsummer magic. There will be much more later on all the action.

Photos: Kate Wiseman.

In the meantime, happy, happy Midsummer to all of you! I hope you enjoy the day no matter where you are.