Trip Journal - Göteborg




Göteborg - 21 June 1998

We got up at 6:45 so we could pack and clean up our room before we made the walk back to the train station with the packs. The walk back in was quite easy - I guess we were refreshed this time. It turned out that we had our days mixed up and the train didn't leave until 8:40, but that was no problem, we would still catch our connecting train by a couple of hours, so we sat on a bench in the sunshine and ate our bread and cheese for breakfast at the train station. The ride was uneventful except for the last stretch. We got a seat reservation which turned out to be in the familjevagn (family car). It has a playground and seats for weary mothers, all of whom seem to possess screaming or crying children. It was a loud, wild ride.

I wondered if I would recognize Jacob when we got to Göteborg Centralen, but he looks exactly the same. He took us up to the observation tower of the big red building at Lilla Bommen (by the river) where we could see a 360 degree view of the city. Then we walked around Östra Hamngatan and the ubiquitous Gustav Adolfs Torg (every Swedish city we've been in has had one). After that Jacob left us to find our way around and he went off to his company's (Volvo) big gala event at the opera house celebrating their newest model. The opera house was not much to look at from the outside, but Jacob assured us that it was very nice inside. It certainly has a nice view out over the water.

Meanwhile, we walked the Avenyn (Avenue -- the street to see and be seen in Göteborg). We picked up USA Today (ptui! but the most current US paper they carried) and then headed out in search of dinner. After much wandering, we ended up at Peppes, a pizzaria, which is a Scandinavian chain started by an American wife and a Norwegian husband (or maybe it was the other way around). We ordered starkùl (strong beer) but what we got seemed pretty light to us. We're awfully spoiled from having made our own exactly the way we like it. But we made do and ordered a pizza with peppers, mushrooms and extra cheese. It is served without plates, presumably so that the Swedes would get it that you should eat it with your hands instead of with knife and fork. Or maybe dishwashers are prohibitively expensive... It was good just the same and the beer was nice and the evening was fine, so we settled in for some excellent people watching. We saw a group of young Iranian men go by waving a huge flag from their country and chanting "I-ran! I-ran!". They were evidently all excited about the World Cup soccer match against the USA that night (we watched on television as they beat us 2 - 1). We considered starting a competing chant of own, something like "U-S-A, Number 1!" just to see what would happen, but we just can't get that excited over soccer. We were seated near the corner of a busy intersection and several times I had the distinct impression that I heard and saw out of the corner of my eye a horse, perhaps from olden times. It was very strange. There was something in the road which made a kind of clomping sound, but that didn't explain what I saw.

After 2 beers and the paper it was time to go back and meet Jacob at the car, near the red tower, which by the way, has a huge inflatable Volvo hanging from it, shaped to look like a car-shaped safety pin. All for the presentation of this year's new model. It's a very big deal. All the dealers from Germany are in town this week and they are getting the royal treatment: special boat tours and various red-carpet events all over the city for themselves and their spouses. Jacob says they aren't marketing the new Volvo in the States yet because last year's model is still selling so well.

We met Jacob, and his friend Peter, who'd also gone to the gala, wearing suits and eating ice cream on sticks. They looked pretty funny. We dropped Peter off near a tramline and almost immediately afterwards, we were flagged down by the police. Everyone was being stopped. It was because it was the end of Midsommer weekend, I guess. But it was a little scary because it was so unexpected; none of us had on seat belts, the lights weren't on (the law is that you always have your lights on), and Jacob may have had a very small glass of champagne at the reception. I'm not admitting to anything in print, but he may have. While we were waiting in line for our turn to be inspected, we surreptitiously put on our seat belts. Then Jacob had to blow into a breatholizer tube. All went well, but afterwards, he confessed how "awful" it felt to blow into the tube knowing that there was the possibility that he had had alcohol a couple of hours before. But I didn't even know any of this was going on. He seemed perfectly calm, like this happened all the time.

