March 28, 2014

Storkyrkan- The Stockholm Cathedral

The church tower.
Stockholm has many beautiful churches spread throughout the city... often with tall spires piercing the skyline. The main church, and one of the most historical, is Storkyrkan (literally "the great church"). This is actually more of a common nickname for the church and the official name is Sankt Nikolai Kyrka (Church of St Nicholas)... though all Swedes know it as Storkyrkan. In English it is often referred to as The Stockholm Cathedral. This is the main church of the Diocese of Stockholm, Church of Sweden (Lutheran).
Pulpit, with ceiling detail.
The church is located in the old town (Gamla Stan) just adjacent to the Royal Palace. It has been expanded and renovated many times but has been around for about as long as Stockholm, being first mentioned in texts in 1279 (the city was first mentioned in 1252). Throughout its history it has seen many royal coronations, weddings and funerals... in 2010 the Crown Princess Victoria said "I do" to Prince Daniel in a lavish, televised ceremony in Storkyrkan.
The Silver Altar
The exterior and interior of the church are a mix of Gothic, Baroque and Medieval styles, reflecting the expansion of the church since the 1200's. In fact, I have always felt that the outside doesn't really match the inside (style-wise). There are many great details and treasures inside the church... I especially love the octagonal vaulted ceilings. Other points of interest are the grand pulpit and Silver Altar. One of the main attractions in the church is the wooden statue of St George slaying the dragon. From the late 1400's, it commemorates the Battle of Brunkeberg when Sweden (St George) defeated the invading Danes (the dragon).
St George slaying the Dragon.
Storkyrkan is a functioning church and there are both regular services as well as concerts. Most of the services are in Swedish, though they do have bilingual morning prayers (Mondays through Fridays at 9am) as well as Holy Communion on Sundays at 11am (in Swedish with English translation available). Otherwise the concerts can be of special interest for visitors. They have a wide variety of concerts in the calendar, from organ to choir to soloists. Unfortunately, they don't have a calendar online in English, just Swedish... but, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, you can contact me and I will let you know what is playing while you are here.
Looking down an aisle towards the statue.
The church is open for visitors every day between 9am and 4pm. Admission is 40 SEK, free for children under 19 as well as when attending a service or prayer. They do offer a free guided tour of the church in English every Wednesday at 10:15am (you just have to pay the 40 SEK admission). It is only a short 15 minute walk from the Rival Hotel...
Back of the church, which faces the Royal Palace.


March 25, 2014

Sightseeing Boat Season Starts Soon!

Generally, the waters around Stockholm are covered with ice during the winter making sightseeing by boat in the city impossible (though this has been a very mild winter). Now that winter is finally over, the popular city sightseeing boat tours, operated by Strömma, are coming back! Stockholm is a city built on 14 islands and is really best seen from the water. The tours are guided in several languages and are very informative.
The Royal Canal Tour starts up on April 4th and runs daily from then on (until next winter). This is a shorter tour (50 minutes) around the island of Djurgården which is a National City Park and where many tourist attractions are located... like the Vasa Museum, Skansen, ABBA the Museum and much more. Earlier blog article.
The Under the Bridges Tour starts up on April 11th... at first just on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays until the last week of April when it starts to run daily. At an hour and 50 minutes long, this is a more comprehensive sightseeing tour and takes you past all 14 islands, under 15 bridges and through 2 locks. A great way to get a good overview of the city! Earlier blog article.
Looking to get out of the city and see a bit of the archipelago and some nature? You have the option of taking the Little Archipelago Tour. This 3 hour boat tour, guided in Swedish & English, takes you through the inner archipelago and is a nice way to spend a sunny spring/summer day. Available with lunch or brunch as well! The tour runs Fri-Sun and holidays until June, after which it runs daily through the summer. Earlier blog article about the brunch cruise.

March 22, 2014

The Royal Armoury- "Power Games: A Costume Drama"

Entrance on south side of Royal Palace.
I love history and I am a sucker for a good costume drama, so I knew that the Royal Armoury's new exhibition "Power Games: A Costume Drama" would be right up my alley! The Royal Armoury, or Livrustkammaren, is a museum dedicated to Swedish royal history shown through their clothes, uniforms, weapons, armour and carriages.
Gown worn by Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I.
The exhibition (running until Jan 4th, 2015) was very interesting and clever... it compares three characters through their costumes and clothes: King Erik XIV of Sweden, Queen Elizabeth I of England (through the Oscar winning costumes from Elizabeth and Elizabeth: the Golden Age starring Cate Blanchett) and the fictional King Joffrey Baratheon from HBO's popular Game of Thrones.
Game of Throne's Joffrey Baratheon
A fascinating mix of historical clothes from an actual king, costumes from a modern movie of a historical queen and costumes for a fictional king from a TV show. Besides the clothes and costumes, historical and fictional events are compared with each other. The characters and events in the Game of Thrones are often described as being especially gruesome, violent and sexual... but when compared to the events of King Erik XIV's life, one sees that they aren't that outlandish (the Sture Murders are a great example).
Part of the Power Games exhibition, including Mary Stuart's execution gown.
When you are there, don't miss the permanent exhibitions in the rest of the museum. The Swedish royal history over the past 500 years is well represented with coronation gowns, military uniforms, armour, ceremonial costumes as well as children's clothes. There are several historically significant outfits on display as well, such as the costume Gustav III was wearing when he was assassinated at a masquerade ball at the Royal Opera and the uniform Charles XII was wearing when he was killed in battle (bloodstains and bullet holes still apparent).
Armour belonging to a Swedish king...
Two floors below you will find the horse drawn carriages used by the royal family over the years... very beautiful and ornate. They even have a royal sled on display! This is a very child-friendly museum and there is even a room where children can try on historical costumes to become princes and princesses.
Part of the permanent display with Swedish royal costumes.
The museum is located in the Royal Palace (entrance on the southern side from Slottsbacken) in Gamla Stan. To get there from the Rival Hotel, it is just a 15 minute walk or a quick bus ride (#43 or 55). Admission is 90 SEK, free for children under 19 or holders of the Stockholm Card. If history is your thing, here are some other museums that will be of interest!
One of the royal horse-drawn carriages...


