My visit to Gothenburg, Sweden was a brief affair; hardly more than one night of wandering around. But it did serve to dispel some misconceptions. First of all, the chef who prepared my evening meal wasn’t a warbling mass of eyebrows and mustache topped by a puffy hat, but a youngish Asian man. Jim Henson was waaaaaay off the mark. Though, I suppose, his muse for the Swedish Chef wasn’t found in the Thai restaurant where I dined. But besides that revelation, Gothenburg had a few other surprises that are worth mentioning.
The Lay of the Land
Gothenburg is located on Sweden’s west coast, roughly halfway between the Scandinavian capitals of Oslo and Copenhagen. Flying into Landvetter Airport (some 18 or so miles southeast of the city), the visitor will be greeted with a scrolling panorama of forested hills and placid lakes. On the ride into town I was distinctly reminded of Upstate New York with all its rocky bluffs and stately pines. The center is located along the Gota River, a major element of Gothenburg’s role as a shipping port. Ships of all sorts line the quays, constantly coming and going from the chilly North Sea. For the traveler, most sights are walkable in the historic center.
Gothenburg Central Station is a classic building just a few blocks off the river. Just a brief stroll around the corner is peaceful Trädgårdsföreningen – an urban park sporting a leafy rose garden and glass greenhouse that hugs one of the many canals that meander through the town. Following the park to the southwest you’ll come across a happening neighborhood of classic-style buildings with intricate facades. At Kungsportsbron you’ll find a number of eateries brimming with patrons in the evening (a tricky time to determine come summertime when the sun just refuses to go down). Continuing the circle back to Central Station you can take in charming urban views. I can’t say it’s anything earth-shattering, but the serene plazas, greenish statues, canal bridges and shopping malls make for a pleasant diversion. A warm summer night in Sweden is not what most people think of, but again, this is all about surprises.
My principle reason for visiting Gothenburg was not for touristic purposes at all. My parents were there to pick up my father’s new Volvo from the factory located on the outskirts of town. With Volvo’s European Delivery Plan, potential customers can order their Volvo from the U.S., receive two tickets to Gothenburg and the opportunity to drive it around Europe before dropping it off at a preset port for shipment back home. Included as well is a factory tour (which due to a technical problem we were unable to take) a lunch of Swedish Meatballs (no surprise there) and free tickets to the Volvo Museum.
My initial thought was that I’d go along to humor my dad, who was now the proud owner of a shiny new X60. But in this town of surprises, spending an hour in this blatantly self-serving tribute to Volvo-phernalia was far more interesting than I thought. It starts off with a corporate film recounting the company’s origins (for instance, Volvo is from the Latin meaning: I roll) and showcases Volvo vehicles through the ages. There’s also a large section detailing the Volvo Great Ocean Race, a round-the-world sailing contest sponsored by the company. The Louvre it is not, but if you don’t mind a little self-promotion, it’s not a bad way to kill an hour.
While I wouldn’t consider Gothenburg one of Europe’s “must-see” cities, it does offer a few surprises. It is a clean, green city with a small town feel. And if you like Volvos, it is the motherland. I wouldn’t make the trip to Sweden just to see it, but if you’re going to be in the area, you can do worse – regardless of your chef’s nationality.