A covid-free trip to Tallinn & Copenhagen

I´m lucky to call some impressive chefs my closest friends, and the only way out of Iceland this October was with their help. I jumped on the Bocuse d´or team bandwagon to the European pre-competition, held in Tallinn October 15-16 after being postponed twice since the original March date. Instead of 22 countries competing, border closures and rising covid numbers meant 7 couldn´t make it so 16 countries gathered in Estonia to compete. Team Iceland just made it thru the cracks, not knowing if they would compete or not until all ten team members were actually landed in Tallinn and their second covid test came back with a negative result.

Bocuse d’or European preliminary

Good thing we did got to participate, since it was one of Iceland´s best results ever. We won the best fish dish, beating all the heavy hitters normally on the podium: Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Overall we landed in 4th place, which has happened a couple of times before, but now we´re motivated to beat the normal podium takers and go for top 3 in the worldwide Bocuse d´or next summer in Lyon.

the quiet streets of Tallinn

Tallinn itself was pretty relaxed, covid cases next to none. Things were definitely noticeably quieter, as every city center is that relied heavily on tourism, but at least people felt safe in the streets and restaurants. Even bars stayed open with no social distancing rules, and wearing a mask was the only requirement at the Bocuse competition.

nighttime stroll

We wined and dined our way through some great restaurants – Nok Nok, Noa and F-Hoone to name a few. We stayed at the Tallink Spa hotel, complete with an indoor pool and half a dozen different dry saunas and steam rooms. We shopped at malls and walked thru markets, enjoying the simple pleasures of being tourists in a foreign city. Falling leaves met green grass and crisp autumn nights made our surroundings feel exotic. It´s a beautiful thing to see a different angle of the sun, smell slightly warmer air, and feel like a stranger in the most familiar way again.

leaving the Baltic

On our way home, after a couple of hours flight delay in Tallinn, Icelandair cancelled our flight to Reykjavik and we overnighted in Copenhagen. We were politely asked to stay in our hotel, which we got to without any facial intrusions, but we had to leave to get food (and wine). We dined at Barr and I ran into an old friend for a glass of wine, and rode the M2 train back to Kastrup the next morning at a civilized hour. It was almost too easy to stay… I am surprised I actually made it home.

Stockholm & Åland

Sweden is the only Scandinavian country I´ve been to only once, back in 2009, so I was overdue for a second visit. My intentions were wrong – I was going to get access to the Algerian Embassy since the Stockholm mission handles Icelandic visa applications (we don’t have an Algerian embassy in Iceland, but to get a tourist visa you have to apply in your resident country, a perfect catch-22). What I didn’t know was that I´d fall in love with Stockholm in the four nights I had to stay there waiting for the visa processing.

Stockholms stadshus in Kungsholmen

I stayed in Gamla Stan, getting voluntarily lost in the old island-esque city center, and wandered the more modern streets of Norrmalm. I wined and dined with Scandinavia’s second best chef of 2009, eating at the Michelin restaurant Ekstedt. We were on the waiting list to get into the 3-star Frantzén, but no luck this time, which gives me a valid reason to go back a third time.

sunrise ferry time

We arrived on a Wednesday, just in time to apply before the embassy closed at 1pm, but they admitted it wouldn’t be ready by Friday and they´d open next on Monday. This sparked the possibility to squeeze in a weekend trip to Aland, a sort of sovereign country-state that’s outside of the EU, owned by Finland, but Swedish speaking.

picturesque Åland

I bought a ferry ticket for €2, return, with Viking line supposedly making profits off €1 tickets since passengers buy so much cheap booze and cigarettes from the technicality of leaving the EU. I couchsurfed two nights with a friendly Alander in Mariehamn who had a Finnish sauna in his apartment, and could walk anywhere and everywhere along the coast and an incredible network of pink trails. The roads were pink too – the granite used to make paths and streets are called red by the locals, but it was all very pretty in pink to me.

they´re pink, no?

The highest point of the island isn’t very high, at least not high enough to be called more than a hill, but what Aland didn’t have in highland they made up for in islands; countless islands, all shapes and sizes, with or without vegetation, and most, with cabins. My host explained that some were summer houses, vacation homes, and others, lived in all year. People arrived by private boat, and all had a Finnish sauna to warm up in after a dip in the sea, whatever season.

one of the many bustling food halls in Stockholm

I couchsurfed my last couple nights in Stockholm near Solvandan, sleeping in the loft of a top floor apartment where a ladder led me to my room I couldn´t quite stand up in. My host gave me a city bike card, so I had access to free bicycles to explore the city further. We found some live jazz, delicious risotto, and a wine bar whose goal is to cover their walls floor to ceiling with corks. Ill have to go back if/when the gets accomplished – yet another reason to visit Stockholm again.