July 31, 2013

Visiting the Archipelago (part 2)

The Archipelago Travel Agency!
Click here for part 1. While I am a pretty fabulous concierge and can give you a lot of information about Stockholm, the archipelago is another matter. I know of the main islands, a few hidden gems, guided tours as well as trips out with the Cinderella boats. But the Stockholm Archipelago has over 30,000 islands and it takes a real expert to help you plan a unique trip to the islands... especially if you want to get away from the crowded islands, have special requests, book packages and/or want to stay the night on an island. To get this expert help, contact the good people at Visit Skärgården (skärgården is the Swedish word for archipelago) either by visiting their website or by dropping by their archipelago travel agency... located right on the water on Strandvägen in the downtown area. Here you can also find brochures and other reading material regarding the different islands, lodgings as well as time tables for boats. They are open to 4pm everyday during the summer and you can also contact them at info@visitskargarden.se (EDIT: this company has unfortunately gone bakrupt. While their website works, the travel agency on Strandvägen is currently unmanned. I have heard rumours that another archipelago company is in the process of taking over the space. In the meanwhile, check this website for more info!)
A Waxholmsbolaget boat waiting at Strömkajen to take passengers.
In Part 1, I mentioned the company Waxholmsbolaget. This is the company that run the boats that function as "busses" for the archipelago. I just used them to visit friends at their summer house on the island of Ljusterö so I thought I would add a little more about them. With these boats you can travel to many of the islands in the archipelago... including the ones that aren't visited by hordes of vacationers. These boats are often used by residents of the islands. Be aware that many of the islands have a pier or two where Waxholmsbolaget's boats stop, but the pier may be a long walk away from any civilization (restaurants, hotels, inns, cafés, etc;). So make sure you do your research ahead of time, like talking to the abovementioned Archipelago Travel Agency, before just jumping off a boat at a random island.
Nearing the town of Vaxholm.
Boats depart from Strömkajen, just opposite from the Royal Palace, and most boats go first to the town of Vaxholm. From there you can transfer to other boats which head out in every direction. You buy your ticket onboard (no option to pre-purchase tickets)... and get there a little early to make sure you get a good seat! What you can purchase ahead of time are their 5 day and season cards, which allow you to island hop to your heart's content. One warning: you almost need a PhD in symbology to decipher their time schedules. The time schedules can be found on their website (in Swedish), at their offices on Strömkajen, or at the Visit Skärgård offices (where they can help you decipher them).
Waiting for the boat at the pier on Ljusterö

Restaurant Piren

Piren- "the pier"
While this restaurant is on the other side of Stockholm from the Rival Hotel (it is located on the newly opened waterfront promenade on the island of Kungsholmen), if you are visiting the area then it is a great place for a meal!
Summer ambiance.
Piren means "the pier" in Swedish and that describes the restaurant pretty well. It is situated on a pier sticking out from the aforementioned promenade over Lake Mälaren. Makes for a great summer atmosphere! I took my visiting parents there last Sunday to give the place a try. It was hot weather and the area was filled with sunbathing Swedes... which means the bar was happening with the "after beach" crowd.
Bookmaker Toast and...
The menu had many summer favorites, both Swedish and international... fish & seafood stew with saffron aioli, entrecôte with bearnaise and french fries, moules marinières, Caesar sallad with spicy prawns and Bookmaker Toast (flanksteak on toast, with egg yolk and shredded horseradish). It was all very delicious.
...yummy fish & seafood stew!
Besides the good food, the whole ambiance is Swedish summer. As I mentioned, it might be a little out of the way for Rival guests. But it is a nice area of the city and off the beaten path! To get there it is either subway (green line to Kristineberg) and a little walk, or else by taxi. If you are staying at the hotel, and are interested, come talk to me and I can give more specific directions.
Cloudy evening, but still good views from the bar.

July 26, 2013

A Rerun of Summer 2013 Stockholm Tips

View of City Hall from the Western Bridge (Västerbron).
(EDIT- this was written for 2013, so some exhibitions are different this year!) We are in the second half of the summer season and I thought I would post a collection of older articles that can help those of you coming to visit us in August (in case you missed them earlier). Things to do & see as well as some restaurant tips! Just click on the links (in blue) to come to the article in question...

