Sweden (with a touch of Dutch)

Saturday 13th

Yeah, so we had this whole lovely trip planned, with a healthy dose of three different cities over nine days. But it didn’t work out that way.

We got to the airport, all packed and fresh and ready to go to Amsterdam, but were turned away at the counter. Why? ‘Cause Lindsay’s passport expired in 85 days, and the cutoff to get into Europe is 90. Argh. Arrrrgggghhhh. We went home, dejected, and resolved to re-plan things. We then spent the next four hours on the phone with Air Canada, switching to (much worse) flights, and getting truly and completely fucked. I won’t dwell on that here. They’re still, two weeks later, being utterly unresponsive assholes.

Anyway.

Sunday 14th

We quickly learned the emergency passport renewal method and made arrangements, wrote a scathing but polite email to Air Canada, went for a walk, made amazing breakfast sandwiches, started season 3 of Fargo (imdb) and generally had…a pretty amazing day, to be honest.

Monday 15th

We were among the first people at the passport office, ready to go. Not long after the process was underway, and we were out getting some breakfast at Over Easy, bonding with our waiter from BC who liked to make fun of Bedford NS, so he was okay in our books. We went home, did a few more errand-y things, watched more Fargo, and then traveled back to the passport office to pick up the shiny new version. While over there we decided to get some lunch. We went a little on the fancy side, hitting Richmond Station (!) for a luxurious meal, rolled home, and made for the airport.

We had no issues and sped through security, so we took advantage of the lounge right next to our gate, and wandered down just in time to walk on to our flight. We boarded, settled in, picked some movies to watch…and then the captain came on and told us we’d have to get off the plane due to mechanical issues.

God a’mighty, were we ever going to get to Amsterdam?!?!

Actually, as it turns out, this mechanical snafu was a blessing. We’d been scheduled for a 5-hour stop in Frankfurt; better we hang out in a Pearson lounge for a few hours and shorten that layover. We had a little more food and drink, watched another episode of Fargo, and got back on the replacement plane. We left just after midnight, and had a relatively easy flight. I watched Sicario: Day of the Soldado and then tried to zonk out.

Tuesday 16th

We landed in Frankfurt around midday, with just enough time to have a currywurst, pretzel, and beer.

We hopped our short flight to Amsterdam (finally!) and arrived to find a gorgeous fall day. Our hotel, the Conservatorium, was beyond stunning.

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We went for a short walk around the neighbourhood, crossed a canal or two, and strolled back to the hotel via the Rijksmuseum and Museumplein. We had a dinner to go to, in the hotel, and we needed to freshen up after some long flights.

Said dinner was at Taiko and was, in a word, amazing. The courses:

  • sprouting soy, uni, yuzu / tom kha yen, dutch prawns, black garlic / lobster, sake granite, pistachio (Schoffit tradition Muscat)
  • blue fin, taiko soy, wasabi, kombucha, akami tuna, chuu toro, oo toro (Domaine des Baumard Clos de St Yves Chenin)
  • cèpes, cappuccino, egg foam, mushroom xo (Taiko no Izanai sake)
  • scallops, Nikka whisky, chestnut on the barrel (Uva Mira Stellenbosch Chardonnay)
  • tofu mabre, apple, miso, umeshu
  • Cantonese style beef, oyster sauce / Chirashi beef tartare, cèpes / veal bulgogi, korean pickles (Pavillon de Taillefer St Emilion Merlot)
  • black sesame, passion fruit, pavlova (Enate Gewurztraminer)
  • soy leaf, miso, dark chocolate, hazelnut (Avreo vino de licor)

That cappuccino of cèpes (which I learned is the French word for Porcini mushrooms) was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

Wednesday 17th

Sadly our time in Amsterdam was already at an end, so we were up and out way too early. I grabbed pastries from a bakery down the street, then we packed and left, looking longingly at that gorgeous hotel.

Our flight to Stockholm was unremarkable, as was the drive into the city from Arlanda. Our hotel, Miss Clara, was no Conservatorium, but it was lovely nonetheless. We grabbed lunch in the restaurant downstairs, and then had a big old nap, on account of being freaking exhausted. We didn’t get up until shortly before dinner.

Our meal was at Ekstedt, a small Michelin-starred restaurant that uses a lot of open fires and stone ovens in its preparation, most of which you can see from your table. It was among the very best meals I’ve ever eaten in my life. Like, top three probably. I enjoyed it so much I forgot to note the wine pairings; a shame as they were presented with such care and precision.

