Sleeting in Sommarøy

Thursday, Sept 19

Based on the forecast, we thought today was going to a total washout or at least a drizzly all day kinda day.  So we weren’t in a big hurry to get up and get out of the house. But, after spending a couple hours knitting and playing iPad games with full sunshine outside, we (well, I) decided the forecast was wrong.  We could see some spotty showers off in the distance, but they seemed like the kind that passed in 5-10 minutes. So, we set off for the island of Sommarøy. We drove through periods of rain and even some sleet on our way to the island.  Along the way, we encountered our first group of sheep on the road. Not sure if this will be a “thing” in Norway like it is in Scotland, but we’ll see. They did not respond to horn honks. Rob pretty much had to gently nudge one of them to get it to move far enough over for us to pass.  There is a longish one-lane bridge that leads from the island we are staying on to Sommarøy. The scenery on either side is great.

During summer Sommarøy is supposed to be a favorite destination for its sandy beaches.  They are no sprawling Florida beaches, but there are spots of sandy shoreline among the rocks.  Today it was fairly deserted. We drove all around the small island. There was a pair of red houses and a garage with “green” roofs – the roofs were actually growing some kind of tall grass.  The only public buildings on the island seem to be the Arctic Hotel (a rather fancy place form what I read online that was currently hosting a conference for the water & sewer authority – based on the number of orange and gray vehicles in the parking lot with the “vann og avløp” logo on the side).  I needed to pee, so we stopped and used their restrooms. No one came to the front desk to greet us, so I guess they didn’t care that we came in. After answering the call of nature, we headed out to the hotel’s beach. Again, it was deserted. We parked and walked along a newly built boardwalk that ran from the sandy beach, along a rocky part and out to a short grassy/muddy path leading out to the rocky outcropping.  We stopped to take some photos, but also kept our eye on a spot of approaching rain. It appeared to be headed our way, so we headed back to the car. We were about 30 feet from the car when it started sleeting. Good timing for us!

We stopped for lunch at the only other public building, a small cafe called Havfru Kro (Mermaid Inn).  They had a pretty small menu, mostly burgers. But they did have in their display case some waffles folded into a sandwich with the classic Norwegian brown cheese inside.  I wasn’t crazy about having a burger, so figured I’d better get the brown cheese waffle sandwich – not something I can get at home! The waffles had been made earlier. The server nuked mine in the microwave, so it was kind of soggy; one side was warmer and soggier than the other side.  I think it could have been really nice if it were in a fresh waffle with a little crispiness to it.

It rained again while we were in the cafe, but stopped by the time we set out for home.  So, we stopped at another beach before leaving the island. This beach had lots of blue shells and white coral washed up on it.  I also found a few really small, really pretty pink shells and Rob found some round sea urchin shells.

As we wound our way along the fjords to our house, we were stopped just before one hairpin curve so that some trucks with large pieces of windmills could pass along the road ahead of us.  They were in the process of installing new windmills way up on top of the mountain off to our left. There were several in place already. And further along, the ship that had brought the giant windmill parts was moored at the shore to deliver the parts to what must have been the closest spot that was deep enough for the ship and close enough to land to put out a gangplank and get them off.

Tunnel Parking in Tromsø

Wednesday, Sept 18

We took our time getting going this morning.  I wanted to finish the fingerless mits that I was knitting so that I could wear them today.  The temp is in the mid-30s. Before we set out, I had a lefsesnack (see pic). I bought it the other day at the supermarket.  It is a pre-packaged piece of lefse folded into a rectangle with butter, sugar, and cinnamon inside. (For those blog readers who are not in my family or from Minnesota, lefse is a sort of flat pancake made on a griddle from a dough of potatoes and flour.  It is generally served at Christmas time in families of Norwegian heritage in the US). For being a pre-packaged snack, it was actually really good! I will definitely buy more of these on this trip.

Lefsesnack, yum!

