When I moved to London I was met with a new and unfamiliar greeting known as the ‘Air Kiss’. This is where you press your cheek to someone else’s, making an indistinct kiss noise near their ear before doing it again to their other cheek. For us Kiwis it can feel like quite an intimate way to say hello, but in reality the feeling you get is one of polite distance. When you meet a Swedish person they will say Hej (Hey) and then hug you, there’s not one vaguely awkward air kiss to be seen, just a lovely cuddle. For me that greeting perfectly encapsulates how I felt the entire weekend I was in Gothenburg.
I landed at Landvetter bang on time and was out the other side in less than 10 minutes to meet Martin, a former exchange student, who had lived with one of my best friends for a year during high school. Back then he had called me ‘Little Bella’ and in the 10 years since we had seen each other I hadn’t grown an inch. As it turned out, we were both of the opinion that the other hadn’t changed at all.
The best thing about going to stay with a local is the chance that they might pick you up at the airport. It almost satisfies my long-held fantasy of walking into an arrivals hall and seeing someone there to pick me up unexpectedly. Martin had borrowed his Brother’s car so I was riding in style on the wrong side of the road and doing a terrible job of navigating to the ferry terminal where we were headed out to sea.
It was a blindingly sunny day and our first port of call was a small island in the archipelago called Dyrön. Martin’s Sister, Brother in Law and their three children live there for part of the year when they aren’t in Tanzania being excellent people and helping others. We were charged with minding the three children and two of their friends for an hour while a presentation was given about the family’s work in Africa. I’m not great at this whole small humans malarky at the best of times, and these ones could speak Swahili, so it was going to be an interesting challenge. For photographic evidence of my baby handling prowess please refer to figure 1. As it turns out you can just put them on a swing and stuff them full of grapes and they won’t give you any grief (who said parenting was difficult?)
After a mad dash to the ferry we were back on the main land and headed for Martin’s Brother’s house, I was on a full tour of the family and various offspring. I said hello to more children that day and got more baby slobber on me than I had in the entire preceding year. Eventually we were back at the apartment in Johanneberg that Martin doesn’t have to share with anyone! It turns out most Swedes can afford to live alone, the idea of a flatshare as we know it is quite strange. Telling people that I shared a house with 9 others elicited exclamations of horror and surprise.
That night we headed into town to enjoy a beverage on Andra långgatan also known as ‘Second Long Street’. It’s one of three ‘long streets’ that run parallel to each other and have a reputation for being more alternative and a sure sight cheaper than other spots in town. Our first stop was Kafe Magasinet which served good beer and had a nice relaxed vibe, it’s also the place I had my first go at using Snus (pronounced Snews).
Snus is an incredibly popular product in Sweden, around half the male population are regular users and women are catching up to that figure quickly. It’s essentially tobacco in a small pouch that you hold inside your upper lip while it releases nicotine into your system. Having just read ‘What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding’ (an excellent book) I had a new philosophy, ‘you should do the thing you’re meant to do in the place you’re meant to do it’ and adhering to that meant that I had to try the thing everyone else was doing. Now the really old school kids use it loose (loose snus in the hoose, what what) but I was on the entry level mint flavoured pouch.
Depending on the environment it can have slightly different effects but I found it to be quite mellowing and fairly enjoyable once I realised you can’t smile broadly with it in your lip. We moved onto another bar called Soho and had a delicious sour blackcurrant beer from Dugges (highly recommended) before it was time for bed. Trams and buses are super convenient here and run all the time, we headed home after 2am and had no trouble grabbing one, but not before we had stopped for a falafel roll which is another specialty worth trying.
The following day was officially a sleep in day before heading to the Konstmuseet which is a great art museum at the top of the Avenue. You can see Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and Reubens, there are almost too many wonderful paintings that you can’t give every one the attention it deserves. There is also a contemporary collection with some great pieces like the giant stripper on the oscillating pole and a temporary exhibition that was a bit like a weird kitschy sex dungeon (strange but wonderful). Under 25’s go free, otherwise it’s 80SEK for entry to everything and well worth the money. There is also a ping pong table which we had a go on, I secretly feared that I had interfered with some contemporary art that I didn’t understand but hey ho we had few good rallies.
Having done ‘culture’ it was now time to get a sweat on at Klätterlabbet, an indoor climbing wall where I was to have my first go at bouldering. Bouldering is done without any ropes or harness on a lower wall with different gradients, it’s more about problem solving over short routes than taking on a mammoth climb. It was tough stuff and I was instantly a sweaty mess with chalk all over me. Martin’s coaching from the ground saw me complete a few different runs which gave me a nice sense of achievement. It also meant that I couldn’t use my arms for the following two days and I still have a crick in my neck but a really fun social activity if you’re looking for something a bit different to do.
That day we ate at a restaurant called Heaven 23 (sounds like a terrible nightclub I know) on the top floor of the Gothia Tower building. You get panoramic views of the city and a small but varied menu, Martin had prawns and I went for veal. It’s a touch more expensive than a falafel roll (about 250SEK for a main) but if you’re eating cheap the rest of the time then it’s well worth it for the fabulous view and great food.
My final night was spent drinking more Dugges lager on the roof terrace at Pigalle, a beautiful hotel, bar and restaurant completely decked out in turn of the century, Parisienne style (even the lift says Bon Voyage). We were directed here by the staff of another bar whose roof terrace was closed. It pays to check the opening hours for attractions and restaurants here, not everywhere is open all hours, especially Sundays and weekday mornings. Apparently Pigalle is where the Swedes take their Tinder dates, Tinder being the dating app of choice here and way less sleazy than the English version (might be something to do with how beautiful and lovely they all are). A drink here is a must, even if it’s just to take in the beautiful decor.
My final morning was spent cruising along the avenue with my snus in place as I browsed Nordstan (shopping mall). I was masquerading as a Swede and saying Hej hej to anyone that approached me, until they asked me a question and I had to admit I was a shameful mono-linguist. Just cruising about this city is a great way to experience it, that’s how I stumbled over my dream store Rum for Papper, which stocks the most beautiful range of paper, pens and other dreamy stationery (I bought a print of a fox as my souvenir and some sealing wax). It’s located in Victoria Passage behind the covered Saluhallen market where I was meeting Martin for a final lunch of Swedish meatballs. Lunch in here is fun and there is a help yourself set-up where you can pick your salads, bread, coffee and cake. There is a whole range of mini restaurants though so good luck choosing!
Too soon I was back on the bus to the airport and really wishing I didn’t have to go. Writing this I found it hard to be flippant about my trip because it really felt like a bit of a turning point for me. It was the first trip I had taken on my own in a long time, combined with my current reading material and that fact that I met some truly lovely people it re-ignited my fire to have more adventures and do more of the things I’m meant to do in the places I’m meant to do them. Thanks for being a goddam inspiration Göteborg.