Monday, January 16, 2012

Traveling with kids to northern Sweden: 11 trip highlights

We had a great Christmas, traveling all the way up to Skellefteå in northern Sweden to spend the holidays there with my family. Here are some of our trip's highlights:

Getting ready to board!
1. Riding in a one-horse open sleigh
This was a fantastic outing planned by my mom. We headed out to a place called Camp Caribo (that's the spelling), located in Hemmistjärn, inland from Skellefteå. It's located in what really feels the middle of nowhere, with nothing but woods, snowy fields, and sky all around.

When we got there we got to hop into an old sleigh pulled by a beautiful horse, and went for a ride through the snowy woods. Reindeer skins, sheep skins and blankets kept us warm, and my daughter was snuggled up right into my coat, mainly because she thought it was so cozy. When it got dark during our ride (it was only early afternoon, but it gets dark early in northern Sweden in December), we saw the stars come out in the sky.

On our way to the slope!
2. Tobogganing!
There wasn't a lot of snow for our visit (not like the masses we were dealing with for Christmas in Sweden in 2009!), but there was enough for some seriously nice tobogganing! Our favorite hill was the slope near the local church, it was also well-visited by local families. My kids really got into it and had some serious fun wiping out and sliding. Nothing like playing in the outdoors!

Midday, in December
3. Hunting down a Christmas tree
As usual, my parents' Christmas tree came from the plot of forest my mom inherited from her father, my grandpa, so there's a real nice family Christmas tradition going on there. The kids got to be in on the whole tree-hunt this year, and came home with a fine-looking tree. My daughter said she came along just to make sure there were no wild animals living in the tree: she did a good job!

4. Decorating the Christmas tree
The tree was decorated on the 23rd of December with tinsel, my mom's hand-painted gold and red ornaments, some decorations my siblings and I made about a hundred years ago when we were in school, and assorted shiny baubles. It was a real treat to see my kids help decorate the tree with their little cousin, almost 2.

5. Seeing Santa
Santa arrived with the presents in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. That's how things usually happen in Sweden. My kids were a little worried about Santa actually showing up, rather than coming around when everyone's sleeping like he does in Canada. (I actually think my son has figured out the whole Santa-scam, but he's keeping it quiet for his sister's sake...). Once Santa did show up though, with a big beard and wearing a huge fur coat, it seemed the kids were quite relieved, but my daughter thought it very suspicious that he "sounded kind of like grandpa". Yeah, the magic is a tough thing to keep alive when Santa actually has to show up and deliver the presents!

Summer.

Winter.
6. Visiting our favorite summer-spot in winter
We drove out to my parents' summer house where we've spent time the last few summers, and it sure looked a whole lot different with the ice and snow on it! The kids were dreaming of next summer I think. I know I was!


7. The reindeer safari
I wrote about this already. It was an amazing experience, and I was so glad we got to see those reindeer up close and personal with the kids.

8. Tearing up Leo's Lekland
The indoor play-land was a big hit with the kids as usual. They tore up and down the slides and ramps, bounced on the trampolines and bouncy castles, and generally had a great time.

9. Feasting on pastries from Lilla Mari
This small coffee shop is located in an old, red wooden building right near my parents' apartment. It's a popular hangout, serving coffee, tea, and other hot and cold drinks, as well as some seriously yummy sandwiches, pastries, cookies and cakes. My son loved the miniature Sacher cakes, while my daughter loved the frogs. You can see an example of these edible frogs here. Basically, it's butter-cream, whipped cream, and sponge cake covered with green marzipan. A definite kids' favorite! (My own recommendations: anything with meringue, and chokladbiskvier. (Lilla Mari also has a Facebook page!)

Frasses hamburger restaurant in Umeå, Sweden  
10. Finding my kids' favorite Swedish junk-food
Yeah, I know: junk food is bad for you. But I kind of did get a kick out of my kids going gaga for the chicken strips and french fries from Frasses, a very local fast-food chain that started up in northern Sweden in 1975. The food is just basic fast food, but it's cooked to order and you get to customize which toppings go on your burger. Ordering a "barnbox" (kids' meal) each for the kids, and a "skrovmål" (a burger and fries) to go, turned out to be a fun (if not 100% healthy) dinner option a couple of nights.

11. Shopping with ease for lactose-free products
This might seem like a weird travel highlight, but when you grocery shop for a child with lactose intolerance, it's a pretty big deal. My son is lactose intolerant, and here at home I can find lactose free milk, but lactose free yogourt, cheese, and ice cream (that isn't soy-based) is a struggle at times. In the Swedish grocery store however, I found a wide selection of products, including lactose free cream cheese, whipping cream, sour cream, ice creams, and a variety of yogourts. I'm hoping this is a trend that will eventually migrate across to North America and reach all the grocery stores where we live too!

Picture of Frasses thanks to Xanor via Wikimedia.

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