Besides keeping an eye on my fabulous blog... check the Visit Stockholm website for great tips and recommendations. Happy Summer!
Drottningholm Palace

July 24, 2013

Stockholm by "Gummibåt"

Photo by: Privat, sbgb.
You lucky visitors coming to Stockholm on the first weekend of August... you have so many fun things happening on Saturday, August 3rd! Not only is the huge Gay Pride Parade going through the city and concerts and art exhibits at the Music & Arts Festival, you also have something a bit more whimsical happening in the city: Stockholm by Gummibåt!
Photo: Privat, sbgb
Gummibåt means "rubber boat" in Swedish... and the event is basically a fun trip down the canal Karlbergskanalen, on the north coast of Kungsholmen, in rubber boats. It is not a race, though there is a start and finish, and it is open to anyone with a rubber boat (no fee). The course runs west to east, ending just before Kungsbron (King's Bridge). They are expecting over 700 boats and 1,000 participants this year! They do encourage people to come in costume. Looking at the pictures from last year, people dressed up as Smurfs, Vikings, Baywatch lifeguards, Kiss Army and more. Fun! The event starts at 10am so, if you plan smartly, you can watch the boats before heading to the Pride parade, which starts at 1pm, before going on to see a concert at the Music & Arts Festival in the evening.
The canal on a quieter day...
I recently wrote about the waterfront promenade in this area and how this is a nice place to spend a relaxing summer day in Stockholm... now you have another reason (Swedes acting silly). The easiest way to get to the "race course" from the Rival Hotel is by taking the subway, green line, from Slussen to Fridhemsplan.

July 21, 2013

Festivals in August

Photo by Yanan Li, Stockholms Visitors Board
July is the month when most Swedes have their summer vacation and, therefore, most Stockholmers leave the city for their summer homes or trips abroad. Because of this, there aren't many big festivals in the city during July. But Stockholmers are returning to the city now and festival season is starting!

  • First out is the finals of the Women's Euro-Championships in Football(Soccer). It will be held at the new Friends Arena on July 28th. While this isn't a festival per se, it will hopefully be a festival atmosphere. Especially if Sweden, who has been playing quite well, makes it to the finals. Fingers crossed! Edit: :( 
  • The gay pride festival, called simply Stockholm Pride, kicks off on Wednesday, July30th and runs through Saturday, August 3rd. This is Scandinavia's largest gay pride festival and it attracts people from far and wide. Besides the festival area, filled with restaurant tents and live performances from big name artists, the big event is the pride parade which takes place on Saturday. Stockholmers tend to come out in the hundreds of thousands to see the parade snake through the city.
  • On the same weekend, August 2nd-4th, the Music & Art Festival will be taking place on the island of Skeppsholmen. A varied line-up of artists will be performing, though the big ticket name is Prince (performing on Sunday evening).
  • Next out are two side-by-side festivals. The main one is the Stockholm Culture Festival (August 13th-18th). This covers everything cultural... with music, art, literature, live performances and much more going on throughout downtown Stockholm. The best part is that it is all free (no admission)! Going on simultaneously (August 13th-17th) is the youth festival We Are Sthlm (formerly known as Ung08) in Kungsträdgården park. 
Those are the big festivals, but there are even other smaller festivals as well as concerts and sporting events going on in August. Check the full calendar by clicking here.
Photo by Yanan Li, Stockholm Visitors Board

July 18, 2013

Jean Paul Gaultier Exhibition: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk!

