A little drinking guide: Best bars in New York

One of the best ways to experience the local life in a new city? Check out the bars – probably the place where locals will be the most honest.

Sure, the most impressive bars in New York – at least for me as a Swiss person – are the rooftop bars. Located on floors 10+, you can get a truly impressive view of the city. The best view I experienced was at the Standard; New Yorkers know this place too, so it’s usually very crowded for after-work drinks. Another great bar close by is the Gansevoort: come around sunset and you won’t be able to stop taking pictures…

The Standard Rooftop Bar

The Standard Rooftop Bar – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Speak easy

There is another trendy type of bar in New York: the so-called «speak easy bars». Dating back to the 1920s during prohibition – when the US government had the silly idea of trying to ban alcohol from the city – a new type of bar emerged: Secret bars, often in the back of a café or a restaurant, or simply in a cellar, where people could still get their booze. The barkeepers told their unlawful clientele to «speak easy» so nobody would notice their clandestine joy.

When the US government realised that one could not simply ban the liquid luck, those bars disappeared. But for a few years now, they are experiencing a renaissance. Usually, you don’t see the bars from the outside and you need to know where they are in order to find them; even more mysterious: usually you even need to know how to enter.

Gansevoort Rooftop Bar

Gansevoort Rooftop Bar – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Telephone cabins and bathtubes

At Crif Dog’s, there is a phone booth in the corner of the bar. You need to get inside and make a call in order to get the code which will let you get into the secret place. Another speak easy is placed behind Café Select. Ask the barkeeper whether you can get «to the very back» and if he’s okay, you walk through the door in the back of the room, which happens to be the door to the kitchen. No worries, just continue, and you will find yourself in the bar.

Cocktails in a bar in New York

Cheers

My favorite speak easy bar is called Bathtub Gin: It’s located in Chelsea, in the back of something that looks like a café. You’ll have to ask the doorman whether you can get some gin, and he will open a door which is hidden in the wall. The decoration and ambience in this place are incredible: it’s dark, without windows, but still very stylish. And there is a real bathtub in the middle of the bar (without Gin, though…). Because of this mysterious atmosphere, you can somehow imagine drinking your cocktail back in the days of prohibition.

Also, I had my favourite cocktail of my life so far: It’s called Midwood Garden, a fusion of Brooklyn Small batch Gin with basil, rosemary, cucumber, and prosecco. And the name doesn’t lie: you feel like drinking a – high percentage – garden! One more plus: In the restrooms, a servant will open the water-tap for you and hand you a towel to dry your hands. What a luxury for a globetrotter…!

Time for some jazz

Sure, a jazz bar should be a must on your visit to New York. Instead of going to some big, fancy clubs where you usually pay a cover of 20 to 30 dollars, I’d rather recommend The Fat Cat. It’s neither beautiful nor stylish, but the atmosphere is cool. And the good thing: you only pay three dollars entrance fee.

Up to three bands play live music each night and you can also play billiards or shuffleboard, or simply ask for board games such as Backgammon or Scrabble at the bar. A really good place to hang out. The only thing that is missing: Good drinks ! Since the bar doesn’t have a licence to sell hard liquor, you should order a beer over the watery wanna-be cocktails.

The Fat Cat Jazz Bar

The Fat Cat Jazz Bar – Photo: Eva Hirschi

If you happen to be in Williamsburg, you don’t even need to look for a specific bar to get some jazz. Just walk around and you will hear which bar you should go into – some have live bands and the entrance is for free. One nice place is the Honky Tonk.

Drinking with Lincoln

Due to the massive immigration of people from Ireland in the 1950s, you will find many Irish pubs in New York. The most impressive (but also most touristic one I must admit) is McSorley’s Pub. It is the oldest pub (even dating from the time before prohibition) in the whole New York.

McSorley's Pub in New York

McSorley’s Pub – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Also, it is said that Lincoln drank some beers here – his very own chair is still in the pub, you’ll find it tucked away behind the counter on a shelf hidden amongst many trinkets that have been placed on and around it. I think it’s actually a really nice way to commemorate him as a pub «regular».

On the wall, there are old photographs of other celebrity patrons. The bar does have another peculiarity: it serves just two types of beer, blond or dark, and you always get them in pairs (but don’t worry, you can also order a couple of blonds or a couple of darks, it doesn’t need to be both at once!).

