Negative 24 degrees Celsius is not as bad as it sounds.
That’s what I tell my children when we board a wooden sled attached to a snowmobile and wrap ourselves in reindeer skins. It’s actually only negative 11 Fahrenheit! If my kids hear me, they give no indication. They’re buried in layers of long underwear, wool, down, more wool, probably some Gore-Tex, those foot heater things and whatever balaclavas are made of. I can’t even see their faces. The two huddled bodies opposite me on the sled may not even be my children for all I know.
My husband, kids and I are on our way, improbably, to get supposedly the best waffles in the entire country of Sweden. But first you have to get there.
The waffle promised land — Hemfjällstugen — is about three miles from the nearest road in Sälen, a town on Sweden’s western flank about five hours by car from Stockholm.
A few days earlier, a woman named Cissi Bjuredahl had warned me by email that Hemfjällstugen, which lacks electricity and water, wasn’t exactly a restaurant. “We only serve soups, waffles & fika,” she wrote. Ms. Bjuredahl also told me the only way to get there was by snowmobile or cross country skis. “But remember you are in the mountains, so if the weather is bad, don’t go if you haven’t tried skis before,” she’d warned. And then, perhaps walking back the very Swedish honesty: “Welcome!”
Ergo, the snowmobile. As Felix, our teenage driver, guided our sled toward Hemfjällstugen,we zoomed into a snow squall, shapes and shadows faded into nothingness. It was like watching a painting in reverse: from depth and perspective to a seamless white void until the landscape was simply erased and you couldn’t tell the difference between earth and sky.
It’s a little troubling to not know where the ground is. After about 20 minutes, my son peeked out of his scarf long enough to tell me he was scared, and could we please go back? But then, suddenly, we had arrived at Hemfjällstugen: a modest log cabin with a 30-foot pole with the flag of Sweden whipping around it in the icy wind — everything but Mrs. Claus opening the front door wiping her hands on her apron.
On the inside, Hemfjällstugen is lit entirely by candles and oil lamps. The dining area is a series of wooden tables and benches, a counter and a small chalkboard menu: waffles with homemade strawberry jam, waffles with homemade blueberry jam, and waffles with homemade cloudberry jam. I think there was a soup, too.
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