Tuesday, 20 June 2017

In Stockholm...

I can't remember the last time I was in Stockholm, but I think it was longer ago than I think. I almost stopped off here on the way to Lulea recently, possibly towards the end of last year, but a pilots' strike by SAS, Sweden's 'national carrier', halted my progress from the UK at Copenhagen and I flew home. But prior to that attempt I have the sneaky suspicion that I last visited the Swedish capital in the last century.

I flew out of London Gatwick Airport this afternoon, around 1330hrs, on a Norwegian 737 (seat 11a) and after a smooth flight, during which I enjoyed a spicy, hot chicken tikka masala and a couple of glasses of red wine, not forgetting some cashew nuts (I hadn't eaten since breakfast) I settled down for what turned out to be a smooth ride into Stockholm.

Stockholm South station, now just a shortish walk in the heat
Once on the ground and through baggage reclaim, passport control and everything else, I bought a train ticket to Stockholm South, which is close to where I was staying. At the airport (Arlanda) I had two options: take a train from Uppsala C or take a bus, the 583, to Marsta railway station, a short bus ride away, where the fare to Stockholm South would be much, much cheaper. For a moment I wavered (I was on expenses so why bother saving the money?) but then I thought why not? There was a big difference in the price. At Uppsala it was something like 150 Swedish Krona whereas at Marsta it was only 43 Swedish Krona. I took the bus and there was a train in the station when it arrived.

The journey to Stockholm South was long, probably around 30 - 40 minutes, but the sun was shining the skies were blue and the weather was the same as it's been in the UK this past week – hot and sunny. When I arrived at my destination, I asked one person for general directions to a region of Stockholm known as Sodermalm and then followed my instincts, which turned out fine. Soon I found myself at the NOFO hotel and was I glad that my sense of direction had been so on the money.

NOFO Hotel, Stockholm
I'm also glad that I picked such a quirky hotel. The NOFO is a strange place; it used to be a brewery and then the Columbus Hotel for the best part of 40 years, but now it's the NOFO and while I was told what the name means, I can't remember, or rather the explanation was a little confusing so I gave up trying to understand.

Södermalm is described as the 'vibrant heart of the city' and the NOFO Hotel is said to be 'steeped in the history of Söder. It was built in 1783 and has served as a brewery and as a barracks for the city guard. Today it is claimed to be one of the world's most stylish city districts. "You will love the enchanting mix of people, bars, shopping, restaurants and culture," says the NOFO's general manager, Desiré Eklund. She's right, it's a very pleasant part of Stockholm and yes, I could live here!

NOFO is both a hotel and a wine bar set in its own quiet courtyard. It's dark and welcoming interior and it's friendly receptionist made the whole experience very warming and I was glad I was here for the next two days as there seemed to be a lot of depth about the place and I was eager to enjoy it to the full.

I would have stayed in for dinner, but I got the feeling that the offering was fairly light when what I needed (as always) was a substantial meal. The receptionist offered some suggestions and I set off in search of a restaurant. Only a short walk from the hotel, down Sodermannagaten and then hanging a left on Skanegatan (I'm leaving off crucial accents on some these place names purely because I don't know how to find them on the keyboard) I found a small green, which, according to the map provided by the hotel, was called Nytoget. There were restaurants close to the green, two of which the hotel had recommended, but I chose a place called Bistro Boheme (Skanegatan 83, 116-35 Stockholm). It was hot enough, even around 2000hrs, to sit outside, so I ordered a Czech beer (a dark beer) along with grilled tuna steak (tonfisk) and salad and a Californian Pinot Noir – all good – followed by a Creme Catalana, the Boheme's take on a Creme Brulée. A cappuccino rounded off the meal and I made my way back to the hotel, trying to remember the route I had taken.

Tuna steaks with vegetables and salad at Bistro Boheme...
I'm now back in Room 315 and to say it's small would be an understatement; but despite its cell-like proportions, I rather like it. In fact, I've always been a fan of small rooms (as opposed to huge ones) and I like the Velux window, which means I can see out, but people can't see in – just how I like it, although the view is limited,  just trees and sky, but I'm not complaining. The bathroom is a little compact too, but it's all good and I should really be hitting the sack and getting a good night's sleep as it's now almost 2230hrs here in Stockholm (an hour earlier in the UK).

I stayed up and watched the first Mad Max movie on Netflix, hitting the pillow around midnight. During the night it rained heavily, hitting that Velux window with such force it awakened me on a couple of occasions. While a Velux is fairly quirky there are a couple of downsides: first, heavy rain hitting the glass surface makes a real din; and second, while there is a blind, I left it half-concealing the window and so I was awoken early by the brightness of a summer morning. In all honesty, I like traditional curtains that can be drawn and a more pleasing view than just trees and sky.

