One of my favourite books is Douglas Adams’ The Deeper Meaning of Liff, it’s a dictionary of things that there aren’t any words for, but ought to be (you can check out some some extracts from it here).
Quite often we are at a loss for words, failing to find the exact term we are after, sometimes because it doesn’t actually exist, but occasionally it can be summed up in another language and one such example is ‘hygge,’ a common word used in Denmark. But what exactly is hygge? Well, according to the Oxford Dictionary it can be defined thusly:
A quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture).
Sure, the pronunciation, “hoo-ga,” doesn’t really fit my crappy Will Smith reference, but I began writing this at 7:00am due to jet lag and it seemed amusing at the time. Also, hygge isn’t so much a word, but an attitude. Another definition tries to describe it with examples such as eating home-made cinnamon pastries, watching TV under a blanket, tea served in a china set, family get-togethers at Christmas, that sort of thing. Only a place generally ranked as the world’s happiest country would require such a phrase, but it makes perfect sense when you are there and we got to experience it firsthand.
Anna and her friends have always wanted to go to a restaurant called ‘Fäviken,’ located in the middle of nowhere in Sweden. It takes about six months to get a reservation and the winter menu is general considered superior so we ended up eating there at the beginning of February, possibly the coldest time of the year. In fact, we were constantly checking the weather leading up to our trip and at one point it was -22°C (-7.6°F)! Fortunately it didn’t get quite that cold while we were there, but it was still freezing during our little adventure that would take us through the UK, Denmark and Sweden. It was also a trip that would begin only two days after the arrival of Kermit.
Anyone who knows us personally would be aware that we have wanted a dog for quite some time and we purchased one when we were in Australia over Christmas. We had already decided on the name because Kermit the Dog just seemed so stupid that we liked it. What we weren’t anticipating was the fact that we would end up with a dog that would be one-quarter pug, three-quarters French bulldog, rendering her Kermit the Frug. Yes, it’s a female with a male name, but nobody seems to be aware of what gender they are now anyway, so it shouldn’t be too emotionally scarring for her.
We bought Kermit a couple of days after Christmas from a breeder in Munro, Victoria, but she was only two-and-a-half months old at the time. She needed to have her final round of vaccinations at three-months old and couldn’t fly for two weeks after that, meaning she would arrive on our doorstep only two days before we were due to fly out on our trip. Fortunately she is a little bit cute so we had plenty of volunteers to stay at our place and pick up her poop for the week. Our friends Haruka and Elaine took on the task and did a brilliant job while we were away and we owe them both, big time! So, why am I going on about our dog so much? Because she does factor into this story.
We were due to depart from Changi airport for Heathrow at 11:45pm, meaning we should have been at the airport at about 10pm, but there is one minor problem — Anna is always late for everything! Hell, she will probably be tardy for her own funeral. She generally manages time quite well, but if she has 10 minutes to spare she will waste 15. Friday was no different and to say that Anna is a little obsessed with Kermit would be somewhat of an understatement. After spending a substantial amount of time playing with our dog, she severely underestimated how long it would take to get packed and ready, meaning we wouldn’t leave the house until 10pm. We weren’t late for our flight, but we cut it pretty close, a pattern that would continue throughout the entire duration of our holiday.
We arrived in London at about 6am and would be staying with Anna’s cousins, Catherine and Darren, in Clapham. As we were exiting the airport Anna received a little bit of disturbing news from Haruka, shocking her to the point that she dropped her passport on the ground and didn’t even notice (luckily I did). It turns out Haruka had to take our dog to the vet because she had developed cherry eye:
Cherry eye is a disorder of the nictitating membrane (NM), also called the third eyelid, present in the eyes of dogs and cats. Cherry eye is most often seen in young dogs under the age of two. Common misnomers include adenitis, hyperplasia, adenoma of the gland of the third eyelid; however, cherry eye is not caused by hyperplasia, neoplasia, or primary inflammation. In many species, the third eyelid plays an essential role in vision by supplying oxygen and nutrients to the eye via tear production. Normally, the gland can evert without detachment. Cherry eye results from a defect in the retinaculum which is responsible for anchoring the gland to the periorbita. This defect causes the gland to prolapse and protrude from the eye as a red fleshy mass. Problems arise as sensitive tissue dries out and is subjected to external trauma. Exposure of the tissue often results in secondary inflammation, swelling, or infection. If left untreated, this condition can lead to Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) and other complications.
It isn’t a huge deal, she needs to have cream applied to it daily, Anna has been able to massage it back into place when she’s relaxed, but it will require a very minor surgical procedure in a couple of months, however, it is nothing to worry about.
