Better Places – A Rail Journey to the Nordic Capitals
It must have been one balmy afternoon on the terrace at the Victoria Falls hotel that I discovered and immediately fell for the delights of high tea and especially crumbly-soft scones with clotted cream, strawberry preserve and lemon curd. Ever since that day I go for the Afternoon Tea option when at a place that offers this Empire menu institution. I also make scones myself for weekend breakfasts with the extended family whenever I long for some Britishness in our central European lives. Or rather: British it was. Now, back from a recent trip to Scandinavia, the trio of high tea, scones and lemon curd will very possibly forever remind me of the Nordic capitals rather than a once mighty island out in the Atlantic.
Copenhagen: Blending Local & Global
As we have decided to abstain from domestic and regional flights within Europe for at least a year, we reach Copenhagen with a comfortable train ride from Hamburg. By a feat of engineering this involves a spectacular ferry crossing that takes the entire train across the Baltic Sea from Germany to Denmark. There’s no passport controls on either side but we immediately sense that we are in a different country altogether. Next morning we head for the closest Emmerys, a Copenhagen organic bakery chain, for our fix of fair trade coffee and fresh pastries. After all, they’re called danishes for a reason and it doesn’t surprise us that the Danes do them best. On our stroll through the city we soon realise that organic, fair trade and local ingredients are not a trend here anymore, they’re simply part of everyday life. Refreshingly, though, the hunt for uber-local berries, sprouts and fish doesn’t come across as world-weary respite to subsistence farming but thanks to a host of innovative chefs is fused with ingredients from around and about into ever-new dishes. It is in an outlet of boutique grocery store Irma that we discover ready-made lemon curd, stacked in rows next to blueberry jam and Danish honey. Another case in point is the newly established Copenhagen Street Food in two abandoned warehouses on Paper Island, just across the water from the city centre (and yes, there is of course a boat to take you there). A host of food trucks and pop-up restaurants share the cavernous space adjacent to the Opera House, allowing young restaurateurs and enterprising chefs to constantly design new dishes, develop unique concepts and spark a discussion around food, community and sustainability. We sample summer ale from a micro-brewery on one of the country’s many islands and grab some Tacos to go before we head further East to Stockholm.
Stockholm: Blending Nature & City Life
Aboard a sleek high-speed train beautifully decked out in bright wood and dark fabric we reach the Swedish capital in a little more than five hours, which we spend surfing the web (with the free Wi-Fi connection), admiring the view and sipping (you guessed it) fair trade coffee from the train bistro. The best thing is, the train ride is quite affordable given the otherwise steep prices on almost anything in Scandinavia, making it easy for people to choose this environmentally friendly way of getting from A to B. From the station in the heart of Stockholm, a bus takes us out of the city and drops us half an hour later in what feels like the end of the world. Friends recently moved further away from the urban sprawl and closer to the sea, a decision we so far failed to understand due to daily commuting times involved. However, we soon have to admit that with the given public transport option this very Nordic version of suburbia seems more and more intriguing. We go to bed with moose grazing on the lawn and wake up to the chatter of birds in the trees above. We forage for mushrooms in the forests around, which we turn into a most delicious risotto in the evening. Next day, we simply hop on the bus to town to dedicate some time to Stockholm’s many galleries and museums. We then quickly abandon the original plan and, on account of the warm and sunny weather, rather opt for some window shopping in the chic Östermalm neighbourhood. At Swedish design institution Svenskt Tenn we are tempted to sit down for high tea, but because it is not the time yet, we buy an Afternoon Tea gift voucher for our friends instead. From there, a short walk takes us onto Djurgården, one of the city islands. Once the royal game park, the area is now open to the public with stroller-pushing dads and cyclists dominating the scene. Not inclined to too much physical activity, we head straight for the picturesque Rosendals Trädgård, where a self-service café in an old greenhouse offers small snacks, great cake and bottomless coffee (a common habit in Sweden). We load our provisions on a tray, pick a shaded spot under one of the apple trees in front of the greenhouse and discuss the right mix of city and suburbia.
Oslo: Blending Business & the Commons
Another very comfortable, very scenic and very affordable journey by train takes us through fairy tale forests and past expansive lakes to our last destination a few hundred kilometres further West. Oslo welcomes us with a cloudless sky and crisp evening air. Extremely well-dressed office folks hurry to get home to their seaside abodes or to meet friends at one of the cities many public parks, a proposal we can without hesitation subscribe to. We get a light salad, bottle of cider and scones for dessert from a boutique convenience store on the way to the medieval Akershus Fortress that occupies an impossibly beautiful location on a small peninsula jutting out into the mighty Oslo fjord. From here one can enjoy stunning vistas out to the islands just a stone’s throw away from the city and over to the Renzo Piano designed Astrup Fernley museum, a corporate modern art complex. Unlike sights of such magnitude in most other countries, the well-restored fortress and the picturesque grounds surrounding it don’t charge entrance fees and are open till late, so we sit and marvel at the scenery until way after sunset. Oslo might be one of the most expensive cities in the world, but the fact that the government invests a lot in public spaces and the transport links connecting them means you can have a great time without breaking the bank. Holding the commons in high esteem also extends to the business world. Aforementioned museum does also include an outdoor sculpture park open around the clock as well as a public beach smack-bang in the heart of the city. It fits the picture that Norway’s oil wealth is invested in what is the world’s largest pension fund. Norwegians meanwhile have to continue with their normal jobs as all of us and with the added peace of mind of a cared-for retirement turn to developing innovative products and services.
Words and Pictures: Bernhard Rohkemper