April 15, 2014

Easter in Stockholm- 2014

Photo by Henrik Trygg/mediabank.visitstockholm.com
To start off with... the Swedish word for Easter is Påsk (good to know when visiting the city this week). While Sweden is one of the least religious countries in the world, it has loads of bank holidays that are religious in origin. On Easter weekend we have two bank holidays (besides the obvious Easter Sunday, or Påskdagen): Good Friday (Långfredag) and the Monday following Easter Sunday (Annandag Påsk). Even Thursday (Skärtorsdag) is somewhat special as many office workers take a half day off ahead of their 4 day holiday. Once upon a time this meant that the city came to a standstill for 4 days... but these days it isn't that bad. Banks, liquor stores and smaller shops will be closed or have changed opening hours. The majority of restaurants, larger department stores and shopping centers will be open as normal. Though perhaps with shortened opening hours.
Easter Lunch!
Photo by Marie Andersson/Skansen
As for museums... the big ones (Vasa, Fotografiska, ABBA, Skansen and Moderna) are open as normal. Some others are closed on Friday (April 18th); these include the Royal Palace, The Royal Armoury, Maritime (Sjöhistoriska) and Army museums. The History Museum (Historiska) is closed on both Friday and Saturday. While these closures are bad news, there is some good news as well. Monday is a day in Sweden when many museums are closed. Some of these museums are staying open on Monday, April 21st, as it is a holiday. They include Army, Artipelag, History, Medieval, Millesgården, Natural History, Stockholm City and Drottningholm Palace.  Keep in mind that I haven't checked ALL the museums in Stockholm... just the top 20 or so of the 85 museums in the city. Talk to me directly, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, or check the individual websites if you are interested in other, smaller museums. Sightseeing tours operate as normal.
Children dressed up as Easter witches (påskkärringar)
Photo by Marie Andersson/Skansen
If you want to experience Swedish Easter traditions then you should definitely visit Skansen (open-air museum, park and zoo). Don't be surprised if you see little children dressed up as cute witches (påskkärringar)! Here you can learn about, watch, listen to or partake in traditional Easter activities. These are all of special interest if you have children with you. They also have an Easter Market, open (11am to 4pm) from Thursday to Monday, where you can purchase traditional Easter handicraft, decorations, toys and food. For a full calendar of activities at Skansen... click here. I did mention that Sweden isn't a very religious country, but that doesn't mean that it is devoid of religion! There are, of course, many churches (mainly Lutheran and Catholic) that have special Easter services and masses. Contact me directly, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, for service/mass times at different churches. Several churches offer services in languages other than Swedish.
Scene from Skansen. Photo by me!

April 12, 2014

Restaurant Tradition in Gamla Stan

Last year I reported on restaurant Tradition's opening of a second location in the SoFo neighborhood (the original Tradition is located in the Vasastan area). At either Tradition you get great traditional Swedish cuisine (husmanskost), and this seems to be a popular concept... Tradition is opening (on April 14th) at a third location in Gamla Stan.
Entrance to Tradition in Gamla Stan!
I was lucky enough to be invited to their opening party this past Thursday! While this was more of a party with drinks and canapés than a proper restaurant visit, I have already tried their food/concept at their other restaurant and thought that a blog article about the new location was warranted. Gamla Stan already has many great restaurants, but Tradition (with its mid-priced, good quality, traditional Swedish fare) is a welcome addition. Click here for the menu. Read my earlier blog article (linked above) for more information about their overall concept.
Inner courtyard.
Besides the cuisine, their concept extends to the interior design and music: Swedish! Another point that is good to note is that all of their dishes are lactose free and they are happy to help with vegetarian and gluten free options. The Gamla Stan restaurant is located on the street Österlånggatan, in the shadow of the Royal Palace. They also have an inner courtyard with outdoor seating (rare in Gamla Stan) which will be nice during the summer.
Interior "Scandi" design.
To get there from the Rival Hotel... it is just a 15-20 minute walk through Gamla Stan. If you don't feel like walking, the busses 43 and 55 take you directly from the hotel to the nearby palace. Click here for more restaurants serving Swedish cuisine and click here for more restaurant recommendations.
Opening party!