By the time we went through immigration and arrived at Catherine and Darren’s place it was around 7:30am, but fortunately they are morning-people and were already up when we arrived. When I’ve just got off a 13-hour flight, one of the first things I want to do is take a shower. We really appreciate their hospitality, but their shower (right) wasn’t particularly made with someone my size in mind. It is quite old and consists of a hand-held shower head that caused a couple of problems for me: I had to be careful when washing my chest and shoulders because the hose would catch under the cold-water tap, providing me with an icy-cold blast to the upper-torso, possibly the last thing you want in gloomy old wintertime London. If I tried to wash higher than that, the hose would kink, stopping the water altogether. Fortunately I was able to crouch and get clean then had some roast duck that Darren heated up for breakfast before he went to work.
Once Anna had calmed down about Kermit, her, Catherine, and myself went out for a stroll. Clapham is within walking distance of Brixton and there is some great stuff in that area. Also, it was surprisingly sunny when we left the house, but in traditional British fashion that wouldn’t last long. Brixton was the birthplace of David Bowie and one of the first sights we encountered was the Bowie shrine, still resplendent with flowers, balloons and messages more than a year after his death.
We then went to an area that is constructed entirely from shipping containers that houses some cool shops and cafes, a place where we would grab some crêpes for lunch, before continuing our walk around the area.
Anna had arranged to meet up with her friend, Deena, for tea while we were in town and Darren was back from work so him and I headed to the pub for the afternoon.
A few pictures from the day:
After Anna returned home the four of us went out for dinner and then to a pub for a few drinks where we eventually met up with another two of Anna’s cousins, Will and Sarah, but we couldn’t have a big night. We had a flight to catch the following day.
We got up and packed while Darren fried up an awesome breakfast of eggs, sausages, and black pudding, but soon enough we had to jump in a taxi and head back to Heathrow airport for our flight to Copenhagen, Denmark. This would probably be the last time we would arrive on time for a flight on this entire trip and we still had a few to catch.
When we arrived at the airport in Copenhagen the first thing that struck us was how happy and friendly everyone was. As we were walking to the immigration counter we passed an airport employee who had tattoos going up his throat, but gave us a friendly smile and a tip of his hat as soon as he saw us. While we were getting our passports checked the woman at the counter started chatting and laughing with us, asking if we had brought plenty of warm clothes, a stark contrast to the usual immigration officers who generally seem to be the school bully who failed the police examination and now has a chip on their shoulder.
We caught a taxi and checked into the massive Hotel Absalon, but we didn’t want to waste too much time. I love Scandinavian food, all the fish, cheese, and pickles, and we were staying in the Meatpacking District, an area that was once markets and slaughter yards, but is now restaurants, bars, cafes and galleries. We found a restaurant called Nose to Tail that looked incredible, but unfortunately it was closed. Maybe that was a good thing in hindsight because it meant we ended up at a restaurant called Fleisch. You know it’s a decent place when your sole plan for a holiday is to go to a restaurant, but the first one you end up at beforehand is this good. I hate it when people take photos of everything they eat, but even I had to make an exception on this occasion:
It was so good, they didn’t even ask how you wanted the steak cooked, it just came rare and it was like cutting through butter. Another thing I found impressive was that pretty much everyone here is at least bilingual. Sure, most people in Singapore are too, but Danish people have an almost perfect command of English, to the point where a waitress at Fleisch described Anna’s wine as tasting “a little bombastic,” making her one of the only other people I’ve heard use that term in a sentence besides Shaggy and even he mispronounced it or at least used it as a play on words.
Anyway, it was getting late and we were kind of tired from our flights over the past few days and had overeaten a little so we went back to the hotel and caught an early night.
We had two full days in Copenhagen so we spent most of that time just strolling around the city. It’s such a cool place with heaps of vintage stores and fantastic restaurants and cafes. The first place we wanted to check out was the Meatpacking District, take a look at the markets and butcher stores, but first we’d need to make the most of the free hotel breakfast buffet (left), something I may have overdone a little as that wasn’t the only plate I had. Time to burn some calories!
We headed out to where all the butchers and markets were, but with the exception of the eateries, it didn’t really seem like it was so much for the public. We did, however, have an interesting interaction with a butcher when I was looking in the window of his shop. He asked us into the store and asked where we were from. When Anna replied that we were from Singapore he then very politely enquired if she was Chinese, to which she answered yes. The butcher then gave her a huge smile and wished her a happy New Year. There are a many Thais and Japanese in Denmark, but not a lot of Chinese people, yet he was completely aware that Chinese New Year had begun that weekend.