Our destination for the day was downtown Tromsø.  We had read that it could be difficult to park, so had scoped out what was called “tunnel” parking online.  We thought this was just a bad translation for an underground parking garage. Well, after some difficulty finding the entrance, we did, indeed, end up parking in an underground tunnel.  It felt like some sort of bunker. There were “halls” leading off to the right of the entrance tunnel, each had a sign to show how many parking spaces were available and a huge door that could seal off the individual hall.  The doorway through which we had to drive to get in to park was very narrow, definitely less than a foot of clearance on each side of the car.

We mostly just looked in shops downtown for the day.  We stopped for lunch at Kaffebønna Stortorget. I had an egg salad sandwich that was oozing creamy, yummy egg salad.  Rob had his first Norwegian kanel snurr (cinnamon bun). He seems to like the Norwegian version better than the Swedish version.  The Norwegian version is closer to an American cinnamon roll. It is a brother or sister to the American, while the Swedish version is  more of a cousin. As we shopped, I was on the hunt for a hat with a brim. I neglected to bring my usual gray travel hat, and have been regretting it since day one.  Because we are so far north, the sun never really gets above us. It’s always low in the sky, so always in my eyes, unless we are facing directly away from it. I suspect I am not the only one to have this problem.  There were lots of baseball caps for sale in the stores. I’m not really a baseball cap kinda girl. We found a summer staw hat on clearance at a shop – it was the last one and was kinda beat up, but I bought it and felt so much better as soon as we stepped out of the store.  Well, wouldn’t you know it, the next shop we went into had a really cute black felt winter hat with a cute little brim and back flap to keep the ears and neck warm. So, of course, I had to get that one, too. Now I’ve got 2 brim hats. I guess 2 is better than none. And if it’s warm I can wear the straw hat and if it’s cold the felt hat.  : )

We had wandered around shopping for so long that it was snack time, so we stopped at another cafe, Koslig Cafe, for kanel snurr and skoleboller.  Skoleboller is a vanilla coconut bun. Mostly a doughnut with vanilla custard in the middle (there’s no hole) and coconut coated around the outside.  It was okay, but I probably will try something else next time.

Trails around Tromsø

Tuesday, Sept 17

Yesterday, we flew from Stockholm to Tromso in Norway.  We will be in Norway for the rest of the trip. Our Airbnb here in Tromso has amazing views. We’re hopeful to also be able to see some Northern Lights from here.  The windows look to the north, so if we get a cloudless night, we should see them.  

View from our Airbnb

The forecast for the coming days looks colder and rainier than today, we wanted to get out today and do some hiking.  Our first adventure was to hike up the mountain that is right here in the neighborhood we are staying in. We met our neighbor last night, and she mentioned that there was a trail right behind the last row of houses.  Indeed, there was. From our house, the mountain looks rocky and rugged. I was surprised to find that it was actually rather boggy. We often sloshed through soggy wet patches much of the way up. I really liked the short, red leafy foliage that was all around (see pic).  It had berries in it, but I don’t know if they are edible or not, so didn’t try them. Although we did pass someone who was out foraging for something, we didn’t stop to ask what they were foraging for. We made it about ⅔ of the way up this particular mountain, then figured we’d gotten far enough for nice views.  We savored the view for a bit, then headed back down and to the house for a bit of lunch and to decide what to do next.

Our next destination was a hike up Trehorningen, a mountain on the other side of the island we’re staying on.  Despite being listed on a particular website as an “easy” hike, this one was more strenuous than our first hike of the day.  It was pretty steep going up. I was very glad to have my hiking pole to help hoist me up. We only made it about ⅔ of the way up this one, too.  Then we found a couple of nice big rocks to stop and have a little snack and savor the view. The hiking pole was very handy on the way down, too, to help steady me as I descended, kind of like having a third leg.

We had dinner in the house.  Rob has found some pizzas, pepperoni, and chocolate milk that he likes (well, he only just tolerates the chocolate milk, but does like the other two), so that’s good.  Much better than in Sweden. We’ll relax at home tonight. There is no tv in the house, so we’ll have to do separate things. I’ll probably do some knitting when I finish up this post.  Rob is reading his geek news.

