October 18, 2018

The National Museum Reopens!

Big news! In February of 2013, The National Museum in Stockholm closed for renovations and last week (on October 13th), after 5½ years, they finally opened again for the public. Not only is the National Museum Sweden's premiere museum for classic art and design, it is also one of Europe's oldest art museums... so it has been sorely missed in Stockholm while it was closed. The beautiful staircase in the center of the building is worth a visit itself. I, of course, made sure to stop by the museum on its opening weekend!
Besides cosmetic touch-ups, the renovations have included a large modernization of the museum, an addition of a sculpture garden and new restaurant as well as being expanded to allow it to take twice as many visitors and display three times the amount of art than previously. The king and queen were present to cut the ribbon at the grand opening on Saturday.
The museum was founded in 1794 as "the Royal Museum" and got its start as art collections of members of the royal family, before being taken over by the Swedish state. It moved to its current location, a beautiful building designed by Friedrich August Stüler, in 1866. The building contains three floors and is dominated by the aforementioned grand staircase in the middle.
While not as huge as The Louvre, Metropolitan Museum of Art or the British Museum... the National Museum is still large enough that it is hard to see everything properly in one visit, unless you just stroll through certain exhibitions. Luckily, the majority of the museum has free admission, so it is not a problem to visit the museum on multiple days if you wish. The museum may charge admission to certain temporary exhibitions.
The collections are exhibitied chronologically, from the 1500's to today and both art and design objects are shown together. This allows you to move through the museum in a logical order, getting a better feel of the different eras or, if you wish, just to concentrate your visit on the art and design of a certain time period. Besides classical and fine art, parts of the museum do focus primarily on design and design history.
Currently, they have two temporary exhibitions. A&E Design, showing the designs, some quite famous) of the Swedish company A&E Design and an exhibition of the work of John Singer Sargent, an American artist who spent much of his life in Europe. Considered by many to be one of the most influential artists from the turn of the last century, Sargent's works include many beautiful portraits and landscapes. Both exhibitions run until January 13th and cost 150 SEK (one ticket for both exhibitions).
I did enjoy their new sculpture courtyard on the ground floor, where the restaurant was once located, for those of you who have visited the museum before the renovations. This is a nice place to sit and reflect under the gaze of the Norse gods Odin, Thor and Baldur. I have heard good things about their new restaurant, but didn't have time to try it on this visit. They do also have a special exhibition for children called Villa Curiosa.
The National Museum is located on the waterfront of the downtown area. About a 30 minute walk through the old town (Gamla Stan) from the Hotel Rival, you can also take the bus or subway (closest subway stop is Kungsträdgården on the blue line). The National Museum is closed on Mondays and is open extra late (9pm) on Thursdays.

October 16, 2018

Feather Exhibition at Etnografiska

This past weekend I visited the Museum of Ethnography (Etnografiska museet) to see their exhibition Feathers. Ethnography is "the study and systematic recording of human cultures", so this is a museum dedicated to different cultures from around the world. The museum is part of the Swedish state run Museums for Wolrd Culture which is a group of four museums, including the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (Östasiatiska museet) and Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities (Medelhavsmuseet) in Stockholm and Museum of World Culture (Världskulturmuseet) in Gothenburg. All four museums have free admission!
This was, I am embarrassed to say, my first visit to Etnografiska. But it won't be my last! The museum has several exhibitions looking at interesting cultures from around the world, with around 200,000 objects from places like the Amazon, Pacific Islands, Africa and the Far East. I took time to see the exhibit on Swedish explorer Sven Hedin, and his contact with different cultures on his travels, which was very interesting.
But on to the reason for my visit... Feathers! I found the exhibition to be very interesting and well done. It is a look at how cultures around the world have used feathers through history, from costumes to art to religion, showing how feathers were often used to denote wealth or power. On the first floor of the exhibition, you have the historical aspect of the exhibit with pieces from Hawaii, the Amazons, Papua New Guinea, Native Americans and much more. The exhibition contains some great pieces!
On the second floor, the exhibition focuses on modern usage of feathers, mainly in fashion and theatre. Of special note is the work of Tim Mårtensson, the only plume maker in Scandinavia today. Several of his works are on display as well as an interesting video where you follow Tim as he explains how he makes one of his creations from which feathers to choose, to dyeing & shaping them and finally the application.
The museum is located in the "museum park" in Gärdet. This park contains a group of family-friendly museums like the Museum of Technology (Tekniska museet), the Police Museum (Polismuseet), Museum of Naval History (Sjöhistoriskamuseet) and Museum of Sports (Riksidrottsmuseet). A great place to visit if you are traveling with children. The easiest way to get to the museum is to take bus 69 (direction of Kaknästornet) from Nybroplan. get off the bus at the stop "Museiparken". Admission is free and the exhibition runs until March 3rd, 2019.
Nearby, you have the Museum of Sports...
...Museum of Technology...
...and Police Museum

