April 28, 2017

Crazy weekend! Festivals, tour starts, openings, Walpurgis and more!

Fjäderholmarnas Krog opens for the season on Saturday.
There are so many things going on this weekend in Stockholm! So if you are here now... lucky you. To start off with, it is a three day weekend here in Sweden as Monday is a bank holiday (May 1st- International Workers' Day). Keep in mind that banks, liquor stores and smaller shops will be closed on Monday. Several sightseeing tours start for the season on Saturday, April 29th: Hop On/Off boat tours, Birka Viking Village, Fjäderholmarna boat trip and the Stockholm Grand Tour (bus/boat). The fact that the boats are starting to go to Fjäderholmarna means that the archipelago restaurant Fjäderholmarnas Krog opens for the season on Saturday. Don't forget that the new Viking museum Vikingaliv has its premiere on Saturday as well (read about my visit here).
Ulvbjörn and Ragnfrid at Vikingaliv.
Photo by Peter Knutson ©
Then there are some special events going on in the city as well. On Saturday they are having a street festival in Gamla Stan (the old town). They close off the street Stora Nygatan and local vendors sell their wares (between 11am and 7pm, possible later). This is quite a new event so I don't have any real experience with this but, if you are in the old town, by all means stop by and have a look around.
Walpurgis Eve Celebrations on Riddarholmen.
Photo by Jeppe Wikström/mediabank.visitstockholm.com
The other event I have much more experience with Sunday evening is Valborgsmässoafton, or Walpurgis Night in English. This is a very Germanic holiday celebrating Saint Walpurga and is celebrated in different ways throughout northern & eastern Europe. In Sweden it is celebrated with bonfires and singing. The bonfires will be lit at different places all through Stockholm but for Rival Hotel guests, the most central places are either on Riddarholmen or at Skansen. The Riddarholm bonfire starts with a torch parade from Stortorget in Gamla Stan at 7.45pm. The parade ends at Riddarholmen and the bonfire is lit at 8:30pm. At Skansen they have events all afternoon starting at 3pm and culminating with the lighting of their bonfire at 9pm.
Buildings in Hötorget lit up in purple during 2016's Kulturnatt
Photo: Adrian Pehrson @ Studio Emma Svensson
The final big event this weekend is Kulturnatt ("Culture Night") on Saturday evening. Basically, this is an evening of free culture throughout the city, everything lit up in the color purple. Between 6pm and midnight, the major cultural institutes in the city are open... museums, galleries, libraries, theatres and much more. All with free admission! It is virtually impossible for me to list all of the things going on, but you can download and print out an English leaflet with information on the different venues on their website. I would say that the best thing to do is stop by the Stockholm Visitor Center at Sergels Torg. Here you can get an English program and ask questions/advice. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, you can also talk directly with me. Art, dance, performances, music, literature and much more!

April 25, 2017

Scandinavian Furniture & Design at Fogia's Concept Store

One of the top questions I get from visitors is where to go to shop for Swedish/Scandinavian furniture and interior design pieces. You do know that Swedish furniture design is much more than IKEA, right? Fogia, one of the top Swedish furniture design companies, invited me to visit their concept store, Fogia Market, yesterday... and I now know what my fantasy home would look like.
Fogia's furniture is found at retail furniture stores throughout Scandinavia as well as other parts of Europe and in the US and Australia. However, Fogia Market is their showroom and only store where all their products can be found under one roof. It is a great place to browse, get inspiration as well as purchase that perfect piece of furniture or accessory for your home or office. Their experts are on hand for consultations and to answer any questions.
Fogia's furniture is all individually manufactured, using materials of the highest quality and durability. They have a huge variety of fabrics to choose from for each piece of furniture, so this means that your fantasy is basically the limit when it comes to creating your dream space. At Fogia Market they also have a wide range of interior design accessories from collaborating partners... vases, pots, pillows, rugs and much more. This is the perfect place to visit while in Stockholm if you are a lover of Swedish & Scandinavian design, whether or not you are in the mood to buy anything.
Fogia Market is located out on the island of Nacka at the mouth of Stockholm harbor. The best, and most picturesque, way to get there is by commuter boat. There are regular boats departing from Nybroplan in the downtown area and the trip takes approximately 20 minutes to Finnboda Hamn. These boats are part of Stockholm's public transportation which means that it is included in the public transportation card. The store is right on the waterfront so the boat drops you off just 25 meters or so from the front door. You can also get to the store by car/taxi/bus... but the boat trip is half the fun in my opinion.
They also have a great café in the store. So head out, browse through the store and then have some lunch and watch the ships sail by. Talk to me directly if you are staying at the Rival Hotel for more information and boat schedules. Fogia Market is open daily but they do usually close for a couple of weeks around the end of July, though the dates aren't set yet (keep your eye on their website). If you do decide to buy something, Fogia will help you with shipping so you don't have to worry about carrying a sofa on the plane home.