Pure happiness

Finally, there is my absolute favourite bar in New York: Marie’s Crisis. While at first glance it seems to be a very ordinary bar, is truly a temple of happiness. There is a piano on the right side, and each night someone is playing songs from Broadway.

But that’s not all: the whole bar starts singing along with the songs and the atmosphere makes you shiver because of its incredible beauty. The clientele is very mixed: young and old, fashioned or not, gay or straight. It’s certainly the most amazing, peaceful place I’ve ever been to.

Welcome to New York – first impressions of the city

We all think we somehow know New York because of the seemingly infinite movies, tv series, songs, and books that talk about the city that never sleeps. Still, a trip to New York is necessary to get a real, unadorned impression – and certainly, includes some surprises.

The first thing that struck me while walking through the streets was the odors. New York always smells like food. Mostly bacon, but also pizza, fries, waffles, or coffee. No surprise: at almost every street corner you can get some food.

If you have the choice between small, medium, and large  take the small, you’ll have European sized food. Otherwise, you might get a meal for two. The same applies to coffee: You can easily find yourself with a one-litre-cup of coffee in your hand if you pick the wrong size.

Big-sized coffee cup in New York

Big-sized coffee cup in New York – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Speaking of coffee: The cliché of the New Yorker who walks down the street – nicely dressed with big sunglasses and a take-away coffee in hand – is especially true when it comes to the brown drug.

It seems as though New Yorkers drink even more coffee than Swedes – and I lived in Stockholm for half a year, so I know what I’m talking about! What is wrong about this cliché though is the look. Not all New Yorkers look like flawless actors of Hollywood – fortunately!

Whatever-ness

I’ve never actually seen a place with so many different styles. I could spend hours just sitting in a café with a view to a busy street or a bench in Central Park and just watch the different people walk by.

 

The good thing about New York: there is no dress code! You can dress as crazy or as boring as you want – and nobody cares! If you see a person singing along while walking in Switzerland, everyone would turn the head, maybe even roll the eyes, but in New York nobody even bothers looking. In general people here don’t bother themselves with the rest of the world, even though I’m not yet sure whether this is because of tolerance or because of ignorance…

Chillaxed people

Therefore, the ambiance is very relaxed – except for Times Square (but this is because of the tourists, New Yorkers try hard to avoid Times Square) and the subway station at rush hour. I was afraid New York would be too oppressing, too busy. But there is much more space and air than I thought. This peacefulness actually surprised me. Sure, from time to time – especially at Grand Central, the train station – you will find cops or army guys (and girls!), but I never felt insecure so far.

People just seem to enjoy their life. The image that New Yorkers are friendly is true – from a Swiss point of view at least. Because for Americans, New Yorkers are the most arrogant fellow citizens in the whole US. Still, compared to Switzerland, everyone here seems very nice and it’s very easy to start talking with a complete stranger.

Yellow dots

One cliché which seems to be even crazier than it was in my imagination are the yellow cabs. They are literally EVERYWHERE. On each main road, you won’t be able to wait for more than two minutes without seeing a yellow cab rush by. This is even more surprisingly since there are apps for alternative taxi services such as Uber and Lyft (and Via in Manhattan). So here’s the clue to take the perfect NYC picture: Make sure there is a yellow cab somewhere on your picture, and it looks like a real New York pic. (I tested it by taking a picture without a yellow cab on it, and it really looks different!

Brooklyn Bridge with a yellow cab

Brooklyn Bridge with a yellow cab – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Brooklyn Bridge without yellow cab

Brooklyn Bridge without yellow cab – Photo: Eva Hirschi

How to date a Swede

Swedes are a shy, distant, and wary species. If Italians are dogs that start salivate when they see a nice girl, then Swedes are deer who run away.  It’s not as easy to get in touch with these Nordic people, but if you follow four easy rules, you can make it into the social sphere of a Swede.

First rule: get addicted to coffee and cinnamon
First rule: get addicted to coffee

All you need is… coffee!

Swedish relationships need time to develop. Start slowly and date in a public place – so the Swedes feel safe and secure. In Germany you would invite someone for a beer; in Morocco you would serve a pepper mint tea; and in Sweden it’s all about coffee and cinnamon. Don’t ask a Swede to join you for a coffee break – he might get seriously offended – rather ask him to join you for fika. Fika is the magical word to each Swedish relationship. So if you don’t like coffee either you pretend you do or you die old and lonely…

Second rule: don’t kiss
No kisses

No kissing!

