On the last day of August 2022 around 2pm, we left Oslo station for our very last trip across Norwegian territory by train. Our destination was Gothenburg, directly south along the coastline of Norway and Sweden and our train journey would take us around 3 hours 40 minutes. It was very rural country we travelled through, in contrast to the days we spent travelling through the mountains between Trondheim and Bergen. We had decided to stay two nights in Gothenburg, our standard practice for the rest of the cities we travelled to until we returned to Munich in Southern Germany.
One of the key decisions on tour was how to find our hotel on arrival. How this process went was taken as a prediction of the quality of our stay in the city. Getting to use Google maps became a compulsory skill for all of us and it was particularly useful when we arrived at Gothenburg station and discussed whether we would walk and drag our bags or catch a taxi. We opted for the walk and although it wasn’t a short distance, we didn’t get lost on the way to Hotel Vanilla at 38 Kirkogaten. It was a small and lovely hotel in a central location for visiting the centre of this very interesting city in Sweden.
Over the next two days, our main return route would pass by the back of the Gothenburg cathedral just up the street from our hotel. Rather than check out the church, my eyes were always drawn to the strange little bronze sculpture that sat on a rock at the back entry to the cathedral grounds. My first impression was that it represented an extra-terrestrial alien who had caught the plague on arrival on earth. It was called ‘Oraklet’ (oracle) and was made by a local sculptor Tilda Lovell and placed here in 2015. What it was predicting for the future I’m not sure, perhaps the Covid plague of 2020.
Our first walk around the city was on our first night when we decided we would find a seafood restaurant for our evening meal. We were give a recommendation by our hotel and we set out in the fading light for the HAGA district. The HAGA is an area of Gothenburg that was originally a working class suburb in the 19th century made up of picturesque wooden houses but in the 20th century it underwent a transformation where it has become a popular tourist place.
As we made our way to our hotel on the previous day, we crossed over a canal that seemed to be a significant aspect of the centre of the city. Like so many European cities, the canal was originally part of fortifications that were deemed necessary in the Middle Ages but pulled down in the 19th century when they were in the way of city development. Below is a map of today’s Gothenburg and it can be seen the while the city walls are long gone, their pathway around the old city can still be seen on the map, their footprint is still shown by the canals and the parklands that still surround the centre of the city. On the map below our route to our restaurant (purple dashes) can be seen crossing over the canal before entering the HAGA; in the 17th century it was a working-class area so outside the walls of the city.
Gothenburg is Sweden’s major city on the west coast of the country and its development at the start of the 17th century is inextricably entwined with the complex wars and trade demands of the Scandinavian countries of that time. Since then it has become an essential trade centre for Sweden, being their only major port facing west to the Atlantic Ocean. The port area is the outlet for the river Gota alv which drains a large lake in the hinterland, Lake Vatem, into the sea. Gothenburg’s port has been the source of great income for the city for three centuries so it was no surprise that we headed that way on our first morning in town. Our route is shown on the map above, following the canal down to the port and the river mouth.
Before we headed west down towards the port, we took a short detour by turning right on Ostrahamng to have closer look at the equestrian statue of Charles IX (1604-1611). We then turned around and headed back towards the bridge over the ‘kanalen’; we stopped here on the bridge to admire both the canal and the view over Gustav Adolfs Torg (town square) with the city hall and law courts (above). In the centre of the square there is a large statue of Gustav Adolphus of Sweden, raised in 1854, recognizing him as the founding father of Gothenburg (right below).
As we got closer to the port area, the amount of street art increased, due in the main by the amount of construction occurring here and the large empty boards fencing off the construction sites. I couldn’t help but take a picture of one such board where the artist was giving out free advice for those pedestrians struggling with their sense of reality.
I am not sure if a chalk outline of your body (reminiscent of police outlining a murder victim!) would assist greatly in promoting your sense of reality.
Our Arrival at the edge of the port was greeted by the sight of the Gothenburg’s Opera House. Having just been to see Oslo’s grand opera house, I had to admit that its design was more creative than Gothenburg’s but this structure left no doubt in my mind of how important high art was to the locals.
Not far down from the Opera House there is a ship museum (Maritiman) that has on display next to the shoreline, 15 heritage vessels. There is a destroyer here launched in 1952 and a 1962 submarine that was involved in a collision with a Soviet submarine in 1962.
Our first major destination for the morning was to find the City’s fish-market. It had been advertised as a must-see institution in Gothenburg, particularly because of the famous building it was housed in. We knew we had to turn left at the entry way to the next canal and move back into the city away from the Port area. However we were doomed to failure in getting to visit Feskekôrka (the Fish Church) as it was closed for renovation. The fish market was opened in 1874 and was declared a technical marvel at the time due to their being no pillars holding up the roof. The image on the left below is the Fish-Church surrounded by hoardings at the time of our visit and on the right is a photo taken when the same venue was open and busy with visitors.
We managed to get to the area in front of the main entrance where there was quite a significant series of sculptures called ‘Archipelago Fishermen”. Having a good look at this excellent sculpture was a small blessing for missing both the fish church and the great sea-food we were told was served inside.
It was starting to get late in the morning and hunger and thirst were starting to raise their demands on the group. We were lucky we were just over the canal from the HAGA area so we crossed a nearby bridge and found ourselves in Haga Ostergata, the street where we had been for dinner the previous night. We found ourselves outside Café Kringlan and there was probably no better place on the west coast of Sweden to settle down for morning tea in the sunshine.
As the map on the left above illustrates, our next destination was Skanson Kronan (translates as the ‘Crown Sconce’), a fortress tower built on one of the hills that overlooked the newly fortified city of Gotheburg in the early 17th century. It is technically called a ‘redoubt’, a place outside a large fortress where soldiers outside the main line can retreat to. It also is a fortress built on hills outside a fortified city to ensure invading enemies can’t gain themselves a crucial position to attack the main city. This fortress on a hill was finished in 1698 but its canons were never fired in anger.
The view over Gothenburg is quite beautiful from on top of the Skanson Kronan hill. The photo below taken from this HAGA highpoint shows at least two of Gothenburg’s landmark churches. Not far away can be seen the redbrick, grey spired Oscar Fredrick Church built in the 1890s; it is part of the Church of Sweden named after King Oscar II. The church further on in the background is the Masthugget Church and sits on one of the high hills of Gothenburg, making it a popular tourist attraction.
Over to the right in the photo below can be seen the top of a high pillar holding aloft a woman looking out to sea, waiting for her sailor to come home. It is called the Seaman’s Tower and was built next to the port in 1933 in memory of deceased marines of the First World War.
One of the perils of wandering a new city is being somewhere appropriate when toilet stops are necessary. At the top of the hill there was no obvious solution in sight. We had to walk back towards the city centre along Linnegaten before we found a café where the owner was happy to skip the need for us to buy coffee but we had to pay a fee for using his toilet. This side trip also had the bonus of us being able to inspect a large fountain called Jarntorgsbrunnen, “The Well of the Iron Square”. The artist titled it ‘The Five Continents’ when it was installed here in 1927. The five naked female sculptures represent the five continents with the ship at the top sailing the five oceans. It was interesting to note the image of the female who represented our own continent, Australia.