October 9, 2018

Christmas Overview 2018

Ho, ho, ho! Too early? Actually, each year I seem to post this information earlier and earlier as I start getting e-mails with questions on what to see and do in Stockholm during the holiday season. In the coming months I will be posting articles about the Lucia festivities, restaurants/stores/museums during the holiday season, winter activities and other good-to-know information. But, I thought I would start off with an overview of what to expect if you are visiting in Stockholm during this time of year so that you can plan your visit a little better.
NK department store.
It is probably best to begin with looking at the calendar. The traditional start to the Swedish holiday season is skyltsöndag (basically "store window Sunday"). This is the Sunday where the big department stores, like NK, unveil their holiday window displays. Once upon a time, this happened on the Sunday two weeks before Christmas. But these days it has been moved up in the calendar... to the sixth Sunday before Christmas (Sweden is just like every other country in the Western world- it feels like X-mas comes earlier and earlier every year). This year it is on Sunday, November 18th (not 100% definite as I am waiting on NK to confirm).
Part of last year's Christmas light display...
The next date of note in the holiday calendar is Saturday, November 24th. This is the day when the official city Christmas lights are lit. Over 35 streets, squares and bridges in downtown Stockholm are lit up using hundreds of thousands of LED lights (one of the biggest lighting projects in Europe). The main Christmas market in Gamla Stan opens on the 24th as well (open daily until Dec 23rd). It was recently named as one of the top 10 markets in Europe. On November 30th, the Archtecture & Design Center opens up its annual gingerbread house competition/exhibition (until January 6th). Always fun to visit!
Christmas market in Gamla Stan.

December 1st is when the historic Christmas market at Skansen opens for the season. It is open every Saturday and Sunday until December 23rd. I will be writing an article in the coming weeks with a list of all of the Christmas markets, in the meantime Click here for the list from last year. 
Next up... Sunday, December 2nd.This is the first Sunday of Advent (fourth Sunday before Christmas Day). This marks the core, 3-4 week, traditional holiday season in Sweden. It is during this time that the majority of Christmas markets are open. It is also during this time when many restaurants in the city serve the traditional Christmas meal: julbord. The sightseeing company Strömma does start their julbord boat cruises a bit earlier though, already on Nov 23rd. 
Boat cruise with traditional julbord, offered by Strömma
Another important date... December 13th. This is Lucia (or St Lucy's Day) and is one of the most Swedish of holidays. I will write more about this later, but in the meantime you can read my article from earlier or just watch this video to get the gist! Dec 9th is the annual Santa Run in Kungsträdgården. Not a holiday event but, if you are coming to Stockholm this week, keep in mind that December 10th is when the Nobel Prize Ceremony is held in Stockholm. While the general public really can't take part in the Nobel Awards, it is good to know that it is going on as the city will be full of invitees and traffic can be a bit chaotic in the evening.
One of the many Lucia processions in the city...
December 24th & 25th... what everything has been leading up to! Most restaurants are closed (except hotel restaurants and a select few), stores close early on the 24th and are closed on the 25th and many museums are closed. More detailed info to come later... but you can click here and here to read information from last year. Every year we do get visitors coming to stay with us on these dates and they are always confused by the closures which surprises me. Isn't it the same in most western nations? 
The main Christmas tree, located at Skeppsbron.
What happens after the 25th? Well, to start with... the 26th is a bank holiday (2nd Day of Christmas). But otherwise, the traditional Christmas celebrations come to a grinding halt. No Christmas markets to visit or julbord to eat. To be honest, Swedes are totally X-mased out by this point. Every year, without fail, I do get visitors asking me during this time where they can go to partake in traditional Christmas celebrations. Impossible without a time machine! What does continue are the more commercial aspects of the holiday. The lights and decorations, for example, traditionally stay up another 20 days until Tjugondag Knut. The days between Christmas and New Years are called mellandagarna ("middle days") and are, like in many other countries a huge time for the retail industry with lots of mega sales... called mellandagsrea here in Sweden.
Fingers crossed for a white Christmas this year..
This is just an overview to help you start planning your visit to Stockholm. I will be writing more detailed articles as we get closer to the holiday season. In the meantime you can read some of my posts from last (many linked above) or, if you are going to be staying at the Hotel Rival, contact me directly for more information.