When we got home to Jacob's apartment, I was surprised to see how small it is. It has a kitchen, bathroom and living room. It took me a while to realize that there wasn't a bedroom. I felt really bad when Jacob told us we could have his bed in the living room and he'd sleep on a cot in the kitchen. When we'd first started planning the Sweden part of the journey, Jacob had been living with his girlfriend, and they had a large place with a spare bedroom. But they've since broken up. So he's got this place for now. So I got another chance to practice knowing that there is always enough room for me in the world. And it all worked out great. The bigger challenge in my mind had been whether Paul and Jacob would like each other; Jacob was a boyfriend in high school, and however long ago that might have been, it still might have been uncomfortable. But it was great.

22 June 1998

We didn't do much of anything the first day we were in Göteborg. It was raining and we had a lot of computer work to catch up on. We did make dinner for Jacob when he got home and I believe he was impressed. He couldn't believe we had gotten all the ingredients we needed from the little grocery store near his house. Admittedly, it was tough. We had gone there with a completely different menu in mind, but couldn't get anything we needed. No spinach, no wild rice, no good peppers. So we settled on that old standby, pasta, with a nice sauce and sauteed vegetables. It turned out well, but it was just pasta. Still, I don't think Jacob cooks very much, so hopefully any kind of home-cooked meal was okay with him. He asked us what his kitchen needed in order to be able to invite a few friends over for dinner. A big pot and a good knife would do it, we said. He really lives the life of a bachelor. No good kitchen tools. We had ice cream with strawberries for dessert, which also seemed to go over well.

Jacob says that the job market is quite bad for the employees right now. Unemployment is high, and he had to apply to Volvo 25 times before he got hired! He's a Purchaser for them, although it sounds to me like most of his job entails keeping the various manufacturing lines running, by scrambling to find parts from other sources when there is a problem. It sounds quite stressful. He sometimes has to have his phone turned off, just so he can get some work done.

