Monthly Archives: February 2018

Oscar Bait – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri / The Post

Title: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director: Martin McDonagh
Year: 2017
Country: USA

I tell you, this awards season is getting harder and harder to pick a favourite. Seriously, last year it was difficult because of La La Land, Moonlight and Arrival all being incredible movies… but I am having real trouble here. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri just feels like a masterclass in acting.

If you had told me that this film was a Coen Brothers production I would have probably been taken in. I mean, this is a very black comedy starring Frances McDormand that is laugh out loud funny and yet has some extremely touching moments. Sounds like a Coen Brothers film to me.

Seriously though, for a film about a grieving mother who is relentless in her mission to bring the murderer of her daughter to justice, I haven’t laughed out loud so much in months. The script is a work of genius and I really hope that it wins the Best Original Screenplay nod as, of all the nominated films I’ve seen, it really deserves it.

Then again, the script flies because of the performances by the three leads – with Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell being the obvious standouts. Back when I watched The Shape of Water I thought I wouldn’t see a better leading female performance this year… only to be proven wrong. I also have to admit defeat that, once again, it won’t be Michael Stuhlbarg’s year as Sam Rockwell somehow makes you cheer for his utterly ridiculous and racist cop.

Going into this film I expected this to be all about the investigation, but instead this boils down to a character study about stress, grief and the sense for justice. There is a fantastic scene that really epitomises this for me, and it’s where Frances McDormand’s character gives a speech about culpability. There’s a wider message here for society as a whole (although she directs it at the church), but that’s something for another time.

Title: The Post
Director: Steven Spielberg
Year: 2017
Country: USA

On the surface of it, I should have the same complaint with The Post as I did with Darkest HourThis is a movie about a newspaper investigation (something the Academy likes), directed by Steven Spielberg (whose films usually garner nominations) and starring multi-Oscar winning actors Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. Hell, it even includes Michael Stuhlbarg in a supporting role… which appears to be a sign of Oscar quality nowadays.

The thing is, where this contains the recipe for Oscar glory this feels like a film that has been made more because of the current political climate than in the quest for awards. Because of this, and it’s something that becomes clear very quickly, it feels like The Post will be a film that’s remembered for a lot longer.

Also, whilst they stretch the truth of the involvement of the Washington Post’s involvement in the Pentagon Papers, they don’t just invent scenes that are out of character just for the sake of an Oscar nomination reel. Also also… at least The Post is interesting and paints these characters as real people that you can root for.

Now.. as much as I love Meryl Streep, I don’t think this is an award worthy performance. There’s not a whole lot for her to work with here (unlike Frances McDormand and Sally Hawkins) but, to be fair, that’s the role and she pitches it exactly correctly. Same goes for Tom Hanks… who seems to have been forgotten by the Academy of late.

For me, the best thing about this film was just watching Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks acting together. Considering all the scandals going on in Hollywood there is something mildly therapeutic about watching these two masters onscreen together. The Post is worth a watch just for that to be honest.


Oscar Bait – Call Me By Your Name / Darkest Hour

Title: Call Me By Your Name
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Year: 2017
Country: Italy/USA

Today’s pair starts off with a film that left me emotionally winded. I didn’t find myself bawling like a lot of people on the internet seem to have ended up, but this is a film that truly moved me. And by moved I mean that I was sat there in a state of emotional shock as the credits rolled beside Timothée Chalamet’s face.

For the uninitiated, Call Me By Your Name tells the romantic coming-of-age story of a 17 year old boy falling in love with a 24 year old visiting academic with Northern Italy as the backdrop. This sounds like the synopsis of a number of different gay interest movies, I know that, but there is an honesty and a style that sets this apart. It also has world class acting and Michael Stulhbarg in a supporting role (who I have adored since seeing him in A Serious Man back in 2009).

This is about as far as I want to go when talking about Call Me By Your Name. I went into this film unspoiled and this is nowhere near old enough a film for me to delve into those. What I can say is that this movie kept me thinking days later and even got me listening to the soundtrack when I was in the office (the appearance of Sufjan Stevens helps here). The world created in this film feels like a more tolerant one than would have probably existed in 1983, but that’s a small niggle in another excellent film.

The fact that, at some point in awards season, a film like this could have been considered a front runner shows how far we’ve come. Between this film and Moonlight‘s win at the Oscars last year, it is heartening to see these slower independent films about homosexual love getting some recognition. Lightning probably won’t strike twice here in terms of award wins, but it will be interesting to see how it turns out on Sunday.

