don't snus on sweden
Updated: May 1, 2020
Anyone who is relatively close to me knows I am an absolute crank when it comes to the cold. Snow? Looks like it’s time to cancel plans. Cocooning my face with a scarf just to walk from one class to the other? Yeah. Count me out.
So when I booked a ticket to Stockholm in September - one of the first trips I even planned to begin with - I tried to think about the Swedish pastries I would be consuming, and not the fact that this would, inevitably, be the furthest north I’d been in my entire life. (It’s light jacket weather today as I write this in sunny California, but I still just shivered at the thought of Scandinavia in November.)
The trip started off great. Swimmingly. Just kidding. Temperatures were too close to the freezing point for any swimming to be involved.
Reid Gast and I made it to the airport and decided, due to exhaustion and plain laziness, to just Uber to our Airbnb. It was late at night and we were only going to spend one day in Stockholm before heading north to Uppsala. When the driver dropped us off, we had no idea where to go. Reid and I were staying in a cute flat in Gamla stan, or Old Town, supposedly the party area of the city.
But we were in no mood to party.
My phone’s data had run out the day before, and I’d neglected to renew my plan. (Let’s not talk about my bank account at this point in the trip. Again, I would have shed a tear if it didn’t mean the materialization of ice on my face.) Reid’s phone battery was dwindling. We tried calling the Airbnb host, but at 1:30 in the morning, we weren’t expecting to hear a voice on the other end. And we didn’t.
By a stroke of luck, we somehow made it inside.
Day 1 of Sweden: hungrig. Very, very hungrig.
I found a restaurant for breakfast called Kaffekoppen just a five minute walk from our place, at Stortorget 20 in the heart of Gamla stan. The cellar vault in the basement, where we sat, dated back to the 1600s. Brick walls surrounded us, and on the wooden tables were white candles ablaze.
I got a sandwich and Reid got chicken pie, and we shared a Kanelbulle, or cinnamon roll, because, let’s be honest here, the pastries were my main motivation to get out of bed on this particular escapade.
Our Airbnb checkout was earlier than we thought (blame me for keeping my phone on London time), so we threw our things together, zipped up our winter coats, and made ourselves comfortable at the bar next door. The nomad life - I was officially living it, if I hadn’t realized it already.
A big insecurity of mine is my lack of love for beer. I come from a Big Ten school. I’m 22. What the actual heck is my problem?
A goal of mine was to find a way to like beer while in Europe. And I got close . . . r. I had the first positive cider experience of my life in that little bar. No, it’s not beer. Just let me have one little victory here.
The focus of today was going to the Vasa Museum. Reid had been once before, but since this was my first time in Sweden, he said it was a must. We took the ferry over, and although it was cold, I found myself actually enjoying the view out the window. (Even if I had to wipe the condensation from it every ten seconds to see. I digress.)
The Vasa Museum. I don’t think I’ve seen very many things in my life that have literally made my jaw drop. This is one of them. The museum centers around a large viking ship that sunk, not exaggerating, minutes from setting sail in 1628. She spent 333 years underwater before being salvaged and put inside a museum for history geeks like me. There are levels to the building, so you can go up a few floors and get a new view of the ship.
One of the coolest parts about the Vikings was how they actually valued women and put their skills to use. There was a room dedicated solely to the women related to the ship. We also learned about life onboard, how the excavation happened, and why the ship sunk in the first place (spoiler alert: poor design.)
We underestimated the amount of time we were going to spend there, because before we knew it, the sky was dark. (Just kidding. The sun set around 3pm. Sunlight in Swedish winter is kind of like seeing a rainbow. A rarity, indeed.)
Our train had already left. My boot - my favorite black pair that I’d worn for every occasion under the sun within the last six months - had a hole in the sole, and the water from the sporadic rain had soaked through. And, all the while, I still had no data. (Guessing random WiFi passwords was as addicting as Candy Crush at this point.)
Uppsala. The next city on our agenda. I had never heard of it until Reid told me he’d studied abroad there for ten months, back when he was in school. Uppsala was a college town, and it wasn’t going to be as touristy as Stockholm, which I was thankful for. You can only see so many postcards before your eyes burn up.
Uppsala Night One: Reid’s friend Niklas picked us up from the train station. They hadn’t seen each other in about five years, which was such a cool reunion to witness. The two kept talking about their stories from adventures past as we headed to the System Bolaget - a state-sponsored liquor store, and basically the only place to get alcohol in all of Sweden.
