...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Monday, June 02, 2008

48 hours in Gothenburg

Hello! The title above might help you guess why I hadn't been writing in the blog for a week. We were out in the west coast for the weekend, in Sweden's second largest city Göteborg (also called in English and German as Gothenburg). We didn't have much plans and expectations when we got there, but the city weekend turned out to be both hectic and lively anyway. We were up and walking for most of the tour and went home with tired feet, a total of 8 hours of sleep in two days, and ... sunburn! (It was record hot at 28 degrees C)

You say Gothenburg, I say Göteborg

What's special about Gothenburg (which I will call Göteborg from now on) is that used to be a big shipbuilding town. Before most of the ship building companies closed down in the 70's (a shipbuilding crisis where it became much cheaper to produce ships abroad), hundreds of ships were built in an island just across the city, where only two shipbuilding companies still exist today. They only repair, not build ships here nowadays. However, Göteborg still remains to be a large port town where ships come from South America every Saturday and unload, among other things, the Nordic countries' weekly supply of bananas.

Göteborg was also an important Swedish gateway to the east and west. The Swedish East India Company was founded here in the 18th century, and Göteborg was the first Scandinavian city to have regular ties with New York. Understandably, ships and seafood are major parts of the Göteborg city culture. Seafood restaurants, sushi bars, and fish stores abound and canals run through the city, contributing to a maritime feel. Seafood is cheaper than it is in the east (Baltic) coast – a really good reason to visit this place!

Cosmopolitan without the pretentiousness – and great food!

What strikes me about Göteborg is how relaxed the atmosphere is despite the big-city looks. It's cosmopolitan without being snobby, urban without being too impersonal. Upon arriving, we headed for this place called Super Sushi (Drottninggatan 50) which we heard a lot about on the internet: unbelievably cheap and large sushi served in a small, almost hole-in-the-wall cafeteria. Here both the waitresses and most of the customers spoke in heavily foreign-accented Swedish, the miso soup is self-service from a big pot and the menu on the wall was written with a pink highlighter. Yet, even fashionably dressed men and women ate here. Customers – Swedes, immigrants and tourists alike – of all classes and manner of dress came and went like it was lunch time although it was already past 2PM. We blended in the strangely Chinatown-like atmosphere with the common goal of getting cheap, big chow. Nobody even minded that the place was small and rice delivery men passed in and out the door.

Lunch on Day 2 was at a Danish steakhouse chain called Jensens Bøfhus (Nordstad), where I was again surprised at the relaxedness of the experience. In my almost 3 years in Sweden, I've been quite used to getting either cheap food without too much service (i.e. stand-in-line types), or good service with expensive food (i.e. overpriced formal restaurant types), but this was neither. Prices were cheap, service was terrific, toilets were clean, and for 2 seconds I even thought I was back in Manila because I thought that this is how a restaurant should be. A lunch steak with sauce and potatoes is between 78 to 99 kronor – about half as expensive as a steak lunch in other places – but in a restaurant that looks tasteful, is air-conditioned, and uses only Victorinox steak knives.

If you think this kind of authenticity just belongs in lunch chains, you'd be surprised to find out how relaxed the atmosphere is even in supposedly snobby evening places. On the night of Day 2, we went to a hotel bar called Heaven 23 (Korsvägen), so called because the sky bar that affords a great view of Göteborg is on the 23rd floor. The atmosphere and architecture were chic and ultra-modern and I'm sure that there would have been an unspoken, if not written, dress code here had it been another city. In contrast, the people who hung out here were a mixed crowd: party clothes people, evening dress people, and everyday clothes folk. There was no need to dress like teenagers to feel that one belonged there, and in fact the bar also had people of different ages. Just the thought of bar-hopping past parental age would be unthinkable in Manila (and I don't doubt, in other places too), but here it seemed perfectly normal that gray-haired men and women sat beside trendy youngsters in a hip bar.

Besides this, storekeepers and people on the street strike conversations with you, which some might think strange of a big city. People are friendly and you really feel that they have time to waste for a chat. But at the same time, as a tourist here, you seem to blend with the crowd like a native, as opposed to being a tourist in Stockholm and constantly being bombarded by one touristy thing after the other.

48 hours of city life – 40 of them waking hours

Before the Göteborg trip, we had an idea to simply let our feet and stomachs do the planning for us, but there were so many interesting things we wanted to see that we ended up being on our feet for most of the time anyway. Thankfully, Göteborg offers a similar card to the Stockholm Card, called the Göteborg Pass. We needed this anyway to travel to and from the suburbs where we stayed over. Of course, we ended up making the most of it because holders get free entrance to most tourist attractions and museums, as well as free public transportation for 1 or 2 days, depending on which card you buy. Remember when I said that the Stockholm Card should have food discounts? My wish came true with the Göteborg Pass. If you buy the card from the tourist office (at Avenyn), you get booklets containing shopping- and food-discount coupons.