I finally made it! I had been looking forward to this exhibition since it was first announced but have had trouble working it into my busy summer schedule.
Talking & singing mannequins
The Architecture Museum (Arkitekturmuseet) has recently changed its name to Architecture & Design Center (Arkitektur och Designcentrum). A good idea, in my opinion, as Swedish design is a popular concept internationally and it also allows the museum to host a number of great exhibitions... like the current Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk!
Madonna in Gaultier
For those who do not know who Jean Paul Gaultier is... he is a famous French fashion designer, known best for working closely with Madonna on several of her tours and videos (who can forget the famous cone bra?), putting skirts & kilts on men and designing the wardrobe for several movies, including The Fifth Element and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover.
Wheat corset dress
Often referred to as "l'enfant terrible" of the French fashion world, he was one of the first fashion designers who made fashion popular and accessible to the everyday person (on a broad scale) and not just for hardcore fashionistas. Always a bit controversial and rock & roll... many of his runway shows have caused the Establishment to gasp or shake their heads.
If you are visiting Stockholm in the upcoming months (last day is September 22, 2013) then you have the opportunity to see his fabulous fashions up close. I was very impressed with the exhibition as it is much larger and comprehensive than I had anticipated. It contains 120 outfits, sketches by the designer, fashion editorials featuring his creations and movie clips. The fashion covers almost his entire career with both haute couture and pret-a-porter represented as well as his work with Madonna and in Hollywood.
For the shy lady...
Some of the mannequins sing and talk through a clever use of video images superimposed on the mannequins' faces. You are able to get quite close to the fashion ensembles, so keep an eye on the detail work. I was especially amazed the leopard corset that, upon closer inspection, turned out to be solely intricate beadwork and not fur.
Beaded detail.
The museum is located on the island of Skeppsholmen, adjacent to the modern art museum (Moderna Museet). The easiest way to get to the museum from the Rival Hotel is by ferry... click here for more information. Entrance costs 120 SEK for adults, 100 for senior citizens and free for children under 19 as well as holders of the Stockholm Card. One good thing to know: you can purchase a combination ticket that allows you entrance to Moderna as well, where they have a great Pop Art & Design exhibition right now (cost 200 SEK).
Indian wedding dress.

Getting to Skeppsholmen with the Djurgårds Ferry (Change!)

Yesterday I went to the Architecture & Design Center on the island of Skeppsholmen to see the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit (more on that in my next entry). As usual, the easiest way to get there from the Rival Hotel is by the Ferry to Djurgården. There are actually a few other museums on Skeppsholmen, like the Museum of Far East Antiquities (Östasiatiska museet) and the Museum of Modern Art (Moderna museet), so it is a popular island to visit.
Coming in to Skeppsholmen...
During the low season the ferry goes only to Djurgården (where you will find the Vasa Museum, ABBA Museum and Skansen) and you have to inform them that you wish to be let off at Skeppsholmen. The same goes for being picked up by the ferry at Skeppsholmen... there is a button at the dock you have to push to let the ferry captain know you need to be picked up. In the past the ferries always stopped at Skeppsholmen during the summer months, doing a Gamla Stan-Djurgården-Skeppsholmen run every 10-15 minutes.
...and to Fotografiska.
However... I noticed a slight change this season when I took the boat yesterday. Now they have one boat that runs only between Gamla Stan (Slussen) and Djurgården and another boat that makes more stops. This latter boat goes from Gamla Stan to Fotografiska (photography museum), then to Djurgården before the final stop at Skeppsholmen. I timed it and the whole trip took 20 minutes. The important thing is to ask, when you get to the dock, which boat is going to Skeppsholmen. It's nice that they stop at the popular Fotografiska during the summer as well!
Ferry at dock in Gamla Stan (Slussen). Picture taken last autumn!
There is also a bridge from the downtown area which takes you to the island. So it is an easy walk if you are near the royal palace or Kungsträdgården park!

July 11, 2013

New Waterfront Promenade on Kungsholmen

Now for something a little different...
New waterfront promenade!
Kungsholmen is one of the main islands that make up Stockholm (and the island I call home!). In the past few years they have been doing quite a bit of construction in the northwest corner of the island... building apartment complexes, creating parks as well as a waterfront promenade.  The completion of this construction project means that one can now walk around the entire island on marked paths (along the water). This walk, or jog, is approximately 10 kilometers long with great views along the way.
The narrow Karlbergs Canal.
I did this walk last Sunday to check out the new area. It was one of those gorgeous, sunny summer days and Stockholmers were out in the thousands to enjoy the nice weather... sunbathing, swimming, doing water sports or just sitting at an outdoor restaurant enjoying a glass of wine.
Views of Stora Essingen from the cliffs of Fredhäll.
As a visitor this is a great place to get off the beaten path and see Stockholmers in their natural habitat doing what they love the most: soaking up the vitamin D. It is also a nice place to enjoy a sunny day and have a nice walk/swim. There are several options for bars and restaurants along the promenade including newly opened Piren as well as the classic Solstugan. To get there from the Rival Hotel, you can take the subway (green line from Slussen) to Kristineberg. Here are some pictures from my walk to get you inspired!
Bring a towel and take a swim!
Karlbergs Palace.
Classic Solstugan Bar & Restaurant.
Newly opened Piren restaurant.
View from St Erik's bridge towards the canal.

