Tandem Travel Tales: Gothenburg, Sweden

GÖTEBORG

Gothenburg is second in size and population to Stockholm and offers a variety of activities and attractions. The city is nestled on the southwestern edge of the country at the mouth of the Göta älv River which feeds into the North Sea. Offering a variety of public transit ferries, trains, and busses, Gothenburg is easy to navigate by foot. Both Brittany and I appreciate these options because they give a better feel for the city than travel by car.
As seems to be the case with many of our travels, we were fortunate enough to coincidentally overlap our visit with the annual Culturefest and EuroPride. There were venues throughout the city offering an expanse of performances along with pop-up shops and multi-cultural dining options.

Uncle Bob showing us around Red Stone.

Our window into Sweden was made even more inviting by our local host Uncle Bob. This fella has been a resident of Sweden for seventeen years, transitioning from Stockholm to Gothenburg. Currently a drummer in two local bands, Bob has roots throughout the city’s music scene. These connections truly added to our ability to experience the town as locals.

WELCOME TO SWEDEN

Arriving at Bob’s was dreamy after two nights of “sleeping” on the plane from Chicago to Gothenburg via Iceland.

Lucky for us our arrival coincided with breakfast and we were greeted with hugs, eggs, toast, jam, and cheese.
Exhausted, we took a 4-hour “nap” after breakfast to try and beat the jet lag. Around 3:00 PM, with sleep still on our minds, we went out to our explore the neighborhood.
We were able to capitalize on a new angle of the city during each of our days with Bob. Friday we went on a walking tour of the city and his studio. We bounced from one side of the river to the other by ferry and bus, having Fika at Red Stone before returning back to Bob’s flat to hang with the local crew for a beer. The following days included live music at Culturefest, catching up on sleep, and a visit to the southern archipelago.
Overall, our time in Gothenburg gave us great insight into the local culture and geography. Below is a more in-depth look at what we were able to see and experience while there.

CENTRAL STATION AND PUBLIC TRANSPORT

Central Station is a convenient hub getting you on almost any bus, train, or tram in the city. Our feet actually had their first point of contact to Gothenburg here at the Nils Ericson Bus Terminal where we arrived by bus from the airport. Starting here you can get information, maps, and direction to anywhere in the area.
The station offers a variety of ways to buy into the transport. Brittany and I chose to buy three-day passes for $20.74 each. These passes were good for all local buses, trams, and ferries. It made the most sense for us so we could just pop out of Bob’s flat, jump on a bus or tram, and connect right into the whole network.

A view of Central Station before our final departure.

All and all, there is little need for a car in Gothenburg. In fact, the city is in the process of tearing out a significant portion of roads to make space for a controversial, underground transit tunnel. As we were told by many locals, car commuting here is next to impossible because everything is constantly at a standstill. Once commuters make their way into the city it is next to impossible to make your way back out. Overall, the ease of access we had to the city by foot and public transport was top notch. Nice work, Gothenburg.

GROCERIES AND LOCAL SPECIALTIES

I always enjoy getting a little perspective on the culture of a new place by stopping into a grocery or any nearby market. To my delight, the first grocery we visited in Gothenburg had a fantastic selection of pickled herring, otherwise known as sill. Having been lucky enough to develop a taste for this unusual delicacy as a youngster, (Thanks, dad!) I was excited to find myself in a spot known for the world’s best selection of sill. If you’re skeptical you should start with the standard Löksill, made with white vinegar, sugar, and onion, and pair it with a Pilsner.


Little Brittany sizing up the langoustine.

Beyond the huge selection of pickled fish, there were all sorts of seafood salads, freshly baked bread, cheeses, and cured meats. Most common of the salads were shrimp or crawfish with copious amounts of mayonnaise. The produce was beautiful and fresh, but also carried a little more than the midwestern price tag.
As self-proclaimed foodies on a budget, we often use grocery stores to grab snackable treats. My favorite go-to is a fresh loaf of bread some sort of local specialty. It’s a cheap, delicious picnic on-the-go.

A view of Gothenburg from above.

If you’re looking to explore high-end offerings at a large city market that has been around since 1888, be sure to stop by the Saluhallen. Brittany and I happened along this gem while taking a little walking detour. Walking from booth to booth you’ll find butchers, tea shops, cheesemongers, cured meats, delicatessen goods, bakeries, sweet treats, and more. We ended up leaving with a cured chorizo from Sarah’s Deli. Before visiting make sure to check out their hours before you go because they close between 5:00 PM and 6:00 PM on weekdays, and 3:00 PM on Saturdays.
Also be sure to keep an eye out for the Swedish cinnamon buns, known as Kanelbullar. These tasty treats are a great choice with coffee or just as an afternoon snack. That mysterious spice you’ll taste is actually cardamom. And based on our experiences, I might recommend sharing because most of the Kanelbullar you’ll find in local bakeries are huge.