March 21, 2014

Liquorice Festival - Lakritsfestivalen

Photo source: Emelie Nilsson
If you are going to be in Stockholm this weekend (March 22nd & 23rd) and love liquorice/licorice then you are in for a treat... it is the weekend of the annual Liquorice Festival (Lakritsfestivalen)! They have had this festival every year since 2009 and to say that it has grown in size would be an understatement. In 2009 it was held in a basement around the corner from the Rival Hotel... now it is located in the Annexet in the Globe Arenas. Swedes do love their liquorice (usually the salty kind)!
Shopping! Photo by: Inger Bladh
There will be plenty of activities on both days like liquorice tasting (including in combination with chocolate, wine and liquor), workshops, exhibitions & contests, live music & demonstrations on stage, shopping opportunities and much more! How about fashion made of liquorice? In the restaurant there will be a special liquorice "flavoured" festival menu composed by chef Elisabeth Johansson. Liquorice-glazed pulled pork sounds tasty!
Liquorice fashion by Funny Livdotter
The festival opening hours are 10am to 7pm on Saturday and 11am to 7pm on Sunday and admission is 125 SEK (free for children 10 or younger). The special "tastings" do cost extra! It is easy to get to the festival from the Rival Hotel... just take the subway (green line) from nearby Slussen, in the direction of Hagsätra, to the Globen station (4 stations). And while you are in the neighbourhood you can always try the Skyview ride to the top of Globen and one of the bars & restaurants under Tele2 Arena!

March 15, 2014

Restaurant Mathias Dahlgren (Matbaren)

Having the usual perfect timing... I visited the restaurant Mathias Dahlgren last week with a friend, just ahead of the announcement of 2014's Michelin Guide. Mathias Dahlgren, the man himself, is one of Sweden's most successful chefs. In fact, he is the only Swede to win a gold medal at the prestigious Bocuse d'Or competition (Sweden does have several silver medalists as well).
Detail from the foyer...
The restaurant is actually two in one... as you enter, to the right you have the Dining Room (Matsalen) and to the left you have the Food Bar (Matbaren). There will also be a Food Table (Matbordet), which will be bookable soon... more on that later. The Dining Room has been awarded 2 stars in the Michelin Guide for several years in a row and is considered one of Sweden's best restaurants. Here they offer two tasting menus (5 or 8 courses), available with wine & beverage pairings.
My friend and I, however, opted to dine at the Food Bar. This is Mathias Dahlgren's version of a gourmet bistro and has been awarded 1 star in the Michelin Guide for several years in a row. More casual than the Dining Room, guests order dishes from an a la carte menu (in other words, no set tasting menus). The dishes are all "medium" sized, no starters or entrées, and you are welcome to order just one or more depending on how hungry you are. For example, we each took a medium dish (heart of venison and spare-rib dumplings) followed by a shared cheese dish and then a dessert each. Incredibly delicious and perfect!
Dinner at food bar with show!
The service was impeccable, the wine recommendation perfect and the surroundings beautiful... I really recommend this restaurant if you want to try modern, gourmet, Michelin star, Nordic cuisine without breaking your wallet. At the Food Bar you can either eat at a table or at the actual food bar. Now, sitting at a bar (where you sit next to each other and not across from one another) might not appeal to some... but I have to say that I wish we had chosen that option. It looked quite fun and the bar is u-shaped so your view comprises of the restaurant and the open kitchen. Our waitress commented that sitting at the bar allows you to see what other diners order and can help you decide on what you want to try yourself... and you have to remember that it is a "food bar" not a regular bar (no bartenders or such).
Press image: my amateur pics didn't do the food justice.
Mathias Dahlgren is located on Blasieholmen in downtown area just across the water from the Royal Palace. To get there from the Rival Hotel, it is just a 5-7 minute taxi ride. Closest subway station is Kungsträdgården (blue line). Reserving tables in advance is highly recommended, especially for the Dining Room. You have more of a chance to last minute tables in the Food Bar. They actually do keep a few seats at the bar free for drop in guests. If you are going to be staying at the Rival... contact me in advance for help in reserving a table. Click here for other restaurant reviews/recommendations.
Press image of Matbaren.