July 9, 2013

Restaurant Tradition

(Edit- closed for business, but they have still have their sister restaurant open in gamla Stan)
Last week I was invited to the premiere of a new restaurant on Södermalm called Tradition. This is their second restaurant with the original Tradition located in the Norrmalm district. This "sister restaurant" is located right next to the SoFo district of Södermalm, an easy 15 minute walk from the Rival Hotel.
Swedish design...
Their motto is "Svensk husmanskost. Punkt slut." which basically translates to "Swedish traditional cuisine. Period.". Well, sort of. I actually have a hard time translating husmanskost. It is one of those words that I think is only found in Swedish... like lagom and fika. There are several ways I use to describe this concept to visitors... rustic cuisine, meals your grandmother would make, workers' fare, traditional cuisine, historic cuisine, etc; Sometimes I compare it to types of dishes from the visitor's home country to give them a point of reference. For example Fish & Chips to someone from the UK, Coq au Vin to someone from France and Pot Roast to someone from the States. At any rate... it is good food! And a great way to "taste" Swedish history and tradition.
Cod with shrimp, horseradish and egg sauce.
Restaurant Tradition is a good place to try husmanskost and they try to make it a complete Swedish experience with the Swedish interior design as well as Swedish music playing in the restaurant. As it was the premiere when I was there, we were served small tastes of different courses on the menu... like cod with shrimp, horseradish & egg sauce and black pudding with glazed apples and lingon berries. Click here for menu. All very good! As I mentioned earlier, Tradition is located near the SoFo district which is a nice place to wander in the evening with bars, pubs and restaurants. Good thing to know: all of the dishes on the menu are lactose free and they can make both vegetarian and gluten free dishes as well. Click here for other restaurant recommendations/reviews and click here for other restaurants that serve Swedish cuisine.
Black pudding with glazed apples and lingon berries.

July 6, 2013

Visiting the Archipelago- What to Consider!

Photo by Henrik Trygg, Stockholm Visitors Board
This article is a bit of a repeat from an earlier one... but it is because I run into the same problem every summer with visitors. Visiting the stunning Stockholm Archipelago (Skärgården) is on the top of the list for most visitors to Stockholm during the summer. They want to take a boat ride, experience the picturesque vistas they have seen in pictures, walk around on an island and maybe take a swim or have lunch.
Photo by... me! Taken from the back of a Cinderella boat.
Unfortunately, what most visitors don't realize is that it takes time and a bit of planning to really experience the true beauty of the archipelago. Almost every day during the summer, guests come to me around lunchtime and say that they want to see the archipelago. I ask "tomorrow?" and they answer "no... now!". Herein lies the problem. Your options are greatly reduced when you get too late a start in the day and/or give yourself too little time. In other words? Do a little research, have a plan and then have the appropriate time to spend on what you want to see/do.
A map showing a few of the 30,000 islands!
The archipelago is vast and is made up of more than 30,000 islands, stretching out into the Baltic Sea. The nature changes visibly the further out you get... with the vegetation becoming more and more sparse. In the outer archipelago you have small rocky islands and little red cabins flying the Swedish flag (which most people have seen pictures of). To get out to this area, it is a 2-4 hour boat trip, depending on the boat and which island you are travelling to. Put that together with time on an island and the return trip and you get a full day excursion! You have some great places to visit out here... like Grinda, Finnhamn, Sandhamn and Möja. You can either choose to take regular ferries (Cinderella) or a set tour to Sandhamn. Just remember that the further out you go, the less time you have to spend on the island you choose. There is also the option of doing a "thousand island cruise" where you get to visit three islands.
Photo by Henrik Trygg, Stockholm Visitors Board
If you only have a short time in Stockholm, and can't afford to spend a whole day in the archipelago, then you can take a short tour of the inner archipelago. This is a very pleasant way to spend a few hours and you do have the option of dining onboard! This tour, however, doesn't let you visit an island. To do this in, say, an afternoon... you can visit one of the islands closer to Stockholm, like Vaxholm or Fjäderholmarna. There is also a company called Waxholmsbolaget which runs commuter boats out to different islands and is a great choice if you want to visit less crowded islands. Visit their new offices at Strömkajen.
Photo by Yanan Li, Stockholm Visitors Board
The islands mentioned above are just a few of the thousands you can visit! Looking to put together your own itinerary? Check out the archipelago tourist agency's website or visit their offices on Strandvägen (currently closed). Otherwise you can also visit the good people at the Stockholm Information Center or, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, talk directly with me. Many of these islands have hotels, B&B's or guest cottages... so you can combine a stay in the archipelago with a city weekend in Stockholm!

