So unbeknownst to everyone, I actually did go to other places besides Copenhagen on my trip to Scandinavia! And now so much time has passed, no one even really cares… 😦 Wait, you care, right?! That’s why you’re here? I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it because my life post-Scandinavia this summer has been so hectic and criz-zazy (perhaps another blog post to follow about that).
So from Copenhagen we headed to Sweden by train. (Quick tip: Taking the train between cities in Scandinavia is super easy and convenient, and honestly saves you time when you factor in that most of the train stations are right in the city center versus the time it takes to get to the airport–which is usually a good 45 min. to 1.5 hours outside of the city–and how much time you have to give yourself to check in/go through security, etc.). On the way to Stockholm we stopped in Gothenberg for a quick day trip. On the country’s western coast, it is the second biggest city after Stockholm. As soon as we stepped out of the main train station, the city already felt like a really comfortable place. Just a small-ish, walkable town, and in the bright summer sun, everything about it felt really quaint and pleasant, but also with an air of hipness.
My main reason for wanting to stop in Gothenberg was to visit Sweden’s western archipelago. You’ve probably seen pictures of beautiful rocky coasts lined with fir forests, dotted with cute little wooden clapboard houses painted red and white and blue, with flowers sprouting from their white window planters, and little dinghys tied up to their docks. This is the Scandinavian coastline–just town after town of adorable, picturesque little villages, and in my dreams I get to frolic around with my beautiful Scandinavian boyfriend on these coastlines in the summer without a care in the world, except for what fresh fish to eat for lunch and where to pick fresh berries for dessert.
Unfortunately, by the time we got off the train from Copenhagen it was almost afternoon. It would have been not exactly the most relaxing day for us to rush to get on a train to get on a ferry to get to the islands. And being that I was traveling with my parents, they didn’t want to chance getting back too late or missing/rushing to get one of the last trains back to the city. If you know me, you know that chancing it is my JAM, and I would have jumped on the train in a heartbeat. I was really bummed that we weren’t going to get to sit at a seaside restaurant and eat some freshly-grilled fish and watch some cute puffins hop over the rocks while sheep grazed nearby (not sure if there are even sheep on these islands… but that is the image I had in my head). But traveling with my parents is one big lesson in patience and compromise–which I am grateful for. But also YOLO right, ‘rents? They need to make like Drake and embrace some spontaneity.
Although it was much to my disappointment, I agreed to just make it a relaxing day wandering around the city instead of rushing to the archipelago (all the more reason to go back to Scandinavia, right?). Luckily, Gothenburg is a lovely city to spend a day in. One of our first stops was Stora Saluhallen, a food market dating back to 1889. My mom immediately noted that a bunch of people were eating a plate of salted cod stew and she HAD to have some. It did seem like a lot of Swedes were enjoying themselves immensely tucking into these plates of salt cod, so we sidled into the bar next to them and ordered up a plate. The market itself was also nice to walk around because all food markets are. (That is a legitimate reason.) It would be a great place to find traditional Swedish foods to try–cured fish, sausages, cheese, pastries–and also to find little souvenirs to bring back as gifts.
Just a few steps away was the Garden Society of Gothenburg park, Trädgårdsföreningen (say that five times fast!), a beautiful place for a stroll and enjoy the Scandinavian summer sun or lounge on the wide open lawns. The highlight for me was the one of my favorite buildings from the entire trip to Scandinavia, the Palmhouse, a gorgeous greenhouse built in 1878. It had this amazing upper terrace of tables and palm trees, with soaring glass arches, that I would one day like to model my house after (a girl can dream). There were also other rooms filled with succulents and palms, and another room with the largest lily pad I’ve ever seen! There was also a group of what seemed like four Korean bloggers/Instagrammers taking turns snapping approximately 100,000 photos of each other with their faces close but not touching many of the plants in the succulent room and the light falling on their all-white oufits just so. Also none of them smiled, ever. It was super bizarre, and I thought you would like to know that this is how Instagram photos are made.
We left the bloggers to their staging, and walked up the main boulevard Avenyn and admired all the cute restaurants and shops. The whole city seemed rife with patios and sidewalk seating that looked like they’d make the perfect place to have a happy hour drink. I also spent probably too much time debating whether or not I should buy a pair of bronze-colored faux snakeskin Birkenstocks that were on sale (still regretting not getting them… I think I would have rocked them despite someone–ahem, mom–thinking them “tacky” and “ugly”…).