View from Trehorningen

Stockholm Stations

Sunday, Sept 15

After sleeping in a bit this morning, and letting the cold rain outside pass, Rob and I set out to complete our tour of the amazing Tunnelbana stations.  Today we stopped at 6 more stations. My favorite was the red and green walls with lots of murals of country-side scenes at Solna Centrum. Some of the best shots are below.

T-Centralen Station

For lunch, we headed back to our neighborhood and checked out Grandens Cafe.  I had a shrimp, egg, and cream cheese “sandwich” which was really just a mound of the aforementioned ingredients on top of a piece of crunchy rustic bread.  Yum! I also had a slice of blueberry pie, again served with custard, though in a runny sauce instead of piped florets like yesterday’s pie. Rob had his standard kannelbullar.  He said this one was really pretty good, so we might go back again tomorrow to get our last dose of kannelbullar. We sat in Granden’s underground vault. We were the only ones down there, so it was cozy and quiet.

Lunch at Grandens Cafe

The weather is extremely windy today.  We are having a siesta back at the flat and we keep hearing dirt or something blow against the window.  It sounds like sleet in winter. The whole flat is sort of creaking in the wind. It doesn’t make me want to go out to do any more exploring.


Saturday in Stockholm and Sigtuna

Saturday, Sept 14

I had booked Cathy and I on a half-day Viking history tour for this morning.  She awoke with quite a cold, but valiantly decided to stick with the tour so I wouldn’t have to go alone.  Our driver and our tour guide turned out to be from Iraq. I will say I was a bit disappointed not be guided through Viking history by an actual Viking (or at least a descendant of one).  The tour guide kept interchanging Jerusalem and Constantinople, like they were the same city, which didn’t really instill a sense that all his facts were spot on. He also had a habit of reciting dates as one thousand two hundred instead of twelve hundred.  So, for example, this church was built around one thousand two hundred. I kept having to sort of translate the dates in my head.  

But, those were the criticisms, for the most part, I really enjoyed the Viking history tour.  We saw the rune stones of Osten and Estrid (well, she didn’t have a rune stone, but her grave was discovered nearby).  They were the couple whose marriage brought together 2 warring tribes and started a dynasty in the Lake Vallentuna area that lasted for 100 years and left behind the best grouping of rune stones in Sweden.  We stopped at several more rune stones, most placed by children and grandchildren of Osten and Estrid to honor loved ones. All had one or two snakes encircling a cross with an inscription inside the snake detailing who commissioned the rune stone and why.  We also saw an ancient meeting mound where one could bring grievances against a fellow to be settled by someone in authority and a couple of causeways (which were really nothing more today than a raised section of land in a general bridgelike shape). One of the most fascinating things I learned on the tour today was that the land in this part of Northern Europe is rising at a rate of 1 meter/century.  So, many of the sites we visited today used to be right at the water’s edge of the nearby lake. This rising land is also the reason that the well in Stortorget dried up a while back and had to be connected to city water to continue to function (see Thursday’s blog post). The rising land is referred to as post-glacial rebound – although our tour guide didn’t give me this term, I looked it up on Wikipedia just because I was curious.

