Elena Bowes

New York-London travel writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Sensational Scandinavia – Travels with Stretch

March 24th, 2019
Copenhagen and Stockholm
Wanderings: EuropePonderingsUncategorised

Excuse me, did you just say ‘grated reindeer heart’? I ask our Swedish waitress, as she sets the plates down in front of us.

She speaks perfect English but with a heavy accent. I probably misheard her. She nods and starts talking again.

Excuse me, I interrupt once more. Did you just say ‘smoked neck’?

Yes, neck from the Swedish dairy cow, she says, as if maybe the Swedish dairy cow part makes it ok.

I am not on a dare. Stretch, his two younger sons and I are eating dinner at Agrikultur, a top restaurant in stylish, foodie heaven Stockholm.

It’s the last night of our Scandinavian spring break tour designed around visiting Stretch’s middle son who is doing a semester abroad in Stockholm. Stretch booked this gastronomic extravaganza months ago.

I shut my eyes, banish all thoughts of Rudolph, and chew. Surprisingly tasty, weird but good weird. The food at this restaurant and Stockholm in general is sublime. A bit like Japan only the locals are blonde.

Our petite waitress places a slab of filet on an ancient piece of thick oak and directs a 2000 degree blue-flamed blow torch at the meat.  This is happening at our table. Do not repeat at home. She then puts the meat in a glass jar to be smoked over juniper embers and served with black truffles.

We finish off the meal with a tart baked on celeriac with meadowsweet cream, rhubarb, strawberry compote and cardamom.

Until tonight my stomach thought Korean Barbecue was exotic.

After dinner, we go clubbing with the boys at Café Opera.

We are going to dance all night, baby! promises Stretch, who knows I love to dance but rarely get to.

Well, Stretch and I do dance- for about half an hour- then we slump onto a bench and stare mesmerised at the dancing crowd of good-looking, sneaker clad Swedes. House music isn’t really our thing. What, no Rolling Stones? Plus digesting neck from the Swedish dairy cow and smoked reindeer is hard work.  We leave – our ears ringing-  content that we tried something new.

That’s what I love about travel – the adventure, getting out of my comfort zone, trying new things – sometimes successfully, other times not. It’s all about the journey, right?

Our Scandinavian adventure started a few days ago in Copenhagen where Stretch, his 17-year-old son and I spend two nights. As soon as we had dropped off our bags,

– view from our hotel room at the Ski Petri

we walked over to Christiania, a hippie anarchist commune with a Sixties vibe near the center of town.

You would be correct in thinking this was not my idea.

Everyone there looks about twenty with red glassy eyes. The smell of marijuana wafts around us as we wander past  dodgy looking shacks, sketchy looking dealers weighing bags of pot on metal scales set on plastic crates (easy to disband if police come). I am hoping that the roaming rottweilers are high and feeling chilled… I see a pug and relax a bit.  I try and think back to when I was twenty. Would I have liked this place then? Probably. It certainly draws a big crowd – locals and tourists.

The Gasoline Grill in Copenhagen is a takeaway burger joint and gas station where they pride themselves on their gasoline sauce.

You would be correct in thinking this was not my idea. I order the cheeseburger with gasoline sauce. It’s excellent. Not a hint of petrol. We stand in the sun, dabbing gasoline sauce off of our faces.

One thing that was my idea is visiting the Louisiana Museum just outside of Copenhagen. Touted as one of the world’s most beautiful museums, it’s been on my bucket list for a while.

Interesting fact: The Louisiana Museum is named after the site’s original builder who had three wives, all named Louise.

The museum does not disappoint. It has a dazzling collection of Giacometti…

Picasso…

Rauschenberg…

Oldenberg…

and Warhol…

But even more spectacular than the inside is the outside, where 60+ large sculptures – Calder, Serra, Henry Moore – are dotted around a sprawling lawn bordering the sea, Sweden visible in the distance. The Louisiana is a must.

As we wander through the collection, I am reminded how good Stretch is to travel with. We occasionally stop to peruse the signs posted next to the paintings. I skim, Stretch reads. One display explains the Cobra Movement. As the art expert in the couple, I like to educate Stretch…

I think the movement is based on the serpent-like gestures in the abstract works.

No, it said Cobra stands for Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam.

Right

We go outside and I admire the lovely red and white flag blowing down by the shore.

I love the Swedish flag.

Danish

Right

Getting ready for bed that night I am about to put the hotel lotion on my face.

That’s conditioner, he says helpfully from the bedroom.

Sometimes when traveling in a group, it’s best to split up. Like when it comes to shopping or looking at body parts.

Just so you know I have zero interest in the medical museum, says Stretch. That’s like going to a hospital.

Ok, what about walking around a shopping neighbourhood?

We did that yesterday.

Stretch is referring to our single foray into a shop to buy him a warm sweater.

So while Stretch and his son cycle around the harbour I visit the fab Design

and Medical museums

Warning: next two pics NOT for the squeamish, ie Stretch types

Repeat: Warning – next pic somewhat troubling!

Can’t say you weren’t warned.

I browse the vintage furniture and design shops in historic Nyhavn. I wish I had more shopping time here.

When traveling it’s important to stay open-minded. Just as the Louisiana was on my bucket list, seeing an old preserved ship  in Stockholm is on Stretch’s. I am not a boat person. But, being the wonderful open-minded traveler that I am, I grudgingly go along to the Vasa Museum.

And am pleasantly surprised – this massive 17th c. sunken ship was found perfectly in tact nearly four hundred years later

Life on board…

Final Scandi tips –

Copenhagen: Dine at Pluto where everything is yummy, even the green salad. Visit some of the old Danish seaside towns near the Louisiana where the houses still have thatched roofs. Try and get a table at the recently reopened groundbreaking Noma restaurant near Christiania. Bike around the city if the weather is nice. Copenhagen feels much smaller, quainter and more alternative than grand, elegant, sophisticated Stockholm.

Stockholm: Drink the tap water. It’s ice cold and delicious. Uber drivers charge half what a taxi does and often have nice cars. Dine at the modern bistro Matbaren in the Grand Hotel near the harbour. Don’t miss the Photography Museum’s café for a fika snack and stunning views of the city. Do miss the Nordiska Museet and Abba Museum – unless ancient table settings or ‘Dancing Queen’ is your thing.

And of course, shut your eyes and try that smoked neck – from a Swedish dairy cow.

March 2019