About six years ago, I went to Sweden for the first time. My girlfriend at the time was from there and had moved back home for the summer, and I found the time to go and visit her there for a long weekend. Then something I did not expect to happen happened: I fell in love with the place.
I don’t quite know exactly what it is about Sweden I like so much, I guess it’s just the different flow of life there and the general vibe. The people there are really friendly and it’s a lot cleaner than London.
So recently when I decided it was time to get away from London for a few days, Sweden called to me again. I’ve been pretty skint lately, but I still had the money my Grandmother left me and I had always planned to use that to get away somewhere for a few days, maybe a week. I considered many places; the Basque country looked nice and was fairly close, also there was Prague, Amsterdam, Berlin, or even Portugal where I went a couple of years ago and really enjoyed. But what swung it for me was the fact that I had friends in Sweden and can speak quite good Swedish. Also, after returning from my last trip I realised that it was the only place I’ve ever been that I could see myself living one day. So I decided to go back and see if I still felt the same, six years on.
So I booked a flight to Gothenburg, a train from there to Stockholm and then a flight back from there to Stansted. I’d never been to Stockholm before and even when I’d been to Gothenburg I’d spent most my time at people’s houses and not really doing any of the touristy stuff.
I managed to wake up at 3am, something that is not easy for me. Most nights I haven’t even gone to bed by that time. This feat was made even more impressive by the fact that earlier in the day I’d walked all the way home from Oxford Circus due to the tube strike and also had only managed to get about 2 hours’ sleep. However, I made the train to the airport and got to the check-in desk nearly a full 2 hours before my flight was due to leave.
With all that time to spare, I was hoping to grab a bit of duty free booze and maybe grab a bite to eat in the departure lounge, however this was not the case as I was forced to queue up for 30 minutes at check-in and then another 45 minutes at passport control, meaning I then had to sprint to the gate. I just about made it in time and although I was one of the last passengers on the plane, I managed to find a window seat which was a bonus. I know that clouds aren’t that interesting once you’ve seen them up close for the first time, but I still much prefer looking at them than gazing at rows and rows of seats and the backs of people’s heads for 2 hours.
So we eventually touched down. I was eager to get off the plane, not so much because it was cramped but because I was excited about finally being back in Sweden. I know technically I was already there, but I don’t feel that I’ve arrived somewhere until my foot touches the tarmac. As I descended the steel steps, I counted down in my brain with each one: “Not in Sweden, not in Sweden, not in Sweden… In Sweden.” It felt good to be back.
Inside the terminal building, I walked into the small gift shop to buy a bus ticket to the centre of town and was greeted by the soothing sound of Gary Moore doing “Parisienne Walkways” on the radio, right smack bang in the middle of that really long note. I got a ticket without too much trouble and even helped out a couple of English guys who couldn’t speak any Swedish. Then we boarded the coach, which was a 20 minute ride and a really nice one. The sun was belting down and you could have forgiven yourself for thinking you were in the south of France or somewhere. (Must be something about me, the last time I was here they had one of the hottest weeks on record in Gothenburg).
I arrived at Nils Ericson bus terminal and I helped the two English guys find the tourist information desk (which actually wasn’t in the bus station at all, but in shopping center that you reached via an adjoining subway). Then I was on my own.
I had a couple of hours to kill before meeting Marie who had very kindly agreed to put me up for a couple of nights. So what’s the first thing on one’s mind when one first arrives in town? Well, go and get some pizza, naturally.
On my last visit to Gothenburg I remember visiting a pizza place off of Mölndalsvagen, near to where Marie used to live. It was run by Ecuadorian guys, and I happened to walk in there wearing an Ecuador football shirt which they went crazy about, in fact the guy was so stoked that he even gave me one of his old shirts as a gift – a Deportivo Quito home shirt which, as a collector of rare football shirts, was the equivalent of giving me a gold bar.
That shirt became my ‘travelling’ shirt. I take it with me whenever I go away anywhere, which figures as it has been all over the world. It came from South America, to Scandinavia and ended up in my flat in Bethnal Green and since then I’ve taken it to India, Ireland, Egypt, France… everywhere I’ve been. I usually make a point of taking a photo of me wearing it and doing something very clichéd and typical to the place I am in. There’s a photo of me wearing it while standing outside a pub in Ireland drinking a pint of Guinness, and one of me riding a quad bike across the Egyptian desert. You get the picture.
Anyway, I had the shirt on me now and decided that Mum’s Pizzeria would be my first stop. Not only was I curious as to whether the guy, David, would remember me, but they also did damn fine pizza and for a decent price.
Alas, I got there only to find out it was David’s day off.