Our final stop on the tour was the town of Sigtuna.  It is Sweden’s oldest city. There remains one quaint street to remind you of the old town.  We stopped and had a very quick bite to eat in a cafe housed in a very old house with extremely low ceilings (I could just barely stand up, had to duck to get through doorways) and thick walls.  Our tour of Sigtuna took us past two old churches – one brick and in great repair, the other made of stone and in ruins. The brick church began (as all of that era did) as a Catholic church, then was converted to Lutheran during the reformation.  At the conversion much of the Catholic decoration was removed, but some of the painted decorations and fancy chandeliers remain in a couple parts of this church. Between the 2 churches was a graveyard with some old, but also some very new graves. I noticed from far off that some of the graves had a metal statue with small metal “leaves” hanging off of it in rows, instead of the usual headstone and was curious what this was.  Our guide informed us that this was a representation of a Viking ship that was to take the person to Valhalla (Viking heaven) after their death. The strange thing was that it was the modern graves that seemed to have these metal ships, not the older ones. Do modern people really believe in Valhalla, or are they just celebrating their heritage? The ruined church of stone had an interesting story: it was ruined centuries ago, and people carried the stones off to use in building barns, houses, other fortresses, etc.  In modern times, the folks in charge of this church have been going around the countryside collecting as many stones as they can from the various places they ended up, removing them, and rebuilding the church with them. They collect stones throughout the year, then periodically close the church so they can spend a few weeks putting the stones they’ve collected back on the church, so that it continues to grow back into its former glory each year. Cathy and I wondered, though, what about the buildings the stones are being taken from.  At this point, they, too, are historical and so should be preserved, too. Which building takes precedence?

We arrived back at the flat around 2:30.  Cathy was feeling the effects of her cold, so wanted to rest for a while.  While she rested, Rob and I ventured out to check out the Hornstulls Market.  It was not much of anything, so that was kind of a bust. But, we had bought a 24 hour pass on the Metro to get there (Tunnelbana in Swedish).  I had read that there were several really cool looking stations on the Tunnelbana. So, we set out to find them. See photos below of some of our favorites.  We didn’t see all of the ones we wanted to, so may go again tomorrow to see the rest.

Our final outing for the day was an organ concert.  It was being held at the German church just 1 block from where we are staying, and was free.  So, I thought we should go along to check it out. We planned to sit towards the back and skip out early if it was not very interesting.  Well, when we arrived, the church was already pretty full and we found out that the event was being recorded for a later radio broadcast. So, no sneaking out early for us.  This church has 2 organs. 3 of the 8 songs that were played utilized both organs. Those 3 I found interesting. The others were just blah. And 1 of the songs, which had been composed just a few years ago by one of the organists was terrible!  It was a horrible, modern thing that sounded like it should have been the soundtrack to a cheesy 70s sci-fi movie, all discordant notes, and long pauses. We felt like it was something an 8 year old or an AI could have composed. When the piece ended, several people got up and left.  Rob and I felt we needed to at least stay until intermission, at which point lots of people got up and left with us.

Stepping out in Stockholm

Friday, Sept 13

Friday, Sept 13

After Cathy arrived, she and I went out to have some traditional Swedish food.  We ate at the aptly named Tradition. Prior to our meal, we were served a small bucket with two kinds of bread: one was a brown bread with a really strong flavor, the other was a large crisp cracker, like Wasa Crisp bread in the States.  For our main course, Cathy had salted beef brisket with a lovely sauce and boiled new potatoes. I had the Swedish meatballs, smothered in a sweet brown sauce served with super creamy mashed potatoes, lingonberries, and pickled cucumber. I was curious how the meatballs would compare to those served at IKEA in the US.  These were much better! The meatballs, themselves, were fresher and sat in an abundant amount of sauce. The sauce/gravy seemed pretty much the same as what I remember from IKEA. The potatoes were so rich and creamy. The lingonberries were fresh, not canned. The pickled cucumbers reminded me very strongly of my mom’s bread and butter pickles.

We started our morning off with another dose of kannelbullar (cinnamon buns).  Since Cathy was with us and she had coffee and a cardamombullar (cardamom bun), I think we can call this one a “fika”.  Fika is the Swedish word for an afternoon coffee and pastry. It is highly celebrated in the souvenir shops, but it’s also just a nice idea to stop mid-afternoon (or as in our case today – just before noon) and take a break with a beverage and a pastry.  I also tried the cardamombullar today, and must say , I prefer it to the cinnamon, just because it is a more exotic flavor to me.

