Over Christmas and New Year, I spent my days leaping in and out of saunas like a lemon into a G&T in Scandinavia. My first dip was in the Allas Sea Pools on Helsinki’s waterfront.
Dashing from the sauna to the outdoor pools is an exercise in fortitude when there’s a stiff wind coming in off the Baltic Sea, and you’re clad in nothing but wet swimmers. I then worked up to dashing out of the sauna and rolling in the snow, further north in Oulanka National Park. And finally, in Stockholm, cooled off by leaping into a lake at Hellesgarten, on the Stockholm archipelago.
Never have I been so clean. I also learned a few tricks and faux pas – for a start, you can ditch the swimmers inside the sauna, though most people slip on swimmers to go into the pools or snow.
I took the chance to chat with Maia Söderlund, of Allas Sea Pool, for the fine print on sauna etiquette.
I’ve visited Stockholm as a freewheeling adult, and also as a parent toting tots in midwinter (“Why?” I hear you ask. Trust me, I was asking myself the same question one deep, cold November. But family and the Northern Lights were calling. Both were in good form.)
Anyway, should you find yourself in a similar position of travelling in Stockholm with the brood in tow, there are plenty of fun free and pricey options, many gathered on the city island of Djurgården, including Junibacken, which celebrates Nordic writers of children’s fiction including the beloved Pippi Longstocking, Groner Lund fun park and the absolutely unmissable Skansen.
I took the 3-year-old to Skansen on the last visit, and while she slept blissfully in the hired pram, I spotted rare Arctic animals, chatted about Sami culture with Swedish guides and watched old-school weaving. When she awoke, she rode fat ponies and mainlined traditional Christmas pastries. Win-win all round.
You can read my top six Stockholm adventures for kids’ here.
|Stockholm fun fair Groner Lund.|
I’ve visited Stockholm as a freewheeling adult, and also as a parent
toting tots in midwinter (“Why?” I hear you ask. Trust me, I was asking
myself the same question one deep, cold November. But family and the
Northern Lights were calling. Both were in good form.)
should you find yourself in a similar position of travelling in
Stockholm with the brood in tow, there are plenty of fun free and pricey
options, many gathered on the city island of Djurgården, including
Junibacken, which celebrates Nordic writers of children’s fiction
including the beloved Pippi Longstocking, Groner Lund fun park and the
absolutely unmissable Skansen.
I took the 3-year-old to Skansen on
the last visit, and while she slept blissfully in the hired pram, I
spotted rare Arctic animals, chatted about Sami culture with Swedish
guides and watched old-school weaving. When she awoke, she rode fat
ponies and mainlined traditional Christmas pastries. Win-win all round.
You can read my top six Stockholm adventures for kids’ here.
simple for even the most linguistically challenged: say hello, hej hej
(literally, hey hey!), and goodbye hej do! Easy.
offer a dagens rätt, an affordable, set-price daily special featuring such
Swedish classics as salmon with dill potatoes and cream sauce. Lunch starts
from 11am – leave it till 1.00pm and you’ll go hungry (see punctuality, below).
A minute past the allotted meeting time and you’re late. Anticipate
institution: it’s a chat, but always with a sandwich or pastry (such as the
omnipresent kanelbullar, or cinnamon bun).
their shoes at the door in their homes.
nation is the 25th of the month, which means it’s party time! The weekend
before, expect tumbleweeds blowin’ through the bars.
|The Aurora throws out a curtain.|
EDIT: I am very pleased to note that this feature, originally
published in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, has won the Australian Society of Travel
Writers’ 2014 award for Best Cruise feature.
Dodging trolls and and black ice, Belinda Jackson rugs up to hunt the Northern Lights.
Boarding the MS Midnatsol, the first thing we see is a tall
Norwegian woman welcoming us on to the ship. The second spectacle is of a
tall English woman being stretchered off the ship.
“She slipped and fell on the ice,” reports one of the crew.
