A rainy afternoon (Sweden)

Touring around a foreign city on your own in the pouring rain can be strangely relaxing. Why should I feel bad that I just spent a half hour in H&M and found the perfect pajama-soft jeans when I haven’t been able to fit into my usual ones for about six months.

And now — I’ve happened upon the spot my little guide book suggested I head to whether it be for breakfast, lunch, dinner, listening to the jazz or flopping on the bean bags (a two story hangout called Soho on Ostra Larmgatan –like lots of notable addresses in this city, it used to be something else — in this case a bank, with the room that held a vault still sectioned off by a thick, plaster, white wall with a slim doorway into a more private alcove). A lucky turn into the right cobbled pedestrian way. Sometimes it pays off not to look too hard.

The bartender greeted me in English which disappointed me since for the last 24 hours I’ve been getting local “Hey’s” and presumably what must mean something like Can I help you? But I forgive him because turns out he’s cheeky and South African and his Swedish isn’t so great; a number of his clientele give up trying to order in Swedish and break into English.

His two friends at the bar try to help me guess the password for various WIFI networks that aren’t available to customers and before I’ll leave in 2 hours time they’ll insist on a tequila together.

The only bar food on offer is a favourite — manchego cheese with chorizo.

Why come to Gothenburg?

I’m here en route to a fishing village tomorrow where I’ll be attempting a week full of yoga, but if I were just looking for a city break this wouldn’t have been a bad choice at all.

1. It’s designed for the rain which apparently happens here a lot (plenty of undercover shopping & canopied walkways)

2. It’s well-known for the cosy cafe culture so no need to feel guilty for spending the entire weekend lounging

3. Rather than being manicured, the flowers here are wild — whether sprouting up along the canal banks or sprucing up the outdoor tables each bar and restaurant offers despite the likelihood that the indoor option will make more sense (though like other chilly parts of the world where the locals gasp for some sun, there are blankets on every chair here)

4. Everyone speaks English but the place still feels foreign

5. Many of the buildings are old without being broken or dirty and the streets are clean without being too sterile or generic  — though I couldn’t go so far as to say the streets are stunning or quaint; they have their fair share of comfortingly familiar signage which can cost a place some atmoshpere. You do need to hunt for the more charm-filled alleys. It’s like being in a small and manageable Paris with an echo of Soviet. The soundtrack is coastal seagulls with their spooked cries and jaunty laughter. The mood’s a bit sparse with grey skies looming, but the locals are a lot friendlier than most people accuse the Swedish of being.

6. They love their bookshops and the sort of retro/vintage shops that aren’t just for charity

7. For someone who doesn’t like to shop unless I’m on vacation, the shopping’s great – lots of it and despite the odd H&M and Zara, plenty of peculiarly Swedish boutiques with clothes and quirky design I won’t find at home

8. And for someone who also doesn’t like television, the Swedish stations have plenty of properly good movies (and none of them dubbed.) When I crawled into my pillowy duvet lair after dinner at a nearby upmarket Mexican* (which made me feel that even if 2 days isn’t long enough to conquer the city, I did land an ideal spot for one of my two evenings here), I could guiltlessly stay up too late watching the screen — because this is what a holiday is for …leaving guilt at home.

9. While known for being expensive, I can’t fully agree. The shopping isn’t. And the 5 star taking care of me is only £90 per night which any Londoner will tell you is a steal (though admittedly I am in a VERY skinny room, but there’s a reasonable bath and a long desk and who needs a sofa or extra clothes-mess space for a weekend anyway?) The food and drink is normal priced for Northern Europe — far from eye watering.

10. While I’m aware that there’s some higher culture lurking about – museums and what have you – in this downpour why would I do anything but appreciate the rustic and trendy ambience, read my books, play on my laptop and occasionally talk to the bartender.

* Friends will roll their eyes that I come to Sweden and eat my favourite meals — Spanish and Mexican. In my defence most menus in Sweden are not in English — whereas I know how to order in Spanish — plus the Swedes are Crayfish and a few other fish mad and I am about to a have a week of only fishy options — and I already said, I left guilt at home, which is never easy for me but so far possible here.

I recommend the trip.

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