Hej from Sweden!
Our arrival here marks our first visit to a Nordic country in the summer months. This meant that we had extra hours of sunshine and beautiful green and blue scenes (in comparison, our past visits were more dusk and snowy vistas). We used two key cities as our launching points for our stay here: Stockholm and Malmö. We saw some quaint beach culture, institutions for higher learning, and even a free concert. One important callout though was the foods we ate, particularly the fish, specifically one intensely smelly can of fish.
We began our visit in Stockholm and were immediately taken aback by how many islands are interconnected here as well as by the vast amount of water weaving through and around the city. We enjoyed each corner of this clean and bustling city, including its public transportation. With each station painted or tiled uniquely, it was a sight just to stand on the platform. We used the metro to access some northern parts of the city, including Stockholm University. The grounds were just the right size for an afternoon stroll, after which we took in the local beaches outfitted with sunbathers and nude swimmers alike. The weather was not quite warm enough for our swimming threshold. While the residents here were comfortable in their swim trunks, I was wearing long sleeves - but more power to them.
In the city center, we got to experience some truly beautiful weather. The sun shone delightfully, dancing off the waterways. It made the parks on Museum Island glow vibrantly. The flower beds were meticulously manicured and the areas that exist for daytime ambles in nature make you forget you are in a city. We thoroughly enjoyed our sunny days and long talks as we took in all of the beauty that a summer in Sweden had to offer.
It was not just the scenery that kept us entertained, we also got to experience a Swedish tradition – a Crayfish Party (Kräftskiva). This involved an afternoon of shucking delicious red crayfish with complimentary dill, butter, and bread sides. We sat outside and noshed on the fresh seafood while people-watching, it was a pleasure. This ritual reminded me of some of my childhood summer traditions sitting out with family and shucking our own shellfish. It was fun and a little nostalgic to share that commonality so far from home.
One thing we also got to try while here, was significantly less familiar to us – Surströmming. This is a fermented fish, but not just your average street-cart herring. It is a foul-smelling monstrosity. Online influencers have taken to filming themselves while opening a can because the reactions are so violent. To not be fined by our hotel for damages, we did our taste test in a park. After picking up a can at the grocery store, along with a can opener and crackers, we headed for the emptiest corner of a park.
Before we could break the seal though, a kind gentleman strolling past stopped to tease us. He said that his mother used to love such stinky fish; but, she was only allowed to eat her treats in the backyard to avoid ruining the kitchen. Our new friend had avoided it for years though. With this less-than-stellar review from an actual Swedish resident, we hunkered down and cracked open the can.
The odor was indeed disturbing. It was along the lines of what a rotten fishmonger’s stall smells like. That acrid sort of stink that makes you tuck your tail and run. We did our best to squash those survival instincts and instead each grabbed a fish. These headless creatures still contain all of their blood, bones, and guts though, which we were not prepared for. Mr. Wanderer went to take his first bite and the insides started spilling out. This might have been okay, but when he tried to pull the guts out and finish the job, more goo kept coming - and coming. I watched the look in his eyes where he almost quit right there. But, he is a champion, so instead he set his jaw and took a firm bite.
Now, in all honesty, the fish did not actually taste that bad. It was just an extreme version of a fermented fish; but, the smell is a true hurdle. I would not recommend testing indoors. Out of doors though, with some crackers, and a little lemon – I could understand the appeal. When we found our Swedish friend after this endeavor, he shared a similar sentiment. One thing they do not put on the warning label though is that if you eat the Surströmming with your fingers, or get the fish juice on any article of clothing or appendages – it will smell, and that smell will linger...for days. Some tomato juice or maybe a pumice stone would have helped, but our traveling selves instead spent three days typing in to work with fishy fingers.
Our escapade with Surströmming was the perfect wrap-up to our time in Stockholm. The next day we hopped on a train headed south and moved to our next destination, Malmö. Here we were thrilled to have stumbled upon a live summer concert. Listening to music from each country we visit is part of our modus operandi, so we enjoyed finding artists and songs we liked in this organic fashion. It made us more partial to the artists we saw performing live.
Malmö had some beautiful architecture of its own to boast of. We enjoyed taking in the mill and castle as well as getting to look out across the water at mainland Europe. It was even more charming when we took the train over the Öresund to cross borders into our next country. Our bags are packed and we are riding to the nation with the oldest flag in the world. Any guesses where we are off to next?