Island fortress

A long time ago, before even IKEA was created, the boundaries between countries in this area were quite different. Norway and Denmark vied for ownership of the region, and as the lines shifted castles and fortresses were built and attacked and built again. There are the two smallish fortresses now within the city of Göteborg, one up at Marstrand, another along the river and one further inland. I’d heard a bit about this last one and was curious to compare it to the others I’d seen. The chance presented itself a few weeks ago, which was how I found myself attempting to climb Medieval walls and completely failing.

Bohus Fortress

Bohus Fortress

Bohus Fortress lies about 20 minutes out of town by bus, and the first sight I had of it was the tall, round tower that rises above the thick walls. Even at a distance it’s impressive, and as we approached the walls loomed above us. The fortress is set on an island that is reached by two bridges on either end, and though the island had once been covered by the town that surrounded the fortress, the hills and small valley now consist of trees, grass, a bit of wilderness and a visitor’s centre. The fortress is now a museum and would usually have been open for visitors if we had visited in summer. Unfortunately it’s now closed, so our visit was restricted to peering up the walls, attempting a bit of climbing and exploring the island. A small locked door on one side showed an echoing, dripping passageway, still lit by lights from some sort of event.

View over the river

View over the river

Climbing over a fence brought us to scatterings of mushrooms and views over the swampy river and what had once been the town. At all times the walls peered down at us impenetrably, and we decided that once summer returned we’d make another attempt at the defenses.

An elderly lady lays a brief siege

An elderly lady lays a brief siege

I should perhaps mention at this time, for the sake of my mother, that Bohus Fortress was built by Norwegians and was never captured. There are still Norwegian flags at the site in case anyone was at risk of forgetting this.

...though not technically Norwegian now

…though not technically Norwegian now

As clouds began to cover up the brief blue skies, we headed over the bridge that lead to the town of Kungälv which we had never visited before. It turned out to be very lovely, our first few impressions being of narrow cobblestone streets, old-fashioned two storey houses and small, young families walking their dogs/children.

Old street in Kungälv

Old street in Kungälv

A look at a map promised some sort of historical landmark in the centre of town so we followed the old street, beneath the shadow of the hill on the right, past houses, shops and then suddenly a shopping area. By this time, however, we were both feeling quite hungry and so decided to leave the mysterious landmark for now and instead focus on dinner. Although it was only around 16:30 the dark comes quickly way up here and the urge to settle down with a plate of something tasty was growing strong. We decided on an Italian place back where we’d started and so a short bus trip later found us settling down to pasta and pizza, while I hoped that my bright pink gumboots weren’t too conspicuous for a restaurant.
Dinner finished, and gumboots unremarked upon, we arrived at the stop just in time for the next bus to Göteborg, looking forward to the next time we could visit this very nice little town sitting in the shadow of a fortress.

The waiting walls

The waiting walls

Advertisements

A journey up the river

Recently I had an entire day to myself, during a week free of classes and work, and so I escaped the city for a little while. I had an urging to visit a museum, and spend the cloudy coldness absorbed in artifacts and old stories.
Which is how I found myself at a train station, surrounded by fields and chirping birds, in a valley that had once been the centre of Västra Götaland.

Those who have peeped at the history of Göteborg may know that it was officially founded in 1621. Ok, but what about before that time, you may ask, at such a significant point between Denmark and Norway there must have been some sort of settlement, you may point out? There were, seemingly shifted down the river Älv with time as boundaries shifted and kings had great new ideas. The first of these towns on record was Lödöse, located about 40kms up the river from Göteborg. It was here that I went on that day, or to be specific, it was to the museum of Lödöse.

Lödöse as it was

Lödöse as it was

Lödöse has faded somewhat over the years, now boasting a population of around 1300 according to Wikipedia, but in the museum at least you can get a sense of what it must have been like when it was a thriving trading city.

Ancient Lödösians thriving Medievally

Ancient Lödösians thriving Medievally

The museum is full of pot and glass shards from all over Europe, the fragments of a Venetian glass hinting at the wealth that must have been here, as well as signs from everyday life. There were replicas of houses, clothes and a case with rune carvings, and mysterious fragments left from churches and the various inhabitants. I spent a while wandering among these, before climbing up to the second story, where the theme seemed to cover history in a much more general sense.

