Thursday, January 28, 2016

Stockholm - City Hall

Date of visit: 17th October 2015

Stockholm City Hall is locally called as Stadshuset. The building was built for the Municipal Council for the City of Stockholm in Sweden. It stands on the eastern tip of Kungsholmen Island, next to Riddarfjarden's northern shore and facing the islands of Riddarholmen and Sodermalm. It houses offices and conference rooms as well as ceremonial halls. There is also a luxury restaurant, Stadshuskallaren inside. It is the venue of the Nobel Prize banquet and has been one of Stockholm's major tourist attractions due to many reason, among other is the Golden Hall where 18 millions mosaic was laid.

Stadshuset is considered as one of the Sweden's foremost examples of national romanticism in architecture. The unique site, overlooking Riddarfjarden, inspired a central motif of the construction, namely the juxtaposition of city architecture blended with water element that also represents a central feature of Stockholm's cityscape as a whole. The architectural style is one of refined eclecticism, blending massive, austere, North European brick construction and playful elements reminiscent of oriental and Venetian architecture, such as turrets adorned with golden starlets, decorated balconies, wooden masts, and statues. The architect wanted the building looks ancient though it is not.

In 1907 the city council decided to build a new city hall at the former site of Eldkvarn. An architectural contest was held which in the first stage resulted in the selection of drafts by Ragnar Ostberg, Carl Westman, Ivar Tengbom jointly with Ernst Torulf, and Carl Bergsten. After a further competition or rather a shorlisted participant between Westman and Ostberg, the latter was assigned to the construction of the City Hall, while the former was asked to construct Stockholm Court House. Ostberg modified his original draft using elements of Westman's project, including the tower. During the construction period, Ostberg constantly reworked his plans, resulting in the addition of the lantern on top of the tower, and the abandonment of the blue glazed tiles for the Blue Hall. Take note that a visit to Stockholm City Hall would not be complete if not include a visit to the blue hall.

Islands of Riddarholmen and Sodermalm,seen from the City Hall

Oskar Asker was employed as Main Contractor overseeing the whole construction and Paul Toll, of the construction company name Kreuger & Toll, designed the City Hall foundations. The construction took twelve years, from 1911 to 1923 to complete. Nearly eight million red bricks were used. The dark red bricks, called "munktegel"  or monks's brick was selected because of their traditional use in the construction of monasteries and churches. The bricks were provided by Lina brick factory near Sodertalje, about 34km away from the city hall. Construction was carried out by craftsmen using traditional techniques.

A gold-plated cenotaph of Birger Jarl

The building was inaugurated on 23 June 1923, exactly 400 years after Gustav Vasa's arrival in Stockholm. Verner von Heidenstam and Hjalmar Branting delivered the inaugurational speeches. The site, adjacent to Stadshusbron, being bordered by the streets of Hantverkargatan and Norr Mälarstrand to the north and west, and the shore of Riddarfjärden to the south and east, allowed for a spacious layout. The building follows a roughly rectangular ground plan. It is built around two open spaces, a piazza called Borgargarden on the eastern side, and the Blue Hall to the west.

Blue Hall

The Blue Hall, with its straight walls and arcades, incorporates elements of a representative courtyard. Its walls are in fact without blue decorations, but it has kept its name after Ostberg's original design. It is known as the dining hall used for the banquet held after the annual Nobel Prize award ceremony. The organ in the Blue Hall with its 10,270 pipes is the largest in Scandinavia. Above the Blue Hall lies the Golden Hall (Gyllene Salen), named after the decorative mosaics made of more than 18 million tiles. The mosaics make use of motifs from Swedish history. They were executed by the Berlin, Germany, firm of Puhl & Wagner (Gottfried Heinersdorff), after nine years of negotiations by Gottfried Heinersdorff (1883-1941) for the commission. What a long drama to have the unique hall being part of the building.

