Le Café: not a bad name for the first post from Seoul

It feels a bit strange being back here after almost three years! I started the Red Pants and a Mustache blog back in September 2011 in Stockholm. I blogged about cafés in Stockholm for about three years, until my girlfriend (now wife) moved with me from Paris and my weekends got busy with other activities.

Ever since we moved to Seoul in September 2016, my wife has been suggesting that I should blog again. Part of me wanted to but I felt overwhelmed by this city, everything that I had to discover, explore, and I wanted to use the little time left for really important things, like sleeping for example!

Now that I have been here for over a year and that I know that I’ll be here for a few more years, I feel like I could give it a try. So here I am!

When I woke up this morning, I had no idea I would be writing this post today. The only plan I had was to have lunch at Vegetus, a vegan restaurant in HBC. My wife had ordered food at Sprout and the idea was to walk to HBC, have lunch there, pick up the food and get back home. The perfect lazy Sunday. However, we finished lunch around 2:00 pm and had an hour to kill before picking up the food. That’s how we ended up at Le Café.

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My wife sang with a choir in this neighborhood earlier this year. She had been to Le Café and told me the coffee was good. I did not need any more convincing to go in. The place is pretty small (5 or 6 tables), and the atmosphere is quite relaxing. Other customers included a couple of girls busy with their laptops, a young couple just holding hands and another couple who looked like they were models for COS.

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The coffee is pretty good. I had a caramel macchiato, which almost felt like I was having dessert. It was a nice change from all the Americanos I drink too often in Seoul.

There is also a small but interesting menu. However, after the excellent vegan burger I just had at Vegetus, I just couldn’t have any of the banana or citron bread. There are also sandwiches (panini) on the menu.

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While there are millions (I’m not kidding) of cafés in Seoul, I suspect I will be back at Le Café. Indeed, when we feel like non-Korean food, we often end up in HBC. And I definitely want to try the carrot cake or the banana bread!

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Le Café, 용산구 용산동2가 44-8, HBC, Seoul

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Fabrique: a welcome addition to Gamla Stan

I am a big fan of the bakery Fabrique. While there are some 12 Fabrique bakeries around Stockholm, I have been buying bread at their shop on Götgatan for quite some time. The bakery on Götgatan is a typical Fabrique bakery, i.e. very small. However, some of the bakeries are a bit bigger and are actual real cafés. This is the case with the Fabrique which opened recently in Gamla Stan.

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If you read my previous post, you will know that I went for a run quite early this morning. And if you read previous posts when I talked about running, you will know that for me running is mostly a survival strategy so that I can keep eating and drinking without feeling (too) guilty! So, the early run this morning was part of a bigger plan which included breakfast at Fabrique!

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I passed by Fabrique in Gamla Stan many times in the last few weeks but I never took the time to stop for coffee or bullar. The truth is, the bakery is too close to my place. My girlfriend (well, she is my wife but we feel too young (!) to call ourselves husband and wife!) and I usually go for long walks on weekends which include a café stop midway, but that is usually after two or three hours – not seven minutes! Since she’s been back home for a couple of weeks and I am on my own in Stockholm, I decided to have breakfast out today, and in this case, the closer the better!

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Since this is the holiday season I went for the safran bun instead of my usual favourite – the cardamom bun! Frankly, I am not a big fan of the lussekatter so I was a bit concerned but there were no reasons to be. Fabrique’s cardamom bun are exquisite and delicious!

Fabrique in Gamla Stan has a totally different style than Café Lazy House, yet the place is also very cool. Every time I passed by Fabrique in the past, the place was packed. I guess I was a bit too early for a Saturday morning, but I enjoyed the quietness and the music by The Late Call in the background.

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Fabrique, Lilla Nygatan 12 (entrance on Schönfeldts Gränd), Stockholm (Gamla Stan)

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Café Lazy House: Heaven in Gamla Stan

It had been a while since I last was here! I guess I have been lazy. There has been a worrying trend recently in Stockholm with the big coffee chains opening new shops every where in town. Even the big American brands which, until recently, were limited to the airport and the train station are now opening up stores in the city. As a result, I spent most of my time enjoying coffee in places I knew, places I like, places that are reassuring! But then, I noted a few new places that deserved some attention, and Café Lazy House was at the top of my list!