After looking around the Meatpacking District we headed into a part of the city near the university, an area with tons of really good secondhand stores and we definitely took advantage of them. Anna picked up a few vintage dresses, coming to the conclusion that Scandinavian clothing is the prefect fit for her. I’m not used to finding clothes the right size either, so I made the most of it and purchased a horrendously ugly, yet strangely awesome jacket. We continued around different areas, just looking at more shops, cheekily having snacks along the way, but a lot of the shops close quite early in winter and some don’t open at all on Mondays so we pulled up a seat in a pub for a bit before walking back, grabbing some dinner and spending the night in a shisha bar just chewing the fat. A little bit of Copenhagen for you:
It was our last full day in Copenhagen so we had to make it count and the first step toward achieving that would be cutting down on the breakfast, regardless of how good it was. Just some marinated herring, cheese, pickles and a couple of mini-sausages.
The day started out in much the same way as the previous one, venturing into another part of town to have a look around and do a bit of shopping. We spent several hours walking around when it occurred to us that we were right near the Carlsberg brewery. Most brewery tours are reasonably similar, perhaps with the exception of the Guinness one, so we decided to skip the tour and just see if Carlsberg in its home in Denmark tastes better than the stuff you get in Singapore, as well as try some of the other beers they have that you can’t get overseas. It turns out that it does taste a lot better from the brewery, but I was a little disappointed they didn’t have Special Brew on tap. For those of you that have never had it, Carlsberg Special Brew is a really bad strong lager that’s generally sold cheaply, is 9% alcohol and was once described in Viz as “central heating for tramps.” We had a few drinks, but soon a very loud Chinese group finished their tour and the bar filled with yelling adults and screaming children. Time to make a move, but this is a beautiful city:
We went back to our room to shower and grab some warmer clothes and then we were out again, this time for some drinks and dinner. First, we went to a wine bar that Anna wanted to try and then a place that we had both wanted to have a look at, a brewpub called Warpigs, which tells their story on their website:
American brewery 3floyds and Danish brewery Mikkeller have built Warpigs from scratch to host top authentic Texas barbecue, American-Danish style brews and a completely new style of a beer-loving membership club called warpigs troopers. 20 beers on tap; 6 house beers and 14 that will keep on surprising. We also have 1 draft cocktail and a bottle, spirits and wine list that will keep everyone happy during their visit. Our bbq is traditional Texan style. Slow-low smoked and dry rub spiced. We do sell out of meat most nights so don´t come too late if you want to make sure to taste our tender cuts.
There were a few reasons why I wanted to check out Warpigs, the first being that it had a ton of good looking beers on tap and also the fact that it seems to be inside an old butcher shop, complete with white tiles and stainless-steel fittings.
Another is that anyone that has even halfway-decent taste in music would know that Black Sabbath are awesome and there was the distinct possibility the place was named after one of their songs, War Pigs, a track also covered by Faith no More, and it turned out my instincts were correct. One of the first signs was the fact that Warpigs’ private dining room was called the “Generals Room” (right). The first verse of the song is a dead giveaway:
Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses
Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerers of death’s construction
In the fields the bodies burning
As the war machine keeps turning
Death and hatred to mankind
Poisoning their brainwashed minds
Oh lord yeah!
The General’s Room was pretty cool-looking, resplendent with its pig-skull chandelier and a framed copy Black Sabbath’s War Pigs seven-inch single. We stuck around for a couple of drinks, I bought a t-shirt from the pub as well, and then we were off to our next destination, dinner at 56°.
According to the 2016 Michelin Guide, 56° is a “Sweet, rustic restaurant, unusually set within the 1.5metre [5′]-thick walls of a 17th-century gunpowder store. Flavoursome Danish cooking mixes modern and traditional elements and keeps Nordic produce to the fore.” Yes, this restaurant is housed in the ammunitions store at the Charlotte Amalie’s Bastion, built in 1744 which actually renders it an 18th-century building, but what’s a hundred years here and there? Also, the restaurant got its name from the fact 56° is the temperature at which their meat is vacuum-cooked, apparently this method “ensures that the meat is still succulent and restores all its flavours, yet is cooked to a degree that it is considered suitable for consumption.” Sounds good to me.
This restaurant was a little out of the way, so we’d need to take a taxi and travel out of town a bit. The original plan was to walk, but in hindsight that wasn’t really an option. Yet again, we ate well:
Anna got the wine pairing, but went a little too hard too fast so we didn’t end up having a late night, but again it was probably a good thing, we had to catch another two flights the next day.