Never mind, I thought, as I ordered myself a pizza and got talking to the guy behind the counter who spoke 5 different languages.
Pizza in Sweden is a completely different ball game. They are much more adventurous with their toppings and have some strange ones that just would never happen in England. You can check out their menu here and see what I mean. I went for the “Africana” – Tomato, cheese, banana, marinated tenderloin, curry, mum’s special sauce.
It was delicious. I’m starting a campaign to bring it to English pizza menus. They also had the famous Doner Kebab pizza and a house special called the “Jimi Hendrix”.
On the way there, I took a few snaps (As many as I could manage with my huge bag weighing me down – I must have walked close to 5 miles with this bloody thing that weighed about as much as my friend Wayne). But anyway:
This is the Scandinavium, an ice hockey stadium. Gothenburg is a very sporting city. Despite only having about half a million residents, it has no less than 5 professional football teams, and probably even more ice hockey teams (which is the most popular sport in Sweden). The Scandinavium was mentioned in the song “Hockeyfrilla” by De Lyckliga Kompisarna.
This is the Ullevi stadium, home of Örgryte IS, the team that Marie supports (or OIS, as they’re known for short). Though apparently they have moved out of here into a smaller stadium because they weren’t getting a big enough gate.
And this is a view from Korsvagen, one of the main tram terminuses termini stops. This is where I had arranged to meet Marie who was at college just over that hill and would be finishing at 3pm.
Marie was on time for once! We took the tram over to her place where I dumped my stuff, had a quick shower and got changed, and then we headed down to Dubliners, an Irish pub in the centre of town for the pub quiz.
Sweden is quite expensive. I already knew this. However I nearly had a coronary when I ordered the first round (2 pints) and was presented with a bill for around 150 SEK (About 14 quid)!! Although according to Marie, Dubliners is quite expensive even for Gothenburg, as it is something of a tourist trap. However, the evening only got better from there. We were shortly joined by Marie’s boyfriend Linus, and then by Mia and Jenny who I’d already met, and Marie’s friends Isabel, David, and Ulrika and another girl whose name I can’t remember.
We narrowly missed out on winning the pub quiz (we came second, and Marie got three questions right which she was very proud of!!) However I redeemed myself by winning a bottle of wine for the team on the bonus round!! I had to go and stand on a chair behind the bar and shout out the answer (It was a question about a George Michael song, though I’m not sure I should admit to knowing that). As I was on the way to the gents, a girl stopped me and congratulated me. I didn’t realise there were so many George Michael fans in Gothenburg. I was dying for a slash but I wished I’d have spoken to her a bit longer – she was hot
After the quiz we went downstairs and Marie got me singing Lars Winnerback and Ebba Grön songs as she always does when there are Swedes around.
We had a great time there but decided to move on to an area called Andra Långgatan. Apparently there we would find some cheaper bars to carry on drinking. According to one website: “Andra långgatan is a street known for porn clubs and good beer”. Just my sort of place really, although we didn’t go to any porn clubs. The bar we went to was really nice, and a lot cheaper than the first place. Linus ran into a friend of his, a guy he called ‘Mr. Nystrom ‘. He was a really cool guy, and seemed really impressed with my Swedish. To be fair, I’d now had a few beers and my Swedish improves a hell of a lot when I do that, but I must say I even impressed myself that night. I was chatting away like there was no tomorrow and I hardly spoke English for the rest of the evening!
Eventually we called it a night and myself and Marie got the tram back to her place. We actually walked a large part of the way and had a long discussion about Swedish politics among other things. Then we sat about drinking a bit more until I realised I’d been awake for 24 hours. So I hit the sack.
The next morning, Marie was feeling a bit worse for wear but we decided to head on into town so she could introduce me to the Swedish concept that is “Fika”.
So we headed on to the old town part of Gothenburg which is really lovely. Here’s a typical Gothenburg street scene in the old part of town:
We went to a nice little café for a ‘Fika’, which essentially means to take a break from whatever it is you happen to be doing and sit around drinking coffee and eating pastries with your friends / family / work colleagues. I don’t drink coffee so I had an orange juice and a toasted sandwich which was quite nice. The cafe even provided blankets outside in case it got too cold!
Cafe Kringlan in Gothenburg’s old part of town. Kringlan means “Pretzel” in Swedish.
Damn, I’ve gotta come back here one day and bring my slinky.
Speaking of kids, we had to leave pretty soon as Marie had to pick her daughter Emelie up from nursery. However not before I got a few more good photos from the tram…
The statue above is apparently quite famous. It depicts a historical moment: Gustav Vasa pointing to the ground and saying “This is where Gothenburg will be”.