The head of a saint

The head of a saint

There were artifacts again, but rather than a plaque stating the archaeological equivalent of ‘I donno’, there were cartoons depicting suggestions in a style that didn’t ask to be taken too seriously.

Necklace or tankard ring?

Necklace or tankard ring?

There was a section about evolution, religion and race biology, which certainly didn’t pull any punches in terms of Sweden’s own history of eugenics and the clash between science and religion. Facing it was a slowly rotating globe on which stood figures from the evolution of humans, caught with a fish, a spear or empty handed, leaping from the lands they’d been discovered in.

Humanity

Humanity

There was a cartoon showing previous generations, a queue of women in gradually modernising clothes, at the end of which was a woman with a phone. It made me very much want my own history sketched out, so I can see the faces of the ladies who preceded me.

A generational queue

A generational queue

After a final poke around the rest of the museum, the library and a snack, I headed out to wait for a bus, taking in the suburban modernity that has mostly buried the old town.

Modern Lödöse

Modern Lödöse

Soon the bus arrived and took me on the next leg of the journey: Åmål.

I kid, I got of the bus before it got there. Because Åmål.

After about an hour on the rather comfortable bus, I got off at Vänersborg, and miraculously the weather began to clear. As the name suggests Vänersborg lies next to lake Vänern, near to the starting point of the river Älv. Lake Vänern is the largest lake in Sweden, and the third largest in Europe, so it is no exaggeration to say that it is really very big. I’d seen it once before and marveled at the complete lack of anything within vision on the other side.

The lake in autumn

The lake in autumn

The lake was the main reason I wanted to visit Vänersborg, so after hopping off the bus I headed along the canal to the edge of the lake. As I went past an apparently normal block of flats and cafes I was hit full in the face by a very familiar smell. People who haven’t been to Australia may have been reminded of a brewery or a yeast factory. If you have been to Australia you would have instantly recognised the heady smell of vegemite. As there was no Kraft factory or back-packers in sight, I have to assume that it was from something beer or yeast related. At least until I next get to investigate.

The lake edge was reached through a park, complete with statues, bowing willows, shimmering birches and a fountain. The lake at this point was narrow, but in between the distant hills was empty water. It’s a strange feeling to be inland and feel as though you’re staring out at the sea, imagining continents in the distance.

The endless lake

The endless lake

After turning away from the lake, I headed into town and found freshly cooked pancakes swimming in jam and cream, which I gave a thorough eating. It was then time for the train home, so with a last look around the the town I climbed onto the train and began the journey back into town. It followed the path of the river Älv, including the wide valley where an old trading town had once ruled the region, before the town was pulled as I was to the coast and the future.

A savannah in Sweden

Recently my fella received in the mail a free travel pass for life! for 10 days, and so we decided to make use of this boon. The area it covers, the Västra Götaland region, is pretty large by European standards (I’ll not get started on Australian standards) and so we had many options to choose from.
On one day he went up to Lidköpping and had an enjoyable look around, and then last weekend we devised a plan to visit the coast near the Norwegian border and see either petroglyphs or standing stones, or possibly both. It was all a little tenuous without a car, as the problem with standing stones and petroglyphs is that they are either part of a stone in a fixed location, or they are a stone in a fixed location, and therefore they don’t move to more convenient locations. Generally convenient locations don’t include fields and backyards way out in the country. Despite these possible problems, we were determined to see something prehistoric.
As you may detect from my tone, there was another problem with this plan.

In a word: floods.

I feel as though I’ve been labouring a point these last few weeks when I mention the change of the seasons, but in case it hasn’t been made clear, we are now in autumn and it is both cold and rainy. It has been raining a lot. It has been raining even more up north, in the area of Västra Götaland that includes standing stones and petroglyphs.
After deciding on our prehistorical, coastal expedition, I happened to look at a local news site and found out that there was severe flooding in the towns we were considering visiting, and that in fact the train network in the whole area had been shut down until further notice.
At least we found out the night before.

