Perusing Stockholm on the eve of Christmas
WILCO VAN HERPENThis week I went with a friend of mine, Dani, to Stockholm. He is a Swedish-Turkish citizen but had never seen his motherland. His grandmother moved to Turkey when she was a young woman to marry a Turkish man. Dani’s mother knew Swedish but never passed the language on to him. But curious about his roots, the feeling of his other country, he wanted to smell the air and feel the energy of Sweden.
For me, it would be one of the three most important flights in my life. Of course, the most impressive one was my very first flight; the second was when I was invited by former President Abdullah Gül to join him on a trip to Amsterdam, and the third one is when I flew together with Dani, first class, to Stockholm.
It was my first international business class flight, and I have to admit that it was a very comfortable and spoiling flight. Whenever I was awake, the stewardess would have a friendly chat (she has more time to spend with her passengers than the cabin crew that work in the economy part of the plane) or ask me what I would like to drink. After a three-hour flight we landed in Stockholm.
Dani, being a Swedish citizen, showed his Swedish passport to the woman at customs but was stopped nevertheless.
“Why did you come to Sweden? Why do you not speak our language?” were some of the questions Dani had to answer. After 15 minutes she was convinced of Dani’s sincerity and let him go. The first impression of Sweden was hundreds of taxis waiting in a row next and behind each other. After I gave it a better look, I saw that all the different rows of taxis belonged to different companies. We jumped into a taxi and headed off to Stockholm. Twenty-five minutes later, we were in the center of Stockholm and the taxi driver showed us around a bit. Being paranoid about the sightseeing tour the taxi driver was giving us, I constantly watched the taximeter, but the price did not rise. It turned out that the taxis have a fixed rate to bring people from the airport to Stockholm.
We arrived at our hotel – a five-star affair in the center of Stockholm. The very friendly receptionist welcomed us with a friendly “Hej,” a very short and basic greeting, but in this three-letter word, they infuse so much warmth and positivity that I was astonished by its impact. Before leaving the hotel, we wanted to make a reservation for dinner. I had seen a list of the 10 best restaurants in Stockholm, so I started reading my list. The first one was Restaurant Frantzen, a two-star Michelin restaurant, the second was Brannvin, and after that GQ and Riche. It was at the restaurant “Den Gyldene Freden” that we found a table. It turned out that you have to make reservations at least three weeks in advance.
By the time we started walking around, it was noon, so we had plenty of time to enjoy the city. Without any plan, we walked around and ended up in the old city. In a way I was a bit worried about the attitude of Swedish people; they might be cold and distanced, but it did not take long for us to find out that it was exactly the opposite. Whenever I asked people something, they replied with a friendly smiley face, taking all their time to help you out. A thing that did surprise me though was the fact that the sun set at 3 p.m. There was no light whatsoever. But the streetlights gave the whole town a picturesque feeling.
In town there are two famous Christmas markets. The first one is the one at the Beckmans College of design, a famous college for design and art. The second one, in the middle of the old town, is more of a nice, fairy-tale kind of food bazaar. At the old town’s Christmas Market, you can find anything from “glögg” (a non-alcoholic drink you have to drink warm) to cheese or meat. I felt like Alice in Wonderland with all those beautiful products around me. I tried sausages made of reindeer and elk meat, different kinds of goat cheese and, of course, the world-famous glögg. Together with a beautiful background of some Swedish old houses, this was a great Christmas picture. It was such a pity that there was no snow at the moment in Stockholm.
It was 8 p.m. when we entered Den Gyldene Freden. It is mentioned in the famous Guinness World Records as one of the oldest original restaurants in the world. The thing that impressed me most, besides the food, of course, was the cellar. Every building in the old town of Stockholm has such a beautiful and big cellar under its building. The way it was built with its many domes and little separated rooms was a big surprise for me. Upstairs, the modern, half-open kitchen (many restaurants in Stockholm have open kitchens) combined with the old interior of the building created a nice atmosphere. The waiter explained to us foreigners all the dishes and recommended us a home-made selection of herrings together with salted and dried steak with smoked roe as an hors d’oeuvre. As a main course I wanted to eat the reindeer entrecote; that was a must for me! Dani didn’t like his appetizer much so I finished it for him. The combination of dried meat with fish eggs was interesting. My appetizer, herring, was a real success. Different kinds of marinated herring made me feel as if an angel was pissing on my tongue (A Dutch saying when you like something really very much). The main course arrived, but there was so much reindeer meat! It was a big piece of dark-blooded red meat with the outside perfectly roasted. The steak was prepared one tick more then blue – something that was perfect for me. Dani looked at me with big eyes.
“I can’t eat such a steak, it is too bloody and the taste is so different,” he said. To be honest with you; I didn’t care much. It gave me the chance of eating one piece more of this beautiful meat.
Stockholm is clean, there is not too much noise, and the city center is an interesting mixture of beautiful modern architecture combined with the old houses of Copenhagen. With bags full of food we returned to Istanbul while already planning our next trip to Sweden. For Dani, it was an unforgettable trip as well. Although he did not like certain things food wise, he loved the feeling of the country and the mood of the people. It reminded him of his grandmother.