Title: Darkest Hour
Director: Joe Wright
Year: 2017
Country: UK

Right, so I really wanted to stop watching this about 30 minutes in. Pretty much every year there is one nominee that I find frustrating. Last year this was Fences and this year it’s Darkest Hour. However, unlike Fences, not only did I find Darkest Hour frustrating but I also found it quite dull.

Getting platitudes out of the way first, yes Gary Oldman gives a great performance in this film and is able to completely disappear into the character.  It’s a performance where, much like Meryl Steep’s rendition of Julia Child, he is able to give an excellent rendition of what people expect Churchill to be rather than what he was probably like.

Okay now that’s over and done with – boy did this film paint with broad strokes. Anyone who disagreed with Churchill (and actually wanted peace) might as well have been standing in the corner twirling a moustache. Similarly, I understand that this was a dark time in Britain’s history… but I am sure there were still ceiling lights. Every time Churchill gives a speech it’s like the opening scene from The Lion King.

Still this would be mostly forgivable if it wasn’t for the fact that the final 20 minutes of this film are complete and utter fiction. It’s such an aggravating choice for Joe Wright and the scriptwriter to have made to have Churchill base his final decision around the Dunkirk evacuation on a straw poll of the British public that he encountered on the longest tube ride in British history. 10 minutes for one stop? Give me a break.

In the end, if I ask myself the question of why this film was ever made – the only answer I can give is Oscar bait. I know this is why a lot of films end up getting full funding, but as a piece of art I don’t see it and, more importantly, as a way to cast light on an interesting period of history this film fails because of that awful piece of fiction on the London Underground.

Oscar Bait – The Shape of Water / Lady Bird

Happy Acadamy Award season y’all. For the first time in years I will not be staying up to watch the Oscars live… since I will be in Singapore! Now, those posts won’t be going up for another six or seven months, stay tuned for those, so let’s get started with the first of this week’s Best Picture nominees.

This year, I thought it would be fun to publish these films in pairs – the first being a film I was eagerly awaiting to see and the second being a film that I only saw because of awards season. With this being the first of the posts, I am starting with the film I was most looking forward to seeing.

Title: The Shape of Water
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Year: 2017
Country: USA

Watching Pan’s Labyrinth in the cinema was one of those movie-going experiences that has remained with me. It is 12 years later and I still haven’t gotten up the courage to put myself through that it again… also just thinking of The Pale Man is enough to give be the heebies.

Still, the seed was planted and I have been awaiting for the next great Guillermo Del Toro film, finding enjoyment in his Hellboy films in the mean time. From the early buzz alone, I knew that The Shape of Water was going to be special. I mean, a dark romantic story between a mute woman and the creature from the Black Lagoon starring Sally Hawkins and Ocatvia Spencer? Someone sign me up.

Little did I know just how much I would love this film. Somehow Del Toro is able to make Baltimore and a secret government laboratory feel magical and surreal. Given his work on Hellboy II it’s little wonder that he can pull this off, but it feels on a completely different level here. The excellent score provided by Alexandre Desplat’s score helps to further highlight this (much like he did with his work for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel).

How can I talk about this movie without mentioning Doug Jones as the creature. Performances like his, and Andy Serkis in Lord of the Rings, never get the plaudits they deserve and yet The Shape of Water would be dead in the water (excuse the pun) without it. The make-up job on the creature is one thing, but Doug Jones needs to get us to love him despite the fact that he ends up eating a live cat!

Finally, you have Sally Hawkins in a career best performance as Eliza – the mute cleaner who falls for the creature (I am reluctant to use the term monster because of how you fall for him). Without the spoken word available to her, she is able to deliver an exceptionally engaging and emotive (whilst not being over the top, like in the days of silent movies) performance where she is able to make your heart soar before slowly breaking it.

So yes, in any other year The Shape of Water would definitely stand out as the film to beat. But 2018 is a remarkably strong year for nominees.

Title: Lady Bird
Director: Greta Gerwig
Year: 2017
Country: USA

So occupying the second slot is Lady Bird – mainly because the trailer I saw made this look like a fairly typical (and beautifully shot) coming-of-age comedy about a misfit girl finding love and finding herself. Aaaaaaand that’s pretty much what this film is. Except that it’s a well made film with yet another exceptional performance from Saorise Ronan and an emotional turn by Laurie Metcalf.

