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Sustainability

Fear of flying and a Japanese spa

Wanderlust and climate anxiety is a frustrating combo. I want to see the world, and show it to my children - but how to justify jetting around the planet when I'm destroying it for them in the process? We've recently come back from a month-long trip that involved flying across the Atlantic, thereby using up our carbon allowances for pretty much the rest of our lives, so no more foreign travel for us any time soon.

(Have you ever used an online calculation tool to measure your carbon footprint? Even if you consider yourself fairly green I guarantee you'll be shocked by the result - check out the WWF's one here, if you dare.)

Anyway, instead of getting too morose about all this, I've decided to focus on making the most of the Swedish winter (and not just by getting "mysig" by an open fire, but really getting out there and embracing it), as well as finding ways to experience the world without leaving the country.

First stop, Yasuragi Hasseludden, the Japanese spa just outside Stockholm. I'd visited once before about fifteen years ago, but it's had such an extensive revamp since then that I barely recognised it. The Japanese theme and aesthetic runs strong throughout, from the walkway up to the building and surrounding Japanese gardens to the food (there are three different Japanese restaurants and a sake bar), the yukatas (cotton robes) that all guests wear and, of course, the spa.

I must admit I'm not a massive fan of spas per se. Too much hush-hush, dodgy music, unripe fruit and icky things floating in hot tubs, but Yasuragi's new spa area is on a whole new level. It's the shogun of spas, the emperor. There are indoor saunas and hot tubs and cold plunge pools and salt scrub steam rooms and three outdoor hot pools and an outdoor sauna and a sparkling water pool and it just goes on and on. You could sauna and bathe here for hours and barely park or dip your bits in the same section twice.

If, like me, you get a bit claustrophic in saunas and hot baths, the outdoor pools are the highlight, especially in the winter. Sitting emerged in atmospherically steaming hot water with your face exposed to the cold, fresh air and a view out over the icy water and snow-covered Scots pines and villas of Hasseludden is a pretty hard experience to beat.

The whole place is gorgeously designed in a modern Japanese/Nordic aesthetic with masses of concrete and panoramic windows and everything felt sparklingly fresh and clean - partly achieved, I would imagine, by giving all spa guests brand new, complementary (and rather flattering) black swimming costumes to wear and instructing us all on the proper pre-spa washing ritual. I expect state-of-the-art filtration technology plays its part, but either way I'm happy to report I didn't spot a single unidentified floating object or rogue body hair.

Since I've never visited a Japanese onsen (hot spring baths) I don't know how Yasuragi compares but there's no getting away from the fact that it's huge, with some 600 rooms, and a lot of conference guests. But the size and design of the spa, together with the the fact that everyone is dressed in anonymous swimmers or the yukata you're given to wear at all other times, including meal times, means it never feels too crowded or corporate. There's also a ban on using mobiles in all public areas, which is a revelation in phone-obsessed Sweden (and explains why these pics are all high-quality press images and not my own iPhone snaps).

I'm planning on an annual winter visit, at least until someone invents a zero-emissions way to fly to Japan. Keep an eye out for their special deals and an overnight spa package can be surprisingly good value. Definitely cheaper than a return ticket to Tokyo in any case, plus easier on the conscience and better for your skin.

By friends for friends: feel-good Christmas shopping

Just to be clear, I'm no Scrooge. I'm crazy about Christmas and gaily embrace a mishmash selection of all my favourite British and Swedish traditions: candlelit Lucia services, the smell of warm glögg, mince pies with boozy butter, turkey and stuffing (more on the controversial topic of Swedish v. British Christmas food another time), watching Elf for the 87th time, making wonky gingerbread houses, fresh snow and frozen lakes - bring it all on. I am full of the spirit (does Baileys count as spirits?) But one thing that brings out my inner Grinch more and more each year is Christmas shopping.

The thought of all the pointless tat bought and chucked away makes me want to hide in a silent retreat until January, so this year (*friends and family spoiler alert*) I've decided only to buy handmade presents from people I know and like. Handily, there are plenty of creative souls in my area making beautiful things that I (hint) - and hopefully my loved ones - would love to receive. Here are just a few:

Anyone who's been specially good this year should add one of Lina's glorious hand-dyed organic silk kaftans to their Christmas list. She used to live with us so I've seen first-hand how much work goes into creating each kaftan, kimono, poncho and scarf she makes. Each one is hand-dyed using natural dyes such as avocado, raspberry, coffee, rust and rose petals and they're true works of art.

Sonja has a pottery workshop and studio in the old engine sheds in Gnesta and makes throwing beautiful pots look ridiculously easy which, having taken a couple of her evening classes, I can tell you it most definitely isn't.

Karolina of Kajsys hand-makes all her own skin care products using organic oils and other ingredients. My brand-new baby nephew will be getting a big jar of "Snällkräm" with jojoba oil and beeswax, and I'm hoping her "Skäggolja" beard oil with apricot kernal oil and rosemary is going to transform Joe's facial hair vibe from Mr Twist to Mr Clooney.

My old school friend Molly was always the best at art in our year and she's gone on to create a successful business making her own design block-printed textiles, wallpapers and other very lovely products.

Jules walked into a North London playground and my life fourteen years ago when our two eldest boys were just babies. She somehow combines being a highly successful art director with being wonderfully scatty, a single mother to two boys and running her new art advisory service. You can hire her to transform a blank wall into a tasteful and personal gallery wall or just buy one of the hand-picked prints and paintings from her online gallery (the black and white photographic print on the left is by my extremely talented husband, Joe Maclay)

Last year was the first year since moving to Sweden that we had a turkey for Christmas lunch (our first year here we killed and ate one of the neighbour's geese by mistake, but that's another story) and finding a higher welfare bird in this country was no mean feat.

