May 30, 2013

Stockholm Marathon 2013

Runners at “Nybroplan” just in front of the Royal Dramatic Theatre
Photo: Martin Ekequist.
(EDIT: from 2013- see updated information by clicking here) Always a fun weekend here in Stockholm when the annual Stockholm Marathon is held. This year the marathon falls on Saturday, June 1st and it is bigger than ever with over 21,700 runners from 81 countries partaking in the race. The race starts at noon and both the start and finish lines are at Stadion, the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Stadium. The finish line "closes" at 6:10pm and the marathon is comprised of two laps around and through the city.
The start is just outside the Stockholm Olympic Stadium.
Photo: Martin Ekequist. 
If you are running, there are 16 refreshment stands spaced out along the course. If you are planning on being a spectator, then there are plenty of great spots throughout the city to watch the runners. Click here for course map. Actually, it will be hard to avoid seeing the runners on this day if you are visiting Stockholm. Keep in mind that you should avoid driving or taking a bus or taxi during the day as many streets will be closed off. Stick to walking, ferries and/or subways! If you are going to the airport during the day... plan accordingly and give yourself some extra time. Another thing to think about, as a visitor, is that there will be (due to the recent Boston Marathon bombings) additional security throughout the city and airports.
Activities for runners and spectators outside the Stockholm Central Railway Station.
Photo: Martin Ekequist.
One good thing to know is that, if you are running in the race, you have free access to all subways, commuter trains and busses throughout the day. Just show your running bib or registration card. Getting from the Rival Hotel to the start/finish line at Stadion is very easy... take the subway (red line in the direction of Mörby Centrum) 5 stations to the Stadion station. Good luck runners!

May 29, 2013

Swedish Massage in Stockholm?

As a Concierge, I have noticed many misconceptions that visitors have concerning Stockholm and Sweden over the years. For example, there are no dog sledding tours of Stockholm in the winter (not enough snow) nor can one "see the archipelago" during a spare hour in the afternoon (it is large and you need at least 3 hours to glimpse just the inner archipelago). Then there is something else that I am slowly realizing may also be a misconception about Sweden. Over the years I have always been surprised by the amount of guests who want to have a massage when visiting Stockholm. While I do often visit spas myself when I travel abroad, it is mainly because treatments are about half the price they are back in Sweden (a 50 minute massage here will cost you between 600 and 1200 SEK). So why would a visitor to Sweden want to pay double the price they would pay back home for a massage? It was when a guest told me that when he was in Sweden he had to, of course, try a "Swedish Massage" that I realized the reason. Some visitors think that they are immersing themselves in Swedish culture by having a massage, much like one might when visiting a hamam in Turkey.
Turn-of-the-century Stockholm spa? By Eugene Jansson
Sadly, having a Swedish Massage in Stockholm is like ordering French Toast when in Paris. Swedish Massage is actually not really Swedish... and comes from it being mistakenly(?) attributed to Peter Henry Ling, a Swede. Here in Sweden, and most parts of the world, it is simply called a classic massage. I take no pleasure in bursting this bubble and I don't mean to anger the Swedish Spa Industry (no angry e-mails please), but I feel visitors should have a massage in Stockholm for the right reasons (relaxing, great spas, pampering yourself, etc;) instead of mistakenly thinking that they are partaking in the local culture! Ironically enough, if you really want to act like a Swede then you should have a Thai massage when in Sweden. Thailand is a top vacation destination for Swedes and because of this you will find a plethora of Thai massage parlors and restaurants in the city. That all being said, there are many great spas in Stockholm that offer a myriad of face and body treatments, including the classic massage. Sturebadet, Yasuragi and Centralbadet are some favorites when it comes to large, luxury spas. There are also many wonderful, smaller spas. If you are going to be staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me for help in booking treatments. And remember to do this a couple of weeks in advance... booking a massage at the last minute is often very difficult!

