Viking Country 3: Road Trip Treasures

One of the more endearing things about the road trip in Sweden was the sheer volume of cool stuff to see that is really close to the main highway. I feel a deep cultural attraction to “the road trip” which I’ve always sort of assumed was part of my American heritage. After all, as a child, my father took me on summer road trips in the RV to all the beautiful national parks of the West. My mom took us on weekend road trips up and down the coast or the town next door. When I got a car, I took repeated road trips with my friends. Loading up on road snacks, blasting your road music and pulling over when some random sign says “world’s largest ketchup bottle” is a basic part of Americana that thrives in my soul no matter how long I’m away.


Sweden is the only other country I’ve been to that I feel really gets it as far as road trip culture goes. Don’t get me wrong, I loved driving across Germany. Those people have amazing gas stations. The New Zealand drive was great and I loved having my own wheels in Bohol. The main difference is that, however beautiful the roadside scenery was in all those places, the road was just a way to get to places that public transit didn’t go. In Sweden, they not only have great gas stations, but also STUNNING rest stops that are basically parks and attractions on their own, AND they have the most wonderful series of roadside attractions.

On the day I fled the not-a-murder-house-we-promise, I found a cool viking church, another old-timey village replica, the most beautiful rest stop I’ve ever seen, and a giant statue by Pablo Picasso.

Viking Church

The Swedish people were late to the Christianity conversion party. After all, the religion’s spread originated in Rome, and the Roman Empire never quite managed to get a foothold in the land of the ice and snow. Vikings were worshiping Odin and co. right up to the 12th century, and even when they finally did “convert” it was… very halfhearted. A lot of the viking cultural and artistic trappings stayed almost entirely the same but with a little “for Jesus” footnote.

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I stopped in at Glanshammar Church in Örebro to see a little bit of how the Viking and the Christian met in the middle. I have to say, I wasn’t much impressed by the exterior of the building. There was an interesting watchtower construction, but the church was remarkably plain for something supposedly Catholic. I mean, think of all those Romanesque arches and Gothic cathedrals in Europe. What was this little white nub of a building?

Fortunately, I stuck it out and found the door. The interior of the very plain white building is filled end to end and top to bottom with highly intricate artwork that uniquely combines the traditional Christian art and architecture from the continent with the Swedish styles seen in earlier Viking tradition.

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Outdoor Museum of Provincial Life

Next, still in Örebro, I stopped by the 18th century village reproduction called Wadköping. According to the sign, many of the buildings were actually transplanted from their original home to create the open air museum. I began to wander the town, noticing once more the extreme prevalence of red buildings. I saw some ladies doing needlework with laundry drying, and I went into buildings for kids that had plaster animals and pretend food.

I found the home of Hjalmar Bergman (Ingred Bergman’s father), a famous if often misunderstood writer who wrote about a mythical town of  Wadköping as a kind of Anytown, Sweden representing a middle class provincial life. The recreational is named after his literary invention as there was no such village in reality.

There was a replica school house which showed a typical education plan for students including Christianity, native language, arithmetic, “knowledge of nature” (the natural sciences), gymnastics, gender segregated crafts, and drawing.

There were a startling number of little artisan shops inside the buildings. Some were simply souvenir and ice cream shops, but others included traditional arts like woodcarving and a silversmith. The Historiska Butiken was particularly filled with the kind of beautiful Norse styled witchcrafty goodies that I know at least 30 people in my immediate friend group would have loved to fill their homes with. Even I had a hard time resisting. Tiny luggage space saves me money again!

A Fully Functioning Castle?

My last stop in Örebro was the Örebro Castle. This was the only place I ever really had trouble finding parking since the castle is quite central and Örebro is not a tiny village. After a few drives around the block, I found some street parking and headed over. It was mainly an exterior photo-op because the castle is not decorated in antique royal furniture the way so many of the castles on the continent were. A small part of the castle was set up as a kind of tiny museum, and much larger parts of the castle are actually used as government and business offices. The governor even lives there. Functional castle!

While exploring, I also found a hiking trail sign that indicated a “walking with death” level of trail difficulty, and a dramatically oversized park bench, just for fun.