Mission Happy Turkey involved a long search and a random handover rendezvous with a lorry driver in a petrol station car park off the E4. This year, I've sourced the festive (pasture-raised, organically fed and on-site slaughtered) bird from friends who run a permaculture farm in Värmland and make monthly deliveries to Stockholm and Järna.

I've just realised pretty much all these businesses are run by women; not intentional - I'm just lucky enough to know a lot of amazing, inspiring, creative women and I'd rather support them than add more money to the likes of Jeff Bezos' bulging coffers any day.

The golden season: apple pressing and mushroom foraging at Haga*

Autumn is like a relaxed lunch party the day after a big night out, when you take your too-tight togs off, breathe out and have a good time, for real. It's grown-up red wine over girly rosé, apple crumble over salad. It's fire and flame colours and back to school and traffic-light trees and mist-veiled mornings and the smell of rotting fruit and it's right up my street.

When we lived in Scotland, a highlight of this time of year was apple pressing at my parents-in-law's house, so this year we invested in our very own apple press, designed and hand-made by our Danish friend Calle Christensen, a creative genius of the Heath Robinson school. Isn't she a beauty?

The specially nifty elements are that it integrates the fruit press and crusher (powered by an ordinary electric drill) in one machine, and uses a small car jack to squeeze up from below rather than press down from above.

I get a ridiculous amount of joy from the smell of the apples (and pears) as they're pressed and the satisfaction of filling the freezer with our own juice (not to mention the drinking that sweet, sweet nectar). Which is just as well as it makes probably no financial or practical sense to press your own (and other people's) apples by hand when you can just take them along to a local musteri. But that's not the way we roll around here.

The same argument could be used against mushroom hunting - why spend hours rootling around in the forest when you can just buy them in the supermarket (where you can be sure they won't kill you)? But this is one of the things I love about Sweden - that most people here are still sufficiently closely connected to nature to get satisfaction from finding their own (free) food and pleasure just from being in the forest. And that many have the knowledge to find and identify edible mushrooms, even if it's just the trusty chanterelle.

Never a basket around when you need one

I'm proud to report that after four years of living here, we busted out of the 95% of people who "only" pick kantareller and can now fairly confidently identify other tasty fungi including Karl Johan (porcini), trattkantareller (funnel chanterelles), svart trumpetsvamp (Horn of Plenty) and blomkålsvamp (cauliflower mushroom), which looks like a bathroom sponge.

Fun fact: dried porcini have more protein than any other commonly eaten vegetable, except soybeans

Karl Johan, king of mushrooms

Trattisar (funnel chanterelles) drying

For the rest of the month I shall be mainly filling up the larder, and my senses, with the bounty and colours of autumn, to see me through the more monochrome months ahead.

 

*Not the palace where the Crown Princess lives, our (more modest) home is also called Haga

Stockholm's second-hand clothes shops: treasure hunting for grown-ups

A few years ago I came to the somewhat disturbing (but ultimately liberating) conclusion that I didn't enjoy clothes shopping any more. Shopping for new clothes I didn't really need in big, soulless highstreet shops with questionable environmental and ethical practices made me feel guilty and sad and all empty inside. At the same time, I love clothes and like to try to look not too obviously like a shagged-out, middle-aged country bumpkin when I leave the farm. So what to do?

Second-hand clothes shopping! Buying from charity, vintage and second-hand clothes shops is a total win/win solution, for the following reasons:

  • Remember that feeling as a child when you used to dig your hand down into a lucky dip and come up with a really great toy? Second-hand clothes shopping is treasure hunting for grown-ups.
  • You can afford much better - even designer - clothes. Thought Balenciaga boots or a Maje knit were out of your price range? Not if you spot them in a charity shop.
  • Vintage and/or designer clothes are generally much better made than new ones, with higher quality materials (just compare the look and feel of old velvet with new) and timeless design so they'll last even longer.
  • If you buy clothes you really don't need at a charity shop, you can justify it by thinking of it as donating money to charity with a free outfit thrown in.
  • The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. You can feel extremely smug and pleased with yourself knowing you haven't contributed to the huge environmental cost of fast fashion.
  • Clothes are pre worn-in for you. According to my mother (who knows about such things), the 12th Duke of Bedford used to get his butler to wear his suits in for him for a year and what's good enough for a crusty old English aristo is good enough for me.

Balenciaga bargains - 250 SEK from Emmaus

The only downside (or possibly upside, depending on how much you enjoy shopping) is that in order to find the real gems you need to scour the shops fairly regularly. Every few months I do a tour of my favourite Stockholm charity, second-hand and vintage shops and it goes a little something like this:

  • First, to Arkivet, handily located close to the Thatsup offices. They hand-select the clothes, bags and shoes they sell on commission so they're all top-notch quality, with lots of chichi Scandi brands like Acne and Rodebjer. You pay probably around 50-70% less than if you'd bought new.

  • Over to Slussen and the Emmaus Stockholm charity shop just off Götgatan. The flowery-roofed flight of stairs of the smaller side store leads you down to a treasure trove of garmentary delights - this is where they sell their edited vintage and designer things. I don't usually have the patience or energy to sift through the clothes in the huge main store but the children's section is fab.

  • Along Hornsgatan, checking out the various charity shops including Myrorna Hornsgatan and Stadsmissionen.
  • Finish at Judits Second Hand. Probably a good thing this is the last stop as it's also the most exclusive/expensive but it always has a beautifully-edited selection. I've found some real gems such as this & Other Stories skirt (which I tried on new in their store about a year previously and then found waiting for me at Judits, pre-loved and half the price - second-hand shopping is full of serendiptious moments like that):

Check out this Thatsup guide for more fab second-hand shops: Where to find Stockholm's best vintage and second-hand shops.

Happy treasure hunting!