I recently traveled to Gothenburg, a city reminiscent of and yet so unlike Aarhus. Plus: giant cinnamon rolls.
I know I’ve spoken before about being a meticulous planner of sorts, so a couple weeks ago when a friend from Asheville reminded me that he and his fiancé would be within the Scandinavian vicinity for a few days (I had totally forgotten, an exemplary reason why if I don’t immediately put something in my calendar, it doesn’t exist), I forced myself to make a snap decision. And by ‘snap’ I mean about two hours’ worth of flooding Couchsurfing with requests, and lining up multiple tabs with train, bus and Bla Bla Car rideshare-esque comparisons.
I managed to find a Couchsurfing host in possibly-record time and booked reasonably-priced train and ferry tickets to carry me up to Gothenburg on the Tuesday evening I received my friend’s message. I was very much looking forward to the train ride because I have not seen much of Denmark beyond Aarhus and Copenhagen, and it had been a while since I had taken a transport for more than twenty minutes.
Okay, it had only been a month, but seeing as how I used to live a few minutes’ drive from the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway and several (if not a few dozen) hiking trails and campgrounds, and spent many an afternoon/ day/ weekend just driving or hiking, the traveling force is strong with me.
Saturday came around, which was incidentally “National Hangover Day” in Denmark, following the much-celebrated and nationwide release of Tuborg’s annual Christmas beer. (Hopefully sooner rather than later I will have a post up about that and some of the microbreweries around Aarhus & the greater Jutland region, as part of a series I have started working on for Jutland Station.) Despite going to bed quite early (read: drunkenly) the night before, I managed to barely make my train with literal seconds to spare.
The train ride was just as pleasant as I wanted it to be, despite my desperate need for hydration and the realisation that I managed to forget BOTH my Nikon cameras and my hula hoop.
I made it to the port without incident, and rediscovered my utter adoration for traveling by boat. Seriously, if I could only travel by water, I probably would.
It being Scandinavia in almost-Winter, it was dark when I arrived just after 17:00. I was initially intimidated by the fact that I could not understand a word anyone was saying to me; at least having spent three months in Denmark, I am able to make out a lot of conversations pretty well sometimes, if people are not speaking too quickly and I already have a grasp on the conversational context (watch out, roommates).
Gothenburg ended up being a very accessible city, in the sense that I found it actually took some effort to get a little lost — yes, even for directionally-challenged Daphne. I loved the walkability of it, and how everything was so well-marked, including the presence of full city maps on several street corners. I do think I began to notice some of the Nordic coldness I had heard of, not just in the winter winds trying to freeze my face, but in the people. And I don’t think it is necessarily that the people themselves are cold, just a little less accessible than the city. People are more private. But this also means that once I’ve gotten to know someone a little bit, they may be even more warm than many single-serving friends I have made back in the States.
This trip marked my first full-blown experience with Couchsurfing, a free, online service that connects travelers with hosts all around the world. I had used it before to meet with wanderers in Asheville and Wilmington, and a few close friends gave it rave reviews on their cross-country treks, but I had never used it to actually stay in someone’s home before. I had my reservations about it, but it ended up being an incredible experience. My host and his visiting girlfriend were from Croatia, and they had some truly interesting yarns to spin about their experiences there, in Sweden, and other places they had traveled. Not to mention just what lovely people they were to be around.
Despite the primary motivation behind my trip being to see some friends from back home, I was also thrilled to be spending a chunk of time by myself for the first time in weeks. I enjoy spending time with other people and feel pretty at home in crowds, but I also need some serious alone-time to recharge and regain some perspective on things. Traveling alone is one of my most favourite things to do. The pressure is off to make sure everyone is having a good time (half the roommates I’ve had in my life have referred to me as “Mom” at least once, for my tendency to try to take care of everyone), and I can feel a little free to ‘jump off the map’ and wander down random streets, often finding great digs to eat at, or some accidental meaningful conversations to be had.
Fun fact: a lot of the long-term friends I have were first made while I was out by myself at bars.
I spent almost the entirety of Sunday wandering around Gothenburg being a tourist and seriously lamenting the lack of a real camera (all of the photos from this trip were taken on my iPhone, I am saddened to say). Nonetheless I got a few decent shots in, and was able to experience the many back alleys and meandering canals that criss-cross the city, as well as some spectacular views from the Skansen Kronan hill. The Skansen Kronan is an old fortress built in the later 17th century to defend against possible Danish attack, bringing to mind the funny little reference to Denmark in Hamlet.
That night I finally met up with my friends from Asheville and got to experience a touch of the famous Nordic metalhead culture I had heard so much about. I found them at Restaurant 2112, a bar (and restaurant) owned and operated by two members of the band In Flames. Known for its incredible prime rib burgers, Restaurant 2112 also has an outstanding beer selection for pretty fair prices, considering the origins of most of the beers and the fact that, well, it’s Sweden, and things are expensive in Sweden.
Overall I experienced some good old fashioned hygge with everyone that night; we ended up at a small pub across town for some trivia and I got the Bloody Mary I had been craving for ages. I hopped on my separate tram back to my hosts’ apartment late that night feeling quite glad I had attempted to be spontaneous for once.
Oh, and here is that giant cinnamon roll I mentioned: