Gothenburg, Kullavik, and Marstrand
May Vacation Part 2
We left Munich for Gothenburg early Monday morning. We chose Gothenburg because we have Swedish friends there, the Hagman’s and the Löfgren’s, who used to live in Charleston (working with the new Volvo plant), and who have since returned to Sweden. The kids of these friends were in school with our boys for a few years – that’s how we met – and we were excited to finally get a chance to visit them in their home country! I really liked this trip because, while we did get to see the city of Gothenburg, we also got to see some places we would not have known about (Kullavik and Marstrand) – an insider’s tour of the Southwest coast, if you will. Plus, the friends we saw are just wonderful people and we had a great time together.
We landed in some cool weather but with a lot of sunshine and made our way to Hotel Bellora where we were staying for much of the visit. Bellora is located in the city center and a great spot for getting around Gothenburg. The hotel has a restaurant, includes breakfast in your stay, has a hipster flair and even a boxing ring in the gym.
We weren’t able to check in right away so we grabbed lunch across the street at Olivia and then took the boys to a nearby park, just a stones throw from the theater and from our hotel. Later on, after checking in and freshening up, we strolled over to the Haga area of Gothenburg – once the outskirts of town for the working class, but now very much a part of the city, with its own small shopping streets and cute cafes. We participated in a late “fika”, sampling several treats at Cafe Husaren. If you go here, my best advice is go early so you can get a full cinnamon roll (“kanelballen”)-they are the size of a dinner plate! We got there late and they only had 1/4 of a roll left (which we of course bought). From the cafe we walked around a bit more and took our crew up the hill to Skansen Kronan, a fortified hilltop tower that was built to protect Gothenburg back in the late 1800’s. It never saw battle and, while much of the other city fortifications were taken down, the residents of the nearby area worked to create a park around this and keep part of it it still standing.
By this point, the early morning and chilly wind were affecting everyone’s mood so we grabbed a simple dinner at a nearby taco restaurant and called it a night. The sun rises at 5:20 AM in Gothenburg at this time of year so we needed to get as much sleep as we could muster (thank goodness for blackout curtains and eye masks).
Since our trip to Sweden did not coincide with any national breaks for the Swedes, our friends had school and work for part of our time there which gave us some time to explore the city on our own.
Slottsskogen: We knew our second day there would be our “warmest” and sunniest so we made plans to be outside for a good portion, with the decision to visit Slottsskogen, a massive park with playgrounds, winding nature paths, lakes, and even a petting zoo (which we didn’t even get to the first day). This park has many trails (asphalt as well as natural) and you’ll see many runners, cyclists, walkers, cafes, playgrounds, and it is home to many deer, moose, etc.
It is a great place to get out energy for adults and kids. Josh and I both ran here…pretty sure it was our one workout of the entire May break. We let the boys play their hearts out all morning and then treated them to a brunch style lunch that served the most ridiculous dessert style pancakes! They were in heaven.
Paddan boat tour of the city. This tour starts super close to our hotel and is only an hour long, so a good timing for kids. It is worth it for entertainment/information/site seeing. The sun cooperated for us, which helped with the chilly weather.
Universeum – We chose to go here on our coolest/cloudiest day. This is a science exhibit combined with rain forest, aquarium, space exploration, AI, and probably a bunch of other things I’m forgetting. It is well laid out on 4 different floors and the kids had a blast here. We also wanted to try the local amusement park, Liseberg, but it is not open during the week at this time. We will just have to go back in the summer. During our visit, part of the the Universeum was closed for renovations, and there’s quite a bit of city road construction going on nearby…I think that area will be even nicer and better in the next year or so.
Time with friends.
During our visit we had dinner at each of our friend’s homes. The Hagman’s live closer to Gothenburg and hosted us for a grill out of chicken skewers, some veggies, and a cake baked by their oldest son, Jonathan.
Two nights later we enjoyed dinner with the Löfgrens, 30 minutes south of Gothenburg, in Kullavik, a smaller town (probably about 10,000 people). We got lucky in that one of their neighbors allowed us to stay in their downstairs apartment just around the corner from the Löfgren’s house. Thursday night we grilled out with chicken legs for the boys, and fish/vegetable skewers for the adults. We also tried a traditional “fresh shrimp” style where it is boiled with dill and salt (heads on) as an appetizer.
It was so cool to see the kids playing together after not seeing each other for a couple of years. They didn’t miss a beat!
After dinner we walked to Korshamn, up on a hill overlooking the water and heard about how much time they spend in the waters below. Anders told me that sometimes he and Måns go down to the docks in rain coats and let the waves splash up in their faces. It is beautiful and natural and very clear that Swedish life, especially as we saw on the west coast, revolves around the water.
Särö Västerkog Friday morning we were on our own in Kullavik for a bit while the Löfgren’s had school and work. We took Nina’s advice and ate at a nearby bakery before driving to Särö Västerkog for a rocky, coastal hike. The views here are just stunning. I’ve never hiked along a coast this way. Large smooth rocks (created forever ago by glaciers) with full views of the water on one side and wooded paths on the other. After our hike we grabbed lunch at a nearby spot called Blomstermåla then returned to Nina’s house for our trip to Marstrand with her family and the Hagmans.