  • diced reindeer heart cooked in herbed butter boiling in a heated stone mortar
  • birch flamed lobster, forest mushrooms and celeriac
  • oysters, cooked Basque style
  • dried deer, leek, Vendace roe and charcoal cream
  • housemade bread + butter
  • hay-flamed beef, leafy greens and salsify
  • juniper-smoked pike-perch, cabbage and knotted wrack
  • charcoal grilled pork, chanterelle and kohlrabi
  • wood oven baked almond cake, apple and caramel

That hay-flamed beef will also go down as one of the best things I’ve eaten all year. Two amazing flavours on consecutive nights…what a trip.

Thursday 18th

Following such an epic meal, we had a bit of a lie-in, to the point of being problematic — we missed breakfast. We reckoned we’d find something at our first stop — the Moderna Museet and ArkDes — and we did: Café Blom. It was almost lunchtime when we got there though, so we both ended up having these very amazing, but very hearty bowls filled with vegetables and quinoa and salmon. Strange breakfast, but it gave us some energy. Also: decent cortado.

We bypassed the Andy Warhol exhibit and instead checked out some of the architecture and design exhibits in ArkDes, like Public Luxury, and the museum’s permanent collection, which was more impressive than either of us expected. As we started our walk back toward the city (the museum’s on one of the islands that makes up Stockholm) we noticed a permanent exhibit of works by Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely. It turns out there are installations all around the building, but we just happened upon this one, and Lindsay recognized the artists’ work from a distance.

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We walked back across the Skeppsholmsbron and then across the Strömbron to Gamla Stan. I thought it would be historic; it was more touristy. We did buy some cool prints at e.torndahl to bring home and hang, but other than that we sped through on our way to Sodermalm. We had beer to drink.

Akkurat has a 100 rating on ratebeer, which is saying something. Their bottle list is deep and wide and, honestly, pretty daunting. First we ordered a bottle of 2014 Oude Quetsche Tilquin à L’Ancienne from the cellar. Then I had an Edge “Joli” milk stout; Lindsay had a Rauchbier. Finally we each got a glass of the sour stout Rullquin. So damn good.

We Ubered back to the hotel, relaxed for a bit, then had pizza at Giro. It was the first of a surprising number of pizzas we ate in Sweden, but it was also damn good. It was also a simple, nearby option on a night when we didn’t have much energy left in us.

Friday 19th

Lindsay’s birthday! We had some (pretty extravagant) breakfast in bed as a mini-celebration before packing and showering and heading to the train station. We timed it perfectly too: walked in, found the platform, and waited there maybe a minute before our train pulled in. We were off to Gothenburg to see the city and Lindsay’s old friend Tess. We worked and read and enjoyed the scenery outside our window, which looked for all the world like Nova Scotia.

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Three hours later we pulled in and found Tess waiting for us. One très expensive taxi ride later we arrived at our AirBnb, which was…amazing. Like, beautiful. We all wanted to move in immediately. Such a great home base, in a cool neighbourhood (Olivedal/Haga).

We went in search of lunch, settling quickly on Brewers Beer Bar, which was both on my list of beer joints and recommended by our AirBnB host. It was the perfect choice — cool atmosphere, fun servers, killer pizzas (again!), and a short but unreal beer list. I had an Electric Nurse “White Skull” imperial milk stout and an AleSmith Hawaiian Speedway stout. Both were utterly fantastic.

We went back to our killer AirBnB to hang out, introduce Tess to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and relax before dinner, which was another big one. SK Mat also has a Michelin star, and we went full 8-course + premium wine selection. When in Gothenburg, right?

Unfortunately I forgot to steal a tasting menu, and the restaurant promised me they’d email it to me but didn’t. That’s a particular problem, because after eight glasses of wine (plus champagne to start) our memories of the night are a little fuzzy. I do remember a pretty spectacular glass of Grenache blanc, and that the meal as a whole was fab. But, uh, not much else. Happy birthday Linds!

UPDATE: the restaurant emailed me with our tasting menu. Except…we don’t think it’s quite our tasting menu. It’s close, but…whatever. Close enough. Gives you an 85-90% accurate view of what we ate.

