With a last name like Larkworthy, it’s pretty easy to guess where my father’s family is from. Dad explored his heritage avidly after he retired, visiting England every year, spending days and days in various genealogical societies, trying to confirm whether we came from royalty or were merely just worthy of larks. We grew up knowing that mom’s mom, our Nana, was Swedish. Her name was Ebba Stark and she taught us how to say grace in the language when we were kids (Kate, I believe, is the only sibling who can still recite it). I’d never been much interested in visiting the country until about a year or so ago, when I kept hearing about its beauty and culture from various Swedish friends, who also happened to be cool and chic (makeup artists Jeanine Lobell and Gucci Westman, photographers Inez and Vinoodh, Face Stockholm’s Martina Arfwidson and Byredo’s Ben Gorham and a former colleague Anna Davidson). So we bit. As Midsummer eases toward its ending, I urge you to book your trip for next summer now. Flights are not cheap, but Norwegian Air has reasonable prices if you book 11 or 12 months in advance. Like us, you’ll be glad you did when next June rolls around.
Anyway, herewith, my top ten reasons to visit this gloriously beautiful land.
They have a hot chef: Chef Mathias Dahlgren has two restaurants in Stockholm’s Grand Hotel: Matsalen and Matbaren. Matsalen is the Hamilton of Stockholm; tables are impossible to procure. Matsalen’s more relaxed sibling Matbaren, however, has openings, so long as you’re flexible. We walked in after a steam at the Grand’s spa and walked out with a reservation for two nights later. Boy, was it worth it. I relished my very messy chicken Steam Buns (hence, the accompanying wet towel), but the Pakistani Mango Mint Sorbet (above, left) won the prize (and those are not French fries in the plate next to it. Those are huge chunks of cheese. Astrid requested a doggie bag). Now, if we can just figure out how to recreate that sorbet…
Everyone bikes: Whether you’re a Citibiker or like to head out on the open road, Sweden is not only bike friendly; it’s practically bike-dominant. I lost count of the number of times I nearly got mowed down because I was stupidly standing smack-dab in a bike lane. Bikers there are serious and determined, but they’re not douchebags (douche-baggery seems illegal there). Astrid and Bertrand even spent a day road biking outside the city with a guide. The best part: no hills. Not that I’m complaining, my beloved Berkshires…
Kardemmabullar: Aka, cardamom buns. Aka, the bagels of Sweden. Wherever we spotted kardemmabullar–in a bakery window, on a restaurant menu, in a random child’s hand–we grabbed one and scarfed it down. Now, two weeks later, I can no longer button my pant, but it was worth it. My friend Danielle, who’s more a Swede than I am (childhood summers were spent there and she can speak the language), says her family’s relationship with cardamom is geographical. “In Smaland, where my family’s from, there’s not a ton of cardamom, so the joke among my baking aunts is that the farther north, the more cardamom.” I just love a good cardamom joke…Given how much we found in Stockholm, her aunts are right. Danielle shared her (aunt’s) recipe with us, which I intend to try. As soon as I can button my pants again.
Lakrits: Sweden is the land of my childhood first love: black licorice. An acquired taste, to be sure, but I took to it immediately and never let it go–that was, until the salubrious Bertrand came into my life and wagged his finger at my wicked sugar habit. But a week in Stockholm warrants a week off the wagon. Sweet, salted, sweet and salted, I tried them all. My friend, and Stockholm denizen Ben Gorham recommended Lakrits Roden (http://www.lakritsroten.se/english/) in Soddermalm, the Brooklyn of Stockholm. But I found these chic Kolsvart packs at Urban Deli (another must for dining. Go for lunch, and bring your dog. http://www.urbandeli.org/nytorget/) and promptly threw a dozen packs on the checkout counter. To Bertrand’s disapproving look, I shot back, “They’re GIFTS!” Well, six bags made it back to recipients. It was a long flight home.
Everyone speaks English: More than not, we were addressed in the native tongue, which I got quite a kick out of, proud to be, well, recognized as a local. Bertrand and the kids also have a kind of Scandie vibe to their features, so it really wasn’t surprising. Each time, we quietly shrugged, “Do you speak English?” they were all too happy to accommodate. If only the same could be said about the French…
It’s always sunny: Well, that’s a lie. We had our share of rain. How about, “It’s always light out”? The three-hour night kind of threw us at first (“Wait. It’s 11:30 already???), but the pale sky provided quite the gorgeous (and constant) backdrop.
This is 5 minutes outside the center of the city: “You must go biking through Djurgarden!” my friend Anna Davidson, a Swedish native, implored. On day three, we rented bikes and followed Astrid in (she’d scouted the area out during an earlier run ). Along with cows, the area is dotted with cottages, a restaurant or two and a few museums, including the Abba Museum (missed it) and Vasa Museum, which houses the world’s largest shipwreck. It’s spectacular.
This is 15 minutes outside the city: My biggest regret was not heading out to the islands until our last full day. Hundreds of islands, many with their own tiny public dock, almost like a railroad stop, beckoned us. This is the view from Fjaderholmarnaskrog, the cozy and delicious restaurant where we dined our last night. When we go back, I’m gunning for us to stay at a cottage on one of the more remote ones.
The Easiest Pass: Getting around the city is a dream. Sure, you can bike and you can even uber, but if you’d rather stay off wheels, one SL ticket gets you on any ferry, bus or metro. Hop on, hop off. We bought 72 hour passes at our hotel and used them to their fullest. But the ferry was the most fun.
They’ve figured it out: In some ways, Sweden is the same as it was 50 years ago. And yet, its architecture is still covetable (and more relevant than ever) and its inhabitants healthy, well educated and generally content. They are more than amused at the current political situation going on back in our country, so they certainly have every right to be smug. But they’re not. If November doesn’t turn out the way we’re hoping it will, we just might move there.
- 1 stick of butter, divided in half
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 2 T cinnamon
- 1/2 t salt
- 5 cups flour
- 3 packets yeast
- 2 t cardamom
- 2 t pearl sugar (found in specialty foods stores, especially Swedish ones. Like Ikea)
Heat 1/2 stick of butter (leave the rest out to soften) and milk in a saucepan until it’s hot but not boiling. Pour into a bowl, then stir in 1/2 cup sugar and salt until dissolved. In separate bowl, flour, yeast and cardamom.