Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 121

The weekly roundup of internet awesomeness:

  1. This week in movie trailers: the second trailer for Gone Girl looks as awesome as the first, and, after reading the book, I can’t wait to see what they do with Wild.
  2. Random, but I love it: Capybaras That Look Like Rafael Nadal.
  3. It’s been a loooong time since the first time I watched Harry Potter, but this is on point: This Is What It’s Like to Watch Harry Potter for the First Time. And on another HP note: New JK Rowling Story Offers a Peek at Grown-Up Harry, Ron, and Hermione.
  4. Yes: Seinfeld Emoji Are on Their Way.
  5. Fascinating, in a “Why yes, I am a literary nerd” kind of way: New Jane Austen Waxwork Uses Forensic Science to Model the “Real Jane.” (Sidenote: as proof of my literary nerdom, yes, I did visit the Jane Austen Centre mentioned in the article when I went to Bath years ago).
  6. I note the irony of this article appearing in Elle, a magazine that I’m sure is guilty of its fair share of photoshopping, but I still like the message: Colbie Caillat Is Tired of Being Photoshopped. Here’s What She Did About It.
  7. Always love a good mash-up: Frozen Is the New Black.
  8. Clever: Humorous Urban Interventions on the Streets of France.
  9. I’ve only been to #4, #5, #14, and #15, so clearly I have a lot of work to do: 25 Bakeries Around the World You Have to See Before You Die.
  10. Heh: Eloise: An Update.

(Image via)

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 120

The weekly roundup of internet awesome:

  1. If you’re a foodie, you’ll love this article: Operation Surprise Wylie. Damn, to be at that meal.
  2. “I was traveling myself when I got my Fitbit, and because the tingle feels so good, not just as a sensation but also as a mark of accomplishment, I began pacing the airport rather than doing what I normally do, which is sit in the waiting area, wondering which of the many people around me will die first, and of what”: David Sedaris on Living the Fitbit Life.
  3. As if I needed more excuses to travel: How Studying or Working Abroad Makes You Smarter.
  4. Hah: Everything I Fucked Up While Trying to Eat Like Gwyneth for a Week.
  5. After Hobby Lobby, I love RBG even more. Case in point: 11 Photos Show Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hates Supreme Court Mansplaining as Much as You.
  6. Oh snap, Barack.
  7. Awww, this makes me happy: These Were Michael Vick’s Fighting Dogs. Where They Are Now Is Beautiful.
  8. Hah, some of these are amazing: 45 People from History Who Look Exactly Like Today’s Celebrities.
  9. This week in World Cup: Sweaty and Sweet: The World Cup’s Most Tender Man-Hugs. Also, this: Who Won the World Cup of Arm-Folding?
  10. And one more for good measure: Someone Changed the Wikipedia Entry for US Secretary of Defense to Tim Howard.
(Image via)

Berlin: A Culinary Journey from Currywurst to Cheesecake

During my semester in Europe, I took more than my fair share of food tours – and, based on my wholly unscientific observations, it seemed like I was not the only one. A quick scan of TripAdvisor shows food tours listed among the highest rated attractions for several cities, and on each tour I took, it seemed people invariably were there because they had taken similar tours in other European cities and loved them. Apparently, a whole subculture of traveling foodies has emerged in Europe, and I am proud to admit that I am among them.

While I can honestly say I enjoyed every food tour I took this semester, there are some that stick out as particularly wonderful. Indicative of this point is a conversation I had near the end of my time in Europe, while in Copenhagen, where I found myself taking – what else? – a food tour. One of the ladies in the group had just visited Berlin, where she had also taken a food tour. I said I had recently been in Berlin and taken one too.

“Did you take yours with Bastian?” she asked.

