Gothenburg – Canals, Architecture, and a Fish Church

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“Not all those who wander are lost.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien

The three statues in the square outside the Clarion hotel sum up Gothenburg for me, see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.  They based on the three wise monkeys I suspect, one with his hands over his eyes, the other his ears and the final one his mouth.  During the day they are a creamish translucent colour and are quite high up so it is easy to miss them.  However, at night they stand out as they change colour, each alternating between blue, green, purple and red.  It was so cold I couldn’t stay out long enough to work out if there was a pattern to it.  There is of course more to Gothenburg than these three statutes but they are the thing that I will remember the most about the city.

I booked the flight and hotel and pretty much forgot about the trip until the week before I was to travel.  As work as hectic, I did not have the time to research the city and put together an itinerary.  I had been told that it was quite small, so I was expecting a city that I could explore on foot within a day. It turned to be far from the truth.  Gothenburg is, in fact, the second-largest city in Sweden situated on the west coast of the country.  It has a population of about 1.5 million.  The public transportation in the city is great, with buses, ferries, trains and trams to take you anywhere you want to go.

I did stick to my plan to explore the city on foot. However, to first get my bearings I hopped on a city boat tour. It took place mainly on the canals, past the opera house, the famous fish market – Feskekörka, the city’s green parks, the old shipyard and the docks along the harbour. The guide on board will told the tour about Gothenburg’s history, especially about the feud with the Danes, and pointed out sights along the route.  His anecdotes were sometimes funny but I am sure he made up most of the stories to make the tour more entertaining.  Riding on the narrow waterway and sometimes under the extremely low bridges certainly made me see the city from a completely different perspective. 

The Fish Church Gothenburg
The Fish Church

After the boat tour, I made my way to Feskekorka, the fish church which apparently got its name from the building’s resemblance to a Neo-gothic church.  It is an indoor fish and shellfish market where you can buy all kinds of seafood delicacies caught on the day. There are stalls also selling already cooked fish which you can eat on the picnic tables laid out outside the building.  Alternatively, you can eat in the Gabriel restaurant which is inside the building.  I opted for a small bite, quickly consumed on picnic tables before setting off to Haga.  It is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Gothenburg. The pedestrian streets are lined with well-preserved wooden houses with plenty of independent shops and cafes.  After walking around for almost two hours I was ready to rest my feet so I went in search of a tram.

An hour later I arrived at Saltholmen, right on the edge of the 20-plus islands that make up Gothenburg’s archipelago.  I had intended to take the ferry to one of the Islands but as I arrived late in the day the guy at the ticket office informed me that it was not worth it as it would be getting dark soon and I would not be able to see or do much.  I headed back to the city in search of dinner.

The following day I decided against a trip to the islands as it was windy and cold.  I opted for a walk around Slottsskogen park, which is a 137-hectare haven in the middle of the city, with playgrounds and picnic spots, instead.  Along the paths by the canal were a few joggers and cyclists undeterred by the cold weather.  The cold was however unbearable for me after two hours so I went back to the station which has the only Starbucks in the city and relaxed in the warmth with a hot chocolate and a book before getting the bus back to the airport.

The Three Monkeys
The statues at night

Gothenburg with its classical architecture, contemporary art scene, and chic restaurants, cafes and bars has a lot to offer. Like most Scandinavian cities, it is very white.  There were a few black faces here and there, mostly East Africa, Somalian, Eritrean and perhaps Ethiopian. I felt my blackness, not because the people were hostile, in fact, everyone I interacted with was very polite, and no one stared at me as has happened in other places.  However, I felt like I stood out and throughout the two days, I was very aware of my colour. 

In some cities people are curious, they will come and talk to you, start a conversation or even just smile.  Here, people walked along minding their own business, even when they came to sit next to me there was no smile, no greeting. I am quite surprised therefore that the city was recently voted the friendliest city in the world.  It is a city worth visiting but to me, it will remain to me a see no evil, hear no evil and say no evil city.