RTS/SCA: Money, money, money…

Welcome to Sweden and welcome to Gothenburg! Did you bring enough money? Credit card?

No, this isn’t about me. I’ll be happy to take (some of) your money in exchange for an unforgettable tour experience though. This is about a news cast I heard this morning and some things I’ve experienced with guests of mine: money, credit cards and tips. Let’s take the easy one first: tips.

Tips, unlike the US, are included in Sweden

money
Money, money, money

Most European countries include tips in their charge, e.g. in restaurants, cabs, etc. So you don’t have to whip out your calculator and crunch numbers. Here in Sweden, it’s customary to only tip when you’re particularly pleased with your server’s work, and we do that by rounding up to the nearest round figure.

E.g. if your restaurant bill is SEK 947:-, we’d round up to SEK 960 or 970, depending on how generous we feel. But you’re not obliged to do so and nobody will frown if you don’t. Servers here are paid a union salary and tips are added automatically. However, if you want to tip in cash, that is fine. I’ve yet to find a server who complains about a tip.

Please note: new Credit Card readers

Modern NFC POS terminal or in plain English, a contactless credit card reader as found in many stores today.

Some of the new cordless credit card readers (or terminals) that the server or taxi driver will hand to you will include the option to add the tip on your card (so no hassle with cash.)

You’ll first have to enter the total amount (after the server entered the amount on the bill) before you proceed to enter your pin code or ask for a copy to sign. Be sure not to enter your pin as a total. There is a protection in case the amount you enter differs too much from the bill but it’s embarrassing to have your waiter see your pin as a total amount. #BeenThere

Other service providers are tipped using the same approach. They’re all on a salary and don’t need the tips to make their living! However, if someone does an exceptional job, they’ll gladly accept your tip.

Sweden is well in its way to be the first cash-free society

Regardless of whether you lament or applaud this development, fact is that about 90% of all payments in our country are handled either by Credit Card or Swish (similar to Venmo in the US.) Swish, in particular, has become an indispensable service for payments between people. Fast and free of charge (for now.) There are more and more stores, hotels and restaurants who no longer accept cash.

For visitors from countries where cash is still king, this can be a bit distressful. You’re hungry, order a meal but can’t pay for it. Trust me, we had the equivalent moment a few months ago in Hamburg, just the opposite way, having to leave three restaurants in a row because they did NOT accept credit cards.

Prepare for your trip to Sweden

Image: Bertil Ericson / TT

The good news is that you won’t need to run to your foreign exchange bureau and worry about what size bill you’ll most likely need or what to do with leftover coins nobody will take back.

But, you need to bring your credit card, and you’ll always have to carry an official picture ID with you (passport, driver’s license, national ID card.) You should also, if your bank offers it, get a card that offers an NFC chipped card.

The European Union has new laws coming into effect this month (on the 14th) which will require all EU citizens to be able to use their PIN-code to pay for their goods in stores. Signatures will no longer be accepted. Keep that in mind. If you travel from outside the EU/EES area, nothing changes, but you’ll need your ID to prove who you are (if you do not have a PIN-code.)

The new legislation also affects credit card payments online, at least for us living in the EU/EES. If you need more info, ask your bank or google “RTS/SCA” to learn more.

“Blipping”

NFC symbol. If you see this, you can pay contact free.

Contact free payments using the card’s NFC (Near Field Communication) chip are becoming increasingly popular and here in Sweden the amount is set to SEK 200. If you blip (as we call it) your card to the card reader’s NFC symbol, you will not need a PIN-code. Simply blip and you’re done. Very convenient. Other countries may apply different sums, e.g. €20. Apple and Google Pay et al are still not very commonly used, as we have better local solutions.

What’s better? To pay in SEK or my home currency?

I’ve seen this myself abroad: the store or restaurant where I pay offers me to either pay in local currency or in my home currency. Based on my experience, I’ve always fared better to use local currency and let my bank handle the exchange. Why? When you pay in your own currency, the store’s/restaurant’s bank abroad will apply the exchange rate and it is usually worse than the exchange rate your own credit card company applies. This could be because they (locally) have to buy your currency while your card provider would sell the same, and it could also be that it’s just a way to line their pockets a bit extra. I suggest you ask your bank before you travel which would be more advisable.

Please remember: currencies tend to fluctuate, and as we’re heading into more unstable economic times, things change daily. Keep an eye on exchange rates while you travel to avoid any unnecessary surprises. This is true for stable “safe harbor” currencies like the CHF or USD as well as currencies from countries which are considered less safe, e.g. SEK or GBP, usually for political reasons.

