It’s a cold evening here in Västra Götaland. It is also my last evening in Sweden before I fly back to England tomorrow. Last Thursday I took a short, easy flight on SAS from Heathrow to Kastrup where I met up with the Viking and took an Öresund Tåg to Kalmar. The train ride was nicer than the flight. SAS are not the best airline, but this crew were largely from parts of Europe not Scandinavia and they did not speak Swedish. That very much annoyed me. I like speaking Swedish. They’re competent and efficient, but other than a cup of coffee or two there is little difference between them and Norwegian — save that Heathrow is a far better airport than Shatwick!
We made good use of the sauna and spa. This was, ultimately, a spa weekend. It was a very nice spa and a very nice sauna. The breakfast in Kalmar was very nice, too. It was largely locally-sourced, freshly prepared and of good quality. I am fond of Scandinavian breakfasts, especially if they offer copious amounts of Herring. They offered copious amounts of herring.
We visited the Kalmar County Museum, Kalmar’s baroque cathedral, Kalmar Castle and did a fair amount of walking. The museum had a temporary exhibition on life in Kalmar during the Cold War. In the best Swedish tradition, the emphasis is not on the rarefied, but on the tangible — what relates to most. The Viking quite approved of the painting of the flagship of the Swedish Navy getting blown up whilst surrounded by Danish ships. He broached the idea of having a very large version of that painting erected on the Danish side of the border in order to welcome visitors from Sweden.
Kalmar Castle is northern Europe’s best-preserved Renaissance castle. It is also the site where the Kalmar Union, a union of the Swedish, Norwegian and Danish thrones was signed. It’s a pretty building with wonderful views of the sea.
The Viking left for Denmark on Sunday. He had to be back at work the next morning. I left for Göteborg. Travelling through the Swedish countryside is invariably a beautiful experience. There was some snow which made it even prettier. My hotel in Göteborg is very convenient, it took me five minutes to walk there from the train. It is, however, a bit more sterile and it lacks some of the amenities.
I walked through Gamlestaden yesterday. It was different to what I had expected, but after trudging through some building sites, it was still worth the effort. I have spent most of my time in Sweden in places like Kalmar, Ystad, Lund, Helsingborg, etc. They are not villages exactly, but they are certainly not major urban centres. Göteborg is very different from Stockholm. Stockholm is ravishingly beautiful in a very understated way. Stockholm is also more aloof. Göteborg was started as a working port city. Its temperament is different. It is rougher, but not unsafe. It is very cosmopolitan, but it is distinctly Swedish. Göteborg has always been a centre of immigration and emigration. Many of the great names in its history are Dutch, German and Scottish. International trade was centred in Göteborg. The Swedish East India Company was based here and its former headquarters is now the Göteborg Museum. Those that came from around the world, those that left for better opportunities.
It is a city with money, but social problems are also more readily apparent. It is an overwhelmingly clean and well organised city, but there are more tensions than there are elsewhere in Sweden. It is not without reason that Göteborg, along with suburban and rural Skåne are the places where the Sweden Democrats derive most of their support. While I did not instantly like Göteborg in the same way that I did Stockholm, I grew to like it quickly.