I pushed the tab just behind the steering column away from me and I moved my foot from the brake to the accelerator. My friend’s electric car seemed like the perfect way to cross the Norwegian border into Sweden. While I always revel in visiting new countries, Sweden was particularly special to me for two reasons: 1) my father has always raved about this Scandinavian country nestled between Norway and Finland and 2) Sweden was to be the 60th country I’ve visited.
The very quaint harbor town of Strömstad was founded in the 1500s and despite the cold January day, it was a nice small city in which to walk around. The quite colorful buildings were separated by the Strömsån River, which runs through the township. During our mid-morning walk, I encountered very friendly people: a woman who approached me raving about my hair color, a man who said I could park in front of his store and a woman who helped me select vegan toiletry items at Kronans Apotek at Södra Hamngatan 4. (I had packed an awesome toiletry bag with everything I could possibly need for my Scandinavian journey, only to leave it on the counter in the bathroom at home. In the event it might help someone else in a similar situation, I’ll share that I found some reasonably priced mascara and eye-liner from a Stockholm-based company named Idun Minerals. The products were clearly marked vegan and according to their website, Idun Minerals is a 100% vegan company.)
Despite visiting in the off-season (early January) and on a weekday, Strömstad saw a fair amount of activity, mostly from the ferries that docked every so often. It was neat to people watch from our table by the window at Heat, where we had lunch later in the day.
My favorite part of the town was the natural beauty of the harbor front. I especially enjoyed the huge rock formations where you could watch the local wildlife. It didn’t hurt that it was also a beautiful sunny, albeit cold, day. I was reminded of several New England coastal towns I have visited.
I enjoyed sitting on the a large rock and taking in the rather romantic scene. Ducks flew by, gulls flew by. Then a pair of swans paddled towards us seemingly curious about us. The highlight for me, however, was when the seals showed up. Their heads kept popping up closer and closer to us and I loved watching the water, wondering where they might emerge next.
The harbor-front restaurant Heat is the only vegan-friendly restaurant listed on Happy Cow. Sitting at our table next to the window afforded the opportunity to people watch as the ferries came in. Our waitress was very friendly and was happy to point out the vegan options for us on the menu, which were clearly marked. She also told us about the other dishes, such as some of the curries, that could be made vegan upon request. Even though we were ordering al la carte, we were invited to help ourselves to the salad portion of the lunch buffet.
Our lunch began with vegan tapas: black wakame, vegan mayo, seaweed caviar. This appetizer consisted of three mini sweet waffle cones (like the kind one would expect to eat ice-cream out of) that had been placed in a softball-sized rock. While I loved the presentation of this starter, I must admit that I didn’t care for the flavors. In my opinion, the sweetness of the waffle cones did not pair well with the ingredients they housed: black wakame (kind of algae), vegan mayo and seaweed caviar. Perhaps the intent was to balance sweet and salty with this dish, but I personally found the sweet very much overpowered the salty sea plants.
I ordered the vegan poke bowl with the intent of it being an appetizer, but it was much larger than I had expected. The poke bowl was basically a deconstructed sushi roll and was big enough to serve as an entire meal. This was my favorite dish at Heat as I very much enjoyed the array of flavors and textures all in one bowl.
Chrissy ordered the vegan sushi roll (tofu, avocado, cucumber, seaweed caviar, teriyaki, sesame seeds) and the hefty price for this dish was very quickly justified. The roll itself was huge and it came with some seaweed salad and some very potent ginger. The vegan roll had a great mix of flavors and we would happily order it again.
Ordering before I realized how generous the portion sizes were, I asked for the Szechuan-style stir fried vegetables as a main dish. While it was a colorful dish and the ingredients were fresh, there was some ingredient in the sauce that my taste buds did not find particularly pleasing. Still, I was happy to have a hot vegan meal on such a cold day.
Blomsholm Stenskepp (Stone Ship)
Blomsholm, only a few minutes drive north of Strömstad, is home to some interesting history, most notably Stenskepp (Stone Ship). These prehistoric finds, dating back to 400-600 AD in the latter half of the Iron Age, is still shrouded in mystery. The presumed ancient burial site has not yet been excavated, leaving most of its secrets underground.
There is a small parking lot which was empty save for a single car. So, I parked and headed across the little wooden bridge over water that would have been frozen had it not been moving. From the bridge I could see Stone Ship up on the small hill in the short distance. It was a beautiful day for a walk and despite the early afternoon hour, the sun would be setting within the subsequent hour.
A short five-minute walk later and we were standing in the middle of numerous large stones that had been placed in an oval shape with two taller stones on either end. Historians seems to agree that Stenskepp is a burial ground, based on its similarity with other such structures around Sweden. As to who might be buried there, however, here are many floating theories (legends really). Perhaps it contains the bodies of an unfortunate bridal train that perished there, or a Viking chief and his men. Apparently, the family who owns the property does not wish to have it dug up and so the secrets remain unveiled.
Walking around the site, especially alone, was incredible. It felt like having access to hallowed ground and it was not lost on me that there was an ancient untold story underneath where I stepped. While inside the stones, it was easy to imagine being on a ship deck looking out over the water as the sun set.
Even without the interesting heritage of the stones, Bolmsholm is a beautiful place to walk in its own right. At the end of a gorgeous wide-open field is the entrance to the surrounding woods and it is my understanding that hiking trails continue quite a ways, skirting the field. We didn’t have enough time and the wind was rather blustery, so we headed back to Halden, Norway to return my friend’s car.
It was really neat to drive an electric car for a few reasons: 1) it was quieter than any car I’ve driven, 2) I realized you can’t refer to the accelerator as the “gas pedal” and 3) it was strangely more cost-effective to drive slowly. As a pedal to the medal kind of driver, driving slowly was something for me to get used to. But, the fact that I was driving a friend’s car and that I wanted to take in the scenery helped slow me down.
Recharging the vehicle was something very new for me. We pulled into a Tesla charging station even though the car is not a Tesla (apparently all brands of electric cars can be charged at all types of charging stations). I must say that recharging took a very long time, much longer than filling up a tank with gas. We waited about 20 minutes only to have enough charge to drive an hour to get home. Who knows how long it would have taken to completely recharge, making an electric car, in my opinion, not that great for long road trips.
There is still so much more of Sweden I’d like to see, including meandering in Stockholm’s Old Town, checking out the ABBA Museum, exploring the many archipelagos, taking a hike in one of the many national parks, learning more about the Sami, visiting some castles and reveling in the vegan scene of Malmö.