“Yes!” I exclaimed, and we laughed, realizing we had gone on the same tour and chatting about how much we had both enjoyed it. We agreed that it had been an excellent, memorable experience. And so, in a sea of Europe food walks, the Berlin Mitte Food Tour stands out as a particularly top-notch culinary experience. Our guide – the aforementioned Bastian – was excellent, we tasted a wide range of food and drinks, and as we walked through the Mitte neighborhood, we learned plenty of historical and cultural tidbits along the way. Plus, at under 40 euros, this tour was one of the cheapest ones I took in Europe – and, I got more food than I did on any other tour, making this a great value for the money.

I met up with my tour group near Hackescher Markt at VOM FASS, a specialty shop selling a range of oils, vinegars, wines, and spirits. I had visited a similar store in Edinburgh, and here, as there, I enjoyed browsing the shop’s many unique flavors. While I would have happily tried everything, we began our day with a sample of a pink grapefruit prosecco, which was light, refreshing, and a perfectly sweet way to start our tour.

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We continued on to Hackescher Markt, a Farmers Market open on Thursdays and Saturdays. There were many stands here that looked appealing, but our destination was the stall selling Turkish cuisine. Against a backdrop of colorful tapestries, the ladies served up what Bastian dubbed the perfect hangover food: kofte – Turkish meatballs – with bread and vegetables. This dish was so delicious that I wouldn’t need a hangover to find an excuse to eat it; I would happily partake anytime.

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While I often think “schnitzel and beer” when I think of German cuisine, this stand was a good reminder of Berlin’s status as a large, multicultural city. It’s certainly not all about traditional German cuisine in Berlin, and to seek only those dishes out would be to miss a lot of other delicious ones – Turkish kofte included.

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We headed next to Lindner, a nearby deli. Lindner is exactly the type of place that is great to visit on a food tour. Had I gone on my own, I would have been overwhelmed by all the varieties of meats, cheeses, and vegetables and would not have even known where to begin!

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In this case, where we began was with meatballs (which resembled hamburgers more than anything) dipped in German mustard. We tried two kinds of meatballs, and the surprise to me was that I preferred the vegetarian option more. It came filled with carrots and Emmental cheese and tasted a lot like Thanksgiving stuffing – always a winning flavor in my book.

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After our meatballs, we had miniature brownies made with Belgian chocolate. These were rich and delicious, and would have made an excellent topper to a meal – but, luckily for us, we still had many, many stops to come.

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We headed to Katjes Café Grün-Ohr in search of more sweets. Katjes, a competitor of Haribo, makes fruit gummies and licorice with all-natural products and without any artificial dyes. As it was the weekend before Easter when I visited Berlin, we sampled the bunny-shaped candies, and Bastian bought us each a whole bag to take home. I’m not normally a fan of gummy candies, but these were quite tasty (and made for a perfect snack on my flight back to Geneva).

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As we walked to our next stop, our guide mentioned that German cuisine is known for four things: beer, wurst, bread, and cakes. While we sampled all four of them in various forms during our day, the next stop, Hofpfisterei, was undoubtedly about the bread. Behind the counter, we saw loaves and loaves of delicious-smelling breads; we wound up sampling the rye (topped with turkey), but they all looked amazing! To go with our bread and turkey, we also had a glass of apple juice (which, generally, I dislike, but this was delicious!) and pieces of Leberkasë, or liver cheese (which were too bologna-esque for me to truly enjoy).

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Next, we began a run of several sweet stops in a row. While there wound up being a lot more sugary treats on this tour than I would have expected, I certainly could not complain – everything was quite good. At Albrechts Pâtisserie, we sampled truffles, and, in a moment of blogging negligence, I forgot to jot down the particular flavor of truffle we tried. You’ll just have to trust me on this one: it was good.

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Next, we headed on to Barcomi’s, where we sampled two flavors of cheesecake, one brownie and one blueberry. While I would not have ever associated cheesecake with Berlin, this cheesecake was damn good. In fact, here’s a literal translation of my iPhone notes:

“So so so so so good! The crust!!!!”

Yes, the cheesecakes were that good (and yes, the crust was amazing). While there were lots of spots on this tour that I would like to return to on future trips to Berlin, Barcomi’s in the place I know, without a doubt, that I would go back to.