23 June 1998

We ventured out even though Paul had read in the newspaper that it might rain. We took our jackets, but I took a chance and wore my fisherman's sandals, because I was sick of wearing the boots. Bad idea, as it turned out. We took the canal ferry into town. Göteborg has the coolest public transportation system. The city that exists now is actually the fourth Göteborg to be built, and it was built on a swamp. Dutch engineers were brought in to help, since they did such a good job of reclaiming land in their country. Their solution was to construct a series of canals, on which you can ride boats into the city center. It must be subsidized, because it only costs about $1.25 to ride if you get a 100 Skr card, and you can ride ferries, trams and busses all the way out into the Archipelago if you like. But for today, we just took the ferry to Lilla Bommen, which is the canal point for the center of town. It was raining when we emerged, so we ducked into Norstan, which is a huge mall. It's not like an American mall, but more like a huge pedestrian zone that's covered. In fact it is attached to the pedestrian zone, and it's convenient to walk through to get to other parts of the city. So there's a lot of traffic flow from people who aren't actually shopping. Luckily the walkways are very wide. Also, Sweden is in the middle of its Summer Rea (sale) period. By law, stores are allowed to have sales only twice a year here: once in June and then again in December. So the store windows are a riot of signs screaming lower prices and huge percentage markdowns. The building itself is shaped like a huge hanger, with a glassed-in roof. There are no fountains, or benches or ice skating rinks, although there are a couple of children's rides. We had thought that we'd eat our lunch in the mall, to stay dry, but no such luck. So we went out into Gustav Adolfs Torg, where it had for the moment stopped raining. We wiped off a bench with a bandana and sat down to eat. Afterwards, we went to the Trädgårdföreningen, which is a beautiful garden with sculptures, a rose garden, a palm house, butterfly house, etc. It was raining again, but we toughed it out. For a while. Pretty soon, we sought a reprieve from the miserable weather in the Butterfly House. Inside, it was warm and moist. You could hear the rain dripping on the roof. They have two rooms, one for the Asian butterflies and one for the American. Do you suppose they fight? There are only a few butterflies so far, but they were wonderful. The Owl Moths were terrific and kind of scary at the same time. There were also big fat caterpillars climbing in the bushes and trees, munching leaves and spinning cocoons, though you really had to look to see them. There were also several varieties of small birds and a few chinese quail which appeared to be flightless, though they refused to remain still long enough for a close inspection. After seeing all there was to see, we went back out into the rain. I was miserable and let Paul know it. My feet were wet and I was sick and tired of rain. We walked around in the garden for a while longer and then decided to duck into the cafe to have coffee and tea and to call Jacob. The phone was a coin phone, one of the few in the city as it turns out. Almost all the public phones are card phones, which is great if you have a Telia phone card (Technical note from Paul: Telia is the Swedish telephone company) or don't mind paying a buck a minute on your visa card, but otherwise it sucks.) Anyway, this phone was a coin phone, but it was a bit tricky. You dial the number, and then it tells you how much money to put in. However, once you put the money in, you don't get it back, even if the call doesn't go through. You're supposed to wait until the person answers and then you have several seconds to put in the money or else it cuts the connection. We blew 7 Skr learning this lesson, and then we finally got a hold of a receptionist who told us that there was something wrong with Jacob's phone and would we mind just trying again later. Couldn't even take a message! What if we had been an important supplier or something? We were quite surprised. Well, we resolved to just carry on, and so we headed back out into the rain to head for Haga, planning to be miserable there for a little while. Haga is the oldest suburb in Göteborg (it used to be a suburb, back when the suburbs were only half a mile out from the city) and it was supposed to be filled with cafes, shops and antique places. Which it was, I guess. It's just that it was so small, it was kind of a disappointment. Or maybe it was just the weather and me. We walked up to Skanskronan, an old military fortress that's now a military museum. I wasn't disappointed that it was closed. It was 194 steps to the top, with a steep path after that through a small stone archway with a gutter in the floor. The fortress is round and is built from huge blocks of stone. The walls must be incredibly thick. It sits atop a high crag that falls away 30 - 40 meters down on all sides to the city below. It commands an impressive view of the city in all directions. We climbed up because it was there, but we enjoyed the view and the brief respite from the rain. We came back down into Haga to look for a phone so we could call Jacob again, but we couldn't find a coin phone anywhere. Paul and I were not communicating very well at this point. Paul thought we should be looking in cafes and I thought the one we had found in the cafe had been an anomaly. We finally gave up as it was raining again and it was 10 to 5:00, so we went to one of the many card phones and used the Mastercard - highway robbery at 12 skr ($1.50) for a local call. But we did finally get through and arranged to meet at a Chinese restaurant that we found in our guide book. We agreed to meet there at 6:15, so that gave us an hour to kill. We walked around in the intermittent rain and it started to feel to me like Paul was walking with the map and I was following like a sheep. I wanted to "discover" the city while he wanted to "master" it. I finally said this, and that I was sick of walking around with someone who seemed only to be walking around with a map and not me. Paul said "Okay" but I could tell he really didn't think it was okay. But he put away the map for 10 minutes or so. There was nothing to see, we were in the middle of the shopping zone, but I tried to point out interesting things. Paul wasn't interested. We started walking to the restaurant and finally Paul said he'd like to sit down. I wished he'd mentioned before that he felt tired. Jacob arrived a couple of minutes after we did, and we were seated by a Chinese woman who seemed to have difficulty in both Swedish and English. We took it all lightly, but we did laugh behind her back a bit. Paul would speak perfect Swedish and the waitress wouldn't understand and then Paul would think he said something wrong, but he hadn't. The highlight of the meal was when Paul dropped his serving plate and spilled it all over the table. The woman asked if he would still have enough to eat (implying perhaps that he might want to order more food?) and was then appalled when he just scooped everything that had landed on the place mat back onto the plate. The food was quite bland and unremarkable, and we never got oranges and fortune cookies at the end, which makes you wonder what it would be like to have Chinese food in China: would we disappointed because it wasn't more American? After dinner, we had a walk up the Avenyn, saw the Poseidon fountain and Honeymoon Pond, and then walked by a large group of Norwegians having a raucous party which was spilling out of a pub and onto the street (Norway had won their football match that day). After the walk, we decided to catch a movie, and we ended up getting tickets to see Red Corner (with Richard Gere). The theater was very plush; Paul and I had a two-person couch and Jacob had one all to himself. We called it the make-out couch. In Sweden, as in Germany, you have reserved seats at the movies. None of the general admission business. They had decent popcorn, and unlike Carolltown back home in Eldersburg, they also had Coke not Pepsi. I really felt good to sit back and relax and listen to a steady dialog in English for a while, just to be entertained. Unfortunately, there were several key scenes near the end of the movie which were spoken entirely in Chinese. This is no problem in the States, but here in Sweden, the English subtitles had been replaced with Swedish ones, because the entire movie was done in Swedish subtitles. While it was fun to occasionally try to match up the Swedish with the spoken English, trying to rapidly decipher the Swedish in order to follow an important plot twist was somewhat frustrating. Note to self: no more films with possible other languages in countries that do subtitles.

