[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern†, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, DED Angel†, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku†, Helsinki, Gray's Inn Road†, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton†, Berlin, Warsaw†, Leeds North Street, York, Hong Kong†, Oxford, Seven Dials, Reading]
March 25th-27th 2018
These multi-city journeys require some planning, you know. Over the last decade or so, we've taken plenty of inspiration from The Man In Seat 61 when it comes to potential methods of getting around. But ultimately, you have to fire up multiple browser tabs for plane, train and boat websites to co-ordinate all the bookings, and that's before you even get to the hotels. Still, it all somehow comes together, and you even have a paper trail at the end of it. In the case of the original Nordic Expedition in June 2016, I can now look through my mail inbox and see that we had our route through Norway, Sweden and Finland booked and locked down by April 16th.
So imagine our delight when BrewDog Malmo opened just over a fortnight later, in an entirely different bit of Sweden. It was too late to change our route by then, and even if we'd wanted to it would have taken us massively out of our way. We always suspected we'd be coming back eventually to tie up that loose end. And two years later, here we are.
Brewdog Malmo is about a ten-minute walk from Malmo station (and a one minute walk from our hotel, but more on that later). We end up paying three separate visits to the place during our two days in the city, and the first one is around 4pm on Sunday March 25th. The Catholics among you probably think of that as the Feast of the Annunciation, the date exactly nine months before Christmas when the Virgin Mary discovered she was expecting. In Sweden, however, it's known as Waffle Day, because the Swedish for Our Lady's Day sounds a little bit like the word Våffeldagen, which is as tenuous an excuse for dessert consumption that you could hope for. We should be combing the streets in search of lattice-shaped sweetmeats, but we've decided to get our Beer Visas stamped in our 51st BrewDog bar instead.
The first thing that strikes us is the sign outside the bar, which is pleasingly non-standard – as we've made our way through all these bars they've been forced more and more into a corporate template, so it's nice to celebrate the odd one that apparently didn't get the design memo. Inside, it's a large space with some twists on the old favourites: flight boards that will allow you samples from all twenty taps on offer, a Nintendo system pumped through a large projector screen, one of those hopinators that you never see in the UK bars any more, and a beer list written in chalk on boards rather than the lightboxes we're used to back home. What it doesn't appear to have, on initial inspection, is customers. There are a couple of lunching families dotted around the place, and that's more or less it.
To be fair, Sunday afternoon is probably a bad time to try and get a feel for the popularity of a bar. And the two occasions we call in after that – just before closing time on Sunday night and Monday night – are probably equally unrepresentative, and hence equally quiet. That doesn't stop the place being friendly, though. There's one member of staff basically given the run of the bar at each of our sessions – in the case of the woman who's got the Sunday shifts, she's taken the opportunity to construct a playlist consisting of every damn thing Gorillaz have ever recorded. She works out fairly quickly where we're from, and is happy to chat while we're drinking, and eating the large shared portion of fries that we're having for lunch as a replacement for waffles.
Despite the lack of punters, there's a delightfully relaxed atmosphere throughout, although it does lead you to wonder how well the place is doing – especially when you discover there's a whole downstairs area as well, with a collection of shuffleboard tables waiting to be used. We get through a few beers in our three sessions, a mixture of stuff from BrewDog (including their local variant Hello My Name Is Agnetha) and Gothenberg's brewery Beerbliotek (including their session IPA rammed through a hopinator's worth of pineapple and watermelon). So the beer is definitely up to scratch, as is the venue: all they need are a few more people in there. Hopefully they manage that during the rest of the week.
Just over the road from BrewDog, in what is no coincidence whatsoever, is our base for our two nights in Malmo, Hotel Garden. The ancient maps on my GPS app suggest that this used to be part of the First Hotel chain, a group I've had iffy experiences with in the past in places like Oslo and Karlskrona. But the current owners of Hotel Garden are Ligula, and they seem to be running it just fine. The building itself has an old-fashioned design, but it's been spruced up with some surprisingly modern touches, like the rooms having USB charging ports for our digital devices, or a sashimi table in one corner of their comprehensive breakfast buffet. All this comes at a surprisingly low price, doubly surprising given that we're in Sweden.
The reception desk at the Garden gives us a splendid street map of the city, with an even more splendid bus map on the back. Following a quick trip to the Skånetrafiken ticket office at the station, we have 24 hours of pre-paid travel in our pockets, and start using the bus map to work out where we can explore. Our first stop involves revisiting one of the few sights we saw on our 2007 visit: the bizarrely-shaped Turning Torso building, which you may recognise from the cover of The BBG's 2018 diary. (It's almost like she planned it.) The area's certainly changed a lot in the ten years or so since we were last here, when it was largely a building site: these days there are new buildings everywhere, and still more on the way.
