Sweden is a place that I had been looking forward to visiting since I found out I was Swedish, so naturally I was excited as our train carried us from the fjords of Norway to the forests of Sweden. We were greeted at Göteborg Central Station by my distant cousin, Morgan, and his wife Lisbeth. They are two of the most genuine and warm people we have ever met, and we were extremely fortunate that they owned a flat near the city center that we could use as a home base for our adventures. Speaking of, these are some of the things we enjoyed while in the city:
Family. The main reason for coming to Göteborg was that I have a second cousin (2 generations removed) living there. In the late 1800s to early 1900s, over a million Swedes emigrated for reasons ranging from famine to finances. Many made their way to the US (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois) and my great-great Grandparents, Martin and Anna, along with their three children, were some of them. Morgan’s grandfather and Martin’s brother, August, stayed in Sweden, thus keeping that part of the family in Göteborg. Morgan and Lisbeth took us on a tour of the city (to include where Martin lived for a period of time) that ended at their son’s house east of Göteborg, where we had a great home cooked meal and delightful conversation. This was a day I will not soon forget.
Fortress. North of Göteborg is the Bohus Fortress. Construction originally began in the 1300s but the fortress was primarily used between the 17th and 18th centuries and was established along the existing border between Norway in Sweden. During its time it saw 14 sieges and was controlled by Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. In the late 1700s, the fortress was falling into ruin, and the town voted to dismantle it, even allowing townspeople to take stones from the bulwarks for their gardens. This was halted in the mid 1800s by the king, who desired to preserve the fortress. While heavily restored, they have done a great job at keeping it similar to how it would have appeared while in use (sans the toilets, snack shack, and elevator).
Fjällbacka. This town nestled along the west coast of Sweden is the Scandinavia you see in books. With its fire engine red houses alongside attached piers, the obligatory church on the hill, and tasty coffee and pastry shops, this gem is pure Sweden. The draw to this town (in addition to the boat rides, kayaking, and bike riding) is the small flat-topped mountain (though not quite a mesa) that the town encircles. Through a narrow cleft (where boulders above made us slightly nervous) and up a few stairs led us to the top where we received stunning views of the city and islands beyond.
Fika. As Jacquie and I are fans of coffee and snacks, this Swedish tradition was right up our alley. Fika is the act of taking a break for a coffee and some conversation among friends. Needless to say, we took fika many times, but arguably the best in Göteborg came in the Haga (pronounced ho-ga) district, which is one of the oldest ares of the city. There, we indulged in a cinnamon roll (which are made with cardamom–genius) as big as our heads at Cafe Husaren and walked around the neighborhood that used to house the town’s guards and military members in its barracks. This is just another arm of Göteborg’s rich outdoor cafe culture, which we thoroughly enjoyed.
Ferries. About a 30 minute tram ride from the city center lie multiple piers for ferries heading out to the islands in the archipelago west of Göteborg. There are hundreds of islands in Göteborg’s archipelago, and the ferries can get you to some in just 10 minutes. Many of these islands serve as locations for summer homes, military bases, recluses, or nothing at all, and most in the southern archipelago do not allow full sized cars, or motorized vehicles whatsoever. We had a great time hopping around on the islands and getting away from the clamor of the city, as they truly operate at a different pace.
Having spent over a week in Göteborg, we passed the last few of our Swedish days in Stockholm staying at the home of our friend, Petter. Stockholm is a city with a long history and the buildings (churches!) to prove it. The Gamla Stan area was a nice spot to wander, being the old town neighborhood of the city. Milticolored apartment buildings connect into long rows and tower over cobblestone streets as wide as a compact car. It’s rather easy to get lost there, which we didn’t really mind.
Just across the water from Gamla Stan lies an island that is home to the Vasa ship museum. The ship sank only 1000 yards into its maiden voyage due to it being disproportionately tall. A gust of wind caused her to heel and water rushed in through her gun ports, causing her to sink within minutes. Lucky for the historical community, she sank in brackish water and in deep mud, which did a fantastic job of preserving her. When they raised her in 1961, they were able to recover 98% of her original equipment, and after a 17 year shower of polyethylene glycol to replace the water in the wood, she was restored to near-original condition. We spent over 2 hours in the museum and easily could have spent double that had we not had a previous engagement scheduled.
Stockholm claims 22,000 islands in, around, and out from the city, with the city center being situated on 14 of them. Petter figured that the best way for us to see them would be by kayak! We were able to get up next to the city center and it was great seeing buildings from a perspective many don’t get as we paddled our way through the waterways around the town. My shoulders are still sore, as I don’t think I’ve kayaked that much since living in Japan five years ago, but the weather, the city, and the company made it all worthwhile.
For me, family is extremely important, no matter how many miles or generations between us. Seeing and spending time with family has been the most memorable and valuable experience I have had in the short time we’ve been traveling. I truly cannot wait to come back, or better yet, repay the favor when they come to visit us back home!