24 June 1998

Paul and I finally talked about what was wrong between us the next morning. I had slept late because I was up all night with a stomachache. The kind where I had to sit up a couple of times so that I'd be ready to leap to the bathroom just in case I needed to throw up. But I never did; I just didn't sleep. I'm sure it was related to whatever was going on with Paul and me. I was terrified of a big, irrational fight, so I had spent the night before planning what my main points would be, namely that I was having trouble finding a balance between taking care of me and taking care of the relationship. It was beginning to seem like what I really wanted to do always had to be deferred. (Of course, I was the one doing all the deferring.) The other thing was our different styles of handling a new situation. The classic example is when we come into a hotel room. Paul immediately moves everything around to suit him, whereas I like to settle into a new environment and adapt to it. I like to integrate into a new situation and Paul likes to master it. It can be frustrating sometimes, I'm sure to Paul as well. I'm sure he thinks I'm purposefully hanging back when really all I want him to do is quit changing things around. Paul kept pushing me to help him understand what he was feeling, but I steadfastly refused. I didn't want him fighting me as I tried to "help" him, which seems to be the point where we always get stuck. But a half hour later we had the whole thing resolved, and neither one of us had said any mean, petty things. All in all a success.

We planned to go to the Archipelago that afternoon, so we took the ferry to Lilla Bommen, and then walked to where we could pick up the #4 tram out to Saltholmen, from where we'd be able to catch a ferry out into the islands around Göteborg. We weren't sure that we really understood the system. You can transfer from boat to tram and boat again in one direction, but we had walked quite a while in between. Did that count? Also, you were supposed to press "2" for one adult ("1" for a child) and we had pressed "four", for two adults. Then we saw someone else put the ticket in twice and press "two" each time for two adults. Who knows? We figured that if we got controlled, we could play dumb, but it didn't happen, so we were safe. At Saltholmen, we walked out to where you can pick up the ferries, but there turned out to be quite a few. We had no idea which one to take, so we chose one that was leaving soon, but that wasn't that crowded. (A tour group had gotten on the one that was leaving first and it was packed.) It went to Styrsö, which was wonderful. The islands in the Göteborg Archipelago are a lot more rocky than the ones in Stockholm, which have more trees and grass. (Eva was later offended that we had liked the ones in Göteborg so much!) We got off at Batten on Styrsö. It's so cute -- as far as we could tell, almost no one on the island has cars (we saw a total of three light trucks while we were there). The roads were all narrow and the traffic was comprised of bikes, and mopeds with two-wheeled carts welded to the front. Often, women, children or freight roed on the carts. Dogs may have as well, I don't know. Almost all the houses are of a lovely old-fashioned style, made of wood, and very ornate, with lots of gingerbread, upper porches, and in some cases, towers. We spent a couple of hours just walking around and looking at them. We walked up to the highest point for the view and then wound our way back to the dock to catch a boat back. While we were waiting, we saw lots of jellyfish and boats. One military boat came in; the two GI's were all dressed in fatigues and face paint, with rifles on their backs, and in the front, sitting quietly, were two young boys wearing life jackets. It looked quite ridiculous, or I should say that the contrast made by the two boys made the very serious GI's look ridiculous. Presumably they stopped for ice cream and drinks and not something more insidious. They left again right after. All in all, it was a beautiful day and we got lots of sun.