So that expedition was put on hold, and after looking at maps, tourist sites and travel information we settled on a little place not too far away that boasted a zoo and pretty scenery. Which is how we found ourselves coming face to face with a number of distant relatives last weekend.

Borås zoo can be found, unsurprisingly, in Borås and includes, somewhat surprisingly, an African savannah. As we walked into the zoo, past the dinosaur sculptures and posters of lions, giraffes and zebras basking in sunlight, I wondered how they managed to create a comfortable environment for these animals this far north. I was soon to find out, at least partly.

Flamingos

Flamingos

Before we got to the savannah though, we were surprised by an enclosure full of lawn ornaments flamingos, bobbing through a lake, flexing their wings and generally looking awkwardly elegant and pink. We then found the African Wild Dogs, a huge pack of them, some sitting under trees scratching, running around chirping or standing and watching us pass by. Ever since I did an assignement about them in primary school (featuring a diorama that I was rather proud of) I’ve been fond of them, and it was nice to see such a large group apparently socialising happily and enjoying more space than is provided at the zoo in my home town.

African hunting dogs

African hunting dogs

Next was the savannah, a large area enclosed by a stone wall and containing ostriches, zebras and antelopes, grazing or running around and looking unbothered by the cold.

Strutting ostriches

Strutting ostriches

A sign pointed to the elephant house, in which we found no elephants, but instead a rhino and a giraffe family. They were all in cement floored enclosures strewn with straw and with food hanging from the ceiling. My first thought was that I hope these are winter enclosures. They did have openings to outside areas, but the rhino at least seemed somehow frustrated, if it’s possible to anthropomorphise snorts and shuffling and blank stares. The giraffes seemed less bothered, but due to the bareness of the area I got the chance to make direct eye contact with two of them as I stood and watched them eating, and felt a bit like an intruder.

A giraffe considering me

A giraffe considering me

From the savannah we made a brief stop at the restaurant then continued on to the ape house. At the door we were greeted by tamarins, who looked like extremely curious and energetic old men. Further in there were displays about the damage of palm oil plantations, poaching and the effect of humans on animals and the environment. There were also many apes.

Chimpanzees

Chimpanzees

In one of the enclosures a group of macaques rolled, played and groomed up and down branches and through straw. In one corner a female with her baby clutching her stomach was grooming a larger male, and just behind them another macaque was running around with a canvas bag over it’s head. They all seemed very intent and social, as with the chimpanzees and in a nearby enclosure. There were four of them, who began grooming while we watched. One was on its own for a time, and then wandered over to get the attention of the smallest, youngest looking chimpanzee, who I assume was the female. After some convincing, she settled down with him and they continued grooming, while the others wandered around and sat restless poses that were difficult not to anthropomorphise.
A lonelier ape was the gibbon, one of whom was staring out through the glass, though I couldn’t tell what or who it was staring at.

A watching gibbon

A watching gibbon

Finally were the orangutans, who were either climbing their constructed tree, resting, or in one case nestling under a bag on the straw. Bored or tired, it was impossible to tell, but for the first time I felt that the Perth zoo was doing a better job with one of the enclosures, which allows more space and openness for the families of orangutans who live there.

An orangutan, resting

An orangutan, resting

From apes we moved on to big cats, where feeding was supposed to be taking place soon. First we found the tigers, two from Siberia, who were relaxing on a vantage point and pacing the enclosure. I was reminded of the long stare from the tiger at Nordens Ark, and struggled to find an adjective for them that didn’t stray to the grandiose side of magnificent.

The feeding was taking place at the lion enclosure, where an entire pride was impatiently strolling around, alternately watching the gathering crowd and the cliff tops above their home. Soon food was dropped and despite there being plenty to go around, other than the mother and cubs, they didn’t seem very big on sharing. The male lion in particular made a point of roaring and grabbing whatever he could threaten away from the lionesses, and then settling down to enthusiastically gnaw, watched by those who had managed to keep their piece or who were waiting for scraps. I felt quite glad that I wasn’t in there with them, as the sight of hungry lions and the particular harmonic of their roars awakened an ancient instinct in me to run.