Marie had already warned me on the way to the nursery that Emelie might be a little shy at first. I waited outside for quite a while before they eventually emerged… and sure enough Emelie was very quiet and subdued as we walked toward the bus stop to catch the bus to the lake, so I put this down to shyness. Then shortly afterwards I found out why.
“Emelie cut her friend’s hair today” said Marie, not looking too pleased.
I kind of wanted to laugh. I remember doing exactly the same thing once, when I was in Class 2. My mum wasn’t too pleased either.
We arrived at the lake which was really nice and serene. I’d love to have somewhere like this just a bus ride away from my house.
Emelie soon became full of energy as we reached the little swing park on the shore, and started to become a little less shy, showing off doing somersaults on the grass and going on the swings… though she was a little camera shy at first and had to hide behind her mum!
Pretty soon she was having a great time, although Marie seemed a bit worn out!!
We took it easy that evening. Marie seemed very tired and I was a bit cream-crackered as well from all the walking I’d done over the last 48 hours. Marie made us some supper and then had a bit of a nap while Emelie watched TV and I took the opportunity to update my Facebook. At one point, Pippi Longstocking came on the telly and Emelie ran to her room to get something. When she returned she had two hairbands, and started pestering her mum to do her hair like Pippi’s. How adorable is this??!!
Emelie eventually went to bed despite trying her best to stay up as late as possible, and me and Marie had a couple of beers in the kitchen and chatted about lots of different stuff. It was great seeing Marie again and I was surprised at how much she’d changed in the space of 6 years I’d known her – I suppose that’s what being a single mum does to you. I started to wonder if I’d changed during that time, and if so, in what way?
Later on when Emelie was sound asleep, we went back into the living room and watched a few videos on YouTube. I introduced Marie to the Angry Video Game Nerd which I think she enjoyed. At one point she popped out to the balcony to have a cigarette. I thought I’d join her and stood up rather quickly. Unfortunately for me, the underside of Marie’s top bunk was just a little shorter than me, and the resounding crunch of the wooden beam against my skull sent shockwaves right through my cranium.
That fucking hurt.
Like, really hurt. I had to stifle the urge to shout out in pain in case it woke Emelie up, in fact I bit my lip so hard that I tasted blood.
For a while afterwards I felt drowsy and was worried that I might be suffering from concussion. But I sat down for a while and seemed alright although it still hurt a bit. A huge bump had formed right on the top of my head and as I ran my hand over it it felt like I was wearing a miniature policeman’s helmet. Marie went to bed shortly afterwards so I said goodnight and in fact, goodbye – as she would be getting up very early the next day and I wouldn’t see her in the morning. Then I laid down to get some sleep too.
I was just about to close my eyes when Marie popped her head round the door and asked if I was feeling nauseous, as apparently that is one of the signs of concussion. I had to lie and say that I wasn’t because I didn’t want her to worry, but to tell you the truth I was a bit. But I didn’t say anything. So now I was really worried!
Luckily the next morning I felt fine although it didn’t help that it took me nearly an hour to pack my suitcase. I had hardly used anything out of it – I just couldn’t understand why the bloody thing wouldn’t close. Marie had lent me a DVD – a four-film set by a Swedish director called Lukas Moodysson – and I was worried that I might have to leave it out – although eventually after enough wrestling with the bloody zip I managed to get it to close.
I caught the tram over to Central Station and had about an hour or so to kill before the train left, so I bought some supplies for the journey – some Djungelvrål candy which is liquorice covered in salt, sounds disgusting but is lovely, some snus and a bottle of coke. I also bought a hotdog which I scoffed down as I waited for the train doors to open.
It was a really nice train, all modern and the inside was really comfortable and spacious although I only got a shot of it from the outside.
Standing next to me on the platform were a group of soldiers in full uniform. I felt like asking them if I could get a photo but decided against it; in a strange country like this with strange traditions, a move like that could have been my last. So i snapped them stealthily by holding the camera by my side and tilting the lens upward instead…
Pretty soon I was on the train and heading for Stockholm. The journey was 3 hours but it flew by; I read the book my mum had recommended to me – “I’m Not Scared” by Niccolo Ammaniti – from cover to cover.
At one point we stopped at a picturesque little station so I attempted to get a photo through the window; however it didn’t turn out so well as I couldn’t get the right angle from my seat; instead what I had to do was take 2 pictures and attempt to join them together. This was my pathetic attempt:
Just as I finished reading the last page of the book, an announcement came over saying that we would be in Stockholm in ten minutes. I put my book away and prepared for the second half of my Swedish adventure…
Part 2 to follow