Having a beer with Bob and the crew.

Aside from cinnamon buns, we are also always on the lookout for local beer. So we were initially confused by the lack of alcohol available in grocery stores and soon learned that aside from a small selection of alcohol-free and table beers, Sweden only sells alcohol at state stores called Systembolaget. Here you’ll find a broad selection of European beer, a bounty of Swedish organic beer, fine wines, and worldly liquors. Each beer will set you back roughly $1-$5. Our favorite discovery was Mariestads Dunkel, but there is definitely something available for everyone.

FESKEKÖRKA, AKA THE FISH CHURCH

Now serving as a hub for regional seafood, The Fish Church was originally designed as a place of worship. Both fresh and prepared goods are offered here by a spectrum vendors. We were able to assemble an ala carte meal just the way we wanted for about a quarter of what it would have cost to enjoy a sit-down meal at one of the three in-house restaurants. On the menu were langoustine, shrimp salad, bread, and a Pilsner. Just outside the front doors were small tables and canal-side seating available to anyone.

A look at The Fish Church.

My one regret is passing up the opportunity to try the most notorious Swedish delicacy, surströmming. This elusive food is known to have perhaps most repulsive aroma of any in the world. The can itself shows stresses of the fermentation bubbling within. Internal pressure can become so high that cans of surströmming have been known to explode on airplanes. It’s true, those unique opportunities that you pass up will occasionally make you wonder.

HAGA

With the tagline “cosy shopping and fika since 1648,” almost any visit to Gothenburg will surely lead you to the Haga district. Easily accessible by foot, bus, or tram, Haga sits southwest of the city center. It should take less than 10 minutes by tram to arrive from Central Station.
While this charming neighborhood is now filled with an array of inviting cafes, pubs, and shops, it was originally established as Gothenburg’s first suburb before later becoming a worker’s quarter. The winding cobblestone streets along with the architecture kept us happily walking about enjoying the sights.

Apple pie, kanelbullar, and coffee for fika in Haga.</span

Our initial walkthrough was on a sleepy Monday evening, but we were struck by the buildings and how perfectly they characterized the streets. One that particularly caught our attention was Cafe Kringlan. Looking extra cozy with seats lining both sides of the walk, we returned the next day for fika. The display mixed with aromas of coffee and baked treats was enough to draw us in. This was our second encounter with Kanelbullar and our first run in with homemade apple pie and whipped cream. There are few better opportunities to relax while people watching.

THE SOUTHERN ARCHIPELAGO

The western coast of Sweden is studded with a network of beautifully rounded stone islands known as the Archipelago of Gothenburg. Separated into the northern and southern archipelagos, we decided it was the perfect day trip for a Sunday afternoon. On a tastefully overcast day, Brittany, Bob, his friend Marie, and I set out for our island adventure. The journey was approximately 25-30 minutes by tram from Central Station to the western ferry port.

Starting our journey around Vrångö. 

The beauty of the Västtrafik public transportation system is its inclusion of bus, tram, and ferry transportation. From here we were able to use our 3-day transportation pass to ferry out to the southernmost island. Like most of the archipelago, Vrångö hosts local residents as well as walking trails, cafes, and bountiful waterfront views.
On the western harbor of Vrångö is a lovely little eatery and fish market called Fiskboa. Here Bob treated us to a wonderful lunch complete with our first taste of Swedish shrimp salad and smoked mackerel. To top it off they sold their own pickled herring that we purchased for later.

Little Brittany making her way up the rocks.

From here the journey got a little hectic. Brittany accidentally dropped the herring container on the ground, cracking the container and spilling a lot of the pickling liquid on the ground. But stubborn and insistent, she carried the open container the entire 90-minute journey back to Uncle Bob’s. We almost missed the ferry and were banished to the ferry deck because we smelled like pickled fish. What can you do?
So we thought it appropriate to create a delicious Thai curry soup for the evening as a thank you to our wonderful host.

GÖTEBORG CULTURE FEST AND EUROPRIDE

Little did we know when booking our initial flights that we were going to overlapping with Gothenburg’s EuroPride Festival. I think it’s always a treat to be a part of a city’s grand event that showcases diversity and multicultural acceptance. Our first day in town we couldn’t help but walk through a portion of the festival where we encountered the smiles and happy faces you’d hope to find.

EuroPride signage in Gothenburg.