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At Factory Girl!, we sampled the restaurant’s signature dessert concoction: Magnolias, which have a sort of pudding/tiramisu-like consistency. The one we sampled was cookies and cream flavored – and I ate it so quickly that I didn’t even have time to snap a photograph, which is a pretty good indication of its quality.

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As we made our way from Factory Girl! to our next stop, I began to sense a distinctly hipster ambiance. Indeed, Berlin at large gives off some strong hipster vibes; as I walked around the city, I often found myself thinking, “hey, this kinda feels like Brooklyn.” And the area we were in – with its high concentration of unique coffee shops – certainly fit that mold. In fact, being coffee connoisseurs – as the folks at Pro Macchina Da Caffè, our next destination, no doubt are – seems like a crucial page in the hipster playbook.

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At Pro Macchina, we explored the shop for a bit and heard from one of the shop’s coffee experts, who talked to us about the roasting process and explained the merits of various coffee beans. Then, it was time to try some for ourselves, so we grabbed tables outside and tried our small but strong cups of coffee. Our server mentioned that the coffee had fruit undertones, which I could taste, but the fruit was somewhat overpowered by the bitterness of the coffee. In all fairness, I seemed to be the only one in our group who wasn’t in love with this coffee; everyone else was a big fan. I was glad to have a tried it, but I offer this caution. If you’re a coffee snob, you would probably adore Pro Macchina. If, on the other hand, you find the coffee at Starbucks a bit strong for your tastes, then…you may have a difficult time with this stuff!

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After being jolted by the strength of my coffee, my palette was relieved that our next stop counteracted some of that coffee bitterness with a little straight-up sweetness. At Schneiders Schokoladen, which makes a variety of gourmet chocolates, we tried a chocolate with balsamic vinegar. As far as flavor combinations go, this felt pretty unexpected to me; I would never associate balsamic vinegar with chocolate! However, these guys know what they are doing, as the combination of the two flavors produced a tasty – and memorable – piece of chocolate.

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After all those sweets, it was time for some heartier fare. We headed to a market hall for some wurst (sausage) from TT-Spezialitäten. We tried a sausage whose name I didn’t catch – but, I do remember our guide explaining that it translated to something like “acre watcher” in English. Why “acre watcher”? Farmers kept it in their pockets while working out in the fields so they could have something to snack on. A pretty ingenious idea, if you ask me.

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We then headed to Vom Einfachen for some cheese and charcuterie, plus a little IPA to wash it all down. We tried a trappist cheese, liverwurst, and a super thinly sliced, dry aged ham. All three were good, but the ham was my favorite – absolute meaty perfection.

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While we munched on our food, Bastian slipped out of the deli and headed down the street to pick up another treat for us – macarons from Les Patisseries de Sebastien. This strawberry macaron was a tasty little morsel:

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Our next stop was both my most anticipated and most dreaded stop of the tour: currywurst at Curry 61. It was my most anticipated because trying currywurst is basically mandatory when in Berlin, so I knew I had to do it. However, I’m not a fan of curry generally, so I was a bit leery of trying sausages drenched in curry ketchup.

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As it turned out, I needn’t have worried – this currywurst was really good! While you can find currywurst stands all over Berlin, my sense is that they vary in quality dramatically. Curry 61, however, seems to be one of those spots where you know you’re going to get a good one.

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Our final stop of the tour was Brauhaus Lemke, a microbrewery near where we started our tour at Hackescher Markt. Bastian mentioned that craft beers are becoming a big thing in Berlin these days, and I can see why because even I, as a non-beer drinker, really enjoyed my beer!

As I left Brauhaus Lemke and headed back to my hotel to nap off my food coma, it occurred to me why I enjoyed this food tour – and all food tours – so much. To me, there’s something really amazing about encountering people who are passionate about things, and who have found their niches – however obscure or quirky they may be. The coffee connoisseur who intimately knows every imaginable variety of coffee bean, the chocolatier who dreams up wacky-but-wonderful flavor combinations, the baker who takes care to make sure each loaf of bread is baked to perfection: these are people who dedicate their lives to cultivating delicious things. It’s inspiring to witness their passion in action, it’s fascinating to pick up little pieces of their knowledge, and it’s a treat to taste the fruits of their labor.