October 5, 2018

Restaurant T8NG

I had the opportunity the other evening to try a relatively new restaurant called T8NG that has opened up just a couple of blocks from the Hotel Rival. T8NG, pronounced "tong", serves Chinese cuisine, however it is definitely not your run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurant. To start with, the ambiance is modern & trendy with no red lanterns or paper dragons to be found. Secondly, they take their inspiration from international Chinatowns around the world instead of China itself which adds to its urban feel.
Lean Mala Beef. One of the spicier dishes. Yum!
It is not a large restaurant; cozy yet modern with nice design details. The cocktail bar is beautiful and they do have some great cocktails as well as a nice range of aged Chinese rice wine and baijiu (grain spirits). Our waitress was very knowledgeable and could explain the different types of rice wine, which were fun to try. T8NG does indeed resemble a modern, urban restaurant you might find in a Chinatown somewhere in the world.
Fried rice with sweet breads and shaved truffles
The menu is made up of medium sized dishes, designed to be shared by the table though you could order 1-3 dishes for yourself if you are traveling alone. The flavors come mainly from the Sichuan and Hunan provinces which are well known for their spicy dishes. Several of the dishes were indeed spicy, but these dishes are clearly marked on the menu and the waitress were very good at informing which ones were spicier than others. Personally, I like spicy but there were many options for diners preferring less spicy.
Medium sized dishes, good for sharing.
T8NG is located on Södermalm, just a couple blocks from the Rival. If you are coming from elsewhere in the city, the closest subway station is Mariatorget (red line). It is, as I mentioned, a smaller restaurant so booking a table in advance is a good idea. I should mention that they have another, more casual bar next door called Little T8NG. According to their website, this is a "fancy dive bar serving cheap beer, hi-balls and spicy noodles". Even better, they are open until 3am! Click here for other restaurant recommendations.
Pork belly with plum, chili and soy. 

October 2, 2018

The Square Kungsträdgården

Pools and...
Kungsträdgården is the square/park that is considered by many to be the center of Stockholm, and chances are high that you will visit or pass through this square at some point during your visit to the city, especially as several of Stockholm's landmarks are located on or around the square. The name means "the king's garden" and was originally (as far back as the 1400's) a garden belonging to the royal family. It wasn't until the 1700's that the general public were allowed to visit the gardens.
The square has undergone many changes throughout history and these days it resembles more a large square/plaza than a park or garden. The square contains a pool, fountain, stage, two statues (Charles XII and Charles XIII) as well as a few restaurants and cafés. Located in the downtown area, just across the bridge from the Royal Palace, many landmarks are on or close to the square... like the Royal Opera House, NK department store, The Great Synagogue and Bibliotekstan (fashion district).
Ice skating in the winter or...
The square also hosts several festivals through the year, like the Taste of Stockholm restaurant festival and Culture festival, as well as smaller events and concerts. During the winter months they open up a popular outdoor ice-skating rink in the square and most Stockholmers make a pilgrimage to the park in the springtime to see the cherry blossoms in bloom. Otherwise, this is a square where locals like to meet up with each other, spend a lunch break with colleagues or just take a stroll through on their way to do some shopping.
...cherry blossoms in the spring.
As I mentioned, the square is centrally located. To get there from the Hotel Rival, you can either take a 30 minute leisurely stroll through Gamla Stan (the old town), a 15 minute bus ride or take the subway. For the subway, you can just take it three stations to T-centralen, exit to Sergels torg, and walk two blocks or switch from the red line to blue line at T-Centralen and continue one station to Kungsträdgården. Of special note, this subway station is one of Stockholm's most beautiful and worth a visit on its own.
Charles XIII
Charles XII

