Here’s the thing to know about Gothenburg: you don’t really need four days there.
Again, as with Malmö, the weather didn’t help; mostly cool and wet. It would clear up, you’d get your hopes up and just like that it would be cloudy and wet again. Of course you never know about a place like this before you get here, so we figure better to leave some extra time just in case it’s really cool. And Gothenburg, it seemed, had potential. It’s Sweden’s second-largest city, with a big University population. Volvo was founded here, so at one point at least there was a lot of money here. It’s got parks and museums and is the largest port in Scandinavia. And – this is big – Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA was born here. So it had potential.To tell the truth, we were kind of bored though. There’s a string of parks around the center of the city that were great for walking around and reading in; I made great progress on a somewhat tedious biography of the artist Caravaggio I’ve been reading. And the modern art museum was a lot of fun, definitely worth half a day. We stayed at an artsy hotel called Pigalle that was so hip I felt like maybe I wasn’t cool enough to be staying there; they let me anyway, though, so I guess that worked out OK. Had it been a two-day stay we would have enjoyed the parks and museum and considered the stop a success.
Four days, though, was a bit much. We struggled to find restaurants that we liked and that didn’t cost a not-so-small fortune. And ultimately after a couple tries we gave up on finding anywhere to have a cocktail; they were crazy expensive yet tiny, and the quality was limited. A martini with black olives??
Two things worth pointing out, not particularly specific to Gothenburg. One, Sweden is moving aggressively to become a cashless society. Contrary to a lot of places where we don’t know if they’ll accept a credit card, a lot of businesses have signs in the window or on the door that say “Cash not accepted.” Never seen that before. Gothenburg native and Abba-guy Björn became the country’s most prominent advocate of going cashless after his son was robbed. His point is that a great deal of crime broadly and the black market entirely is dependent on cash; get rid of cash and suddenly things become a lot safer. Not bad. And a big boost for those of us who get three frequent flyer points for every dollar spend on our credit cards.
And then there was the big observation Mark made about our SIM cards. We love having our iPhones unlocked so that every time we enter a country we get new cards and then are online pretty much all the time. The only downside is needing to get new cards every time we cross a border, even here in the European Union. Well, just a few weeks ago we were surprised when we traveled from Greece to Italy and our SIM cards continued working. Cool, but we figured it was something peculiar to either Italy or Greece.
At some point while in Italy we had to get new cards – we get prepaid 30-day cards and they expired – so then we had Italian SIM cards. But when we flew to Sweden, just like that, they continued working. What’s going on? Why are we suddenly able to cross borders and our SIM cards continue to work? Mark did a little research and it turns out that the EU declared that as of June 15 telecommunication companies could no longer charge roaming fees; that’s what the borderless nature of the EU is supposed to be all about, after all. And now our lives are substantially simpler, or at least will be whenever we travel in the EU. Who says government can’t do useful things for people?
OK, so that was Gothenburg. Next stop Gotland, an island in the Baltic Sea east of Sweden’s mainland.