Instinctively, I want to crawl. Happily, the lady reappears several days
later, smiling but in a wheelchair. Norwegian winter cruising, it
appears, has a touch of the blood sport about it. Forget bikinis and sun
loungers: there’s a layer of difficulty travelling in the far northern
Actually, there are many layers. Going outside for anything more than
a quick photo on the promenade deck becomes an epic exercise in
wrestling with thermal underwear. And two pairs of socks. Fleece.
Waterproof jacket. And the boots with ice grips (hmmmm – the casualty).
Crown it all with a tight beanie that will resist the wind’s
insistent fingers. Some people even pull on a balaclava, but that’s all
just a little too Douglas Mawson for me, though I am sporting a dangling
pompom that holds a 90-degree angle to my head in prevailing winds.
We do it because we’re hunting the light: the Northern
Lights. Yes, there’s reindeer sledding, midnight concerts and hot
tubbing on the top deck while it snows. But right now, our sun is in the
midst of exceptional solar activity, and boffins say that this winter
and next are the best in a decade to see the elusive Aurora Borealis.
Norway is one of the world’s top viewing locations and
doesn’t require frostbitten fingers, drinking sterilised wee or eating
your own dogs to get there.
|Light-hearted: the Aurora from the deck of the Midnatsol.
Photo: Bob Stephan
In fact, it’s all rather civilised on the Midnatsol, one of
12 Hurtigruten ships that undertake an 11-day round trip that traverses
the length of the Norwegian coastline. A ship sails every day.
The coastal express mail and goods run started in 1893, with
passengers hopping on and off between farming villages and port towns.
Norwegians still use the Hurtigruten as public transport, but they are
now outnumbered dramatically by tourists keen to cruise the fiords and
wild coastline as the ship pushes up into the Arctic Circle. There’s a
healthy showing of Aussies among them, forsaking a southern summer for
temperatures so low, the locals don’t even bother to say “minus”.
You can pick the Norwegians: they’re the ones glued to the
live chess tournaments on the television in the main lounge, silently
sculling black coffee from tall thermo-mugs. The rest of us have our
noses stuck to the ship’s panoramic windows, waving at fishing trawlers
and making such blindingly obvious statements as “Gosh, it’s cold!”.
Doing nothing to dispel opinions of Norwegians as a teensy
bit boring, Norway’s national TV station NRK’s home-grown programs
includes 12-hour documentaries on stacking firewood, knitting and a
minute-by-minute program of the Hurtigruten journeying down the
Norwegian coastline, from Bergen to Kirkenes. It was a 134-hour,
non-stop broadcast, and it rated!
“Did you see the program?” the urbane concierge at Oslo’s
beautiful Grand Hotel asked me several days before boarding. “It was
great!” His patriotism makes me almost forgive Norway for being so
expensive that it makes my muscular Aussie dollars wimper and
Back on the ship, it’s time to throw out all my cruising
expectations: there are no little towel animals at the end of the bed
each night, the theatre hosts astronomy lectures instead of chorus
girls, and all the staff are locals.
It’s a dramatic change from the United Nations of staff that
you meet on most cruise ships, and it’s lovely to have locals’
experience and advice (“It’s Sunday night. This town is dead. Don’t
bother getting off.”)
But hey, it does a mean buffet. Scandinavians invented the
smorgasbord. The Norwegianised breakfast buffet features caramelised
cheese, mustard herrings and salmon done three ways (roasted, smoked,
cured) every morning. There’s reindeer pate and cloudberries at
lunchtime and a local salmon served, classically, with dill steamed
potatoes at dinner. And yes, there is a gift shop, full of hideously
misshapen trolls and heart-breakingly expensive snowflake knits. The
Hurtigruten is undeniably Norwegian.
The total journey from Kirkenes to Bergen is 2465 kilometres,
stopping in at 33 ports, some as little as 15 minutes, just long enough
to sling a crate of parcels overboard. After a few days, we slip into
the routine of busy mornings exploring towns and afternoons of quiet
contemplation and panoramic viewing.