April 21, 2017

Vikingaliv: New Viking Museum in Stockholm

There is a new museum opening in Stockholm on April 29th! Vikingaliv, loosely translated as "the life of Vikings", takes a look at the Viking Age (circa 800 to 1050 AD) in Sweden, who the Vikings were, how they lived and what is myth and what is fact when it comes to what we have heard of these ferocious(?) people. Vikings are by far the most well known historical Swedes and it is high time they get their own museum in Stockholm.
Still putting on the finishing touches ouside.
My ancestor?
I was invited to a sneak preview of the museum yesterday. While they are still putting on the finishing touches and waiting on the delivery of the components of a couple of the exhibits, it was great to have the chance to see the museum before tourist season starts in earnest. The museum occupies some prime real estate on the island of Djurgården, where many of Stockholm's main museums and attractions are located.
Their tagline is "a true adventure" and the adventure starts on the first floor after entering the building. Here they have set up exhibits showing the history of the Viking Age, how far their long ships sailed, what they looked like, how they lived/fought/played and where the myth of the blood thirsty, horned helmet wearing Vikings came from. Many of the exhibits are interactive and the information is in both Swedish and English. There are also quite a lot of child friendly exhibits.
Some of the...
The adventure continues downstairs with Ragnfrid's Saga. Here you climb into an open carriage and are taken on an 11 minute ride, following the tale of Ragnfrid and her husband Harald and their journeys through Viking Age Europe. The narration comes in several different languages... from what I could tell, the staff determines the language for each carriage after consulting with the riders. It is a child friendly ride, though they don't recommend the ride for children under 7 due to loud sounds and the slightly violent parts of the story.
...dioramas from...
...Ragnfrid's Saga.
The adventure then ends back upstairs where they have a gift shop with plenty of Viking knick-knacks to purchase as well as a restaurant called Glöd. The restaurant wasn't open yet during our sneak peek, but it will have nice views over the harbor and I am sure the menu will contain Viking "dishes" and Nordic ingredients. Apparently you will be able to try mead here as well. The restaurant will be run by the owners of the popular restaurant Broms, so it should be good quality! You can visit the shop and restaurant without having to pay the entrance fee.
Gift shop
Vikingaliv isn't a huge museum but its location on Djurgården means that it is easy for visitors to combine a visit with another nearby museum like the Vasa Museum, Skansen or ABBA the Museum. And speaking of combining visits... if you are especially interested in Vikings, then you can visit the nearby Museum of Swedish History (Historiska) where they have a great exhibition on the Vikings as well as the gold and silver treasure found in Viking hoards discovered throughout Sweden (the museum has free admission). And during the warmer months, a day trip out to Birka (Viking Age trading town) is definitely worthwhile! Click here for more Vikings in Stockholm.
Part of the Viking display at nearby Historiska museum
The easiest way to get to Vikingaliv from the Rival Hotel is by taking the Djurgård ferry from nearby Gamla Stan (just a 10 minute trip). If you are already in the downtown area, then you can take the street car out to Djurgården. The entrance fee for Vikingaliv is a little high (190 SEK for adults and 120 SEK for children between 7 and 15) due to the interactive nature of the museum. But I figure that if you combine the visit with one to the history museum, which is free, then you can have a full Viking day for the price.
One of the runestones at nearby Skansen.