Marstrand Marstrand is an island about 30 minutes northwest of Gothenburg and has been a local’s vacation spot for Swedes in this area for many years. In fact, many of the Swedes have their prom at the “Society House” overlooking the harbor. I found this fascinating and far better than my stories of prom in our high school cafeteria (hah!). Marstrand is also a hub for sailing camps and regattas, and it is now known as the capital of sailing in Sweden. The famous Pelle Peterson, who was a sailing gold medalist and legendary designer of boats and autos (and many other things) with Volvo, is celebrated with a store in Marstrand. In the summertime, apparently the island is full of people and boats in the harbor. Many of those on sailboats sail up the coast, docking each night by a port or beach and party with their fellow sailors. I hear it can get quite rowdy.
The small island is home to a couple thousand people and also to Carlesten fortress built in the 17th century, that protected newly acquired land by Sweden and benefited from close access to the local port. To get to Marstrand, you take a ferry (or your own boat), so the streets are quiet, small, cobblestone streets leading to cute houses, small shops, or natural areas. We stayed in a hotel just down the street from where the ferry dropped us off – the Villa Maritime Marstrand and I highly recommend it. We had a 2 bedroom suite, the kids room was bunkbeds and also didn’t have a window so they were not subject to the 5:20 am sunrise :p There’s a pool that these crazy kids (and one of the dads) actually jumped in.
Our first afternoon In Marstrand we took a short walk around the “town” and had dinner at the hotel restaurant. This island is so small and cute that we were able to let the kids do things on their own, like go off to the playground together (around the corner) or hang out in the game room of the hotel. That made the catching up with our friends over a more leisurely dinner even more fun because we could just chill out together and chat while the kids got to do what they wanted to do with their buddies.
We only had one night on Marstrand so we needed to make the most of our short visit. Saturday morning we grabbed breakfast together and there was talk of swimming in the pool. Y’all…here’s how you know you’re traveling with Scandinavian kids versus southern US kids: The sun was out, it was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit and I think the pool water was maybe in the low 60’s. Every single Swedish kid jumped in, and one Swedish dad. Only one member of the Hays family jumped in (and their name was not Sarah). The weather was so nice that we hung out for a bit by the pool until we needed to checkout at 10, and head out for a longer hike.
This hike took us around the perimeter of part of the island, by some small caves, and out on a point with a lighthouse. It is in my all time top 5 hikes I think. We hiked a little over 3 miles and for almost 2 hours. Sometimes the kids were happy about it. Sometimes they were not. But when we got to the lighthouse point…they sat watching the waves, feeling the occasional sea spray, and exclaiming with excitement each time. I could have watched them watch those waves forever.
We made our way back to the main part of town, had lunch on an outdoor terrace at Lasse Magas KROG restaurant, then ice cream treats down the street before boarding the ferry again and driving back to Nina’s (and the neighbor’s) home in Kullavik.
Prior to this trip, we’d never traveled with either family. We’d spent some time with them in Charleston and attended school events with them but no actual trips. After our stint in Sweden, I think we are all hoping our travel paths cross again and our families can continue making memories together. We are so grateful for their time in planning the trip to Marstrand, in inviting us to their homes, picking us up from the city, and making dinner for us. Also we had so much gratitude for Nina’s neighbor who allowed us to spend two nights in his basement apartment so that we would not have to travel back into the city after dinners with the Löfgrens, thus having more time together. Tack, my friends! Until next time.
Observations & Learnings from Sweden
- Swedes dress up a bit more, meaning they aren’t walking around in “athleisure” wear. Everyone seemed smartly dressed like they were headed to either a business lunch or a dinner with friends. After the last 2-3 years in the US of always being in workout clothes, I noticed this right away, and quickly made an effort to wear my “nicer” clothes when outside the hotel.
- Our friends told us about a tradition on Saturdays where kids go to a candy store depot, usually on their own, with money earned from taking bottles/cans to recycling centers. Ours were supposed to join in on this our last day, but it totally slipped our mind after Marstrand.
- FIKA (the mid morning and mid afternoon coffee/cake time that is as a noun and a verb and is LOVELY), is alive and well in the bigger cities too. If you go to Gothenburg, go to Haga and get your Fika there.
- Gothenburg is pretty diverse. More so than I expected. This is due, at least in part, to Sweden’s general openness to refugees and asylum seekers, especially those from Syria over the last several years. We chatted for a bit with our hotel bartender who left Egypt during the Arab Spring and found his way to Sweden. He is now fluent in the Swedish language and feels well integrated into society, but admits it all took some time to get there and to make Swedish friends. All of his family is still in Egypt but he considers Sweden his home.
- The Dutch are known for their frankness or directness, but I think this is also a trait of the Swedes. This is the complete opposite of people who grew up in the south (especially southeast) of the US, where no one says exactly what they mean, there’s a lot of worry about offending, and a lot of offense being taken at what/how things are said.
- Gothenburg is large, but clean, with big streets and tall buildings. It isn’t too big, though, to get around easily, especially by bike (which we didn’t do, but if you don’t have kids who need smaller sizes, I’d recommend it). There are a lot of separated walking/cycling paths, making it super safe and easy to get around without a car. We also utilized the tram system, which was really easy to navigate.