Stories from Sweden: BROad Trip
[This is the eighth in a series of stories of my Erasmus exchange semester in Sweden. This series will take you through my amazing time in that country and through the several shenanigans I went through. Read more here, here, here, here, here, here and here.]
There came a point during exchange where everything we’d needed to know about our surroundings was set and that we were comfortable enough to behave as if we were at home i.e. we could comfortably bunk classes and not think twice about it really. This meant that most weekends became de facto long weekends or at least outdoor weekends. Activities in the past included a booze-cruise to Riga, Latvia; day trip to Gamla Uppsala and a ferry trip to another country (Åland islands).
I had joined SJ on this ferry trip along with SB (resident German math nerd), TS (token Swedish speaking Finn) — both of whom SJ knew from class — and two of their friends. Midway through that trip, it was discovered that I was free the next weekend and that TS and SB were looking another person to join their car trip. My, my what luck :D
As the original 4th rider (a physicist who made the mistake of getting into a chilli eating competition with me) dropped out, I was tasked with finding his replacement and eventually invited a classmate EW to join. EW, very interestingly, was a native South African who’d lived in Australia since age 14 which made for an interesting accent and outlooks.
The four of us were slated to make the trip down to Gothenburg via car, spend a couple of days exploring and then return. Keeping it simple!
We gathered on a Friday morning outside SB’s residence and packed away our luggage, and I mean luggage, despite our hostel offering linen, EW didn’t believe that and carried his duvet because “what if”.
TS saw a couple of bags we were keeping up in front and asked us what those were and EW and I looked at each other and said, “Snacks, of course.” “Interesting. I’ve never actually been on a long roadtrip and did not know we were going to snack!” Cue shocked faces and a bit of tut-tuting with the promise of making sure no snack was left behind.
And we’re off!
SB was at the helm because he’s German and was born in the shade of a no speed limit signpost on the Autobahn and, legend has it, was driving himself to primary school. EW and I were mostly disqualified because we come from uncivilized countries where we drive on the left and TS, well, the lesser said the better.
About an hour into the drive, SB pipes up, “Oh by the way, this is the first time I’m driving an automatic and I’m really liking it!” I coulda sworn I heard a record scratch because uhh hello should you not want to rent the kind of car you’re comfortable with before hurtling down a foreign highway with 3 other innocent lives with you? But, the man, the legend, handled it smoothly taking us up to some questionable three digit speeds where permitted.
Like any other good roadtrip, it took upwards of the first half hour to set up the music and find a playlist that would suit everyone’s taste. I don’t even remember what magic Spotify worked, but we all seemed happy enough. Snacks were had aplenty and one that I still remember were some sort of chocolate coated wafer stick things. Thanks to ICA Vast, we had loads of those at damn near throwaway price.
And also like any other good roadtrip, someone’s bladder soon gave up and we had to take a break to find a loo somewhere. We stopped by the first city like place we found. Looking back, I don’t remember much of it, but seeing the pictures as I write this, I’m kinda saddened that I have no clue what city this is.
We snaked along and kept driving up, enjoying the very, very flat landscape that Sweden has to offer. It’s actually borderline boring after a point, because you can probably see Denmark if you get on a ladder tall enough.
Land to the south!
We reached Gothenburg sometime around 1930 after getting quite lost in the city’s labyrinth tunnel system and getting fairly frustrated at the lack of clear instructions. We reached our hostel and after parking the car in a lot opposite, and weirdly also finding a credit card (no, we gave it to the reception, tsk, we have ethics and those cards have two factor authentication). We headed out and walked about the areas around us.
Well okay, we walked a little bit and then took the tram. We uhhh expertly just made our way on and off the wagons without any time to realllyyy buy a ticket ifyouknowwhatImean. (We were poor students okay, stop the judgement.) I don’t have any mention of it, but I recall eating dinner at a slightly dingy Greek restaurant and exhausted from our long drive, we went back to the hostel and crashed.
Did I mention my phone stopped charging and that I didn’t have a spare one on me at that point? Well, it did. Some issue with the charging pins left me high and dry and so I sent a message home with one emergency number and said that I’d be on airplane mode to conserve battery and that was the first time I’d had a phone free holiday and wow was it amazing.
Day 2: The great outdoors
The second day, we were up bright and early and helped ourselves to a super sumptuous breakfast and stepped out to explore the city. We began by borrowing a tram ride to the tourist information centre and got to know of a ferry service to a quaint little island nearby where we were told we could enjoy the day with some hiking and looking about.
The idea sounded good, we purchased (yes, can’t push our luck so far) tickets and took the short boat ride out to the island. We got to en route that the islands are not connected by road and that the boat is the only way to and from. What that meant was that if we missed the last boat out, we’d be camping with the natives.