25 June 1998

We had thought we'd be packing up and leaving for Jokkmokk, but as it turned out, we weren't able to get a Liggvagn (sleeping car), so we delayed going until Friday. That would mean that Jacob would have to put up with us on the cot for one more day, which he seemed fine with, and that we'd only get one last day in Stockholm, to do all the things that we hadn't gotten to do the first time. It was another gorgeous day so we decided to do Göteborg's parks: Slottskogsparken and the botanical gardens. The first I had expected to be a blah city park that would serve only as a way to walk through a green space on our way to the botanical gardens, but it was terrific. There is an aviary, a zoo (we watched the seals for quite a while), a nice little lake with a fountain in it, a train for the kids and acres (or should I say hectares) of land where you could sunbathe, walk the paths, or play a strange form of baseball.

In the Swedish version of the game, the pitcher doesn't pitch. The batter throws a tennis ball up in the air and hits it one-handed with a little bat or paddle, then walks sedately to first base, which is just a few steps away. Where you bat seems to be right between first and home plates, which in this case, were sneakers. You run the rest of the bases and several people can run to the same base at once. However, if your whole team ends up on base and there's no one to bat, you lose your turn at bat. There are no outs, you just lose your turn after three tries and go to the back of the batting line. Each side bats for a specified amount of time and then they go out and the other team bats. If someone in the outfield catches a ball, that team gets one point. If you make a run, you get three points. It seemed very funny to us, but Jacob told us that he had played baseball while he was in the States and found the games quite similar. I guess it's all in your perspective...

We had lunch on the grass and watched the game for a while and then read books in the sun. Then we made our way to the botanical gardens, where the entrance was free, amazingly. They are the largest in Sweden and are very beautiful. Like the ones in Copenhagen, they had the little winding paths that led to lovers' benches. There are also lovely sculptures to look at and a little 18th century "Lusthus" (Lusthus means pleasure house in Swedish, and presumably had more to do with enjoying the nice weather in your garden than actual lust!) There was a Japanese garden with a little stream and bridges, a bamboo forest, a rhodedendron grove and all kinds of other plants around the grounds that I probably didn't appreciate enough. We walked on a trail called "Stampestumparna" (wouldn't you with that name?), which led up a steep flight of stairs that led to a steep path. It was all sunny and warm up at the top, and Paul had a nap in the tall grass while I made friends with a big grey bug that looked like he belonged in the rhinocerus family.

When Paul woke up, and we had fortified ourselves with some chocolate, we walked back into town, picked up a new journal for me, some drawing supplies, a chef's knife (present for Jacob) and a cheese slicer for the trip. Then we staked out a space near Norstan, armed with the camera and ready to take some pictures of the women who wear these 6 inch high platform shoes. We were moderately successful. At the little grocery store near Jacob's house, we got some beer and things for a salad. Jacob was making a baked dish with sausage, cheese, mustard, tomato and onion, served with pasta. Star Trek: Voyager was on and we watched it while we ate dinner. I confess we had watched Seinfeld the night before as well. Sometimes, you just need a language break.

In the morning, we left for Jokkmokk, and the midnight sun. Read on...