It all started out so well. A fab complimentary breakfast buffet in the SAS lounge at Heathrow while catching up with my travelling companion, the lovely Su-Lin. Taking off into bright sunny skies and dozing most of the flight in my cosy window seat. And then the captain announced that we were starting our descent… and that's right about the time things started going not so well. The captain said he was turning on the seatbelt lights, just in case there was some turbulence. Just in case. Hah. From the moment we started descending into the impenetrable coulds, we bounced around in murky greyness like a yo-yo in the hands of a man with a nervous tic. I gripped my seat handles with whitened knuckles, muttering Hail Marys under my breath; a woman somewhere shrieked as we dipped particularly precariously. Down, down, down, and still no glimpse of the ground; wings still rolling left to right like a metronome. I could already see the headlines: "Plane clips wing in low visibility, cartwheels, explodes". (I'm all about a detailed Worst Case Scenario, I am.) And then, with a bang recalling the old joke of the passenger asking the captain "did we land or were we shot down?", we were safely on the ground. Surely things could only improve from here? Well, no. I might have landed safely, but my bag "missed the flight" and stayed behind in London. That would be the bag containing my warm, waterproof jacket. And outside it was wet and windy…
You'd think this might have dampened my enthusiasm for Gothenburg (and I have to admit that my sense of humour was temporarily as missing as my bag!) – but you'd be mistaken. The SAS chap who took my missing bag report was quirky, utterly charming, and had me laughing despite myself - and he was nothing compared to the warm welcome we received at the Hotel Royal, a small family-run hotel where the staff are always smiling, umbrellas are handed out freely, and there is always coffee and cake on offer in the lobby. Unpacking is easy if you have no bags, so soon we were back downstairs and heading out into the wet, windy streets with borrowed umbrellas and (in my case) a borrowed fleece – thanks Su-Lin!
Our wonderful plans of heading straight for the famous Feskerkorka ran into some… umm… navigational issues, and soon we found ourselves cold, wet, miserable and in need of an indoor acticvity. Which is when we discovered Gothenburg's status as a shopping mecca. As we wandered through store after store packed with beautifully designed items, Su-Lin said: "if a Swedish person ever gives me an ugly gift, I am going to beat them over the head with it. There is no excuse for ugly or badly designed gifts if you live here!" – and I had to a agree with her. Highlights included:
Designtorget - an entertaining and trendy shop packed with unique designs – lots of merchandise is available to try out so a visit is about as entertaining as a shop visit gets! Merchandise ranges from games to kitchen tools and gadgets to gifts to jewellery – and pretty much all of it is lovely. Every week the shop gets new and handpicked items from established as well as unknown designers, and many items are only sold for a limited time. (Vallgatan 14, 411 16, Göteborg, Sweden)
And my personal favourite…. Granit. Think the lovechild of IKEA and Muji and you'll be getting close. A gorgeous space full of home, storage and kitchen items in soothing neutrals – quite simply prop heaven. (Vallgatan 19, 411 16 Göteborg, Sweden)
And what better way to wrap up a lovely afternoon/evening's shopping that fika with friends and a dinner at the lovely Familjen restaurant (both to follow in later posts).
The next morning dawned less windy and rainy and we decided to explore of the city's Christmas markets. Let me point out that Christmas is taken Very Seriously in Sweden. Pretty much every window in every house and apartment that we walked past boasted a triangular advent candle holder. These are called adventsljustakar, or Advent candlesticks, and signal that the countdown to Christmas has begun. The advent lights are a modern interpretation of traditional advent candles when one new candle was lit on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, although the modern electric versions generally have seven lights and are often put up a few days before Advent Sunday. Another popular tradition is to hang a pretty paper star in the window symbolising the Star of Bethlehem. The other thing that you will see a LOT of in Sweden over Christmas is jultomten, a kind of a hybrid between a pre-Christian mythical creature who protected and watched over the inhabitants of a house, and Santa Claus. We saw some quite spectacular ones with lovely silky grey woollen beards and hair, as well as armies of more traditional Santa Claus figures, often carrying sacks of presents.
Our first stop of the day was the Christmas street market in Haga district. The Haga district of the city was Gothenburg's first suburb and was originally a rather poor working class area. Since the 1960s, many of the buildings have either been restored or torn down and replaced with replicas and today the area is popular with tourists for its picturesque wooden houses, 19th century-atmosphere and cafés.
On the day we visited, the Christmas market stalls lined the main street of the area, making it hard to get a nice clean shot of the picturesque houses – but what we lacked in photo opportunities was compensated for by the smell of glögg and gingerbread everywhere, and the wonderfully Christmassy atmosphere. There was also a Christmas marching band marching up and down the street, complete with baton-twirling drum majorettes and festive gold pom-pom-waving cheerleaders. This added a nice touch to the festive spirit while we meandered down the streets, marvelling at the sheer number of sheepskin slippers on sale (!). What was also lovely was the fact that the goods on sale were almost without fail of excellent quality – nothing plastic or tacky. I particularly loved the Christmas wreaths made of different natural materials.