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 119

The weekly roundup of internet finds:

  1. Specifically, #5, #7, #8, #10, #13, and #18: 24 Things We Unexpectedly Become Obsessed with in Our Late Twenties.
  2. Good stuff: Powerful Ad Shows What a Little Girl Hears When You Tell Her She’s Pretty.
  3. It’s one of the best times of the year – aka, Wimbledon – so here’s this: Groovy Wimbledon Circa 1971.
  4. Hilarious: It’s Official, You’re More Likely to Be Bitten by Luis Suarez Than a Shark.
  5. The Bailey’s one is what sold me on this article: What Your Drink of Choice Says About You.
  6. The cynical part of me says she only did this because she knew she’d get great PR, but I still like it: Amy Adams Gives up Seat to Serviceman on Flight.
  7. This guy: Who Is Our New Favorite Jeopardy Loser?
  8. This gal: Breast Cancer Patient Dances Her Way into the Operating Room.
  9. Summer Sisters is one of my all-time favorite books, so you know I cannot wait for this: New Judy Blume Novel Announced for 2015.
  10. Holy cute: The Pugs of Westeros.

(Image via Entertainment Weekly)

Berlin: Under the Dome of the Reichstag

I tend to be well-prepared (bordering on over-prepared) when taking a trip, but every now and then, I drop the proverbial traveling ball on something. When I visited Berlin in 2011 with my sister, it was the Reichstag: we strolled up, ready to go inside and climb up the gigantic glass dome, only to find out that reservations were required to enter. Later that night at our hotel, I checked online and was disappointed to find that all the reservation slots were filled during our remaining days in Berlin. So, while we could view the Reichstag from the outside, we wouldn’t be getting a glimpse within.

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Needless to say, when I realized I would be making a return trip to Berlin, the first thing I did – after booking plane tickets and a hotel, of course – was to reserve a slot to tour the Reichstag (which you can do here). I ambitiously selected an entry time of 8:30am to force myself to get up early and make the most of my short time in Berlin, meaning I arrived at the Reichstag bright and early, albeit a little bleary-eyed, to take my long-awaited tour.

The Reichstag is the meeting place for Germany’s Parliament. It was originally constructed in 1894, damaged by fire in 1933, and reconstructed and reopened in 1999. While the front facade of the building, with its grand columns and famous inscription (Dem Deutschen Volke, or “to the German people”), is the more imposing and historical portion of the building, it was the more recently constructed dome I really came to see.

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The Reichstag’s giant glass dome sits right above the main hall of Parliament; in fact, you can peek down into the hall from the rooftop terrace. The dome also happens to have excellent 360 degree panoramic views of Berlin. An audioguide is provided with every tour, and as you climb the ramps of the dome, the guide tells you what buildings you are looking at.

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My audioguide indicated that “the transparency of the dome’s glass symbolizes the transparency of the German democratic state.” While that seemed a bit grandiose, I couldn’t deny that the dome’s architecture and viewpoints were striking, regardless of any symbolism. It may have taken me four years, but I was glad to finally see this iconic building up close and personal.

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 118

The weekly roundup of internet wonderfulness:

  1. Meet my new favorite Instagram feed: Fashion Grandpas.
  2. As far as celebrities go, I think these guys are good ones: Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone Send Another Message to the Paparazzi.
  3. These are so well done: Literary City Guides.
  4. Hilarious: American Girl Dolls Re-Imagined for Today.
  5. Impressive: Members of the Washington Ballet Demonstrate Their Most Difficult Moves in Slow Motion.
  6. The Detroit Red Wings are awesome: Detroit’s Twitter Account Offers Solid Relationship Advice.
  7. Excellent idea: You Should Be Playing the Pac-Man World Cup Drinking Game.
  8. These are all pretty easy, but still: Guess These Classic Friends Quotes Told Through Emojis.
  9. My kind of exercise plans: 43 Workouts That Allow You to Watch an Ungodly Amount of Television.
  10. Guilty as charged: Sorry, Not Sorry – Why Women Need to Stop Apologizing for Everything.