Roadside Picasso

Waving good by to Örebro, I hit the highway for another longer stretch in search of the Picasso. That’s right, there’s an original Picasso standing out in the Swedish countryside… or… lakeside anyway. I’m not actually a big Picasso fan, for complicated reasons involving art history and feminism, but this seemed like the Swedish equivalent of “the world’s largest bottle of ketchup” and I could not drive so near it without stopping by. It was a long slow drive down a thin, low speed limit road, but it was such a beautiful day, and the road ran along the waterfront. A worthy side-trip.

On my way, I paused at one of Sweden’s many beautiful and amazing roadside rest stops. This one was a small lake surrounded by beautiful evergreen trees. The water was so still that the perfect blue and fluffy white of the sky were reflected like a mirror. I ate my sandwich and watched the beauty, just feeling overwhelmed by Sweden.20180815_160148.jpg

When I finally arrived at the Picasso, I was not disappointed. It’s clearly his work, and it’s GIANT. I wandered all around taking photos from various angles before I realized that the absolute best angle for the late afternoon sun also contained a couple having a nice fika (cup of coffee & snack) on a bench below the statue. I tried my best to shoot around them, hoping they might finish and move, but in the end I had to go in for politely asking if they would mind stepping away from the bench for just a moment so I could get the best picture. I do hate asking people to move their picnic, but it’s not like I’m going to be back again any time soon. They were quite gracious about the request, and I got my “shot”.20180815_172959.jpg

Fine Dining

I had reserved a cabin in a campground for the night, but was slowly learning to plan dinner before checking into the more remote accommodations. With no desire for another grocery store dinner, I decided to stop in Karlstad for a nice restaurant meal. Thanks to Google, I found a place called Elektriska. It’s built in the remains of an old electro-technical plant and focuses on high quality, sustainable, local, ethically sourced food cooked with an eye for haute cuisine. It is not cheap, but it was just inside my price range, and sounded right up my alley. Not to mention, it was in an adorable neighborhood.

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Their cocktail menu alone could have kept me happy. In the end I chose a lingonberry Gin and Tonic made with Stockholms Branneri Pink Gin, lingonberry, grapefruit, and Mediterranean Tonic. ($15)

The appetizer menu also looked like something I could just happily graze my way through, but the waitress advised that even the larger sampler was unlikely to be quite enough for a dinner. I settled on the “16 Ampere” appetizer platter which included rainbow trout with dill and vinegar, truffle salami with ricotta and sunflower, and wild boar with plum and tellicherry. ($17) The menu is seasonal and based on what’s available, so don’t go expecting to get exactly the same.

The wild boar sausage and the wild trout sashimi were entirely delicious, but the star of this dish was absolutely the salami. I would never in 10 million years have thought to combine salami, ricotta cheese, AND sunflower butter. I love all three of these, and I have probably had salami and ricotta together, and might have tried ricotta with sunflower seeds in a salad or something, but… wow. I can’t even explain how amazing this flavor combo is. Get u sum.

My main course was more rainbow trout, and if you like fish you know you just can’t go wrong with fresh caught local rainbow trout in season. This was skin fried rainbow trout with root vegetables, sundried tomatoes, and crayfish tails in a buttered crayfish broth. (28$)20180815_202844.jpg

I included the prices because this was the MOST expensive meal I ate on holiday, and I kind of wanted to put in perspective what that means for me. A high quality meal and cocktail at a fancy restaurant is not something I do often, but I’d been saving by eating in grocery stores and local delis, and this was a splurge that was 100% worth it. Amazing food isn’t cheap, but it sure does make the pleasure centers in my brain light up like Christmas and New Year’s all at once.

Cabin In the Woods

I got to my “campsite” in Värmland after dark and had a little trouble finding the bathrooms, but fortunately I was the only one there, and I’m not afraid to pretend to be a bear. The cabin itself was very plush with wall to wall carpet and a sort of beach house all white linen decor, as well as excellent WiFi. Despite being an actual cabin in the woods, the whole vibe of the campsite was homey and friendly which was a nice change after the farmhouse fright night.20180815_220708.jpg

The next morning I was able to easily find the bathroom and kitchen, make myself a cup of coffee and prepare a bit of breakfast from my grocery supplies. Traveling in a car means I can stock up on food for most meals and snacks more easily than when I’m traveling by bus and train. I was in no particular hurry to hit the road, and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the little table and chairs out front of my cabin while watching the sheep across the road.

