Friday, February 27, 2009

Stockholm Day 4

As it was our last day, we had to pack and check out before we went off to sightsee again. The hotel would keep the luggage until we needed to go to the airport. Our first stop was the bookshop that sells Swedish books in all languages. Not that we wanted any particular book, but it was interesting to see all sorts of books in all sorts of languages! We also found a lovely ‘bench project’ tray, which we had to buy for Mel and some lovely Dala horse-shaped chocolates as thank you presents and gifts for the girls. Across the road is the entrance to the Treasury, but we first needed to deposit our bags in the ticket office. We were still among the first visitors to see the Crown Jewels, and we had a very good view of them before the first tour group arrived. They are very beautiful, and one of my favourites is the anointing horn of (I think) Erik XIV from 1604. It is so beautifully worked, and only 10 – 15cms high. There are some very intricately embellished swords as well as elegant crowns made for princesses. The state crown, sword and orb are also there and date from the 17th century. But the crowds were building, so we left, collected our stuff and walked across to Skeppsholmen. When we walked there the first day, we walked down the historic boat quay, so today we walked passed Admiralty House and af Chapman, the youth hostel on a full-rigged freighter from 1888. Then we wound our way up to the outdoor display ‘Paradise’ by Jean Tinguelys and Niki de Saint Phalles, which was made for the Montreal World Expo in 1972. We popped our heads into the Moderna Museet, which looked very interesting, but we really wanted to walk to Kastelholmen, the little island at the bottom of Skeppsholmen. We crossed the old bridge, noting that the Royal Skating Club was under renovation. Then we strolled up the hill and looked up at the castle. Apparently every morning (since 1640) a sailor hoists the Swedish flag up its flagpole. We reached the shore at the end of the island where there is a boatbuilding school, teaching the skills needed to build, and renovate, old wooden boats. We climbed up to the castle and made a circuit round it, then dropped back down the road again, and made our way off this island, Skeppsholmen and on to Gamla Stan again. We just kept going and crossed to Sodermalm at Slussen and walked up to the pretty street Fjallgatan, down Stigbergsgatan to see the old block maker’s cottage, then back to the hotel where we had a late lunch in Café Rival. It was time to collect the bags and head off towards the airport making final use of our travel cards and our return tickets on the flybussarna.
We have had a great time in Stockholm, and we should come back when it’s a bit warmer to see lots more of this lovely city.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Stockholm Day 3

Today we set out on a walk about on Sodermalm. The guide book took us up to the cliff top walk with a view across the Riddarfjarden to Kungsholmen, Riddarholmen and the City. It was still very snowy along the footpath, Monteliusvagen, but there was some grit down to reduce the slipperiness. We took many pics across the water, then turned inland again to walk down one very old cobbled street, Bastugatan. Above us we saw Mariaberget –with an impressive towered building, which can be seen from almost everywhere in Stockholm, apparently.
We found our way to a footbridge running parallel with the railway across the water, and soon found ourselves in Gamla Stan. We planned to watch the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace before visiting the Palace, itself. When we got up there we saw that people were already gathering behind the barriers. The soldiers on guard had wonderful white woolly hats on, which were definitely necessary as there was a chill wind blowing. I don’t know how long each stint outside on duty is, but we hoped not too long. The soldiers make frequent marches up and down to keep their feet from freezing. The new guard began gathering in the colonnade, and one officer came out and announced that the ceremony would take place at 12.15. In the meantime, he gave us a run down on the guards who guard the palaces and in particular who was on duty today – in Swedish and English. Then as the quarter hour struck, the soldiers began running out from the colonnade on orders from their captain. The Swedish flag was marched round to the front and a small changeover ceremony took place. All these soldiers had their helmets on – no woolly hats. We guessed they got those delivered to them after the ceremony. It was soon over, then everyone went to buy tickets to visit the palace, so we decided to get ourselves a cup of coffee and go in when it was a bit quieter.
Our coffee place was called Chokladkoppen and was at the bottom of one of two lovely tall almost Dutch-style buildings in Stortorget. We had delicious coffee and cake, and perused the art on the walls! We couldn’t linger as the Palace closes again at three, so we bought our tickets and entered. The first part was the State Apartments, then the Guest Apartments and eventually we found our way to the Tre Kronor Museum. This latter part is deep down in the foundation of the palace and is housed in the oldest part – some of the 12th century defensive wall and the 16th and 17th century brick vaults. The palace from that time suffered devastation when a fire burned most of it to the ground in 1697. The Tre Kronor Museum is devoted to the history of the palace and shows many artefacts that have been excavated from the palace foundations. We ran out of time before we got to the Treasury, but the very helpful people at the entrance pointed out that our tickets were valid for a month, so we could come back tomorrow. Good idea!
As the sun was still shining we now walked across to Riddarholmen to see Birger Jarl’s statue in his square. Here is the Riddarholmskyrkan with its cast iron filigree tower. Here all of Sweden’s rulers from the 17th century and onwards are buried in vaults. (Except Queen Kristina, 1689 buried in Rome and GustavVI Adolf, 1973, buried at Haga in the north of the city). Now we made our way to the Tbana station and got back to the hotel for a welcome sit down before dinner. The boys on reception said they would find us another good restaurant for dinner – not too far away.
Dinner is to be at Pontus by the Sea. Funnily enough, we almost saw it today on our walk. It is on the promenade of Gamla Stan facing towards Skeppsholmen. It is owned by one of Stockholm’s top chefs, Pontus Frithiof. He has his main restaurant ‘In the Greenhouse’ in the city somewhere.
We took the Tbana to Gamla Stan, then walked across the island to the restaurant. Then it began snowing! As we sat at our table, it really started to come down – we wondered about getting back again! Not many people in the restaurant tonight – so different from last night. The menu looks very good – the wine list is amazing with some wines costing around a thousand quid! We had:
Beef Carpaccio with cep cream, rocket and parmesan, and Jerusalem artichoke crème with seared duck liver and preserved apple; Swedish beef with tomatoes in a balsamic dressing, chips and sauce Béarnaise, and Steamed fillet of char with with tomato and lemon vinagrette, brandade and dried tomatoes. Alan found a Louis Jadot Bourgogne Pinot Noir to accompany the food. All very delicious and we soon forgot the swirling snow outside.