Look, I am underselling this, but with a score of 94% on Metacritic it feels like a lot of this went over my head. Then again my experience of being a guy who has no idea about what it’s like to be in an American high school means that I don’t get a lot of this. Also, I know I taught in a Catholic school… but it didn’t have nuns and priests as teachers.

There were some real laugh-out-loud moments… however I wish that I didn’t see all the beats coming. I don’t know if I’ve just seen a lot of high school films (very possible) which ruins some of the reveals, but at least they were done well. Also, it’s nice to see Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chalamet in the first of their two big roles of the year.

Now, unlike last year, I have opted to not do any rankings until the final nominee post of the year. With a lot of these films being written up in retrospect, I know just how difficult the final ranking choice is going to be amongst the top 4. Lady Bird doesn’t rank among them, but that’s just my opinion.

Good Eatin’ – Turmeric Waffles and Pink Peppercorns

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

Food items: Turmeric Root and Pink Peppercorns

I have been a bit lazy with my food list items as of late. Both of these have been laying in my spice cupboard for a few months and I just haven’t been bothered to find recipes (you know how it gets if you’re in a bit of a funk). Still, it’s amazing what some time off work can do for your goals.

This morning I resolved that today was the day that I would cross both of these off within one meal. There just had to be a way to find something for both the turmeric root and the pink peppercorns. After all, the earthiness of the turmeric and the berry-like pepperiness of the pink peppercorns should go well together, right?

Well, I couldn’t find one thing with both ingredients – so I just went for two simple recipes to have as part of one meal: steak and waffles. I mean, if chicken and waffles can work then why not this combination?

Long story short, they worked. This is the first time I’ve used my new waffle iron and I am very happy with the results, although it would have been better to have doubled the amount of turmeric to get that proper earthy taste. At least I now have a good base recipe waffles, so thank you Stay At Home Mum for that nugget of information.

The pink peppercorns were the real revelation of this meal. I’ve previously only had them as part of some white chocolate bark. I know some people like pepper and chocolate, but I’m not convinced. However, with meat I can agree that they are brilliant.

Despite their name, pink peppercorns aren’t related to other peppercorns. They have a similar look and a slight overlap in flavour profile, but that’s it. The overall flavour is sweeter and more resinous than regular pepper. Also, it has little to no heat so  – if you dump loads into a recipe like I did – your tongue won’t be on fire.

I would really recommend this recipe for pink peppercorn steak over at Recipe Geek. The sauce really tasted like something I would order in a restaurant, which is the ultimate praise for a recipe you randomly find on the internet. Probably because it contained wine and cream, but hey delicious is delicious.

Progress: 676/751

XL Popcorn – Fellini Satyricon

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 628/1007
Title: Satyricon
Director: Federico Fellini
Year: 1969
Country: Italy

During our recent trip to Stockholm we went to a photographic exhibition centred around the relationship between people and their horses. One of the photos on display was of the horses involved in the making of the earthquake scene of Satyricon and so I finally got the reason that I needed to give this a go.

Now. Going from the picture in the 1001 book, I was expecting a film that would be a bit weird. Not possibly upsettingly weird like Salo; more like the final disturbing 10 minutes of The Shining. Honestly, with this as a yardstick, Fellini did not disappoint.

It would appear that, when making Satyricon, Fellini was seeking a way to stay true to the spirit of a Roman text about the various adventures of a man that usually ends up with him having sex to get out of a scrape. It’s the ultimate exercise in organised chaos that, because of the fragmented nature of the surviving text, ends up being a bit disjointed. Then again, that’s pretty much the point.

Everything from the out-of-sync dubbing to the filters on the camera serve to make this film feel otherworldly. I use otherworldly because it’s a kinder word than ‘barmy’, which Satyricon is also. Afterall, this is a tale where the protagonist ends up being chased by a man dressed as a Minotaur, kidnaps an oracular hermaphrodite, narrowly escapes an earthquake and has sex with a goddess to cure his impotence. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Since this veers so much between plot fragments Satyricon really is a film where it helps to have the Wikipedia page open. I don’t think you’re meant to quite be able to follow the thread of the story line as it plays like a game of exquisite corpse put on celluloid. We begin in a Roman bath watching two men arguing about their lovers and end on one of them being offered a pile of money in exchange for an act of cannibalism. I mean, I watched this film intently and I still puzzle as to how we ended up with this conclusion some 2 hours later.