It’s dark by 4pm but we don’t care: we’re here to see the
light. The Japanese say a baby conceived beneath the lights is a special
child. The Sami believe the lights are a trail left by a fox scampering
across the sky. Everyone from ancient Chinese to American Indians have a
theory: the lights are souls, they’re a bridge to heaven, a good omen, a
But let me blow a few myths: if you were standing on deck in
sub-zero temperatures at midnight waiting for a ray of green light to
zap you between the eyes, you’d be waiting a long time. Guest lecturer
and British astronomer Dr John Mason says most of the colours in the
Northern Lights are invisible to our eyes: we just can’t see the red and
turquoise bands with the naked eye.
“You probably won’t see colour, but
you will see movement.” Green is the most apparent colour, followed by
violet, but even then they’ll most likely show up as a hazy grey cloud
against the clear black sky, he warns.
Point a camera at the grey clouds and you’ll see the eerie
green rays appear in your final photo – and even then only when you open
the lens for up to 15 seconds or more.
To see the lights, the sky has to be dark, with no light
pollution. You also need a cloudless sky and your eyes also need to be
dark adapted, which can take up to 10 minutes, which is a long time on a
windswept ship’s deck in the black of a polar night. “When the lights
appear, we’ll make the announcements over the ship’s PA, and you have to
hurry,” Dr Mason says. “We don’t know how long they’ll last – You’ve
got to be ready.” We’re all so ready.
“We’ve been on six nights, from Bergen, and haven’t seen
anything yet,” says glass artist Bob Stephan, from North Carolina. Armed
with a fish-eye lens and balaclava, he helps me lash my camera to a
deck chair in lieu of my lost tripod.
There are two important things to note from this
conversation: one is that most tourists tend to stay on the ship for the
entire 11-day round journey, from Bergen up to Kirkenes and back again.
The second is that the Northern Lights are fickle.
But we strike it lucky: second night on board, and the show
is on. The deck is jam-packed as people point cameras to the sky. The
sky swirls and a soft grey-green light gusts and drifts into view. It’s
not the “hit-me” colours of the brochures, or a white night. But the
wild wind, the snow gusts and the dancing sky leave us light-hearted and
light-headed: we are but mesmerised little people dwarfed by the glory
|The Lofoten archipelago.|
The serious photographers are rugged up and settled in for
the night, but the crowd drifts off after an hour or so. The next night,
the lights show even longer, a static display that has the astronomers
scratching their heads, though the ship is pitching wildly.
It’s also cold enough to bite your nose off.
We dash down below decks to thaw out, when one of the
astronomy tour members, Patch, pulls out his phone. The Aurora Australis
has been putting on a spectacular show in Tasmania, just an hour and
$100 from my Melbourne home. Groans from we Australians. Tasmania?
That’s next year’s plan.
The writer was a guest of Bentours.
AHOY! Norwegian Getaway has a three-storey sports complex that includes an eight-foot over-sea “walk the plank”.
FIVE MORE GREAT PLACES TO HUNT THE AURORAS
TASMANIA The Aurora Australis has been seen as close to Hobart as
Seven-Mile Beach (near Hobart Airport), on the Overland Track and Bruny
Island. Get viewing tip-offs from this local alerts page facebook.com/groups/215002295201328/.
ALASKA Fairbanks and nearby Denali National Park are Alaska’s
playground for aurora hunting, and boast an 80 per cent chance of
spotting the lights from August to April, see explorefairbanks.com.
ICELAND Make sure you’re in the glassed-in bar of the Ion Hotel when
the lights deign to shine. The new eco-hotel is an hour’s drive from
Reykjavik, see ioniceland.is.
CANADA Head for Whitehorse, Yukon, on the edge of the wilderness and
hunker down in a yurt while you wait for the performance to begin, see arcticrange.com.
FINLAND Tuck up in a snow igloo in Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, in Finnish Lapland, a thousand kilometres north of Helsinki, see kakslauttanen.fi.