Council Hall

Since the City Hall is a political office building, visitors cannot walk alone in the halls; instead visitors are to join public tours arranged by City Hall administration staff. Tours in English are available daily at 10.00, 11.00, 12.00, 13.00, 14.00 and 15.00. Take note that due to the large number of events in the City Hall, tours are frequently cancelled. There are limited number of tickets for each tour, so the public tours are aimed at individual visitors, not larger groups of more than 10 people. Tickets are purchased at the City Hall on the day of the visit, cannot be pre-booked or purchased online. A tour of the City Hall takes the visitor through the halls, such as the Blue Hall and the Golden Hall, where the Nobel festivities take place. During the tour, the guide will talk about the many aspects of the City Hall such as the historical background, the interesting architecture, the important political work, the many events and banquets, such as the Nobel Banquet.

Unique roof at the council hall. It was made to look like a timber roofing but, it's all concrete beams and rafters, guys!

The southeast corner of the building, immediately adjacent to the shore, is marked by a monumental tower crowned by the Three Crowns, an old national symbol for Sweden. The tower is 106 metres high and is accessible by an elevator or by a stair of 365 steps. The eastern side of its base is decorated with a gold-plated cenotaph of Birger Jarl.

The Golden Hall or Gyllene Salen in Swedish is a banqueting hall in Stockholm City Hall. Measuring 44-metre in height, received its name when its walls were decorated by 18 million pieces of mosaics created by the artist Einar Forseth on a proposal by the City Hall architect Ragnar Ostberg. The hall is best known as the location of the ball after the annual Nobel Banquet in the City Hall's Blue Hall.

A location for festivities in the central building of Stockholm City Hall was ordered in 1908 by the city councillor in the building programme for Stockholm's city hall, and the name Gyllene Salen was given to it in 1909. Initially the Golden Hall was not supposed to have a golden mosaic but was proposed with stone and granite.Thanks to a hefty donation by a private person who wished to remain anonymous, the Golden Hall was reworked to its current form. The donation granted by the anonymous person is said to be of Swedish Kronor 300,000. The balls after the annual Nobel Banquet are always held in the Golden Hall, ever since its completion. Our tour guide was pointing to some errors in patching up the small mosaic pieces which I forgotten to take photo. The mosaic is actually layered with a gold dust mixed onto the surface. 

The walls of the hall are covered completely in mosaic that was installed between 1921 and 1923 by the mosaic firm Puhl & Wagner in Berlin. The firm received the contract in March 1921 for an original amount of SEK 280,000, later receiving an additional SEK 60,000 as a result of rising costs. The mosaic presents allegories of events and persons from Swedish history in the Byzantine idiom. 

The southern wall of the Golden Hall shows different motifs from all around Stockholm: on one side it is illustrated with the Stockholm Harbour, the Katarina Elevator and the Riddarholmen Church. Stockholm City Hall itself is also depicted. The Tre Kronor castle and a horse ridden by Saint Erik are also there. St. Erik's head cannot be seen from the hall due to an error in construction which left it above the roof of the hall. 

The City Hall Tower is open from May to September. Rising 106 meters into the air, it offers a breathtaking view of Stockholm. Since we were there in October, we missed the opportunity for an exciting walk up staircases and narrow passages as people said, is well worth the effort. There is a lift that can take allow visitors to take half-way. A visit to the Tower Museum, located in the middle of the Tower is allowed during the visit. 

Last but not least, do take note that Stockholm City Hall is a very popular venue for wedding ceremonies. Wedding ceremonies are arranged on Saturdays between 12.00 and 18.00. The ceremonies took place in the Oval Room and lasted for about five minutes only. The Oval Room has a maximum capacity of 15 guests. The ceremonies can be performed in Swedish or English.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Stockholm - Railway Central Station

Date of visit: 16th October 2015

The front facade of the Central Station was covered for minor refurbishment (can be seen in below photo). I was not able to take a good photo when arriving in the station on 16th October but the next morning while walking towards the city hall, we managed to snap below photo from the pedestrian bridge. But still, no one could have guessed that the station was actually existed there since 1871. It look so new which clearly show how good the State Railways has taken care off the building maintenance. We both felt like we were arriving at the Airport instead, not the train station. This one is rarely unique.

