We cover several cities, choose one to explore!
Re-open: The National Museum's new lease of light

It's been a long time since I last visited the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm. The fact that it's been closed for refurbishment for the past five years is one good reason, but my memory of it as a somewhat gloomy old building stuffed with Old Masters wasn't pushing it to the top of my To Do list.

I was tempted back, however, when it re-opened last month as I was curious to see the results of the £100 million refurb but also to visit the huge, specially-commissioned glass chandelier I had seen being made at The Glass Factory in Boda last year in situ.

 

Ten glass designers, including Åsa Jungnelius and Carina Seth Andersson, collaborated on the project and each element was hand-blown at The Glass Factory. Photo credit: Tina Stafren/VisitSweden

Admiring the assembled chandelier before it makes the journey from Småland to Stockholm Photo credit: Tina Stafren/VisitSweden

 

Modern Swedish glass design and craftsmanship at its best: the eye-catching chandelier in its new home in the museum restaurant

The Old Masters are all there, of course, re-displayed against walls painted in surprisingly un-Scandi rich jewel colours. Artworks are also now collected by period rather than genre - so paintings and other decorative arts from, for example, the 17th century are now exhibited together which provides a nice simple cohesive timeline for lowbrow visitors like me.

Oddly, Sweden doesn't actually have a dedicated museum of design (there is a virtual one, though: Swedish Design Museum). But the National Museum has its own impressive collection and the furniture, glassware and other objects specially commissioned for the re-opening serve as a living, interactive lesson in contemporary Swedish design - the cutlery used in the restaurant was designed by Note, hand-blown glass vases by Carina Seth Andersson and chairs by Matti Klenell and Peter Andersson.

The totem-like "Venus in glass" by artist Frida Fjellman, specially commissioned by the Bengt Julin fund for the museum re-opening

Whatever bizarre thought process led to the rooms at the front of the building being used for offices and storage in the "old" museum has thankfully been reversed and the glorious, light-filled space with views over the water and the Royal Palace is now occupied by the restaurant. More than 300 windows have been opened up and the rooves over the two atria have also been replaced by glass-panelled ceilings, filling the sculpture park in the southern atrium with light and triangular-shaped shadows.

Photo credit: Nationalmuseum/Bruno Ehrs

Photo credit: Nationalmuseum/Bruno Ehrs

The new museum has blown away all its cobwebs and brought a new lease of life to two of the museum's (and Stockholm's) most important resources - its design credentials and stunning natural light.

The golden season: apple pressing and mushroom foraging at Haga*

Autumn is like a relaxed lunch party the day after a big night out, when you take your too-tight togs off, breathe out and have a good time, for real. It's grown-up red wine over girly rosé, apple crumble over salad. It's fire and flame colours and back to school and traffic-light trees and mist-veiled mornings and the smell of rotting fruit and it's right up my street.

When we lived in Scotland, a highlight of this time of year was apple pressing at my parents-in-law's house, so this year we invested in our very own apple press, designed and hand-made by our Danish friend Calle Christensen, a creative genius of the Heath Robinson school. Isn't she a beauty?

The specially nifty elements are that it integrates the fruit press and crusher (powered by an ordinary electric drill) in one machine, and uses a small car jack to squeeze up from below rather than press down from above.

I get a ridiculous amount of joy from the smell of the apples (and pears) as they're pressed and the satisfaction of filling the freezer with our own juice (not to mention the drinking that sweet, sweet nectar). Which is just as well as it makes probably no financial or practical sense to press your own (and other people's) apples by hand when you can just take them along to a local musteri. But that's not the way we roll around here.

The same argument could be used against mushroom hunting - why spend hours rootling around in the forest when you can just buy them in the supermarket (where you can be sure they won't kill you)? But this is one of the things I love about Sweden - that most people here are still sufficiently closely connected to nature to get satisfaction from finding their own (free) food and pleasure just from being in the forest. And that many have the knowledge to find and identify edible mushrooms, even if it's just the trusty chanterelle.

Never a basket around when you need one

I'm proud to report that after four years of living here, we busted out of the 95% of people who "only" pick kantareller and can now fairly confidently identify other tasty fungi including Karl Johan (porcini), trattkantareller (funnel chanterelles), svart trumpetsvamp (Horn of Plenty) and blomkålsvamp (cauliflower mushroom), which looks like a bathroom sponge.

Fun fact: dried porcini have more protein than any other commonly eaten vegetable, except soybeans

Karl Johan, king of mushrooms

Trattisar (funnel chanterelles) drying

For the rest of the month I shall be mainly filling up the larder, and my senses, with the bounty and colours of autumn, to see me through the more monochrome months ahead.

 

*Not the palace where the Crown Princess lives, our (more modest) home is also called Haga

Stockholm's second-hand clothes shops: treasure hunting for grown-ups

A few years ago I came to the somewhat disturbing (but ultimately liberating) conclusion that I didn't enjoy clothes shopping any more. Shopping for new clothes I didn't really need in big, soulless highstreet shops with questionable environmental and ethical practices made me feel guilty and sad and all empty inside. At the same time, I love clothes and like to try to look not too obviously like a shagged-out, middle-aged country bumpkin when I leave the farm. So what to do?