“Normal” Europeans like to kiss. While in France it’s two, and even three kisses in Switzerland on the cheek when you meet someone, not so in Sweden! Here every attempt at greeting by kissing would end up in the air – there’s just no cheek to kiss. Swedes don’t kiss, they hug. Whether the physical body contact of a hug is really more distant then a short kiss on the cheek is questionable, but maybe it’s because it’s so cold in the North, that Nordic people seize each chance to get some warmth.

Third rule: pay because you can
Pay

Paying seperately as a sign of equality

In Sweden, the equality between men and women isn’t only important when it comes to law and order, but also when you’re dating. Ladies, you shouldn’t wait for a Swede to pay for your coffee – he would never do it. But hey, you should be happy about this – it’s not because he doesn’t like you, but because he respects you. It’s not that Swedes are no gentlemen – they actually will hold the door open for you! The small difference is that they don’t only hold it open for dames, but also for other gentlemen.

Forth rule: shoes off!
Must-have socks

Socks – the stairway to the Swedish heaven

If you have followed these rules so far, you are on the good way to getting accepted into the circle of friends of a Swede. How you will know this? When you get invited to someone’s home. A Swede’s house is a holy place and only close friends will ever get the chance to see it. First thing you should think about when you arrive at a Swede’s place: take your shoes off! While it would be offensive for French people to see you taking your shoes off, it’s a nice and respectful sign to Swedes.

Even if it looks like it is a real challenge to create relationships to Swedes – once you’re their friend, you know it’s a lifelong friendship. And given these four rules, it doesn’t seem impossible to date a Swede: everything you need is fika, hugs, a sense for equality, and nice socks.

Trip to Helsinki

From St. Petersburg we took the ferry back to Helsinki, the capital city of Finland. The country of Vikings, Saunas, Nokia and Angry Birds provides an interesting insight into the Nordic mentality.

Helsinki Strictly speaking, Finland is not part of Scandinavia, which encompasses only the Swedish peninsula with Sweden and Norway, and including Denmark because of its cultural, linguistic and geographical closeness. From a historic point of view though, Finland has close ties to Sweden (Finland was part of the Swedish empire and Helsinki was founded in 1550 by the Swedish King Gustav Vasa himself) but both countries don’t like to be compared and want to be considered as different nations.

The Uspenskin katedraali

The Uspenskin katedraali

Finnish vs. Swedish

When you hear Finnish people talking, you will quickly understand that this is indeed a very different folk. The language Suomi is part of the Uralic family of languages and can only be compared to Estonian. Even though Swedish is the second official language of this country, Finns like to distinguish themselves from their ancient occupier. Therefore, rivalry and stereotypes about the neighbor exist here are well: Swedes consider Finns more primitive, less open and more rigid, while Finns think that Swedes are arrogant, noisy and over-self-confident.

Churches and Cathedrals
Suomenlinna

Suomenlinna

Howsoever, it is interesting to visit the capital city Helsinki. One of the most historic places to visit is probably the naval fortress Suomenlinna. A small ship (like the Djurgården ferry in Stockholm) takes you in 15 minutes to the small island with the old army base. No wonder the Finns built this military zone, as the Russians and the Swedes were fighting over Finland and the general power in Northern Europe for years. Today, the fortress is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site and can be visited by public, if it for a picturesque picnic in summer or a hot coffee after climbing on the old canons in winter.

Temppeliaukion kirkko

Temppeliaukion kirkko

Back on the mainland, you can find a nice souvenir on the market at the seaside and get some cozy woolen socks or rustic elk horns. Whether you prefer to see a traditional and big church such as the Tuomiokirkko, or a cozy and small church built into rocks such as the Temppeliaukion kirkko, or even a pompous Russian Orthodox Cathedral such as the Uspenskin katedraali, you can find all of them in a short distance. The city center itself offers a nice promenade, and doing so you should have a particular look at the walls of the old buildings – every now and then you will find weird figures glimpsing and smiling at you.

