The marvel that is travelling. Recently, I traveled to northern Europe and it is an experience I strongly recommend to anyone, who is over the hippie-ish lifestyle and is not expecting the “barefoot dancing locals offering dragon fruit” experience. This is completely different.
At first sight, Gothenburg is not a cosmopolitan city. It is a harbor, an industrial city and proud of it. You can’t really get a sightseeing tour in the traditional way, but you can feel the vibe. It is the only place in the small percentage of the world that I have travelled, that, as soon as I got off the airport, I called my mother and told her “I never want to leave this place”. But first, I have to explain a few things.
I am not a “tourist” in the traditional sense and I dislike everything that this word connotates – museums and antiquities excluded. I will walk the walk if I have to, but I would not go the world famous cafe in the hyped area; I would much rather walk towards the suburbs where I can observe the locals going on about their everyday lives. And this is why I loved Gothenburg; because the air bears no touristic fanfares. You can fake being a local -and persuade yourself-, even for the few days that you are there, and if you want to see how Swedes spend their days, Gothenburg is the city that nakedly displays its locals’ everyday lives. In a few words, you are welcome.
The city is on the west side of Sweden, doused by the North Sea, separated by the river Göta, covered by thick clouds and caressed by strong winds. It is Sweden’s second largest city and the most industrial, populated by the old working class. You can walk from the slated narrow streets filled with cafes to the overwhelming cathedrals, from large parks to long squares and commercial streets and finally gaze at the industrial buildings and equipment on the other side of the river – an aesthetic footprint I find a very good fit with mine.
It’s a Wednesday evening and the town is alive, with young people sipping bear, in a carefree way that is very different from the stereotypes constructed by us, southern europeans. Swedes are not cold: they are hardworking and servile, cheered up and with long smiles, without being fake or plastic. They know how to have a good time without destroying everything around them and -oh the horror- they know how to relax in a cafe with a cinnamon bun and good company and forget about the everyday commotion for an hour. In general, they know boundaries well, without meaning that they are deprived of any “passion” as you might call it – or immaturity, as I would.
Contrary to the city center, which was bright, lively and carefree, from the tram driver to the Subway cashier, my accommodation was in a quiet suburb consisting of 10 blocks, surrounded by the Scandinavian forest. The window lights of the student buildings would on and off at odd hours, the jogging student was more than eager to pause his run, take off his earbuds, give directions in perfect English and ask me where I’m from. The responded to my answer by saying that he has been to, and is able to namedrop, more islands that I have and that this year he is going to the “main city”.
Just to skip the part where we all break down and cry, I will deliberately skip the fact that everything, from your McD’s cheeseburger to the trains, trams and busses are so punctual, that you can plan your day with a minute by minute precision.
Finally, if you look at that grey sky and get somewhat melancholic, I get all sorts of feelings of coziness. I want to stay at home on a Saturday morning, with my drapes open and my cat on my lap on my puffy couch, sip on my hot coffee and nimble on a kanelbulle, and watch The Simpsons on cable tv. Cross your fingers for me.
*First published in rouamat.com, 2014