April 12, 2017

Rooftop Tour!

I had the opportunity yesterday to try another fun activity here in Stockholm... the Rooftop Tours. The tough life of a Concierge! They, along with their partners OURWAY Tours, invited Les Clefs d'Or Sweden (local Concierge union) to try it out ahead of the busy summer season. The Rooftop Tours have been running for 10 years now and this was my first time trying it so I was happy for the opportunity.
Photo op with Riddarholmen Church in the background.
The tour takes place on the rooftop of the old parliament building, now the administrative courthouse (Kammarrätten), and another building on the island of Riddarholmen, just adjacent to the beautiful Riddarholmen Church. The Church, built in 1271, is the oldest building in Stockholm and towers over you on the tour. The island of Riddarholmen is just next to Gamla Stan (the old town) and is often overlooked by tourists. But it is definitely worth a walk around when coming to Stockholm! Some beautiful architecture and viewpoints can be found here. The church itself is also worth a visit (closed during the winter months). The only preserved medieval monastery church in Stockholm, it is the final resting place of many Swedish kings and queens.
Safety instructions...
...all suited up.
The tour starts in the attic of the courthouse where you suit up in the harnesses and helmets and the guides go over safety and what to expect. It is important to dress appropriately! Sensible shoes and warm clothes, as you are exposed to the elements. They do have extra gloves and clothing to borrow as well as clear plastic bags to hang around your neck for your phone/camera. You can actually use your swipe function on your phone through these plastic bags which means that you are able to take pictures without risking dropping your phone. All pictures in this article were taken through the plastic bags.
Taking pictures with phone in a plastic bag.
Then it was time to step out on the rooftop. They have set up walkways along the rooftops which are easy to follow and you are always attached to the roof via your harness. There are platforms along the way to stop to listen to the guide and take pictures. For the most part there are railings to hold on to, but at a couple of points there aren't. Psychologically these are the tough parts. Even though you are attached to the roof, the walkway is a foot or more wide and you aren't on the edge, it still is a bit daunting to traverse the walkway without holding on to something. Thankfully, I found the fact that you have to concentrate on pulling your "lifeline" along the parallel tracks made it easier at those parts.
The guides were great and very knowledgeable. The tour stops at different points/platforms and the guide explains what you are seeing and how it relates to the history of Stockholm. And, as you are in the oldest parts of Stockholm, you are surrounded by history. These points are perfect places to take the requisite pictures (without worrying about being on a skinny walkway). The whole experience lasted a little over an hour and it was definitely a fun and unique way to see the city and learn a little history. Though perhaps not for someone who has a bad fear of heights.
Our guide!
Booking their set tours can be done through their website or via OURWAY Tours. Besides the set tours, you have the option of booking smaller private tours upon request. Larger groups can also be accommodated. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for help in making a booking. Keep in mind that these tours are popular and space is limited. This means that you should definitely book in advance as they are generally fully booked on the day. If there is severe weather (windstorm, lightning, heavy fog, etc.) and they cancel the tour, you will get your money back. For safety measures, you cannot be shorter than 150cm (4.86 feet) or weigh more than 120kgs (264lbs). Children under 18 need to meet these requirements and be accompanied by an adult.
View of Slussen.
Panoramic view of Lake Mälaren.
Lake Mälaren with City Hall on the right.

April 8, 2017

Fun Activity: Glass Blowing at Skansen!

