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.
In general terms the food is superb if rather expensive. Many meals are fish based with excellent quality and also good sized portions compared to some of the anorexic fish that get deported to UK. On the other hand they like their ” bad food” too and many good burger restaurants and suchlike exist, including one that smells at you as you arrive at the airport and clear baggage hall. What however is striking is that the food in the airports is excellent. Take Landvetter airport in Gothenburg, a small airport really but the quality and choice of the foods puts Heathrow to shame. If you are a cake lover then allow yourself an hour and 1000 calories to indulge before your flight. Some of the food combinations also make novel cuisine. Take the combination of cod and chicken in a gravy that i was served at Clarion Post hotel. Excellent and the combination works.
Gothenburg is the second largest city in Sweden and the fifth largest in the Nordic countries. The population is around half a million and the city was founded in 1621. Gothenburg also has the largest university in Sweden with 60,000 students. Daylight cana last 18 hours in the summer and only 6.5 hours in December. When one arrives it seems a nice place with most hotels arranged around a central square with the Centraal Train Station on one side.
My impressions of Gothenburg were rather coloured by the huge number of Eastern European immigrants begging in the square rattling their plastic cups in one’s face and trying to sell a magazine called ” Sofia ” which made me presume they were Bulgarian. They were hunting in packs and although not frightening to me, I could see that to others they could be persuaded as being so. In the evnings they were inside the train station taking up most of the chairs and seats and in the day they operated in and around the square. A head ” beggar” a large woman sat on a bench barking out orders in a language that seemed alien to me.
The city of Gothenburg portrays itself as “soft and more human” when dealing with poor EU migrants, local paper Göteborgs Posten wrote. But the situation is far from black and white.
In 2010 Gothenburg’s social services paid for 28 beggars to return home. In 2013 that number was 93. The largest increase of those sent home has been seen with beggars from Romania.Between 2010 and June of 2014, the Gothenburg paid to send home 135 Romanians. Norwegians came in second place, with 35 getting a free ticket home, and Bulgaria came in third with 23 beggars sent home.
The police in Gothenburg suspect the begging is organised, however that doesn’t make it a crime. There’s a difference if relatives are collaborating or if someone forces poor people to beg and then takes the money.
Several cases of human trafficking have been revealed in Stockholm where people have been brought to Sweden by criminal networks. Disabled people and children are in special demand by the networks.
The Gothenburg police have not been able to clarify if there is someone in the background making money from the beggars in the city.
In contrast the hotels are nice, comfortable and the staff ultra polite. The food is good, heavily fish-based. The affluence is obvious with hotels like the excellent Clarion Post having expensive Japanese Sushi restaurants. In the square one must avoid the trams if not the beggars as they take no prisoners and seemingly come from all directions. There is also an amusing angle with the emphasis in Sweden on living healthily, and thousands of bicycles in the square, but with some sponsored by burger companies. This seems a good city of not an exciting one.
Spending time in Sweden is not a hardship. The country is a vibrant and exciting country and populated generally by happy and well meaning people. Perhaps the only real surprise was that not all Swedish speak English. I flew into Stockholm and most people travel into the city centre on the Arlanda Express, a sort of cheaper and better version of the Heathrow Express. The main city is full of restaurants mostly and of course the Ice Bar in the Nordic Light hotel. An OK hotel but the rooms were tiny and some larger clients may have had interesting times trying to fit into their bathroom/toilet area. But I spent most of my time out of Stockholm travelling to other places. Firstly a short flight to Malmo on Norwegian airlines. Now I mention them specifically as not only did they text me a boarding pass without me asking ( for an early flight) but also because they were on time. Flight was scheduled for 7.30 am and that is the minute it left the runway. However when one gets to 10,000 feet they have free wi-fi that comes into operation. Wi-fi in the sky and free. Marriott hotels are you listening?
The small city of Lund is apparently the equivalent of our Oxford and Cambridge university towns ( looked more like Exeter to me) but with amazing sandwich shops. The rolls and cakes are incredible and cheap. A train journey of 3 hours to Gothenburg was less exciting. A packed train. Not a travel method to recommend. Gothenburg however was a lovely city. Again free wi-fi more or less anywhere, hotel room, burger bar or station concourse. Canals running through were reminiscent of Amsterdam.