The plan for today was to fly from Copenhagen to Stockholm, Sweden, then catch a connecting domestic flight to Åre Östersund Airport, meet up with Anna’s friends, Pat and Roshini, and finally take an almost 100km (60 miles) taxi ride to the Copperfield Lodge in Åre, where we would all be spending the night.
We took our two-hour flight to Stockholm and when we arrived we checked into the lounge and grabbed a bite to eat. Roshini and Pat had been in Reykjavík, Iceland, and we were to catch the same flight as them from Stockholm, a flight that Anna and myself very nearly didn’t make. You see, Anna is somewhat of a workaholic and she decided to pull out her computer and work on her presentation she was to give in Brisbane the following week. While I stuffed my face, Anna toiled away until the last possible moment and then we went to walk to our gate and board the plane. One small problem: Our flight was departing from another terminal, one that was at least a 15-minute walk away. We hauled ass as fast as we could to the other terminal to the constant tune of our names over the PA, found the gate and when we reached it we were told that normally they wouldn’t let people on the plane this late but would make an exception in our case. The two of us sheepishly made our way down the aisle of the aircraft to our seats, feeling the white-hot glare of every other passenger, looks that could only be slightly softened by Pat and Rosh’s sympathetic glances. Later, they would tell us that they had to actually stop the flight attendant from arming the doors on the flight and ask them to wait a little longer for us.
Once we arrived at the airport we began to realise what we were getting ourselves into. We knew that the days were going to be short and cold, but you don’t truly understand what it’s like until you’re there. It was -11°C (12°F) when we touched down at about four o’clock in the afternoon and they were only getting about five or six hours of daylight each day. I’ve been pretty damn cold before, but you tend to forget exactly how uncomfortable it is until you’re back in it.
We all piled into the cab for our 90-minute ride to Åre and checked into the enormous Copperfield Lodge. It was a beautiful hotel as you will soon see, but they were hosting a Volvo conference so there were two Volvos with headlights on in the lobby and they have got to be among the ugliest cars in existence. How can we now be in the 21st century, yet those things still look like hearses as they have for at least the past 40-plus years?
Anyway, once we were checked in the girls went to the spa where Anna had a Swedish massage and I went to the bar. I got chatting to the bar guy and, when he discovered I was Australian, went on to tell me that Hilltop Hoods, a hip-hop group from Adelaide, are one of his favourite bands. I mentioned that Sweden’s Refused was one of mine and we got chatting about music and he asked me in a frightened kind of way, “does the paint really peel in summer?” His question was in reference to the Hilltop Hoods song 1955, which opens with the lyrics, “Time moves a little slower here, the paint peels cause the summers here are so severe.” I mentioned that it does on wooden houses over time, something he couldn’t comprehend, but he also had trouble believing that I hadn’t really seen snow properly until last year, telling me that the hottest day he could remember was about 20°C (68°F).
The girls eventually returned, we grabbed some dinner and had a relatively early night because tomorrow was the main event.
Since we had arrived in Europe I had been having trouble sleeping in and Thursday was no exception. I very rarely see the sunrise, although that isn’t too difficult when you are jet-lagged and dawn is around 8am, so I took the opportunity to snap a few pics around our hotel. Here are some of them:
We were to make our way to Fäviken today, but Anna had something else planned for all of us first — We were going to go dog-sledding. That’s right, we were going on a two-hour dog-sleigh ride. Before any social justice warriors decide to comment and point out that dog-sledding is “cruel” or “inhumane treatment of animals,” just remember that dog power has been used for hunting and travel for over a thousand years and that these dogs have contributed to human culture as far back as the 10th century. Furthermore, the dogs are treated extremely well, the people who took us on our trek truly love these animals and take incredible care of them.
Now that I think I’ve sufficiently covered my ass, back to the story: Our dog-sled treks were to take us through the woods around Åre, a round-trip that would take about two hours including a 20-minute coffee and toilet stop in the middle. Each sled was pulled by 10 dogs, the sleighs being a simple wooden structure with a reindeer-pelt seat and two people seated on each sled with a driver standing behind them, Anna and myself on one, Pat and Roshini on the other. The going was a little bit rough at the beginning and quite fast and slightly intimidating at others, but the bulk of it was at a comfortable pace, allowing you to admire the stunning scenery. Take some of it in for yourself:
Unfortunately the video stops quite abruptly as we hit a ditch which made my phone switch off. Even if that hadn’t happened the video wouldn’t have been drawn out much more as I could no longer feel my hand. It was so cold I thought I may have switched gender at one point! Also, in the video you will hear Anna and myself making jokes about toothpaste, because it sounded like the driver was calling one of the dogs “Sensodyne.” In reality it turned out he was, all of the dogs were named after dental products with Listerine, Pepsodent and Colgate among the other canines. Seriously!