While we're here, we also try to get a look at the Øresund Bridge, which is theoretically possible from this part of town. We've been given a tip that the nearby Salt & Brygga restaurant has a good view of it: unfortunately, the owners appear to have recently sold off the restaurant and run away, while the sea is far too misty to get any sort of clue that there's a bridge there at all. We fare a bit better the following morning without trying - we're taking a journey on the number 3 bus, a circular route charmingly known as the 'ringlinjen', and just happen to spot the bridge out of the window. We get off the bus at Kockum Fritid, run across its carpark towards the sea, and realise that we’ve got a perfect view. Pictures are taken. (I may get around to posting them here once I've got my Google Photos albums in some sort of acceptable shape.)
Sweden being what it is, any excuse to have fun without spending any money is always welcome. We spend a quiet Sunday evening strolling around the various squares of Malmo – Stortorget, Lil Torget, Gustav Adolfs Torg – just admiring the architecture and the people. If you're looking for somewhere else to do those things, you could surprisingly do a lot worse than visiting the City Library. It's a beautifully organised open space with a huge atrium area in the middle: we go all the way to the top floor so we can look down it, and annoy a guy who’s hiding there amongst some as yet unused shelves trying to make a phone call. The DVD collection is as impressive as the books (both cover multiple languages), and frustratingly is the first place where I’ve seen a tangible DVD copy of The Garbage Helicopter, my favourite Swedish film of recent years – it’s got English subtitles and everything, but without a Malmo library card it remains tantalisingly out of reach. (Until part 3 of Nordic Expedition II, coming soon...)
Of course, we have to spend some money eventually, on things like culture and food and non-BrewDog beer. The latter two are sort of covered at Malmo Brewing, who have a tap room that bucks the usual craft beer trend by looking more like an American dive bar, complete with country soundtrack rather than the usual white boy rock. It's a bit of a disappointment: their beers (we try Polariscope and Canvas Climber) are unspectacular, and the advertised BBQ menu isn't on sale on Sundays, meaning our dinner is a pair of burgers accompanied by crisps. You may have more fun at the Chocolate Museum that's part of the same building, where you can either tour the exhibits or just buy some locally-made chocolate in a variety of wild flavours.
We have a much better dinner the next night at Atmosfär, a restaurant located close to the library. We have our fanciest meal of the holiday there – parsley soup and homemade sausages to start, skrei cod and duck rilette as our mains, caramel tart and crème brulee for pud, plus Anton Bauer Gruner and Coppola Cabernet Sauvignon to drink. It’s decent food unpretentiously served, and only loses a few marks at the end for taking far too long to give us the bill. Let us pay, dammit! (We have a bar we need to get to before closing time, for one thing.)
That ringlinjen circle line bus I mentioned earlier helps get us out to what's probably the highlight of this portion of NEII, a trip to the Malmo Museer. It's much more than a museum - the entrance fee of a measly forty SEK takes in the Malmo Castle, its associated museums and galleries, and the science and maritime museum down the road from it. We start at the latter, which easily gives you your four quid's worth on its own: a large-scale exhibit looking at how technology has changed in Malmo over the last century, a subsection called Muscles and Motors that’s a mini-transport museum in its own right (including our first submarine of the week), and an overview of some of the cool things that were invented in the Skane region. There's also a separate nautical section aimed at kids, which nevertheless includes the cheerful revelation that Christopher Columbus introduced the clap to Europe.
We head down the road to the main castle complex for a decent lunch at its restaurant Wega, where we discover the existence of mifu, a milk-based protein source for people who like tofu but don't want to give vegans the fucking satisfaction. Then we spend the afternoon at the castle and its art gallery. The castle’s not terribly exciting: most of it's been recently reconstructed anyway. But the associated Konstmuseum has several exhibits of note. There's a basement aquarium whose most surprising feature is a cabinet containing a plate of fish fingers. The History Of Hops ties in nicely with our current interests, mainly looking at how Swedish home brewing has developed over the decades. The current main exhibit, Perpetual Uncertainty (running till August 26th), is about art’s response to radioactivity, mainly focussing on the catastrophes at Chernobyl and Fukushima. It’s overly conceptual in parts, relying too much on the accompanying brochure to explain what you’re seeing. Its most effective pieces are the closest to traditional documentary: Susan Schuppli’s film Trace Evidence tells the story of the two disasters in a standard narrative way, and is backed up by a chilling display of front pages from Pravda in 1986, from April 26th (when Chernobyl happened) to May 15th (when the disaster was first reported).
By the time we've done all this we’ve gone most of the way around the ringlinjen route, so it’s a thrill to see if we can complete the circle and get back to our departure point at the Caroli shopping centre before our 24 hour passes run out. We make it with just 15 minutes to spare, and celebrate with coffee and nibbles at the Djakne cafe bar, a ridiculously cool-looking place where everyone’s either goofing off on a laptop or doing (apparently) more serious stuff in one of the co-working areas that you can rent out. It's nice when a carefully-worked out journey goes to plan. Mind you, we've got a much more complex one to follow over the next few days...