Apart from the Christmas market stalls, there were of course also the permanent shops to explore and once again, I was just floored at the quality and desirability of everything. We discovered a fantastic ceramic gallery Sintra Konsthantverk (Landsvägsgatan 5, 413 04, Göteborg, Sweden) where I fell in love with these utterly gorgeous screen printed bowls and plates by Jill Johansson (pictured below, left) and the rough and unevenly glazed rustic dinnerware by Maria Kristofersson (pictured below right). If only I had more space in my luggage… Another store full of beautiful homewares of the Scandi-shabby-chic variety was Haga Hem; and sadly I did not get the name of the super-crowded but seriously tempting antique store where I bought a couple of tiny antique glasses… and then walked around the corner to see their entire table of ornate antique teacups. Prop heaven.
After our Haga expedition, we popped back to the hotel to drop off our morning's loot and then boarded one of the historic wooden trams that runs passengers up the hill from the harbour to Liseberg amusement park. Liseberg opened in 1923 and is one of the most visited amusement parks in Scandinavia, attracting around 3 million visitors annually to ride on things like its wooden roller coaster Balder, twice voted (in 2003 and 2005) Best Wooden Tracked Roller Coaster in the world. I first set eyes on Liseberg when we visited Sweden for the shellfish journey in the Autumn of last year when it had just closed for the season, although we were told that it opens again at Christmas to host a Christmas market. From the road, you really could not get an idea of ths sheer scale of the place but as we walked through the gates its hugeness started to dawn on me. Billed as Sweden's largest Christmas market, the park re-opens from mid-November until 23 December when the trees and buildings are festooned with 5 million fairly lights, transforming it into a true winter wonderland. Our first stop was up the escalator at the base of the AtmosFear tower drop – mercifully not to do the ride, but to visit the shopping area housed in its base. Once again, I do not know when I saw so much great design crammed into a small space, from the funky tunnel of light around the escalators, to the truly desirable goods on sale inside. More Moomin products than you can shake a stick at! Funky baby clothes! A Smorgasbord of paper napkins! The most desirable knitwear I have ever seen, by Edursdotter – just take a look!! My credit card was running scared.
Once we had torn our way from the siren song of the designer shops, we headed back out into the park to take in the spectacular sight of the masses of fairy lights. If you do visit, set aside a good four hours or so as the park is huge and there is a lot to see and do including an open air theatre, sheep and reindeer to pet, rides, a Lapland section where we sampled air-dried reindeer meet (not dissimilar to biltong) and warmed ourselves by the firepits and braziers, an ice-skating rink, haunted house attractions and dozens upon dozens of stalls selling artisanal food and drink (we bought some super-smoky salmon and sampled quite a big of glögg!). We also discovered that the Swedes have a secret vice: gambling. But this is no ordinary gambling: it's playing roulette to win giant chocolate bars the size of your average three-year old child (NB I am not making this up – ask Su-Lin!). Think about that for a second. A Daim bar or a Toblerone the size of a small child… Feel a gambling addiction coming on??
Liseberg made me feel about ten years old for a few hours – that sense of wonder you feel as a child, staring at the fairy lights in the trees, smelling the candyfloss and chocolate waffles and generally anticipating all the good things that Christmas brings. For what is obviously a huge and well-run commercial enterprise, it feels surprisingly traditional and not like a Swedish version of Eurodisney, which was what you might fear. Su-Lin and I both loved the whole experience (other than the rather large halistones that pelted down on us at the end of our visit – but that's hardly Liseberg's fault!). Sadly, though, we could not stay as we had a julbord dinner to attend. But more of that in a future post!
DISCLOSURE: We travelled to Sweden as guests of the West Sweden Tourist Board, Visit Sweden and SAS.
Thank you again to the West Sweden Tourist Board (Facebook page, Twitter, Blog) and Visit Sweden (Facebook, Twitter) and also to the Gothenburg Tourist Board for organising this wonderful Christmas trip for us. Our flights were provided by SAS and a return trip to Gothenburg from London Heathrow is about £103 including all taxes and charges. We stayed at the very lovely Hotel Royal in central Gothenburg where a single room costs about £140 per night.
For my previous travels to Sweden, please see my older posts:
- Villa Sjotorp and a mussel safari in Lysekil, West Sweden
- Café Ferdinand seafood buffet and Strandflickorna Hotel, West Sweden
- South Koster island and lunch at Koster garden
- Lobster safari and lobster lobster dinner at Sydkoster Hotel Ekenäs
- An oyster experience with Everts Sjöbod in Grebbestad