Celebrating Swedish Midsummer with good friends…and a few frogs

Hello Froggy!

Hello Froggy!

What do frogs and Swedish Midsummer have in common? We would say a lot more than you might think. But let’s make it clear from the start. We are not talking about that type of frog that turns into a handsome prince after you give him a kiss. Neither are we talking about that old traditional song called “Små grodorna” (The Little Frogs) that children used to sing while doing funny imitations of frogs around the Midsummer pole. No, it’s something else we have in mind – real frogs – in danger of extinction.

Today we are in a historic place with a long tradition of organizing spectacular Midsummer celebrations for the public. It’s called Nääs, a beautifully preserved 19th century estate that offers bed and breakfast, shops, restaurants, cafes, art galleries, horseback riding, etc. It is situated in Tollered, about 30 km east of Gothenburg.

Midsummer is when the longest day of the year is being celebrated and it’s a big event and a national holiday in Sweden. To sum it up, basically everybody is eating pickled herring, boiled fresh potatoes, strawberries and washes it down with some (or plenty of) beer and snaps. Since Midsummer involves tons of outdoor activities and dining in the open air, we are anxiously looking at the weather forecast and crossing our fingers that there will be no rain today. Unfortunately, the sky looks pretty gloomy. Still, a lot of people have arrived to have a picnic, listen to music and dance around the Midsummer pole.

Get ready for some pole dancing

There are plenty of old myths associated with Midsummer that might seem strange today. For example, on this particular night, women used to go out and pick seven different kinds of flowers and put them under the pillow. If this was done in complete silence, her future loved one would show up in her dreams. Another old myth is that one can roll around naked in the grass to avoid getting sick. This is not a widespread, contemporary tradition so don’t expect to see this happen (unless there is a lot of alcohol involved).

But let’s go back to the initial question. What do frogs and Swedish Midsummer have in common (except for that Little Frogs song)? Well, to our surprise, in the vicinity of Nääs, there are some unique man-made culverts under the road, used by frogs and toads who otherwise would be at a high risk getting killed by passing cars (or end up eye-to-eye with a curious dog like Sam). Many amphibians are endangered so this practical construction helps them to survive.

While carefully looking around to see if we can find any frogs in the nearby ditch, the rain suddenly starts pouring down. Behind us, on the lawn where the Midsummer celebration takes place, everybody is probably running for cover. The rain definitely put an end to the celebration this year, although we are pretty sure, for the frogs in the culverts, the party has just started.

Another wet Midsummer party is over.

NB. We were actually not celebrating Midsummer or looking after frogs at Nääs this year (it was last year). But hey, we never let the facts stand in the way of a good story! Right?

Lasarte – a culinary gem in Barcelona

Lasarte restaurant

Lasarte restaurant is centrally located on C/Mallorca, 259

Lasarte restaurant in Barcelona is one of three 2-Michelin Star establishments in the city. It is located in hotel Condes and is the brain-child of re-known Basque Chef Martín Berasategui.

Lasarte is a very intimate restaurant, it caters to a sophisticated crowd that enjoys good food as much as it does privacy, hence the size – only 30 seats. We decided to come here for lunch and  found the atmosphere extremely stiff – almost cold.

You can go for the tasting menu, several small dishes that take you on a gastronomic journey through the Basque region or, as we did, stick to à la carte.

It is not easy to recommend what to order in a Michelin star restaurant, everything is of course amazing. We opted for the fish dishes, tuna belly and roasted sole, and were very much impressed. The dessert menu is obviously another classic.

Restaurant Lasarte is one that you pencil into your calendar to celebrate a major occasion, like your uncle’s 90th birthday. It is not an everyday experience or a place to have a fun or relaxing time with friends. And maybe it shouldn’t be, it is a culinary event to wait for and when it arrives, to savor with pleasure.

Plan your Valentine’s Day escape!

Don’t know how to surprise your loved one on 14th February? Read Hanna’s latest story, just published by National Geographic Traveler and get some ideas.

Newman’s Rubicon – a globe trotting thriller

I (Alex) met Finn in the backyard bar of a good friend of mine.

We talked, we drank.

Finn recently finished his first book and was planning on writing a second one.

I told him about my blogging experiences.

Finn talked about flying helicopters in combat.

We seemed so alike…

He gave me a copy of his novel and I promised to read and review it for Sam and the dunes.

Well, here it is.

Newman's RubiconMeet Hank Newman, a wild and crazy guy with a knack for long-distance running and long-hour binge drinking. Like his creator, Hank (obviously an autobiographical character) is a former marine aviator who has seen some serious shit in his life.

After leaving the Corps, he travels between Thailand and the US and quickly he runs out of money. One day some weird character approaches him in the US and offers a serious amount of cash to deliver a memory stick to Bangkok.

Hank takes on the job and that is when the fun starts. Being a resourceful chap, Hank figures out pretty soon that this might end up being his last employment, if you know what I mean. So, to stay alive, he has to come up with some ingenious plans outsmarting the other guys at almost every corner.

Trust me, it’s an entertaining read and more adventures with Hank are soon coming to a bookstore near you (OK, to www.amazon.com).

Oh, I forgot to mention, the novel is called Newman’s Rubicon and it is written by Finn Farnsworth (pseudonym). But I must admit – the story seems terrifyingly real.

You can buy the book and check out more about Finn Farnsworth and Newman’s Rubicon here.