(Image via)

Stockholm: On Not Quite Falling in Love

I’ve already written a bit about Stockholm, discussing my affinity for Gamla Stan and my amazing culinary experience with Food Tours Stockholm. One thing I haven’t covered, however, is this: on the whole, I didn’t love Stockholm as much as I expected I would.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I had a tough time connecting with the city during my weekend there. Stockholm was lovely, yes, but somehow I had expected to enjoy it more. I found myself depressed by how expensive everything was, a problem I didn’t expect to have considering I was living in Geneva, one of the world’s most expensive cities, for the semester. Yet Stockholm seemed way more expensive than Geneva, and I was stressed about the cost of everything, constantly doing mental krona to dollar conversions in my head and inevitably winding up disheartened by my calculations. Beyond the obvious price tag shock, though, there was something else bothering me.

I visited in early April, and over the course of the weekend, I began to suspect that Stockholm might simply be more enjoyable in the summertime. It wasn’t so much that the weather was bad (though it was chilly), but rather that the city still seemed like it was in hibernation mode. The streets were quiet, and a lot of the attractions I wanted to visit had reduced “winter” hours, making it difficult to see everything within the shortened days. Overall, the city seemed to only just be emerging from the winter doldrums, and it lacked the vibrancy I had hoped for.

Typical of this problem was Skansen, Stockholm’s open-air museum. Skansen is the sort of place that seems like it would be so much fun in the summer: it houses a zoo and a replica 19th-century village, complete with silversmiths, bakers, tanners, and glass-blowers. However, as I walked through the “village,” many of the exhibits were closed, as were all the restaurants inside the park. In the summer, I imagine that Skansen would have a lively, carnival-like atmosphere. In April, however, it was mostly just…quiet.

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One thing that did not disappointment me about Skansen was the glass-blower’s workshop. Seeing the glass-blowers at work was pretty cool, but my favorite part was ogling the finished products. I wound up taking a few small vases home with me, despite the fact that – as with everything in Stockholm – they were pretty damn expensive. Still, some things are worth a splurge:

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Not far from Skansen, I found Stockholm’s most kitschy attraction: the ABBA Museum. I have never considered myself a fan of ABBA, nor have I felt any burning desire to learn more about their musical trajectory. For whatever reason, however, I felt compelled to make a visit to the museum. Where else in the world, I reasoned, would I ever find a museum devoted entirely to ABBA? When there is a place that sounds this absurd, wouldn’t it be wrong not to visit?

Just as I expected, the ABBA Museum was a colorful, trippy overload. It was jam-packed with information on the band’s history, displays containing their colorful (and tacky) costumes, and more than a few spots for enthusiastic Swedes to stop and karaoke. Naturally, ABBA music blasted through the museum’s stereos, and by the end of the afternoon, I could not get Waterloo out of my head.

(Regarding the above photo – haven’t we all felt like the girl on the right at some point in our lives?)

The ABBA Museum was not the only quirky museum I visited while in Stockholm. There was also a trip to Fotografiska, the Swedish Museum of Photography. Fotografiska was filled with several interesting photography exhibits and more than a few modern art installations that elicited a firm “huh?!?” from me. I can’t say it will go down as one of my favorite museums, but it was an interesting change of pace from the more traditional art museums I typically frequent.

Fotografiska was located in Södermalm, a neighborhood I often heard described as the “hipster Brooklyn” of Stockholm. This classification seemed accurate to me but, in full disclosure, I barely scratched the surface of Södermalm during my time in the city (though, if I return to Stockholm, it’s the area I would want to explore most). The main reason I visited Södermalm this time around was sugar-related: I went in search of Pärlans Konfektyr, maker of some seriously gourmet caramels.