A hungry lion

A hungry lion

From lions we made our way to the wolves, and I got to see them clearly for the first time in my life. I had briefly seen one at Nordens Ark, but these loped around in the open, eating and hiding hunks of meat, and paying no attention to the humans watching from across the stream and fence. Despite the long history between humans and wolves, I felt no particular fear of them, just recognition of an animal that I have long wanted to see and that is so tied up in the culture of my ancestors. From Fenrir to guide-dogs, wolves and their descendants are part of our culture, and though I wouldn’t like to meet a pack on equal footing in the wild, I was glad to see a few in their close-to-natural environment and I hope to see more some day.

A wolf

A wolf

The last really wild and fearsome creatures we saw were the brown bears. They were huge, furry bundles that lolloped and rolled around, and still managed to seem powerfully frightening. While we watched a zoo keeper dropped perfumed pine cones into the enclosure, and soon the bears were rolling all over them, rubbing their faces into the scent that even we could smell from a few metres above with every sign of enjoyment. It’s something they do in between feeding to keep the bears occupied, as they’re fascinated by new smells.

A pile of bears

A pile of bears

We left the bears to their fun and walked on to find the elk, looking very much a part of their environment, and then the farm animal section.
A rather majestic pony greeted us and posed for a few photos, and then made way for a tiny pig (in Swedish, ‘minigris’, which literally means ‘mini-pig’), who squealed and snorted and didn’t seem very happy to be separated from the other tiny pigs in the neighbouring enclosure. My partner chatted to it a bit (he’s very good with pigs), and then we headed for the exit.

Photogenic pony

Photogenic pony

From the zoo we headed into Borås, and wandered around for a few hours.

The town hall and cathedral were very picturesque, and the parks around the canal must be very pleasant in sunnier weather, so we decided we’d better come back next year.

Nobel adorning a building

Nobel adorning a building

We were also treated to preparations for the end of a soccer game. This involved at least 3 police cars full of officers, a herd of mounted police and numerous others on the ground, watching various pubs and monitoring the main square. As we were heading back to the train station, the sound of chanting filled the air and a mob of about 150 people marched past, led and followed by police. I’m not sure where they ended up, or even who played, but it seems that the very thought of a riot is not to be considered in Sweden.
Dinner at a sports bar included yet more soccer fans, after which we took the long bus ride home and had an early night.

A riot-free street in Borås

A riot-free street in Borås

As I sit a few days later and think about the zoo, I wonder whether it’s fair to compare it to Nordens Ark. It has a different goal and a different theme, and it is ambitious to base a savannah in northern Europe. I couldn’t help feeling for the animals in their winter enclosures and cement floored homes, though. I’ll be living bound in by winter soon too, but at least I have the key to the door and I can ask why.

Sunny days and nights

These past two weeks we have been able to see our city from a slightly different perspective; that of tourists. My partner’s parents have been visiting from Australia, and when we were able we took them for walks, visited sites or recommended places to visit. For the most part they seemed happy to wander around and explore themselves, and then on most evenings we’d go over to their apartment. Through some sort of incredible luck, their visit has coincided with over a week of sunny days, which ended the day they left. So we’d head over of an evening, and before long it would be 10pm and the sun would still be shining through the windows.

Out on the islands

Out on the islands

After a few days my partner’s sister and her boyfriend arrived, and we continued to show off our home city and share late dinners at the rented apartment. On one day we took a ferry to Brännö, one of the islands in the southern archipelago. Aside from some brief cloud cover it was clear and warm, roses were out along trellises and over fences and some grassy fields even had sheep and lambs wandering around in them. It was all extremely bucolic. We had lunch in the sun, under the supervision of the restaurant cat, and fika at a cafe hidden among the dockyards as we waited for the next ferry.

A ferry alternative

A ferry alternative

When we got back to town we spent some time on the balcony of the apartment, soaking in the evening sun and musing over summer, travel and luck. After we had all rested enough and some of us had got their nerves in order, we headed over to Liseberg.

It had been decided a few days previously that a few of us would attempt the Helix, a new ride that we had seen being constructed and whose passengers we regularly heard as they swooped and screamed around the tracks. Sadly it was temporarily closed when we got there so instead a brave few tried out Atmos-fear, the 116m free-fall tower that is the source of most of the screaming that you can hear from the park.