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I had checked out some reviews about the place before leaving home this morning and I learned that Café Lazy House was run by a young couple. Actually, there were a few 20-something in the place this morning and I was really impressed by the atmosphere they managed to create in Gamla Stan. I always thought that the old town was mostly a tourist trap. With Café Lazy House, these guys prove that you can be cool right in the middle of the biggest touristic area!

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I may have been impressed by the look of the place as soon as I walked in but I am a difficult customer. I also expect good quality food and coffee! And guess what, Café Lazy House is doing great in that department too! In fact, my only problem was that everything looked good!

From croissants to bullars...

From croissants to bullars… and look, the maple syrup comes from Canada!

I went for a 10k run this morning and was back home even before sunrise! This is not only about bragging, this is also about justifying all the food I had at Café Lazy House! To be honest, I was full after the wonderful broccoli and blue cheese pie (served with an excellent salad) but I just could not resist the chocolate cookies with smarties. And while I was first attracted to the smarties, the cookie itself was one of the best I had in Stockholm!

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Run to Café Lazy House. This is one of the best things that happened to Gamla Stan in 2014. The staff is friendly, the atmosphere is cozy and the food is great.

Café Lazy House, Stora Nygatan 26, Stockholm (Gamla Stan)

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Gildas Rum: a classy espressobar in hipster land

I met R in the Balkans in 2006. At first we were colleagues but we quickly became friends. And – until today I had not thought about this – since then our lives have followed a very similar path… We both returned to Canada in 2009. And we both found ourselves single, rather unexpectedly in his case!  By convenience we became roommates. An arrangement that worked well for me since he left after 18 months, and I had the house to myself. We are now both back in Europe and he came to Stockholm for a visit this weekend. This was the last weekend where a visit was possible for quite some time as we will both be quite busy in the coming weeks. Indeed, our girlfriends are both moving in on 16 August. Mine from Paris, his from London.

After a night out on Friday, where we experienced a fantastic brewpub in Hammarby Sjöstad (Nya Carnegie Bryggeriet) and a nice summer club under the bridge (Trädgården), we badly needed good coffee on Saturday morning. By the time we left the house, half of Stockholm was getting ready to march in the Pride Parade. And the other half to watch the parade! This probably explains why there were some room at Gildas Rum on that day!

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Gildas Rum is on the north side of Nytorget, otherwise known as hipster central. I am not a hipster but I spent a fair bit of time in that area 🙂 And usually on a nice Saturday like this one, one has to be lucky to have a table outside!

I had decided that we would have lunch at a nearby place which I had recently noticed and which looks really cool: “Meatballs for the people”. Therefore I decided not to eat anything at Gildas but that was a tough decision.

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R does not seem to worry too much about looking fit for his girlfriend’s move and had something to eat. He was somewhat reasonable though and only had the traditional kannelbulle!

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We spent a lot of time enjoying the nice weather and the good coffee, while talking about the big changes that are about to happen in our lives. R and I are different in many ways, but we both share the same set of feelings (happiness, excitement, relief…) at finally being reunited with our girlfriends after almost\over two years of long distance relationship.

Gildas Rum is a great place for an outdoor stop in Södermalm. But I could easily imagine myself inside during a cold winter night. And yes, Gildas Rum is open late at night (at least for Stockholm’s standards): until 10:00pm from Monday to Thursday, 8:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays and until 9:00pm on Sundays! Unfortunately I did not take any good shots of the inside but the picture below will give you a good idea of how it looks like (and you can see great photos on Gildas’ website).

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We could have spent the entire afternoon at Gildas but the time had come for meatballs. And for the Pride Parade!