September 27, 2018

Autumn Market at Skansen

Skansen is the world's first open-air museum and one of Stockholm's main attractions. It is a museum of Swedish culture and rural life, the city's zoo and park... all wrapped up in one. The park was opened in 1891 and contains buildings (churches, farmhouses, cottages, etc.) that come from all around Sweden and were purchased by Skansen's founder Artur Hazelius and shipped, piece by piece, to the park and reconstructed. So, visiting Skansen is like stepping back in history and seeing what Sweden looked like in the 1800's.
Vendor and customer at Skansen's autumn market.
Photo by Bengt Berglund
This weekend (September 29th & 30th), Skansen will be holding their popular, annual autumn market. It is set up like a traditional farmers' market from the 1800's. These markets were big events in rural Sweden at the time. Besides being able to purchase jams, preserves, sausages, candies, traditional handicrafts and more, they also have activities, dancing, music and games. Very family friendly! Stroll through the park, see all the Scandinavian animals (moose, reindeer, bears, wolves & more) and visit the market.
Musicians at the autumn market
Photo by Christina Westberg/Skansen
The market is open between 11am and 4pm on both Saturday and Sunday. Skansen is located on the island of Djurgården and the easiest way to get there from the Hotel Rival is by the Djurgård Ferry from nearby Gamla Stan (10 minute trip with the ferries departing every 15 minutes). On the island you have several other large attractions like the Vasa Museum and ABBA the Museum as well as acres of parkland beyond Skansen... which is a nice place to visit to enjoy the autumn colors.
Smiths at work, Skansen's autumn market
Photo by Bengt Berglund

September 25, 2018

Robert Doisneau Exhibition at Kulturhuset

Le Baiser de l'hôtel de ville, Paris 1950
Robert Doisneau © Atelier Robert Doisneau
Do you recognize the above image? It is "Le Baiser de l'hôtel de ville" (The Kiss), one of photographer Robert Doisneau's most famous works. It has become a symbol for young love in Paris and has hung on many walls around the world... including in my student dorm room, where I would stare at it and dream of a wider world out there. So I was quite excited that Kulturhuset was going to have an exhibition of his work: "Robert Doisneau: the poet of the Paris suburb".
While it was a very interesting exhibition, I have to admit it wasn't what I was expecting. To start off with, even though Kulturhuset has used The Kiss in their advertisements for the exhibition, it is actually not hanging in the exhibition! The image is on their website, part of their press images for the exhibition and they even sell a poster with the photograph on it. Oh well. But I guess the reason I went to the exhibit was to see his other photographs.
While most of us have a very romanticized view of Paris, as captured in Doisneau's The Kiss, this exhibition looks at more day to day life of the city, especially in the suburbs. While not romantic, the exhibition is very interesting nonetheless. The photographs are all taken in the 1940's, 50's and 60's in, what was then, the suburbs of Paris... like Gentilly, Saint Denis and Ivry-sur-Seine.
These were the years that Paris was occupied by Nazi Germany and the period directly after when Parisians were struggling to build up their economy again. The pictures are quite grim at times, but the characters in them are fascinating and haunting. I suppose I have always had the image of people dancing in the streets at Paris' liberation and hadn't given much thought to the struggle of everyday Parisians afterwards.
So, this might not be the exhibition for you if you want that romanticized image of post war Paris, but if you are interested in great photography and to see what life was like in the Parisian suburbs then this will appeal to you. One good tip... on Mondays they have free admission. This exhibition runs until November 25th. Click here for other autumn exhibitions in Stockholm.
Kulturhuset ("the culture house") is a large complex that contains a theatre (Stadsteatern), a library, several galleries, music venues and more. It is located right on the square Sergels torg in the downtown area. The easiest way to get there from the Hotel Rival is by subway, just three stations away on the red line to T-Central (exit to Sergels torg).