GETTING THERE Fly Sydney to Oslo via Bangkok with Thai Airways or via London with British Airways (britishairways.com). From London or Bangkok, book early to catch Norwegian Air’s cheap flights (norwegian.com).
CRUISING THERE The nine-day Best of Norway Cruise departs daily from Bergen
or Kirkenes, with astronomy tours available in winter. From $2877, twin
share (winter) to $4448 (summer), 1800 221 712, see bentours.com.au.
MORE INFORMATION visitnorway.com.
|The view from the Panorama Lounge on
decks 8 and 9, MS Midnatsol.
Clinton, to Russia as a re-emerging military power and car parking in downtown San Diego.
journey on the Hurtigruten, from Kirkenes in far northern Norway to Bergen in the south, the guests are predominantly British, American and German. I catch Australian accents more times than I
expected, many drawn by the lure of spotting the Northern Lights.
There is also a substantial
smattering of Norwegians using the ship for its original purpose: as a means of transportation between the country’s coastal towns and cities.
Hurtigruten is a route, not one particular ship (‘hurtig ruten’ = fast route’). A ship leaves Bergen every day of the year and has
been doing so since 1936, interrupted only by wars. My ship is the MS Midnatsol,
(Midnight Sun) built in 2003 and with 644 berths, can take up to 1000
|One of the many lounges on the MS Midnatsol,|
ship, the MS Lofoten, was built in 1964 and takes just 153 passengers.
Apparently it’s very popular with tourists, though locals fight to understand
why. “It’s just an old barge, compared with the Midnatsol,” one tells me.
is a cosy little affair: two couches fold down to make comfortable beds,
there’s a little desk and a bathroom. There are hooks and nooks to tuck your
gear away in, though the ship’s lounges, cafes and libraries are preferable,
with their panoramic windows and wi-fi which, undestandably, gets a bit shaky when the weather is tossing the ship around on the stretches of open sea.
starve on the journey,” a waitress tells me sorrowfully. Our induction to the chef’s
hand is lunch, with five types of fish including roasted cod, gravalax (smoked
salmon), tubes of Mills Caviar and yes, today features a reindeer casserole
with onions and mushrooms.
|The dining room on the MS Midnatsol.|
coastal habitations, sometimes for less than 15 minutes, we’re encouraged to
jump off and explore, be it a polar bear museum, taking a dip in the Arctic pool on the open Deck 9 or listening to a midnight concert when we reach Tromso. With restaurants, gym,
auditoriums, laundry and saunas, it’s a floating world, yet unlike the global
cruise liners, all the staff are local or from neighbouring Sweden.
and caramelised cheese on the menu, live chess broadcasts on the local tv station and a gift shop full of toy trolls and
snowflake knits, it’s undeniably Norwegian.
|This is not IKEA, this is Nybrokajen, one of Stockholm’s beautiful
waterfront streets. Far more picturesque. Photo: Belinda Jackson.
It’s been pretty wet here in Stockholm. I’ve traded Cairo’s sun for snow, Giza ponies for Dalarna horses. The people in both Egypt and Sweden both wear a lot of black, but instead of busting my chops to exercise in Ahly Sports Club in Cairo, today I did my daily walk in the world’s largest IKEA, in Kungens Kurva, in southern Stockholm.
The trip was an essential one for my brother, in the midst of renovations, but yes, I was keen for a perve.
Let me report back: the store layout is just as confusing as any other IKEA store, they really do eat meatballs and it was packed with families on a wet Sunday afternoon. One of the ninth hells? Quite possibly. However, some may be appeased by the revelation that they serve booze in the cafeteria with those meatballs.
I was going fine until I split from the Swedish speaker and on the hunt for bathroom hooks, when I realised there are no English signs, a marked absence of staff and my shabby Swedish doesn’t include the word for ‘bathroom’.
