Smultronställe—a hidden secret place

A wonderful new word I discovered on this trip to Sweden: smultronställe. The literal meaning is “wild strawberry patch”, but the word is used to mean a special place that is close to your heart, that isn’t so easy for others to find, where you feel at ease and at one with the world.

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Flower meadow at Ribersborg strand, Malmö

Your personal smultronställe may be a quirky café, a woodland glade or a place with a fine view, far from the madding crowd. (Examples taken from the Wikipedia article.)

Ingmar Bergman made a critically acclaimed film called smultronstället (Wild Strawberries), in which the elderly protagonist dreams of fondly remembered scenes of his youth.

Lots of berries and fruit end in -on in Swedish: hallon, smultron, plommon, nypon, hjortron, lingon, päron, and on and on…

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Strawberry and wild strawberry yogurt

Our home in Sweden for these two weeks is in Plommongatan (Plum Street) and all the neighbouring streets are named on a similarly fruity theme: Rose-hip Street, Bearberry Street, Raspberry Street, etc.

So what about you, do you have a smultronställe where you can escape the demands of the world?

Bloom in the Park

For our anniversary dinner, we went to Bloom in the Park, one of Malmö’s three Michelin-starred restaurants.

The setting is lovely—a deceptively rustic looking building in the shadow of the water tower in Pildamms park, a short distance (but a world away) from the bustle of Malmö’s shopping streets.

Bloom’s unique “concept” is that they don’t have any menus; nor at any point do they tell you what you are eating. They just bring you the food and allow you to experience it fully through your own senses, without any preconceptions. Of course it’s fun to try to identify the flavours and ingredients.

As with the food, you don’t choose your own wine. If you opt for the wine menu, they serve you wines chosen to match each course (and top up your glass generously as required), but they don’t tell you what you are drinking. Oddly, the wine menu is more expensive than the food menu.

On arrival, we were invited to go out to the terrace and relax in the evening sunshine with a complimentary glass of champagne. If you don’t drink alcohol, they’ll offer you a glass of lemon tea instead.

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On the terrace of Bloom in the Park

The dishes are highly inventive, with an emphasis on presentation verging at times on theatrical flair. For example, the bread was black and served on a bed of charcoal; the delicious post-dessert treats were served on a slate on a big heap of moss.

Most dramatically, at one point we were presented with test tubes full of green liquid, cooled with dry ice that overflowed all over the table.

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These little “hamburgers” are made with a disc of blood sausage and onion jam.

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We nominally had a 5-course meal, but between amuse-bouches, hors d’oeuvres and other in-betweeny courses, we lost count of the number of dishes we actually got. Each one was a visual delight.

 

 

Service was extremely efficient and attentive, and after the first few courses we felt that everything was happening so fast that we wondered if it would all be over within half an hour. But that wasn’t the case; in fact after the main course we were invited to have a break and take our drinks out to the terrace to stretch our legs.

After the meal, you are given a card with a web address and a password, so that when you go home, you can if you wish satisfy your curiosity and finding out what food you experienced.

Total cost for two, excluding service charge, was 2,475 SEK; each 5-course meal was 695 and the wine menu is 795.

 

Brottets bana—a life of crime

In the southern part of Malmö is the quiet suburb of Limhamn, where we lived for a few months 15 years ago. In times past, Limhamn’s prosperity was underpinned by trade in two abundant commodities: herrings and limestone. Even the name of the town, lim hamn, means “lime harbour”.

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Limestone was used in cement manufacture

The quarry from which the limestone was extracted is called the kalkbrott (chalk quarry) and is the biggest hole in the ground in northern Europe, extending over a square kilometre to a depth of 65 metres. I took some of these photos in January of this year and some in July. No prizes for guessing which is which!

As most of the excavation is well below sea level, the floor of the kalkbrott may well be the lowest-lying land in Sweden. Since its abandonment, it has been left to nature and the various levels have been recolonised by vegetation.

The limestone mined here was transported by a private narrow-gauge railway to a cement factory on the coast. Initially, the trains were drawn by horses, later with steam. In the 1960s, 2 km of the route was replaced with conveyor belts in an underground tunnel. Mining at the quarry ended in the 1990s, but the disused rail tracks still remained when we lived here in 2001. The tracks, fencing and signalling were removed in 2008 and the wayleave reverted to the city in 2009.