May 24, 2013

Guided Food Tours in Stockholm

Typical SoFo view.
Yesterday afternoon, I had the chance to partake in a food tour... a guided walking tour where food is the focus. The tours are arranged by Food Tours Stockholm and, so far, there are two different tours on offer. The first one is a tour through the SoFo neighbourhood on the island of Södermalm (home to the Rival Hotel) and the other is in the Vasastan neighbourhood. While the Vasastan tour concentrates on Nordic food culture, the Södermalm tour is more multicultural, reflecting the bohemian feel of the SoFo neighbourhood... and it was this Södermalm tour that a colleague and I went on yesterday.
Piccolo Metro deli selection
I really enjoyed the tour and think it is a great, unique activity for visitors to Stockholm! The tour is 3½ hours long with 8 stops at different restaurants and food specialty stores. As I mentioned earlier, the stops represent the multiculturalism of modern Sweden... with everything from Swedish to Chinese to Italian and in between. One thing I really like about the tour was that the guide Fredrik was very informative about both the food and the surroundings, so it is a great way to see a picturesque Stockholm neighbourhood, get the background story as well as try some delicious food. I also liked that the restaurants seemed generally interested in our visit and were happy to present their food.
Paneer Palak Korai at Shanti
The tour started at China, a traditional Chinese restaurant that has one of the only (if not the only) authentic Peking duck ovens in Europe. From there it was on to a newly opened Italian restaurant and deli called Piccolo Metro, where we got to sample some pasta and wine. They do specialize in Appertivo, the traditional pre dinner cocktails with small dishes. Next was Shanti, a great Indian restaurant (not your run-of-the-mill curry house) where they served us Paneer Palak Korai. Very good! The tour then continued on to Fang Yuan Shi Wu... a quaint hole in the wall where they serve Stockholm's best dumplings. Just meeting proprietress Wencui Cui made it well worth the stop. Cute as a button!
Urban Deli!
The tour then moved on to more local tastes with a stop at Urban Deli, which is one of the most popular restaurants in the Sofo district. Urban Deli combines a restaurant with a deli, bakery and grocery store. Here we tried different tastes from their deli selection (sausages, meats and cheeses). Just across the street was the next stop on the food tour... newly opened Nytorget 6. A great restaurant where the focal point is the beautiful rotisserie and bar. We were treated to some delicious chicken from the rotisserie as well as some local beer.
Rotisserie at Nytorget 6
Time for dessert! First we stopped at the famous Pärlans Konfektyr where they hand make caramels. You can actually watch them cook and roll the caramels every weekday in the shop. After trying an array of different tastes, we moved on to the final stop... local ice cream parlor: StikkiNikki. Here they serve ecological, home made ice creams and sorbets with tastes like peanut butter crumble, strawberry/rhubarb and salted liquorice. The perfect end to the tour!
Pärlans Konfektyr
The price for this tour is 695 SEK per person, which includes all of the food & drink, bottled water to have with you as well as the guided tour. I found the tour to be well worth the price as you do get quite a lot of food and information. The tours are guided in English & Swedish. Be aware that they run on different days, so check their website to find the right date and tour. You can book either of their tours on their website or, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, by contacting me directly. Bon Appétit or smaklig måltid!
StikkiNikki

May 22, 2013

Restaurant Jonas- Another Visit!

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of revisiting Restaurant Jonas for dinner. I have been there earlier and already written a recommendation... but I thought I would write an addendum of sorts with some additional information which people might find interesting.
Besides Jonas' restaurant with tasting menu and more casual Food & Wine Bar, they also have fun happenings from time to time. In the past they have hosted top chefs, like Singaporean pastry chef Janice Wong and Norwegian star chef Esben Holmboe Bang. For a day or two, these culinary stars are guest chefs of the restaurant and compose special menus for the occasion. As if having your meal prepared by Chef Jonas Lundgren and his team wasn't enough! This week (May 21st & 22nd) Asia was the focus, with chefs Kenneth Loke Mun Kit from Malaysia and Alain Huang from Taiwan serving signature dishes from their home countries, family style... though using local, Nordic produce. It was delicious, fun and well presented by Kenneth. These special events are a great way to participate in a little culinary adventure while in Stockholm! Keep your eye on the restaurant's website or Facebook page to find out about upcoming events.Or contact me directly if you are going to be staying at the Rival Hotel. These guest stars tend to be quite popular, so pre booking is necessary.
Click here for more restaurant recommendations!

May 21, 2013

ABBA the Museum!

