Baltics Day 6: Making some homemade Swedish meatballs

Day 6: Thursday, September 8th, 2016

One and a half hours after I went to sleep, I’m up at 4:30 am to catch my train. What a nap!

I check out and walk in the darkness to the Oslo bus station, which is only about a ten minute walk. I’m excited to leave the land of overpriced everything, but even so, I cave and purchase a completely unnecessary croissant sandwich and donut for about seven dollars at the train station.

So the reason I was so psyched about this mode of travel was because the Scandinavian countryside is supposed to be some of the most picturesque in the world. So I spent these five hours on the train… sleeping. I love train travel since there's way more room, it's much quieter, and you're free to move around whenever you want. It's like a plane, but better!

Towards the end of the trip I was awake as we passed through a small Swedish town, and the homes were as cute as can be. They were all homes that looked like mini barns, but they were in various candy colors like pink, blue, green, yellow and red.

The train arrived about an hour behind schedule, which was fine as I didn’t have anything planned. I headed straight to the hostel on foot, which was about a fifteen minute walk. Simply from walking around I could tell it was a cool city. The people looked cool, the city felt alive somehow, and it reminded me a lot of Spain with the sidewalks and streets. I loved it.

I got to The City Backpackers hostel around lunchtime and it was SO COOL inside! The décor was very hip with vintage elements mixed with modern ones, such as a mac II computer with the screen replaced by a tablet so you could use it to look at maps of the area. There was a vintage typewriter on the wall, and a collection of retro PanAm and other transportation posters, bags and toy models behind the check-in desk. The receptionist informed me of the Swedish Meatball Night event tonight at five, so I signed up in order to meet some hostel people. I was a little disappointed that it took place so early, though, since their website stated that it started at 7 and I was hoping to get more sightseeing in before having to return to the hostel.

The receptionist walked me back to the rooms. They were all named after cities or towns in Sweden instead of having room numbers. We walked through a terrace which the hostel shared with the neighboring restaurant. I assume they are co-owned or something. It had a beautiful wood deck with long communal tables with pillows and a covered area in the back that had a bookshelf and games. The downstairs of the hostel had a kitchen and common area, of course with lounge-friendly couches and plenty of pillows. There was an old TV in the common areas, dated from I would guess the 1950s and playing muted black and white cartoons from the 1930s.

The bedroom room itself was much larger than my previous two hostels for only four beds. Along the window was a bench covered in colorful pillows for lounging. Each bed had an industrial lamp reading light with an exposed bulb, and by the door there was a vanity mirror with a border of marquee lights. This sort of stuff beats the whitewashed simplicity of the Oslo hostel. The simple joys of travel. The only odd thing to me was there was a rule that you needed to remove your shoes upon entering the dorm building (Swedish tradition), which was a pain since my Timberlands are lace up and I am just a diva, okay?

I asked a different receptionist for a food recommendation. My guide book mentioned that they have three-course lunchtime specials here for a good price, accompanied by a drink and sometimes dessert (much like a menú del día in Spain). He suggested a couple local Swedish restaurants down the road. I also asked if it were possible to get elk or reindeer. He wasn’t sure if those would be on the lunch special, but he wrote them down in Swedish just in case I needed to see if they were on the menu.

At the first restaurant, they didn’t have the daily lunch deal. Yes, I could have ordered off the regular menu, but this lunch social guaranteed me a meal under $18, which here is CHEAP for a lunch. Regular menu items at a casual restaurant can run all the way up to $30, without a drink or dessert included. The hostess informed me that they don’t have reindeer or elk either, but hey, you’re a tourist, we have Swedish meatballs! I told her thanks but no thanks, that was my plan for dinner.

I end up at Café Tennnestopet where I enjoy the sunshine on the patio. I order their lunch special which consists of pea soup and a dessert of crêpes with whipped cream and cherry sauce. It was disappointing compared to my original meal plans for elk or reindeer, but since it’s nearing 1pm, I just needed to eat somewhere. Despite it not being meat, both the soup and the crêpes were delicious. Although I didn’t eat inside, I checked it out and it was very old-school European café, with black and white floor tiles, detailed stained wooden doors, and mirrored walls.

I walked back to the hostel and asked directions to Gamla Stan, which my guidebook recommended, as it was the old walled city area. The receptionist recommended I walk along the main boulevard as it’s the most interesting, and it brings you up to the big arched gate. He also warns not to get any souvenirs on the main road in Gamla Stan as it’s all junk.

Entering Gamla Stan
I took his advice and completely agree, it was the most interesting walk along a road of chain stores and souvenir shops and cafés packed with people. Then I come up to the main walls of the city and can’t help myself from saying out loud “this is so fucking cool.” It really was. There was a beautiful canal and the walls were magnificently high and beautifully intact. I stopped for a quick espresso as I felt myself crashing, and then I walked around the winding streets and took pictures of the architecture before it was soon time for me to return to the hostel for dinner.

I made it just in time for the meal, which took place in the terrace I mentioned earlier. Not only was it a meal, but it was actually a cooking demonstration accompanied by some culture and info about the local Swedish traditions. During the class, our guide taught us a traditional drinking song which none of us could sing due to our lack of Swedish-speaking abilities.  Then he poured us Schnapps which had a fennel and anise taste, as those are the key infusion ingredients. He told us Swedes traditionally look at everyone at the table in the eye after a toast before you take your sip, which we did, and it was very long and creepy. I don’t recommend that tradition.

We started with an appetizer that was so common that it had an abbreviation, “S.O.S.” I don’t remember the Swedish words, but they stood for the words for the following three things: a sort of matza bread, pickled herring, and butter. After my gross experience with pickled fish in Copenhagen, I pulled out only some onions from that mixture to make my S.O.S.

Finally it was time to get cooking. The meat was a blend of pork and beef, and already had the spices in it. The guide taught us the proper way to roll the meatballs (first aggressively to get out the air bubbles, then lightly into a ball), which we all did for the giant pile of meat he presented to us. There were around ten of us, but this still seemed like a lot. We also made mashed potatoes and then our guide brought out some premade lingonberry jam as the meatballs cooked.

Soon it was time to eat and we loaded our plates with meatballs, brown sauce/gravy, mashed potatoes, lingonberry jam, and some sort of green sprouts. All the food looked and tasted amazing. Definitely worth the fourteen euros to get a full meal AND cooking class in one.

I met some cool hostel people in this group including an Australian guy who was on vacation but also using the opportunity to interview at the Spotify offices here through a connection from a friend. I was hoping I’d be able to hang out with these people tonight, but the hostel had a bar crawl the previous night and of course most people were dead. I tried looking up an independent one like the one we did in Copenhagen but it either was no longer running or the ones I did find were fully booked. 

After a long night of conversations with the hostel group, everyone parted ways. I asked the Aussie what he was doing and he said he was going for a walk. I asked if he wanted company or to clear his head, and he said the latter. Looks like another quiet night for me!

I went to the front desk to ask about the free evening sauna, but it ended around the time I was still eating dinner, and now it cost money to use. It was now nearing 9pm, so I just decided to walk back to Gamla Stan and wander about. After doing a couple laps through the cobblestone streets, I got bored and returned to the hostel. I went down to the common area downstairs and used the internet until the place died down around midnight, and then I went to bed.