We were up early, considering it was a Sunday morning, because SG was determined to catch each second of the slow steam into Göteborg. As our big boat cruised toward the harbour, little rocky outcrops began to appear, then little rocky outcrops with red cabins balanced on top. It was all very Scandinavian, as was the icy wind blowing up off the sea we had traversed while sleeping in our can-beds. Then, like a lovely little cherry on top of a very picturesque arrival scene, came the floating ice, as if to confirm precisely how freezing the weather a winter Sweden has enjoyed.
We disembarked with a stream of Swedes, most of them hauling their body weight in alcohol – not because, as that sentence may imply, the Swedish necessarily drink to excess, but because alcohol in Germany is substantially cheaper than it is in Sweden and so many Swedes hop on the ferry for the express purpose of topping up their cellars.
A tram delivered us to Göteborg’s city centre and there we experienced mild panic concerned a repeat of Pilsen was occurring. All was quiet. Many shops were closed. SG turned to me and said, ominously, ‘remember Pilsen’. We had visited the Czech Republic town on a Saturday and assumed most things would be open. They weren’t. We were in Göteborg on a Sunday. The chances of everything being closed were even higher. There was nowt to do but seek refuge in a cafe and soothe ourselves with large coffees and baked goods.
Suitably thawed and map in hand, we hit the road, via a stall that sold a dazzling array of doughnuts and almonds in various sweet coats – sugar, honey, chocolate. We went for an iced doughnut covered in Smarties. We don’t do things in half measures and travel is for eating, not worrying about whether pants can be done up.
We were bound for Haga – ‘Göteborg’s first suburb’ – the oldest, most traditional neighbourhood of Göteborg famed for its little houses many of which were rebuilt in the 1980s when the area underwent significant renovation. As we strolled, map fluttering in the cold breeze and fingers holding the map slowly turning to stone like something out of Narnia, the city seemed to be stretching and yawning. More and more people were popping up and cafes and restaurants were unstacking chairs and opening doors.
The long, stone street that ran through the middle of Haga yielded little boutiqes full of clothes, homewares, books, antiques and food. Little market stalls and tables had been set up outside and wares ranged from the wonderfully strange – bejewelled telescopes proferred by a man with a mane of black hair, expertly kohl-rimmed eyes and perhaps the legs of a fawn? – to the downright delicious. Obviously we were sucked in by the downright delicious. SG had instant wurst hunger upon spying a wurst stall and I fell upon a large goats cheese and spinach pastry. Our pants strained further.
Behind Haga, high up on a hill, looms a rather imposing fortification – Skansen Kronan. Thighs burning, the weight of all of our recently consumed treats threatening to hold us back, we hiked up the endless stairs to the top. The fortification itself is topped with an enormous gold crown and surrounded by canons. And there, beneath the gaze of the enormous gold crown, you can gaze down over the red roofs of Göteborg.
And then it was more walking. Down past the university, the library, the big old buildings and onto to the long, wide shopping street, Kungsportsavenyen, with its abundance of Irish pubs. Göteborg was well and truly awake, its people filling the shops and cafes.
We stopped into a French cafe and resisted the urge to gorge on macaroons and croissants. We walked through parks and saw birds preparing their nests. That means but one thing – Spring with all its little birds, is on the way.
We wound our way up past the museum, to the post-modern opera house and back into the mall (apparently the biggest in Scandinavia) where we started with our coffees in the morning. It was heaving, the Göteborg locals all enjoying their Sunday in one large, convenient shopping sprawl. A last snack (meal) was had at an extremely strange Irish/American themed restaurant/bar that served nachos and fried things in among the shrimp toast, the both of us too tired to search further afield than what the mall had to offer. Then it was a tram back to the boat which was waiting patiently for us.
We slept like logs in our little can beds, feet sore, bellies full, Göteborg done. The next morning we stood on the roof of the boat again and Kiel, covered in blue, welcomed us home.