Once I felt full and rested, and put all my bedding in the laundry room, I hit the road once more. The cabin rules had included a rather extensive list of guests cleaning responsibilities and it wasn’t the first time I encountered such. The Langholm hostel had similar rules instructing guests not only to strip the sheets for the laundry staff, but also to take out the trash and sweep the floor before checking out! I try to be a good guest and never leave a big mess behind, but for me that usually means putting all my waste IN the garbage and cleaning up any big spills. I know pretty much all US hotels/hostels have housekeeping that have to clean the rooms between guests, but I’ve never seen the need to make extra work for them. Still it was a stretch even for me to be told that I had to go to the main building and get the vacuum cleaner, haul it over to the cabin and vacuum, then take it back, and also fold all the bedding after removing the duvet covers. I guess I’m just saying if you go to Sweden, expect to be your own housekeeping.

Winging It and Winning

I was getting used to following the roadsigns to roadside attractions by this point in my road trip and I happily turned off to explore Borgvik and Hyttruin without really knowing what I’d find. Hytta means “foundry”. Hyttruin is therefore the ruins of a foundry. I’m not a person who is typically interested in ironwork, and I think if the sign had said “iron foundry” I might have kept driving, but then I would have missed these wonderful ruins, and you know how much I love ruins.

Looking at the size of the defunct forge, I could imagine mythical dwarves making Thor’s hammer there. It was enormous, but it’s not from the days of antiquity, it’s just from the 1800s. Alongside the ruins ran the waterfall that was created to supply the foundry with hyrdropower. There were signs around the place explaining the history of pig iron, and the ins and outs of manufacture, but it turns out I’m still not interested in iron production. Very cool ruins, though.

Art & Lunch

Next I popped into a little art gallery nearby (still in Borgvik) called Sliperiet. It turned out to be a restaurant/art gallery and I opted to do both. Being hungry, I started with the restaurant and once again indulged my salmon habit. It was another highly artisan place with only a few chef chosen dishes on the menu each day. The salmon and veg were perfectly lovely, but what made the dish sing was the lemon cream. I don’t know how he made this stuff, but it was absolutely lemon and cream in the best possible way. Both are great with salmon but together it was heaven. I could eat that lemon cream every day on everything.20180816_130950.jpg

While I was eating, the staff brought me a booklet with little biographies of all the artists on display in the gallery which gave me a chance to think about what I was going to see. I decided to do the museum as a break between lunch and dessert, and I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and quality of art on display in what was really the “middle of nowhere”. I took photos of absolutely everything, but I’m only going to share some of my favorites here.

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In case you want to follow up on any of these fine creators, I’ve tried to include relevant links: Albin Liljestrand, Kjell Engman, Stephan Westling, Ann Lillqvist, Rodney Smith, Christian Coigny, Nino Ramsby, Ylva CederTim Flach, Sara Nilsson, Jonas Rooth, Eka Acosta

After a lovely dessert of crème brûlée, I asked the very kind and helpful staff people where to go next. I had planned a day “in Varmland” but had no idea what was there, and had been going off of roadside stands and Google Maps markers with some success so far, but it never hurts to ask a local. They told me about an artist commune called NotQuite and I resolved to include it as my last stop in Varmland for the day.

An Artist Commune

20180816_161751NotQuite is an artist community built in an old paper factory in the middle of nothing. The art on display is far more experimental and boundary pushing than anything else I’d seen that summer, and not all of it was good, but all of it was sure trying to BE something. I wandered into the abandoned factory floor where art installations were scattered around almost as though they had been abandoned along with the paper. Small bright displays stood alone in large concrete rooms, and almost all of the signage was only in Swedish.

I found a mattress with some cobbled together VR goggles and a vague sort of “play me” note. It was an odd distorted and block color reality with a voice over in English of a person of indeterminate gender exploring the concept of sexuality. Very much everything you might stereo-typically think of when you think of experimental art commune.

It was mostly empty, but I’m not sure if that was because of the time of day or time of year. After spending a while wandering through the factory buildings and trying out the art, I headed back to the main gates. I stopped in at the gift shop on the way out where some of the more polished and “ready for home consumption” kind of art was on sale. I had a chance to ask a few questions about the place to the lady behind the counter. She explained that while a few people did choose to live on site, that most simply came there to work, and that they were funded by a grant from the government to support the arts. You can learn more on their website.


