Arriving on a thoroughly grey day never makes any city look appealing but after an afternoon here I am struggling to see what might make Gothenburg a city to attract visitors. The airport is a fair way out from the city and the thick grey cloud that was covering the ground was relentless when viewed as the plane came into land.
The city itself one might say pretends to have potential. There are canals over which small bridges allow the pedestrians to connect to the squares and other streets. The main square is lined by hotels with the main Central Station on one side. All sounds promising until hoardes of East European, mostly women, attack each passer by through the square to demand money for some magazine, that I presume is the Romanian or Bulgarian equivalent of The Big Issue. Its wrong to say they are threatening but correct to say that they are persistent and in your face.
The buildings all look rather grey and similar and the shops are those one might find in any European city centre. Trams and buses are plentiful and have a good go to knock over any pedestrian who dares to cross the tram lines.
There are a few parks dotted around including one advertising itself as a kind of botanical gardens, except there were few plants to see at this time of year. The water in the canals is dirty with rubbish thrown in of the usual kind, bottles, cans and plastic bags, however uniquely there was a white plastic chair adorning the water too curiously a lifebelt too floating in the water, presumably unused. It cannot be the fault of the paths nor the trees but every single leaf in Sweden seemed to be squashed on the pebble paths making many areas slippery and at a minimum visually unattractive.
On the positive side there were some unusual signs. For example within the train station a sign proclaimed “HAGS” ” made in Sweden”. This seems a little unfair as there is cause to presume they are made also in very many other countries.
The train station was also packed full of a variety of different little cafes and eateries serving delicious looking food, however the venue of eating within a train station just does not seem right to me and the visual accompaniment of the Romanian sellers/beggars, also takes the appetite away a little. Some nice Chocolate muffins though were talking to me. The graffiti painted on the outside of the trains was good enough to rival that on the trains in Essen Germany and The Watermans car park in Brentford. The highlight of my little walking expedition was no doubt the burger restaurant Max. Not only were the burgers delicious and huge, but I managed to order my meal via a machine that gave me all my options in Swedish. The chocolate cheesecake however pictured below is one of the nicest food items I have ever eaten, bought in a little cafe in the station.
The people also seemed downcast. I cannot recall a single smile when outside the hotel. The staff in Max looked like a group session of ECT or bulk purchase of Prozac might be an option to be considered. Why was no-one smiling? Apparently the theory put forward is that they regain their inner happiness when the weather improves, which by my reckoning is 5-6 months away.
Crime however rears its ugly head everywhere and Gothenburg was no exception with a car with its window smashed in on a fairly main street behind the Radisson Hotel. The migrant issue in Sweden is also topical currently with the murder of Alexandra Mezher who was working on a night shift at a refugee centre for unaccompanied migrant children in Molndal near Gothenburg. According to the Swedish Migration Agency violent incidents have doubled in asylum facilities since 2014. Sweden also receives five times more asylum applications relative to its size than its neighbour Denmark, receiving 163,000 applications last year 2015.
The usual excellent European graffiti was evident with the colour of trains being markedly improved by the graffiti. This seem a european thing rather more than a UK thing, and oddly this is type of crime that it a funny way adds to the pleasure.
Would I be tempted to return here for leisure? Not really. I may be missing something but I do not get Gothenburg at all.
Jo Nesbo is one of the worlds leading authors. He writes norwegain crime novels about a detective Harry Hole ( pronounced Who Lay). Some of his descriptions of these crimes are graphic and frightening. Thus it was a pleasure to meet him at a book signing of his latest novel THE BAT. In fact this is the oldest book but it has only just been translated into English. Jo was not how I expected him to be but thats just my vivid imagination . Many thanks to Foyle’s for staging this. What was also nice was to see him then come in and have coffee and muffin in the Cafe there. The cafe can be highly recommended. An amusing moment though when someone wondered if Jo Nesbo was carrying a ” Leopold’s Apple” in his hand. It turned out to be nothing more sinister than a chocolate muffin (presumably squirrelled away).