Stockholm Central Station is the largest railway station in Sweden, situated in the district of Norrmalm at Vasagatan/Central Plan. It was officially opened on 18th July 1871 and has over 200,000 visitors daily at present count, of which about 170,000 are travellers. In front of the central station stands a statue of Nils Ericson, an Engineer who was in-charge on the construction of the station. Friherre Nils Ericson, born in 1802, died in 1870 was a Swedish mechanical engineer. He became a prominent Swedish canal and railway builder.

This photo is not mine, it belong to

The station was built between 1867 and 1871 with Adolf W. Edelsvard as the design architect. Until 1925 the tracks led into the station but during a renovation that took place between 1925 till 1927, it were moved to the west. The former track hall was converted into a 119 meter long, 28 meter wide and 13 meter high waiting hall. During the renovation the station was extended to the south through the construction of the southern pavilion. That part of the station houses a conference facility. Next to the conference facility is the Royal waiting hall where the Royal Family shall waits before boarding when travelling by train.

In 1951 the façade towards Vasagatan was changed and was given a more simplified look. In 1958 an underground passage to T-Centralen was opened. The station consists of two parts. The northern part, with platforms 1 to 7 northwards, constitutes a terminus station for the Ostkustbanan, Malarbanan and Arlandabanan railways. Platforms 1 and 2 are reserved for the Arlanda Express, which has its own platform on the same level as the trains' floor. Platform 3 is mostly used by Uppsalapendeln and platforms 4 to 7 are used for long distance and regional traffic and overnight traffic to the north.

Platforms 10 to 19 in the western part constitute a passing station for Vastra stambanan and local commuter trains. Platforms 10 to 12 are mostly used for long-distance and regional trains to the south, but can also be used for traffic to the north, while platforms 17 to 19 are mostly used for long-distance and regional trains to the north from where we arrived in the city on 16th October 2015. It can also be used for traffic to the south. Most of the trains turn back after the Stockholm Central Station, but some trains continue towards the north. We had to use lift due to our luggage and join sea of crowds arriving and departing from and to various platforms on the upper level where we encountered a semi sphere roof.

On the same level with the Northern Railway Square are service depots dedicated for a long distance and regional trains. Trains arriving from the south and turning back from the central station, after passengers continuing northwards have disembarked shall continue to the service depots where they are cleaned and have their supplies refilled. Then they continue back via platforms 10 to 12. Long-distance trains from platforms 4 to 8 are services in the same way near the Northern Railway Square.

As you can see, SJ logo is visible everywhere in the station clearly showing that the station is under the management of the SJ (formally SJ AB) company. SJ is a government-owned passenger train operator in Sweden. SJ was created in year  2000, out of the public transport division of Statens Jarnvagar, when the former government agency was divided into six separate government-owned limited companies. SJ's operations fall broadly into subsidised and unsubsidised services. The unsubsidised services was until 2011 monopoly and consist mainly of the high-speed train network. The subsidised trains are awarded through competitive bids. However, some trains fall in between these categories, since public transit agencies can pay SJ to allow transit pass holder’s access to SJ's trains.

While waiting for Anne to change few buck of Euros to Swedish Kronor for our 3 days 2 nights expenses in the city, I lingered and snapped more photos of the station before we went out to look for a cab. It gave me a kind of impressive image of what SJ has done to an internal facade that hardly noticeable as it was from the old building in the city. Really an amazing job, being coupled with all amenities and facilities offered at the station for the conveniences of its passengers, of which include a fresh grocer store. 