And now for the reason behind my recent visit to Skansen...
I was invited by Stockholm's Glasbruk to try my hand at glassblowing! Swedish crystal and glass are very popular, with well-known glass design companies like Orrefors and Kosta Boda. Visitors to Sweden often want to buy Swedish glass and crystal to take back home with them and there are plenty of places to purchase these items throughout Stockholm. I often get questions from hotel guests wanting to visit the Orrefors and Kosta Boda glassworks and they are disappointed to learn that these are located in southern Sweden.
The glassworks as seen from the shop.
But... there is one glasswork in Stockholm: Stockholm's Glasbruk. Located in Skansen park, this glasswork has a great history and pedigree. Karin Hammar runs the glassworks today and is a third generation glasscraftsman, with her grandfather starting the company back in 1933 (they moved to Skansen already in 1936). They create many signature prizes for big award ceremonies, both local and international. Most famously, since 1993 they have created the beautiful award presented to the Eurovision winner (abstract heart in glass with the colors of the host nation).
Some of the beautiful handmade glassware on sale at the shop.
In Skansen, the glassworks is located in the "town quarter" along with other historic businesses like a tannery, ironmonger, pottery, printer and bakery. The glassworks is, by far, the most popular with visitors. Here you can browse through their shop, filled with beautifully designed glass... all handmade on site in the glassworks. A great place to buy some unique souvenirs or gifts to take home. You can also watch the glassmasters at work, making both glassware for the shop as well as commissioned pieces. As the glassworks are located within Skansen, you have to pay the entrance fee to get in. However, if you are just coming to do some shopping at the store... let them know at the entrance and you can get a refund on the entrance fee when you leave.
Now for the fun part... you also have the opportunity to try your hand at glassblowing! This was the reason for my visit last week. The package includes entrance to Skansen, a guided tour around the shop and glassworks, and blowing your own glass or glass ball (under supervision of one of the masters). You also get to keep the glassware you created, which is delivered to the hotel the next day (after it has time to cool). You also have the choice of adding a traditional Swedish fika to the package. Shipping abroad and booking times after regular opening hours are both possible at an extra cost. You can book this package on their website or, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly to book.
Glassmaster helping me dip the molten glass in pigment.
I found the whole experience to be very fun and educational. The atmosphere at Skansen also lends a historically Swedish feel to the experience. I was a little nervous at first considering the extremely hot materials being used. But they were very safety conscious and hands-on in their supervision. As you can understand, due to the hot materials, children aren't allowed to blow glass. After the glassmaster pulls out the molten glass, you get to choose the color of your glassware by rolling the molten glass in different pigments. After rewarming the glass, you alternate between blowing and using different tools to shape the glass.
Shaping the glass and...
...blowing it.
I had made a glass ball so, after cutting the glass, the glassmaster helped me put on an "eye" on the top with a piece of molten glass in order to be able to hang the ball. After that the glass was put aside to cool slowly. My finished glass ball was delivered to me at the hotel the next day. Perhaps not perfectly round but still pretty good, if I do say so myself, for my first attempt at glass blowing... and nice to have a souvenir to remind me of the experience!
The finished glassware arrives at the hotel.
Pretty good for my first try!

April 7, 2017

Sightseeing in Stockholm with Strömma

This past Monday, I was invited (along with other Stockholm hotel staff) to the annual presentation of the year's sightseeing options by the Strömma company. Strömma is the largest sightseeing operator in the Nordic countries, running tours in Oslo, Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Helsinki and... Stockholm! Here in Stockholm, there are smaller sightseeing companies, but Strömma's portfolio of tours cannot be beat. They offer everything from day trips, Hop On/Off tours, sightseeing by boat and bus, walking tours, dining cruises and much more.
S/S Stockholm, photo by Gustav Kaiser.
The summer is the high season for tourism in Stockholm (with a mini high season in December) and it is short and intensive! There are, of course, sightseeing options year-round but most tours are only available during the high season. However, starting already in April, some tours start for the season... albeit with fewer departure times/days than the high season. Some notable starts this month are the Royal Canal boat tour (daily from April 3rd), In a Nutshell bus/boat combination tour (daily from April 3rd) and Under the Bridges boat tour (only Fri-Sun so far, with start on April 14th).
Under the Bridges boat tour
The Hop On/Off busses run year round, however the Hop On/Off boats start their season on April 29th. Combination bus/boat tickets available then as well. Other year-round tours of note are the Panorama bus tour and the Little Archipelago boat tour. Strömma has some great full and half day excursions as well (palaces, castles, Viking villages, art museums, archipelago and more). Boat trips to Drottningholm have started already, with other excursions starting their seasons in May and June. Check the options here. One fun thing to do during the warmer months is to explore the archipelago on your own using the Cinderella boats. Finally, Strömma has a wide variety of dining cruises (lunch, brunch, afternoon tea and dinner) available as well.
Exploring the archipelago with Cinderella
These tours are all bookable via their website (linked throughout this article) or can be purchased at tourist information centers or Strömma's ticket offices at Strömkajen, Gustaf Adolfs Torg, Stadshusbron and Nybroplan. Some tickets to tours can be purchased at the bus/boat when space is available (in case you want to keep your options open). Or, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, you can book directly with me at the hotel. One good option is to purchase the Stockholm Pass, which not only includes entrance to many of Stockholm's main attractions but also gives you access to most of Strömma's sightseeing tours. All pictures in this article are Strömma press images.
Bus/boat combination tours.