Atmosfear

Atmosfear

A couple of us decided to watch, and managed to see the others as they slowly ascended and then very quickly dropped back down. They seemed quite shaken afterwards, but were still game enough to try out Balder, the big wooden rollercoaster that I had tried last year. Remembering what it was like, I went and had a glass of wine with my partner’s mum and waited for the more adventurous people to join us.

They eventually did, looking a bit more exhilarated and still eager to try Helix, which had just started up again. As we sat and drank, the band stage was filling with dancers of all ages and styles, all of whom had definite moves. I don’t seem to notice notices for dancing classes any more than I saw in Australia, but judging by what I’ve seen at Liseberg, dancing does seem to be pretty popular here in Sweden. Perhaps it’s those long dark winter nights.

Finally the time had come. The now slightly reduced group went over to the line for the Helix, and those not taking part found a table at the Austrian themed restaurant to wait and eat. Soon they returned, and the food arrived, and in all the talk of the rides I felt very little regret at not going. Perhaps I’ll try in future, when the need to prove myself outweighs the memory of those vertiginous drops.

Liseberg in the evening

Liseberg in the evening

As darkness finally began to set in, the parents decided to call it a night, while the rest of us headed into town. We’d decided that we needed to show them the side of Göteborg where the locals spent their time and were soon in a noisy, crowded pub, chatting and trying not to listen to the loud Australian behind us, telling his new friends about goon-bags.

They have all since left for other travels, though we plan to meet them again in Oslo next week, possibly for the last time until we next visit Australia.

In other news, the first part of my Swedish course finished last week. The class, including many people I’ve studied with for 6 months, had a last fika with the teacher who has been with us from the start. The new classes next term will be with some of the same people, and a few new teachers, and the work will only continue to get harder. And then it too will end, and all sorts of other options will be available. Not too long now.

West coast road-trip day 2: Picnics and castles

For the second day of the road trip we headed south. After breakfast we tumbled into the car and set off down the highway to begin the journey.

The landscape as we drifted further out of town was quite different to what we had seen the previous day. Southward lay wide green fields and larger expanses of farming land, with less of the forested outcrops we had seen in the north. We soon reached Falkenberg, an old town with cobbled streets and town gardens just starting to bloom. After a attempted walk to the beach via the river, resulting in factories and industrial complexes, we retraced our steps in search of a place to have lunch.
Our contribution to the trip was a basket full of sandwiches, fruit and ANZAC biscuits, and upon finding a picnic table overlooking the river, we set to and cleaned out the basket. We were lucky to have another day of fine weather, so had a pleasant time soaking up the sun and trying to decide who would eat the last biscuit.

A picnic in Falkenberg

A picnic in Falkenberg

The biscuit eaten and our stomachs full, we went back to the car and continued on our journey, heading slightly west and north.

Varberg is a very pretty town right on the coast, which is partly dominated by a giant castle. The first thing that you notice about it is how massive the walls are, and then the sheer numbers of Swedes arrayed along it’s base, soaking up the precious early Spring sun.

Soaking up the sun

Soaking up the sun

We explored around the castle walls, circling until we reached a small beach where there stood a Turkish bath complex. Of course. It was on stilts, and as we approached, admiring the graceful designs along the roof, we saw a naked old woman clamber down a ladder, pop under the water and then dart back up out of sight. She was soon followed by many other nude women, the youngest of whom gave a small scream when she ducked under the chilly water. I suppose it goes to show that 7 months isn’t nearly enough time to be inured to surprises from another culture, and also not long enough to be tempted to try them out myself.

A Swedish Turkish bath

A Swedish Turkish bath

A quick dip of a hand in the cold water made the decision easier. My partner and one of our friends took of their shoes and paddled in the shallows, their faces growing gradually more strained until they ran out of the water, exclaiming about how warm the sand felt, before inexplicably returning to the shallows.
I preferred to borrow gumboots and walked around feeling the weight of the water on my feet without the chill, admiring the castle walls and trying to avoid looking at the splashing underneath the baths.

