Chilly was the word when we arrived at Landvetter airport to slip slidey snow, but our views of Gothenburg soon changed.
It is, like most places, much lovelier when the sky is blue, as it was for two of our three days, an added bonus. It’s a lively but largely safe-feeling city, with trams, an archipelago, and neoclassical architecture. The Lonely Planet calls it ‘grassroots Gothenburg’ and the cap fits, for the people make the place. There are some very beautiful parts, but like all cities, there are the real places where people live, like the suburbs of Frolunde, with its flats, car parks and shopping centre, or the skatepark area near the Ullevi stadium (built in 1958) which is 1980 square metres of concrete and designed for skateboarding, inline skating and BMX, among others disciplines. A wander round there definitely felt like a trip back to the literal concretisation of the 1960s. It wasn’t pretty but nor was it scary. It was grey.
We stayed at the hotel Lorensberg in the cultural area of the city, handy for airport transfer buses, and the excellent tram system, handy for the Universeum (science centre, aquarium, rainforest, etc) with wonderfully friendly staff all smiley and speaking perfect English. It is something of an art hotel, which added to its charm, decorated with over 100 wall paintings by Lars Gillis.
There is plenty to see, with a variety of drinking places, and eateries, too, such as the opulent Dorsia (eye-watering prices in the luxury of the Belle Epoch atmosphere) to the very wonderful Seralj offering classic and modernised Turkish cuisine, which also has a spa. My vegetarian meze and baklava dessert were extremely tasty and beautifully presented.
What did I learn about Gothenburg? Well, on the downside, the air was pretty cold and dry, which played havoc with my (apparently sensitive) skin. I may look a little Nordic but I’m not tough enough to stand the pace of the cold and wind on my face and hands. That aside, Swedes seem very helpful. They smile a great deal, and seem chilled, even at their busiest. They say: “that’s perfect” a lot. They also seem much taller than me, but that’s not difficult. Perhaps all the walking also keeps them fit, because you can really clock up the steps in the city. They are keen to chat; wherever you go, people are happy to engage in conversation, and give out useful information. Generally, their customer service is good, and they seem pleased to have visitors, from hotel staff trained in hospitality to bus drivers. It seems Gothenburg is largely a cashless economy. My Krona were pretty much defunct, and I brought most home with me. Card is king, and cashless reigns, even in bars.
Places to see depends upon your preferences, obviously, but I loved the Konstmuseet, which holds works by Scandinavian artists but also Rembrandt, Picasso, Rubens, Van Gogh and the Impressionists. As our friend, Allen, told us, the statue outside of Poseidon, caused a stir, given his ‘over-endowment’, especially when viewed from the side. There are six floors of art to enjoy, which is a total treat. The botanical gardens would be beautiful at another time of year. Lilla Bommen (the lipstick) also affords superb views. It’s like an 82m lego house (thanks Ed) and we enjoyed a chat with the lovely, heavily pregnant receptionist on her last day. Curious to know if her unborn child will be Alexander (her choice) or Vincent (her partner’s).
Gothenburg is very clean (some graffiti, like everywhere) and the churches (mainly Church of Sweden) tend to be open, welcoming and warm. Oscar Fredriks is one fine example, linking in well with a visit to the Skansen Krona (bit of a hill, be warned, or steps) and the charming old neighbourhood of Haga, with wooden houses, shops and cafes. The waterside yields more interesting sites, and the opera house is also impressive.
The highlight of our visit was probably a trip out in the dark to the Swedish castle, TJOLÖHOLMS SLOTT, dating from the Arts and Crafts movement. In a modernised Tudor style, I as suggested as an evening outing by our host and was amazing. It’s also but a short walk to the beach, which in moonlight, with stars, gently lapping water, and something of a sunset happening is utterly magical.
So, go to Gothenburg? Surely. Cheap flights, too. Perfect.