In late May, we traveled to Europe for a Backroads adventure with Ponant. You can read about that adventure here, Bicycling Croatia with Ponant and Backroads. Before the cruise, however, we spent five days in Sweden, in large part to shake off any jet lag before we began pedaling and hiking with Backroads. Why Sweden? You can read about that here, Five Reasons Why We Chose Scandinavia For Our Adriatic Pre-Cruise. I thought it would be interesting to present Tamera’s thoughts about Sweden, a place where she had never been but had wanted to visit. We catch up with her while cruising off the coast of Croatia. – Ralph Grizzle.
Ralph and I are sitting on deck six of Ponant’s Le Lyrial, enjoying a glass of champagne as we sail from Split. We are among a group of jet-lagged Americans, who arrived from the United States a day before our departure from Venice. Some suffered flight delays, one couple being sent home from the airport for two days before their flight could proceed to Europe (their flight was delayed because of mechanical issues and a strike).
We are sitting here, restored and refreshed, having been in Europe for seven days. I am so glad that Ralph arranged a five-day trip for us in Sweden prior to our Backroads biking tour and cruise in Croatia with French cruise line Ponant. In addition to our arrival a week early helping us to recover from jet lag, Sweden is such an enjoyable place.
While it’s a little unusual to arrive for a cruise several hundred miles away from the port of departure, doing so effectively gave us two vacations in one. This raises the question: What’s the best way to get to your cruise? Do you go straight to the cruise port of call? And, if so, how many days in advance? And if not, where do you go? For us, the answer was easy, Sweden.
Sweden has been on my bucket list for years, and although I had read quite a bit about Sweden, I still didn’t know quite what to expect. Would it be so expensive as to bankrupt me? Would it be difficult to get around not knowing the language? Would I feel uncomfortable and out of my element?
Ralph lived in the south of Sweden for almost a decade, and I knew we’d be fine being that he was familiar with the region we were visiting, Skåne.
The public transportation. I loved that we used public transportation the whole time. We took the train from directly beneath the airport in Copenhagen to Helsingborg, Sweden, an easy journey, even with luggage.
I had never heard of or thought about Helsingborg, Sweden. It is the sister city, of sorts, to Helsingor, Denmark. The two are directly across the sound within eyesight of one another. The Danes and Swedes call the sound Oresund, and it leads to the Baltic Sea. Hamlet’s Castle is in Danish Helsingor and Karnan Castle which, sounds like Shannon, is in Swedish Helsingborg.
Helsingborg is a very walkable and bicycle friendly city with access to the Coastal Trail and beautiful forests. We were able to explore using only public transport and by walking. It was nice to not have to worry about parking or a rental car. The bus system was excellent. Busses run frequently until late night, and to pay our way, we purchased tickets using an app.
We took the bus up a peninsula to the last village, called Molle, a quaint harbor town at the base of Kullen Hill, overlooking the sea. We discovered a cozy pizza oven restaurant called Krukmakeri, which also featured handmade pottery. We dined in the greenhouse with a grape arbor. The restaurant was bustling, packed full and fun. We planned to take the bus back to the hotel, but we had purchased the incorrect ticket. The bus driver was kind and said, “That’s okay.” He didn’t leave us stranded.
At the end of our stay in Sweden, we had to make our way to Venice, Italy for our Backroads trip on a Ponant cruise. For our return trip to the Copenhagen airport, we took the ferry from Helsingborg across to Helsingor, Denmark. I enjoyed the short ferry crossing with great views of the two cities and Hamlet’s Castle. Twenty minutes after departing Helsingborg, we hopped on the train at the ferry port and took it directly to our Clarion Airport hotel, which was attached to the airport via a covered walkway. Nice, we didn’t have to step out in the rain.
All Man’s Rights. We enjoyed the fact that you could walk everywhere (thanks to Allemansrätt or all man’s rights). The concept is when you are in Sweden you have the right to walk, cycle, ride, ski, and camp on any land with the exception of private gardens, near a dwelling house or land under cultivation. The Swedes call it the Freedom to Roam.
In Helsingborg there are lots of cobbled pavements and streets. My first observation was that everyone wears comfortable shoes. Mostly trail runner type shoes or flats. People walk everywhere. If they wear a dress or suit they still wear comfortable walking shoes, no stilettos or high heels and no bright colors- only white, tan, black and blue. I wore my Dansko Mary Janes. I can walk for miles around town in those. They have good arch support, they’re comfortable, and I can wear them with jeans or dresses. They are heavy, so in order to keep baggage weight low I wear them on the plane.