Pontus has a great website with a gallery of pictures taken when the restaurant is buzzing with summer visitors.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stockholm - Day 2

We managed to get to breakfast just after nine and we were on our way to the Tbana by ten. We decided to take a walk through the city suggested in the guide book and exited the underground to Sergels torg, a two tier square with a pedestrian area below and a traffic roundabout above. The traffic circulates around an amazing crystal tower fountain which apparently sparkles in the floodlights at night. We left the square via the pedestrian street Sergelgatan and followed the walking tour all the way to the Odenplan before turning back towards the centre. We came through the market at Hotorget, looked for the elusive Greta Garbo exhibition in PUB, then passed the concert hall with its interesting sculpture of Orpheus. Just round the corner we had a view of the Kungstornen, which reminded us of the non simmetrical Moskva Hotel in Moscow. But who said they should match!
There were many interesting Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings on our route; including August Strindberg's last dwelling place in Stockholm, being in a building known as the Bla Tower, a fine shade of ochre with gold highlighting. We called in at the National Library - a Functionalist building, designed by Gunnar Apslund. There are many treasures inside, but we only saw the interesting water fountain with its intriguing tap in the shape of a person. Lots of these buildings are in varying shades of yellow, orange and rose coloured paint. The church, Johannes Kyrka, is a nineteenth century neo-gothic building sharing its ‘garden’ with a late seventeenth century wooden bell tower. Eventually we were back at the Sergels torg and Alan had the idea of finding the Ostermalmshallen for lunch. This is a wonderful food hall where one can buy all sorts of meat, fish and veg to take home, but also there are eating places serving full meals as well as sandwiches. We stopped by a small cafe for open sandwiches - Alan had laks with dressing and I had prawns with mayo. Yummy. Then we strolled through Gallerian and on to Ahlens City to see the shops. We also stopped by the Orrefors shop and found a candle holder for the kitchen. In Ahlens City we found the Moomin range from Arabia and couldn't resist a turquoise mug with Snufkin and the lilac Hemulen mug!
As we were close by the T-Centralen, we took the underground to Gamla Stan to suss out a couple of restaurants for dinner, but nothing inspired us, so we trudged over the bridge at Slussen and walked back to the hotel for a rest. The lads in reception recommended a local place for dinner - Bistro Sud, and booked us in for dinner at 19.30.
Bistro Sud is a tiny place absolutely crammed with folk. This is because of its delicious food. We crowded round a tiny table and immediately were helped by local diners to understand the menu on the blackboard - with their recommendations. We chose the following:
Tuna sashimi with artichoke puree; crab soup with king crab leg.
Fiskqueneller m vitvinsas, rakar and kokt potatis (quenelles of white fish in a white wine sauce, shrimps and boiled potatoes)
plommafylld grissida, kamben,choucroute, art.och potatispure (pork stuffed with plums, choucroute and artichoke puree)
The Montes Pinot Noir was delicious with this wonderful food!
One of our neighbours was very chatty - a man dining with his son who was off to US the following morning. We had a great time chatting to them. But the rigours of the day took over and we had to leave before falling asleep in the dessert! A cup of tea and bed awaited at Rival.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Short stay in Stockholm - Arrival and Day 1