The energy around the first band was fun and uplifting. We were able to slow down and bask in the company of our newly found peers, a travel tactic we are working to improve. It has proven beneficial to change our mindsets from chasing after an experience to enjoying the experience right in front of us.
The capstone to our Culturefest experience was watching Uncle Bob’s band, Wolf Men Jaxx, belt out some Tom Waits tunes paired with the punk rockers, Rivjärn, that headlined after them. After leaving the show we popped out into the rain and saw a giant crowd dancing to Boy George and an Aretha Franklin tribute. We caught a glimpse of the show then turned to go have a friendly brew to commemorate Bob’s performance.

HAVING A BITE

As a traveler in a new city, it can be overwhelming to find the perfect dining experience. Budget, atmosphere, cuisine, and location all play a significant role in Brittany and I’s decisions. Sometimes you have to retrace your steps and sometimes you just get lucky! We happened to have Ölstugan Tullen, Uncle Bob’s corner pub. With a great little menu of reasonably priced Swedish favorites and a wide selection of beers to pair for any occasion, this local spot it a great place to dine out or meet with friends for a pint. The cozy atmosphere will keep you coming back.

A view of the town from the top of a hill.

If you’re out late having a little fun, there are an assortment of corner stands and food carts offering a satisfying bite. One such stand, Greken i Stan, offers the Gothenburg staple “hel special”. This treat consists of two hot dogs topped with mashed potatoes, ketchup, mustard, and a mayo-based relish. Perhaps not the most dainty dish, this handful is surely satisfying and fairly priced!
Just looking for a sandwich? Don’t pass up 7/11. You hear a lot about their popularity in Southeast Asia, but we didn’t realize that this would be the quickest, cheapest place to consistently grab a snack or coffee. For just two or three dollars you can grab a toastie or coffee and continue on your way.

One of the 3 rooms of candy at 4 Gotti.

Last but not least, we can’t forget the candy. It’d be an understatement to say that Sweden has a sweet tooth. There was a local spot, 4 Goti, just across from Bob’s place and it was loaded with every kind of candy you could ever want. Gummies, chocolate, sours, licorice, and more, it’s all by weight so just take a few of everything you like and come back for more later.

OUR TAKEAWAY

It’s easy to be starstruck when stepping into a new city. My thought is to always enjoy the moment, but also be sure to get to know the local culture and current events. There are surely going to be places where you need to mind your valuables or your safety, but with the proper planning and awareness of your surroundings, you shouldn’t need to worry about a thing.
Transportation hubs and late night tourist spots make for easy targets and eager opportunists. Uncle Bob saved us from a potential pickpocket while grabbing a late night bite at Greken I Stan. We also witnessed some shifty behavior nearly Central Station while listening to beautiful electric guitar covers of Metallica and Led Zeppelin. But don’t let worry cloud your experience. Enjoy those moments of wonder and take the opportunity to sit and enjoy your surroundings as they are new to you. Your first taste of a place can never be replicated.

Taking the ferry across the river.

Also be sure to make time for spontaneity. Letting the day’s or week’s schedule evolve naturally gives a city the opportunity to show you shining, unexpected moments. Know that you can’t expect to see it all, nor can you expect to bottle the whole experience in a photo. I constantly remind myself that there are a series of moments that can be treasured and appreciated without documentation.
Some of my favorite memories are those unexpected moments. Watching a shy individual light up after Brittany told them that she liked their dress at the bus stop. Sharing stories with new company at Bob’s flat over beer and cheese. Wandering into a hip hop dance off at EuroPride. The cozy ferry ride out to Vrångö. Fikka in the Haga. Though I can recall countless other special moments, these stick out to me.

A look at some of the construction dominating Gothenburgs roads.

Also unexpected, there were more than 100 car fires around the time we were in Gothenburg. They couldn’t seem to find the culprits and it was creating a lot of frustration amongst the population. A housing shortage continues to grow and a large divide is being wedged between not only the classes but also the Swedish population and the refugees. Combined with the controversial tunnel digging and a number of other current event, Gothenburg residents are frustrated and are planning to take to the polls in coming weeks to share their opinions.
Overall, we have learned that it really boils down to good intentions and being an engaged part of your surroundings. Whether living life in a central location or passing through, people are reactive and receptive to communication and good intentions. We have already been fortunate enough to be the recipients of so much kindness from others. Spending time with Uncle Bob was the perfect way to test the Scandinavian waters and we are so thankful for such an opportunity. My hope is that we continue to add smiles anywhere we visit and create a little good throughout.
In the meantime, here are some bloopers:
  • Don’t listen to the hype about MAX Burger. It tastes like Rally’s.
  • Pickpockets are real, even in Sweden.
  • Pickled herring is meant to be carried, not dropped. No one likes a smelly fish friend.
  • Seagulls will always want your langoustine.
  • Don’t use your hippie laundry soap to stain treat. It has oil in it and will stain your clothes.
Keep Moving Forward,
Steve

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