Group picture in front of Tuomiokirkko

Group picture in front of the Cathedral Tuomiokirkko

 

Trip to St. Petersburg

From Switzerland, Russia seems so far and unreachable. From Helsinki, it is only a ferry trip away which allows you to stay for 72 hours without a visa in the “Venice of the North”. There was no doubt I was going to take this chance!

Venice of the North

Venice of the North

St. Petersburg is impressive – from many points of view. The buildings, the culture, the history, the water, the people; the life. The city kept its majesty from days past combined with elements of a modern, more westernized metropolis. Tsar Peter the Great founded the city at the Baltic Sea in the beginning of the 18th century as a “window to Europe”, introducing several reforms to old Russia.

Indeed, St. Petersburg is different than other European cities. Maybe it is the fact that everything is written in Cyrillic, that the orthodox churches are covered in gold, that the people’s visages look sharper or that we only had a grey and foggy sky for three days – but it all made the city somehow mystic.

Travelling through history
Church of the Spilled Blood

Church of the Spilled Blood

History can be found in many places in St. Petersburg. There is the Peter and Paul Fortress where Peter the Great founded the city in 1703 – used as a prison and later as the center of the February Revolution. There is the Church of the Spilled Blood which was built on the place where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. And there is the State Hermitage which was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and which is today one of the largest art museums in the world with more than 350 rooms.

Eternal flame

Eternal flame

Also many monuments honour and sometimes glorify the past. An eternal flame on the Field of Mars praises the Fallen Fighters of the Revolution. The Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad at the Victory Square commemorates the defense against the Nazis during World War II. The Alexander Column in front of the Hermitage museum pays tribute to the Russian military victory in the war with Napoleon’s France.

Must do’s
Russian pancakes at Teremok

Russian pancakes at Teremok

But even if you’re not that into history there are many things you can – and you should – do in St. Petersburg. Climb on the Saint Isaac’s Cathedral to have a stunning view over St. Petersburg; have a typical Russian pancake called a blini from Teremok and eat it in one of the parks; get lost in some side streets while searching the aforementioned Teremok stand; walk at the canals at night and find some statues of lions and sphinxes; get a beer with some Russians at a bar (yes, not all Russians drink just vodka…) and learn to write a few words in Cyrillic as well as some Russian insults and poems.

Make sure to stay at the “Soul Kitchen” hostel, to have breakfast at “Café Zoom” close by and to take the subway even if just to have a look at the beautiful stations. Also a visit of the Mariinsky Theatre is absolutely worth it – there is a reason why the Russian ballet is known worldwide. The music and the dancing may transfer you to another world – even though St. Petersburg could be considered as a different world as well.

Russian breakfast at Café Zoom

Russian breakfast at Café Zoom

Trip to Tallinn

One week, three cities, three countries I’ve never been to before. The organization Scanbalt offers a trip for students that takes me from Stockholm to Tallinn (Estonia), St. Petersburg (Russia) and Helsinki (Finnland). Here are my first impressions of our trip to Tallinn.

Victory column

Victory column

To be honest, not a lot of people in Switzerland know exactly where Tallinn is and what the city looks like. There aren’t even any clichés or known places of interest. Then again isn’t it the perfect way to discover a new city – without any prejudices or expectations?

Medieval surprise

My first impression of Tallinn was surprise. The medieval old town is incredibly beautiful – which makes me wonder why this city is not famous throughout the rest of Europe. Maybe its fame is suppressed due to Estonia’s history of suffering. Many emperors occupied this Baltic country because of its geopolitical situation with its important port for trade; from Denmark to Germany over to Sweden and Russia.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

In 1918 Estonia was declared an independent state – but just for a couple of years, as with World War II the Soviets took over the country. It is only in 1991 that Estonia got its final independence.

Even though Tallinn was extensively bombed by Soviet air forces during the World War, much of the medieval Old Town remains and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

International influences
Kiek in de kök

Kiek in de kök

Also today, you can find signs of the different influences in the city. A Russian orthodox church (Alexander Nevsky Cathedral), an old German artillery tower (Kiek in de Kök), and a Danish cathedral, (St. Mary’s, which happens to be the oldest church in town) all of which give the city its interesting shape. When you walk to the part of Lower Town with the old city wall, you will have a view over Tallinn’s skyline – a mixture of old and new, medieval and modern.