Pärlans Konfektyr is a tiny but memorable little shop. From the store’s interior, a large glass window allows you to peek into the workroom and watch the caramel makers in action. As for the caramels themselves, Pärlans has a large selection of unique flavors: think salt licorice, coconut & lime, and peppermint, to name only a few. My favorite of all, however, were the more traditional vanilla and sea salt caramels – delicious, sweet, chewy caramel perfection.

Outside of sweet treats, I had a harder time tracking down affordable yet delicious food to eat in Stockholm. I confess to having my share of super cheap falafel dinners, but one place where I did find a good, reasonably priced meal was Bakfickan, a tiny restaurant tucked behind the Opera House. Not only did I enjoy my food, but I also loved the overall atmosphere of the restaurant, which felt surprisingly open and fresh despite how small the space was.

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After eating at Bakfickan, I headed to the waterfront, an easy trip given that the restaurant is no more than a minute’s walk from the harbor. Walking along the water, whatever the time of day, quickly became one of my favorite Stockholm activities. No matter how I felt about other aspects of the city, I found it impossible to deny that Stockholm was extremely beautiful, and never more so than when its buildings were silhouetted against the sparkling waters of the harbor.

Ultimately, I left Stockholm with mixed emotions. There were many things I adored about the city, from waterfront sunsets to cobblestone streets to Swedish meatballs, but there were also more than a few things that simply didn’t “click” with me. Nevertheless, I’m keeping an open mind about Stockholm. It might not have wowed me this time around, but I have a feeling that, with a subsequent summertime visit, I might just become a fan.

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 117

The weekly roundup of internet finds:

  1. I like this: The Muscle-Flexing, Mind-Blowing Book Girls Will Inherit the Earth.
  2. Here’s a great interview with David Sedaris: “I don’t want to buy my books and my toilet paper and my clothing all under the same roof. I want beauty in my life. I want charm. I want contact with actual people. It is, for me, a large part of what makes life worth living.”
  3. Really well done: Watch the Anti-Redskins Commercial That Will Run During the NBA Finals.
  4. Have you been binge watching the new season of Orange Is the New Black? In celebration: Orange Is the New Black Meets Arrested Development.
  5. “So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality.” This snippet from Jim Carrey’s commencement address is gold.
  6. Kinda depressing: Disney Characters Confront Real World Problems in “Unhappily Ever After.”
  7. This is crazy cool: Travel Boss Takes the Ultimate Selfie.
  8. I didn’t cry quite this much, but…yeah: 26 Times You Were a Puddle of Tears During “The Fault in Our Stars.”
  9. Incredible: D-Day Landing Sites Then and Now.
  10. “I believe that we will win.” I don’t really, but this is still an awesome promo: This ESPN Team USA World Cup Promo Will Get You Pumped the Fuck Up. And on another World Cup note: A Non-Racist’s Guide to Taunting at the World Cup.

(Image via giphy)

Stockholm: Indulging in A Nordic Culinary Experience

Over the course of this semester, it has become increasingly clear to me that learning about a new place through experiencing its culinary traditions is my favorite way to travel. Whether it was discovering the Portuguese fondness for pastries in Lisbon or gaining an appreciation for just how much Hungarians love sour cream in Budapest, my time in Europe has been filled with little foodie lessons in each place I’ve visited. Stockholm was to be no exception.

I will confess at the outset that I had very little notion about what Swedish cuisine consisted of, beyond the obvious: Swedish meatballs, which I had only ever sampled at – you guessed it – Ikea. And, when I took the Nordic Experience tour with Food Tours Stockholm, I did indeed eat Swedish meatballs – but I also had a lot more.

We began at Hotorgshallen, or the Old Haymarket, a huge food hall in the heart of Stockholm. I loved this place – it was big, bustling, and filled to the brim with stands selling mouth-watering goods. My only regret is that I wish I had gone back later, on my own, and spent more time browsing among the stalls.