Gildas Rum, Skånegatan 79, 116 35 Stockholm (Södermalm)

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Tellus Bio & Café: Getting ready for Djurdjevdan in Midsommarkransen

Nothing with my friend AP is simple! And that’s ok because she is Serbian (although also a Swedish citizen since a couple of months ago) and all the little complications with her remind me of my time in the Balkans. You think I am too harsh? Well, remember her move? Or when I waited for her at Albert & Jack’s? But you are right, I am not really complaining, especially since this time it involved making plans to celebrate Djurdevdan on 6 May! Djurdjevdan – the feast of St. George – is one of the most important Slava in Serbia, one that happens to be celebrated by AP’s family. And the cool thing with Slava (other than all the eating and drinking) is that it is actually the family celebrating that is hosting. This means that AP has probably been cooking for the last 48 hours. But in order to do so, she needed the appropriate Balkan products. And where does one find the best Balkan products in the Stockholm area? In Skärholmen!

Now, if you look at a map of Stockholm’s subway, you will see that both Skärholmen and Midsommarkransen are on the red line. But if you look carefully, you will see that they are on two different branches of the red line… Anyhow, on our way to Skärholmen, we managed to end up in Midsommarkransen. Which is great because I was quite happy to discover a new area of Stockholm.

I understand that Midsommarkransen is a nice suburb of Stockholm where hipsters from Södermalm go when they have kids and need a larger flat. Midsommarkransen certainly feels much quieter than Söder but I understand why ex hipsters would want to live there. I could feel a very good vibe there, and of course Tellus Bio & Café helps in that regard!

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Tellus is a small neighbourhood movie theatre from the 1920s, which has been run by a nonprofit cultural organization since 1986. Tellus has about 70 volunteers that do everything, from baking cakes to running the projectors for movies. I understand that the café (and the cinéma) can be hired for private functions. And I feel like we walked into a private birthday lunch on Sunday when we entered Tellus! But that did not prevent me from enjoying a nice piece of cake. Carrot cake of course!

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There is nothing fancy at Tellus. No fancy latté or cappuccino. Just simple brewed coffee and tea. Nothing fancy but everything’s good. I had a wonderful raspberry milkshake (in most places they would call it a smoothie but not at Tellus) with my cake.

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I would love to go back to Tellus. It feels like everything there stopped in 1986, when the place became a nonprofit institutions.

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I will certainly go back to Tellus. First, I did not spend enough time in Midsommarkransen as we had to get to Skärholmen. But also because I would love to watch a movie in this old cinema theatre. In fact I just realized that Tellus is presenting The Grand Budapest Hotel later this month. I have already seen it but I’d love to see it again in that setting. And judging by the program which, in addition to movies, includes music and literature, there are plenty of good reasons to go back to Tellus!

Tellus Bio & Café, Vattenledningsvägen 46, 126 33 Midsommarkransen

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Barista: where fair trade coffee meets good cinema

After my somewhat disappointing experience with the first café this Sunday morning, I headed towards Barista on Götgatan in Södermalm. Barista Fair Trade Coffee was created in 2006. Today, there are about 20 cafés in 7 different Swedish cities. I have been to the one in Södermalm many times, as it is located in one of my favourite cinemas in town: Bio Victoria.

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I can’t explain why I never included Barista in this blog before. The coffee is great, the atmosphere is fun, the staff is friendly, there is a large selection of cakes (but also salads and sandwiches), and I go there all the time. In addition to promoting fair trade coffee, Barista also supports a wonderful cause with the UN to provide meals to students in Ethiopia. When buying a “membership card”, a Barista’s customer gets 10% off the bill, and Barista makes a contribution to a school in Ethiopia. You can learn more about this nice initiative here.  I did not know about this initiative until I was offered to buy a card today. Which I did, together with my latté and a chocolate chip cheesecake!

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Barista has all kind of nice organic, environment friendly and fair trade stuff on its menu.

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Being located in a cinema with seven screens, the place is always busy and noisy. It can also be difficult at time to get a table. Thankfully I got there at a good moment today and I managed to get a table on the second floor (that seems to be the theme of the day), again with a nice view on all the cakes on the first floor!