Compare these two photos taken 15 years apart:

Both photos show the Methodist church on the corner of Kalkbrottsgatan and Linnégatan in the centre of Limhamn. The one on the left, taken in the autumn of 2001, shows the railroad crossing signal and boom, and the tracks running along the street. In the photo on the right, taken this weekend, the rail line has been converted to a cycle track.

There used to be warning signs on the line saying “Gå ej i brottets bana“, which is a very clever double meaning. It straightforwardly means “don’t walk on the quarry railway”; but it also means “don’t embark on a life of crime”.

It’s a little ironic therefore that both the quarry and the cement factory have featured as scenes of crime in Nordic TV dramas. The very moving Wallander film Hemligheten (Secrets) opens with the discovery of a murdered boy in the kalkbrott. And the cement factory served as a suitably grim industrial setting for at least one typically tense episode of The Bridge.

Living Swedish style

Our home for these two weeks is in a lovely leafy suburb about 5 km from the centre of Malmö. It is a quietly affluent area with huge parks and an astonishing number of wild rabbits. Our house adjoins a cycle and pedestrian path, part of a network that is largely separate from the roads, so that you can walk or cycle around safely without having to deal with vehicle traffic.

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View from our bedroom towards the city centre

We rented the house through Airbnb. On Tuesday morning we briefly met the owners; they were just about to set off on a two-day drive of their own, for a holiday in Croatia. They are completely laid back about having us living in their home; the only “rule” they posted on their Airbnb listing was “treat our house as if it were your own”. They also left us a bottle of wine with a note inviting us to help ourselves to the tomatoes and cucumbers growing in their glasshouse.

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We’re also free to use their bicycles, including this handy (and somewhat unwieldy) cargo bike for doing grocery shopping.

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Two things we noticed very quickly: there are no curtains and no clothes storage in any of the bedrooms.

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The lack of curtains is typically Swedish; we had noticed years ago that as you walk around a Swedish neighbourhood in the evening you can see all the people in their houses and apartments going about their evening routines. The explanation I have heard is that Swedes don’t approve of having something to hide; if you are not engaging in nefarious activities, why would you need curtains?

What we hadn’t realised is that in summer, the lack of curtains means you are woken every morning at 5 a.m. by the full force of the sun shining directly in your face like a 100 MW laser beam. Which is good in a way, because it means you get up early and make the most of the day.

The lack of any wardrobes, closets, hanging space or drawers for your clothes is a bit more problematic. It makes for a really uncluttered look—the only things in your living space are things of beauty such as photographs and artworks that you have specifically chosen. But it’s quite inconvenient. For these two weeks, we’ve got around it by just living out of our suitcases; we’ve left our suitcases open on the floor of one of the children’s bedrooms.

The dogs are very happy to have a big garden to run around in. They were predictably excited at first by all the rabbits, but there are so many that they may actually be starting to get bored with them.

 

Driving to Sweden—day 2: Monday

Another early start on Monday morning as our ship arrived in Rotterdam at 8:30 a.m. (which was 7:30 Irish time). As we entered the port, we stood out on deck to watch the scenery glide past. I was able to point out the new coal-fired station at Maasvlakte.

There was some delay getting access to the locked kennels, so we were left standing around impatiently with all the other dog owners, waiting to be reunited with our pets. But by 9:00 we had driven off the ship and entered the Netherlands, with no passport or customs checks of any kind.

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“This could be Rotterdam, or anywhere…”

The next leg of the journey was a 600 km drive across the Netherlands and Germany to the port of Travemünde, near Lübeck, in the north of Germany. The Netherlands is Shiro’s 10th country, and Miffy’s 6th. The weather was hot and sunny.

Thanks to the excellent motorway system in the Netherlands, and the surprisingly light traffic (for a Monday morning), we were able to drive across the whole country in about 2 and a half hours. We stopped to buy sandwiches for a picnic lunch at a service station near Hengelo, before crossing into Germany at around 11:30.

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Picnic lunch at a service area near Osnabrück, Germany

Despite getting stuck in some long traffic jams on the A1 (and seeing the aftermath of 3 traffic accidents), we made very good time and arrived in Lübeck at around 6 in the evening.

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Only 200 km left to go. Better watch out for that right turn coming up after 138 km!