We flew to Stockholm with British Airways from Heathrow T5. We managed to get ourselves onto the flybussarna into City Terminal, then negotiated a travelcard for our stay with a very helpful woman who directed us to the Tunnelbana. This gives us travel on the bus, the Tbana and most ferries for our stay. Now we took the Tbana to Mariatorget where our hotel is situated. Hotel Rival is owned by Benny Andersson of ABBA fame. The hotel was founded as a cinema in 1932 and had fallen into disrepair. Benny Andersson has renovated the building, preserving the cinema for conferences etc. and has made about 90 rooms over 7 floors. We are in a normal room on the fourth floor with a courtyard view. We were welcomed into our room by a beautiful teddy bear which sits on one of the designer chairs. We decided to grab a quick beer in the bar, discovering the unique carpets on each landing as we walked down the spiral staircase. The bar is everything - restaurant, breakfast venue as well as bar. It has a very modern but retro feel and looks out onto a (at the moment) very snowy square. Most diners were finishing, and the drinkers were few as it was getting on for ten thirty. Soon we made our way upstairs for tea from the tea/coffee machine on our landing. Then we were ready to test the comfy-looking beds. This proved correct and we were soon asleep.

The alarm went at eight and we crowded into the dinky shower room for shave and showers. Last night we had closed the blind against the window into the bedroom for the sake of decency! Once again we set off down the spiral stairs to the breakfast room. It was pretty busy, but we found a table and had cereal, fruit, creamy yogurt and bakery things - plenty to satisfy us without venturing into the cooked menu.Eventually ready to go, we headed out towards the ferry terminal. The snow from Sunday is still lying, as the temperatures are barely above freezing. We picked our way along partially cleared pavements that have been gritted, and soon arrived at the docks. The travelcard also covers the ferry, so we could walk through to join the people already waiting. The ferry arrived shortly - they go about every fifteen minutes, and we were soon chugging along to the island called Djurgården. We stopped first at Skeppsholmen. When we got off at our stop, we walked along to the unusual building that is the Vasamuseet.

This is just stunning. As you walk in the Vasa is there in front of you, towering up into the high roof of the building. We spent a few minutes just looking at it, finding ourselves by the post where the English tour starts; but we had read there was an English film to see about the whole history of the Vasa, so we made our way to the information desk. The English surtitled film would start shortly, so we entered the auditorium to see that first. Then we joined the English tour all of which gave us a good insight into the Vasa, which only managed to stay afloat for less then 30 minutes! Apparently they miscalculated the amount of ballast required for a ship with so much superstructure. It would have been a stunning addition to the King’s fleet – but it was not to be. We then decided it was coffee time, before we spent ages taking photographs and reading more about this beautiful but ill fated ship. It was about three o'clock before we were making our way to the exit.

We walked back to the ferry and took it across to Skeppsholmen. From here we made a walk along the quay where the historic boats are moored eventually arriving at the bridge across to the main land. We took the next bridge across to Gamla Stan and spent a couple of hours wandering the old city streets, looking at some of the delightful atelier boutiques along the way. We did stop for tea at a tiny cafe that also served the traditional Swedish lenten cakes called Semla. They are like large sousjes filled with clotted cream and almond spijs. Apparently Swedish people eat these before Lent to boost them before the days of fasting! We shared one between us, with a cup of hot chocolate each. We walked on, across another bridge to Sodermalm and the hotel where we took a well earned rest before slipping down to the hotel restaurant for a spectacular dinner.
Toast Skagen - shrimps in mayonnaise with bleak roe on toast
Stekt hjortrosbiff med kroppkaka fylld med säsaongens svamp och lingonsky - roast beef of venison with potato dumpling filled with seasonal mushrooms and a lingonberry sauce
Crème brulée med cognacshjortron - cb with cloudberries in cognac
Mörk chokladmousse med björnbärsglass - dark chocolate mousse with blackberry icecream
We drank a tasty bottle of Zinfandel with this, then climbed back upstairs to bed.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Old Vic in the round

We were extremely curious about the Old Vic’s new configuration before we attended this evening’s performance of Complicit. We hadn’t managed to get to the Norman Conquests, the major production for which the CQS space had been built, but we had followed the conversion on line as well as viewing the 360 presentation. The space is amazing, but we had booked seats on row G only to find ourselves in the second row – much closer than usual. Half the audience sits inside the proscenium arch in the newly created area, and, of course, exits and entrances can be made via any and all gangways. The architect’s comments can be read here.
If the space is amazing, the play isn’t. Even in Kevin Spacey’s capable hands, this play was far from satisfactory. David Suchet is a superb actor portraying the main protagonist’s lawyer, but his excellent performance is not supported by the lead – Richard Dreyfuss as the prize-winning journalist who is being pressured to reveal his sources in the interest of ‘national security’. Elizabeth McGovern plays this mans wife and gives a convincing performance. Although I admire other performances by Richard Dreyfuss, it seemed that he had been unable to learn the part as he appeared to be continually being prompted via his earpiece. Perhaps that is the weakness of the play; that part is just not convincing making it difficult to learn. The performance did not run smoothly, and it finished somewhat early – we were heading for Waterloo by 21.15 – so did we miss chunks of dialogue? If so it was a relief. What a shame, as we are usually greatly entertained by the performances at the Old Vic.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Wintry Thursday