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And after another nice fika at Barista, the Sunday afternoon ended with a beautiful movie: Inside Llewin Davis from the Cohens brothers. The movie won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Festival in 2013. I have now seen the three movies that won the main prizes at Cannes in 2013: La vie d’Adèle (Blue is the warmest color) which got the Palme d’Or, Like Father, Like Son which got the Jury Prize, and now Inside Llewin Davis, and I highly recommend all of them.

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I usually hate Sunday evenings because it  means the weekend is about to end. However, the good thing about this week is that Stockholm’s Tempo Documentary Festival begins on Tuesday. That means that I’ll spend a bit of time at Victoria this week. This means more coffee at Barista… and probably more cakes too!

Barista, Götgatan 67, 116 21 Stockholm (Södermalm)

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Cosy Café: Another good option in the Old Town

Recently I realized that I had no reason really to rush home at night after work. As a result, I decided to walk the most pleasant routes back home, not necessarily the fastest one. This is how I noticed a new – or at least new to me – café in Gamla Stan: Cosy Café. Personally I find the name a bit cheesy but it looked pretty nice inside. Unfortunately, by the time I’d walk by at night (usually between 19:00 and 20:00), it was closed, or about to close. While I avoid most cafés in Gamla Stan – not because they are not good but because they offer a product that is not what I am looking for, i.e. services to tourists and/or irregular clients – I was prepared to check out this Cozy Café this weekend.

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Cozy Café is indeed a nice place with extremely friendly staff. Options for fika are consistent with what one would find in most cafés in Sweden, with the usual Choklabollar!

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However, this morning I found something at Cozy Café that I had never seen before. Maybe because I am usually attracted by the more generous pieces of cake. In any event, I could see from the description that it was something dipped in white chocolate. Basically, it was pretty much what we call a Swiss roll in Canada, but dipped in white chocolate.

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It was about noon when I got to Cozy Café and I had a bit of time before catching a movie at 15:15. I had a light and funny book with me and I was planning to spend some time at Cozy Café, comfortably sitting in a leather chair on the second floor, in the middle of all the posters which looked like they were straight from a teenager’s room, and with a nice views on the cakes down below!

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Unfortunately, a bunch of guys came in just before me. They were tourists from the UK, Australia, or maybe New Zealand (I’ve never been good at figuring out the different English accents that are not North American!). Turns out these guys would have fit better in the place next door (an Irish pub). They were loud, trying unsuccessfully to be funny with the staff, and were not in a hurry to leave. I think I was partly annoyed because they disrupted my plans to read quietly in a nice, cozy café. But I guess I was also a bit annoyed out of jealousy. It might have to do with the lifestyle I have chosen, but I don’t get to go out for brunch on Sunday mornings very often with a group of friends. At the same time, I don’t know if I’d do it very often even if I was given the opportunity.

I decided not to spend too much time thinking about that at the moment and accepted that this morning I was looking for quietness. As soon as I was done with my latté, I moved to another café. I knew that the other one would be just as loud, but that’s ok because I expected it. So, I will definitely go back to Cosy Café, but maybe a bit earlier in the morning when the loud tourists are still sleeping after a late Friday night out!

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Cosy Café, Stora Nygatan, Stockholm (Gamla Stan)

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Café Voltaire: a good reason to go to Sickla (if you forget about the birds)

Stockholm is an interesting city. Like most cities in the world, it has a number of different neighbourhoods, each with its own character. I had been told not long after I moved here that most people tended to stay in their neighbourhood, on their island, literally. After having been here for more than two years now, I understand why this is happening. After all, why would anyone from Södermalm would go all the way to Östermalm or Sankt Eriksplan – or vice versa – to have a coffee when everything is available on each island, in each neighbourhood. And this is exactly why I started this blog. To get me out of my flat on Saturday mornings, as an excuse to get out of bed and do something, especially in the dark winter mornings. And thanks to this blog, I have seen many different parts of Stockholm. But like most real Stockholmers, I am making one big mistake: I rarely go to the suburbs. Sure, I have been to Fittja a couple of times to eat burek, or to Tensta to go to Livstycket. Or to Bagarmossen to see a friend. But not much more than that. Now, the concept of suburbs in Stockholm can be misleading. For example, it can take me about 30 minutes door-to-door to get to a place at Sankt Eriksplan but it will take me less than 15 minutes to get to Sickla in Nacka, where I never thought of going because it’s the suburbs! Until I finally went today!

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A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine who lives in Sickla showed me a photo of a café in Sickla where there were birds flying freely. When she made me realized that it only took a 7-minute bus ride from Slussen to get to Sickla, I quickly decided that I would soon visit this wonderful café with birds. And I did today at Dieselverkstaden!

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Café Voltaire is located in Dieselverkstaden, a former industrial building turned into a nice hipster hang out with a café, restaurant, the municipal (and private) library, a gym, a theatre hall, stages, a music studio, etc. And all this surrounded by the biggest shopping mall I have seen so far in Sweden. To be honest I am still a bit confused about Sickla. The Dieselverkstaden part reminds me of the Distillery District in Toronto or some of the cool areas in Vancouver. A few minutes from Dieselverkstaden is the Sickla lake, an oasis of peace which looks – and feels – a lot like some of the quietest islands in the Stockholm archipelago. And in the middle of all this are the shopping malls, which remind me of the ugliest suburbs of Montreal. All this a 7-minute bus ride from my flat!

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I fell in love with Café Voltaire as soon as I walked in. The high ceilings, the large windows, the open concept and the library as the natural extension of the café quickly convinced me that I would have a good time this afternoon. My impression were confirmed when I saw the large selections of cakes and pastries available at Café Voltaire.

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Now, pay attention to the yellowish or orangish cake you see next to the cashier on the photo above. After having spent some time looking at all the options and getting closer to the cashier where I would eventually have to make a decision, I saw the cake. A mango and cardamom cheesecake! I couldn’t resist! With a latté. My friend is much more reasonable than I am.  She had a latté and an orange… But we won’t judge her. She is a nice person anyway!

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Café Voltaire must also be nice in the summer when tables are out in the sun. The Café is also attached to a Bistro – Bistro Voltaire. Not very original in terms of name, but the food looks delicious. Another good reason to go back to Sickla! Somehow, it almost fell like summer at Café Voltaire today. Maybe it has to do with all the light coming in. Or the nice plants every where in the café. Too bad there were no birds in the café today!

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My friend could see that I was a bit disappointed that I did not get to see any birds in the café today. So she went to the Dieselverkstaden information desk to ask about the birds. What we learned was, to say the least, unexpected! It turns out that Dieselverkstaden killed the birds! Yep, that’s right, they killed the birds! Apparently it went out of control and there were too many birds – they were all free birds “squatting” the building – which started to build nests in Dieselverkstaden. I can imagine that too many birds flying around could be a problem in many respects, including for food at the café, books in the library, etc. Hopefully Dieselverkstaden will now do a better job at not letting the birds in anymore so they don’t have to kill any in the future! Ok, let’s forget about the birds and let’s look at the menu. That should be sufficient to convince you to get on a bus and go to Sickla for a nice fika at Café Voltaire.

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Café Voltaire, Marcusplatsen 17, 131 34 Nacka (Sickla)

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Stories: Cultural Coffee

Some people like to have a clear division between their private life and their professional life. I can easily imagine jobs for which I would have no interest in socializing with my co-workers. Life as an expat is a bit different. Often the line between private and professional is blurred. And colleagues can easily become friends. Partly out of necessity but in most cases because we share the same interests, and curiosity is an important reason that brought us to choose the expat life. All this to say that I ended up at a friend’s (and colleague’s) 50th birthday party today. The nice thing about adults’ birthday parties is that adults usually enjoy my gifts. Kids are less thrilled with books!

On my way back from Hedengrens (by far my favourite bookstore in Stockholm) where I got the present for my friend’s birthday, I decided to stop at Kulturhuset Stories for coffee.

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There are a few Stories in Stockholm but I have only been to the one at Kulturhuset. Actually, I have been here many times but today was the first time I went to Stories by myself and just for fun. Since my office is right next to Kulturhuset, Stories is the perfect place to meet colleagues over coffee. The place is great for “informal” meetings and the location could not be better for me. So good in fact that I don’t even bother putting my jacket on when I go there, even when it’s minus 10 out!