Paddling

Paddling

Soon we had paddled enough, and crossed to the the cafe in the baths. Sitting out on the balcony, eating an icecream and lying back in the sun, I felt as though the seasons had definitely shifted onwards, and sunburn would replace occasional protestations about frostbite. It was lovely there in the sun, and we stayed for a while, letting the time pass. When we became restless we climbed up through the gates and ramps to the top of the castle. From the top of the walls we had a view out over the town and the sea, and spent some time gazing about.

Looking down from the walls

Looking down from the walls

A loud ringing noise drew my attention to an old fashioned bell hanging from a wall, and I wandered over, realised as I approached that the distance from the ground to the bell seemed to grow as I got closer. By the time I had reached the bell I needed a stick and a leap to just touch it. We all took turns, my partner managing to give it enough of a thwack to set it ringing deafeningly.
After which we descended the ramps, took another stroll around the walls, and headed back to the car.

All too soon we were back in town, being dropped off at our apartment and saying goodbye to our travelling companions. Given how many places there are around Göteborg that we haven’t yet explored, I’m sure we’ll be climbing back into a car and heading out on another road trip soon. And if we’re lucky, we’ll get the same sunny weather as this trip.

West coast road-trip day 1 – The Archipelago

Since the events of the previous post over a month has passed, in which we settled back into post-holiday real life. It was not exactly as it had been prior to the holiday, though. I have been fortunate enough to be offered relief teaching work at an independent adult college in the area (a feminist one!), as well as private tuition work. This has meant I’ve been somewhat busier, and a little bit of the unease about employment and dependence has faded. Meanwhile, study is ramping up as we head towards the final test before SAS (Svenska som andraspråk), which unfortunately for me is planned for the first week of June. Which is the week I come back from Australia.

Yes, I am going to Australia for a few weeks, yay!

I’m not sure how this blog will work, it being based on sharing experiences from new countries and adventures, but I’m sure there will at least be photos of blue skies, forests, beautiful sunsets and little old Perth. Awww, nostalgia.

ANZAC biscuits for the trip

ANZAC biscuits for the trip

During the last month and a bit we have also gone on a little road-trip, exploring the coast around Göteborg. A fellow expat had a friend from home visiting for a week and decided to book a car and plan a two day road-trip to the archipelago and to the south coast, which we were delighted to go along with.

It often seems to be the case that when you live somewhere, one of the last places you explore is the area just beyond the range of daily journeys, though you will regularly travel well past it. I don’t know why this is, but I’d welcome any theories!
In any case, we started our adventure with a breakfast of pancakes at our apartment, and then trooped down to the car to hit the road.
The first stop was the island of Öckerö, which is just off the coast of Göteborg, and which we reached by car-ferry. We had been there before on a windy and wet day, but as luck would have it the entire weekend of the road-trip was sunny with barely a hint of wind, better than we could have hoped.

Once on the island we parked and stretched our legs around the perimeter of the island, walking through boatyards, which included plastic-wrapped boats, and through quiet suburbs. Starting to feel a bit hungry we then headed over to the island of Höno, and into town to a cafe that was recommended by the organiser of the trip. The cafe is cunningly located at the back of a florist, and after ordering ‘the shopping lunch’ (what a brilliant idea!) we settled in the sheltered, cushioned section at the back and ate, drank and chatted. Once we were full and I had topped the pizza off with a home-made passion-fruit meringue cake, which was even better than it sounds, we headed out into the sun and down to the rocky beach.

A beach on Hönö

A beach on Hönö

I have yet to work out why, but coastal areas in Sweden always seem to be silent. It’s as though there’s a forcefield keeping the bustle of people and industry away from the quietly lapping water and sun warmed rocks. We spent a good hour alternatively basking on rocks, exploring the coves, taking in the views and paddling barefoot in the chilly water. We were joined by a few families, including one who seemed to think that massive rock piles posed no barrier for a pram. Feeling well basked we wandered back to the car and continued on our journey.