We spent the day just wandering around the city, seeing what we saw.  Near our flat we sought out the narrowest street in the city, called Mårten Trotzigs Gränd.  At its narrowest point, it is only 35 inches wide. It was closed off for about a 100 years, but reopened in 1945.  Now it is full of tourists. Check out how many came through it behind us in the pic.  

Stockholm is a city of small islands.  We are staying on the island of Gamla Stan.  Today we walked over a series of bridges to explore the two even smaller islands of Skeppsholmen and Kastellholmen.  Both used to be restricted for the exclusive use of the navy, but are now open to the public. There are some old barracks, now turned into a hotel on Skeppsholmen and an orange brick citadel sitting atop the rocky mound of Kastellholmen.  From both islands you can look across the water to an amusement park with some rides we’d never seen before. None of us was tempted to go over and actually ride on them, though. I guess we’re getting old.

We returned in the evening to our flat and had dinner of rye bread with a feta and basil spread that we picked up in a fromagerie and some bear jerky that we found in a market full of fresh and exotic meats and fish.  Yes, you read that right, it is not a typo (although I am known for those). It was bear meat. Like the cute black bears that come up on our deck at home from time to time. Both Cathy and I agreed that it tasted just like any other jerky, nothing to write home about.

Sunny In Stockholm

Thursday, Sep 12

We started our day with a cinnamon roll and a chocolate, peanut, caramel cake slice at the same bakery we ate at yesterday.  Then we spent some time just wandering around Gamla Stan, the neighborhood we are staying in. It is actually an island. There are quaint little streets that wiggle and wobble up and down hills, so that you never have much of a sight line in front of you.  Many of the buildings are painted bright colors and have decorative statues or ironwork. We stumbled across an old phone booth. There was no phone in it, but it had a really neat shape (see pics). We were roughly making our way to the famous Stortorget, the old town square.  We arrived around 9:30, which was plenty early to take our pictures without too many other tourists getting in the shot. One side of the square has a series of tall, narrow colored buildings. We’ve been seeing these buildings on magnets, postcards, etc in the souvenir shops. They were pretty.  Another side of the square was taken up by one large building housing the Nobel Museum. We did not go inside. Instead, we watched a worker fill his mop buckets from the ornate fountain near the middle of the square.

From Stortorget we made our way off the island and along the Kungstradgarden, a garden, as you may have guessed from the name.  It is a long narrow park, lots of people were riding bikes and electric scooters through a lane of trees along one edge of the park as they commuted past us on their way to work.  We stopped to admire some flowers that were in their prime: dahlias, daisies, and others. From here, we just wandered around, finding ourselves in the shopping district. Just as 10:00 approached we passed by NK Stockholm, which seems to be Stockholm’s version of Selfridges or Macy’s.  There were about 20 people waiting outside, then heading in just as they opened. So, we popped in to have a little look. Like the stores I mentioned, they have an ornate entry, with an open gallery going up 4 stories. It was opened in 1915 with the intention of rivaling similar stores in London and Paris.  Of course, today it has lost some of its luster and is filled with the usual Clinique counter, Hermès, and other similar brands. We didn’t stay long. Not much further on we discovered a section of the city where some of the streets are raised one story above the other streets. The undersides of bridges where the upper streets pass over the lower are painted in pretty designs (see pics for one of them).

After walking for about 2 hours straight we decided we needed a little cafe break.  We popped in to Riddarbageriet. Unfortunately for Rob, their kannelbullar (cinnamon buns) had almonds in them.  He ended up with a croissant. But, I was excited to have my first piece of Princess Cake. I’ve had it before, at IKEA in the US, but figured I needed to try one from a cafe here in Sweden, too.  It was really good! Although hard to eat with a spoon, it wouldn’t break the green marzipan covering the top of the cake. I think a fork would have worked better. A Princess cake has a series of layers of cake and whipped cream with a layer of raspberry jam near the bottom and covered over with green marzipan.  (See pics). After our little cafe break we wandered a bit more, in the general direction of our flat, then came home for a little siesta before meeting Cathy, who is flying over to meet us as I type this.