I didn’t expect much from Gothenburg (Göteborg is it’s real/non-English name). I had never heard of it before Tracy said she wanted to go to meet up with a couple of friends she met when she was in Thailand. Her friends, Patrik and Victor, live in Gothenburg and were only visiting Thailand. Apparently Thailand is a popular destination for Swedes and Aussies. Who knew?
We arrived in Gothenburg around 5pm after a very interesting train trip involving a gorgeous sunset and watching the man across from us eat six hard boiled eggs in a row. Patrik came to the station to pick us up after we stored our luggage in lockers.
We first went to Liseberg, the amusement park located in the center of the city. It was decorated for Christmas and was having a special festival. In fact, the entire city was decked out for Christmas. One of my favorite things about visiting during the holiday is the tradition of each family putting a special tier of fake candles in the window. There are four tiers of candles with the top having only one – making a pyramid shape. You set up the light 4 weeks before Christmas with all of them rows lit. On the 3rd week, you light only the top three rows. This continues until the week of Christmas when only the top candle is lit. It sounds simple, but when each window in every building has it, it becomes quite magical.
Liseberg was gorgeous. The huge Ferris wheel was decorated and every tree in the park was covered in lights. We walked around and saw reindeer, a Swedish Santa (apparently the “real” Santa lives in Northern Finland), and watched the locals play a roulette-type game in order to win 4ft wide candy bars. It was very festive and fun. I asked our guides what Gothenburg is known for and they said that each Christmas, everyone drinks a hot-wine juice spiked with vodka. After some schmoozing in Swedish, Patrik talked a vendor into letting us try a non-alcoholic version for free. It was sweet – almost too sweet. Similar to hot apple cider, but made with grapes. I’m not sure if I would ever actually order it at a bar or restaurant.
He also said that the famous food of the city is a sandwich called Räksmörgås. It’s important to note that sandwiches in Scandinavia are not like American sandwiches. Typically there is only a bottom piece of bread with the filling piled on top of it. I quite prefer this style as it is lower in carbohydrates and more flavorful. A Räksmörgås sandwich is basically a shrimp sandwich. Gothenburg is a coastal city, so seafood is popular. They promised I would have a chance to try this delicacy before we left.
After the park, we walked around the city in search of food. We went to the top of the tallest building (a mere 28 stories) for a good view of the city, but an even better view of my favorite part: the floating pool. I first spotted it from the street – a pool jutting out from the corner of a skyscraper. Half of the entire pool was floating over the city, allowing pedestrians to see the feet of swimmers from 20 stories below! If I ever return to Gothenburg, I’d love to go for a swim there.
We settled on an Italian restaurant that serves Räksmörgås. We spent about two hours eating and chatting. The sandwich was interesting. I enjoyed the shrimp, but the bread underneath was smothered in mayonnaise – a combination I’m sure my dad would have loved, but it made me a bit weary. After dinner concluded, we went back to the train station to get our bags.
On the way there, we realized we had paid for 24 hours (it was either that or only 4 hours which was too short) so we had might as well get our money’s worth. I only had the clothes on my back and my purse, but we went ahead to the home of our next couchsurfing host like true weary travelers.
Nisan was our host and even though we only hung out with him for a few hours before going to bed, he was a riot. He was born and raised in Jerusalem, so we bonded over Middle East things while drinking beer and eating a strange Swedish candy called “Limousiner” or “limosines” in English due to their car-like shape. I managed to find a small bag of these in the store to bring home, so Dad, you can try them!
Even though I have taken history classes on the Middle East and political science classes on the Arab Israeli conflict, it is still easier to think in terms of black and white. Israelis are blond and fair and come from Europe (the term for this type of Jew is Ashkenazi – something I learned this past quarter) while Palestinians are Arab and dark and Muslim. I know this certainly isn’t the case and Muslim Israelis exist as well as Jewish Israelis who look Arab as their ancestors lived in Palestine. During our chat, I asked Nisan what the most famous Israeli food is – expecting to hear latkes as a response. He said falafel and hummus – a traditional Arab food. All too often I make Israeli and Jewish synonymous terms when they aren’t at all. This was a great experience to highlight my, sometimes forgotten, ignorance of the region.
The best part of the evening was when we had to explain to Nisan what s’mores are. He has never had them! I said you can cook the marshmallows over a campfire or stove or even microwave. This led to us putting the lImousiner in the microwave and watching them expand – a childhood activity Israelis apparently never do!
We ended the night by lighting the Hanukkah candles (eighth night!) and Nisan recited the proper prayers in Hebrew. It was incredible and really makes me want to learn the language. Tracy is Jewish and said she can teach me the alphabet, which will definitely happen by the end of the trip!
We woke up around 9 this morning and ate breakfast at a cafe before heading to the train station. We planned to leave around 2pm, but soon found out that all of the trains after 12:40 were cancelled due to the incoming storm. We hopped on the last train out of the city and are now en route to Copenhagen! We plan on seeing the famous LIttle Mermaid statue, royal castle, and hipster area of Christiania. Hopefully lots of fun to come! Although I wasn’t sure what to expect in Gothenburg, it has been my favorite city by far. It is small enough to navigate easily, but still has the beautiful architecture of a large city and gorgeous tree lines cobblestone streets. The overall atmosphere is very cosmopolitan, but we saw so many fun restaurants and bars!