If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We would be happy to try and answer your specific questions.

National Geographic wants you to… visit Gothenburg!

I can’t blame them…

Gothenburg is a heavenly destination for foodies. I’ve always known that. Well, maybe it hasn’t always been, but the chefs here in town have a thing or two for fish and seafood and in the past decade or so, plenty of amazing restaurants serve superb food.

I recently came across this article on National Geographic where they point out Gothenburg as a top destination in 2019 to visit if you love food. Who am I to argue with National Geographic?

They particularly point to “Salt & Sill”, a restaurant about 90 minutes north of Gothenburg on the small island of Klädesholmen. I was there just last week and can confirm that it’s still an amazing place. I reviewed it on my TripAdvisor account.

But that’s not the only great place in the region

There are so many more great places to eat, even in the city itself. Some I’ve written about in my DIY-guide which you can purchase right here on the site. But let me just mention one of my personal favorites. Expensive, but amazing food: Sjömagasinet.

I was there last week and the food is superb. Below’s what my dessert looked like. And it was as delicious as it looks. So come visit Gothenburg, from food trucks to the best experimental cuisine, we’ve got you covered!

Amazing strawberry dessert with Swedish “egg-cheese” (ask me for a recipe) and meringues.

Guiding our most valued guests to the West Coast

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This week, my dad is visiting us. I still remember the first time he came to see me here in Sweden. To show him my new home town is always an honor, and slightly scary. Will he approve? We’ve just spent two days on the West Coast, and he liked it, despite the cold and windy weather, something even the best guide isn’t able to influence.

Nobody’s as honest and critical as family

If you think that guiding your family is easier than clients? Think again. And to think you get any favors? No sir. Guiding family (and friends) is not a grateful job, but it provides great opportunities to learn and grow, not to mention test new things, try new restaurants (or make sure known ones are still up to par), etc.

A trip to the West Coast

Dad has been here many times over the years, and yesterday and today, I took him back to some of the places he’d been to before, although it’s been many years. He’d mostly forgotten and this time the weather was better.

We covered Marstrand yesterday, a small island city off the coast about 40′ drive north of Gothenburg, and today we drove even further, although we ended up just a good 15′ boat ride north of Marstrand, on the island of Tjörn and its outlying isles of Klädesholmen, Åstol, and Dyrön.

Good food and amazing nature to round off a successful day

Our first stop for today was Skärhamn, a coastal town on the island of Tjörn. It is famous for it’s arts museum, focusing on aquarelle paintings. But it also sports a beautiful harbor and a smiling church.

After a quick coffee (it was cold) we took the ferry from Rönnäng on a short trip around to Åstol (beautiful on a sunny, calm summer’s day), and Dyrön. Afterward, I drove us back to Klädesholmen for lunch at Salt & Sill. That little islet is famous for herring canneries and boy, their lunch is good. Six varieties of herring as an appetizer, followed by a fish burger with mashed potatoes and pees. Yummy!

Enjoy some pictures of today’s trip:

Practical Information

To visit Marstrand from Gothenburg (incl. Carlsten fortress) you’ll need about five hours, two of which you’ll spend getting to and fro the city. In the summer, with a lot of tourist traffic, you may need to allocate more time as parking is scarce and you may need to walk longer from the parking lots to the ferry.

Tjörn and its islands are also a good hour and fifteen minutes away from Gothenburg, further north, but there’s more time on the freeway, so you cover more ground. Again, summer traffic will add time, particularly as you cross the bridge over to Tjörn. We’ve literally spent hours in queues. Parking is a thing, too and you may need to leave your car up to a kilometer or more from ferries, harbors, etc. The town roads are very narrow and you share the space with walking visitors and locals. Be mindful and patient. Five to six hours is recommended. If you visit Åstol or Dyrön, be mindful of the ferry timetable. Summertime (June-Aug) you might find an open café or restaurant, but off season, expect to eat on Tjörn or simply bring your own lunch.

#Gothenburg Tours: “It’s raining cats & dogs! What are we doing now? #travel #tours #tourguide

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“It’s raining men, hallelujah!” – If only, right?

What is it with raining men or “cats and dogs” anyway? I once taught a class in Singapore, with trainees from across Asia, some whose English wasn’t as good. When suddenly faced with a downpour, I looked out the window (it was one of my first visits to Singapore, too) and – utterly amazed by the downpour exclaimed: “Look, it’s raining cats and dogs…” Some of the trainees, unaccustomed with the expression, rushed to the window, taking it literally. Imagine their disappointment when it was just water…

Gothenburg & raining = a thing

I’ve lived in Gothenburg for twenty-six years, and yes, it rains a lot here. It’s not actually as bad as our reputation claims if you look at the official statistics:

Average precipitation (rain/snow) in Gothenburg, Sweden
Average rainy days (rain/snow) in Gothenburg, Sweden

You can expect rain, more or less, every other day. That doesn’t mean it will be pouring constantly!

