Stockholm, The Venice of Scandinavia

July 4, 2014

Sivan Askayo-Stockholm for Post-30

Sweden was always related to me with ABBA songs and IKEA furniture. I used to look at it as a cold destination somewhere along the Baltic Sea, not necessarily a destination I was eager to visit. During a trip to Vietnam, I met with some travelers from Sweden who they kept telling me about the short Summers they have and how everybody is jumping into the ocean right when the temperatures went up.

So when the opportunity of visiting this area during the Summer time came up, I got used to the idea of visiting the Scandic side on the Globe.

I didn’t have lots of expectations or pre-knowledge about Stockholm, I was say, but it was just perfect. Sometimes I prefer it that way; be opened for surprises and experience the city first hand.

Stockholm is just beautiful! It is spread over a magnificent chain of 14 islands connected by bridges. No wonder it is named The Venice of Scandinavia. I love the color schemes of the buildings, brown-yellow -orange tone with greenish spires. Adding to this the Swedish Fika, (coffee break) and the cafes in every corner, to make Stockholm a city I can easily go back to.

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Here is what you need to know about Stockholm in a nutshell and how to find your way around it;

* The first settlement was Gamla Stan, the Old Town, where a maze of cobbled stones alleys are lined with colorful baroque and medieval facades. * The island of Skeppsholmen has become associated with culture, thanks to the three large museums located there; The Moderna museet, the Arkitekturmuseet and the Ostasiatiska museet. * Djurgarden, a former royal hunting ground from the 17th century, now turned into Stockholmers’ favorite playground, where locals like to visit on the weekend. * The wealthy neighborhood of Ostermalm, with its elegant residential buildings and luxury boutiques and * Sodermalm, a formerly working-class neighborhood turned into a young, artistic suburb with trendy bars and restaurants.

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And if you want the ‘short cut’, here are some of my personal recommendations;

What to do and see: 

* Fotografiska: This contemporary photography museum is quite new (opened in 2010) and offers a showcase for both internationally renowned artists (such as Annie Leibovitz, David LaChapelle) and unknowns. The space itself is quite impressive as well. Located in a red-brick Art Nouveau building that used to be a former customs building. There is a great city view from the restaurant in the upper floor and a rich and diverse bookstore that doesn’t put to shame the one at ICP museum in New York. This museum is highly recommended and not only for photographers. (Sodermalm Island)

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Katarina Kirka:  This is one of Stockholm’s three domed churches, named after Princess Catherine and is located in the Katarina-Sofia borough up the hill in Sodermalm. The original building was completed in 1695 but was burned down twice. The latest replica was completed in the 1990’s and it has the shape of a Greek cross and topped by a beautiful baroque dome. For me, it was the first time seeing a Scandinavian church. Most of the churches I came across before, were more on the dark side with minimum light. But Katarina Kirka’s inside area is all bright and light.

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* If you already made your way up to Katarina Kirak, I highly recommend to pass through Katarinahissen, an elevator which connects Slussenområdet with Sodermalm area. The original elevator was driven by steam from its opening in 1883 until the mid 1910s, when it switched to electricity. In 1935 it was replaced by a more modern version, that is still in use today. I was not aware of the elevator, but I took the steep stairs up, just to see the magnificent views of Gamla Stan across the see.

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*  Rosendals Tradgard: This beautiful park in Djuragarden was originally created in 1817 as an English park style, called Rosendals (named after the roses grew in it), but now is a public experiment in organic food and flora-growing. I’ve been told that some of the city’s top chefs visit the area and buy their product here. I enjoyed walking in the greenhouse area and see variety of plants. Next to the greenery there is the Rosendals Tradgards Butiken and Plantboden which sells the garden’s jams, herbs and spices. I found it to be a perfect location for a weekend’s brunch as long as weather permits.

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Djuragarden, as I mentioned before, is the backyard, playground of Stockholm. One of the locals Sunday rituals is to visit the Skansen museum or a scary ride at one of the Grona Lund attractions. But there are also beautiful villas around that island, which have been turned into magnificent art galleries. I really enjoyed walking around and along the water’s edge, exploring some of the wild beauty and peeping through some gates to see some of the villas back yards. One of the villas I have visited was Thielska Galleriet. I got there by chance. I didn’t even plan it, but it turned out that Thielska Galleriet is one of the finest Art museums in Sweden. The villa was built and designed for Ernest Thiel, who was a banker and an Art collector in the early 1900s.