There are still three more Fellini films left for me to watch: Amarcord, La Dolce Vita and Juliet of the Spirits. I think that whatever film I see of his will end up feeling positively grounded after Satyricon. Then again, that’s what makes for a legendary director: someone who puts their mark on different genres and someone whose films are still interesting to talk about, even if you wouldn’t particularly rate them highly.

The Great EU Quest: Sweden – Exit Via City Hall

Good news: the rain was basically over and done with by the time we’d finished our breakfast. Bad news: a lot of plane delays meant we are set to get home after 11pm. I’m just going to filter out all airplane related rants, because positivity.

Anyway, with out flight (originally) set to depart at 6pm we had most of a day to say a goodbye to Stockholm. This started with our first breakfast that wasn’t bought in a supermarket, so we ventured back into the Old Town to find somewhere suitable. We settled on a Café Schweizer whose distinguishing features are a near constant smell of oranges and walls that have been scrawled on with permanent marker.

For 89 Krona we got orange juice, coffee and a sandwich. It’s amazing how quickly you get used to prices in a country. In the UK that would be daylight robbery, in Sweden this felt almost reasonable. I did enjoy my salami and brie sandwich, even if the only reason I picked it was because of the sheer number of poppy seeds.

After this we did some light souvenir shopping before crossing over to Riddarholmen. Why? Well, yesterday, when we clambered up to Monteliusvagen, I spotted a place that looked like the ultimate place to take photos of the lake to the west of Stockholm. We would have gotten better views had it not been so cloudy/foggy, but I think we managed to get some cool views.

From here we got to our first and only destination of the day: Stockholm City Hall. This building’s main claim to fame is that it hosts the Nobel Winners’ Banquet on December 10 every year. Also, you can see the top of the City Hall’s tower from pretty much anywhere in Stockholm. So yes, it’s a place to go.

The only way to see inside is via a guided tour, which is given every half hour. With the weather being a bit grey and misty we were very lucky to get the final two tickets on the next tour. We were also very lucky to get Joanna (probably spelt wrong) as a tour guide as that made the 50 minutes just fly by.

The interior of Stockholm City Hall was far more impressive than I could have imagined. From the painted cityscapes in the Hall of the Prince (done so that you would get a view of Stockholm no matter which side of the table you are sat on) to the brickwork and columns in the Blue Hall (which isn’t blue because they thought the red bricks looked nice just the way they were).

So this was all well and good. I was not at all prepared for the Golden Room. The walls are covered in glass mosaic tiles containing a gold leaf. The walls depict famous people and events on Swedish history with the back wall showing a woman (representing Sweden) in the centre of the world inviting countries from the east and the west to broker peace.

There are plenty of other stories about the construction of the City Hall, all of which are entertaining and embody exactly what it is that should be admired about Scandinavians. For the history and the artwork I think I preferred this guided tour to our experience in Fotografiska. Don’t discount this building just because it’s a town hall.

Lunch… well that was meant to be at the airport as a way to keep us going through the flight and into a late arrival. Well, you can see from the picture what we ended up doing. A bagel at the airport Starbucks cost more than breakfast. For something more substantial you are looking at £25-30 per person. So, we just cobbled together our remaining Krona to buy crisps, chocolate and some bottled water. I mean, it’s fine but I am really looking forward to being able to get lunch for under £5 again.

Anyway that’s it for Sweden. I’m writing this on the plane home polishing off the remaining pieces of the (rather nice) salt-fudge chocolate bar. I think we got the timing perfect for our itinerary and I am now thinking about a future weekend away that I want it do in two months time. I’m between Malta and Cyprus right now… so I guess we’ll see where I end up.

The Great EU Quest: Sweden – ABBA, Death and Photographs

Well, this is first. For the first time since starting this blog I have a vacation day where I managed to not tick anything off of any of my lists. I thought about listening to a list album as I typed this up or even shift over the two breads from the first day, but that would be dishonest. In the end, I like writing these little travelogues if only to give me a chance to revisit my holidays when these are published six months later.

So anyway, the day started with us finally finishing off the rest of the limpa and kavring. We managed to make a real saving there with those breads when you consider how many meals we got out of them. After this we took a tram back to the amazing island of Djurgården to visit…

… the ABBA Museum! We almost didn’t come here, but the more I thought about it the more I realised that this had to be done. It’s embarrassing to admit but I had tears in my eyes at the end of the introductory video. Since it feels like ABBA have always been around it’s so easy to forget how great they are.

