Before heading to Stockholm, Sweden, my husband and I drove 3 hours north from Vasteras airport to Alfta. We went to visit David’s uncle Mike who immigrated to Sweden around 17 years ago and his daughter Isabella. Only minutes after we started driving on the highway it felt like we were heading up to a cottage back in Ontario, Canada. The tall trees and lakes throughout the countryside created an immediate feeling of comfort and safety. After an excellent stay with family we headed back down to Stockholm and explored the city of islands. From Arlanda airport there is a frequent Arlanda Express train equipped with free WiFi that takes you into Stockholm in 20 minutes. The trains were refurbished 2 years ago and are the nicest trains we have traveled on while in Europe.
Stockholm is a combination of 14 islands in Lake Mälaren. We walked everywhere from our Best Western Hotel located on the main shopping street Drottninggatan. We started our day on Djurgården Island where the Scandinavian museum, boat museum, theme park and national park are located. From there we walked across to parliament, sitting on it’s own island connected by a bridge, and across to the Old Town (Gamla Stan) where the royal palace is. The guards stand out front in a bright blue wardrobe and appear to be friendlier then the ones we have encountered in other cities so far. The old town of Stockholm is filled with little shops along cobble stone roads. Most of the buildings in the old town are from the 1700s and 1800s however the town dates from the 13th century.
Here we went into an old cellar that was turned into a restaurant to try some traditional Swedish meatballs. They were amazing and covered in a creamy sauce placed on top of some mashed potatoes. Stockholm is not very large city with primary sites located within walking distance of each other. I highly recommend renting a vehicle in Sweden to visit some of the small towns, go camping and fishing on the lakes. You can even stay in a camper in a parking lot or camp out for at least one day without paying a penny.
David’s parents came to visit us in London so we made sure that they would get to experience taking part in the traditional afternoon tea during their stay with us. After researching various places across the city to go for afternoon tea (there is an unbelievable amount of options), we chose to make it a royal occasion and have it at Kensington Palace in Queen Anne’s Orangery. Located in Kensington Gardens, the 18th-century building makes for the perfect location to sit back and sip a cup of tea, while imagining the type of events that have taken place here in past. Served on the palace’s beautiful china, we had a selection of sandwiches, sweets and scones with clotted cream and jam. Just outside the Orangery is the Sunken Garden where it is said to have been laid out during the reign of Edward VII.
There are 3 key areas to see inside the palace right now; Victoria Revealed, The King’s State Apartments and The Queen’s State Apartments. The Queen Victoria exhibit explores the many aspects of her life and features some of her possessions on display, including her white silk wedding gown. I still can’t get over the fact she shared a bedroom with her mom right up until she became queen even though she was only 18 at the time. In the Queen’s State Apartments you explore the rooms that were once used by Queen Mary II including her gallery, closet, eating room, drawing room and bedroom. The King’s State Apartments were much larger with each room serving a distinct purpose with paintings along the walls and ceiling by William Kent in 1723 depicting George I’s court.
My Grandma and Grandpa have always talked about the pantomime (panto) shows in Scotland. They remember the interaction with the crowd, how one of the female leads is always a man or one of the male leads a woman and most of all how the shows give you a true sense of Scottish humour. David and I went to a local panto in Rutherglen Town Hall featuring Real Radio’s host Steve McKenna as the Jester in Sleeping Beauty. Luckily for us we had my cousin Susan and aunt Etta with us explaining most of the ‘inside jokes’ about some of the local towns. I’ve never seen a show like this before where every single kid was booing the wicked witch, laughing and helping out Chester the Jester and remaining engaged throughout the show. Check out the video below to see some of this interactivity from the crowd. If you’re near Glasgow and want to go you can get your tickets here.
Of course we had to have our snacks for the show. We picked up some sweets from Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe in Stirling earlier on in the day. This traditional candy shop had so many different items to choose from but we stuck with some Scottish classics recommended by Susan. This included: Soor Plooms, Aniseed Balls (do not recommend, tastes like licorice), Toffee Bonbons, Ediburgh Rock and Highland Toffee. David also found some Reese’s pieces here as well.
Later in the night David had his first taste of Irn-Bru. He had it straight from the glass bottle as legend has it it tastes even better this way. Another local treat we had was going to Tunnocks Bakery where we were staying in Uddingston. The shop is on the main street and just behind it is the factory. The factory has been family owned since 1890! The original specialties include caramel wafers, snowballs, caramel logs and teacakes. We stocked up a bit while we were here however I don’t know how long they will last. At least they are available to our family back in Canada after first being exported from Uddingston to Newfoundland, Canada, in 1957.