Sweden still makes me sigh with longing when I think of these days. Staring now down the barrel of planning another summer holiday, I’m deeply tempted to return and explore a new part of the country. While I’ve enjoyed my time in Korea these past few years, it lacks the freedom, the nature, and the stunning variety of culture and food that I yearn for. Still, until I have a stable landing pad for my next “home base” I guess I’ll take what I can get in the holidays. 

A Weekend in Riyadh: The Globe Restaurant

The Atmosphere

img_0516After my wonderful spa treatment downstairs, I headed up to the very tippy top of the Al Faisaliah Tower. The tower is supposed to look like a giant ball-point pen (I dunno who thought that was cool for a skyline), and the “ball” part of the “pen” is a huge silver globe in which sits a gourmet restaurant called (originally) The Globe.

This place is super fancy and has a 300 riyal minimum for dinner. There’s also a cigar lounge with a 200 riyal minimum, and supposedly they do a High Tea in the afternoons, which I didn’t get to do because I opted for the Museum, having only one day, but really hope to do if I find myself with an afternoon free in Riyadh again.

The picture on the left is from the restaurant’s own website, since it was too dark and full of people for me to get a good picture when I was there.

As you can hopefully see, the entire wall is part of the glass ball. There is also a glass barrier between the tables and the globe itself, so the floor stops short of the outside wall, creating the fantastic sense of having the city spanning out under and around you. Not as vertigo inducing as you might think, however. To the right is the view from my own table.

They have seasonal rotating menus, and to make this easier, the menu is on a tablet rather than printed. My water (45 riyals) was in a beautiful glass bottle that was kept in a champagne chiller next to my table. The bread was actually a bread sampler platter with five different types of bread as well as butter and a tangy dipping sauce.

But Kaine, you don’t eat wheat! My friends exclaim… turns out that may be limited to America.

The Bread Basket

img_0535The crispy baguette (long and pointy at both ends) was my favorite. A super crispy outside with a soft fluffy interior. I finished that one. Moving to the right there are two brown bread buns, the one on the bottom was a little sweet with dried fruit pieces with a softer, chewier texture, and the one above was herby and savory with a slightly crisper crust (nothing like the baguette). Only one bite each for those. The bread in the glass at the top right was actually fried in some kind of herbed oil. It is what croutons want to be when they grow up. Alone it was delightful, crunchy but thin enough to be flakey, the oil was pleasant rather than greasy. In the dipping sauce it was outta this world. I didn’t polish it off, but it did get a second bite as well as second place. Finally the ciabatta, the square bread in the upper left. Also very nice, a crust that maintained a balance of crispy and chewy with a white interior, only slightly less fluffy than the baguette. Two bites and third place.

The Appetizer

img_0537Next, the waiter brought out a sample appetizer (or possibly a palette cleanser) that I hadn’t ordered, but was happy to try. If you could sort of imagine a guacamole ice-cream cone… which doesn’t do this justice. The “cone” was made from corn meal, but not just any tortilla, it was impressed with the crosshatch marks of an ice-cream cone and either made with a sweet corn (most likely) or a little extra sugar because it was just slightly sweeter than a regular tortilla. It was also delicately thin, like a wafer cookie. The guacamole filling was very creamy and mild. Totally smooth with a good blend of avocado and lime, but not enough garlic or chili to cling in the mouth or ruin the main course.

The Main Dish

I ordered lamb. I’ve heard really wonderful things about the quality of seafood in Riyadh’s high end restaurants, but I have a long standing aversion to ordering seafood in a land-locked place. Chicken is for safe bets when you’re not sure about the chef. And given a choice between beef and lamb, I’m partial to lamb, although I know the flavor isn’t for everyone.

img_0538I ordered mine rare. I’d read that Saudi restaurants often have trouble with this, but the Globe chef clearly knew what he was doing. I know rare is supposed to be cold in the middle and red all the way through, but I prefer the much more elusive warm and red center. He nailed it. The lamb was not only tender, juicy and cooked to perfection, it was topped with an herbed bread crumb crust and feta crumble which complimented the meat beautifully. Served on a bed of rosemary risotto and porcini mushrooms. Framed by tart grape tomatoes, lightly roasted and drizzled with a tomato reduction. I really enjoyed going back and forth between the flavors, trying different combinations of the savory risotto, earthy mushrooms, salty feta and tart tomato with the wonderful umame of the meat and each other. This was also a very generous portion, making me glad I’d skipped lunch.