ABBA the Mueum has been in the works for years (rumours, change in venue, touring exhibition, etc;) so the opening on May 7th was greatly anticipated. You might wonder why I waited a couple of weeks to visit and report on such a popular new addition to Stockholm. Well, I wanted to let the opening hysteria die down a bit... plus, I was given a "special" tour by museum curator Ingmarie Halling (a perk of being the concierge at the Rival Hotel) which made the wait worthwhile.
"Walk in, dance out" is the tag line for the new museum, dedicated to the Swedish pop super-group ABBA, and it doesn't disappoint! To be honest, I had some concerns beforehand that the museum would only be of interest to hardcore ABBA fans. But it really is a lot of fun and everyone will be able to enjoy it... whether you are 7 or 77, a fan or just have fond memories of their music. 
Waterloo success at Eurovision
Entrance to the museum is through the gift shop, which is reason enough to visit. ABBA memorbilia like t-shirts, tote bags, posters, pins, magnets, postcards and jewellery fill the shop and it was fun to browse. Be aware that the museum does not accept any cash... just credit or debit cards! The museum itself is located underground, two floors down to be exact. Visitors are first shuttled through a room where they are introduced to the band in the form of an IMAX type theatre and bombarded with images, music and sound bytes. I imagine that this type of entrance is designed to space visitors out... dividing them up into smaller groups. 
If this telephone rings... answer it for a surprise!
Exiting the theatre, visitors move on into a room dedicated to the pre-ABBA careers of the four members. It is a nice window on Swedish music culture of the 1960's when folk and rock bands would tour the country and perform in folkparks. Moving on in the museum are rooms dedicated to the band's formation and early success in Eurovision. Visitors then get to see bits and pieces of the lives of the group members during ABBA's heyday. The museum accomplishes this by recreating rooms which were important to the group... like the recording studio, Björn's summer cottage, Agneta's kitchen, their dressing room when they were on tour and more.
Replica of Björn's summer cottage, where they wrote many of the songs.
Finally... the crown jewel of the museum (for many): the stage clothes! In a circular room, the clothes have been placed in curved cases in concentric circles with the outer walls covered with thousands of album covers from all over the world. The cases are quite narrow which means that you get very close to the clothes and can enjoy the amazing detail work. Even the most blasé visitors will recognize the outfits from their music videos and concert performances... very iconic!
Stage clothes on display.
The museum is very high-tech and interactive. Visitors get the opportunity to record a song, dance in a 70' discotheque, scroll through Björn's father's scrapbook (a treasure trove), be part of an ABBA video, perform on stage with the group (present in the form of holograms) and much more! Very hands-on and fun for the children as well. 
Perform on stage with the hologram ABBAs.
After the band's heyday? The break-up of the band and their marriages follows of course, after which visitors exit through a corridor that gives a nod to the Mamma Mia musical. But that isn't the end of the experience! After leaving the museum, visitors enter the Swedish Music Hall of Fame. Swedish popular music is much, much more than ABBA and visitors get to take an interactive tour through the music catalogue of the past 80+ years... truly remarkable how such a small country (population wise) has left such a large imprint on world music.
Album covers from around the world.
The museum is located on the island of Djurgården and is very easy to get to from the Rival Hotel. There are regular ferries (Djurgårdsfärjan) which travel between Slussen, a 10 minute walk from the hotel, and Djurgården... and the trip takes just 9 minutes. Tickets for the museum cost 195 SEK (90 SEK for children 8 and younger) and can & should be purchased in advance on their website. While this may sound like a lot of money, remember that the museum is a very interactive, high-tech experience and you definitely get your money's worth. As I mentioned before, the museum accepts no cash. If you don't have a credit or debit card, the best option is to purchase the tickets at the central train station ticket counter... which accepts cash.

May 15, 2013

Outlet Shopping in Stockholm

Photo: qualityoutlet.com
Finding great shopping deals and hitting the outlets in different cities are popular pastimes for many visitors... and this has just become easier to do in Stockholm. At Stockholm Quality Outlet you can find 50 stores with over 100 brands collected in one place. They promise prices between 30 and 70% cheaper than in the city. Considering that Stockholm is known as an expensive city, this is a good option for visitors to get their shopping on! What is even better for visitors is that many popular Swedish designers are found there... including ACNE, Björn Borg, Filippa K, J Lindeberg, Nudie Jeans, Odd  Molly and Wesc.
Stockholm Quality Outlet is located in the northern suburb of Barkarby. The easiest way to get there, for those without a car, is usually a combination subway/bus ride. From the Rival Hotel, you take the commuter train from Södra Station (towards Bålsta), get off the train at Barkarby station and switch to bus 567 (towards Jakobsberg station) and then exit at the Herrestavägen stop. The trip takes apporximately 30-40 minutes.  They have more detailed subway and bus directions on their website which I have linked to above. Click here for more shopping tips or, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly!

