April 30, 2014

Valborg (Walpurgis) Celebrations in Stockholm

Photo by Ola Ericson/imagebank.sweden.se
(EDIT: Click here for updated information for this year) Tonight is Valborgmässoafton (or Walpurgis Eve) here in Sweden! This is a great, traditional spring celebration where Swedes gather in the evening, light bonfires and sing traditional songs. Tomorrow, May 1st, is a bank holiday (International Workers Day) so younger celebrants can get a little rowdy. But it is all in good fun. There are official bonfires being lit tonight throughout the city, but if you are staying at the Rival Hotel then there are two that are conveniently close to the hotel... if you wish to witness and partake in the festivities.
Valborg at Skansen, photo by Dan Larsson
The first is in Gamla Stan and Riddarholmen. A torch procession starts at the square Stortorget in Gamla Stan at 8:10pm and winds its way through the old town to Riddarholmen where the bonfire will be lit at 8:30pm. There will be entertainemnt in the form of an orchestra, choir, open microphone and fireworks. They will start selling torches at Stortorget at 7:45pm if you wish to be part of the procession. The second celebration is at Skansen on the island of Djurgården. There will be things (concerts, speeches) going on all afternoon and early evening... but the all important bonfire will be lit at 9pm. Happy Spring!

April 29, 2014

The World's Top 50 Restaurants- 2014

Chef Group Shot © The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2014 sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna and onEdition Photography, the official photographers for 2014
So far this season, I have reported on the Gulddraken awards, Stockholm Steakhouse awards, White Guide and Michelin Guide. Now it is time for the last restaurant awards of the season... the World's Top 50 Restaurants. Organized by Restaurant Magazine, this list is created through voting by the 900 strong Diners Club® World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy. This academy is made up of international leaders in the restaurant industry.
Interior Restaurant Frantzén. Photo by Martin Botvidsson
This year's list has been a mixed bag for Swedish restaurants. Fäviken Magasinet, located in the northern county of Jämtland, has moved up the list to #19 (from #34 last year). For Stockholm restaurants, Frantzén moved down a few notches, from #12 last year to #23 this year. I believe that this is just a temporary "setback" for the restaurant (they changed from Frantzén/Lindeberg to Frantzén last year, shortly after the 2013 list was announced), and next year they will climb back up. And 23rd best restaurant in the world is definitely something to be proud of! I have eaten there myself and it was one of the best dining experiences I have ever had... sadly it was before I started writing this blog, so no article.
Please keep in mind that dining at Frantzén requires some pre-planing and booking in advance! If you are going to be staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for help in reserving a table.
Björn Frantzén. Photo by Fredrik Skogkvist.
I can't write this article without congratulating our Scandinavian neighbors... Noma, in Copenhagen, regained their #1 spot this year. Fantastic good news for Nordic cuisine in general! And don't forget, the Bocuse d'Or Europe competition will be held in Stockholm in May (more to come on that).

April 24, 2014

Culture Night (Kulturnatt) in Stockholm- 2014

(EDIT: Click here for this year's information) This Saturday, April 26th, is the fifth annual Culture Night (Kulturnatt) in Stockholm. It has become quite popular! So, what exactly is a Culture Night? Well, it basically is an evening devoted to all things cultural... and FREE! Different cultural institutions in Stockholm are open during the evening (6pm to midnight), including museums, art galleries, libraries, churches, palaces, clubs, theatres, cinemas and more. To break it down in numbers, this festival will have almost 400 events taking place at over 1000 different locations throughout the city! And, as I mentioned earlier, admission is free... so this is a great opportunity to get cultural without damaging your wallet.
The After Party last year! Photo by Robert Höglund/Kulturnatt
There is a lot to choose from... art & museum exhibitions, concerts, guided tours, performances, viewings and parties. Something for every taste! You can find a list of venues, with a map, to download in English on their website (click here), just scroll down to "information". More detailed information in Swedish along with the full program with actual events can be found by clicking here.
The official After Party (live music, DJ's, dancing), with free admission of course, will take place at the iconic Stockholm City Hall (Stadshuset)... where the Nobel dinner/party takes place every year. It starts at 10:30pm and goes on to 3am. Last year they had over 7000 people at the party. The City Hall is located on Kungsholmen. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, stop by and talk to me and I can explain in more detail about the different events. Otherwise, stop by the Stockholm Visitor Center or Visit Djurgården for more detailed information about what is happening!

April 18, 2014

Urban Deli in SoFo

Nytorget square...
There have been many travel articles comparing Brooklyn with Stockholm, especially the Södermalm neighborhood. I'm not sure whether it is similar gentrification projects, hipster culture, fashion or some type of combination that is the main reason for this comparison. The BBC recently reported that Stockholm was in love with Brooklyn, which was met with consternation by some locals. In 2012, Out Traveler voted Stockholm as the Style Capital of the World, with Brooklyn coming in 2nd place. There is even a Brooklyn Bar in the Hornstull neighbourhood. You will have to decide yourself how the two cities compare. Why am I babbling about this? Well, last week I visited a restaurant that I feel epitomizes this Brooklyn in Stockholm vibe: Urban Deli.
The deli of Urban Deli.
Urban Deli is located on the quaint square Nytorget in the heart of the SoFo district of Södermalm. They have also opened at a second location in the suburbs (Sickla). Urban Deli is a restaurant, bar, bakery, grocery store and, of course, a deli... all under one roof. It is very popular, both with the locals and visitors to the SoFo neighborhood. The bakery is well known for its freshly baked sourdough bread, but they also have a wide assortment of pastries and other breads. In the deli you will find delicious cheeses, sausages, meats, shellfish and more. They also do special events... everything from poetry readings to beer tasting.
Looking down on the bar and restaurant.
 The menu in the restaurant is filled with produce from their deli and I would describe the cuisine as Swedish/International. They were having a special Italian week when I was there with a friend last week, so the menu was all Italian. Their website is in Swedish but, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, talk to me and I can let you know if they are having any special events or menus while you are visiting. As I mentioned, they are very popular and this, coupled with the fact that they don't accept reservations, means you might have to wait for a table. We had to wait 30 minutes or so for our table, which was fine as the bar is a great place to people watch and enjoy a pint of Brooklyn Lager (what else?). They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner... 7 days a week so you have plenty of options to visit them!
View of the deli and grocery store from restaurant.
They are also one of the stops on Food Tours Stockholm's tour of SoFo restaurants, which is a fun way to sample food from a variety of eateries in the neighborhood. Urban Deli is located on the same island (Södermalm) as the Rival Hotel... so it is just a 20 minute walk from the hotel. Otherwise the nearest subway station is Skanstull (green line).

April 15, 2014

Easter in Stockholm- 2014

Photo by Henrik Trygg/mediabank.visitstockholm.com
(EDIT- for updated information for 2015, click here!) 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, cafés and smaller shops will be closed or have changed opening hours. Many restaurants, most larger department stores and shopping centers will be open as normal. Though perhaps with shortened opening hours. The Rival Bistro, Bar and Café are all open all weekend long!
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 can be bad news, there is some good news as well. Monday is a day in Sweden when many museums are closed, however 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. More Easter tips! And even more tips...
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 Fall 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 300 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
October
November
December- I will be doing special articles about all of the Christmas and New Year events in the city, but here are some other dates to keep an eye on.
Click here for December dates om importance as well as here for Christmas markets dates. 
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.