We didn’t know much about Lübeck, but had been told that it’s a very beautiful and historically-interesting city. And so it proved.

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The Holsten Gate, Lübeck

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Gabled trading houses along the canal

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Monument to the composer Brahms

We didn’t have much time for sightseeing in Lübeck before it was time to go to the port and board the Finnlines ferry to Malmö. This overnight ferry, with its spacious and pet-friendly cabins, was by far the most comfortable part of the journey, both for us and the dogs.

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Comfortable accommodation on the Finntrader

Early the next morning, the ship passed under the Öresund bridge and, 2 days after leaving Dublin, we arrived in Malmö, our final destination.

 

 

Driving to Sweden—day 1: Sunday

We arrived in Malmö at 7 a.m. on Tuesday after 2 days, 3 ferries and 1,000 km of driving.

We had an early start on Sunday, so we had packed everything into the car on Saturday night, ready to go. On the way to Dublin Port we stopped off at Sandymount to give the dogs a short walk.

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Irish Ferries only requires you to be there 30 minutes before the sailing time, but we were there at 7:30 for an 8:45 sailing.

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Driving onto the ferry to Holyhead. The holiday starts here! The dogs stay in the car during the crossing, which only takes 2 hours.

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Approaching the Welsh coast.

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The drive across Wales and England from Holyhead to Hull was leisurely: we had about 10 hours to cover 360 km. We stopped for lunch in the Welsh castle town of Conwy, which is an amazing place (and a UNESCO world heritage site).

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As we drove over the Pennines on the M62, there was a sign saying “M62 summit – highest motorway in England (372 m – 1,221 feet)”. I am always amazed by how rural and green the north of England is.

A stop (and a cache) at a motorway service station in Yorkshire. That’s Ferrybridge power station in the background.

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Arriving in Hull, the stats for the journey so far showed 382 km at 23.4 km/l (65.5 miles per UK gallon).

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For the P&O ferry crossing from Hull to Rotterdam, you have to arrive, and board, at least 90 minutes before departure. In fact, if you wish you can board as early as 4 p.m. for the 8:30 sailing, check into your cabin and enjoy the facilities on board.

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The dogs spend the journey in cages in a locked room on the car deck. Owners are allowed to visit by appointment, before 10 p.m. There is a tiny enclosed area of the car deck allocated for “exercise”, which is a bit of a joke. Unfortunately some of the other dogs were very distressed and making a lot of noise, which in turn distressed all the other dogs. The next morning, when it was time to get the dogs and return to the car, there was a long delay while we waited for security to come and unlock the kennels.

Of all the ferry companies we’ve used, P&O is the least dog-friendly and I wouldn’t recommend it.

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The ship is huge, and the North Sea was uncharacteristically calm, which made for a very comfortable crossing. After a good dinner and a couple of beers while enjoying the song-and-dance show in the bar, it was time to go back to the cabin and get a few hours sleep.

Netsuke

I discovered netsuke on a visit to the British Museum many years ago. I was immediately charmed by the beauty, detail and whimsy of this miniature art form. Later, netsuke were introduced to a wider audience by author Edmund de Waal, in his book The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010).

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Skull with lizard

 

This week I once again had the opportunity to spend a few hours in the British Museum, where I sought out the relative tranquillity of the Japan rooms on the 5th floor.

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kirin

The museum has thousands of netsuke in its collection, of which only a small sample is on display at any time, so the ones in these photos are not the same as I had seen on my previous visit.

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Octopus and a jar; Two horses; Rabbit
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A fish and a dove

These human figures are none too flattering, but the artistry and detail are delightful. Check out the movement in the Ainu woman’s dress and sleeves. The Dutchman has a cockerel in his right hand, and some kind of implement that looks like a golf club in his left.

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Chinese trader and Dutch trader
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Ainu mother and child

This image of a monkey trainer is compelling – the man is grotesque with a manic grin; the poor monkey seems less happy.

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Monkey trainer

Look at the bulging veins on this three-clawed demon arm:

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severed arm of oni from Rashomon legend
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Bat in a shell

This piece consists of a beautifully formed aubergine (eggplant) which splits into two halves. One half contains a carving of Mt Fuji, the other a hawk perched atop a yardarm or banner.

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Hawk inside an aubergine
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Lion-dog with a ball