On the quickest country visit of my entire world tour, I spent three whole days in Sweden. More specifically I was in its “second city,” Goteborg (Gothenburg in English). It’s kinda like our ‘second city’ of Chicago which is coincidentally a sister city to Gothenburg.
Three days is very quick for me considering I was in Turkey for 3 months, Australia for 2 months, and Spain for 2 months. But in these short 72 hours (of mostly darkness) I was able to see that I really like it there. So, let’s review. What do we (stereotypically) know about Sweden? ABBA, IKEA, H&M, (they like ‘letter’ names), Volvo, and, unless we are too drunk to remember, Absolut Vodka. These are some pretty big, and successful exports… yes, you know it’s true, even ABBA.
Another first for me on my trip… I was actually picked up at the airport by friends. How sweet is that? My new Swedish friends, who I’d met just over a month earlier at the beach in Nerja, Spain live in Goteborg and were the main reason I was here (and the 1 cent-plus-tax flight I scored on Ryanair to fly to Sweden from Madrid). Piotr and Johan greeted me with open arms and smiles in the super-tiny Gothenburg City Airport and we drove into town passing the inversely massive and famous Volvo headquarters and plant. I was staying with Paula, who I also met in Nerja, as her first ‘official’ Couchsurfer. Although, it was probably more ‘unofficial’ since we were already friends. Paula is a fun and funky chick who spends most of her time being a jewelry artist.
The people of Goteborg that I met were very friendly and down to earth. They dress for the bitter cold weather and not for fashion. They ride their bikes to work. And nearly all the windows I peered into and Paula’s apartment itself really did look like the pages of an Ikea catalog. Well, it’s not odd actually that Paula’s place did, because she actually won a contest a few years back and they came in and gave her pad an ‘Ikea extreme home makeover.’ It is hard to miss the strong, clean design sensibility of Sweden’s Functionalist movement all over the city—in people’s homes, restaurant design, and a lot of the modern building facades.
But the word “quaint” also has to describe some of Gothenburg’s cobblestone streets lined with warm, cozy cafes almost all with candle-lit lanterns out front flanking the doorways and white electric light ‘candles’ in the windows.
What a great place to not have a job and laze the day away at a café with a warm coffee and tasty toasted sandwich. You know I’m a sucker for cafes and a good sandwich… so Gothenburg stole my heart at first bite.
Hat-topped residents rode by on their bikes while moms pushed strollers of their bundles of joy down the old-time streets right out of a Pippi Longstocking book. It was nearly a picture perfect Christmas shopping scene. And, yes, the cold added to the Christmas feel… something I missed last year at the beach during Australia’s Christmas summer days.
And it was dark. During the winter it pretty much gets dark here just after 3pm. And, it was gray. I have to admit I did not see the sun once the entire time I was here. But, on the flip side, they tell me that in summer it never really gets dark here. Not sure I’d like that either. I kinda like going out at night… in the dark. There’s something cool about a dark night sky and city lights to give you the excitement of the night’s possibilities as you hit the town.
We drank glögg (the traditional Swedish mulled wine), ate tasty herring in cream sauce and salmon and crunched on Wasa crisp bread. But we did NOT listen to ABBA and we did NOT have any meatballs, Swedish or otherwise. In fact, I think nearly every Swede I met was a vegetarian, so perhaps today’s Swedish meatballs are Tofuballs anyway.
We discussed the complex differences between the common animals of Sweden: the deer, reindeer, elk and the official national animal, the real Bullwinkle himself, the moose. And as I left Paula gave me one of the most original gifts I’ve ever received in my entire life… some authentic moose pellets. Yes, that’s moose turd. Charlie Brown’s got nothing on me. Maybe ‘all he got was a rock,’ but I got shit. Authentic shit straight from Sweden.