It’s been 1 month without a Tim Hortons cup of coffee, maple syrup soaked pancakes, some classic Swiss Chalet sauce and well, we couldn’t last any longer without them! To cure our homesickness for our staple foods we went to The Canada Shop in Covent Garden. Of course this is where plenty of Canadians go to pick up a few things they didn’t realize are different in the UK including pickles/relish, Christie cookies and Kraft products like KD and peanut butter.
Since there was a gathering of Canadians all in the store hovering around the maple syrup we felt like we knew them. It turns out we didn’t know them exactly but we did both know the same people! This is how it all happened, first the guy said he knew where Wyevale, Ontario actually was and had a friend there. I asked who (since it is a small town) and it turns out it was a family in Perkinsfield that I recognized the names of. It turns out he went to school with the brother of a girl I used to play hockey with. Yes, I AM CANADIAN!
The other “Canadian hot spot” in London is the Maple Leaf. It’s a pub just down the street from the Canadian Shop. It’s a sports bar that lets hope will show some NHL games if the strike ever ends. I think we found our place to go on Canada Day and to just hang out if we’re feeling a bit far from home.
My weakness is frozen desserts. Cakes, pies and cookies I can easily pass up but for some reason ice cream, gelato and sherberts break all diets, eating patterns and rules. Today we went to Black Vanilla in Greenwich for gelato. It was definitely a case of comfort food eating after such a stressful week. The house we moved into caused a lot of hassle and my timetable for school has not been posted. Gelato was the perfect solution! Gelato is also better for you then going straight for the tub of ice-cream. Ice cream has a 16-26% fat compared to gelato’s 4-8%. So really, it was the healthy choice.
The toughest decision when you’re in Black Vanilla is choosing what flavour to get! Since it was taking me an abnormally long time to choose just one flavour David said we will have to go back again. Perfect :) I decided to go with coffee and it was amazing! David had the caramel de leche (image right) which was also very good. Next time I’m thinking hazelnut, or pistachio, or salted caramel…
We love food! Unashamed to admit it, whenever there is a food festival happening it rules out almost anything else that is happening at the same time. Today we went to our first food festival in London! The Realfood Festival at Southbank Centre runs all weekend and every weekend celebrating the very best in sustainable and ethically produced food (image left). What’s unique about this festival compared to your usual food festivals is all the producers are hand picked on quality, not their ability to pay for a booth. This keeps the festival genuine and you know you’re getting the best the British Isles has to offer!
Along with the great food is also live music, street performers and a variety of shows such as let’s talk farming mini sheep show (image right). They introduced 3 breeds of sheep, (Suffolk, Norfolk Horn and Southdown) and then they do a demonstration of how to properly shave a sheep. One sheep’s wool is bought from the farmer for around £2 (the highest it’s been in years), he then pays the people who roll it around £1.50 per sheep so at the end of the day he’s only making a 50p profit. This clearly is not enough to feed a sheep until it’s time to shave it again and is a reminder that the farmer is not shaving his sheep for the money but to keep them healthy.
There was a company there called WoolCool who uses the wool to insulate packaging for temperature sensitive products that can then be shipped by courier. The wool acts as an insulation and is also fire resistant. Wool is actually a pretty amazing sustainable material with many uses.
After walking around the booths a few times, seeing a man blow fire out of his tuba and a performer floating without touching the ground we decided it was time for a drink! We both tried Toffee Vodka from Thunder Vodka and it wasn’t that bad! Now you all know this must’ve been good if I even managed to keep it down. With dinner David had a London Lager from Meantime Brewing Company and for dessert a latte and cappuccino from The Ethiopian Coffee Company.
Southbank Centre was the perfect place for this festival and we’re happy that the food drew us in to discovering it! The centre is surrounded by 5 venues all revolving around the arts with over 1,000 performers annually. The area has plenty of restaurants and shops as well! My favourite is pictured to the left, it’s all about the props ;) There is also a great skate park with some talented graffiti art covering all the walls. We also had the chance to watch some dancers perform the waltz, fox trot and cha cha.
Overall this is a great spot for a walk around the water, seeing some talented street performers and eating from some of the best street food vendors around!