May 14, 2013

Guided Tours with Stockholm Our Way

There are many great ways to explore and discover Stockholm... either with established bus & boat sightseeing tours (like with Strömma) or more intimate tours. The company Stockholm Our Way offers several guided tours of the city and allows you to explore on foot, by bike or even by kayak. All with an experienced guide! If you want a more private experience or have any special interests, you can also book a private guide through them.
They offer several guided walking tours... either a visit to the historical city center (Gamla Stan & Riddarholmen), an expanded tour which includes Gamla Stan as well as nearby sites or you can have a bit of fun and immerse yourself in Swedish culture with a Viking guide. While most tours are in either Swedish or English, they do also offer a walking tour in German. If you feel like getting more physical, then you can either try their kayak tour or their bicycle tour. Stockholm is best seen from the water as well as being an excellent city to bike in, so these two tours are perfect for the visitor who wants to leave the beaten path!
Something else they offer, which I think sounds like a fun idea, is a visit to a Stockholm home. Have you ever been in a foreign city and wondered what it looked like inside a home? I can't be the only one who is curious! This experience also includes a walking tour of Kungsholmen and a traditional Swedish "fika". So, as you can see, quite a variety of tours. Please note that certain tours are only available on certain days, check their website for dates. They can all be booked on their website or, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, you can contact me directly for help. (Edit: all pictures in this article provided by Stockholm Our Way... thank you!)



May 10, 2013

Restaurant East

Entrance to dining room
Restaurant East has been a popular mainstay in culinary Stockholm for quite awhile now. I think it is safe to say that they were one of the first restaurants in Stockholm to serve Asian fusion cuisine... and they still do it well! Over the years, most Stockholmers have probably visited East at some point or another, whether for a business lunch, dinner with friends or a drink in their popular bar.
Sashimi
I was there last Sunday for dinner with my colleagues from the hotel reception. While many restaurants are closed on Sundays, East has very generous opening hours... in fact they are open every day of the year except Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve and Midsummers Eve, which, as a Concierge, I appreciate!
Beef Korat, New Style
The menu is expansive with dishes and ingredients from east and southeast Asia (Korea, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, India, etc;). They have a great choice of sushi as well (maki and nigiri) which you can either order individually or in different mixed platters. This evening I started with some Maguro Tataki Sashimi (seared peppar tuna) and then followed it with Beef Korat (beef with mango, mint and red onions which you eat wrapped in a salad leaf, dumpling style). It was all delicious. Finally, I ended the dinner with some coconut sorbet. I never pass up coconut when I get the opportunity!
An indoor bar...
Besides being a great restaurant, East is well known in Stockholm as being a trendy watering hole. Their bar, including outdoor seating, is very popular and open until 3am every day of the week. East's location, where the street Biblioteksgatan meets Stureplan, adds a lot to their bar's popularity. In this neighbourhood you will find many high-end restaurants, bars and nightclubs. I think that the only negative thing about East is due to their bar's popularity... and that is that the furniture and furnishings can show a little wear and tear at times.
To get to East from the Rival Hotel, you can either take the subway (4 stations on the red line to Östermalmstorg, exit Stureplan) or a 7-8 minute taxi ride. Click here if you want to read about other restaurants I have visited recently.
...and the outdoor bar seating