Hot wine and boar meat
City Wall Café

City Wall Café

There is another reason to visit this part of the city. In the tower of the old city wall, you can find the café «Kohvik Dannebrog Café» with an incredibly cozy room in the top of the tower, with couches next to an open fire. Having a glass of hot wine with some very nice people – and you can feel the heat of the fire even in your soul. There is no doubt why it was rated best café of Tallinn in 2013.

Vanaema juures Restaurant

Estonian Restaurant

If you look for a place to have lunch or dinner, I recommend the Estonian restaurant called «Vanaema juures» which means Grandmother’s place. Typical for the north is the elk roast with tomato and leek sauce or the wild boar roast with red wine sauce – both are very delicious. If you want a classical Estonian dessert, you should go for Kama. It is a dish made of rye-, oat-, barley- and pea meal by mixing it with sour milk – what sounds really weird is in fact really good! Add some drinks at the alternative and urban bar «Red Emperor» and your day in Tallinn got a perfect end.

Kohvik Dannebrog Café

Kohvik Dannebrog Café

Crash course in Swedish

Even though almost all Swedes speak perfect English, there are a few things about the Swedish language you should know when arriving in Sweden… Otherwise you will bump into sluts, sex and shit.

A word you will hear a lot when arriving in Sweden is “bra”. It doesn’t mean that Swedes have a fetish for underwear but it simply means they agree. Indeed, the word “bra” means “good”. If – for any reason – you want to say a good bra, you have to say ”en bra behå”. Then again, it’s actually not common in the Swedish culture to talk about underwear neither.

Sluts in the train?
Swedish Slutstation

When you’re in the train – in any train! – it can happen that you find the word “slutstation” on the display. No, you’re not heading directly to the red light district, but to the terminal station. And also the word “slutkontroll” doesn’t mean the Swedish policemen like to examine prostitutes, but that there is a final control.

Sex in the church?

UtfartWhen you visit a church, it may happen that you find the word “sex” written on a poster or a flyer. Don’t be appalled – it is the Swedish word for the number “six” and doesn’t mean the church lost all its morality. And if you find a sign next to the church with “Utfart” or “Fartkontrol” written on it, you should not pass gas in the holy building, but instead mind how fast you are driving or look for the gate – “fart” means speed in Swedish, and “utfart” signifies exit.

Shit in the cake?

Swedish KakaOne day, you might want to eat some Swedish desserts. But be careful! A look at the sweets shelf in a shop might spoil your appetite when you see what is written on some packages: but be reassured, “kaka” has not the same meaning as its French relative “caca”. Instead of shit you’re going to eat cake – don’t let yourself get irritated by the dark brown colour of the chokladkaka, anyhow.

Early dinner

Middag in SwedishIf you are looking for a place to have lunch, pay attention! The word “middag” – which literally means the middle of the day – is not the name for lunch, as one might suppose, but it means dinner. Then again, Swedes eat really early, normally around 6pm, but then again some creatures dine at 3pm – as if the language itself wouldn’t be weird enough already, the habits of Swedes should also be studied before arriving in this country…

Trip to Oslo

From wild nature to civilized culture: a trip from Bergen to Oslo by train is the perfect way to arrive in the capital city of Norway.

Landscape somewhere between Bergen and Oslo

Somewhere between Bergen and Oslo

On my Norway trip, I took the train from Bergen to Oslo. It is considered as one of the most beautiful train trips in the world. And it truly is! While crossing Norway, you will see different lakes, mountains and valleys – untouched nature with a wooden house only every now and then. The ride is rather long, it takes about seven hours, but it is totally worth it. During the ride I was writing, listening to music, talking with my Norwegian seat neighbor, looking outside and smiling, or taking a nap.

Arriving in Oslo
Norwegian lifestyle?

Norwegian lifestyle?

The capital city of Norway is not like any other European metropolis. Oslo held the status as the world’s most expensive city several times, but still, the city doesn’t seem posh. Culture and art play a big role in Oslo, making the city very individual and multifaceted.

Sculptures - or maybe frozen people

Frozen people?

What was striking for me was the high number of sculptures and statues you can find in almost each corner of the city.
Does it represent the somewhat distant mentality of the Nordic people by showing frozen sculptures instead of warm people? Or do they just need to see some people outside when it’s very cold and all human beings are inside? Or maybe it is only a way to make art accessible to everyone, not only to museum’s visitors? Either way, it shows the importance of culture and art in this city.

