The Beginner’s Guide To Vegas


My trip to Vegas in February was my very first visit and boy was it an eye-opener. For all you Vegas virgins I’ve put together some tips to know before you lose your v-plates in Sin City! Drinking In The Streets As someone who lives in London, where we are partial Read more

Street Art Around The World


Looking back over my blog and photography archives I can see some patterns emerging with regards to the things I like to seek out and capture on my travels. Cake is definitely one of them, but just as voracious is my appetite for street art. Over the years I have Read more

Review of British Airways Premium Economy Cabin - World Traveller Plus


For our journey back from Vegas I paid extra to fly in the British Airways premium economy cabin for the first time - I knew I would be needing some sleep and was intrigued to see what perks it offered in comparison to the economy flight out. For those not Read more

Share Your Epic Adventures & Win With Blacks & Explore


How would you like to win £2000 worth of adventure travel with Explore and Blacks? More importantly, what would you spend it on? An African safari perhaps, or sailing the Greek Islands, or maybe (this would be my choice) it would be the downpayment on a trip to Antarctica! Read more

Good Reads & A Giveaway


I have read so many books since I last had a chance to write a review post that I didn’t know where to start! Luckily I made some notes along the way and would like to share with you some of my favourites from the bunch. From memoirs, to Read more

How To Book A Good Guesthouse In Sri Lanka


Because I am a lady who enjoys the odd home comfort on her travels I take booking my accommodation very seriously. On my recent tour around Sri Lanka, however, it quickly became apparent that the guesthouses we were staying in weren’t going to be merely a place to rest Read more

Packing Like A Pro With Muji To Go


I’ve been packing on autopilot for many years now. I assumed I was good at it because I had curbed my habit for over-packing and could throw everything in a case very quickly. So it wasn’t until Muji invited me to take a look at their Travel Shop and Read more

In Pictures: Flying Over The Grand Canyon & Las Vegas


Words cannot do justice to the surreal and sensational experience that is taking a helicopter ride over Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. So I am going to try and let my pictures do the talking. This helicopter ride was the most expensive activity we undertook in Las Vegas but Read more

Sweden Archives » 40 countries before I'm 30

The blonde and the beautiful: Impressions of a first timer in Sweden

Posted on by Jayne in Countries | 16 Comments

My main mission on my virgin visit to Sweden was to investigate whether the Swedish were as blonde and beautiful as I had been led to believe. Whilst travelling on my round the world trip it seemed that I was constantly meeting stunning, tanned Swedes – particularly on the beaches in Oz. I was also keen to know, although would never admit it to my hosts from Skåne Tourism, whether they were all as unapproachable as the cliquey groups of youngsters I had attempted to befriend on the East Coast.

The verdict: it’s partially true – I saw many beautiful people in Sweden, although not all were naturally blonde! The surprise discovery, however, was that the people I met were not at all cold or unfriendly but rather warm, sometimes quirky, and in a lot of cases incredibly funny. I learnt a lot about Sweden on this trip through the passionate people we encountered. Here are my impressions of a first timer in Sweden:

The Beautiful People

So on close inspection it transpired that not all Swedish people are naturally blonde. They are fit though, and I mean physically fit. On the Skåne coast I encountered numerous tanned, lithe figures swimming (sometimes naked) in the Baltic Sea. Both at the Ribersborgs Bathhouse in Malmö and on the beach at Helsingborg I witnessed brave bodies bathing in what I imagined to be Arctic conditions. In Helsingborg locals were donning their baths robes and slippers to walk down to the ocean for a bracing morning dip. I suppose that is one way to wake up.

Approaching Ribersborgs Bathouse on a moody day

Cheeky (brave) bathers!

Passionate People

Far from the unfriendly, stoic personalities I had wrongly expected to encounter I was greeted with nothing but warmth and passion from the people we were introduced to. From Mia, the personal shopper, who showed me her favourite fashion stores in Malmö, to the proud shop owners who told me all about their products.