  • Smoked trout roe with elderflower, fennel and potato crisp (Frank Millet, Sancerre, Sauvignon blanc, Vielle vignes, France, Loire, 2016)
  • Salad with artichokes, quinoa, miso and grated yolk (La Spinetta, Vermentino, Italy, Toscana, 2017)
  • Halibut with vinegar, horseradish and raw shrimps (Juliusspital, silvaner, iphöpfer kronsberg, Germany Franken, 2016)
  • Scallop with broccoli, green tomatoes and oysterfoam. (Famille Perrin, Chateau de Beaucastel Blanc, Roussanne, Grenache blanc, France, Rhône valley, Chateau-neuf-du-pape, 2014)
  • Arctic char with beets, browned butter and hazelnuts (Bernard-Bonin, Meaursault, Chardonnay, France, Burgundy, 2016)
  • Sirloin with baked potato cream, onions and duck liver (Bodegas Roda, Roda 1, Tempranillo, Spain, Rioja, 2011)
  • Local cheese with sea buckthorn, fennel and short bread (Fernand Engel, Pinot Gris, France, Alsace, 2015)
  • Pears with caramel ice cream, sunchokes and walnuts (Chateau Tirequl de Gradier, Semillon, Muscadet, France, Monbazilliac, 2015)

Saturday 20th

It was a very slow start on Saturday. VERY slow. Tess was the only functional one among us so she got up and retrieved coffee & bagels and fruit. I actually went back to bed for a while, I’ll admit. When I finally got up and moving we were all starving, and after hunting around for a bit ended up right back where we’d started the day before: Brewers. More pizza. More beer, too: the AleSmith Speedway Stout (the non-Hawaiian version) and Electric Nurse “Dark Skull” imperial stout. After that all was right with the world again.

We made our way over to the Konstmuseum, grabbing a coffee from Viktors first, and ending our visit at the Konsthall next door. It’s a pretty spot with a great view, and the weather was so lovely we decided to walk back to home base.

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There we chilled, watched more Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, opened some red wine, and listened to funk while we got ready for dinner. We’d booked a sister restaurant to SK Mat called Spisa, just around the corner from our place. We had to make a late reso as we booked last-minute, but that was fine with us. It was a great option as we could order small amounts a few plates at a time (it’s a tapas/sharing place) and we wanted to take it a bit easier than we had the night before. I don’t remember the order in which we ate everything, but I’m pretty sure this is what we had:

  • olives in za’atar
  • spicy chips of rice and sesame with labneh, baharat
  • deep fried corn with pecorino, chili and aioli
  • artichoke with lemon/thyme butter
  • merguez sausage with harissa mayonnaise
  • n’duja croquet with pickled zucchini
  • octopus skewer with chermoula and crunchy chickpeas
  • deep fried cod cheeks with spicy yoghurt
  • gruyere

These plates were all 1 or 2 bites each, so it was a lead-up to two shared mains: pan-fried ricotta gnocchi and grilled lamb shoulder. However, when we ordered that our server informed us that the kitchen was closed. No warning, no last call. No apology either. Just…nope. Kitchen’s closed. So you’re done. Even though your reservation email said you had your table from 9:30-12:30 and didn’t mention anything about kitchen hours, you’re done. We were livid. The meal up to that point had been so good, but that ruined it for us. Your food is good, Spisa, but your service sucks.

We were still really hungry, so we dashed to a nearby grocery store before they closed. We bought some chips, but Lindsay made an amazing discovery: Bubbies. They’re little balls of ice cream wrapped in mochi (sweet rice dough) and we killed six of them and found out we can buy them at Whole Foods in Toronto and suddenly we were less mad. Ice cream, amirite?

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Sunday 21st

Alas, all trips must end, so we dragged our asses up, finished packing, speed-ate some more bagels, and Ubered to the airport. (Nice airport, too!) We said goodbye to Tess, eased through security, hung out in a lounge, and hopped our quick flight to Frankfurt. The weather had finally turned, having spared us our entire trip, so we said a little thank you to the weather gods.

There was no avoiding our 4-hour layover this time, so we ducked out of the airport for a while to visit the Paulaner restaurant across the street. I had a delicious weisswurst and hefeweissbier; Lindsay had a schnitzel and a dunkel. Germany!

We went back through security (during which a security dude joked about our flight being canceled, which was NOT FUNNY GIVEN OUR EARLIER TRAVAILS, SECURITY DUDE!) and got to our gate.

Our flight home was pretty brutal. We were sitting in Economy because Air Canada fucking sucks, and everyone around us — elbowers, pocket stuffers, leaners-back, knee-bashers all — annoyed the bejeezus out of us. I managed to watch a few movies (Deadpool 2, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and All The Money In The World) amidst the assholes, and then on (late) arrival at Toronto, wound our way through the labyrinthine customs lineups to finally flee, home, safe, sound, sleepy, and in no way ready for work.

Traveling means improvising, I guess, and while this was a little more improv than either of us would have liked, it was still a pretty lovely trip. Some of the best meals of our lives. A wonderful 36 hours with Tess. Gorgeous places to stay. My baby’s birthday celebrations.

Lovely.

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