For Afters

After a long slow savoring of dinner, it was time for desert and coffee. While I am an eternal chocoholic, there is one dessert I can never pass up at a fancy restaurant: the crème brûlée. I can still remember discovering this amazing custard treat, this creamy yet crunchy, cold yet caramelized culinary coup de grace…. my alliteration ran away with me there, but I really love crème brûlée.

img_0542This particular brûlée was served, beautifully plated in this chilled shallow dish. I have a deep appreciation for appropriately sized desserts that pack a huge flavor punch. I’ll take a tiny slice of mouth-gasm over a giant pile of meh any day.

The crispy caramelized top coat was, as you can see, not even slightly burnt, and yet it was a perfect hard crack with that ever so slightly bitter note that offsets the sweet creamy custard beneath. Atop this candied crust is a mango compote and a tiny scoop of finest vanilla ice cream.

Normally, I have strawberry or raspberry with my crème brûlée if I have any fruit at all. I would not have considered mango. Nor had I ever previously considered making a compote from mangoes. Salsa, sure, but a compote? The flavor was fascinating, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn there was some peach mixed in. It wasn’t anywhere near as sweet as fresh mangoes or what I would expect from any kind of fruit compote, but it clearly wasn’t made from the tarter, less ripe mango because there was no hint of sour flavors. There was a hint of pleasant bitterness that echoed the mildly bitter flavor in the caramelized sugar topping.

I also would never have considered adding ice cream to a crème brûlée. After all, the brûlée is so creamy and delicious already, right? But as it turns out, I was wrong. If you add really good vanilla ice cream to really good crème brûlée you get really really good frozen custard. As with the main course, I enjoyed mixing and matching the different flavors and textures in different bites as I slowly devoured my dessert course. The final bite included a tiny sprig of mint. I think a good chef will try to make the garnish a flavor pair with the dish, and not simply something pretty to be discarded (maybe I watch too much cooking channel). But in this case, my faith was rewarded, and the tiny fresh mint leaves gave me one last burst of new flavors, blending with the final mouthful of custard, caramelized sugar, mango compote and vanilla ice cream. Heaven.

I finished my meal with a double Turkish coffee while looking out at the view and revelling in my day of total pampering. Just when I thought it was coming to a close, the bill paid and heading to the elevator, the maitre d’ asked if I had been to “the Experience” yet.

The Experience

img_0543The Experience, as it turns out, is the viewing platform just beneath the Globe restaurant. This my view while standing just under where I was eating a few moments before, the city below reflected in the mirrored windows. If you choose to come here without dinner, the ride to the viewing platform is 40 riyals. It’s pretty freakin’ amazing. I admit, I was full of happy hormones from the spa and dinner (yay dopamine!), but wow.

The clear glass walls that surround the viewing platform keep one totally safe while presenting the illusion that one is on the edge of the top floor of the building. However, there is no ceiling. The winds that blow 30 floors up are dampened somewhat by the sheer height of the glass walls (about 10 feet), but are still a presence to be reckoned with. Riyadh is also a very hot city, and even at night its still quite warm, so the wind whipping my abaya and hijab around was not in the least bit chilly despite the elevation.

The Globe restaurant is listed as one of Riyadh’s most romantic dining spots, and the Experience viewing platform was testimony to this. Several couples came out while I was ogling the view. Ladies were carrying roses their husbands had liberated from the tables inside. Couples looked very happy and stood very close, even holding hands, which was more PDA than I’d seen anywhere else. Definitely a romantic locale! The women’s outter garments were clearly a step up from the daily black and showed a lot more color and bling than I’d seen in the rest of Riyadh. Moreover, they had not covered their faces! All the better to enchant their husbands with their beauty. I was asked to take pictures for more than one such couple, but always approached by the woman as her husband stood well back from me, respectfully.

img_0546I circled the platform a few times, taking pictures, admiring the view of the city below and the moon above, and pausing one final time to relish the long road to the Kingdom Tower, to imagine the eye of Saruman poised between those tines and myself on the windswept tower of Isengard looking for giant eagles in the night sky. Then, spa pampered and gourmet food filled, I rode the languid elevator back to ground level where my driver awaited me by the front door to take me back to my own considerably less fantastical and less expensive hotel and sleep.