"I can't wait for you to get recognized," my friend Emma said, pulling down her mask for a sip of water.
"I'm not going to get recognized," I said.
"You're so going to get recognized," said Emma's sister, Jesse.
"Even if I am recognized," I said, "no one'll say anything."
We were in an Airbus in March, headed for Stockholm. Two weeks earlier, millions of Swedes had tuned in to watch me win a family reunion on the popular television show "Allt för Sverige" (aka "The Great Swedish Adventure" — think "Who Do You Think You Are?" meets "The Amazing Race"). I hadn't returned since completing filming in September. Scratch that: My contract had prohibited me from returning.
Now that the season had aired, I was free to do what I liked. Turns out what I liked was a spring break-themed victory lap. It was Emma's and Jesse's first trip to Sweden, and I asked my friend Ola to craft a weeklong itinerary. He suggested a picturesque circle around Stockholm filled with quaint villages and shortish drives.
"Sweden in March?" asked American friends. "Won't it be cold?"
"Bring an umbrella, the weather is very bad," said Swedish friends.
Yet when the Airbus touched down, the sky was a cloudless blue and double the temperature in Minneapolis. We stashed our coats in our borrowed XC40, compliments of Volvo — minor celebrity has its perks — and set off for my cousin Nina's house in Huddinge.
"I love you!" a woman said to me in English when we stopped for coffee. "I love her!" she said to the man behind the counter. "'Allt för Sverige!'"
"See?" Emma crowed. "Recognized."
The long way
At cousin Nina's, we took a husrundtur (house tour) with her husband, Anders, and their kids before tucking into lamb with potatoes and whipped goat cheese. Though Nina and I had only met in person twice, and both times involved lots of cameras, she felt immediately like — well — family.
It got late and then later. We didn't want to go, but we'd booked a night at the Lamp Hotel in Norrköping, a charming postindustrial city two hours southwest of Stockholm. Nestled on the Motala River, it was once a textile hub before tens of area factories went belly up with globalization.
We got to the Lamp so late the staff was gone. I slept surprisingly well, given that we had one bed and I was the hot dog to Emma's and Jesse's bun.
Our first stop the next morning was the Museum of Work. Located on its own tiny island, Laxholmen, in a heptagonal former cotton mill, the museum was all pastels and gently socialist rhetoric, as if Willy Wonka had taken up Marxism. "REST IN PEAS," announced a photography exhibit, an ode to a shuttered pea factory in Bjuv.
It was a bright and cool afternoon, 20 degrees warmer than the Twin Cities. We strolled down the Motola and ate our way through the city for the day's remainder: Lottas for coffee and cardamom buns, Brödernas for wine and smörgåsar, and Pappa Grappa for pizza and more wine before a nightcap at the hotel bar.
Hungover the next morning, we opted to take the long, slow way from Norrköping to the medieval town of Vadstena. We wound north to Askersund, then south via Lake Vättern. The sun was setting when we arrived, smudging Vadstena Castle with amber. When it got too dark for photos, we trooped to Borgmestaren for burgers.
"I'm not drinking tonight," Jesse declared as we opened the menus.
"Me neither," I said.
"I know you," our server said to me in English. He pointed to a TV mounted on the wall.
"That's me!" I said.
He brought us a bottle of white wine. "To celebrate," he said. I blinked and the wine was gone.
Thank God we were headed to a renowned spa the next day for some proper relaxation, but not before stopping for provisions at Vadstena Saluhall, an artisan meat and cheese shop.
"Sorry we're late," we said when we arrived at the family-owned Trosa Stadshotell and Spa two hours later, reeking of excellent cheese.
A pre-booked reservation, not our odor, whisked us straight to the aromatherapy room, then to the sauna and Elysian pool. We emerged just in time for our dinner reservation, eating ourselves to groaning on baked cod and blood orange carpaccio.
The next morning, seeking atonement, we took a walk through Trosa, which is to Stockholm what the Hamptons is to New York, minus the ostentation. The village was burned by the Russians in the 18th century, a fact multiple residents fretted over. Russia had invaded Ukraine just three weeks earlier.
Over lunch at Två Svå Svin (Two Small Pigs), I ate tiny shrimps on toast and tried not to think about war.
"Hey!" said two women while I stood in the line for the bathroom. "'Allt för Sverige!'"
"'Allt för Sverige!'" shouted a man driving a black Audi as we walked back to the car.
"All this attention," I complained to Emma and Jesse. "It's overwhelming."
They were kind enough not to roll their eyes.
Stockholm never sleeps
We hustled back to Stockholm just in time to catch the Shout Out Louds, a popular Stockholm band, play at Debaser in Hornstull. Ola, who'd snagged the tickets, met us there. For a global city, Stockholm's tiny: We wound up drinking with the band after the show at the chic bar inside Tjoget.
I had a couple of press interviews and a photo shoot the next morning, which I tried to conduct as if I'd slept more than five hours. We had plans to lie low and luxuriate in our room at the Rival, a hotel owned by ABBA's Benny Andersson, but it turned out Ola had planned a surprise hemmafest (house party) in honor of our visit.
Needless to say, we did not go to bed early.
On Saturday, our last full day in Sweden, Swedes strolled through sunny Södermalm and lined up for gelato at StikkiNikki. While Emma and Jesse explored Gamla Stan, my cousin Nina and I sat on the Rival's balcony and caught up. Nina looks like me. Talks like me. Our great-great-grandmothers said farewell 135 years ago and never saw each other again.
"I'll come with you," she said when I told her I had to get a COVID-19 test to travel.
We walked arm in arm through the subway.
"Bed by 11," I told Emma and Jesse at the testing center. "We can't miss our flight."
The plan was to meet a few friends at Pelikan, Stockholm's oldest restaurant, for a quick drink at 8 p.m. I checked my phone at 9:30; things seemed to be winding down. The next time I looked it was 12:57 a.m. and my friend Charlie was asking if I liked to dance.
"Good morning," said the Rival's doorman as he ushered us in at 4. He pointed at me. "'Allt för Sverige?'"
The Rival's breakfast is the only reason we made it back to America. Fortified with Swedish pancakes, eggs, salmon and oat milk lattes, we slipped into our gate with time to spare.
"See? I told you you'd be recognized," Emma said at some point on the flight.
"You did," I said. "You did."
Sally Franson of Minneapolis is the author of "A Lady's Guide to Selling Out," which Netflix is adapting for film. Instagram: @sallyjf