Stockholm - Glance through visited places

Duration of stay: 16th till 18th October 2015

We arrived at Stockholm Central Station at around 4 pm vide SJ train-ride from Copenhagen. The train station doesn't like any normal train station that we've at thus far. It looks so modern that I mistaken it for a newly built station. Apparently it was not. I will write a separate entry about Stockholm Central Station soon after. As soon as we check-in at Crystal Plaza Hotel, we spent the whole afternoon recovering from a roller coaster effect from a bumpy train rides. And yes, we had an early diner at the hotel before strolling the city heading towards the Glam Stan. Saddened that this part of the region seems deserted at night. The compound lights within Glam Stan was not even lite up for us to explore deeper. We were frustrated but still exploring a nearby site to see what a city can offer at night. Good things are, walking at night is quite save for us two and honestly, it was fun too as we got to explore some arts like in the photo, below.

The next day, we walked using the map provided free at the hotel lobby heading towards the first attraction, i.e. the Stockholm City Hall. The walk was quite lengthy to reach the place which is about 2km away from the hotel, but the view was priceless. The city hall does not allow its visitor to wander on their own inside, rather, they arranged for a paid tour that you may booked, pay and join, following their set schedule. You may asked the reception counter at City Hall souvenir shop for assistance. We were lucky to join the first group that was almost ready to start at 10.00 am. It was a great educational walk to some part of the municipal hall but sadly the guide did not take us to the upper tower which has many more to see, apart from the Golden Hall where an 18 million gold mosaic tiles were laid and the hall where the city council sits for hearing.

As soon as we finished with the tour, we were heading towards Glam Stan, a must visit destination for all tourist to Stockholm. There are many more to see here. I was eagerly excited to enter Riddarholm Church, one of the oldest building in Stockholm. It is a 745 years old building, parts of it dating to the late 13th century, when it was built as a greyfriars monastery.However, I was told that photography is forbidden inside. My excitement resided and decided to cancel my plan.

Later, we passed by rows of old lanes and street to reach the Royal Palace with magnificent view, having a feeling of being in the 13th century city. On the way, we first made a quick stop to buy souvenirs at Classic Swedish Souvenir since we found one. Slightly before noon, we saw a nice decor restaurant and peek inside to see what there's for lunch that we, Muslim can possibly takes. Good things that we saw mostly all is a local food with lots of seafood in it. We decided to have an early lunch and glad with our decision to stop by. The lunch was beyond excellent and the price that was charged for the meal we had was reasonable according to Scandinavian standard cost of living.

Right after lunch, we then went looking for the royal palace entrance and found a counter selling tickets to enter three main parts of this historic building. The Kronor museum was the first that we entered as we were coming from that part. The museum occupies largely on the old part of where the palace was first built. It still has part of what was left after series of major fire that erupted in the palace between 13th till 16th centuries.  

After we have done with exploring the Kronor Museum on the lower ground, we entered the Royal Apartments where many exhibits and personal collection of Queen Lilian has been displayed on the upper floors. It was quite fun to see the evolution of how the queen is used to dress from young age till present. In addition, the royal apartment has its own standing beauty in terms of its internal finishing which is at par with other palaces that we visited when in Munich and Paris.

The last place we made was entering where some of the royal treasures being kept safe, the building in below photo but on the basement. Though photos are not allowed inside, I managed some tricks suffice for me to share in a separate entry. I hope I will not get caught for sharing it. By the way, the price for the three entrances was charged at Swedish Kronor 150/pax.

It was another long walk by the harbour front to reach Vasa Museum from the royal palace. The distance between the two places is 2.3km and reachable by foot. There are two attraction seated side by side, Nordiska Museum and Vasa Museum as shared in 2 below photos. Since we arrived nearing the museum closing time, with one hour left to explore, we decided to only enter Vasa Museum. Ticket to the museum is slightly cheaper than the royal palace, i,e, Swdish kronor 130 per person.

The view on our walk back to the hotel was stunning, worth the mileage that we covered for the whole day, 15.2 km a return walks. We tried a short cut relying on the map and found a groceries store along the way. We bought some salmons, vegetables and prawns and had a noodle for diner that night.