This is the most expensive museum that I have been to for a long time (with tickets at about £25 each) so it really isn’t a place to go if you have negative or neutral feelings for ABBA. For me, this was an excellent place to spend a morning with the audio guide making it even better as it is actually narrated by the four members themselves. It just helps to make this feel less like a museum and more like an experience.

The amount of memorabilia on display is astonishing. Costumes, gold records and instruments are pretty much a given. However, this also had the helicopter from the Arrival artwork, newspaper clippings about the group members’ pre-ABBA successes and reproductions of many key rooms in their history. One of the more touching ones was a reproduction of Agnetha’s kitchen where the view from the window helped to inspire the touching song ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’.

It would have been so easy to make this museum a cash-grab, but this is something Sweden are legitimately proud of. Also, I can’t image the current King of Sweden ever forgiving the creators of the museum if they half-arsed it. Sure it’s a bit pricey, but I had a brilliant time despite not engaging in any karaoke or dance lessons. I did, however, have a go at the ABBA trivia and song-mixing games long the way… where I completely sucked.

Either side of the ABBA exhibits were two other music based rooms. One about the nearby Gröna Lund music venue (which didn’t interest me) and a room full of Eurovision things. This Eurovision room is the first place you enter and it was the moment I realised that I would really enjoy this museum.

After this we boarded the ferry back to Gröna Lund to make use of the lunch menus. We settled on a place that had Toast Skagen on the menu. It was that or meatballs… and I think the hub has had enough of those for now. Think of Toast Skagen as a posh prawn mayonnaise on toast that is then topped with fish roe. Utterly delicious and especially good if you have decent prawns like this place had.

Fuelled up and raring to go we took the metro a few stops south to Skogskyrkogården – the only place on our itinerary as suggested by the husband – a UNESCO World Heritage recognised cemetery. Yes, I’m worried about him too.

What makes this place unique is how the grave plots are amongst the woodland. None of the gravestones are large or ostentatious, which means that the trees are able to pull focus. It’s a weirdly beautiful place to walk through and brings a meaning to the phrase ‘Forest of the Dead’. Like with all major cemeteries there is a celebrity grave to find: that of screen legend Greta Garbo. The nice thing is how her grave stands out, but not so much that it ruins the ambiance created by the surrounding trees.

We had a beautiful day to walk about Skogskyrkogården with the trees providing a lot of much needed shade from the hot August sun. Before leaving we spent a good amount of time sitting in an area on top of a hill set aside for meditation. Being surrounded by graves the talk did drift towards the morbid. Still, not a bad setting to get a little bit morbid in.

Back on the metro we went feeling a bit refreshed spiritually. The next destination was  Monteliusvagen. It’s a small street on the edge of cliff on Södermalm Island which affords you great views of Gamla Stan and the surrounding area. People aren’t wrong. We had a perfectly clear day for this and got some stunning views from up there. It feels like one of those very open secrets which means there are always people there, but it won’t be heaving.

We finished our day on Södermalm with a visit to Fotografiska – a photography museum. It didn’t get off to a great start as this museum refuses to take cash and instead wants people to buy tickets on their app (which doesn’t work for UK residents) or by card (which incurs fees when used internationally). The ABBA museum is technically cashless as well, but they have a way to pay by cash if you don’t have a card.

So yes, we didn’t start our visit in the best of moods. This was improved by the first of two exhibitions which was centred around horses. Sounds a bit weird but it was so interesting to see how humans and their relationships with horses are depicted. Some were humorous, others tragic, most showed how close the bond can get. This culminated in a room that showed a number of different short films where this theme was continued.

The one we saw was a recent short film in Swedish titled ‘Hingsten’ where a female student stalks a teacher she has a crush on and ends up basically raping him. It was a bit of a hamfisted way to shoehorn in a link between horseriding and sex, but it was interesting to watch this amongst an older crowd of museum patrons.

There was a second exhibition centred around a particular photographer and then a non-existent third exhibition that was to be opened in a few days time. So we essentially payed full price (plus card fees) for two thirds of a museum visit. A bit of a disappointing way to end the day.

Still, that’s nothing that can’t be cured by some fast food. Being in Sweden we got ourselves a burger from Max Burgers – a national fast food chain that managed to chase McDonalds out of a number of Swedish towns. You know what, I can see exactly why. The burgers are cooked to order and the overall quality of everything is far superior (with the exception of the strawberry milkshakes) which means I would happily frequent them if they chose to franchise in Britain. There probably isn’t room for another burger chain…but you never know.