Today has been very entertaining. Once we had braved the slushy, semi-icy road down to the station we caught the train into to London and made our way to Earl’s Court for the Destinations Travel show. First we were ready for a coffee, and queued at a wholly inadequate stall, next to a huge bar with at least three beer pumps – what sort of a message does that send! We eventually got our coffee and sat down to plan where we should start. Just by us a seventy-odd year old woman sat with her magnifying glass and a couple of brochures, sipping a glass of white wine as she planned her next holiday. I hope she has a wonderful time, wherever she decides to go.
We started up towards the Americas as I promised to collect brochures for friends about those destinations. This led us to the Nova Scotia stand and the start of a plan to fly to Halifax, hire a car and discover that area. Then we could drive across to New Brunswick – and if we were there at the end of September we could take in the autumn colours before heading into The States to visit friends in New Hampshire. Such plans are the stuff of dreams! Armed with some brochures, we moved on, and conveniently close by was the Jordanian Tourist Board. Here we talked to Dave, who assured us that the trip that was lurking in the back of our minds was easily doable. We could fly into Amman, hire a car and drive ourselves around, taking time for photographs when we wanted, and yet seeing all the treasures that Jordan has to offer. Small guest houses provide excellent local accommodation, and he would even suggest an eleven day itinerary. It sounded great and once again, we left the stand armed with brochures and our heads buzzing with ideas.
On we wandered and soon came across the excellent Wanderlust photo exhibition. Here travellers had submitted their holiday photographs, with some amazing results. There were also several interesting portfolios including one featuring the camel races in Oman – bringing back fond memories. There are not just travel companies at the show, there are also many clothes, gifts and food stalls to visit. The latter are great fun as many offer free titbits of their wares, from sausages to chocolate and fudge. We tasted a few of the samples on our stroll along the avenues of stalls, also filling in some ‘win a holiday’ cards, providing companies with addresses for future mailouts.
Eventually it was time to leave and head back into the centre. We planned to have dinner and then we had tickets for ‘Complicit’ at the Old Vic. We decided to have dinner at Tas, which was delicious, reminding us of our short break in Istanbul last year. We resisted having Raki, the tasty aniseed flavoured Turkish drink, but enjoyed a glass of Anatolian red wine with our meal. The weather remained OK and we walked down to the theatre with time to spare.
For the last production, this and one more, the Old Vic has been converted into a theatre in the round, which is quite impressive. ‘Complicit’ is a story of a journalist (Richard Dreyfuss) who is up before the Grand Jury for publishing secret documents leaked to him by a secret source. These documents refer to torture and rendition by the US government. His dilemma is that he can go to prison for years unless he divulges the source, or so his council (David Suchet) tells him. His wife (Elizabeth McGovern) begs him not to be a hero, for if he is he will destroy their and their family’s lives. In the end he divulges the name, but finds out that the prosecution already knew who it was. We are not certain that he wasn’t set up by his own lawyer either, as he seems to be having meetings with the prosecutor and judge all the time. In the end, the journalist feels he has betrayed everyone for not living up to the ideals he had as one of the generation that protested against the Vietnam war. He berates governments not to be so foolish as, in victory, to become as bad as the enemy destroying their own morality when pursuing that enemy. It was heavy stuff. What was strange was the fact that the programme announced that the play would last some two and a quarter hours including the interval, and we were able to catch the 21.33 train home when the play had started around 19.30! This play hasn’t been well received by the critics, and there were times when it didn’t seem to flow easily, but the subject is a fascinating one and certainly throws up some interesting discussion topics.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Snow hits SE England!

Everyone will be blogging snow today - we woke up to the worst snow for 18 years; numerous school closures; roads blocked; trains and planes cancelled; and even no buses running in London! Well, we aren't used to this sort of weather.
The kids are having a great time, building snowmen, sledging down any slope they can find and there are even some skiers doing the cross country bit down our road into town. What they do at the steps I don't quite know. It was fun walking into Guildford at 9am down the middle of the road as hardly a car had been along it. We pedestrians walked in the tyre tracks to avoid tramping through the mid-calf high accumulation. It was so quiet, apart from the folk laughing and enjoying themselves. Inevitably there were stuck cars and vans and by the junction with North Street the M&S truck was waiting for the snowplough and gritter to go by before attempting the small slope - very slowly! No newspapers, but some groceries to keep us going as more snow is predicted. Glad we didn't have to get the car out to do that! Its safer on foot.