April 11, 2014

Festivals & Events in Stockholm- Spring Summer 2014

Photo by Jeppe Wikström, Stockholm Visitors Board.
Please keep in mind that this calendar is a work in progress... I will be adding new events as they are announced or I stumble upon them. Summer is a busy time in Stockholm with lots of different festivals, happenings, concerts and sporting events. I have added some happenings in April, May & September as well. Hopefully this calendar will help you plan your trip. Not all events are listed! I try to list events that the average Rival Hotel international guest would find of interest... but if you will be staying at the hotel and are interested in other, perhaps more obscure events, contact me and I will see what I can find! While some events that are going on while you are here might not be of interest to you personally, it is smart to keep in mind that the event might still affect your visit (lots of people in the city, bank holidays, traffic problems, etc;). The Stockholm Marathon is a good example of this. As I write this, a few of the festival websites aren't up and running yet or haven't been adjusted for 2014.

April

  • 12-13th- Medieval Market in Kungsträdgården.
  • 17th-21st- Easter holiday. Keep in mind that both Friday and Monday are bank holidays in Sweden.
  • 22nd- Street Food fair in Kungsträdgården.
  • 26th- Stockholm Culture Night. Over 100 free events throughout the city.
  • 26th- Season premiere for the amusement park Gröna Lund (weekends only in the beginning).
  • 26th- Cherry Blossoms Day in Kungsträdgården.
  • 30th- Walpurgis Eve (Valborgmässoafton) is celebrated throughout the city with bonfires. Skansen is a good place to go this evening.
May
Photo: Peter Backman, Smaka på Stockholm (Taste of Stockholm)

June
July (generally a slower month, event-wise, because many Swedes have vacation and leave the city)
August
September
Stockholm Marathon. Photo: Martin Ekequist



April 4, 2014

Mathias Dahlgren- Matbordet (The Dining Table)

A couple weeks ago I dined at the Food Bar (Matbaren), part of the restaurant Mathias Dahlgren. Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to try the restaurant's new concept: The Dining Table (Matbordet). This is not the same as a Chef's Table which many high end restaurants have these days. The Dining Table is a bit different. To start off with, the chef (often Mathias Dahlgren himself) creates your meal at the table in front of you. A fantastic opportunity to watch (and talk with) a Michelin 2 star and Bocuse d'Or gold medalist chef in action... and to taste the results!
Mathias Dahlgren and the Matbordet
Photo by: Magnus Skoglöf
There are different dining concepts, depending on the day of the week. Wednesdays are "Cooking with Friends" with special guests invited... everything from chefs to producers to ideologists. The meaning here is to share a meal and learn from each other. As an example, two of the first guests booked will be a saké (Japanese rice wine) expert and a popular professor/author/stand-up comedian. Should be some interesting meals and fascinating discussions! Thursdays are called "Radical Cooking" and Mathias Dahlgren will create a dish on the spot and within an hour... challenging himself. This is what I was invited to try... so more about this shortly.
On Fridays and Saturdays the menu will be based on three fresh produce items... whatever is in season and at its best quality. Asparagus from Gotland, buffalo yoghurt, nettles, arctic char, langoustines from Bohuslän, herring and new potatoes are just a few examples of fresh produce available this month. It will be fascinating to see what type of interesting dishes will be created! Whatever the day, the concept is to share a meal, conversation and experiences with both the chef and fellow diners. The table itself is large and seats up to 10 people on three sides and the chef, often Mathias Dahlgren himself, occupies the fourth side from where he creates the evening menu. Another overriding concept is that there will not be a set menu... the menu/meal each day will depend entirely on which produce is at its most fresh!
Detail picture of Matbordet
Photo by Magnus Skoglöf
I thought the experience was amazing. The food was obviously delicious... he made a hearty onion soup served with freshly baked sourdough bread when I was there. But the wonderful tastes paled in comparison to watching Dahlgren work with the produce, all the while explaining either the technique employed, the ingredients used or telling anecdotes from his life. He also invited diners into the conversation by asking us about our experiences and history. I think that Matbordet is a very interesting idea and I am excited to see it evolve! Mathias Dahlgren is located in the downtown area, across the water from the Royal Palace. It is just a 5-7 minute taxi ride to get there from the Rival Hotel, otherwise the closest subway station is Kungsträdgården (blue line). Seating is limited and demand is high... so booking seats in advance is highly recommended!
Ok, not a great picture... but proof I was there. Delicious food,
interesting conversation and live culinary show!
For more information, visit their website and click on "Matbordet".