So that’s the last full day in Stockholm. We have a late flight tomorrow which means most of a day tomorrow! Maybe we’ll find something from the food list or just end up crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s as prepare to return to the UK. Hopefully it won’t rain too much!

The Great EU Quest: Sweden – Vasamuseet and Skansen

As is the tradition of my trips abroad, today was a museum day! The itinerary itself crystallised around the second of two Lonely Planet locations and I am very happy with how it turned out.

To begin the day we had more of the food that we purchased for yesterday’s dinner. Although we were still unable to finish off all the remaining kavring and limpa bread… so I know what’ll be for breakfast again tomorrow!

One thing I really love about the city of Stockholm is that it is built on 14 islands. We spent most of today on Djurgården since that appears very much to be the most fun island in Sweden. This island houses many museums, a theme park (sadly closed during our entire trip to Stockholm), a zoo and many other attractions. It’s like the real world equivalent to Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island… just without the weird donkey curse.

Because we are cheapskates we decided to walk from our hotel to Djurgården. It was only 25 minutes away since we’re staying just north of Gamla Stan so we had a nice leisurely walk along the waterfront before reaching our first stop.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 73/100Sight: Vasamuseet
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Position: #206

The Vasa Museum is one of two ship museums on the Lonely Planet list; the other being the Titanic museum in Northern Ireland. It’s one of those things I would have probably missed out otherwise as I’ve never been interested in boats or pirates.

It just takes that first moment of walking into the museum itself to get why this could be on the list. As museums go, Vasa Museum is pretty unique because of the story of the Vasa itself. A 17th century flagship built for great expense and decked out with beautiful carvings and paintings… only to sink less than 30 minutes into its maiden voyage and become the ultimate example of hubris.

What you see in the museum itself is the salvaged ship that has been brilliantly preserved and restored after being underwater for 333 years. All this and get the museum boasts that the boat you see is still 95-98% original. How? Well, because the water and the silt itself were favourable enough to prevent the ship from completely disintegrating.

I’d recommend getting onto one of the free museum introduction tours and making use of the free 17 minute movie that the museum offers. We ended up watching the movie in Japanese with English subtitles… which was interesting in of itself.

After leaving the Vasa Museum we made our way to Skansen – the worlds first open air live museum, which was founded in 1891. It is absolutely massive and I could see us having just spent the entire day here. The entire attraction is split nearly 50/50 between a zoo containing Scandinavian animals and buildings that have been relocated from other areas of Sweden for the sake of education and preservation.

Being a living museum, a lot of the relocated buildings have people inside dressed in traditional garb to explain things to the visitors. You also have onsite blacksmiths, woodcarvers and glassmakers who you can watch as they make their crafts which can, of course, be purchased in the gift shops.

The layout of Skansen really does help to breathe new life and give a new purpose to these buildings that would have been demolished otherwise. The wooden church is one of the more popular as people can actually get married in it. The yard also features some old gravestones… which really gave me the creeps.

For me, I loved the old farmhouses…but that might just be because they housed some of the farm animals from the children zoo. I mean, who wouldn’t be enchanted by a litter of piglets snuffling around looking for food. These piglets pretty much set the tone for the rest of the trip to Skansen (where we ended up skipping lunch because I didn’t feel like spending £17 on a burger).

So yes, the zoo at Skansen. It contains many local animals such as lynx, wolves and wolverines… that is if you are lucky enough to see them, which we did not. We were far luckier with other animals, however. We managed to see the brown bears being fed and got very well acquainted with some moose.

The highlight of the zoo itself was a tie between the reindeer (including an almost pure white one) and the bison/wild boar enclosure (also containing baby animals). I don’t know what it is about the water in Skansen, but it appears to be really good for making baby animals.

After the zoo we engaged in the very Swedish custom of fika… or at least my husband did. I just opted for fizzy water because I don’t really like coffee. I’ll take the pastries though. I’m only human after all and we skipped lunch.

A final farewell tour of Skansen later and we boarded a ferry to get back to Gamla Stan from Djurgården so we could have a quick sit down in the hotel before heading out for dinner. The ferry ride itself went way too quickly at about 7 minutes. Wish I could have had more time to appreciate the views.

Dinner itself was at a restaurant called Nomad. Dinners out are expensive in Stockholm so we searched around for a place that felt reasonable in price but still had a good reputation. I hadn’t expected a fairly hipster restaurant, but there’s a first tome for everything.