Still, we got a solid introduction to Hotorgshallen on our tour, visiting four different vendors while there. We began with a stand that sold a wide variety of sausages, where we sampled four different kinds. I unfortunately didn’t catch the names of all four, but a few stood out: the elk sausage (which was quite salty, but still delicious), the sausage with apples (a strange combination, in my book), and a more traditional sausage that our guide said was a Swedish staple (“It’s like our macaroni and cheese.”)

Oh, and one more thing – this vendor also had free samples of blood sausage sitting out. Not wanting to be the unadventurous one, I did what everyone else in the group did and tried some. I was prepared to be disgusted, but it mostly tasted like…nothing. It had an unpleasant texture but no strong flavor one way or the other, so all in all, it was not a horrifying experience.

We moved on to the next vendor, where we found more meat waiting for us. This time, however, we were to try something I hadn’t ever sampled before: reindeer. We were given a tray with a reindeer sausage, a piece of cold smoked reindeer, and a reindeer mousse. All three were tasty, though I must admit that the sight of the mousse freaked me out (but the dish actually tasted quite good). My overall impression of reindeer meat was that it was delicious, yet the whole time I was eating it, I kept hearing a small voice in my head saying, You’re eating Rudolph.

Next, it was time for cheese at Saluplats Ost, where we encountered perhaps the most passionate cheese enthusiast I have ever met (not that I have met lots of people who are passionate about cheese, but if I had, this guy would probably win; he had a tattoo on his calf that read “Dr. Cheese” in German). The enthusiastic cheesemonger gave us four varieties of Swedish cheese to sample: buffalo mozzarella, vasterbotten (a Swedish classic made from cow’s milk), lillangens getmese (a sweet goat cheese), and bredsjo bla (a blue cheese, from a sheep, aged about 11 months). With the exception of the blue cheese – which is just never going to be my thing – I really enjoyed each.

Dr. Cheese (real name: Jon) also took us down to the basement of Hotorgshallen, where we were able to step inside the cheese cellar. It was a large – and smelly! – array of cheeses. He asked us if we had ever seen such a collection of cheeses and I didn’t have the heart to say that, yes, I had, as I had visited Gruyeres a few months earlier. Even so, the cellar here was impressive.

We concluded our time at Hotorgshallen by sampling the cuisine of Sweden’s friendly neighbour to the east, Finland. We were served a rice porridge topped with mashed eggs and butter which, we learned, is a traditional Finnish dish that would always be served at parties and gatherings. Just hearing the ingredients listed, I wasn’t sure this was a dish I would particularly care for – but it was actually quite tasty. Thumbs up, Finland.

We left Hotorgshallen and headed out onto the streets of Stockholm to find even more food. Our first stop was Cafe Tranan, a venerable institution that opened in 1929. There, we had traditional Swedish meatballs (served with sides of mashed potatoes, lingonberries, and pickled cucumbers) and beer (a light lager that I, a self-professed non-beer-drinker, really enjoyed). The meatballs and accompanying sides were, quite simply, delicious. Just how much did I enjoy them? I posted on Instagram that I’d “never be able to eat an Ikea meatball again.” Which may well be true.

(Burning question: Are pickled cucumbers just…pickles?)

(Yes)

The meatballs would have made a fine meal in and of themselves, but we still had more food to discover. We headed next to Tennstopet, another well-established Stockholm institution. There, we sampled a Swedish classic: fried pickled herring. I have to admit that I was taken aback by just how pickled the herring was; I’ve always been a fan of pickles, but this was a bit much even for me. There were two Swedes on our tour, and they weren’t fans of the herring either; they said that their families and friends constantly give them a hard time for their refusal to indulge in the dish! After trying the pickled herring, I have to say I agree with their hesitancy. This was good, but perhaps only in small portions.

Our herring adventures weren’t over yet, however, as we made our way next to Westermans Fisk for more fishy treats. There, we were served a platter of fish to sample: smoked salmon, herring with mustard, and more pickled herring, along with a side of potatoes, sour cream, and chives. Our waitress told us the Swedish believe that, when it comes to herring, the fish goes through three seas: the actual sea water it originates in, the pickling process, and your mouth. Clever!