We don’t normally get tropical downpours here, but it’s more what we in German would call  “Landregen”(steady rain)  and a drizzle, annoying but you hardly even need an umbrella. Rain also feels different in summer and winter. Summer rains are calmer, it’s not usually windy so it’s just raining.

 

Oil garments are perfect for rainy weather.
Oil garments are perfect for rainy weather. Traditionally manufactured right here on Sweden’s West Coast. (c) Didriksons

In the winter, when it’s also blowing with gale force winds, our rains are like something taken from a Hollywood movie, horizontal and coming right at you. Still, not bucket loads, but don’t bring an umbrella. It.Just.Does.Not.Work!

 

Instead, people here wear “oil garments”, at least on the islands. They’re not quite as practical in the city, but a waterproof coat with a hoodie, and you’re good to go.

So what do you do?

It's raining a lot in Gothenburg, every other day in fact.
It’s raining a lot in Gothenburg, every other day in fact. Photo: private

Loads! We have so many amazing museums, from our city museum where they often tackle historically sensitive topics, to our famous art museum with exhibits that focus on the “Nordic Light” (more later) to our Design museum, the Universeum with its amazing aquarium, or why not the Volvo museum?

Museum visits can be added at any time when the weather turns sour. If it’s a short rain (we usually track weather radar around here and have a pretty good idea how bad it will be), you go for a Swedish “fika”, i.e. coffee/tea and cake and enjoy a break. Or you could go shopping, or you could catch a movie (we show most movies in the original language, so always plenty of English spoken movies to see)

Sometimes, it’s raining for days…

A forest visit, rain or shine, is always a treat
A forest visit, rain or shine, is always a treat, and in late summer/early fall, you might even find mushrooms. Photo: private

Let’s not despair. It’s not ideal. I agree. When I studied Nordic culture at the University of Zurich, one of our professors told us that research in the Nordics showed that visitors who enjoyed good weather on their first visit, would always return, addicted by the Nordic light, which is quite unique and which as inspired artists for centuries. On the flip side, those who had bad weather would never return. So yeah, bad weather up here means darker days, the walls of buildings are wet and dark, and it’s easy to get the impression that this is a depressing place. We share that across all the Nordic destinations. It’s part of our DNA.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to do. Dress properly and I promise you that a visit to a forest for a walk (less rain under its canopy). I promise you, the smells will make you feel quite relaxed and, depending on the month, we might even find mushrooms.

A visit to the ocean…

Or, you take that raincoat of yours for a walk to the coast. The worse the weather, the more impressive it can be. A storm around here is rarely dangerous (unless you’re acting recklessly), but visually impressive. Sitting on a public transport ferry that’s rocking in the waves, drinking coffee, or walking along almost overflowing jetties and beaches, watching waves crash against the boulders out west. Trust me, it’s an unforgettable experience, and you’ll completely forget that it’s raining around you.

Rain can be annoying, but at the end, there’s always a rainbow…

After rain comes shine, and we see loads of rainbows...
After rain comes shine, and we see loads of rainbows…

Sure, we all wish that our destinations were always sunny. It’s why so many of us travel to the Mediterranean in the summer. I get that. But that’s just not what we have up here. Instead, we offer lush greenery you don’t find in many other places. You can’t live here without embracing the rain.

And we know that after each downpour or drizzle, there’s a chance to see a rainbow, and that’s always something to look forward to!

Coming to Gothenburg means expecting rain. But I promise you, I’ll make sure you’ll want to come back again, despite what research says! Feel free to contact me to learn more.

Working with your tour guide to get the most out of your trip

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Your tour guide isn’t clairvoyant, probably…

My Tour guide took me to Bukchon Village on my request.
This photo taken the other day might be “old” but no, this is present-day Seoul, as it still – partially -presents herself, if you look closely. My Tour guide took me to Bukchon Village on my request. Photo: private

Greetings from Seoul, where I am currently on a business trip, doing research for a coming novel.

I thought this would be a good time to talk briefly about how important it is for the customer to give their tour guide as much information as possible about the things you would like to experience, to maximize the value of your time together.