Being in Sweden, I wanted to have some fish. To start was herring dressed in three different ways (my favourite was the one on the left, which was actually the plainest and yet was still very flavourful and sweet) whilst the hub had chanterelle mushrooms and cheese on sourdough toast. Both dishes were gorgeous.

For the main I had some salmon (because I keep seeing it everywhere) with dill potatoes and a mustard sauce. Again, this was delicious. The salmon didn’t always need the mustard as it was great just the way it was, but options are always appreciated.

And there we are the end of Day Two. As of writing this I’m not sure what I’ll be doing tomorrow. We have plenty of options; it’s just that we have to round them down. Hopefully we’ll cobble together another great day.

The Great EU Quest: Sweden – Exploring Stockholm

List Item: Visit all EU countriesProgress: 18/28

Välkommen till Sverige!

Country: Sweden
Year first visited: 2017

After my first full day in Stockholm I am just so full of excitement at what I am going to be seeing on my remaining time here. Looking back at my other travel posts, it feels like I fall for cities pretty easily. But hey, rather this than spend money to be disappointed.

So yes, this is the first full day in Stockholm. We only made it to the hotel at about 11pm local time because our easyJet flight was delayed by about an hour. The only thing worth reporting is that the announcement on the shuttle train between Arlanda Airport and Stockholm Central was done by Björn from ABBA. Ain’t that just the coolest!

Having arrived so late the previous day we both basically slept through our alarm and ended up waking around an hour later than we hoped. That made it a bit of a rush job getting ready in the morning as there was a 10am walking tour I wanted to do.

Here’s the thing. If you told me a few years ago that I would be doing walking tours around a city I was visiting… I’d probably think future me was a bit sad. Sod it though, I’m in a new place and I want to learn as much about it as I can. Did I overdo it today by doing two of these walking tours in one day? Obviously, but my head is full of new useless trivia and my feet are glowing – so that’s a day well spent.

Anyway, we started the day doing a 2 hour free walking tour of the city north of the old town with Free Tours Stockholm. It really is one thing to be walking around the city and another to know some of the stories that go along with it.

For example, we walked past the gym where Swedish Crown Princess Victoria met her commoner husband. We also walked past the former bank building (pictured) whose bungled robbing led to the term ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. What can I say, those two hours went by in a flash.

At the end of the tour we were deposited on the border of Gamla Stan (the old town) in time for the changing of the guard. We didn’t stick around for this as we’ve seen it happen once before in Copenhagen and I couldn’t image this one being all that different. Instead we made our way straight to Storkyrkan (Stockholm Cathedral).

There’s been a church on this spot for ~700 years and it has been growing ever since. In the current incarnation the exposed brickwork of the vaults and columns make for a beautifully patterned interior. Unlike the rather sparse cathedral in Helsinki, there were some really notable pieces of ornamentation to see here.

Firstly there’s the alter which is a vision in ebony and silver. It’s very striking and unlike anything I’ve seen before in a church. The colours did make me think of the grim reaper, but I’m not sure that was intentional. You also have some extravagant royal pews and an insanely old statue made of elk antlers and oak which depicted the slaying of the dragon by St George.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 72/100Sight: Gamla Stan
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Position: #99

Much like with Tallinn, the Old Town of Stockholm is the big thing to see. The whole thing is on an island and it doesn’t take that long to navigate across. There’s a lot of little alleys and offshoots, which means multiple routes are necessary to appreciate it.

Before we explored, however, there was a desperate need for lunch since we skipped breakfast. Things being what they are with exchange rates (thanks again Brexit), Stockholm is a fairly expensive city. However, if you’re like me and are coming into this being used to prices in London… it isn’t too much of a shock. Also, it’s worth finding ways to make things cheaper. For example, look for lunch deals – some places offer substantially cheaper lunch options.

We found such a restaurant in Gamla Stan. Don’t get me wrong it still felt expensive, but everything is relative. Between us, my husband and I shared some Swedish meatballs and some elk meatloaf in a chanterelle sauce. I am happy that these were suitably Swedish food choices.

So we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Gamla Stan. With the brightly coloured houses and the sheer sense of history, I can really see how this is the most popular part of Stockholm for tourists. I plan on returning here on later days for some souvenir shopping and maybe breakfast on our final day.

We mooched a bit at the waterfront watching German cruise passengers being ferried onto dry land and made friends with some oddly cute seagulls before looping back to start the next walking tour at 4.