April 3, 2014

The Stockholm Visitors Centre Moves to New Address

Sunken Plattan in the foreground, Kulturhuset to right, glass obelisk to left
and stairs leading up to Visitors Centre in middle.
For the past 3½ years, the Stockholm Visitors Centre has been located across the street from the entrance to the Central Train Station on Vasagatan 14. But as of today (April 3rd, 2014), they have moved and are now located in Kulturhuset/Stadsteatern (Culture House/City Theatre) on the square Sergels Torg. The move is due to the continuing renovation work around the train station. I stopped by on my way to work today to see exactly where it is and what it looked like. To be honest, they were still putting the last touches on it and weren't completely ready. This meant that I couldn't take very good pictures of the new offices... but they were ready to accept visitors!
Exterior
The new location is more central than the old one... Sergels Torg is where the main streets Sveavägen and Hamngatan meet and it is just a stone's throw away from places like Åhelns department store, NK department store, Kungsträdgården park and the pedestrian street Drottninggatan. To get there from the Rival Hotel, take the subway to T-Centralen station and exit towards Sergels Torg. As you leave the station, you will find yourself in a sunken plaza (colloquially referred to as "Plattan"). Across this square, on the right, you will see the massive Kulturhuset. At the top of the stairs at the other end of the square is the new Stockholm Visitors Centre! In other words, the entrance is street level... close by where the Djurgård streetcar line starts.
Part of the interior with brochures and interactive tools.
The square itself is quite well known and very recognizable for Swedes. Especially the fountain in the middle of the roundabout with towering glass sculpture/obelisk. Whenever a major Swedish sports team (football or ice hockey) has some success, sport fans (dressed in yellow & blue) head to Sergels Torg and jump in to the fountain to celebrate. Plattan, the sunken plaza, is usually the location of political manifestations.
Photo source: Cedervall Arkitekter
At the Visitors Centre they have brochures, maps and information about all of the museums, palaces and other interesting sites. They also have brochures about different sightseeing tours and can help you with booking tickets. The Centre is also very high-tech and interactive with several computers and video screens to help you find the information you need as well as inspire you. You can also purchase your Stockholm Card here as well as tickets for events, concerts and festivals. Finally, they have people on hand to help with tips and advice. Of course, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, you already have me for all of this (with the exception of the Stockholm Card)! But it is a nice option... especially if you are out on the town and have questions or need help. It is open daily, year-round, but the hours depend on if you are here during the high or low season. Click here for opening hours.

I have been invited to the opening party a little later this month... so hopefully I will get better pictures to add here!

April 1, 2014

City Bike Season 2014 Starts Today!

It's the first of April which means that the Stockholm City Bike season starts today. This might sound like an April Fool's joke as we have had snow flurries today... but this is not a joke!
This seaon's bikes... with new sponsors!
Stockholm is a fabulous city to bike around... lots of late evening sunlight, plenty of parks and bicycle lanes. This is all made easier (and inexpensive) with the Stockholm City Bike system. They have approximately 100 bike stands spread throughout the city, even out into the suburbs. You have the choice of buying either a 3 day card for 165 SEK or a season card for 300 SEK (250 online). Guests often comment that they only want the bikes for one day. Well, they don't sell one day cards... but the price for three days is still cheaper than renting a bike for one day at other commercial bike rental companies. If you are guests at the Rival Hotel then you can purchase a 3 day card at the hotel (we do not sell season cards). But if you are not a guest, either check with your hotel or else you can purchase your card at over 200 different 7-11's and Pressbyrån kiosks in the city or at an SL Center. Click here for a list of retailers.
Bike path around Djurgården island.
After purchasing a card, you can check out a bike at any of the bike stands by holding up your card to the computer display and following the instructions. You can check out a bike at any of the stands between 6am and 10pm daily throughout the season. If the stand is empty, the display will point you in the direction of the nearest stand with bikes. Otherwise they will be by shortly to fill up the stand with new bicycles. You then have that bike for 3 hours. You are welcome to check out a new bike right away, but you have to leave the bike at a stand before 3 hours is up... otherwise you receive a demirit. 3 demerits and your card will be cancelled. This system is to stop people from taking bikes home or into their offices all day long and keeps more bikes in circulation. Be aware that the bikes don't come with locks, instead use the bike stands to lock your bikes (over 100 stands in the city!). It is important to note that you have to be 18 years old to use the bikes. If you are a family with children under 18, just talk to me and I will point you in the direction of a bike rental company that rents out children's bicycles.

