Tag archives for Systembolaget

Drinking, carousing, and making merry: The Insider’s Guide to Midsummer in Sweden

It’s the day before the day before the day before Midsummer and all through the house, not a creature is stirring, not even a little frog that wants to hop around a very large fertility symbol.

This year, Midsummer has totally snuck up on me. What?! Midsummer?! Since when?!?!

If nothing else, the sun has been a gentle reminder that the summer solstice is on its way. I wake up every morning now to birds chirping and sunlight streaming in through the slats of of our bedroom curtains, feeling totally alert and ready to take on the day.

Then I look at the clock and realize that it’s 4:15 am. And then I curse my ineffective blinds.

Read more » >>

It’s That Time of the Month Again

It’s that time of the month again.  You feel weak and cranky. You raid the cabinets for chocolate and realize that you don’t have any more. A sense of malaise and dissatisfaction descends.

And then it comes.

A feeling of restless anticipation takes over the city, and the state-run liquor stores brace themselves for a run on the shelves.

PAY DAY!!!!

One truly strange and hilarious aspect of living in Sweden is that certain rhythms of everyday life tend to happen in unison. Read more » >>

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!

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.