July 5, 2013

Restaurant Den Gyldene Freden

Entrance on Österlånggatan
Den Gyldene Freden means "the golden peace" and refers to the Peace of Nystad, signed by Sweden and Russia (ending the Great Northern War) in 1721. Why name a restaurant after an almost 300 year old peace treaty? Well... that's how old the restaurant is! Den Gyldene Freden, according to the Guinness Book of Records, is the world's oldest restaurant still in the same locale... and most of the interior has been unaltered since the restaurant opened in 1722.
The restaurant has been the haunt of many cultural figures, like Carl Michael Bellman, Cornelis Vreeswijk and Anders Zorn, through the centuries... and was often named in their songs and poems. These days the Swedish Academy, which chooses the annual Nobel Prize in Literature, meets here for their weekly Thursday dinner. All of this history has made Gyldene Freden one of Sweden's most famous restaurants.
Great place to try fantastic Swedish meatballs.
But it is not just the history which attracts the customers... it is also one of the best places in Stockholm to try classic Swedish cusine and flavors. They have both a regular menu as well as a seasonal. It is also one of the best places to try the famed Swedish meatballs. This is just what I did earlier this week when I had a friend visiting from the States. The perfect meatballs with all of the classic accoutrements: potatoe purée, pickled cucumbers, lingon berries and a cream sauce. The restaurant has been awarded the Michelin Guide's Bib Gourmand (good food and at a reasonable price) for several years in a row.
This picture, of the Middle Vault, provided by Gyldene Freden.
Den Gyldene Freden is located in Gamla Stan (old town) on the picturesque street Österlånggatan and is just a 10 minute walk from the Rival Hotel. For other restaurants serving Swedish cuisine... click here.

July 4, 2013

The Nobel Museum

The man...
Were you aware that the Nobel Prize is Swedish (though the Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo)? Were you aware that this is because the prizes were stipulated in the last will & testament of a Swede... Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite?
...and the prize.
If this is news for you or if your curiosity is piqued, then I have the perfect museum for you: The Nobel Museum. This museum is dedicated to both the man, Alfred Nobel, and the famous prize that he founded. It is not a large museum, but it is still quite comprehensive. There is an area dedicated to the life of Nobel as well as a permanent exhibition regarding the history of the prize which includes several interesting objects donated by Nobel Laureates.
They also have temporary exhibitions at the museum and the current exhibition is "Making Peace" which is a look, through photography, at the people and events that have been involved in the struggle for peace, including Nobel Peace Prize winners. This exhibit will run through November 17th.
Part of the Peace exhibit.
A couple of other interesting facts about the museum... make sure you look up when you are in the museum. Above the heads of the museum visitors is a moving conveyor belt of sorts with banners featuring Nobel prize winners. A fun idea! Another fun idea is found in the museum café. Make sure you take the time and turn your stool upside down. The bottom of every stool is covered with the signatures of past Nobel Laureates!
Look up and...
The museum is located in the old stock exchange building on the square Stortorget in the old town (Gamla Stan), just a 15 minute walk from the Rival Hotel. During the summer months the museum is open every day from 10am to 8pm. They have guided tours in English several times a day (free of charge), which I recommend. If you are interested in more Nobel atmosphere... make sure you visit the City Hall, where they have the famous Nobel banquet every year, as well as the Concert Hall (Konserthuset), where the awards ceremony is held.
...look down (under your chair).