The land side of Marstrand

The land side of Marstrand

Back on the mainland we drove north through farmlands and villages and around to the last destination of the day, Marstrand. To get there we crossed bridges and roads over ever smaller islands until we got to the town of Marstrand, from where we could drive no further. We caught another ferry over to the island and started the climb up through the lovely old town to the fortress above. The cobbled streets, elegant old houses and quiet made it feel as though it was from a different century; perhaps in summer when tourism is booming is feels more contemporary, but on this late afternoon in March we almost had the town to ourselves.

Houses reflected

Houses reflected

Once at the fortress we swung around to the right and circled the walls till we found a bench overlooking the rocks, forests and sea below. Swedes, we decided, have an instinct about benches, so if there is ever a place with a view, there will either be a bench waiting or someone along very soon with planks and nails.

Carlstens Fästning

Carlstens Fästning

After a bit of exploring and taking photos, the four of us sat on the bench and stared out to sea. We probably sat there, in silence, for at least 15 minutes, watching the sun descend and the light change.

A village out to sea

A village out to sea

Then we headed back up to the fortress, along the cobbled streets and through echoing archways to a grassy embankment from where we could see the sun almost touching the horizon. As with toasters, as you watch the sun setting it doesn’t seem to be moving until you look away, though as we watched and did a countdown it slipped into the sea, leaving a pink and gold sky behind it.

The old town at dusk

The old town at dusk

In the gradual darkness we went back to the ferry, then to the car, and then back to town. In town we had dinner at our favourite burger restaurant and then, tired and full, we went home and slept, to be ready for the next day’s adventures.

Fine food and deep snow

While I’ve been attempting to stuff my brain with a new language, writing, looking for a job and working out titles for my blog posts, my partner has been working very hard at his job. Even over the Jul break he put in hours, returning to the office for a day just after Jul and monitoring processes from our hotel room in Oslo, and so his boss decided he needed some kind of thanks.
Which was how we ended up walking a bit hesitantly into one of the 4 Michelin star restaurants in Göteborg, being offered a glass of spiced apple juice, escorted to a neat little table and subjected to 4 hours of amazing food, service and drinks. It was indeed a difficult cross to bear.

The restaurant in question was Thörnströms Kök, and at this stage I have to come clear about something. I have never been to a restaurant classified as ‘fancy’, so was prepared to be impressed. It didn’t take long for this to happen.
I’m no gastronome (gastrognome?) so I can’t list the food we had, but suffice to say we chose a set menu and matching wine list, and everything was perfect. The wine matched the food, each (somewhat, and expectedly small) meal was a feast of flavours and they kept foisting appetisers and sweets on us. We made a bit of a miscalculation when we ate all of the bread that was intended to last the entire sitting before the second course arrived, but they were happy to bring out another. More impressive even than the tastes and expertise was the uncanny ability of the staff to have the next course and wine on our table just when it was needed, and to my personal amusement, their habit of refolding the napkins while we were taking toilet breaks. I left mine intentionally folded but was foiled by the waiter’s superior skills.
By the time we had been there for 4 hours and I had finished a pot of a newly invented herbal tea combination, we were satisfied and ready to venture out into the cold for the slow plod home. If you get a chance to go there, go.

In addition to me now having an unrealistic benchmark for future meals, winter has finally actually arrived. About a week ago the snow came, which I mentioned in my last post, and has remained. The first day I stepped out into the now consistently -C temperatures, my breath caught in my throat, and I have resigned myself to wearing thermals whenever I venture outside and a minimum of two beanies. It has stayed cold enough that there has been hardly any slush or ice, so I make my way around town with enjoyable crunching sounds from beneath my boots. Last weekend we were lucky enough to get two days on sunlight and it was glorious. Though still cold the white snow and sharply contrasting shadows were beautiful and worth any amount of numb fingers.