Bab Al Bahar hotel in Dakhla – a small paradise on the Tropic of Cancer

Bab Al Bahar hotel

Bab Al Bahar hotel

Dakhla is a coastal city on the Atlantic Ocean located 1700 km south of Casablanca, right on the Tropic of Cancer. Its claim to fame is kite-surfing with hundreds of enthusiasts and professionals descending on this small city on a regular basis.

However, if you are not the bucket list type and prefer to go for a relaxing fishing trip rather then risking life and limb flying through the air on a surf board, then Bab Al Bahar hotel (part of the Best Western chain) could be something for you.

It is located in the town itself; right on the bay where you in the morning can hear the waves rolling onto the shore – not the worst kind of a wake-up call.

In the evening, enjoy dinner at the restaurant and dig into those shrimps, oysters, whatever seafood you fancy. If you happen to be there on a Saturday, don’t miss the special seafood buffet dinner, 20 Euros and you are set for the evening. Of course, a nice selection of wine is there to make this an even more enjoyable experience.

Bab Al Bahar hotel is well-known among those who venture to this part of the world. If you get a chance, spend a weekend here, it is definitely worth it.

Travel news

 Issue 2/2013

Can you afford to hit the road on your own?
Traveling by yourself can be very expensive and complicated. Single travelers are often charged a supplement, offered tiny rooms somewhere in the back and get treated like a second-class traveler.  Retired lawyer Steve Lyden-Brown thinks this is unfair and decided to do something about it. He started  Single Tourist Action Centre (STAC), an organization that fights for the interests of those who vacation alone. Are you traveling solo? Did you have a bad experience or had to pay extra for a double room because there were no single ones?

Stieg Larsson’s Stockholm
Are you by any chance a fan of the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson? Want to know where computer hacker Lisbeth Salander lived and where Mikael Blomkvist office was located? Well then you shouldn’t miss out on the Millennium Guided Tour in Stockholm. It’s a two hour walk where you get to see and hear about many of the intriguing places described in the Stieg Larsson Trilogy. City tours have a tendency to be quite boring so this could actually be a fun way to explore a new city.

Talking travel in Berlin
Do you want to find out what’s new and cool in the travel business? Then we recommend that you pack your bags and take off to Berlin, Germany, where the world’s leading travel trade show ITB Berlin will be held on 6-10 March. This is THE place to be if you want to learn about the latest travel trends, analyse market developments or just establish a new important business relationship. ITB Berlin is open to the public on 9-10 March (the other days are reserved for travel professionals).

Creepy weirdos

Living in a hot climate for many years, we are never getting used to running into various kind of insects, either jumping in the garden or somewhere inside the house where they, under the cover of darkness, have a tendency to break in.

The scariest of them all … tada! … is THE Flying Cockroach. Once, Hanna was quietly sitting reading a book when she heard a screeching sound from the living room.  She then saw Alex running out in panic trying to brush off the rare beast that was glued to his t-shirt. Even when it was long gone, Alex avoided the living room locking himself inside the bedroom armed with a flyswatter.

Then we have different types of spiders. Nasty looking fellas roaming around scaring the living daylights out of Hanna when she accidentally bumps into one. Alex deals with them the old-fashioned way: tries to shoo them out with a broom while standing as far away as possible.

One day Alex got a frantic call from Hanna who could swear that she saw a snake in the backyard. A small commando unit was organized and armed with rocks it arrived at the house within 10 minutes to deal with the poisonous intruder. However, on close inspection the ferocious animal ended up being a small but colorful candy wrapper lying in the grass. Well, better safe than sorry as they used to say.

Sam (our best friend forever) is on the other hand always ready to come to the rescue. He is naturally equipped with all the proper weapons: excellent hearing, sharp teeth and strong paws. As soon as he hears the annoying sound of a fly passing by or sees a cockroach trying to run under the sofa he is on their case faster than a speeding bullet.

What we haven’t come across yet (knock on wood) are real snakes (those made of candy wrappers don’t count, right?) and scorpions. On the other hand, if we did, we probably wouldn’t be writing this right now…

Hello, may I come in?

Hello, may I come in?

La Vigie Restaurant in Monte-Carlo – summer lazing in style

A peckish customer (without a yacht) outside La Vigie restaurant

Sure, it’s still a few months before summer kicks in but if you plan to visit La Vigie Restaurant in Monte-Carlo, you better start saving up some money now (this is no surprise, but everything in Monaco requires a few wads of cash).

Located in the Monte-Carlo Beach hotel complex, La Vigie offers exquisite Mediterranean inspired dishes in a tranquil setting. Chef Paolo Sari, an Italian who learned the trade in Italy, Switzerland and the US, specializes in seafood. We tried the buffet and grill during lunch-time and we can definitely vouch that this is one of the better places around. The meal is complemented by a grandiose view of the sea and an excellent selection of wine.

You reach La Vigie by taking a small path from the Monte-Carlo private beach, or, if you happen to arrive by yacht (damn, we are NOT jealous…okay a little bit maybe), the restaurant also has its own landing-dock where you can moor your boat. It’s a nice little amenity that is appreciated by the “floating villa owners”.

This small gem is only open two months a year (28 June – 25 August), so if you happen to be in the area on those dates, we can definitely recommend this elegant place for some great food and boat watching. La Vigie Restaurant will not let you down.


City guide to Marrakech

Marrakech - Sam's City Guide

We are happy to introduce Sam’s City Guide to Marrakech. This is the first in a series of luxurious e-guides produced by Samandthedunes.com.

We hand-pick the best hotels, recommend hip restaurants and lounge bars, guide you to excellent shopping and important sightseeing. This is what we call “Excellence at your fingertips”.

Click here to download the free e-guide (pdf)

Home sweet home


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