The best partners make a tour truly great.

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The statue of the founder of the current "incarnation" of Gothenburg, celebrating its 400th anniversary in two years.
Downtown Gothenburg.

Last week, I had the privilege of guiding a group of VIP travelers for a couple of days. Distinguished individuals, well educated and widely traveled, they were asking for a tour guide to show them Gothenburg the way an official guide never could: 100% flexible, with the ability to hold a conversation not just about historical details of a particular building or a king’s birthday, but also talk about the big political trends, socio-economic trends and things happening elsewhere in the world. Today’s global travelers expect nothing less.

Being a great guide isn’t enough…

While I pride myself in my work and can see how pleased my guests are with the service and the attention they get, entirely customized on their needs, my services have limits. I require partners to work with. I’m no restaurant (and even if I were, I’d just be one), I’m no limo or bus, no museum and I’m certainly no yacht. To provide my guests with a seamless experience, I need help, and last week was exemplary.

Arranged by their hotel, Sweden’s finest, the Upper House, the guests also had access to a driver for their time here and on Saturday, we took a tour of my home turf, the archipelago, in a beautiful yacht.

The best partners are the ones you don’t notice…

Traditional boathouses on the island of Brännö.
Traditional boathouses on the island of Brännö.

For a guest, the best partners a guide can have are the ones that go unnoticed. To be a driver means to take the guest from A to B as comfortably and safely as possible. It was a delight to work with Gothia Transfer. Our driver was probably the best one I’ve ever experienced. As a guide, sitting in the front passenger seat of comfortable and perfectly clean luxury vehicle, with my neck turned back to my guests, I didn’t even notice how we were crossing town, or what way our driver took. Suddenly we were there. Perfect. And the communication between ourselves to make the experience for our clients as smooth as possible couldn’t have been better. Highly recommended and I hope to work with them again soon. I’ll most certainly recommend my clients to work with Gothia Transfer from now on.

The company we used on Saturday, the Sealife, is a truly magnificent vessel. Clean, in perfect shape and a skipper family completely dedicated to their guests. They take the best possible care of their clients and just like I had with Gothia Transfer, to work with Gothenburg Coast Charter was a pleasure and perfectly seamless. Our guests were really happy with their tour.

Restaurants, museums, etc.

Guests need to eat, they want to see museums, and nobody knows their collections better than the curators who created them. I was really pleased to see how the people I worked with were welcoming us and did their utmost to be flexible and help me make sure the clients were happy. In my own travel, I’ve had far too many experiences when you end up at the guide’s cousin’s husband’s restaurant, making me wonder if we ended up there because it was good or because the guide got a kick-back. My take is different (I have no cousins in Gothenburg…) I will only take my guests to a place I’ve been to myself, where I can vouch for the quality of the food and service.

When can I show you my town and introduce you to some amazing partners? Gothenburg is open and welcomes visitors…

Take a walk, discover the small gems that await you…

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Eiffel Towers, Taj Mahals or Grand Canyons are all great, but sometimes, a sign is all you need to get excited

I live on an island, off the coast of Gothenburg. Administratively, we are part of the political city of Gothenburg. Yet often enough, the city feels far, far away. I walk a lot (part of my health regimen) and my island, Styrsö, offers miles and miles of treks through the forest, along our beautiful beaches, and through our four neighborhoods.

Just yesterday I discovered that the organization who looks after our forest walkways put up a new sign, a small gem. I hadn’t seen it last week. It made me smile. I love focusing on small details like that.

7,000 years of history on a simple wooden plaque

Why not lift your gaze and take in a horizon? Who knows what light spectacle that might await you...
Why not lift your gaze and take in a horizon? Who knows what light spectacle that might await you…

The sign stood below a meadow in the middle of the forest. The meadow is well-known on the island. Open-air festivals and concerts have taken place for a long time. What I didn’t know was that this was the oldest place where we’ve found traces of human habitation on the island. 7,000 years ago, people took boats out to Styrsö to fish (presumably) and they left behind flint.

What surprised me the most is that back then (not a very long time in the grand scheme of Earth’s history) the meadow was a beach. Where I stood, reading the plaque, my feet would’ve been lapped by gentle waves coming ashore. My imagination had been fired up.

Putting the consequences of global warming in a new perspective

This illustration by Jan Slavik from a small book on the history of the island portrays how a typical scene may have appeared to a visitor.
This illustration by Jan Slavik from a small book* on the history of the island portrays how a typical scene may have appeared to a visitor.

When those first (that we know of) humans visited Styrsö, the sea levels were twenty meters above what they are now. That’s a whopping 65.6 ft. I recently read that if all of Greenland’s ice were to melt, global sea levels would rise by seven meters. But there’s not just the ice on Greenland, let’s not forget about Antarctica.

Our house is elevated some eight meters (26 ft) above sea level. By the end of this century, during my son’s lifetime, we might actually lose our house to rising sea levels. That’s a scary prospect. Yes, over time, and that includes the huge shifts in tectonic plates, sea levels have greatly varied, but the changes that we are experiencing now, are unprecedented in terms of speed. The main reason why our islands have emerged from the ocean isn’t due to sinking sea levels, but rising land (as Scandinavia had been pressed into the Earth’s mantle during the last ice age. It is still rising to this very day.) It took 3,000 years for sea levels to sink ten meters, it might take less than 300 for them to rise again… Details on a walk, but mind-boggling in the great scheme of things.

