Last year our family spent Christmas in Scandinavia. The post will be divided into four sections, starting in Stockholm, then south to Gränna & Jönköping, by Lake Vättern, then to Abisko for the Northern Lights, followed by Norway for a special Christmas display before heading back to Stockholm.
Part 2: Stockholm to Gränna and Jönköping, Lake Vättern
After spending our first few days in Stockholm, it was time to head south for Gränna. We checked out after breakfast and walked to Stockholm Central Station to purchase our tickets and board the bus for the 3 1/2 hour ride to Gränna. I rode the train over the summer and wanted some different scenery, but forgot about the early sunsets. We didn’t see much, but Swedish buses are especially comfortable with wifi and a loo, so all was well even without sun to light the way.
Gränna (population around 2600) sits on the eastern shore of Lake Vättern and is famous for polkagris, a traditional red and white striped peppermint candy that has been made in the city for over 150 years. Imagine stepping off a bus into a city that smells like a candy cane…my idea of Christmas heaven.
The polkagris industry started when a widow made the candy as a way to support herself and her daughter, and over the years others eventually followed. The main street is now lined with candy shops. Most offer tours allowing visitors to watch, or even help, the candy makers. But peppermint candy wasn’t the reason we had to stop in Gränna.
When I was there during the summer to help my son move to Sweden, we took a weekend trip to Gränna as a final hurrah. We left early on Friday and planned to return on Sunday so he could make it to his Monday morning orientation and classes.
We took a bus from Jönköping to Gränna, then to a lovely little town (population ~310) called Örserum. The schedule we saw listed the daily bus schedule with one or two buses each on both Saturdays and Sundays. Of course we didn’t understand Swedish, so we made assumptions that ended up getting us into a bit of a bind. When we didn’t see those Saturday and Sunday buses listed on the posted schedule at the bus stop, we went into the Örserum General Store on Saturday to grab some sandwiches and find out the actual weekend bus schedule.
That was when we learned from a very kind lady who happened to be shopping that there were no buses at all on Sunday. Or Saturday. Neither were there trains or Ubers. Taxis? If we could get a taxi out there, we were warned it would cost us about as much as a plane ticket back to the States.
At least we were stuck in a beautiful place, I joked to my son, but he wasn’t the least bit amused with my wit. He was devastated thinking he was going to miss his first day of a new school, in a new country. All we could do was go back to our room and try to find a solution.
We had barely gotten back to our room and finished our sandwiches, and were about to search for options when there was a knock at the door. It was the lady from the general store who had given us the bad news about the buses. She took the time and trouble to find us, and invited us over for drinks with her family and friends. Not only that, they offered to drive us back to Jönköping the next day. How can you ever express gratitude for an act of kindness such as this? Is it even possible?
The next day after we checked out of our hotel, we went over for the best lunch we had while in Sweden, then they drove us back to my son’s place. It was important for me to take my husband to meet them.
On the summer drive back to my son’s place, we passed Hotel Gyllene Uttern in Gränna. Located by Lake Vättern, the hotel had tall grass and weeds growing on the roof, just like photos I had seen in a grade school book. I knew if we ever came back that’s where we had to stay. When I tried to book online for December, it didn’t look as if they had a vacancy, but I called and discovered they had a room with a lake view available. I learned that the hotel restaurant is known by locals for its excellent buffets, especially at Christmas.
Lucky for us, our new friends were able to join us for an authentic Swedish Christmas buffet, or smorgasbord spread. The meal consisted of Sillsallad (herring & beet salad) and Julskinka (Christmas ham) on the julbord (the Christmas table), along with meatballs, wild game, fresh vegetables, soups, salads, and all the delectable Swedish desserts. There was also Swedish Glogg, a hot mulled wine spiked with brandy, vodka, or Aquavit, and garnished with raisins. Certainly an evening we’ll never forget. Cheers to good food shared with friends!
My son finally finished up his exams, so the next day, we headed to Jönköping to meet him. Jönköping is at the southern tip of Lake Vättern and grew to modern prominence because of a thriving match industry from 1845 to 1979. It’s now an important logistical center, with central warehouses for companies such as IKEA, Electrolux, and Husqvarna located in the area.
We stayed at the Hotel Clarion Victoria, just a couple of blocks from Jönköping Central, and close to shopping and restaurants. Buffet breakfast and dinner were included with my stay over the summer, and not only was the food outstanding, but the staff made me feel at home. They went above and beyond the call of duty to help me deal with lost luggage, find hotels in other cities in Sweden, and they took excellent care of my son during a minor emergency after I had returned home. So of course, that’s where I returned over the holidays.
The hotel is next to the Sofia Church, a lovely building that opened in 1888. Birds like to congregate in the churchyard every morning to give the wake up call. On Friday evening after dinner we attended a Christmas concert. It was a packed house, and we recognized many traditional holiday favorites, only with Swedish lyrics.
The next morning we joined our friends, and the guys spent the entire Saturday in a traditional Finnish sauna, going back and forth from the heat of the sauna to a dip in the icy cold lake, while we girls stayed in town for shopping and food. If there’s one thing the guys wanted to bring home, it’s the Finnish sauna tradition.
After two nights, we packed up and it was early to bed for our trip back up to Stockholm the next morning to catch the Arctic Circle train to Abisko. Brrr….it certainly feels like Christmas as we go from cold to colder. Will the northern lights be out?
Part 3: Adventure aboard the Arctic Circle train from Stockholm to Abisko National Park. Will the northern lights be out?
For those who inquired:
Sheraton Stockholm Hotel, Tegelbacken – Sheraton’s 360° Restaurant is excellent
Hotel Gyllene Uttern Hotel on Lake Vättern
Tour the candy factory at Polkapojkarna 59 Brahegatan. This is one of many wonderful choices
Smålandsgården Gästgiveri Hotel on Lake Örensjön. Great restaurant but Remember: There is no public transportation into or out of the city on Saturdays and Sundays 🙂
Hotel Clarion Victoria – Breakfast & Dinner buffet is outstanding
City Hotel, Familjen Ericsson – Comfortable & convenient location with free buffet breakfast
Elite Stora Hotel beautiful 19th century building across the street from Lake Vättern
Visit the world’s only Match Museum Tändsticksgränd Matchmuseum@jonkoping.se