Now, was it a bit weird to have the same tour guide for both tours? Yes. Didn’t it matter? No, because he’s really good at what he does and was fairly easy on the eyes. Two more hours of history and stories passed by in a flash. I still vividly remember how an event in Stockholm led to the coining of the term ‘bloodbath’ and how some of the Americans in the group were getting a bit rankled every time our guide talked about the benefits of living in Sweden (e.g. paternity leave, free university fees, universal healthcare etc).

After this tour broke we walked across to the Southern island to checkout a larger supermarket and to get some good views of the Old Town from a higher vantage point. I don’t know if I am high enough to do the city true justice, but I think it’s a nice enough picture.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Food items: Limpa Bread and Kavring
Progress: 674/751

Coming to Sweden, there were three food items I wanted to look out for. Having read stories about the third I will not be trying surstromming here in Sweden. Instead, I will try this when I get home and can get some proper ventilation going. There would be a fourth if you count moose cheese… but I doubt I have enough in my bank account for some of that.

We did, however, find the other two items. Both of them are types of rye bread that can be found in Sweden. These formed our dinner tonight and breakfast for the next day. Trying to be Swedish we also bought some salami, cream cheesed infused with chanterelle mushrooms and a tub of shrimp salad with surimi and dill.

Starting off with the limpa bread. The name itself conjures up something a bit pappy to the point where I was expecting something akin to the Jamaican hardough. Instead think rye bread, then think malt loaf. Combine these flavours, give it a lighter texture and you have limpa.

It’s a rye bread with the hint of molasses and orange zest. It feels like it’s on the verge of being cakey, but the crumb texture isn’t right for that. We found this went really well with some chanterelle cream cheese. The woodiness of the mushroom really complimenting the bitterness of the zest and molasses.

The other bread from the list is called kavring. The initial whiff as you open the bag and the reassuring heft as you hold it definitely points to this as a rye bread. Darker than the limpa, but lighter and less dense than a lot of rye breads you can get. It’s like they remembered to add yeast to give it a bit of a rise.

Both of these are breads that I would happily buy if they were available in the UK. The fact that these both look near mass produced makes me weep when I think that, back at home, there’s no real equivalent widely available.

We finished off the evening with a cinnamon bun, because they are everywhere in Stockholm and they were on offer. Who can say no to a pastry swirl that moist with cinnamon sugar. I like these better than their American counterpart because they aren’t drowning in icing.

So yes, that’s he first day. Tomorrow will be my ticking off the other Lonely Planet site here in Stockholm: the Vasa Museum. Should be a special day.

Let’s Get Literal – Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 41/100Title: Slaughterhouse-Five
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Year: 1969
Country: USA

Right, so I ended up for a completely different book after finishing David Copperfield. It got to a point where I had a few days between finishing my last volume of Great Teacher Onizuka and jetting off to Sweden (eek so excited) so I needed a shorter book. I picked this book nearly at random to plug a hole and was left with something that ranks as one of the best novels I have ever read.

Slaughterhouse-Five is one of those books that appears to defy genre. It’s part sci-fi, part war, part irreverent comedy and all a bit off kilter. Also, it plays with the concept of time travel with the central character, Billy Pilgrim, veering between different points in his own timeline. Did I mention the aliens or the Dresden firebombing? Yes, all of this in one coherent book.

The main thing I was thinking about when reading Slaughterhouse-Five is how impressive it was that Vonnegut managed to construct a proper narrative like this whilst also flitting about in time. Yet he does. Within the book there are some clear through-lines with all the different timelines working with each other. At one time there are probably 7-8 different points in time that we could suddenly be transported to – which is where so much of the fun lays.

This whole novel would just fall apart if it wasn’t for it being written as this irreverent black comedy. There is a point of view present about life and death which is very disarming, that everything is as it is and will always be in the fullness of time. The phrase ‘so it goes’ becomes both a punchline and a piece of punctuation which occurs within the book with incredible frequency due to the constant presence of death.

I can see why some people might be against this book as it comes off as a bit flippant at times. Then again, if you buy into Billy Pilgrim actually believing his philosophy and this is just how he sees the world… well you can breeze past that and enjoy the book. However, it is finding humour in an uncomfortable place at times. Then again, if you can’t try to make someone chuckle to alleviate the tension then what’s the point.

Honestly, I find it hard to put this book into words since it is such an unusual book. The particular brand of unusual, however, is what made me love this book and will be driver to my eventual re-reading of it within the next decade. Similarly, I now have a bunch of his other books on my wishlist as I want to know if this is someone who’ll one day overtake Douglas Coupland as my favourite author of fiction.