Nordic countries (Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland): I love them. I only started discovering them three years ago, with my husband, and we both fell in love with the culture, the people, the scenery and the food. I haven't seen a lot of them and I haven't been to Finland yet, but I am slowly and steadily exploring these countries as often as I can.
Last June, taking advantage of low-cost flights and a close-to-expiry Schengen visa (my husband's), we booked a weekend trip to Gothenburg, Sweden with plan to celebrate Midsummer in the Swedish way.
Midsummer / Midsommar is one of the most important holidays in Sweden and for many it marks the start of the five-week long summer holidays.
The successful midsummer never-ending party formula involves flowers in your hair, dancing around a pole, singing songs while drinking unsweetened, flavoured schnapps and downing a whole load of pickled herring, sill served with delightful new potatoes, chives and sour cream. All in all? A grand day out.
Midsummer Eve is usually celebrated in the countryside, so the day before everyone leaves town, everything closes and the city streets are deserted.
The Midsommar maypole at The Garden Society of Gothenburg, one of the best-preserved 19th century parks in Europe.
As we were going to land in Gothenburg late on Friday evening, we actually missed the celebrations, but we had a wonderful Couchsurfing host who cooked for us a Midsummer dinner the next day. I had not used Couchsurfing in a few years, but in this occasion it seemed the perfect way to discover Gothenburg in the short time we had available.
We were really lucky to have our couch request accepted by My, an incredible host who was happy to welcome us into her high-rise flat on the outskirts of the city and spend the weekend with us.
My stayed up late to wait for us (with mugs of steaming tea and homemade bread) on Friday night. The following two days she showed us around Gothenburg (when she wasn't working), told us stories about the city and took us to Café Husaren to eat the world's biggest cinnamon rolls!
On Saturday evening I helped My preparing our Midsommar dinner and she taught me how to prepare traditional Swedish dishes, like the Smörgåstårta (Sandwich Cake)!
I am so grateful to have met My – a smart funny generous girl! Our trip to Gothenburg would not have been so great without her. The city was deserted that weekend, but we got to spend time with our new friend and learn a bit about Swedish culture and traditions! In true Couchsurfing style!
Of course, it was a shame that I didn't get to visit the city's best restaurants and shops. Saluhallen, the biggest indoor market in town, and Feskekôrka (‘fish church’ in Swedish) were both closed all weekend.
The coffee shops I wanted to visit were also closed for the holidays, except for Da Matteo, Gothenburg's most famous specialty coffee chain. Its three branches were open on Saturday and Sunday, so we spent quite a lot of time there (more on this in another post soon).
We made the most of the empty roads, zero traffic and lack of tourists by hiring two Styr & Ställ city bikes and riding in the city centre and around the fascinating harbour with traditional shipyards.
The Port of Gothenburg is the largest port in the Nordic countries (with over 11,000 ship visits per year from over 140 destinations worldwide) so obviously it plays a big role in shaping the city. It's not only a commercial site, but also an entertainment destination with restaurants, shops and museums.
From an architectural point of view, Gothenburg is a varied city with multiple faces. From the industrial look of the port area to the big boulevards which reminded me of Paris; from the cobbled streets of Haga to the wooden county governor houses of Majorna.
We cycled and walked a lot during the weekend, trying to see as much as possible of this pretty city. I loved the old neighbourhood of Haga, though it was a shame that its pretty vintage shops were closed when we visited (good for my finances though!).
While Saturday we got caught in a downpour, Sunday was sunny and warm all day. We spent the morning at Da Matteo in Magasinsgatan, sitting in the courtyard and busking in the sun.
We went for a walk along the canal and then to Vallgatan and Kungsgatan, the heart of Gothenburg's shopping, where most shops were open and we bought Scandi style home and baking accessories.
We had sandwiches for breakfast at Da Matteo, so we skipped lunch in favour of coffee and cake at Konditori Brogyllen, a traditional coffee house and bakery located near the Gothenburg Cathedral and with outdoor seating with a view of the canal. I had the best Cinnamon and Cardamon Buns there!
Afterwards we met up with our host My who took us for a walk on Kungsportsavenyen, Gothenburg's main boulevard, and to see the Statue of Poseidon by Carl Milles, one of the city's most famous landmarks, on Götaplatsen.
As we were flying back to London that evening, we looked out at the plane window to look at the midnight sunset and waved goodbye at the beautiful Swedish country.
Until the next trip…