I have completed writing an entry about four cities thus far, BrusselsAmsterdamHamburg and Copenhagen. Stockholm is the fifth city that I'm writing now and I'm so looking forward to complete the whole thing as I am now into exploring my own country. I had a lovely chat with a nice American lady while waiting for the children playing at Tasik Dayang Bunting in Langkawi over the weekend. We both were very happy with the lake beauty and started exchanging stories of how she and I did not made enough effort to explore and appreciate the attractions in our own country. Rather, we chose to fly abroad for vacations.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Stockholm - 2 nights stay in Crystal Plaza Hotel

Duration of stay: 16th till 18th October 2015

Crystal Plaza Hotel, set in an art nouveau building is situated at Birger Jarlsgatan 35, in Stockholm. We were walking balk from Vasa Museum, said to be 2.3 km from the hotel when we snapped below 2 photos. Yeah, it was one of those misery walks ending a whole day city tour by foot and one of many good reason why we stayed in these area. Crystal Plaza Hotel, aside from given us a comfy bed it also has all attractions within walking distance. It's advantageous for backpackers like us who wishes to cover all attractions within the shortest time possible.

Another reason why I chose to stay in this hotel was mainly due to its attractive offer, irresistible good deal of discounted room rate which rank it at par with what Anne's chose in the rest of cities stop we made throughout the 4th leg. The room comes with a strong and good reception of wifi (free or rather charged to the room rate), flat screen TV, dressing desk, complimentary tea and coffee making and most importantly to us, is the heated bathroom. It was a very cold autumn season when we arrived in the city, where there was one morning the temperature has dropped to negative 2 degree Celsius. An electric aluminium heater bar has allowed to warm the floor tiles, while simultaneously used to dry our emergency laundry. The room rate per night that I paid is SEK921.50 and 2 nights for SEK1,843 inclusive of VAT.

The hotel seated right in the heart of Stockholm, near the Stureplan big city where there’s Restaurants (locals and international), shopping, cinemas and theaters are on the doorstep. Crystal Plaza Hotel has 111 rooms that combines classic charm with modern comforts and personal service. It is suitable for any purpose of visit, either you are in the city for a weekday night on business or a weekend getaway in Stockholm. The stay is indeed a comfortable and memorable as this is the only hotel that include breakfast in the hotel rate. The breakfast that was served during our 2 mornings were great, we really have no complaints nor regrets.

Crystal Plaza Hotel is part of the Excellence Hotel which is a family run business that operates three hotels in the Stockholm area. The hotel offers options for its guests in the long term living accommodation in the city center or near Stockholm International Fairs. They claimed that their driving force is a personal services and care for their guests. They wanted to create a home environment which you able to appreciate when you enter their breakfast buffet in the morning. I felt it and I hope you may concur with my opinion.

Crystal Plaza Hotel's building is around 120 years old and was constructed in two stages, between 1896-1898 by architect Lars Johan Laurentz (1851-1901), and from 1907 to 1910 by architect Carl Alfred Danielsson-Baak (1872-1967). Permanent artworks inside the hotel, in the shape of stucco and wall paintings, are signed Alice Maria Nordin (1871-1948), a Swedish artist whose work can be found even at the Opera, as well as at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. The building's beautiful main entrance and stairway was built in a period of Art Deco-style K-marked. I don't even know when and what Art deco-style K-marked period was.

Right from the outset, the Crystal Plaza Hotel building served as a hotel, so the interior has changed over time under different lines. The most recent complete renovation took place in the 1990s. An exciting new part of the building's history began in 2015; a renovation with the aim of restoring the hotel to a style in keeping with the building's original design. Originally an order commissioned by the YMCA, was the idea of ​​the hotel to meet the need for young Christians unaccompanied males in the big city. Society has changed over time, and so even the hotel. Today Crystal Plaza Hotel welcomes travelers from all over the world, regardless of gender and age.

On the last day, we spent the whole morning doing nothing after breakfast before the check out time. After checked out, we left our luggage and headed for lunch just 3 rows behind the hotel. The receptionist are all very friendly to assist and ensure that we had a cab ready for our departure to Viking Line port are. I wish to recommend you guys to stay in this hotel as I would should I able to return someday again in the city.