I bet you didn’t know Sweden had vineyards? Well it turns out they do and when we met Carl-Otto the owner of Köpingsberg Vineyard he told us all about it whilst performing a few tricks. You have to be pretty passionate to grow wine in Sweden because the laws regarding the sale of wine require it is done via the government only. Carl-Otto explained that should he wish sell his wine to us today he would first need to sell it to the government, then buy it back before he could sell it on. We did get to try some though and it was rather tasty.

The Royal Family/More beautiful people

It was in the Royal Family’s ex summer residence, the magical Sofiera just north of Helsinborg, that I first saw a photo of the beautiful Prince Carl Philip. A cross between Orlando Bloom and Johhny Depp he must be every young girls dream! From the exhibition on Princess Ingrid in the palace building and the gardens which had been lovingly created by Princess Margareta, including the large Rhododendron garden for which the palace is known today, I learnt what an inspiring family the Royals are. A story which stuck with me was the legend that when one of the princesses was seperated from her father, through a political marriage to the King of Denmark, she would flash a light from her castle across the water in Denmark to her father who had a clear view to it from Sofiera. Whether true or not its a touching tale, worthy of a fairytale princess.

Fairytale Sofiera

The not so secret garden

A Swedish country garden

Some scary people

Perhaps it’s the long dark winters that inspire such gripping crime thrillers to come out of Sweden. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy by Stieg Larssan put Stockholm on the map but Henning Mankel put the chocolate box pretty town of Ystad into the international limelight via his crime novels too. Touring Ystad, admiring the pastel-coloured, flower-draped buildings it was hard to imagine this town as a setting for sinister crime films, but it’s the town Henning chose to set his books in and the residents seem very proud of the fact. Our tour guide would point out peaceful streets that were home to particular fictional murders in a cheery disposition. Many locals, she explained, had starred as extras in the BBC films with Kenneth Branagh, and had gathered to watch when a car was blown up in the town square. Meeting the locals and touring the pretty streets it was clear the scary people were confined to fiction only.

Picture perfect houses in Ystad

Eco people

Salt & brygga on the waters edge in Malmö is one of Europes first and best organic restaurants – even though the owner was told at the time of it’s making (2001) that such a thing was impossible. Before smoking was banned in restaurants, before organic food was a range in supermarkets, Björn Stenbeck decided to open a fully organic restaurant – from the furnishings to the supply of food – and people told him he was mad. Eating in this resturant and meeting Björn I can confirm that he is most certainly not insane, but a brilliant businessman and a talented restauranteur. The food is amazing too!

Björn tells us about his restaurant while his awards line the bar behind

Dried ham from Olinge, smoked cheese from Fyn, beetroot, egg yolk, garden cress and bleak roe – quite a mouth full!

Ecological clothing is also a focus for many Malmö boutiques. A shop named Uma Bazaar is planning to introduce a jean recycling sheme for it’s customers whereby if you hand in your old jeans you get money off your new pair. Jeanius!!

For more on the Malmö boutiques see my post on Shopping in Malmö.

And Fika!

I couldn’t write a post about my first impressions of Sweden without including a mention of Fika. I completely fell in love with the tradition of Fika, the Swedish equivalent of High Tea, whilst in Skåne. To find out why exactly see the post ‘I heart Fika!

Although the temperature in Sweden was a little colder than I anticipated (and I was therefore too much of a wimp to embrace the Swedish bathing habit!) I found the personalities of the people far warmer than I imagined.

Have you been to Sweden? Was it different to what you expected?

A stylish spa & fine food: ingredients for the perfect Hen Weekend in Ystad, Sweden

Posted on by Jayne in Eats, Food, Holidays, Hotels, Travel Tales | 5 Comments

I hate cooking. I also hate Hen Weekends and yet the crux of this post is about how a cookery class and overnight stay at  Ystad på Saltsjöbad spa hotel would make the perfect Hen do*. I think I had better explain..