For hiking the coastal trail and in the forest I wore my New Balance trail runners, which are breathable, lightweight and cushiony. They came in handy for the Backroads cycling Croatia tour as well.
On our first night in Helsingborg, we walked around town and along the sea front. The buildings are set back from the beach with a public promenade all along for miles. No high-rises either. We walked 40 miles in four days in Sweden. That sounds like a lot but it was so enjoyable. We walked along the lively seafront promenade, out of town along the Coastal Trail, through forests around castles. The walks were a highlight for me. The Skaneleden coastal trail is a 1,250-kilometer-long hiking trail that traverses the beach, nature reserves, and through Swedish Villages. You can day hike it or through-hike it. There are hotels, hostels, shelters and AirBnBs along the way. Also along the way are excellent restaurants, cafes, and ice cream kiosks. There are plenty of WC’s – water closets or public toilets. We day hiked sections of this Coastal trail.
Palsjo. The Palsjo is a forest with lovely paths and bridleways lined with massive European Beech trees. There is even a trail through a long Beech tree tunnel. Lilly of the Valley and wild azalea fragranced the air. The Palsjo forest abuts the Coastal Trail and beach. On one day, I walked from town to a lovely cafe/tea room in the middle of the forest, alongside wheat fields where chickens roamed freely greeting hikers and bikers. Called Brödkultur, which means bread culture, the cafe served up cafe lattes that were rich and delicious, complemented by scrumptious pastries and cakes that were homemade.
The Elite Mollberg Hotel. Our Helsingborg hotel was situated a block from Central Station, with train, busses and ferries that could take us anywhere. The hotel is situated in the Centrum (center) at the steps of medieval gate of Karnan Castle, which is surrounded by a lovely park and gardens. Lilacs and their aroma filled the air everywhere.
The gardens also had Rhododendrons, Solomon Seal and Daisy, in full bloom at this time, even though Helsingborg is situated at the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska. In late May during the week we were there, the climate was mild, highs in the 50’s and 60’s. When the sun was shining everyone basked in it. But the wind! Hats and umbrellas don’t work; a jacket with a hood is best.
Back to the Elite Mollberg Hotel. The Mollberg is an historic building. It features gorgeous cafe seating outside adorned with plants and striped awnings overlooking the square. The building is solid, dense, and sound proof, not like modern hotels that are hollow, bland, characterless and noisy.
Hotel Mollberg has thick lush carpet and high ceilings with ornate carvings. Adorning the walls and ceilings were lovely lanterns and chandeliers, stained glass windows, classic artwork, pillars. The hotel’s current owners certainly know how to blend antiquities and modernity, tastefully.
I could have spent the whole week at Elite Hotel Mollberg. It’s the kind of place I could settle into with tea or coffee, a good book or work on the iPad. You can actually open your room windows, something you don’t see that often. New hotels are hermetically sealed. The Mollberg did not play crappy, loud music either. The rooms are comparably affordable and reasonable. By booking online, we found excellent rates. Hotels where we live in Asheville charge double and they are bland, hollow, uncomfortable, and noisy. Breakfast was included at Hotel Mollberg, and it was excellent quality food.
The bathrooms of Hotel Mollberg are clean and modern. Bathrobes and slippers wait for you. There is a sauna, which opens at 4 p.m., but I didn’t get to use because we were hiking. The Elite Mollberg Hotel is excellent value for money. I would stay again.
We also stayed at the Elite Hotel Marina Plaza, which is connected to the train, ferry and bus station. It is also central and convenient to all the sites. I am not a fan of the hotel, however. It is modern, open, cavernous and loud. On Friday night, there was a rock and roll band on stage in the foyer, and the music pounded until midnight. The rooms were complicated for me, the jet-lagged tourist. I needed my key for the electric slot just in the room entrance. I wish I had known to make sure I pushed the key down all the way until it clicked to make the electric work. After a few frustrating minutes, I finally had to ask the front desk for help about how to make the lights in my room work. But I had to ask them in person because they either don’t answer the phone or they ask you to hold and never get back to you. You must remember to take your key out of the electric slot; otherwise, you will get locked out of your room and then you also get locked out of the elevator so you cannot go to front desk. That was me, I had to stand in hallway until people came to the lift (elevator). They kindly let me squeeze into the full elevator with them. Had it not been for them, who knows how long I would have been in no man’s land?