Of all the places in Europe I’d been to so far, the alcohol consumption in Sweden definitely threw me off the most. Beer? Readily available. Liquor? Unless you’ve got money to burn, say goodbye to your mojitos, friends. You can get relatively reasonably priced spirits and wine from System Bolaget if you manage to make it there within their strict hours; but for a night on the town, you can forget it.
Honestly, going to System Bolaget was a great way for me to expand my horizons past Tito’s and whatever the well tequila of the night was at home. Reid and Niklas showed me all the Swedish brands of beer and cider, and I picked out a few - or was it seven? - candidates.
We ended up walking around the town and eating at Max Burgers. Let me tell you, they put McDonald’s to shame. I got a burger loaded with tortilla chips and cheese, and then some loaded fries.
Day 2: More food. We started at Terrassen for lunch, and I got Räksmörgås eller räkmacka, translated to an open prawn sandwich. Looking at the picture has me craving it all over again.
Dessert was chocolate cake and Prinsesstårta, a Swedish Princess Cake. (I’m the chocolate lover here, so Reid’s fruitier taste buds really helped expand my horizons on the dessert front.)
Besides food, Reid and I spent a lot of time buying cheap lottery tickets (one of his favorite hobbies) and dabbling in snus, a flavored tobacco pouch product that is banned from being sold in the EU. (Juul, who?)
For dinner, we had pizza and then visited one of Reid’s other college friends at a bar where he was working. This was another friend he hadn’t seen in literal years. (We did splurge on a couple cocktails, if only for my taste.) While waiting in line for the bathroom, a Swedish man was so excited to meet a pair of Americans, and told us he wanted to come to The States to “see all the fat people.” My night was made.
We ended the night at a bar called Interpool Uppsala; it had tons of pool tables and games to play, and Reid spent a little time trying his luck at the Black Jack table - he left 200 Kroner richer.
The next day we took the cans of beer we’d consumed the night prior and exchanged them for Kroner - the Swedes are extremely environmentally aware. Of course, we stocked up on a huge bag of Swedish candy and took it to Carolina Rediviva, a library in Uppsala where Reid used to study. We hid in one of the rows, snacking, as the snow came pounding down.
We visited the Uppsala Slott (Uppsala Castle), a pink defense fortress, which dates back to the 1500s. The interior now serves as a museum for artwork and exhibitions, so we perused the rooms and saw the work of both children and adults.
Our time in Uppsala had reached an end; we took the train back to Stockholm. We hiked to a fun-looking bar underneath a tunnel, only to find it was closed. I was exhausted and had to pee really badly. I felt discouraged and bad for Reid, who’d accompanied me on the thirty minute trek to this closed location.
“Let me see if I can find a bathroom,” he said, walking down the tunnel as I sat on the concrete floor. A minute later he came strolling back, a grin on his face. “Come over here.” I got up and followed.
He’d found an Ethiopian restaurant also in this, quite frankly, deserted tunnel. “You want to get a drink and an appetizer here and then figure out where to go from there?”
There are many redeeming qualities about Reid, but his ability to turn almost any situation around and not only find a solution, but make it fun, is one of my favorites.
We spent the last remaining hours in Scandinavia throwing away what little Kroner we had left at the Stockholm Ice Bar, and Nomad Swedish Food and Bar. I tried to always get something native to the country, so we shared our final meals of Swedish meatballs and salmon.
Even though Sweden was freezing (I was ridiculed for wearing distressed jeans, and rightfully so), it is a trip I’ll remember fondly forever.
What made the trip was having a tour guide like Reid show me the way. They say a true test between two people is to travel with each other; we’d survived food poisoning in London/Paris, and Reid had tolerated my inadequately-dressed self to a country he once called home for ten months; I think we passed with flying colors.
Just maybe next time I go to Scandinavia, it’ll be in the summer.
Kaffekoppen (Stockholm) (http://www.cafekaffekoppen.se/)
Max Burgers (https://www.maxburgers.com/)
Nomad Swedish Food and Bar (Stockholm) (https://www.nomad.bar/)
Interpool Uppsala (https://uppsala.interpool.se/)
Ice Bar Stockholm (https://hotelcstockholm.com/icebar-stockholm-by-icehotel/)
System Bolaget (https://www.systembolaget.se/)
Vasa Museum (Stockholm) (https://www.vasamuseet.se/)
Carolina Rediviva (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_Rediviva)