We took a right at some point and walked along a park between boulevards, alongside the city’s public transportation lines, which include not just buses but trams as well! Our destination was the Haga, the old town of the city dating back to the 18th century. The Haga Nygata is a cobblestoned pedestrian street with historic wooden buildings all along it housing a bunch of adorable sidewalk cafes and boutiques. At this point, it was time to break for a fika. Fika means “to have coffee,” but the Swedish tradition is about having coffee in a leisurely, enjoyable way, often accompanied by pastries and with friends and/or coworkers. I just found out that a Swedish friend of mine has a company fika, where everyone takes a break from work and goes out to fika together! So awesome!
A popular spot to have fika in the old neighborhood is at Cafe Husaren, one of the oldest cafes in the city, and one that serves the largest cinnamon rolls I have ever seen–literally the size of an entire dinner plate. This cinnamon roll, or hagabullen in Swedish, is not like the ones you’re probably used to. It’s dense, bready but not doughy, and isn’t glazed with oozy cinnamon-sugar glaze, but instead sprinkled with pearl sugar and had a slight taste of a spice like cardamom or clove (sorry–perhaps a more refined palate would be able to differentiate). I do still prefer the gooey, sickly-sweet cinnamon buns I’m used to, but nonetheless, these rolls were pretty delicious with coffee–and Cafe Husaren’s coffee is pretty tasty too!
After not even finishing half of the cinnamon roll between three of us, we had to continue on or else succumb to cinnamon roll food coma. We walked down the length of Haga, stopping in the boutiques all along it. I again was lured by some beautiful wool sweaters and clogs, and had visions of being so stylishly dressed come fall, but my frugalness stopped me, because in case you did not know, buying things in Scandinavia is not cheap, people.
In the middle of Haga, there is also a quick detour to a viewpoint worth the short three minutes total that it will take you to walk up to it. In the middle of Haga you’ll see a round brick fortress rising up above the rooftops and trees, and below a set of stairs that lead up to it. Skansen Kronan, an ancient fortress from 1697, today houses a cafe that is open in summer, serving ice cream and pastries. You also get a great view over the red rooftops of Gothenburg.
Eventually we crossed the canal that runs through the city and arrived at the Feskekôrka–which translates to “fish church”, because the building was designed to look like a Gothic church. Gothenburg has a large fishing industry and some of the day’s fresh catch end up at the Feskekôrka, an indoor fish market where you can buy raw or prepared fish and seafood salads. You can eat on the picnic tables outside, or dine at the few restaurants on the market’s upper level. Because everything about this is literally my mom’s jam (and by virtue of being her daughter, and the transitive property, my jam–also I realize this is the third usage of “jam” in this post), we had planned on having dinner there. But it is only open Tuesdays-Fridays, 10a-6p, and on Saturdays only until 3p! Of all of the friendly advice the people in Gothenburg provided us, the fact that this place closed before dinner was not included. We got there a little after 6, and when the sun doesn’t set until 11p, it seemed early to us! So keep in mind that the fish market would be a great stop for lunch and an afternoon bite, but not dinner.
As it was unfortunately already closed, we set our sights on the neighboring restaurant along the canal, BouleBar, a French-inspired cafe where lots of attractive, young, sun-kissed, blonde people (i.e. Swedes) were drinking and playing bocce. We found a table right by the canal and shared a bottle of rose and filled up on some delicious appetizers and a traditional Swedish seafood stew, Svenska fisksoppa, scented with saffron and lots of fresh herbs, which gave my mom her shellfish fix. Sipping our wine, enjoying the summer sun, and being surrounded by impeccably dressed Swedish hipsters having after-work drinks seemed like the perfect end to our day in this perfectly cool Swedish city.
Well, actually that’s a lie. We actually ended the day with a stroll along the pier, where ferries dock and depart, bringing the city’s commuters up and down the river because I really wanted to spend some time by the water as I hadn’t gotten to go to the archipelago. But it turns out Gothenburg has plenty to explore in the city proper. Although we spent the day unhurriedly exploring and eating through some of the city’s central neighborhoods, Gothenburg has a lively art, music, and design scene, as well as a well-established culinary scene that we didn’t have enough time to really explore. If you’ve got an extra day or two in Sweden, definitely consider adding this uber-hip city into your itinerary.