Cinnamon cremé brulée
It's 0618hrs the morning after the night I arrived (it's Tuesday) as I write this and a day of work beckons, although I'm a little concerned about the state of my clothes. I've brought two shirts with me, but they've both seen better days and I need to buy some new ones. Likewise my suit, which is now hanging from a coathanger on the wall (there's no wardrobe, just four coat hooks mounted on wood and screwed to the wall). The walls are white and the floors laminated wood. The bathroom floor and the tiny entrance lobby to the room – I suppose in some perverse way you could say I was staying in a very small one-bedroomed apartment – are tiled.

There is a small desk, a wall-mounted flatscreen television, an angle-poise lamp like the one in Toy Story movies (or all Pixar movies) and what is made to look like a make-shift lamp fixed to the wall with a flex hanging down and plugged into the wall, as if a temporary measure. I suppose that alone bestows 'boutique hotel' status on the NOFO. A single bed is crammed into the corner, there's a fire detector on the ceiling and two shelves by the entrance where 'tea and coffee-making facilities' reside on a tray next to a hairdryer. I don't think I've ever used a hotel hairdryer. There's no sign of an iron, but under the shelves a large shoe horn hangs from a smaller arrangement of hooks screwed to the wall. I don't think I've ever had occasion to use a shoe horn either. Three magazines rest on a shelf underneath the desk but they're all written in Swedish so all I can do is look at the pictures. There are four decorative cushions under the Velux window resting on what looks like a huge block of concrete, which has been painted white; I'm using it to spread out my 'stuff' like my mobile phone, travel adaptors, last night's dinner receipt, my glasses case, wallet, maps and yesterday's newspapers (picked up free at Gatwick).

View from Room 315, NOFO Hotel, Stockholm
The weather has changed. The blue skies and sunshine have been replaced by grey skies and blustery wind, more like the weather should be in these parts. I remember coming here when it was minus 26 degrees and then I flew north to Lulea where temperatures plummeted to minus 40 and there were lakes frozen over – so much so that cars could be driven across them, the ice being something like three feet thick.

Going back to my hotel room's compact bathroom, it is a so-called 'wet room', which basically means the sink, the toilet and the shower are in the same room, with the latter only separated by a shower curtain. For some reason, there is a window cleaner's squeegy lying on the floor and I can only assume it's there to wipe the mirror clean when the hot shower steams it up; except that the water is cold, lukewarm at best, and it took me an age to work out how to get it lukewarm, by a process of trial and error. In the end it was just about bearable and I managed to wash and shave while in the shower. I turned the tap on the sink this way and that to see if there was any sign of hot water, but no, there wasn't; and in my book a hotel without hot water – or a hotel where getting the hot water to work is a serious faff – is not worthy of a return visit. I don't need the aggravation, although I kind of like NOFO so before I decide not to make a return visit, there's always tomorrow's shower – it might work!
Room 315, NOFO Hotel, Stockholm

It's 0730hrs and I'm ready for breakfast... and now, at 0815hrs I'm back and can report that breakfast was fine. I enjoyed cereal (muesli with raisins), some rice cakes and some fresh melon plus a cup of strong, black coffee. Why not tea, you might ask. Well, in all honesty it was a little confusing. They had two huge containers of coffee (with depressable levers to dispense it) and one containing hot water, presumably for tea. Next to the hot water was leaf tea in glass containers, but nothing remotely like a teapot in which to place the tea prior to dispensing the hot water. There was also a small glass jar containing 'tea bags' but on closer inspection these appeared to be paper napkins (I couldn't see any tea inside them) so rather than engage in more faffing around (the shower had already proved a bridge too far) I opted for black coffee and enjoyed my breakfast watching a muted BBC World News – Brexit talks and the passing away of Otto Warmbier after returning to the US from North Korea featured.

And now at 1648hrs, the blue sky and sunshine back in place and the tree outside my Velux window swaying slightly in the breeze, I'm back in my room. The bed has been made, as I expected it to be, but all else is quiet. I keep thinking about going downstairs for a glass of wine, sitting in the courtyard and relaxing with the newspaper, but there's work to be done and by the time I've finished it, it will be dinner time and then, tomorrow, I fly home. It's whether to go back to Bistro Boheme or try somewhere different, but I'll make that decision later, after I've completed my work.

For my Trip Advisor hotel and restaurant reviews, click here.

At least the cushions aren't on the bed!

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