March 28, 2014

Storkyrkan- The Stockholm Cathedral

The church tower.
Stockholm has many beautiful churches spread throughout the city... often with tall spires piercing the skyline. The main church, and one of the most historical, is Storkyrkan (literally "the great church"). This is actually more of a common nickname for the church and the official name is Sankt Nikolai Kyrka (Church of St Nicholas)... though all Swedes know it as Storkyrkan. In English it is often referred to as The Stockholm Cathedral. This is the main church of the Diocese of Stockholm, Church of Sweden (Lutheran).
Pulpit, with ceiling detail.
The church is located in the old town (Gamla Stan) just adjacent to the Royal Palace. It has been expanded and renovated many times but has been around for about as long as Stockholm, being first mentioned in texts in 1279 (the city was first mentioned in 1252). Throughout its history it has seen many royal coronations, weddings and funerals... in 2010 the Crown Princess Victoria said "I do" to Prince Daniel in a lavish, televised ceremony in Storkyrkan.
The Silver Altar
The exterior and interior of the church are a mix of Gothic, Baroque and Medieval styles, reflecting the expansion of the church since the 1200's. In fact, I have always felt that the outside doesn't really match the inside (style-wise). There are many great details and treasures inside the church... I especially love the octagonal vaulted ceilings. Other points of interest are the grand pulpit and Silver Altar. One of the main attractions in the church is the wooden statue of St George slaying the dragon. From the late 1400's, it commemorates the Battle of Brunkeberg when Sweden (St George) defeated the invading Danes (the dragon).
St George slaying the Dragon.
Storkyrkan is a functioning church and there are both regular services as well as concerts. Most of the services are in Swedish, though they do have bilingual morning prayers (Mondays through Fridays at 9am) as well as Holy Communion on Sundays at 11am (in Swedish with English translation available). Otherwise the concerts can be of special interest for visitors. They have a wide variety of concerts in the calendar, from organ to choir to soloists. Unfortunately, they don't have a calendar online in English, just Swedish... but, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, you can contact me and I will let you know what is playing while you are here.
Looking down an aisle towards the statue.
The church is open for visitors every day between 9am and 4pm. Admission is 40 SEK, free for children under 19 as well as when attending a service or prayer. They do offer a free guided tour of the church in English every Wednesday at 10:15am (you just have to pay the 40 SEK admission). It is only a short 15 minute walk from the Rival Hotel...
Back of the church, which faces the Royal Palace.


March 25, 2014

Sightseeing Boat Season Starts Soon!

Generally, the waters around Stockholm are covered with ice during the winter making sightseeing by boat in the city impossible (though this has been a very mild winter). Now that winter is finally over, the popular city sightseeing boat tours, operated by Strömma, are coming back! Stockholm is a city built on 14 islands and is really best seen from the water. The tours are guided in several languages and are very informative.
The Royal Canal Tour starts up on April 4th and runs daily from then on (until next winter). This is a shorter tour (50 minutes) around the island of Djurgården which is a National City Park and where many tourist attractions are located... like the Vasa Museum, Skansen, ABBA the Museum and much more. Earlier blog article.
The Under the Bridges Tour starts up on April 11th... at first just on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays until the last week of April when it starts to run daily. At an hour and 50 minutes long, this is a more comprehensive sightseeing tour and takes you past all 14 islands, under 15 bridges and through 2 locks. A great way to get a good overview of the city! Earlier blog article.
Looking to get out of the city and see a bit of the archipelago and some nature? You have the option of taking the Little Archipelago Tour. This 3 hour boat tour, guided in Swedish & English, takes you through the inner archipelago and is a nice way to spend a sunny spring/summer day. Available with lunch or brunch as well! The tour runs Fri-Sun and holidays until June, after which it runs daily through the summer. Earlier blog article about the brunch cruise.

