Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Saturday. Day Three in Stockholm.

Thankfully free of a hangover, we meet Anna before lunch and head out to "the hood" as she calls it. We're headed for a weekly flea market in one of Stockholm's southern suburbs. Swedish suburbia is odd - everything looks like pre-fab wartime houses. It's so different from the city itself - a bit lifeless. We arrive after a long tube journey and stumble out into a precinct mall that could be... Swindon. Anywhere. The market is in the basement of the mall, and it looks promising. As I have Anna there to haggle for me in Swedish, I score some 70s retro headphones in cherry red and a Swedish white enamel breadbin for about £10 in total. Anna buys a gorgeous Eames-style serving tray that I would have wanted myself if I could get it home safely.

It strikes me that I'm going to need an extra suitcase to lug all my bounty back to the UK, so we head to meet Lars at a nearby second hand shop. 30 kroner later (about £2), I have a dusty but cool red hardshell case that was formerly used for skiing holidays. The girl ahead of me in the queue is buying two mugs from the tv show Fame - in Swedish! I love this country.

By now we're starving, so we head back to the hotel to drop off our gear and set out to Kanel (cinnamon), a cafe in a quiet part of Kungsholmen. My traditional Swedish sandwich arrives on a massive piece of fresh rye bread, topped with brie, olives, salami, pickled jalapenos, red onions, cucumber slices and tomato. The cappucino is gorgeous. Why can't food in the UK be the same? Sigh.

Afterwards, we walk off our lunch by strolling to the city hall where we lounge on the lawn and take in the stunning view across the water.

Time for a quick dollying up and we're off to Cafe Piatowska for some *real* Polish food. The interior is gothic and cavernous - all dark wood and polish folk songs on the stereo. I'm happy to see that the service is traditionally Polish (indifferent and slow) and we even have a table of bona fide macho-men Poles next to us who eye the waitress up like a pack of starving wolves. I could be in Toronto! The borscht is gorgeous, swimming with dill and sour cream. We all have the schnitzel, suitably dripping with butter and crisp sauerkraut. My stomach tries to reject all the richness, but I drink away the rumbles with Czech beer. Mmmm.

And then it was time for a traditional...Swedish house party. This involves a long-ish bus ride from Slussen out into the Middle of Nowhere - but once inside, it's a rather nice small terrace with friendly faces.

Which reminds me, can I say what I like about Swedes?

1. They listen to you very seriously and exclaim "ok!" every so often.

2. They all seem to speak English, ranging from conversational to put-me-to-shame fluent.

Anyhow, it was only then that the evening hit a slight blip. I was getting tired but was persuaded to carry on to another house party in another area we didn't know. As we walked up a hill towards the apartment building, I could hear Mano Negra blaring out the windows. Oh. So it's *that* kind of party. I must confess I pulled a bit of a sulk at this stage and insisted I wanted to go back to the hotel. We went inside the flat. Bob Marley now (eeeeek!) and drunken blokes everywhere so I ask Anna to call us a cab, assuring her I'm just really tired and it's not my kind of party (still feel guilty now!). Swedish taxis are cool - they have navigational systems built in and are sparkling clean. Our lovely taxi driver even opens the door for the bf - now when would you get that in Manchester?

Sunday. Day Four in Stockholm.

Somehow, I manage to pack all my stuff. And somehow, Anna manages to meet us by 11:30 despite a blinding hangover. We've got just enough time for breakfast, so she takes us to Sirap, the only place in Stockholm if you want real diner-style pancakes. Unfortunately it suffers slightly from overpopularity (an American who trods on my toes apologizes in Swedish, which makes me laugh) but we find a table eventually. Heaven. Cinnamon-apple pancakes, cooked on a griddle as they should be to ensure crispy edges.

On the way back to the hotel to get our luggage and head for Arlanda, Anna mentions there's a store on the way that I might like. It's called "American Food Store". Why didn't she mention this sooner??? I run around inside with no dignity, drooling over all the terrible junk food. Eventually I settle for some Jell-O pistachio instant pudding and some Miracle Whip. Once again, Stockholm manages to surprise me.

It's quite sad to say good-bye to Anna at the station - I could have happily stayed another week. Turns out we needn't have rushed either - our plane is delayed and we have nothing to do but wait in the ghost town that is the new wing where Skyways departure lounge is.

When we finally get back to Manchester, it's cloudy, grey and chilly. Home sweet home.

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