The Vigeland sculpture park

The Vigeland sculpture park

For the most beautiful sculptures you should visit the Vigeland sculpture park located in the Frognerpark. It is considered the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist, Gustav Vigeland. More than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and wrought iron give the impression of entering another world – somewhat a frozen world though, given the very realistic look of the statues.

Walking towards the sky
The opera in Oslo

The opera in Oslo

A walk at the harbor is beautiful, even when the weather is grey and cold. You should continue to the opera which is situated at the shoreline. You might not recognize the white building as an opera at first, the architecture is very uncommon – but genius! The roof reaches down to the ground like a ramp, you can basically walk towards the sky and have a view over Oslo. The idea was to make the opera literally more accessible to the citizens – it shouldn’t be considered as a location where only the higher class could go to, but as a place for everyone.

Sporty view on Oslo
At Holmenkoll - and happy I don't have to jump

At Holmenkoll – and happy I don’t have to jump

Another attraction lies a bit outside the city center: the famous ski jumping hill Holmenkollbakken. Even if you’re not that in to skiing, it is a nice trip because the subway will run outside the tunnels and you’ll get a nice view over Oslo. At Holmenkoll, you can either just have a look at this big construction from the outside, or you can visit the museum which gives you access to the elevator to the top of the ski jumping hill. It is a bit scary to imagine how the athletes will start their jump from a height of almost 60 meters, but also very impressive. And you cannot only enjoy the view but also learn more about the evolution of skiing in the museum.

Art, culture, sport and nature – what else does a nice city need?

The famous ski jumping hill Holmenkollbakken

The famous ski jumping hill Holmenkollbakken

Trip to Bergen

Even for me – a Swiss girl used to mountains and lakes – the Norwegian city Bergen could be considered a piece of paradise. This weekend was a perfect combination of nature, food and party.

Bergen from above

Bergen from above

First of all, this blog is not going to be representative. It is said that in Bergen it rains 300 days a year – but it seems we managed to arrive during the other 65 days and experienced only blue sky and sunshine. Nevertheless – rain or no rain – the city is worth a trip anyway.

Bergen is a small (but the second largest!) city of Norway and lies in a valley surrounded by seven mountains – or hills, if Swiss people are reading this blog ;)) – at the west coast of the country.

Walking down mountain Fløyen

Walking down mountain Fløyen

You should definitely climb up one of them to have a look at the city from above. The easiest way is to take a funicular to the mountain Fløyen. If you’re in to hiking, there are different hiking tours – from 1 hour to 8 hours, of different difficulty levels. My recommendation: take the funicular to the top (as I didn’t bring appropriate shoes to flat Sweden), and walk down when the sun is fading – the forest and the sky will appear in amazing colours, especially in autumn!

Chocolate for the dog
Trip to the fjords

Trip to the fjords

Another thing you should definitely do in Bergen is a boat trip to the famous Norwegian fjords.  Even if the trip is expensive (360 NOK which is about 44 Euros, student price), it is totally worth it! A little boat brings you into the middle of high mountains; small islands with wild forests; and lost houses. It is hard to explain this in words, but the landscape is just breath-taking.

Daily swim for chocolate

Daily swim for chocolate

For those who need a bit more action, I recommend sitting on the right side of the boat. At one point, you will first see a white dog swimming euphorically towards your boat and just some seconds later a flying chocolate bar in his direction. The same phenomena can been seen another few seconds later, this time with kids on the shore, jumping up and down waiting for their candy. Effectively, the crew members throw some chocolate bars to them each day when they pass by. They seem to be really good friends…

Fish and Seafood
Lunch at the fish market

Lunch at the fish market

The boat trip takes four hours so when you’re back in Bergen, you might be hungry – which is perfect as there’s a fish market at the harbour. In a big hall different stands sell their catch, but will also cook it for you too on the spot.

Like this you can have a fresh lunch for a reasonable price (well, reasonable for Norway which is – you won’t believe it! – even more expensive than Switzerland!) But a meal in the fish market is a must and will complete your boat trip in a perfect way. From there you can walk along the shoreline and you will find yourself in front of the typical wooden houses.