Day 1: Sushi lunch at Super Sushi (53 kronor for a 8 gigantic pieces); a short trip to Liseberg, which is Scandinavia's biggest theme park; Czech beer at a bar called Respekt (Järntorget, 47 kronor for a beer), hopping over to another bar called Skål (Vasastan, 54 for a mojito); and "dinner" at a street kitchen called Vasa grillen.

Dinner was a Göteborg classic. It's official name is "Hel special" (Whole Special) but it also goes with the nickname "Göteborgare" (a "Gothenburger"): two sausages on a bun topped with mashed potatoes and drizzled with ketchup and mustard. I just had to have it in Göteborg, but I ordered a "Halv special" or a "Halv göteborgare", which only has one sausage in it. Order a "Stockholmare" (a "Stockholmer"), and they give you a chocolate drink.

Day 2: Woke up at 6:30, had breakfast, was in town by 8. Ferry to Älvbogs fästning, an island fortress outside of the city (trip leaves from Lilla Bommen); short visit to Feskekôrka ("The Fish Church"), which is a famous fish market in the shape of a cathedral; lunch at Jensens Bøfhus; a long and fascinating trip to Maritiman, a floating ship museum of 19 different ships (highly recommended!)

(Day 2, continued): fika at 7-11 (Kungsgatan 50. Beware, they try to fool you into buying a big coffee with a coupon that actually says you can have any coffee of your choice in order to get the free cinnamon bun); McDonald's sundae under the sun along one of the canals; taking a "Paddan" guided boat tour along the canals and under bridges – another tourist classic in Göteborg; an outdoor shrimp picnic at the suburb we were staying in; whisky at Heaven 23 (a whopping 76 kronor for 4 cl).

(Day 2, continued still): accompanying our friend to an Irish pub called The Flying Scotsman, and another English pub called Dubliner. We didn't drink in the pubs. The music was horrible and we were so terribly tired from the day's events. People-watching was the hobby that kept me awake. It was both HBT week and graduation week and the whole of Avenyn (the main street) was as full of people as it is in daytime. How so many people can go bar-hopping all at the same time is unbelievable. We caught the tram back "home" at 2:30 – and in this time of the year, that meant that the sun was already rising. The tram, incredibly, was full!

Day 3: Struggling to get up at 7:20. A short breakfast; in town by 9 and into Husaren, a café popular for its cinnamon buns that are literally as big as dinner plates (35 for a bun); trip to Universeum, a nature- and science museum that has a glassed-in tropical house as well as gigantic aqauriums containing fish and shark (highly recommended as well!); a discounted BigMac meal at McDonalds before the bus back to Linköping.

Including the trip expenses, the Göteborg Pass, all meals, groceries, and alcohol (which is, as you probably know by now, expensive in Sweden), this city weekend only cost 1,325 kronor a person!

P.S. How to get there

From Norrköping, Göteborg is about 3 hours by train (with train changes) and 5 hours by bus if you take Swebus. There is however, a cheap-and-fast alternative nowadays provided by this excellent new bus company, Bus4You, that offers trips between Stockholm and Göteborg.

The bus stops at Linköping, and from there it only takes 3 hours more to Göteborg in a very comfortable bus with 3 large seats per row. They have internet onboard, electricity outlets, adjustable leg rests, a clean toilet, and a coffee machine – all for half the price of a train ride – and you don't even have to change trains! Really, the train prices here are ridiculous!

Pictures are already posted at Multiply. Click on these links to see the Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 pictures. I also have some pictures here in Blogger, in this entry.


Anonymous Lara said...

you just inspired me to plan our summer trip meticulously so we get the best without spending too much on food. :-D

where can i find good resto reviews anyway?

10:46 AM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

When we toured Stockholm, I spent about two weeks planning how to get the most out of the Stockholm Card (we were three people and all wanted to see different things). This Gothenburg trip was a bit less planned-out actually. Basically, we started out with a few things we wanted to see and then just built it up along the way!

We don't look at one specific restaurant review site. I usually Google "billig lunch Stockholm" or something like that. For this trip, we wanted to eat seafood so the search items were something like "Göteborg äta fisk", "Göteborg billig sushi" or similar. Remember to look at the Google Blogsearch -- sometimes residents of the city write about their favorite lunch places! And of course, it depends on what you want to eat. I mean you could always Google "bra pizza Göteborg" or something like that :-)

I find that some restaurant review sites are unhelpful and some don't really have the price written down. It's better with forums and blogs -- start from there and if something catches your attention, you can always go to the restaurant website to check out their menu and prices.

Happy planning!

7:44 PM

Anonymous Lara said...

great ideas...thanks, joy!

btw, we are set to be in norrköping on the afternoon of july 7 (monday) until the next day. we have booked a room already.

will you be around the area then?

8:11 AM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

We'll be here then, as far as we know :-) I'll keep you posted!

8:40 PM

Blogger Christianne said...

I agree, resto reviews are usually biased and focus on the wrong restos (i.e. the expensive ones)

Edward has relatives in Gothenburg and actually lived there for 3 years but we've never visited yet, as usual naunahan mo ako :D

9:33 AM

Blogger Tim Findlay said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:56 PM


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