Yes, it was big, mighty big. But I survived, and recuperated with the classic cinnamon bun, kanelbullar (dreadful version from a supermarket, here’s a recipe for a real one) and the delicious-sounding, but absolutely revolting saffron buns, lussekatter as well as västerbottensostpaj (a super-rich, super-fabulous cheese pie that rivals anything I ate in Cairo for cholesterol).
Next stop on a quest for all things Swedish: the new ABBA museum. Oh yeah, I’m ticking the boxes…
|Gorgeously photogenic babouches, leather slippers
from Marrakech, Morocco
Belinda Jackson lists eight favourite destinations at which to arrive
with empty bags.
Busted your luggage allowance lugging home a treasure only to find it in
your local ‘hood? The best shopping is a rejection of globalisation: it’s about
going back to the source or finding something that only that city or country
renaissance, London’s smoking-hot fashion and design is being peddled by a
James Bond (Daniel Craig), a welter of celebrated sportsmen and the new baby
hottest strip is Chiltern Street, in Marylebone, W1. “It’s a return to a
coterie of small, chic, beautifully designed and curated shops including
fabulous Tyler Brule’s the Monocle Cafe, Cire Trudon for the best candles,
uber-cool men’s boutique Trunk, and Atlas Gallery, for its photographs. If I
had to say one shop, it would be Mouki (mouki-london.com)
for its stylish, insider brands of women’s fashion and lifestyle.”
men’s shoe departments. Its new Denim Studio includes a free denim doctor to
help women find their perfect pair of jeans from 60 brands. The Conran Shop
(including the newly refurbished Marylebone store, conranshop.co.uk) and Liberty (liberty.co.uk) are design stalwarts.
Dials, north of Covent Garden, as your compass point and branch out (sevendialsco.uk). Check out Cambridge
Satchel Company (cambridgesatchel.com),
Sienna Miller’s Twenty8Twelve (twenty8twelve.com)
or, for a village vibe, Neal’s Yard.
flashing your customised trench on the catwalk or in a movie, in-between
sporadic digital thunderstorms.
ice-cool design, you can’t visit Stockholm without admiring the masters’ design
to SoFo – South of Folkungagatan Street (sofo-stockholm.se)
– with a profusion of fashion and interior designers with antique and vintage
clothing shops, trendy bars and restaurants,” says Birgitta Palmer, of the
Stockholm Visitors Board.
and gifts at DesignTorget (designtorget.se).
for the ultimate in Swedish fashion (acnestudios.com;
self-respecting Swedish child wears Polarn O. Pyret, designer of unisex,
hard-wearing children’s clothes (polarnopyret.com).
And who can say no to Bjorn Borg-designed knickers (bjornborg.com)?
market Street, in Sodermalm. A tip from Sean Naughton, concierge at Benny
Andersson’s Hotel Rival (www.rival.se): if
you can’t afford the heavyweight fashion names of Bibliotekstan, score
discounted fashion at Barkaby outlet centre (qualityoutlet.com/in-english).
design aesthetic – it’s cheeky and cute, and if you don’t leave Bangkok with a
bag full of silk, you’re just not trying.
T-shirts with unusual designs,” says Bangkok resident Mark Thomson, of
Anantara hotels. “Also Propaganda, which is home to Mr P, who appears in
anatomically correct cartoon lamps and other … products.” (propagandaonline.com).
been recently made-over with an edgy open plan; several floors are given over
to Thailand’s fashion designers. It’s also the home of Madame Tussauds Bangkok.
The massive Chatuchak market is in every guidebook, allegedly the world’s
largest weekend market. Grab a map at the entrance before you dive in (chatuchak.org).
second-hand camera gear in the beloved, budget-easy MBK mall. Unlike the rest
of MBK, prices are fixed and labelled.