Bryggen

Bryggen

This part of the town is called Bryggen. Unfortunately, these houses are not original because in 1702 a big fire burned down 7/8 of the city, including Bryggen, and had to be rebuilt. But the reconstruction is still worth a visit – make sure to go through the passage to see the back section as well.

Viking church or Viking party
Fantoft Stave Church

Fantoft Stave Church

If you’re into history, you should visit the Fantoft Stave Church, a Viking church which was built in 1150. In 1992, the church was destroyed by a fire (it must be a busy job to be a fireman in Bergen…) so what you can see today is also a reconstruction. Anyhow, it is impressive to see this style of architecture, with elements of Norse mythology and the Christianization of the country.  From May to September it is also possible to visit the interior of the church. Otherwise, you just visit the bar/club «The Scotsman» to celebrate as the vikings used to – or almost…

Bergen is a great destination if you want to visit Norway. If you want to see more of the country, you should take the train from Bergen to Oslo. It is considered one of the most beautiful train trips in the world – and I can confirm that! (More about this trip in my next blog.)

Group picture (photo credit: Arie Fischman)

Group picture (photo credit: Arie Fischman)

Swedes and alcohol

Forget about spontaneously buying a bottle of wine when walking along the harbor in the late evening, or celebrating your high school diploma with champagne – in Sweden, there are strict rules when it comes to alcohol.

Beer with 0.5% alcohol

Ridiculous – beer with 0.5%!

Swedes have a problem with alcohol, that is with the absence of alcohol. If you go to a grocery store in Sweden, you will only find a couple of different beers and ciders with an alcohol volume no higher than 3.5%. To buy wine, champagne or hard liquor, you need to go to special shops called «Systembolaget» (System company) that have ridiculous opening hours and incredibly high prices. Basically, you need to be old and rich to get drunk in Sweden.

Alcohol monopoly

SystembolagetThe idea behind the government monopoly on alcohol is «to minimize alcohol-related problems by selling alcohol in a responsible way, without profit motive.» There are strict rules in these stores: you need to be at least 20 years old to buy any alcohol; discounts, such as “buy 1, get 1 free” deals are prohibited; and all products are handled equally, which means that the beers are not cooled, since otherwise all beer would have to be refrigerated which is too expensive.

Swedish alcohol store: Systembolaget

Swedish alcohol store: Systembolaget

These monopolies exist in all Nordic countries, except Denmark, and in Canada. By comparison: in Switzerland you can get (cooled) beer, wine and champagne at any shop at the age of 16, and hard liquor at the age of 18, and each supermarket you want to. And the difference in price is huge as well. For a bottle of Absolut Vodka – which is by the way a SWEDISH brand – you pay 22.40 Swiss francs in Switzerland but in Sweden it’s 1.5 times more: 239 Swedish krona which make it 34 Swiss francs. The biggest difference is found with Gordon’s Gin for which you pay double the price you would in Switzerland (34 Swiss francs!).

Get drunk or go home
Buying beer at Systembolaget

Buying beer at Systembolaget

But do Swiss drink much more than Swedes? According to the WHO report, both countries are similar when it comes to alcohol consumption, with an average of 10.9 liters in Switzerland, and 10.3 liters in Sweden, measured in terms of pure alcohol.

Where there might be a big difference is in the drinking patterns of the countries. While in Switzerland we are used to open a bottle of wine once in a while for a dinner with our loved ones, this culture does not exist in Sweden. A report states that from Monday to Thursday, 2/3 of the Swedish population is completely abstinent from alcohol. But this ratio gets quickly compensated on the weekends. So you could say: either Swedes get drunk, or they don’t drink at all. At least when it comes to students – good wine is so expensive that you won’t use it just to round off a meal.

Duty free
Line at Systembolaget

Long line at Systembolaget on Friday afternoons

It is therefore no surprise that a certain type of alcohol tourism have emerged. People living in Western Sweden will take the train to Copenhagen which is only a couple of kilometers away, and people from the Eastern part of Sweden will take the ferry to Estonia, Latvia or Poland. So when you see students coming back from their trip to Riga or Tallinn, they will most likely be carrying a crate of beer or several bottles of liquor with them.

And some Swedes just brew their own schnaps, called «hembränt».  Or as Balzac said: «The bottle does not matter as long as you get drunk.» – Skål!