Second-hand clothes shopping! Buying from charity, vintage and second-hand clothes shops is a total win/win solution, for the following reasons:

  • Remember that feeling as a child when you used to dig your hand down into a lucky dip and come up with a really great toy? Second-hand clothes shopping is treasure hunting for grown-ups.
  • You can afford much better - even designer - clothes. Thought Balenciaga boots or a Maje knit were out of your price range? Not if you spot them in a charity shop.
  • Vintage and/or designer clothes are generally much better made than new ones, with higher quality materials (just compare the look and feel of old velvet with new) and timeless design so they'll last even longer.
  • If you buy clothes you really don't need at a charity shop, you can justify it by thinking of it as donating money to charity with a free outfit thrown in.
  • The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. You can feel extremely smug and pleased with yourself knowing you haven't contributed to the huge environmental cost of fast fashion.
  • Clothes are pre worn-in for you. According to my mother (who knows about such things), the 12th Duke of Bedford used to get his butler to wear his suits in for him for a year and what's good enough for a crusty old English aristo is good enough for me.

Balenciaga bargains - 250 SEK from Emmaus

The only downside (or possibly upside, depending on how much you enjoy shopping) is that in order to find the real gems you need to scour the shops fairly regularly. Every few months I do a tour of my favourite Stockholm charity, second-hand and vintage shops and it goes a little something like this:

  • First, to Arkivet, handily located close to the Thatsup offices. They hand-select the clothes, bags and shoes they sell on commission so they're all top-notch quality, with lots of chichi Scandi brands like Acne and Rodebjer. You pay probably around 50-70% less than if you'd bought new.

  • Over to Slussen and the Emmaus Stockholm charity shop just off Götgatan. The flowery-roofed flight of stairs of the smaller side store leads you down to a treasure trove of garmentary delights - this is where they sell their edited vintage and designer things. I don't usually have the patience or energy to sift through the clothes in the huge main store but the children's section is fab.

  • Along Hornsgatan, checking out the various charity shops including Myrorna Hornsgatan and Stadsmissionen.
  • Finish at Judits Second Hand. Probably a good thing this is the last stop as it's also the most exclusive/expensive but it always has a beautifully-edited selection. I've found some real gems such as this & Other Stories skirt (which I tried on new in their store about a year previously and then found waiting for me at Judits, pre-loved and half the price - second-hand shopping is full of serendiptious moments like that):

Check out this Thatsup guide for more fab second-hand shops: Where to find Stockholm's best vintage and second-hand shops.

Happy treasure hunting!

 

Night train to the far north

Two dreams I’ve had for the longest time - to take a night train, and to travel as far north as it’s possible to go in Sweden by train - came together and were realised this weekend when I took my two youngest children on a 72 hr trip to Abisko in Lapland.

I grabbed the chance and booked the trip as I thought they had two study days off school and I wanted to get up to fjällen before the snow did. Turns out I got the dates wrong as well as the weather forecast, and so I found myself on Platform 18b of Stockholm’s Central station with two truant children in full ski gear on Wednesday night at 10.45pm, waiting to climb aboard the night train to Boden in Norrbotten, from whence to Abisko.

Tripp, trapp, trull (mamma gets top bunk)

The night train was every bit as thrilling and romantic as I’d imagined. Ok, it's not the Orient Express (although the restaurant car decor could be described as charmingly faded Art Deco chic in a good light) and the catering was pretty basic (the organic Kalf & Hansen-collaboration menu as promised in the SJ magazine was apparently available on some other train, speeding southwards).

But if, like me, you get a thrill from organising your belongings in a tiny space, being rocked to sleep by the noise of the train chugging through the night and, best of all, being sealed in a moving capsule in which no cooking, cleaning, driving or work are necessary or even possible and the only activities are sleeping, eating, reading and admiring the scenery for 18 hours you’ll be in heaven.

"Are we nearly there?" - somewhere in Västerbotten

We woke the next morning somewhere in the middle of Sweden and spent several hours alternating reading, playing Uno and bickering over the iPad with watching the landscape outside the window change from wide, wild rivers and deep forests in glorious peak autumn colours to more barren, wintery landscape once we crossed the Arctic Circle north of Boden.

195km north of the Arctic Circle, 1,393km from home

At Abisko autumn was almost over, with just a few glowing golden leaves left on the birch trees as testament to what must have been a stunning display a couple of weeks earlier. Thankfully the threatened snow hadn't yet made it down from the mountaintops so, feeling slightly overdressed in our snowboots and salopettes, we were able to set straight out from the mountain station hostel and explore.

As well as being the starting off (or finishing) point for the 450km Kungsleden (Kings Trail), there are plenty of well-marked walking paths around the station and into the national park, of varying lengths and difficulties, and the landscape is so epic that even Freya, a notorious heel-dragger, managed to spend full days walking, with frequent Ballerina biscuit refuelling stops.

Finn gazing northwards towards Norway across Lake Torneträsk

Close by, Abisko canyon carved out of Cubist-style schist and dolomite limestone, gushing with the icy, clear green water of the Abiskojokk river. Down to the lakeshore of Torneträsk lake, fringed with snow-covered mountains, and facing the iconic Lapporten valley. And over to the Sami camp reconstruction to see how the area's indigenous people lived nomadically in the 19th century.

Lapporten - gateway to Lapland


Back in our hostel dorm the first evening, vast and palatial but disappointingly static after our train digs, the mountain air and hiking knocked us out immediately. A few hours later, excitable voices outside our window woke me and I peered out to see the mystical green swirls of the Northern Lights. Finn and Freya could not be woken for love or money (or even the promise of a Ballerina) so I pulled on some clothes and went outside to enjoy my own private display of this truly awe-inspiring phenomenon.



I couldn't do the lights justice with my phone camera but this beauty was taken when the aurora made a rare appearance in Sörmland Photo credit: Joe Maclay

For me, the lure of the north is magnetically strong. The cold, exotic beauty and the endless intricacies of snow and ice pull me ever northwards. Happily, Finn shares this passion, so we're busy studying maps for our next adventure. Next stop Riksgränsen and Norway beyond...