GothenburgTours: my city is changing, rapidly. Come see!

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What was once an industrial city is changing, rapidly, into a modern cosmopolitan city

Gothenburg as a city is changing. Rapidly. And right now, the changes are happening faster than ever before, or so it seems. I’m not sure if this is true for other cities, as well, but my town seems to need a “reason” to change. In 1921, ahead of the previous big jubilee, it saw huge changes: an amusement park, several museums and stately buildings which still dominate the landscape, to this very day.

Does it take a large event for major change to happen?

After that, the city seemed to have slumped a bit and just evolved. When I moved here in 1992, Gothenburg seemed to be a tired, beaten city. Run-down buildings everywhere, fifty-eleven shades of gray, you name it. The demise of the three large shipyards in the harbor, the troubles Volvo was going through, it all affected the spirits of the city. But there was a sense of hope, nevertheless. We had been awarded the 1995 IAAF Athletic World Championships, and we were going to clean up our city for that event. Boy, did we succeed!

Major projects underway

a changing city
This just won the design competition for the new cable car across the river. It will ferry thousands of people across the river with dramatic views. Image: City of Gothenburg

Since then, the city has grown, loads of new housing has replaced the empty spaces where keels were laid out and ships were built. Particularly on the western banks of the river Göta. But more is yet to come, and with the immense growth of that side of the city, there is a need for better transportation infrastructure.

As we approach the next big celebration of our town, 400 years, in 2021, the city is suddenly ready to take leaps into the future:

  • a futuristic cable car across the river as a means of mass transportation
  • a brand new car, tram & bus bridge to cross the river, replacing the old one from 1939
  • a brand new tunnel to help with traffic congestions
  • our first “subway” tunnel of sorts, with two new underground railway stations across the city
  • Karlatornet (and the entire neighborhood), which is going to be Scandinavia’s tallest skyscraper
  • and several other neighborhoods are in the process of being re-developed with tall buildings adding thousands of apartments for tens of thousands of new inhabitants.

Karlatornet

Here's a rendering of what Karlavagnstornet will look like, the beacon of a changing Gothenburg.
Here’s a rendering of what Karlatornet will look like, the beacon of a changing Gothenburg. Image: Serneke

Traditionally, we have very few “tall” buildings in Gothenburg. Several devastating city fires put a damper on that. However, when the city fairgrounds built their third hotel tower a few years ago (which includes Sweden’s very best hotel), that tower breached 100 m, thus officially (ridiculous compared to other cities, I know, but this is Sweden) making it a skyscraper.

When builder Ola Serneke announced the project, people went nuts. The idea was so crazy, so outlandish that nobody believed it. And against all odds, it is actually being built. All the permits are in place and many of the apartments are already sold. It’s going to be a landmark for sure, replacing Turning Torso in Malmö as Scandinavia’s tallest building with its whopping 245 meters.

Along the river

A new bridge to cross the river and brand new neighborhoods for a changing city.
A new bridge to cross the river and brand new neighborhoods for a changing city. Image: City of Gothenburg

But there is more. About a decade ago, we tunneled the main traffic artery through the middle of the city, and that entire space is now ready for development. Sadly, in our town (I’d be happy to tell you on a tour) some of these things seem to take forever, but you can already see the changes in a few places, and with the coming train/subway tunnel, it sank some of the plans even further.

Gothenburg: a changing city
The view of a brand new neighborhood being built behind our current central railway station. Looks almost like sci-fi…

Gothenburg is built on clay and every building needs to be firmly “poled” into solid ground, sometimes dozens of meters into the ground. Not easy when you’re also building a tunnel through all of that.

Right now, a further stretch of the city freeway along the central station is decked over and an entirely new neighborhood is being developed. The sketches from the city almost appear like science-fiction.

It’s always a good time to visit…

Gothenburg: a changing city
This graphic gives you a great idea of how the city is changing in the coming years. Red is imminent, by 2021, while the orange and yellow depict plans until 2035. Image: City of Gothenburg

Whether you like to see the old or watch the new city grow, or if you’re interested in how we tackle the future, which includes getting ready for the ever-increasing sea-levels, then you should visit Gothenburg now. All the rest, food, great lodging, art, fun, entertainment is in place as always, but a city in a revolutionary transformation from “industrial” to “futuristic” isn’t something you get to witness every day.

#GothenburgTours: “But if I don’t know what to visit?” #tourism #gothenburg #sweden

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Good question: what if you don’t know what to expect, what to see?

In a previous post here, I underlined the importance of talking to your tour guide, to let them know what you want to see, do. This has prompted some reactions, both online, on social media, but I’ve also received an e-mail, from Paul, living in Manchester. He writes:

“…but what if I don’t know what do see, what to do in a new destination? Clearly then, a standard tour may be a better option for me, to get a flavor of what the place is all about?”

Allow me to clarify…

don't know? Let me know what interests you, and I'll take care of the rest...
There are things to see for anyone and you can get really “nerdy”, e.g. the construction of a new bridge across Sweden’s biggest river.

First a big thank you to Paul for his e-mail. I do understand your point, and tour companies selling standard tours make it very well, in destinations all over the world. I’d not want to see my post or this company as a competitor to those offerings. We’re a complement, for the most part.