Also for me, as a foreign tourist, the shower was not intuitively obvious. After a few frustrating minutes thinking my shower was broken, I gave up, I decided to forgo washing my hair and to just take a bath. As I sat in the tub I discovered a little shower emblem on the faucet – a clue! So through trial and error I discovered I needed to pull down on the actual faucet to make water come out of the shower head – too late!
Breakfast was included at Hotel Mollberg and Marina Plaza. Unlike at many American hotels, we ate quality – fresh fruits and cereals, assorted meats, cheeses, fruits. The fruits were juicy and flavorful. An excellent assortment of breads, jams and yoghurts were provided as well.
Some of the yoghurts and chia puddings were an acquired taste, more like nearly soured buttermilk, I thought they were off or expired, but it was explained to me that I was consuming was filmjölk, fermented milk.
You could also get a cooked breakfast with real eggs, not styrofoam eggs. I remember we stayed in a hotel in North Carolina, and one of the servers said she once but no longer worked at a hotel where the scrambled eggs arrived at the hotel precooked and in plastic bags. The eggs are poured into the warming trays, all runny- ick!
At Hotel Marina PIaza we did enjoy a pint overlooking the harbor. The bar served up local craft Swedish beer and a couple of Asheville beers too, much to our surprise. I used the sauna at the Elite Hotel Marina Plaza. I had it all to myself. It was lovely. We were able to capture sunset from the cool down balcony too.
The Food. I have already mentioned my appreciation for the good quality food in Sweden, and there were some highlights to add. In Helsingborg, we ate at Olsen’s Italian twice. It is located in the square of a medieval church. The restaurant is in an old timbered building with low ceilings and doorways.The seating is cozy and romantic, with old world charm. Olsen’s pasta dishes were fresh and authentic.
Next door to Olsen’s we dined one night at Vente Tapas, formerly Maria’s, which came highly recommended. That was fun, sampling seven different flavorful small plates. One afternoon Ralph bought us treats from Fahlmans Konditori, a classic tea room with light lunches and treats. We had yummy Prinsesstårta (Princess Cake), with layers of custard, cream, sponge and jam coated in marzipan. The cream in Sweden is real cream too, rich, and vanilla. Ralph also treated us to the famous Kanelbulle (Cinnamon bun). I could easily recommend that and a coffee to anyone visiting Sweden.
Swedish bread was so good. The assortment of fresh bread and food tasted hearty, earthy and real. It was not processed or overpriced. Nor were the ample portions and servings gargantuan. The Swedes go for quality not quantity with lots of flavor, which makes eating and drinking an experience.
Not speaking Swedish or Danish was interesting. I often did not realise that people were speaking to me, and I wondered if I came across rude at times since I did not respond. Most elderly locals spoke a little English and those age 60 and below spoke it a lot. So I felt like a tourist in a foreign land, which, of course, is part of the experience, but if I needed help with purchasing something or navigating my way around it was a comfort to be able to speak English.
The things I liked most about Sweden were the simple things:
- We did not need a car once, we walked 40 miles in four days. Bike lanes are everywhere, so be sure not to stand in the bike lanes or walk in them, else you will be scoffed at as a tourist and possibly get ran over.
- Candles and lanterns glow their warmth everywhere – in restaurants, hotel lobbies, front steps of homes, bars, cafes and shops. There were not fake plastic or eye piercing LED bulbs, but real candles. The Swedes cherish the concept of being cozy, or mysigt.
- Most places had outside seating with blankets to cover you, outdoor heaters, and sheepskin throws to sit upon.
- There was no garbage or litter on beaches, in the forests or on the street.
- The Old World charm. The forest, the walking paths through tree tunnels and along the coastline were beautiful, as were the castles and ornate buildings.
- Right now the American dollar goes further in Sweden. I had always heard Sweden was very expensive but it seems reasonable now. A pint of beer is $10, but most of the other purchases we made were reasonable; we felt we got good value for our money.
I don’t know if and when I will get back to Sweden, but if I do I will explore more of its natural beauty and return to the tearoom in the forest to appreciate the simple life. I am sure any Swede could relate, and who knows, maybe you could too.