Previously, we took a lot of flights, buses, and trains to get from city to city. This time? We decided on a boat, Viking style. Complete with seafaring, adventuring, and feasting.
So far, this is one of our top experiences (and definitely our top meal) of the trip.
To clarify, the Viking part of our trip did not involve raiding or plundering villages. That was just the name of the company that we used to get from Helsinki to Stockholm. (I’m preettttyyy sure that Vikings didn’t sail on cruise ships.)
And for the record, Viking Line probably does have nice cabins, but we booked the cheapest possible room, which was about the size of a modest walk-in closet. (It made me realize that as much as I LOVE the idea of a tiny house, I could never actually live in one because I would lose my damn mind.)
This is literally the whole room. (The sofa folds down and that top thing also folds down to become a bed.)
The bathroom had a pink toilet and a tiny shower that I didn’t use because I just knew that the water pressure would be lacking and my shampoo wouldn’t completely wash out and I would have an itchy scalp and weird soap flakes ALL up in my business for the next 24 hours. (No thank you, boat shower.)
So yes, we stayed in a room the size of a matchbox, but it was perfect for one night. And it’s not like we were hanging out in our room. I mean, hellooo people, there were fun Boat Things to see.
Like an arcade/game room!
And lots of cafés and restaurants!
And a deckside view of an amazing sunset!
(Note: The Dubsmash version of this sunset can be found here.)
There were also other amenities, including a sauna, a pool, a beauty spa, and even a ball pit (which is apparently only for small children). We had a lot of fun exploring the ship.
But EASILY the best part of the our overnight trip from Helsinki to Stockholm was the traditional Swedish smörgåsbord that we had for dinner. We decided that since we pinched pennies on the room, we would go all in for dinner. (Spoiler alert: BEST DECISION EVER.)
We booked a table about an hour in advance. We were lucky to get 2 window seats! And four other random people to share the table with us. Hello, Scandi strangers.
HOW TO SMÖRGÅSBORD:
A smörgåsbord is a Scandinavian, buffet-style meal with a variety of cold and hot dishes. We have this word in English (minus the diacritics), so this shouldn’t be brand new information to anyone. However, they do have different types of food and there are some loose “rules” for how you smörgåsbord in Scandinavia.
I didn’t follow the guidelines very precisely, but here they are anyway.
#1 Survey the food first
Take a quick stroll along the buffet line. That way, you can get an idea of all the available food and take note of what you want to be sure to get.
(Y’all, there was SO MUCH FOOD. And a lot of it was stuff that I had never seen or heard of before. So it became a #foodventure! Which I love.)
Here’s an looping gif that more accurately portrays what it’s like to walk along the never-ending buffet line. And come to think of it, this is probably what viking feast halls were like, so maybe there’s more of a parallel than I thought.
There was also a drink station, with soda, juice, beer, and wine. (No mead, sorry.) You can refill as many times as you want, but let’s be real, you should really be saving stomach space for all the delicious food.
(Also, can someone please install a wine or beer tap in my kitchen? Thanks.)
#2 Don’t pile too much food on a plate
You are expected to go through several plates during the meal, approximately 1-2 per “course,” and usually 5-6 total. Each food group should get your full attention and it’s own plate. (Since I’m one of those weird people who doesn’t like my food to touch, this was totally fine by me.)
Each time you finish a course, lay your fork and knife side-by-side across your plate so the waitstaff knows that you’re finished and they can remove those dishes from the table.
#3 Start with cold dishes
It’s customary to begin with cold dishes, which often include salmon, herring, shrimp, eel, sausage, ham, and other cold cuts. First you eat the fish, then the other cold meats. (That means 2 plates, people.) The Swedes will also eat potatoes, bread, and cheese with these dishes. Akvavit, which is basically vodka infused with herbs, is also frequently consumed at this time.
There were about a million different varieties of herring! Seen here (from left to right): vodka and lime herring, archipelago herring, mustard herring, and onion herring.