If you spend a week or more at a destination, if you have plenty of time, I think those off-the-rack tours can be very valuable. We recently spent two weeks on Madeira and spent one day on one of those hop-on-hop-off buses as a means to get an overview of Funchal.

There are pros and cons to everything

But with every offer, there are pros and cons. With a standard tour, you have no choice. You’re either in, or out. You get to see things you want to see, and you’ll be dragged to see things, or do stuff you don’t care for. As I exemplified in my very first post, one of my personal pet peeves is shopping on tours. For someone else, it may be architecture, or museums, or…

Trust your guide

I've lived in Gothenburg and guided people here since 1992. I know that most people will want to see Carl Milles' famous statue of the sea god Poseidon, even if they don't even know he exists...
I’ve lived in Gothenburg and guided people here since 1992. I know that most people will want to see Carl Milles’ famous statue of the sea god Poseidon, even if they don’t even know he exists…

So what if you don’t know what to do, what to expect. Trust your guide. We’ve lived in our cities for a long time, we know what people tend to like. I’ve guided visitors through Gothenburg since 1992, and I know what people like to see, and what they will wrinkle their noses at.

The whole point of customizing is to provide that little extra. Allow me to exemplify: say you love architecture, building techniques. I could spend days just showing you different buildings here, I could show you differences in Sweden’s building standards, fire safety and even take you to homes to see how we actually live. One tiny topic, we could ‘nerd’ for days!

Any information you provide makes your tour better

I maintain: the more information you provide your guide, the better and interesting your tour will be. You don’t need to know your destination, but I presume that you do know what you like, and if you tell me to just surprise you, I can do that, too. But you’ll forfeit the right to complain about my choices… 😉

Make sense? Welcome to Gothenburg. Contact us here.

#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.

Welcome to Gothenburg, my beautiful and exciting hometown #travel #tourism #Sweden

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“Göteborg, we love you!”

When I moved to Gothenburg in 1992, it was to study. It was a different city then it is now. The wounds (scars?) after the disappeared shipyards were still gaping on the north shore of Göta River, yet there was an optimism in town, something that really appealed to me.

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The official logo of the 5th IAAF World Championships

Gothenburg had recently been awarded the IAAF Athletics World Championships and the year 1995 proved to be pivotal for how we locals viewed our town. Perfect weather, huge crowds, and amazing competitions made those days memorable to anyone who’d been there. In the local amusement park, our tourist organization kept showing a short movie while we waited to see the city from what was then a turning viewpoint (since turned into a freefall attractions) about various parts of town, and I’ll never forget the slogan: “Göteborg, we love you!”

A rapidly changing, but friendly city

Yeah, yeah, I know, corny. BUT, us Gothenburgers really do love our city, and we hurt when things don’t go well, and we love to show her to our visitors. As a Gothenburger, I am proud of the city I live in, the progress we make, the way the skyline is changing, new business sprouting, in life-science, computer science, new buildings, including landmark Karlavagnen.

The Gothenburg archipelago at dawn
The Gothenburg archipelago at dawn. Photo: Hans M Hirschi

I’ve lived here, in the archipelago, for over twenty-five years, and with all the cultural happenings, the infrastructure investments (roads, railway, tunnels), and all the new food places and cafés, this is an exciting time to visit Gothenburg. On this blog, I’ll share (weekly, that’s the plan) some of my favorite places.  Keep in mind, there are loads of them, there’s so much to do, which is why Condé Nast, the Guardian, the Independent and many U.S. papers keep referring to Gothenburg as a top tourist destination. Did I mention that we are really friendly here?

What about that name?

You probably wonder: Gothenburg? Göteborg? Huh? They say a dear child has many names, and our city was built by Scots, Germans, Dutch, and Swedes, so it’s no surprise that it’s been translated, just like many other great cities. In Swedish, it’s Göteborg, Gotenburg is our German name, Gotemburgo our Spanish/Italian and Gothenburg our English one, but you can also hear “Goteborg” or “Göteburg”. But don’t worry, whatever name you use is fine with us! 🙂

Gothenburg Official Tourism logo
Gothenburg Official Tourism logo

I’ll grant you this though, the aforementioned film uses the Swedish name. For a while, we had a mayor who insisted that we use the Swedish name, even in international marketing.  The year after he retired, things slowly went back to normal and we now use Gothenburg again, mostly, but the city’s official marketing logo is still a reminder of that ‘era’, although I like their twist on it, using the internationally mostly inexistent “ö” and turn it into a call to action: GO to Gothenburg!

This blog

I moved to Gothenburg twenty-six years ago to study. I’m still here, and I love my hometown. I’ve learned a lot about our history, culture, and I know a great many places to visit. I’ve been showing people around here for as long as I’ve lived here. I’d love to show you around, too, virtually, here on this blog, and personally, during a visit.

I’ll add photos here, too, but let me finish with a tip of someone who uploads the most beautiful pictures of our town on Instagram, daily. Don’t miss her account: https://www.instagram.com/goagoteborg/

Meanwhile, if you have questions, feel free to reach out to us. Any tips on what to write about? Suggestions are welcome.