March 22, 2014

The Royal Armoury- "Power Games: A Costume Drama"

Entrance on south side of Royal Palace.
I love history and I am a sucker for a good costume drama, so I knew that the Royal Armoury's new exhibition "Power Games: A Costume Drama" would be right up my alley! The Royal Armoury, or Livrustkammaren, is a museum dedicated to Swedish royal history shown through their clothes, uniforms, weapons, armour and carriages.
Gown worn by Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I.
The exhibition (running until Jan 4th, 2015) was very interesting and clever... it compares three characters through their costumes and clothes: King Erik XIV of Sweden, Queen Elizabeth I of England (through the Oscar winning costumes from Elizabeth and Elizabeth: the Golden Age starring Cate Blanchett) and the fictional King Joffrey Baratheon from HBO's popular Game of Thrones.
Game of Throne's Joffrey Baratheon
A fascinating mix of historical clothes from an actual king, costumes from a modern movie of a historical queen and costumes for a fictional king from a TV show. Besides the clothes and costumes, historical and fictional events are compared with each other. The characters and events in the Game of Thrones are often described as being especially gruesome, violent and sexual... but when compared to the events of King Erik XIV's life, one sees that they aren't that outlandish (the Sture Murders are a great example).
Part of the Power Games exhibition, including Mary Stuart's execution gown.
When you are there, don't miss the permanent exhibitions in the rest of the museum. The Swedish royal history over the past 500 years is well represented with coronation gowns, military uniforms, armour, ceremonial costumes as well as children's clothes. There are several historically significant outfits on display as well, such as the costume Gustav III was wearing when he was assassinated at a masquerade ball at the Royal Opera and the uniform Charles XII was wearing when he was killed in battle (bloodstains and bullet holes still apparent).
Armour belonging to a Swedish king...
Two floors below you will find the horse drawn carriages used by the royal family over the years... very beautiful and ornate. They even have a royal sled on display! This is a very child-friendly museum and there is even a room where children can try on historical costumes to become princes and princesses.
Part of the permanent display with Swedish royal costumes.
The museum is located in the Royal Palace (entrance on the southern side from Slottsbacken) in Gamla Stan. To get there from the Rival Hotel, it is just a 15 minute walk or a quick bus ride (#43 or 55). Admission is 90 SEK, free for children under 19 or holders of the Stockholm Card. If history is your thing, here are some other museums that will be of interest!
One of the royal horse-drawn carriages...


March 21, 2014

Liquorice Festival - Lakritsfestivalen

Photo source: Emelie Nilsson
If you are going to be in Stockholm this weekend (March 22nd & 23rd) and love liquorice/licorice then you are in for a treat... it is the weekend of the annual Liquorice Festival (Lakritsfestivalen)! They have had this festival every year since 2009 and to say that it has grown in size would be an understatement. In 2009 it was held in a basement around the corner from the Rival Hotel... now it is located in the Annexet in the Globe Arenas. Swedes do love their liquorice (usually the salty kind)!
Shopping! Photo by: Inger Bladh
There will be plenty of activities on both days like liquorice tasting (including in combination with chocolate, wine and liquor), workshops, exhibitions & contests, live music & demonstrations on stage, shopping opportunities and much more! How about fashion made of liquorice? In the restaurant there will be a special liquorice "flavoured" festival menu composed by chef Elisabeth Johansson. Liquorice-glazed pulled pork sounds tasty!
Liquorice fashion by Funny Livdotter
The festival opening hours are 10am to 7pm on Saturday and 11am to 7pm on Sunday and admission is 125 SEK (free for children 10 or younger). The special "tastings" do cost extra! It is easy to get to the festival from the Rival Hotel... just take the subway (green line) from nearby Slussen, in the direction of Hagsätra, to the Globen station (4 stations). And while you are in the neighbourhood you can always try the Skyview ride to the top of Globen and one of the bars & restaurants under Tele2 Arena!