I was exploring the Skåne region of Sweden with the Swedish Tourist Board who were celebrating the launch of their new facebook app and we had arrived at the chic Ystad på Saltsjöbad on the southern coast of Sweden, only 45 minutes from Malmö and less than one hour from Copenhagen. With indoor and outdoor pools, nautical decor in the bedrooms, a pink pool table and flowing white curtains everywhere it was like the Soho House Group does Sweden. But for some, unfathomable to me, reason we were having to cook our own dinner. Not impressed. As we moved towards the scene of the torture I realised the modern, well laid out and exceedingly clean kitchen area in which we were to work was in the middle of the buzzing restaurant. ‘This could get embarrassing’, I thought.

The pool at Ystad på Saltsjöbad Hotel. Photo courtesy of www.ysb.se

Ystad Saltsjobad Hotel

The kitchen area: only to be approached with a glass of wine in hand. Photo credit: Matt Tucker

Peter the Head Chef gathered the group around the kitchen counter. Appearing both stoic and friendly at the same time he handed me a chefs hat with a look that said, ‘Wear the hat and stop whingeing’. So I did.

Nice hat

The courses were divided up among us and I took responsibility for the dessert, the area for which I felt the least horror. For the sake of sportsmanship I took to the task with gusto and completed my duty with precision and efficiency – if I may say so myself. I then rewarded myself with a glass of wine and leant against the counter, watching the others prepare their courses and offering unnecessary criticism and advice. A table was laid for the group by waiters that looked like Ralph Lauren models dressed by Abercrombie and Fitch and Peter helped the creators of each course with last-minute preparations before serving. We gorged on lump roe for starters followed by roasted rooster (a first for many of us) for mains. Merry from the wine, content from the fine food and giggling from the dinner table conversation, I suddenly realised I was having a good time. Then it was time for dessert and I was once again filled with dread. Apprehensively opening the fridge, I sighed in relief to see the white chocolate mousse had set as desired. Peter patiently explained how it should be served, then generously let me lick the bowl. The diners agreed the dessert tasted delicious, some even had seconds, and I suddenly realised I was REALLY having fun.

Patient Peter coaches us through the meal preparation

Aren’t many Hen Weekends the very same? An arranged activity that fills you with dread, until you are half way through it and realise you can’t stop laughing? Preparing a meal at Ystad på Saltsjöbad was exactly like that. For the kitchen haters amongst us there are some less loathsome activities to partake in too. Like swimming in either the indoor or outdoor pools or the bracing sea if you are feeling brave and somewhat Swedish, the locals were donning thick robes to walk out onto the peer then shedding them to dive straight into the icy waters. There is the spa area with the glass fronted sauna that lets you gaze out to sea as you sweat out the toxins, an ample sized jacuzzi and a chill out area with four poster beds surrounded by white muslin. Of course you could also dine in the restaurant and have someone else cook the food! If the weather is fine then the restaurant patio on the sea-shore could be no better setting. After dinner you could pose around the pink pool table, even play a round of pool if you wish! It’s girly heaven; from pampering in the spa to cocktails in the bar, the Saltsjöbad offers it all and in truly elegant style.

The Very comfy bed

A very cool phone

Another type of pool

The Bar Area -very Soho House does Sweden

I was still full when it came around to breakfast time the next morning but the mini croissants waiting in the kitchen oven were too much to resist. I reached in and grabbed a couple for the journey onwards. Then I popped a couple of soluble multi vitamin tablets, which were perched conveniently next to the fruit juices, into my glass – that’s the first time a hotel I have stayed in has provided these with breakfast. Feeling all fresh and healthy I grabbed a few more cookies to keep me going until the next Fika - the Swedish equivalent of high tea which I fell in love with whilst in Sweden.

The bottom line

A two night gourmet package at Ystad på Saltsjöbad including; a four course dinner on the first night, collecting ingredients, an evening’s cooking class and breakfast on both days starts from 2,200 SEK (approx £210) per person. That’s a lot more activity, pampering and style for your money than a weekend in Butlins ladies – and trust me I would know!

What’s been your experience of hen weekends? Would you be tempted to have your next one in Ystad?

* or Bachelorette party if you are from the states

It’s Fika time!