Weirdly, the mustard herring was THE BEST THING EVER. It was, hands down, the best part of the meal (and I’m including dessert, y’all). It was like nothing I have ever tasted before. I don’t even know how to describe how amazing it was. I just wanted to grab the serving bin and take it to my seat and eat the whole tub by myself. (Thankfully, I resisted what is sure to be a major faux pas. But just barely.)
#4 Proceed to the hot dishes
Now it’s time for the hot dishes, like meatballs, ribs, beef, and reindeer.
The Swedish meatballs are the winner of this round. They’re typically served with gravy, lingonberry jam, and sometimes pickled cucumber. But a little Rudolph isn’t bad either.
#5 Round off your meal with some vegetables
That is, if you think you have room.
I have to admit that I mostly skipped this round. I was already really full, and I knew what was coming next…
#6 Dessert time!
You are probably close to bursting at this point, but there’s a whole dessert section that still needs your full attention. Skipping this part would be a crime.
Most Europeans will also have a coffee or espresso with dessert.
Soooo let’s see how I did.
First, let me note that Michael and I ate a very small breakfast, skipped lunch completely, and started our smörgåsbord at 17:30 (aka 5:30pm). I wasn’t starving when we arrived, but I was certainly hungry.
I quickly surveyed the food, grabbed a glass of wine, and added some food to my first plate.
Those are some super random choices. But I was overwhelmed, and apparently when I grabbed my first plate, all of the smörgåsbord guidelines flew right out of my fool head.
I did start with cold dishes, but I got more sides than anything else. Also, I have NO idea what I was thinking when I grabbed a piece of sushi as a part of my first legit Swedish smörgåsbord. Seriously. Get it together, Bri.
Let’s see if plate #2 was any better.
Okay, not bad. I did mix in some veggies a little early, but it’s for the best, because I was way too full to eat any greens later. Also making an appearance on plate #2 are six varieties of herring, some salmon ceviche, and half an egg.
(I know it looks vaguely like it’s covered with snot, BUT OMG THAT MUSTARD HERRING.)
There wasn’t any akvavit, or I totally would have tried it. Instead, I just kept sipping on my wine.
And then moved on to plate #3.
I did a repeat of the bread from my first plate, because it was delicious. I never knew I liked rye bread, but this stuff was incredible. I also got various meats and more potatoes. Overall, not bad smörgåsbord form.
Here’s plate #4.
A little bit of mixing hot and cold meats, but at least there’s no fish on the plate. Could be worse. (Do I need to remind you of plate #1?? I’m still ashamed.)
Also, I feel the need to note that the avocado was totally an impulse item because I LOVE AVOCADOS. I literally shoved the other food out of the way so I could squeeze it onto this plate. And while it looks delicious, it was a total disappointment! It’s the only thing from my meal that I didn’t finish eating.
But the avocado serves to demonstrate an important point. When eating a legit Swedish smörgåsbord, don’t be afraid to experiment. Get out of your comfort zone. Your very favorite foods back home (aka, AVOCADOS) might not be Scandinavian specialties. And maybe the mustard herring (of all things???) will be absolutely incredible. Maybe you’ll find out that you really like Finnish rye bread! Who knows?
So ya gotta try new things. (That’s a Bri rule, not a Swedish smörgåsbord rule, but it might be the most important one of all.)
Okay. And last but not least, plate #5!
Look, people. I had already eaten a ridiculous amount of food, okay? It’s not like I was going to skimp on the desserts. So yes, there are 8 different things on my plate, and no, that is not how the Swedish typically end their meal. But I’m going to need you to deal with it. The macaroons were amazing, and I regret nothing.
I was, however, extremely full after eating all this. (As you might expect.) There was no room for coffee or espresso. In fact, I don’t think there was room for so much as a peppermint. I was stuffed like a Christmas goose, but at the same time, oh so happy. It was amazing.
So while there was no pillaging or raiding, the Wikipedia page on Vikings seems to think that they ate a lot of the same foods that were in our smörgåsbord, and it also says that they commonly sailed the Baltic Sea. Add that in with our exploration of new lands (aka all 9 levels of the cruise ship) and I’m just going to going ahead and claim my Viking status, thank you very much.