October 29, 2018

Julbord at Fjäderholmarnas Krog

Christmas is around the corner and one of the biggest Swedish Christmas traditions is eating "julbord" during the weeks leading up to the main holiday. Julbord is basically the famed Swedish smörgåsbord, which we usually eat on Midsummer and Easter, with some traditional Christmas dishes added. Many restaurants serve julbord in the 4-6 weeks before Christmas. While Swedes love julbord, we are pretty tired of it by the time December 24th rolls around after all the office parties, family dinners and nights out with friends during this time. If you are visiting this time of the year, this is a great way to try just about every traditional Swedish dish in one fell swoop... plus experience a Swedish holiday tradition.
Snowy path to the restaurant
There are good julbords and others that are best avoided, so it is important to choose correctly. One of the best places to eat julbord is Fjäderholmarnas Krog, both for the high quality of food and the wonderful atmosphere, and I try to make a visit every December. The restaurant, located on an island in Stockholm harbor, is one of my favorite summer restaurants and I recently wrote a blog article about my last visit. It is this island location which really adds to the wonderful atmosphere... especially if it is snowing. The pictures in this article are from my visit there last year.
Herring and salmon dishes
Eating julbord correctly is a fine art! There is a lot of food and you don't want to fill up too quickly. Proper etiquette says that you should make 7 trips up to the julbord to get food. After a glass of glögg (spiced hot wine), which is usually served when you arrive, you go up to get your pickled herring with sides. Then you go for your salmon and other fish: smoked, cooked and cured. Cold meats, like Christmas ham, sausages and patés, make up the third round and then it is on to the warm dishes... Swedish meatballs, prince sausages, "Jansson's temptation", venison, cabbage, omeletes and more.
First plate/trip!
Finally you have the last three servings... cheeses, dessert and coffee & candy. To be honest, I usually have a little trouble walking comfortably at this point and tend to combine all three of these servings in one. As I said, a lot of food! I didn't even mention all the sides, suaces, potatoes, eggs and salads. "Professor of Gastronomy", Gert Klötzke, is the chef behind Fjäderholmarnas Krog's julbord and he really raises the bar. One thing that I especially like with their version is that much of the warm dishes are laid out on small plates so it doesn't get messy as other ones.
Coldcuts and sausages
The reason I am writing about this in the end of October? Well... the first day is November 22nd (last day is December 21st) and it is very popular and a good idea to book in advance! They offer three seatings: 12pm, 4pm and 8pm and you can book your table on their website or, if you are staying at the Hotel Rival, contact me directly for help. To get there from the hotel, you need to take 25 minute ferry from Strandvägen in the downtown area. Boats depart 30 minutes ahead of each seating (11:30am, 3:30pm and 7:30pm) and you have a choice of returning around 2 or 3 hours after your seating time. More information.
Christmas candies to end with
Boat dock at Strandvägen

October 25, 2018

Salon Skönhetsvård Södermalm

Now and again, hotel guests ask me for recommendations for a spa or salon in the neighborhood… sometimes for a massage, sometimes for a manicure or a beauty treatment. It can be a guest who has been traveling for several weeks and needs to fix their nails, a guest in town to attend an event or wedding and needs some beauty help or it can just be a guest who wants to pamper themselves. Thankfully, there is a salon just around the corner from the Hotel Rival that we can recommend for these requests: Skönhetsvård Södermalm
Press image from Skönhetsvård Södermalm
Skönhetsvård Södermalm is located just a couple of blocks away from the Hotel Rival on the street Hornsgatan. In their newly renovated locale, they offer a wide variety of beauty treatments. Some treatments, like Botox, waxing and advanced skin treatments, are probably not of interest for a hotel guest in town for a few days (though they do have these services!). But Skönhetsvård Södermalm does offer manicures, pedicures, eyebrow shaping/threading, facials and massage treatments which are probably more of an interest to our hotel guests. 

I was there last week to try a facial. I have to, of course, try everything I recommend. Tough job! It was really nice and relaxing. Dare I say that I looked ten years younger afterwards?  At any rate, I was well taken care of and can definitely recommend them. You can book their treatment via their website or telephone. If you are staying at the Rival, contact me directly for help in making a booking. Keep in mind that it is a good idea to book in advance as their therapists can be fully booked on the same day. 
Press image from Skönhetsvård Södermalm
Skönhetsvård Södermalm is a salon/clinic. If you are more interested in a full “spa day” with pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, gym and relax, then I would recommend one of the larger spas in the downtown area, like Sturebadet or Centralbadet. Once again, booking treatments at these spas need to be done in advance. Contact me directly, if you are a hotel guest, for more information about Skönhetsvård Södermalm or any of these spas.
Press image from Skönhetsvård Södermalm

October 23, 2018

Café & Bakery Vete-Katten

Crowds gathering in the morning, waiting for the café to open.
As Sweden is one of the top 10 coffee consuming nations per capita in the world and "fika" (to socialize over coffee and pastries) is a national pastime, you can correctly assume that there are cafés all over Stockholm. Södermalm, the area where the Hotel Rival is located, is especially rich in cafés with one on almost every corner... including our own Café Rival.
Some cafés are well-known because of the quality of their coffee (roasting their own beans) or because their atmosphere is especially conducive to meeting friends for a fika. Other cafés have just  become famous through time and tradition; meeting places for generations of Swedes. One of Stockholm's most famous cafés is Vete-Katten. It is famous enough that I get asked by hotel guests about it, even though it is located in the downtown area and not in our neighborhood.
Freshly baked cinamon buns
In fact, this past weekend I was there to pick up a cake that a guest had specially ordered for a birthday celebration, which made me think that the café would make a good blog article.  They do indeed have a wide variety of cakes as well as cinnamon and cardamom buns (Swedish delicacies), biscuits, bread, cookies and much more, all baked on the premises. They do have gluten/lactose free and diabetes-friendly options as well! If you want something more substantial than a fika, then they also have simpler lunch options (salads, soups, baked potatoes, etc.).
The name "Vete-Katten" has a fun background story. Back in 1928, someone asked the proprietress, Ester Nordhammar, what she was going to call her soon-to-be-opened café and she answered "det vete katten". This is old-timey Swedish that translates to "only the cat knows", similar to the English saying "God only knows". As vete also mean wheat in Swedish, it became a play on words and stuck as a good name for a café/bakery.
Its popularity has allowed Vete-Katten to open cafés (with the same name) in several new locations, including the Central Train Station, Åhlens department store and Östermalms Saluhall (food market). But the original Vete-Katten, on Kungsgatan, remains the most popular... especially for visitors and traditionalists. The easiest way to get there from the Hotel Rival is by subway, three stations away to the Hötorget on the green line from nearby Slussen. Otherwise, it is just a 10 minute taxi ride.

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.

November 24th is also when the historic Christmas market at Skansen opens for the season. It is open every Saturday and Sunday until December 16th. 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.