Posted on by Jayne in Countries, Eats, Travel Tales | 19 Comments

It’s well known I am a bit of a cake fiend; I come from a nation of tea drinkers, I have a very sweet tooth and never confine my tea and cake consumption just to the afternoon. The Swedish tradition of Fika, therefore, is right up my street! Fika is the Swedish equivalent of Afternoon or High Tea. More than just a ‘Diet Coke’ break, it is a ritual that is to be enjoyed with friends, away from work and at least once a day. Fika involves consuming a beverage of tea, coffee or lemonade accompanied by a sweet treat, usually a big cinnamon bun. Traditionally the coffee would have been served with 7 different freshly baked cookies, as the ingredients were expensive the larger variety of cookies you served the wealthier you appeared to guests. Nowadays the Swedish are well known for their healthy and active lifestyles so they would most likely supplement the calorific cakes and cookies for a piece of fruit. In the name of research I stuck to sampling the more traditional versions of Fika during my visit to the Skåne region of Sweden, I’m very thorough when it comes to these things!

Yumm cinammon buns

Fika can be taken at any time of day and in any setting. In Skåne there were beautiful settings aplenty. My first experience was in a greenhouse in the gardens of Malmö castle. A spread of cinnamon buns, carrot cake, chocolate brownies and tea and coffee had been laid out amongst the greenery and it is probably one of the prettiest and most serene places I have ever taken tea. I had just completed the mammoth shopping spree mentioned in the last post and was relieved to rest my feet, refuel on sugar and listen to the gentle patter of a light rain shower against the greenhouse roof.

In a typically Swedish cafe in Mossbystrand I was treated to a veritable Fika buffet. As if gorging on 3 types of cake in my first Fika experience wasn’t enough, we stopped in a cafe on the way to Ystad to find a display of more cinnamon buns PLUS cornflake biscuits, coconut cakes and lots and lots of cookies. The buns were fresh out of the oven, still warm and slightly gooey inside. I dreamt of my local bakers being able to produce exact replicas. They never could, however, for the Fika experience is about much more than the buns – it’s the setting and the service that make it taste so good. Metres from the coast this cafe was in a cottage Hansel and Gretel would be proud to live in. The interior decor taking inspiration from the shoreline outside; all distressed wood, blue and white stripes and a most inviting chimney stack. The owner spoke little English but did her best to explain her baking and the ingredients of the magnificent home-brewed fruit tea she served. A quaint shop out the back sold more tea, in flavours I have never before heard of – Sunset Boulevard tea anyone? If driving along the coast to Ystad, Mossbystrand is a charming place to stop for a Fika treat.

A traditional Fika buffet with various cookies and warm buns hidden under the cloth!

I do like to be beside the seaside

Cake – it would have been rude not to try them ALL

In Molle I met another Swedish sweet treat – chocolate balls. Chocolate balls are, unsurprisingly, balls of chocolate and they are scrumptscious! The sun had come out for our rest in the harbour at Molle so we sat outside a waterside cafe, enjoyed yet more Fika, and felt not the least bit guilty of the calories we were consuming as we had cycled through the national park of Kullahalvön to get there.

Enjoying Fika at the harbour in Molle

Dramatic shoreline in Molle

At the train station, as we prepared to head back to Copenhagen airport at the end of our Skåne trip, I caught sight of a woman munching on a cinnamon bun from a paper bag. I wondered if I had room in my belly for one more before leaving. I realised my addiction was getting a little out of hand and had a little word with myself. “Don’t worry, you can come back for more,” is what I said in my head!

London residents you can experience Fika too!

Visit Sweden are hosting a Pop Up Fika Parlour and walk in Fika Picnic on the 24-26 August at Soho Square in London. See the website for more details. You can reserve a table by emailing reservations@fikasquare.co.uk or just pop down on the day.

Shopping is personal in Malmo City, Sweden

Posted on by Jayne in Cities, Travel Tales | 6 Comments

Malmö City recently celebrated the birth of its 300,000 inhabitant, which means the ratio of chic boutiques to customers is firmly in the favour of the shopaholic. Malmö is situated in the Skåne region of southern Sweden, a mere 35 minute train ride from Copenhagen airport, Malmö is in fact closer to Copenhagen airport in Denmark than Copenhagen city centre itself. On a damp morning last Thursday I took the speedy Easyjet flight from London Gatwick to Copenhagen airport (1hr 45 flight time) and in a few hours found I had the cool stores of Malmö virtually to myself.