Thann, whose lush products feature Asian ingredients: think jasmine blossom,
tamarind, rice-bran oil and nutmeg. Find them in all the major malls and a new
Thann cafe at level 3, Gaysorn Plaza.
special flair that makes it an interior design powerhouse and, of course, shoes
are a hot item.
three homewares stores. A11 comprises three townhouses that are a furniture and
design gallery (F.B. Harrison Street, Pasay). AC+632 stocks Gallic homewares
with a Philippines twist, including excellent tassels (Greenbelt 5, Makati),
while W17 is a celebration of Asian interiors using local materials (w17home.com).
sizes, from just a few dollars each (Greenhills market, San Juan). For upmarket
indigenous design visit revered jeweller Arnel Papa, whose materials may
include buffalo horn and ebony wood (Greenbelt 5, Makati).
the Philippines’ national flower (Glorietta 3, Makati), while the omnipresent
SM (which stands for Shoemart) fits any tastepoint, from ballet flats to
nightclub dagger heels, at great prices (sm-shoemart.com).
Expect Chanel and Gucci with serial numbers if you can bear to carry last
year’s hottest tote (Almeda Arcade Building, Makati, bagaholic.com.ph).
colour and exotic motifs Indian shopping is in a league of its own, from haute
couture to Hindi kitsch.
guides including Love Delhi, tips three hot locales: Meharchand Market, Khan
Market and ShapurJat of Hauz Khas. “Snigdha Shekhar has created one of the
best interior and lifestyle stores in Delhi at Artisan Luxe,” she says.
(Meherchand Market, Lodhi Road.)
contemporary homewares at Khan Market’s Good Earth then take a break in its
excellent rooftop cafe, Latitude 28 (goodearth.in).
textiles: hunt down your wallet-friendly Indian wardrobe of cotton kurtas (long
shirts) and salwars (trousers) in Fabindia (Khan Market) or Anokhi (www.anokhi.com). Stay ahead of the pack at
Alecca Carrano’s Drawing Room for shawls and wraps (aleccacarrano.com).
new face of craft in India. This beautifully curated collection is sourced
directly from artisans,” Caulfield says. “Superb shopping!” (craftscouncilofindia.org.)
“the Paris of the Pampas”, the city maintains its own colourful
character, and those pampas turn out some mighty fine leather to boot. Or rug.
atelier Celedonio [Uraguay 1223, Recoleta],” trend hunter Lucia Radeljak
says. “Celedonio Lohidoy’s signature pieces are baroque necklaces with
precious stones and pearls. He has collaborated with international fashion
houses Kenzo and Ungaro, and his store is worth visiting for its garden
antique fair to scour old vinyls and snap up such must-haves as cobblers’ lasts
and local jewellery (Sundays, Plaza Dorrego, San Telmo).
leather bags are found at tiny Humawaca (humawaca.com).
for the lightest cashmere or pick up a pair of hand-made tango shoes on Av
Esmerelda, which runs parallel.
yourself for a shopping extravaganza. Don’t rush at the first shop off the main
square, Djemma el-Fna. You’ll regret it.
detailed clothing are well worth it, says Marrakesh-based artist Dawn
Boys-Stone. Warda la Mouche (127 Rue Kennaria) is great for women’s and
children’s clothes in traditional Moroccan style with modern fabrics.
in classical Occidental styles (34 Rue de la Liberte, Gueliz).
Blaoui (142-4 Rue Bab Doukkala).
babouches, found on most street corners, in traditional yellow or every shade
of the rainbow.
Jakarta remains a mystery for most. Persevere: it throws up seriously desirable
oddities, and its midnight mall sales are legendary.
big malls in Jakarta,” says Susanna Perini, of Biasa.
“It stocks menswear only and presents a unique experience when you visit.
The store has great synergy … a sense of ‘quiet luxury’ with a sleek and
label devotees, though even the biggies, such as Grand Indonesia (grand-indonesia.com), have Indonesian
Fashion Avenues for local designers. Geeks on a budget make for Ambassador
serves up soft, deconstructed men’s and women’s fashion on Jalan Kemang,
Jakarta’s boutique strip, where you’ll also find local designers.
nearby antique market (Pasar Surabaya); you totally need that old map, stuffed
animal and brass betel nut-cracker.