April 5, 2017

Skansen! Museum, park, zoo and more.

I had some Concierge business in Skansen the other day (more info about that in an upcoming blog article) and I thought I would take the opportunity to have a wander around and write a new article about the open air museum... especially considering that I haven't written about Skansen itself since one of my first articles way back in 2010. High time for an update!
While Skansen is one of the top attractions in Stockholm, I always find it hard to describe it to visitors in just a few words. This is because Skansen is so many things in one... it is an open-air museum, park, zoo, concert venue and the official place for the celebration of the major holidays in Sweden. It was founded in 1891, making it the world's first open-air museum, and was created by Arthur Hazelius as a way to show what Sweden looked like pre Industrial Age. All this and in a beautiful park setting, with views over Stockholm.
A traditional Sami kåta. 
Hazelius journeyed throughout all of Sweden, purchasing around 150 buildings, which he had shipped in pieces to Stockholm and painstakingly rebuilt in Skansen. These buildings include cottages, farm houses, manors, mills, churches, school houses, homes and even a kåta (traditional tent used by the Sàmi, the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia). These all give visitors a feel for what rural Sweden looked like before 1880. But it is not all rural as Hazelius also managed to bring a whole town block there as well. In this section you can visit many of the types of businesses found in towns during the 1800's, like a tannery, bakery, bank, glasswork, apothecary, smithy, pottery and printers.
Reindeer, wolves, moose, wolverines and more.
Skansen is also Stockholm's zoo. So within the park, among the beautiful houses, you will find a wide variety of Swedish animals... reindeer, moose, wolverines, seals, lynx, otters, wild boar, wolves, bears and more. In Skansen's calendar, you can see when the different feeding times are for some of the animals which is always a fun time to visit (as some can be a bit shy). They also have many traditional breeds of more tame Scandinavian animals like cows, pigs and sheep. Skansen also has an indoor children's zoo, called Lill Skansen, where you can get acquainted more intimately with the many tame Scandinavian animals. Also in the park, albeit with a separate entrance fee, is Skansen Aquarium, which houses more exotic creatures like meerkats, lemurs, snakes, frogs and fish.
If you happen to be in Stockholm during a major holiday, then a visit to Skansen is a must. Skansen is the location of the official and semi official celebrations of these holidays (both Swedish and international). Skansen is where the televised countdown to midnight on New Year's Eve happens, it is where the official celebration of Sweden's national day takes place with the royal family in attendance and where the official Lucia performs. This is where visitors can take part in the Swedish traditions surrounding Christmas, Walpurgis, Midsummer and Easter, including Easter and Christmas markets.
Part of the town neighbourhood.
So, as you can see, a visit to Skansen is a must during any trip to Stockholm. Skansen is also the only attraction in the city that never closes! Many attractions close on major holidays... but not Skansen. It is located on the island of Djurgården, adjacent to many other top attractions like Vasa Museum, ABBA the Museum and Gröna Lund. To get there from the Rival Hotel, it is just a 10 minute trip on the Djurgård ferry from nearby Gamla Stan.