May 9, 2013

Hornstull Neighbourhood

For years, most of the neighbourhood of Hornstull has been one big construction site. The majority of the construction is over and the area is emerging as one of Stockholm's new "in" areas. Located on the westerly tip of the island of Södermalm, the area has long been a transportation hub for western Stockholm with bridges connecting the island to Kungsholmen and the southern suburbs as well as tram, bus and subway stops.
The island of Södermalm (also the location of the Rival Hotel) has for the past couple of centuries been the home of Stockholm's working class. Gentrification of the island over the recent 40-50 years has changed it into a chic area with boutiques, galleries, restaurants and cafés and the home of artists, bohemian culture and young up-and-comers. One of the most famous gentrified areas is SoFo (South of Folkungagatan)... and as SoFo has become slightly over-exploited (it is found in just about every tourist guide), Hornstull has developed into the place where young Stockholmers want to live, work & play. In fact, some people have taken to calling the neighbourhood NoHo (North of Hornstull).
Hornstull shopping center
So, what is new? The underground passageways connecting the subway station to street level have been refreshed, adding many new boutiques. In fact, the passageways also connect to a small shopping center with stores selling fashion (H&M among others), technical gadgets, books, flowers as well as a larger liquor store (Systembolaget) and grocery store. Probably the most obvious change is a new, three story, leaning glass building adjacent to the shopping center's street entrance. Housed within this building are two restaurants... Hornhuset and Trattoria Enzo's. There is even a rooftop terrace which should prove to be very popular during the summer.
Hornhuset with rooftop terrace
As the area has increased in popularity, more and more restaurants have moved in over the past few years. Some well-known ones, representing a wide range of cuisines and price ranges, are Ho's, Ramblas, Linje 10, Judit & Bertil, Calexico's and Lasse i Parken. Cafés, always popular with Stockholmers, are in abundance! Another reason, as a tourist, you might visit Hornstull is its proximity to green areas. The small, leafy island of Långholmen is nearby... a great place to take a swim or to rent a kayak during the summer months. On the other side you have the park Tantolunden and the waterfront promenade Hornstulls Strand. Another fun thing to do is walk across the bridge Västerbron, which connects the area to Kungsholmen. Great views of the city!
View from Västerbron
There is still some minor construction going on (beautification of the sidewalks), but this is already a great place to visit. It is easy to get to from the Rival Hotel... just a 20 minute walk down the street Hornsgatan, or else two subway stops on the red line.

May 4, 2013

Restaurant Pocket at Pontus!

Open kitchen at Pocket
This is not a new restaurant, more a new concept at an already existing restaurant. To start off with, I should explain the name. Many high end restaurants in Stockholm have a more casual, smaller second restaurant in the same locale (often sharing the same kitchen) which we call a bakficka, meaning "back pocket". Thus the name... Pocket is the Restaurant Pontus' bakficka.
Escargot Provencale
Pontus itself is a very nice restaurant, run by celebrity chef Pontus Frithiof, and is often on lists of Stockholm's best restaurants. Pocket is their version of a casual French bistro. The locale for Pocket was the home of Pontus Seafood Bar earlier. I was invited last Monday to stop by and check out the changes. They have changed the interior, making it more intimate. On the menu you will find French favorites such as escargot, beef tartar, vichyssoise and tuna nicoise. Uncomplicated, yet well-made dishes. Pocket doesn't accept table reservations... just drop-in customers. It's location, just one block from Stureplan, makes it a great place to drop in for a bite after a day of shopping or before a night on the town. Otherwise book a table at Pontus itself or have a drink in their Avec Vinbar.
Tuna Nicoise
It's easy to get to Pontus and Pocket from the Rival Hotel... just four stops on the subway (north bound on the red line to Östermalmstorg, exit Stureplan). Click here for more restaurants I have visited recently...
Looking down into the Pontus dining room from Pocket

May 1, 2013

Stockholm on the List of 50 Best Restaurants in the World

The final restaurant award of the season! The annual list of the 50 best restaurants in the world has been announced... and it is good news for the restaurant Frantzén/Lindeberg who has moved up the list to #12. Mathias Dahlgren, another great Stockholm restaurant, unfortunately slipped off the list and came in at 55th place (still not too shabby!). Read the judges verdict about Frantzén/Lindeberg, which has also been awarded 2 Michelin stars this year, by clicking here. (EDIT: ironically enough, it was just announced today, a few minutes after I wrote this blog post, that the chef duo are "splitting up". An amicable split, but now the restaurant will just go by the name Restaurant Frantzén).
Now, if you feel that Frantzén is a little out of your budget... then I have some good news for you! They have recently opened their own take on an English pub, gourmet style but with great prices, called The Flying Elk. It is located in Gamla Stan right around the corner from Restaurant Frantzén. I haven't eaten there yet, but I have visited both their cocktail bar (Corner Club) and wine bar (Gaston), which are located at the same address, and I have tried both the Truffel Burger and their version of the pulled pork sandwich. Both were fantastic! I am planning a visit to The Flying Elk and will write more then! Stay tuned...
In the meanwhile, click here if you wish to read more restaurant awards and guides from this and past seasons.