One small plaque had me thinking for hours…

As a tourist, I tend (like most) to focus on the big things that a new destination has to offer. Yet oddly, it is often the small discoveries that will excite you the most. A flower, a tree, a facade or why not a wooden plaque informing you about an unexpected detail of a place’s history, whisking you away to a distant past, igniting your imagination, almost like a great book.

A great tour guide will be able to show you these small places, these details in the shadow of the grand tourist attractions that beckon us from afar. By all means, enjoy the towers, the monuments, but don’t forget to spend some time hunting for the small details. They might prove to be more memorable in the long run.

*Styrsö från Istid till Nutid, ISBN 91-85488-03-8

As we wind down the sunniest summer, ever? Lessons to be learned?

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The summer of 2018 will go down in Gothenburg history

Spring was late and lasted all but a couple of weeks. An arctic inversion kept cold air pouring down over Scandinavia well into mid-April when suddenly things changed and a high-pressure system decided to park above us for the summer, bringing us virtually three months of unabated sunshine and literally no rain. You should see my lawn!

One crazy summer makes no climate change, but…

It's 9:35 pm and the sun is readying itself to set for the day. Summer in Sweden.
It’s 9:35 pm and the sun is readying itself to set for the day. Summer in Sweden.

As a “normal” citizen I’ve been having the summer of a lifetime, with daily swimming in our warmer than usual ocean, daily meals on the patio and a tan that built up over time, you know, the kind you develop carefully, without overexposure? A tan that lasts. Our farmers, however, have been suffering. Without watering (and we’re in  Sweden, right, so who waters crops?) crops all over the country have been withering away, there’s been no hay for cattle to feed on and at its worst, farmers couldn’t even send their cattle to emergency slaughter. The queue to the slaughters were too long.

Papers have been filled with images from NASA satellites showing just how “brown” Scandinavia has become this summer, compared to previous years. And article after article discussed whether this is indeed a sign of things to come or just a “freak” summer.

It IS getting warmer up here…

This summer was unusual with ocean temperatures above 22 C (71.6F) making a swim after work a real pleasure.
This summer was unusual with ocean temperatures above 22 C (71.6F) making a swim after work a real pleasure.

Scientists all agree that one hot summer is no sign of climate change. However, 2018 is well on track to be another hot and warm year, seen on a global scale, and that is where signs of climate change can be tracked. The four years (including 2018) are the four warmest in recorded history. And if you look at weather phenomenon across the globe, things are crazy, everywhere. It seems to me, we keep saying this, year after year, and at some point, denying the impact of climate change becomes mute.

My memory serves me right!

During my second visit to Sweden, with my university at the time (you can see me trying to get the BBQ to light), this was not uncommon. Rain and cool temperatures forcing us to wear sweaters and jackets even in July.
During my second visit to Sweden, with my university at the time (you can see me trying to get the BBQ to light), this was not uncommon. Rain and cool temperatures forcing us to wear sweaters and jackets even in July. Photo: private

When I first moved to Sweden, in 1992, August was scorching hot, and I was in heaven. Finally a place with decent temperatures. Two years later we endured a cold and rainy, miserable summer. But what I do remember from the first summers after we bought our house is that we were usually unable to sit outside in the evenings, enjoy a glass of wine on the patio. It would be too cold unless you had some infrared heating device. We’d cherish the four or five nights that were the exception to that rule. Summer evenings could be chilly with temperatures as low as 10-12 degrees C (50-54F)

Nowadays, we would theoretically be able to sit outside almost every night, and still now in August, we wake up at six am and the temperatures outside are 18 degrees C (64.5F.) So yes, things have changed in the past twenty-two years that I’ve lived here on the island.

Climate change and tourism

How can we adjust our offerings to our visitors as they come all year round, not just for a few short and –hopefully–sunny summer weeks?
How can we adjust our offerings to our visitors as they come all year round, not just for a few short and –hopefully–sunny summer weeks?

We cannot deny that climate change is here, nor can we deny that it affects tourism. We have plenty of water (in most parts of Scandinavia) for now, and while our farmers may need help in adjusting their crops and install systems to water them, overall, this peninsula might just be one of the few land areas on the planet that ‘benefits’ from it all. Warmer and probably wetter.

That impacts our offering with regards to tourism. A shorter winter season will gravely affect the north, where skiing and snow draw people from countries without such commodities. Here in the south, we may have to rethink what we offer and when we offer it. We still see people closing their restaurants in mid-August for vacation, while our ferry company is still operating on a summer schedule, bringing hundreds of tourist to the islands, every day.

Accepting that tourists, for different reasons, will visit us all-year round is an important first step. Once that lesson is learned, we can move on to offering different services to our visitors, according to the season.

What we do, offer

As a small tour company, our focus is flexibility. We can guide you walking, or using public transport, or in our own EV, a second generation Nissan Leaf. We can also try to show you just how the changing weather patterns and climate change affect our city if you are interested. From areas prone to inundation to plans of how the city is preparing for increasing sea levels. Ask us, we’re here for you.

#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.

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.