After all, your experience of your destination will depend greatly upon the information you impart on your tour guide because they can’t know what interests you or not.

There are different kinds of tours

There are two kinds of tours really: the straight off the rack tours that you can get everywhere, be it by bus or from an authorized tour guide. They are obligated/encouraged to show you a minimum number of things that are considered “must see” or “should see” of a certain place. Then there are customized tours, where nothing is given.

My tour guide took me to his favorite spot in Seoul, this part of the river bank of the Han River, overlooking the city of Seoul.
My tour guide took me to his favorite spot in Seoul, this part of the river bank of the Han River, overlooking the city of Seoul. Photo: private

Most tour guides that I have worked with will ask you the question: what would you like to see. If they don’t, I would already be skeptical. However, sometimes you travel to a destination you know little to nothing about, and knowing what to see may be difficult. In that case, be generic, talk about your interests in broad terms: culture, or architecture. History. Even that will help your tour guide to take you places that will leave you wanting to come back for more.

When you know what you want…

Sometimes, as I did this week, you may have very specific reasons for a visit and you are looking for very specific items. To make the most of your trip, please give the guide as much information as possible. Tell them why you visit, what you want to see, experience, learn.

This week in Seoul, my guide and I had pretty much exhausted “my” needs after day one. I did, however, continue to explore on my own. For the second day, I told him to take me to “his Seoul”, the city the locals live in. I wanted him to show me things off the beaten track. I wanted to see neighborhoods & sights, that tourists normally don’t get to see, aren’t interested in etc. This resulted in a very interesting day. He even took me to his personal favorite by the Han River. From there, I asked that we visit the National Assembly since we were just a few blocks away.

Not knowing is the biggest challenge

Not knowing anything about your destination can be an issue. Or if you don’t really have a clue as to what you want to see/do. That is the biggest challenge, both for you and your guide. You risk being disappointed if the tour guide takes you to places you find boring. It is also really challenging for a tour guide to prepare a tour if they don’t know the client’s interests.

Just because I hate shopping doesn't mean I don't appreciate walking through local markets to learn about the local culture. Important distinction. :) Your tour guide will need to know what you (dis-)like.
Gwangjang Market in Seoul: just because I hate shopping doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate walking through local markets to learn about the local culture. Important distinction. 🙂 Your tour guide will need to know what you (dis-)like. Photo: private

Here’s what you can do to help: tell them about your interests. More importantly, tell them what you do NOT want to see/do. My family and I have a long-held dislike for shopping. We’ve been to far too many “off the rack” tours where frequent stops at various souvenir shops are a mandatory ingredient. These days we always make a point of telling the guide that we do not, under any circumstance, want to stop for shopping. On the other hand, some people want to buy souvenirs. Others may be looking for a cool second hand or vintage store. Some will want to sample local cuisine. Tell your guide what you want. Don’t hold back. You’ll all be happier if you communicate your expectations openly.

Must see

Yes, I have indeed been to Cairo and I have been to the pyramids of Giza. Duh! 😉 Photo: private

All destinations have their “must-see” attractions. Visiting Cairo without seeing the pyramids would be a cardinal sin. Traveling to London without seeing Big Ben would be a bummer or Paris sans Eiffel Tower.

You get my drift. However, it took me eight or nine trips to New York before I’d discovered Central Park. These days, I do not visit New York without a walk in the park. Must see? It’s not the Statue of Liberty, nor the Empire State Building or the Freedom Tower, but it certainly is a must for me. We all have our own definitions of “must-see”. Your tour guide may have their own views. Keep that in mind.

You need a reason to come back…

 

Any tour guide has their favorite spots in their city.
Any tour guide has their favorite spots in their city. This is one of my favorite spots in Gothenburg: Ramberget. I keep taking visitors there, to get a feel of my city, with a great view from above. Photo: private

As my time here in Seoul comes to an end, I reconcile with the fact that even after four visits to Korea’s charming capital, I am still no closer to having “seen it all”. And what a shame would that have been. I’d have no reason to come back. But even in the tiniest of places I’ve visited, such as my beloved Gávtjávvrie (Ammarnäs), where there are no famous “sights”, there are always reasons to go back. I could go hiking, experience the raw beauty of Mother Nature, visiting friends or learn more about the Sami culture.

 

In closing…

The more information you provide your guide with, the better. And even after the tour begins, feel free to provide feedback, based on what you’ve done so far. It helps both you and your tour guide to adjust the schedule and offer you a better experience of your destination. Because after all, that’s in the interest of both of you.

Any questions? Please feel free to reach out to me. I’d be happy to answer them.