The Swedish Chef Was Asian & Other Surprises from Gothenburg, Sweden

Street scene in Gothenburg, Sweden
Street scene in Gothenburg, Sweden

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.

The Center

Greenhouse in Trädgårdsföreningen Park

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.

Volvo Museum

Volvo Museum
Volvo Museum

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.

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Tranticipation: Defining the Joys of Trip Anticipation

Time to put on my travelin' hat
Time to put on my travelin’ hat

Tranticipation (noun): a made-up word formed as an amalgamation of the words ‘trip’ and ‘anticipation’ designed to define the often intangible feelings of hope and positive expectation that precede a trip abroad. 

For those of you who have followed this blog for awhile (or read my book You Can Keep Your Adventure, Just Leave Me the Toilet Paper), you know by now that I have a penchant for inserting my own made-up vocabulary to describe various aspects of the travel process (for a somewhat exaggerated example, see the post Maximization and Other Made-Up Travel Philosophies). As I near the homestretch before embarking on my latest voyage to Scandinavia, Italy and the Netherlands, I again find myself needing to invent terms in order to explain the oh-too-subtle-nuances of a travel junkie about to get a fix. If you know what I mean (or would like to) read on for the what, where, and how that makes tranticipation such a desirable experience – even if I only made up the term this morning.

What’s In Store?

There are always a lot of ‘whats’ that stoke my tranticipation before leaving on a trip. In this case, some of the whats that are busying my mind are: What will Sweden really be like on the summer solstice? Will I ever be able to eat a Swedish meatball, fish or walk into an IKEA without being reminded of the time I will have spent there? If I duck into the kitchen of a restaurant in Gothenburg, will the (presumably) Swedish chef really be a crooning clown with a ridiculous accent, or have the Muppets been lying to me all along?

There are so many open-ended questions; so many answers to be discovered that can only be satisfactorily resolved by actually embarking on the voyage and exploring the multiverse of possibility firsthand. And that’s just for my first night!

Where’s It Gonna Be?

Inevitably, in every voyage, there is that one place where you’re taken by surprise at how lovely/interesting/fascinating/insert-favorite-adjective-here a location can be. Usually it’s someplace you didn’t even expect. Acute tranticipation has me wondering where in the next few weeks that place will be. Will it be at some random lookout point over the Norwegian fjords? Will it be sitting at a terrace with a bottle of wine on the Amalfi Coast? Or perhaps strolling across the quaint canals of Amersterdam?

The fact is, there’ s no way to pinpoint that amazing place ahead of time. That means that half the fun is discovering where on the trip that inevitable moment decides to reveal itself. Tranticipation indeed.

How Will This Play Out

You never know how a trip will go before leaving home. The same can be said – and more – about how a trip will affect you even after you return. For instance, I find myself wondering how I will view New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park – which at this  moment in time is what I consider the most beautiful place on earth – after being exposed to its more famous counterparts in the far northern hemisphere. Will I have a new favorite?

I wonder how I will feel about the magnificent Italian island of Ponza now that I return for a third time, though under very different circumstances than the previous visits. Will it still seem a home away from home for me, or have my travels since then eroded my emotional ties to the place?

Such uncertainty breeds tranticipation, which as mentioned before, can only be sated by the act of traveling. So as I head off for Europe, perhaps you too can relate to the sensations described here, even if you didn’t know what it was called. And I also hope that you too get the chance to add your own definitions, as I set out to expand my own.

Is there an aspect of tranticipation that you feel before a trip? Please share by commenting below.

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