Shopping in Malmö is a personal experience. Sure it helps to have a personal shopper (more on Mia later!) but what really makes shopping in Malmö a unique experience is that many of the stores are staffed and managed by the owner themselves. Away from the chains on the high street are these elegant shops, each one a product of passion. This is evidenced by the design of the store, the quality of the products and the enthusiasm of the people that work there.

altewai.saome – where the shop interior is as cool as the products

The first of this type of store I was introduced to was Uma Bazaar. Just behind Lilla torg (the small square) this store stocks only ecological and fair-trade products, something which the Swedish seem to feel strongly about as a whole. The owner showed me her favourite products, such as eco friendly shoes by Swedish designers that have now made it into mainstream fashion. She spoke animatedly and passionately about all her products and her future plans to introduce a recycle scheme for jeans in the shop. Near the front of the store was a neatly folded cream chunky knit mens jumper – I couldn’t help but reach down and touch it. The owner laughed and informed me that 7 out of 10 women stop to do the very same thing – men take note and buy one now!

Worth a visit if only for a chat with the owner!

Next we visited altewai.saome, owned by 2 young designers who had trained in Milan. The minimal interior of the store was as cool as the clothes it stocked – the walls a stark white setting for dramatic big shouldered garments. Being the end of August most of the goods were reduced by up to 70% off – I couldn’t resist purchasing the blinging little number pictured below! Fellow bargain hunters might want to time their visit to coincide with the end of season sales too, for 70% off = 70% more purchases to be made. Doesn’t it?

Can't resist a bargain!

Well known Swedish designers like Karin Wester got their break by having their designs stocked at Tjallamalla (pronounced Shamalamalama if you are me – much to the mirth of the locals!) Tjallamalla stocks a mixture of vintage clothes and new designers. Designers may submit their new wares to be stocked here and receive a cut upon any sales. It’s a great way of supporting the local talent and Karin Wester is proof that it works. I was distracted by the jewellery – mini plastic chocolate brownies on rings, donuts on necklaces and a frying pan complete with full fry up to be worn in your ear! I’m a huge fan of vintage clothes and whilst Malmö is like most other cities in regard to the price being significantly higher in shops than if you had rummaged in a flea market or car boot sale yourself, coming across boots that Abba would be proud to wear is great fun!

Supporting new designers at Tjallamalla

Abba's original boots at Mani?

Stepping into Malmö’s boutiques is like stepping into someone’s really chic home. We explored stores that looked like the living room of my future dream house. In one place I accidently stepped into the back office as it looked no different to the shop floor! I was incredibly impressed to see so many of the shops had a notebook on the counter asking customers to enter their email address. These books were filled with swirly handwriting of customers eager to know more about their favourite shop – very refreshing in the day and age of spam newsletters.

I wouldn’t have discovered half of these wonderful places without the help of Mia. Mia is a personal shopper and style consultant. Malmö born and bred this is a Swedish woman who knows her fashion and her Malmö boutiques. I was immediately drawn to her warm personality and admirable fashion experience, not to mention her mesmerising chunky jewellery! Although a great sense of satisfaction is usually achieved when one stumbles across these types of places by accident, the insight and introduction into the ownership of these stores provided by Mia completely enhanced this shopping experience for me. She took me to places like Milonga, a store born out of the owners love of tango dancing and Svensson, previously a magazine and now the coolest place on the high street to buy mens jeans. With Mia I felt I wasn’t just shopping but discovering the heart of Malmö too.

Whether you decide to contact Mia whilst in Malmö (her email is mia at stilverket dot se - you really should!) or go it alone, the shopping experience in Malmö cannot fail but be personal. The passion of the shop owners, the fostering of local talent, great products from the ecological to the bizarre and often having the whole shop all to yourself. Can’t ask for more than that!

(I travelled to Malmö as part of a press trip with Visit Sweden. For more information on the Skåne region visit their website.)