An added value for this beautiful gallery is its cafe. When I got in to buy a delicious cake (just so I can nibble while I sit outside in the garden) I was welcomed by the beautiful Chef Monika Ahlberg, whose cooking books were decorating the cafe’s walls. Monika is not only a stunning woman, but also a talented chef, who has published few cooking books under her belt.

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Where to shop: 

There are so many H&M stores in Stockholm, it felt like the equivalent of Starbucks coffee in Manhattan. However, I was not after the fashion in Stockholm, but more after the design.

* Modernity: I have heard about this store through Travel+Leisure Decoder article about Stockholm. I was intrigued by the shelves that covered the entire wall with a great collection of ceramics housewares and vases. Not to mention the mix of retro furniture with a Nordic twist. The store keeper was so excited to hear that I followed the article (I brought the magazine with me) that she also gave me the address of Modernity’s warehouse, few streets down the road. Rest assured I went there right away.

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Svenskt Tenn: This store might be the mecca of design in Stockholm and the symbol of Swedish modern style. The brand was founded in 1924 by Estrid Ericson, a jewelry maker, and designer Josef Frank. They wanted to create a brand where bold colors co-exist with simple clean lines. The store is located in Strandvägen 5, same address from 1927.

My favorite part of the brand is its textile and fabrics. Josef Frank designed more than 160 textile prints during his lifetime, several of which lives on as timeless classics. You can find these rich and colorful patterns in cushions, dining textile, kitchen textile, wallpapers, sofas, you name it. The store is beautifully curated with a great selection of glassware, lighting, furniture and textile. This is a must-stop in Stockholm.

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If these two stores are not enough and you need an extra dose of Nordic design, then pay a visit to Nordiska Galleriet, an industrial- style space filled with all kinds of furniture and home accessories, by a wide collection of designers.

Where to stay: 

While in Stockholm, I was very lucky to stay in a very central location, at the Scandic Grand Central, just across the street from the train station. The highlight of my visit was staying at the ‘Bloggers Inn’, a specially designed room for bloggers (or social media peeps) which includes most of what a blogger might need: Make it an iPad, a laptop, a camera, a tripod and wifi loudspeakers.

I have heard about the Bloggers Inn from Judith, a colleague, a friend and a blogger, who stayed there before.

I must admit I love this concept and the thought behind it; as the market needs are changing, the hotel is adjusting its standards accordingly. This is such a great initiative and I do hope this ‘Bloggers Inn’ concept will be spread out in more hotels across the Globe.

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Another great thing about the Scandic Grand Central is its interaction with the street’s life. The doors are open to hotel guests and locals who enjoy an international atmosphere. There are acoustic concerts taking place and djs performances in the bar. Its sleek and chic design make this historic building (1885) to an up-to-date and leading hotel in the area.

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* Hotel Skeppsholmen: This hotel (based on its name) is located on the island of Skeppsholmen. If I have to choose my favorite island in Stockholm, Skeppsholmen will be it.

What used to be a pair of a 17th century buildings, have now been transformed into an eco retreat hotel with great interior design. It is a mix of past and present which represents the ‘Urban Nature’ kind of hotel. Following the Swedish atmosphere, the hotel features pared down colors, raw wood and quite big bathrooms with unique Boffi basins. I love the dark color bathrooms in the hotel, a complete contrast to the rooms colors and shades.

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Another recommended hotel (I wish I could photograph it) is Ett Hem. In English it means ‘Home’ and no wonder; It used to be a private residence built in 1910 in Ostermalm area. Now, it is part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, with 12 different rooms and suits, with great Scandinavian furniture, mixed of modern and antique. It is a very ‘Home away from Home’ kind of hotel, where guests are treated as friends of the family and become part of it. You can have your breakfast any time of the day, read your newspaper at the greenery or grab one of the Art books from the owner’s collection and feel like you are at home.

I was well overwhelmed by its beauty, colors and attention to details. The owner has an amazing taste.

I could only wish to stay there.

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