Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fine Chocolates and First Time Water Sliding: Malmo, Sweden

We're taking another family trip out of the country soon, so I want to tell you the rest of our Scandinavia story before we have another tale begging to be told. If you want to read about our September trip from the beginning, go back to October 2 and then click through the newer posts. Or search for "Scandinavia."

Thursday afternoon, October 1, Malmo, Sweden

The morning of Mia's 7th birthday, we have a good buffet breakfast in the glass ceilinged atrium of the ye olde wing half-timbered wing of the Radisson SAS hotel. Lots of meats and cheeses. I giggle at the little signs with smiley faces pronouncing the health benefits of the different dishes. The ubiquitous slab of butter bears the label "Protein."

As we walk back to our 5th floor room from the elevators, we cross a passageway lined with floor to ceiling windows. We can look down on the grass and trees on the roof of the third floor and beyond to views of 17th and 18th century Malmo buildings surrounding our hotel, west to the coastal industry and the dramatic sky.

After my workout, I write in the bath while the girls play with Mia's new birthday toys. We head out to explore the town. We stop on the steps of a church to take pictures of Birthday Girl wearing her big girl smile and a ribbon to tell the world about her special day.

The girls surprise us by being thoroughly entertained in St. Peter's Church (Sankt Petri Kyrka). There's a tiny Jesus-less creche display whose black and white goats Nora likes and an amazing 15th century chapel with ceiling figures and a dark crypt stone on the floor engraved with a cartoony skull. In another corner we find a small table and chairs, paper and crayons. The girls are engrossed for twenty minutes, drawing Jesus in this airy hushed place.

St. Peter's chapel detail

We walk to Lilla Torg square, a charming cafe-lined plaza of renaissance era buildings. We check menus, head down the cobblestone block and find Gozzip, full of Swedes, where the girls politely eat their mono-meal of pasta and milk and Mom enjoys the potatoes and carrots under my mayonnaise-sauce smothered pollack. As in many Scandinavian restaurants, a table to the side offers self-service water, salad, soup and bread. Even the humblest storefronts with counter service offer their "fast food" on plates with silverware. Little of the casual waste we are accustomed to here in America where single-use napkins, paper plates and excessive food containers are the norm.
Lilla Torg

We grab a taxi to the Malmo Chokladfabrik (chocolate factory) (since 1888!) which turns out more modest than the Willy Wonka meets Steampunk wonderland I was imagining. "Are there tours?" I ask the woman behind the counter. "Well, you can look through that window," she replies. We look up to see three women molding truffles in a kitchen. But the cafe area has display cases of old chocolate bar molds and cool dipping utensils and beautiful antique packaging adorned with faded yet elaborate flowers and rosy baby faces.

When Mia chooses two fresh Madagascar truffles (the Swedes call them pralines) from the immaculate case of treats, the kind saleswoman in an Oompa Loompa t-shirt retrieves them with white gloved hands and serves them to Mia on a three inch round silver tray.

It's raining and this has been the time Nora usually crashes so we divide and conquer, Mia and I taking our suits to Aq-va-kul, an indoor swim park with a name that plays on the Swedish phrase for "what fun." (Sorry the Aq-va-kul website is only in Swedish; click on the "Pa Aq Va Kul" tab to find a video with a catchy and funny song in English: "Water can be found in orchid!/ Water can be found in you!") I'd discovered the pool on a web page about children's activities in Malmo.

A lock costs $4, towel rental is $2, kids swim for $7 and adults for $10. The locker room in clean but not brand new. Mia giggles at the gauntlet of spray, disinfectant I assume, directed at our feet as we walk to the showers. The air is warm in the shower room. The motion controlled shower heads take a minute to figure out but we are game.

The pool itself wowed us right away. A zero depth entry plus tiled little bridges and walks curving around hot tubs and a circular river. Colorful floats made of buoy strength foam and shaped like sharks, crosses, elephants, cars and tubes. Fountains and giant underwater jets go off at unexpected times. A curvy slide. In the second room, a waterfall cascades in front of a small circular grotto with lights and seats. My favorite part of the pool was a circular alcove where jets made the water bubble like bad champagne. Just past it was a plastic covered passageway to the pool outside. I couldn't believe we were going to dip outside in this weather that reminded me more of November than early October, but keeping our shoulders low in the warm water, Mia and I moved past the plastic sheets and out in the cool air. It's Sweden, after all! They're polar bears here. The sensation was lovely - the cool air on our faces only making the water feel warmer. People in fall coats walked by on the sidewalk just past the fence and a few dead leaves floated on the surface.

Back inside I encouraged Mia to try the water slide. I did a trial run myself and the slope was so gentle, I nearly stalled a couple of times. I promise to catch Mia at the bottom but there was no need - she came down grinning and hooting. She slid over and over again, sometimes sitting cross-legged and spinning around and once landing with her arms in the air, making jaunty peace signs. My funny funny dear seven year old.

Yesterday she asked if I was ready for her to be seven and I said I had to be - it was sort of like jumping on a roller coaster - I was out of control so I might as well enjoy the ride. This morning when I woke, her age was perfect. Six suddenly seemed too young for this tall independent girl.

I'd promised Randy we would be back by six but cabs were not coming down this street just west of the shopping district. We walked to a busier intersection and finally hailed one. We had lots of stories to tell Daddy and he had for us as well.

"The wind blew Nora ten feet in the air!" and other less dramatic tales of nice daddy daughter times. We whisper to each other how sweet the girls are when we have one alone. The four of us walk a single block to a small trattoria where men stand at the pocket bar under a line of silver-lidded beer steins and every table but ours is full.

"Prego, prego," says the proprietor. The smells are wonderful. The girls play with Mia's new birthday ponies, Randy has a Carlsburg or three. My caprese salad and pesto salmon are very good but the delicious potatoes once again the stars of the show. The typical Swedish touches of jarred olives and oversoft white asparagus are mystifying.

The skies are dramatic in all kinds of ways here tonight - the clouds are pitch black against a sky that retains just enough light to remain the darkest shade of blue.

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