Sweden's second city isn't a place you'd normally think of for a short getaway but Mike Meade gave it a try.Because the Riviera is a popular holiday destination with a large expat population Nice-Riviera airport is directly linked to the hometowns of some 3 million annual visitors. Gothenburg (Göteborg) is one of these, regularly served by the Norwegian carrier (http://www.norwegian.com).
The city itself isn't much to write a postcard home about. Essentially it's a commercial port with a university, some auto manufacturing and a fishing industry. Volvo is the main employer of this young and active population of half a million. But a glance out the window as your flight approaches reveals what Göteborg really has to offer - glorious, pristine natural surroundings. Sweden boasts some 96,000 lakes and from the air it's obvious that the area around Göteborg has more than its share. Approaching over the sea you also fly over the island archipelago much of it sparsely inhabited in a calm, restive sort of way.
Hello. Thank you. Good bye.
"Hej. Tack. Hej då." - words that will endear you to the locals but you don't need Swedish vocabulary at all to get by. Every Swede I met spoke English - in most cases faultlessly. Rather glum looking as they go about their daily business the Swedes open up when you come into direct contact with them. Shopkeepers, waiters and hotel staff are smiling and helpful. People on the street are warmly expansive and more than happy to give you directions and eagerly expound the merits of their city. "This isn't Stockholm. Göteborg is better," and the inevitable discourse begins about which Swedish city has the best fish and the best hockey team. Göteborg wins in all cases, of course.
But visually beautiful, it's not. Having been razed several times over the centuries Göteborg, unlike Stockholm, doesn't really have much of an old quarter. Inner city and suburban housing is dull, functional and "socially inspired" in contrast with the daring architecture and innovative design of many of the company and public buildings where the Swedish sense of style clearly shows.
The prices aren't nearly as relatively expensive as they once were and a hotel room or a decent restaurant meal costs much the same as it would in France. Shopping on the main "Avenyn" for Swedish sweaters and smoked salmon to take home is affordable and pleasant. Pubs and restaurants abound here. A very decent buffet lunch in our hotel restaurant (the Scandic Rubinen, right in the main avenue) totted upat 98 kroner (about 12 euros) without drinks. Tobacco or alcohol though are heavily taxed and that's reflected in the price. A half litre draught beer in a local pub comes to 50 kroner (about 6 euros). My standard gauge is the baseball cap I customarily purchase everywhere Igo. At Göteborg airport it was 95 kroner which is about what I usually pay for this souvenir.
One thing strikes the visitor right off. Almost no Swedes are fat and few are even visibly overweight. A mainstay diet of fresh vegetables and local fish coupled with a lot of walking and bicycling explains why. Bike lanes border every street and of all ages use them profusely. The city's tramway goes almost everywhere in the inner city and suburbs, including to the ferry landings in the port.
The key to using public transport efficiently is the "Göteborg Pass" which gives the visitor unlimited access to buses, trams and the many ferries that service the islands of the nearby archipelago. It's cheap and a must for getting around easily. Use it to the maximum. The legend of the svelt Swedish blonde beauty is alive and well in Göteborg - and proved to be markedly accurate. I've visited few cities in the world with such an attractive fresh-faced populace. Girl-watching here is a real pleasure and the ladies on our press trip assured me that the boy-watching is just as good.
Down near the city's commercial port stands a massive light blue factory spouting steam from a high stack. I questioned our guide about the wisdom of putting such an unsightly structure so near the city. "It's for environmental reasons" she claimed. That requires further explanation. In spite of very cold winters, most of the city's buildings have no individual heating or even hot water. Instead the blue building heats water for homes and businesses before piping it out in much the same way we are used to having cold water delivered to the tap. Having this efficient factory is far more environmentally conscious than individual central heating. It also serves asecond role - the outgoing pipes pass just a few centimetres beneath the main shopping streets keeping these busy thoroughfares snow and ice free during the cold winter months.The Swedes have been environmentally pro-active for decades. Even the little bins in my hotel room had sorting compartments and signs around the hotel reminded visitors that it was built using recycled materials and with energy conservation in mind.
Another reminder of this environmental awareness is a wind-farm which was visible in the distance as we left the landing on our way to the nearby islands. Tidal and wind energy is indeed a reality here.The archipelago is a must and these islands live to the rhythm of the ferries. Locals use them like buses and ours was filled with shoppers and workers on their way back to their island homes after their shifts in town. Trolleys laden with flowers, postal sacks and paper supermarket bags occupied the reserved space at the ferry entrance.We chose to visit one of the larger islands - Styrsö. Life here is slow, almost unworldly, attractive and stress-free.
Walking and cycling are the preferred means of transport after the ubiquitous three-wheeled moped. The islanders' close dependence the sea is pervasive and everyone keeps a boat in their garden or moored in one of the many small marinas.
What else is there to do around Göteborg? Touring the nearby lakes for a bit of fishing and wildlife watching tempted me. The many lakes,even those seen from the windows of the airport bus were pristine and wild. On my next trip to Göteborg, that's where I'll go.