We also were served Swedish snaps (aka, schnapps) with our fish. Our guide had printed out a traditional Swedish drinking song – written phonetically for those of us who couldn’t speak Swedish – which we sang as a group before downing our drinks. And by “downing our drinks,” I mean, I drank half of mine and then casually sipped the rest because I am a wimp.

After all that meat, fish, and cheese, it was time to move on to dessert. We began at Bakery & Spice, where we sampled bits of kanelbullar, or cinnamon buns. Our guide even told us that the treats are so beloved that Sweden has its own national cinnamon roll day. This, quite frankly, is something I think the US should consider adopting.

I enjoyed the cinnamon bun samples so much that I returned to Bakery & Spice the next day for breakfast. I bought a cinnamon bun of my own and then ate it at the nearby Vasaparken which, in case you were wondering, is essentially the perfect way to start the day.

After sampling cinnamon buns, we made our way to Chokladfabriken, a gourmet chocolate shop. There, we had a super rich – and super yummy – hot chocolate along. We also each received a small piece of gourmet chocolate. The chocolate our guide selected had a hint of licorice in it, and though I don’t generally enjoy licorice, this was quite good. Earlier in the tour, while we were walking, our guide had given us a small piece of salted licorice to try, which was incredibly sour (and disgusting!) – so it was good to see licorice redeemed somewhat.

Though we were all quite full at this point, we had one final stop on our tour: Cafe Ritorno, for some fika (coffee) and a few more pastries. We tried chocolate balls (super simple, yet incredibly rich and delicious) and “vacuum cleaner” cake. Our guide mentioned that the vacuum cake was so named for one of two reasons: either because bakers allegedly made it by combining all the previous day’s leftovers, including crumbs from the floor, together, or because its blue marzipan frosting makes the pastry resemble a vintage 1950s Electrolux. Whichever is the case, it was a damn good piece of cake.

As you can probably tell, we sampled a lot of food on our Nordic Experience tour. While not every item was something I loved (I’m looking at you, pickled herring), there were many delicious stops, and even when I was trying foods I didn’t care for, I still enjoyed the experience. I was impressed by the quality of the tour, the amount of stops, and the variety of food we tried; Food Tours Stockholm puts on a good event, and I would definitely take another tour from them the next time I visit Stockholm. Perhaps most important of all, they taught me that there’s much more to Swedish cuisine than meatballs – though, of course, I can happily confirm that meatballs are still important to the Swedes and still delicious.

Stockholm: Weaving Through the Streets of Gamla Stan

If there’s any “rule” I travel by, it just may be this one: if you see that a city has an “Old Town” neighborhood, you head there first. Because, invariably, it will be adorable and atmospheric and pretty much everything you imagine when you picture quintessential European charm.

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I have yet to be let down by this theory, and Stockholm was certainly no exception. On my first day in the city, I set out for Gamla Stan, which dates back to the 13th century and therefore certainly earns its title as Stockholm’s “Old Town.” I was delighted to find that Gamla Stan was filled with ancient alleyways, bumpy cobblestone streets, and buildings hued in rich yellows and oranges. In other words: it was as picture perfect as I had hoped it would be.

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I started the morning with a pastry and a coffee at a cute little shop on Gamla Stan, and then headed out into the streets to explore. Though I poked into Stockholm Cathedral, soaked up the sun in Stortorget (Swedish for “The Big Square”), and watched the stoic guards stand at attention in front of the Royal Palace, I didn’t have much else to “do” on my agenda. Rather, I walked up and down the streets, weaving in and out of alleyways and always finding more to explore (and photograph).

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My morning in Gamla Stan was a quiet, low-key introduction to Stockholm – perhaps fitting, as I found Stockholm itself relatively quiet and low-key. For that reason, I wouldn’t place Stockholm on any list of the most exciting places in Europe – but due to neighborhoods like Gamla Stan, it may well be among the most lovely.