March 12, 2014

Stockholm Restaurants in the Michelin Guide 2014

(EDIT: This is from 2014. For the latest Michelin Guide... click here!) The day that foodies and the culinary world have waited for in nervous anticipation is finally here: the 2014 Michelin Guide has been released. And it is mostly good news for Stockholm restaurants! Two new restaurants have received one star each. Many were hoping that one of our two 2 star restaurants would get a third star or that Esperanto would finally get their second star... but no such luck. One other piece of good news is that it was announced that, in 2015, the Nordic countries will get their own special guide which will include restaurants in smaller cities and towns. Currently Sweden is part of the European city guide which only includes restaurants in major cities.
The Food Bar (Matbaren) at Mathias Dahlgren.
Here is a quick explanation of the Michelin Guide's star system: one star means that it is "a very good restaurant in its category", two stars mean that the restaurant offers "excellent cooking, worth a detour" and three stars are awarded to restaurants with "exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey". The Guide also has a special award called Bib Gourmand for restaurants with "good food at moderate prices". Here is the list for Stockholm:

And the Stockholm restaurants on the Bib Gourmand list are: Sjögräs (around the corner from the Rival Hotel), Den Gyldene Freden, Proviant, Brasserie Bonbonne, EAT, Pubologi, Ulla Winbladh, Rolf's Kök and Oaxen Slip (new!). 
Operakällaren- one of the restaurants which received a new star!
Please keep in mind that if you wish to dine at one of the Michelin star restaurants... reserving a table ahead of time is required! Often several weeks in advance. If you are going to be staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me in advance for help in making a reservation. Click here if you wish to see past guides and other restaurant awards. Last week I visited Mathias Dahlgren and will be writing about it soon... so stay tuned! In the meantime you can read my other restaurant reviews/recommendations by clicking here


March 11, 2014

Man Ray Exhibition at Millesgården

I had a mini-vacation last week and, as I stayed put in Stockholm, had some time to visit a few museums & restaurants. Top of my list was a visit to Millesgården to see their Man Ray exhibition (last day June 8th, 2014).
Man Ray (1890-1976) was a modernist artist who is probably best known for his photography... especially famous photographs like "Les Larmes" and "Le Violin d'Ingres". But he was also proficient in other media, such as film, sculpture, painting and drawing. Man Ray was one of the early stars of the modern art world and was a contributor to the Cubist, Dada and Surrealism movements throughout his career. This retrospective exhibition is small in size, but it does cover the three main periods of his life/career: New York, Paris and Hollywood. The exhibit also contains examples from all of the above mentioned fields of art, not just his photography.
While I wished that some of his more famous photographs were part of this exhibit, I did enjoy it and it was nice to see his paintings and drawings as well (I have always thought of him as only a photographer). Whether you are a Man Ray fan or not... a visit to Millesgården is highly recommended when visiting Stockholm. I did blog about Millesgården several years ago, but it is always good with a refresher.
Millesgården is both an art museum and a sculpture garden. Originally the home of Swedish sculptor Carl Milles, both his house and art studio are on the property and open for the public. The sculpture garden is filled with the beautiful work of Milles and is a fantstic place to wander around on a sunny day. A great place to take pictures... all photos here taken by me on my visit last week.
Millesgården is located on the island of Lidingö on the outskirts of the city... high up on a bluff with views over Finnhamnen port (where many cruise ships depart from). When describing how to get there from the Rival Hotel, I always have to assure hotel guests that it is much easier to get there than it sounds. It is first a short subway trip to Ropsten (7 stations on the red line). When exiting the subway station, follow signs for the busses... you need to take a bus over the Lidingö bridge to the museum. There are several busses to choose from (201, 202, 204, 205, 206 or the express 207). Sounds a little complicated, but the trip only takes about 35 minutes. There is a tram that you can also take from Ropsten to the museum, however it is currently being renovated and not expected to be in use again until 2015. More info.



March 5, 2014

Best Restaurants Awarded in the White Guide 2014

A day after the Oscars were awarded in Hollywood, the Oscars of the Swedish culinary world were handed out here in Stockholm by the White Guide. What I like about the White Guide is that it is a complete guide to restaurants in all of Sweden, done by Swedes (as opposed to international guides- like the Michelin Guide). The awards are given in a wide array of categories and Stockholm restaurants nabbed many top spots... though this year has seen more restaurants from the rest of Sweden getting awards, which is good news for Sweden! Stockholm restaurants also feature prominently on the White Guide's lists of Swedish restaurants in the categories "International Master Class" and "Master Class". Here are how Stockholm restaurants fared...
Best Culinary Experience: Oaxen Krog!
Stockholm restaurants in Sweden's International Master Class (placing on list in parantheses):
And... the ones who made the Master Class list:
Click here to read the whole list!  And if you want to see past White Guides, or other guides/lists, click here.
The winners at Esperanto. Photo from White Guide.