We went for about 40 minutes, our driver humorously referring to the dog shit as “exhaust,” before we stopped off at a hut, stood around a fire, drank coffee, made use of the archaic toilet hut and picked the short strands of reindeer fur of our clothes, but soon it was time to head back, however, it was a fun, albeit freezing, trek. In fact, it was so cold that Pat’s hair froze and the ice beneath the flames in our fire pit took forever to thaw! Also, our driver said the ice on the lake was at least 50cm (20″) thick:
When our dog-sled ride had finished we ventured into the town of Åre to have some lunch and a warm drink, but despite how beautiful it was, it was just too cold to be even remotely pleasant or enjoyable for me. In the afternoon while everyone else was having coffee or cocoa, I just curled up and fell asleep on a sofa in a cafe. Maybe it was jet-lag, maybe it was just the weather, but the hygge-ness had well and truly worn off and all I wanted to do was sleep. I continued to nap in the taxi, but soon we were at the location for the main event…
This was the sole purpose for our trek half-way around the globe, we wanted to eat at Fäviken. So, what is this place? Well, as they put it on their own website:
We do things as they have always been done at Jämtland mountain farms; we follow seasonal variations and our existing traditions. We live alongside the community.
During the summer and autumn, we harvest what grows on our land as it reaches the peak of ripeness, and prepare it using methods we have rediscovered from rich traditions, or that we have created through our own research to maintain the highest quality of the end product.
We build up our stores ahead of the dark winter months. We dry, salt, jelly, pickle and bottle. The hunting season starts after the harvest and is an important time, when we take advantage of the exceptional bounty with which the mountains provide us. By the time spring and summer return to Jämtland, the cupboard is bare and the cycle begins again.
It sounds like they are being a bit modest for a place that is ranked #41 in the list of the Top 50 Restaurants in the World. As their listing describes it:
Chief reason to visit: A meal at Fäviken is about the whole experience – this is not a “let’s swing by” type of establishment; it takes some serious planning. After the flight from Stockholm to Järpen, followed by a drive, diners will find the remote old barn converted into a restaurant with cosy accommodation, sauna and teepee.
Typical dishes: Think traditional Scandinavian food, creatively transformed. Moose, herring, scallops cooked over juniper branches, and for breakfast, a hearty porridge of grains and seeds.
Foraging and fermenting: When local ingredients reach their peak ripeness in summer and autumn time, the team harvests them to be used fresh as well as dried, salted, jellied, pickled and bottled.
This place has two Michelin stars and we were prepared for the meal of a lifetime. The restaurant only seats 16 people and we would also be taking up four of the 12 beds available in their six twin-rooms, meaning we could have breakfast as well. We had a drink near the sauna, then Anna and the girls went for a walk while I tried to take a nap in our extremely basic and rustic room. I wanted to be wide awake for Dinner.
We were greeted individually by chef Magnus Nilsson and initially seated downstairs for drinks and appetisers before being led upstairs to sit at our table in a barn-like setting with meat and fish hanging from the rafters, drying. Each course came out one by one with a chef describing it to us and how best to eat it if necessary. We had no idea what we getting each course, but were presented with a copy of the menu upon completion, almost like a certificate of achievement. For the sake of making this easier, I’ll show you the menu first (excuse the reflections, I covered it with a sheet of glass to flatten it out):
I could go on about each dish, but they were all phenomenal and it’s just easier to let some photos do the talking. The room wasn’t conducive to taking decent pictures with a phone so they don’t even begin to do the food justice, but they should be enough to give you the general gist. This is the order they were served, you should be able to match most of them to the menu, although not all are listed:
We well and truly hit the food-wall after all of that, but it was definitely worth the time, effort and money required to eat like a king for a day, especially when you factor in the other adventures we had on this trip.
The next day we had our breakfast at Fäviken, but before long our trip was at an end. It was time to catch a taxi and three flights to return home and get back to reality. The flights weren’t particularly smooth sailing — We were delayed for an hour in Stockholm while the plane and runway were de-iced and we left it to the last minute again to board our flight from London to Singapore. Once aboard I couldn’t fit in my seat, but it was a packed flight so I would just have to try and sit side-saddle with my legs in the aisle for our 13-hour flight, a position that allowed me little sleep due to people tripping over my feet every time they went to the bathroom and left me with quite bad back pain for the following couple of days, but it was all worth it for the week that we had.
One awesome last image to finish up with; Anna wearing Magnus Nilsson’s wolf-skin foraging coat: