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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Muffins Fabriken: the gem of Skanstull

It’s this time of the year, the holiday season, where friends go back to Canada and very kindly offer to take something back for me. In the past, I would gladly accept their offer and ask for crunchy peanut butter or a specific brand of cookies. You know, the kind of comfort food which can be useful when you live abroad on your own. Having now lived nine out of the last fourteen years in Europe, I still have to find decent peanut butter on the old continent. Not that I am actively looking since I have given up peanut butter about a year or so ago. As a result, when friends asked this year whether they could bring something back for me, I couldn’t think of anything. I am quite happy with everything that Europe has to offer food-wise. But beside peanut butter, there are a few things that are much better in North America. What? you ask. Well, hamburgers for example. As a side note, this is a reminder to European readers that hamburgers are not supposed to be eaten with a fork and a knife. Something else? Muffins! Although, things are improving, at least in this part of Europe. I have already blogged about the Muffin Bakery. And I am very happy to report that I have now found Muffins Fabriken!

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Located on Götgatan at the very southern tip of Södermalm, just before the bridge to Hammarby Sjöstadt, Muffins Fabriken could be easy to miss. But those who have been there know better, and they probably keep the place running. Muffins at Muffins Fabriken come in two sizes: large and huge! And if size matters as far as muffins are concerned, I was quite happy with large.

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I went to Muffins Fabriken a couple of days before Christmas so I had no guilt feelings at all with my double chocolate muffin with vanilla. I also had a cappuccino with the muffin, but to be honest I can only remember the muffin today. I am pretty sure the cappuccino was ok, otherwise I would remember! I do remember the nice coffee beans shaped chocolate served with the cappuccino. Very nice touch, even though I probably did not need anymore chocolate at that point!

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I tend to go to Hammarby Sjöstadt during summer time. I also tend to prefer muffins during winter time. Maybe Muffins Fabriken will become the perfect excuse to visit Hammarby Sjöstadt this winter. The muffin stop on my way there would certainly be a very good incentive. And if it’s really cold maybe I could stop on the way back too! The hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows would be yet an another good reason to go to Muffins Fabriken this winter.

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As I sit in bed on this little morning of Christmas 2013 writing about muffins, I suddenly found the courage to get up and go to the gym. Sure, I enjoy running in itself. But I also enjoy eating and drinking, and in these times of excess, going to the gym might be a necessity more than a choice. Hell, if I train hard enough I might stop for coffee and muffins on my way back!

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Muffins Fabriken, Götgatan 99, Stockholm (Södermalm)

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Veronero: an espresso bar with class

I usually like cafés where I can sit back and relax, read some magazines while enjoying a latté with a nice kanelbullar or some cake. But sometimes, I find myself running from one meeting to another and, while I wish I could take 15-20 minutes to relax in a nice café, all I need is 5 minutes to drink a quick espresso. Thankfully, there are more and more cafés in Stockholm which are made just for this: no tables, no chairs, no newspapers… just a counter and excellent coffee. A few months ago I discovered Sempre. Today, it was Veronero!

Life as an expat comes with many advantages. One of the challenges though is being away from friends and family during special moments like the holiday season. As time passes, I got used to not celebrating Christmas and I totally forgot that it would be chaos in stores today. So, when I headed out at lunch time to run some errands, I quickly abandoned in the face of so many people doing their last-minute Christmas shopping. My stuff could wait a few more days. Since I was out, I decided to check out this café on Vasagatan which I had spotted at my last visit to the International Press Club.

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Veronero feels real. It’s small and the only customer during my short visit was an Italian (Vittorio) who comes from a small place 30 minutes away from Barberino di Mugello (that’s important info folks because I was in Barberino di Mugello during my holidays in Tuscany this summer!). The owner is also Italian but I don’t know where he is coming from! I understood that Vittorio now lives in Stockholm because his daughter lives here. I say “understood” because Vittorio spoke mostly Italian to me, although to be fair he also said a few words in French. The owner only spoke Swedish to me. Now, you can imagine that discussion between two Italian guys and a French Canadian with a mix of Swedish, French and Italian. But that’s also one of the advantages of life as an expat. Especially when the discussion takes place over a nice double espresso.

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Now, before Vittorio realized that I was speaking French, I had to explain in Swedish that I was “really” Canadian. For some reason, Vittoria seemed to think that I was a bit “dark” to be Canadian. With great pride, I managed to explain (again, in SWEDISH), that the colour of our skin had nothing to do with nationality in Canada. That being said, I am still a bit confused from that discussion. First, because people should know better about Canada. This is a country of immigration and Canadians come in all forms, shapes and colours! But also because as far as I can tell, my origins, both on my mother’s and father’s sides, go back to France for centuries. It is not unusual for me to pass for a “local” around the Mediterranean Sea but I never had anyone questioning my Canadian origins 😉

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Veronero is definitely an espresso bar of the 21st century. Everything is clean and high tech. While I am used to cool and innovative stuff in Stockholm, this is the only place where I have paid my coffee by inserting my bank card into an iPad and signing with my finger on the screen. Frankly, I am not quite sure how one can validate a signature made with a finger on an iPad but it seems to work.

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I don’t even know if Veronero is open on weekends. But it doesn’t really matter to me as this is the kind of place where I will go to when I am running between meetings in town. The kind of place where I will go for a quick espresso when I need a little something to keep up with the busy pace at work. That being said, Vittorio did not seem to be in any rush and he was certainly enjoying his time at Veronero. He had enough time to express his concern about the fact that I did not have a wife in Stockholm. He seemed to be somewhat reassured when I told him that I had a girlfriend in Paris. I suspect Vittorio will be at Veronero again for my next visit and I fully expect him to ask for an update on my Paris fiancé!

Veronero Caffé, Vasagatan 50, 111 20 Stockholm (Vasastan)

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Café Pom & Flora: This is not Strindberg’s Vita Bergen

A few weeks ago I was invited to a Francophone dinner at a friend’s place in a part of Söder I don’t know very well: the area around Vitabergsparken. It was a very nice dinner with a mix of French Canadians, French, Belgians and a few French speaking Swedes. I am not quite sure why I have not spent more time in that area. It is very nice and lively. It certainly does not look anything like the description of Vita Bergen from August Strindberg’s Red Room, where the poorest of the poor were living. It took me a while but I had spotted a nice café on my way to dinner that night and I finally made it there today.

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I had a hard time getting out of bed this morning. A bad night of sleep and typical Stockholm fall weather kept me under the blanket a bit longer than usual. While I thought I was a bit late to go out, I was quickly reminded that most shops in Södermalm only opens between 12:00 and 16:00 on Sundays. That did not give me much time to finalize a plan I have for my girlfriend’s birthday. The thing is that I offered her a few gifts with no reasons recently and it came to a point that she insisted that I give her no presents for her birthday. Not fair, if you ask me. And mostly impossible. At the same time, I also know that I have to accept her wishes. So the compromise (at least mine because she has not been part of that discussion) has been to offer her presents with minimal financial value. Well, this will not come as a surprise to most of you, but this is much harder than buying an expensive gift. Anyway, mission accomplished. At least on the shopping part of it. Now it’s time to implement the delivery plan. To be continued. Meanwhile, let’s get back to Café Pom & Flora.

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Café Pom & Flora is, in many ways, a typical Södermalm café. The crowd is a typical Södermalm crowd, with a mix of hipsters, new parents and hipster wannabes. The coffee is good, the staff is friendly and, to my great pleasure, Café Pom & Flora also offers the Kardamumbulle. And it was delicious! Most people around me had ordered the full breakfast, which seems to include nice bread with jam, cheese, cold cuts and yoghurt. Another good reason to go back to Café Pom & Flora in the near future.

I had stopped at my favourite magazine store on Götgatan on my way there to get the latest (at the least the latest one available in Stockholm) Inrockuptibles. I went through most of it except the interview with Bertrant Cantat. Cantat was the lead singer of French band Noir Désir. He killed French actress Marie Trintignant on a drunken night in Vilnius some 10 years ago. He is now out of jail and has a new band called Detroit. I haven’t read the article yet because I still don’t know how I feel about the whole thing. I liked Noir Désir quite a lot. I also thought Marie Trintignant was a good actress. I find it a bit confusing that Cantat is out of jail and has a new life after what happened…

Café Pom & Flora is rather small and I still think I was very fortunate to find a table today, even though the guy sitting next to me clearly thought that nobody should have taken the table next to him. It’s true that it was “cozy” but I don’t mind proximity in a café. Beside, if one doesn’t want to sit too close to a stranger in a café, one should go to chains like Wayne’s coffee (probably the Swedish equivalent to Starbucks) and not to a small neighbourhood café.

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I’ve been rather slow on this blog in recent months. This is by no means because there is a lack of good cafés in Stockholm. It has, at least partly, to do with the fact that I tend to go back to the cafés I like. And I am afraid that with the addition of Café Pom & Flora to my list of cafés I like, the pace of new entries on the blog could get even slower! But I promise to make an effort to explore new cafés. Meanwhile, you can have a look at the menu!

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Café Pom & Flora, Bondegatan 64, 11633 Stockholm (Södermalm)

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Red Pants and a Mustache: New and Improved

Well, kind of. But I am pleased to announce the launch of a new page on this blog: The Coffee Map! Designed for Stockholm residents and visitors (sorry, if you read this blog only because you think I am such a great writer, this new page won’t be of much interest to you!), it allows readers to pick a nice café near their current location. This can be extremely convenient if, for example, you are in an urgent need of good coffee in Kungsholmen and you can only remember the nice ones in Södermalm. Look at the map, identify the nearest blue marker and click on it for a full Red Pants and a Mustache description.

The page for the Coffee Map is also easily accessible from the top menu, right below the photo of Stockholm.

You’re welcome. Now it’s time for coffee!

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Warning: This Post is not about Coffee

… it’s about bragging. Well, kind of. You see, over a year ago – in April 2012 to be precise, I  said here that I had now accepted that I would never run a half marathon under two hours. Sure, it is always nice to see our times go down but I do enjoy running in itself and I did not want the pressure of performing to ruin that pleasure. Well, that was until earlier this year when I did the Paris half marathon with my girlfriend. I had been training quite hard and I was hoping to do a decent time. My girlfriend is in pretty good shape. She does all kind of sports but she had been running very little so I was not sure what to expect. On that day she finished 24 minutes ahead of me. That was a wake up call! Not because I am competitive and cannot accept being slower than her. I was, I am and I will always be. But I realized that if I wanted to keep up with her – not only running, but also hiking and any other sports – I had to step my game up. And I did. To be totally fair, I still haven’t done a half marathon under two hours. But I came damn close this time: 2h00m31s. It was a long road to get there!

2007

Belgrade half marathon: 2h26m

2009

Ottawa Army Run: 2h33m

2010

Ottawa Race weekend: 2h25m

2011

Stockholm half marathon: 2h22m

2012

Kungsholmen half marathon: 2h19m

2013

Paris half marathon: 2h18m

Kungsholmen half marathon: 2h06m

Stockholm half marathon: 2h00m

I have a bunch of friends running a half marathon next weekend, including the Army Run. Most of them are much faster than I am. But that doesn’t matter. What really matters is why are running. And most people I know run to enjoy this after the run (or similar kind of beverages!).

Have a good run all.

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