Trollhättan canal

That weekend we also went on a short trip up to Trollhättan, a town about 40 minutes north of Göteborg, and where one of my partner’s workmates lives. We were greeted at the train station by piles of snow and said workmate and his daughter, who was gleefully being dragged along on a small sled. She’s about 3 and with her father’s encouragement exclaimed now and then in English, and the rest of the time squealed with excitement when he whipped the sled around in a circle or through deep snow. I very much wanted one, which was not helped when he mentioned that he sometimes attaches the sled to his bike to take her to day care. I tried sending significant looks and less subtle hints to my partner but thus far he has refused to bite.
We were then taken on a tour of the town, including a cafe stop and a visit to the locks and canals that connect the west and east of Sweden and provide the area with power. A large patch of deep snow in which the little girl demonstrated how to make a snow angel required me to do the same, and was only part of the capering about that my partner and I go into. We had a long of time to make up for from our childhood. After looking into the fast flowing canals that rushed towards the hydropower plants and exploring more of the area I discovered my phone was no longer in my pocket. We backtracked, my partner repeatedly calling my phone and the rest of us peering into tiny holes in the snow. It seemed likeliest that it had slipped out while I was capering, and as we wandered through a deep patch I heard the ringtone. After checking that I hadn’t somehow missed it in one of my pockets I dug into the snow and found it, wet, cold and loudly playing the theme to The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Relieved and starting to get cold, we then headed to our tour guide’s home, where we were supplied with whiskey and wine until it was time to head home. As the workmate is a self taught connoisseur of whiskey we were quite merry by the time we left.

Sun on the canal

The next day we followed up the traditional playing in the snow with a visit to Ikea, carrying a list that I hoped and inevitably failed to follow. We did get what we needed, in addition to a number of things I hadn’t realised we needed, and it confirmed my suspicion that Ikea in Sweden is a clone of Sweden in Australia, or wherever else they have sprouted.

Since then we have worked and studied, waiting for the weekend and the rare days like today when the sun shines on Göteborg.

To the sea

This update was started as I sat on a rock overlooking the sea in Saltholmen, alternately scribbling in my writing pad and staring around at the perfectly serene surroundings. I didn’t lug my laptop to the coast and up that hill, and so I’m now typing it up at home, while a rainy mist persists outside.

Göteborg is a city that is tied to the sea. Since it’s founding it has lived by the ships that still meander up the Göte älv to disgorge their contents on the docks that, unlike other harbour cities I’ve seen haven’t yet been reclaimed as fashionable apartments. The Gulf Stream which passes nearby keeps it relatively warm, so far warm enough for a sheltered Australian who can only imagine snowy winters as Yule cards. (As I retype these notes, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, the most oceanic music I know, has started playing, and as well as seeing the still surface of the bays at Saltholmen, I can see the dark beneath the waves.) I’ve always been drawn to bodies of water, whether rivers, lakes or the ocean, fancifully I imagine it could be because about 80% of me is water, but to be honest I don’t know for sure.

An old man sharing the sun

It is a surprise, then, that it’s taken me 6 weeks to visit the coast, and now that I am perched on a rock overlooking Saltholmen harbour, the sun on my back and the breeze in my hair, I am glad. There couldn’t be a better day to be here.

View from the rock

My plan initially had been to take a tram to the end of it’s route, in order to see more than the central city that I’ve been wandering around so far. I chose the 11, which ends at Saltholmen, an island relatively recently connected to the mainland. According to Wikipedia, this town is very popular in summer, when locals flock to swim in the protected bays. This would explain why, in October, the kiosks and icecream stalls are closed. Nevertheless, I wandered along the jetty, admiring the scrubby rocks, and found a cove. A rickety bridge spanned between worn rocks and I climbed over, seeing a rock with a 2 metre sharp drop into a warm pool below, whether drifted jellyfish, seaweed and small fish. There I sat, dangling my legs. I wrote a bit, inspired by the quiet and beauty, then sat and watched. Soon I climbed further and found a perch on the highest rock, with a view over the sheltered harbour and bays. There are others basking up here, a few couples wrapped in themselves and others reading and soaking in the light and sea. Just being. It is a fine place to be. I wish this being, right now, could be forever.

A sheltered bay

Obviously it couldn’t be forever, but I sat there for long enough to feel steeped in the sea air, then climbed down the rock and made my way to the tram. On my way I found a patch of forest, with groves of birches, young oaks and startled birds. It seemed almost absurd to find two of the places I enjoy the most, the sea and the forest, in the same place.
Then I went home. This was last week, and I can picture the scene where I sat as it is now. Windy, overcast, damp and quiet. I look forward to being there again.

Surprise forest