Kulturhuset is an amazing place! Administratively, it’s part of Stockholm City. It’s located at Sergels torg, right at T-Centralen. All subway lines in Stockholm go through T-Centralen. Going to Kulturhuset could not be easier. There is a little bit of everything at Kulturhuset: theatre, movies, dance, literature, music, but also debates and conferences. In additional to Stories, there are a few other cafes and restaurants. And of course, the place is very children-friendly, with a “room for kids”. And since this is Stockholm, children-friendly also means a parking for strollers!

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Kulturhuset is a huge place, and so is everything there, including Stories. Again, this is not the kind of cafés I usually prefer but Stories has something different which makes me want to go back all the time. It is not ideal when you are on your own and want to read quietly. The place is meant for people to meet. There are a lot of movements, there is a lot of noise and everything seems to go fast. And yet, there is something at Stories which is very relaxing. It might have to do with the nice cakes.

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I realized today that I may have developed an addiction to carrot cake in Sweden. As I was about to order the cheesecake, I changed my mind literally as I was ordering and got the carrot cake. This is not the first time this is happening to me! I did not regret it. While Stories is a busy place on a Saturday afternoon, I managed to find a quiet place in a corner, next to some nice posters where I was able to enjoy my latte and cake while writing the birthday card and a few words in the two books I got for my friend.

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For those who might be wondering, my friend got Alice Munro’s Dear Life and Michael Oondatje’s The Cat’s Table. And since I cannot go to Hedengrens without getting books for myself, I also got Sara Stridsberg’s Darling River, Dany Laferrière’s La Chair du maître and August Strindberg’s Röda Rummet (yes, in Swedish but the comic book version!).

Stories, Sergels torg 3 (Kulturhuset), 111 57 Stockholm

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Sturekatten: where tourists mix with locals

There are days when this blog does exactly what it was created for: get me out of my flat early on Saturday mornings. When there is no snow in Stockholm in December (like this year), days are usually dark, cold and rainy. This describes very well the weather today and it would have been easy to stay in bed. Nevertheless, I found the courage to get out with the hope of finding a nice café and, maybe, take advantage of the sales. I can already say that the latter point was a total failure but I might give it another try tomorrow. We shall see. I was a bit more successful on the café side. While this is not exactly what I had in mind, I finally paid a proper visit to Sturekatten.

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Sturekatten claims to be Stockholm’s oldest tearoom. I had been there once to meet up with friends from Serbia. Obviously, Sturekatten is a very popular place with tourists. It probably figures in most tourist guides and it has a very nice website (although it appears to be in Swedish only, which would not be that helpful for tourists). This morning the crowd was again a mix of locals and tourists, including a group of Japanese twenty-somethings and their Swedish friends who were speaking Japanese fluently. I have learned – or tried to learn – a few languages in my life but I am always impressed by Westerners who can speak Asian languages. I wish I was that talented with languages.

The entrance to Sturekatten is pretty cool. It is on the 1st floor of what seems to be otherwise an apartment building. There is also a little garden in the courtyard which must be really nice during summer time.

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Once you get in Sturekatten you are faced with quite an amazing choices of cakes and other Swedish sweets, including the mandatory kanelbullar. I had my mind on something else, but when the girl asked what I wanted, I heard myself saying a cappuccino and a carrot cake.

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Then on both sides of the counter are the rooms. One seems to have much more light than the other. I went in the darker one. Except for the light, both rooms are very similar. They both look like this could be your grandma’s house, or some 19th century museum.

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Sturekatten is a good place to stop if you are around Östermalm. This is not the kind of place where one can expect to engage in a discussion with staff or other customers. I’ve been there twice now and on both occasions I did not see a single customer who was on his/her own. It seems like Sturekatten is the kind of place to enjoy with friends. Next time I go there, I’ll make sure to bring friends along. But I should not complain for this morning. I was sitting right next to Lucia!

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Sturekatten,  Riddargatan 4, 114 35 Stockholm

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