The island itself was rather fun, I must say. By itself, it didn’t have any notable geographical features and was literally just a floating suburb, but maintained very well by the dwellers! There was a lovely trail that went all around the island including the highest point and it gave us some amazing views all about. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
As we went on this trail, I learnt just how well one’s body can adapt to its physical settings. Prior to this, 17 deg C would have been quite the chill with me probably wearing a thick-ish sweater. But out here, 2.5 months in the nordics, I was melting in the sun ready to take my shirt off (not doing so only to prevent others’ eyes from melting). It was a little surreal to see how flexible one’s body really is. Marvelous.
Somewhere along the way I remember talking to a couple who found TS’ hat (which I was wearing and didn’t realise had fallen off) and had a nice little chat about India which they had visited. They had some other interesting story but I do not recall that at all.
Remember how we had to make it back to the boat on time? Yeah, no we were so delayed. We ran across the island like madmen, constantly asking the locals where the jetty was and made it just in time. I’d like to paint an image of us jumping super Mario style onto the boat just as it made its way off the pier, but that’d be a lie too big for me too. Nonetheless, safely on board, we chugged away back to the city.
Gothenburg being a busy port/industrial city didn’t have too much to offer on its own. We did go back and walk about the main street and then found a rather steep hill to some sort of view point. When I say steep, I mean it. It was almost a vertical climb. I had to play Eye of the Tiger to keep us all motivated to getting to the top. We caught the sunset from there. Worth it, I’d say.
After making our way back to the hostel, we freshened up and decided to get dinner at the restaurant next door, charmingly named “Pasta Etc.” because hostel residents got a 15% discount. It was actually a pretty good meal and very well deserved after the long trekking might I add.
Day 3: City and home
Our transport pass had expired so we were back to making strategic tram jumps. We got to the main city square and literally just walked around looking at the shops and offices and whatnot until we made our way to the port and to what’s called the lipstick building. It’s nothing great, but just a weirdly coloured, tall office building which promised some more good views of the city. Or so I was told.
We reached the building and walked in to a very sparsely furnished reception that housed such few things you’d think they were actively discouraging you from being there. Anyway, we went up to the counter to buy our tickets and were met by a young lady who sold us passes. It was also such that to reach the observation deck she had to accompany us to the lift. Now, she was fairly good looking, but more than that, her body language screamed that she had thirteen thousand other, better things to do than sell us tickets and escort us to the lift. That combination of striking features and unabashed disinterestedness create a deeply attractive aura that I have never seen recreated elsewhere. I know this was the thought running through all four of our heads.
Got okay views from the top, had a coffee and then made our way back to the main city. After a bit of looking around we headed back to the hostel and made a pitstop at the ICA to load up for the journey back. Yours truly bought an entire litre of chocolate mjolk in a carton “to stay hydrated”.
All packed up, we loaded the car and zipped away into the setting sun.
Not an inconsequential drive back
As we drove along and drank our respective beverages, our bladders eventually needed some time out and once again we found a town that we could stop at. We did find a quaint little one that had a nice lake and everything. At this point, EW reaaalllyyy had to go and was literally leading the way looking for the loos. He finally saw one near the lake and ran to it with a broad smile. He reached and tried the handle but it didn’t budge. Okay, maybe someone’s inside. Waited 3 mins. Knocked. No response. By then we had all gathered and saw a little tiny board there that said, “Open 1 May to 30 Sep”.
Okay, no problem, we’ll find a hotel or something. We retraced a few steps and saw a hotel-like place, you know, many rooms, parking around the building, that kinda place. Alright. Walked past the gates and into the compound. No one in sight but fine, it’s like an odd afternoon hour. Went near the main door, but it looked kinda disused and dark so we thought there’s probably another entrance. Walked about the building all while people stood at their windows and sort of followed us with their eyes, a little suspicious of our presence. One of us was almost going up to a person in the window to ask for the entrance, when TS said in a very urgent voice, “Okay guys, let’s go. Now.” “But like let’s ask them no at least?” “No, now. Let’s get out.” Alright, alright no questions we’ll do so. We beat a hasty retreat to the pavement when TS finally explained that what we’d chanced was actually a refugee shelter and that us barging in demanding to use the loo woulda made it really, really bloody awkward. International crisis averted. [Note: this was 2014 at the height of the refugee influx into Europe. Okay not that we’d have set off some diplomatic rift, but just acting entitled with people who floated to these shores would’ve been morally wrong on every level.]
I swear I could see tears in EW’s eyes but thankfully there was a little cafe on the other side of the road. We ran in, used the loo and then bought ourselves coffee and HUGE cinnamon buns. The cafe also sold some weird art that was probably made by the locals, I wish I’d taken pictures, they looked like the products of fever dreams.
With no other major issues on our way back, except for one tiny near miss with a median that appeared on the road out of nowhere, the rest of our return was quite uneventful and I’m happy to report that we made our way back, returned the car and went back to our Flogsta residences happy, exhausted and richer with another experience and memories for a lifetime.
[If you haven’t figured out, it’s a BROad trip cause of four chaps in one car. Get it? Get it? No? no.]