Why Gothenburg is better than Stockholm

I’m currently in Sweden’s second city – Gothenburg – on the country’s west coast.

Home to 600,000 people, Gothenburg isn’t huge but the rivalry towards Stockholm seems to be. So out of curiosity I googled ‘what’s so good about Gothenburg‘ and I stumbled upon an article entitled ‘10 reasons why you should visit Gothenburg over Stockholm.

These are the reasons it cited. What do you think? Is there truth in it? Is Gothenburg better?

  • It’s cheaper
  • It’s less crowded
  • It’s closer to the continent
  • Better seafood
  • A better theme park
  • Better independent cafes
  • Better football
  • The music scene
  • The Way Out West festival
  • The people are nicer

If you’d like to read the article, here’s the link:

10 reasons to visit Gothenburg over Stockholm

Sleepless in Stockholm

We are rapidly approaching Midsummer and the nights are getting lighter and lighter. Here in Stockholm, it is still daylight at 10pm and it starts to get dark towards midnight. For 6 weeks or so, we experience so-called ‘white nights’, where the sun is below the horizon for less than 6 hours. This makes it bloody difficult to motivate yourself to go to bed and, once there, to get to sleep.

Mind you, this is nothing compared to the northern town of Kiruna in Sweden, where from the 27 May to the 16 July the sun never sets and they have months and months of white nights.

Have you ever seen the movie ‘Insomnia’ with Al Pacino? Based on a Norwegian film with the same name, he plays a cop from LA who goes to Alaska to solve a crime. As time goes on, he suffers more and more from insomnia due to the day-round light and starts to lose his grip on reality. This time of year, I start to feel a bit like Al Pacino.

On week days, when you need to get up for work, nights are spent battling with the bright chinks of daylight that pierce the window shades and shine like an aura around the bedroom door. Effective sleep time is reduced to a few hours and, heavy headed in the morning, you climb into the shower like a zombie to try to bring yourself to life.

So how to survive this period of sleeplessness?

There are a few options:

  • Black-out blinds – sold amongst other places for a reasonable price at IKEA
  • Blindfold – stolen amongst other places from airlines
  • Sheet over head – not very comfortable and rather sweaty
  • Brick up the windows – probably not approved by the local council, or the residents’ board
  • Rain dancing – to try to conjure up dark clouds to block out the daylight
  • Get up and do yoga – no, just kidding
  • Drugs – always an option, but can bring on a whole new set of problems
  • Lavender under the pillow – supposed to relax you, just makes me sneeze and the bedroom smell
  • Take your bedding to the windowless bathroom and sleep in the bathtub – effective but tragic

Or alternatively, just suck it up and enjoy the white nights as an exotic natural Scandi-phenomenon. Reassure yourself that thankfully you don’t live in Kiruna, or Alaska.

And finally, philosophically remind yourself that this too will pass – and all too soon it will be day-round darkness.

Sweden’s Las Vegas on the Baltic Sea

Did you know that Sweden was once a great political power? The Swedish Empire exercised control over the Baltic region for over 100 years. The beginning of the Empire is usually taken as the reign of King Gustav Adolf in 1611, and the end as the loss of territories in 1721 following the Great Northern War. Sweden had control of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, Norway and parts of Germany. It is rumoured in Swedish history that King Gustav Adolf had an ambition to make the Baltic Sea a large lake inside Sweden.

This was all a very long time ago, and today things don’t look quite the same for Sweden. Today, the most common boats that travel over the Baltic Sea are ferries and cruise ships. These huge ships traffic, amongst other destinations, Stockholm, Helsinki, Åbo, Åland, Visby, Riga, Gdansk, Rostock and Tallinn. Today, they are not for invading Swedes but mostly for multinational tax-free shopping, city breaks, partying, cruising, transporting goods and touristing.

The specific party boats between Sweden and Finland are a Swedish classic. They are also a special case – they are a kind of ‘booze cruise’ and are an interesting study in how many varying levels of intoxication there are. It’s hard to say who wins the competition in being most drunk and going berserk – the Swedes or the Finns – but both nations give it a good attempt. These boats are notorious locations for partying and, like Las Vegas, what happens on the ferry stays on the ferry. It’s a fascinating sight to witness.

The boats have various well-used bars, nightclubs, cabaret lounges with tacky stage performances, a mix of good to production-line restaurants, basic and luxury cabins, spa, poker tables, slot machines, karaoke, bingo and tax free shopping. Everything is ambitiously designed to give passengers a fun night or two at sea.

You don’t have to party like crazy to travel these boats however. Lots of families, couples and calm groups of friends use the boats as transportation or as cruises and mini breaks. With an upgrade, you can experience nicer restaurants and better cabins. The view out of the window is also very pretty as the boats glide gently through the thousands of islands in the archipelago and out into the open sea.

So, whether you’re looking for beautiful scenery, a sociological study of the Swedes and the Finns, or wanting a wet party night, then jump on a cruise ship from Stockholm and venture out onto the Baltic Sea.

Have yourself a Merry Gay Swedish Christmas

With gay men being hunted down and ‘punished’ in Uganda, Tanzania, Russia and many other countries around the world, it is easy to blame religion for the persecution.

And the evidence to back this up is fairly compelling. Countries that have a strong foot in religion are often countries that have strong anti-LGBT policies and attitudes. Not always, but often. Fanatical interpretation of the scripture can be one explanation, as can the crushing concept of sin, and the devouring need to uphold traditional ‘family structures and values’. For example, in a recent comment, the Pope said a lot can be done for LGBT people through psychiatry.

Sweden is a country that separates the church from politics. It is a country where almost 90% of the population identify as atheist or agnostic. It is a place where religious morality does not usually dictate the behaviours and choices of individual citizens. Of course there is organized religion in Sweden, there are churches and there are priests. Of course there are minority religions in Sweden such as Islam, Hinduism and Judaism. Of course there are casual believers, devout followers and extremists. But compared to many other organized religions in the world, the Swedish Church is very liberal.

This was manifested in the recent service at a church in Stockholm, a service called Gay Jul (Gay Christmas). The slogan for the event was ‘come in as you are, come out as you want to be’. As I sat in attendance at this service, I witnessed a welcoming space, filled with members of the LGBT community, the church decorated in rainbow flags, and the words ‘Gay Jul’ emblazoned on the pulpit. I was moved by the openness of the church to welcome the minority group that is so often demonized and persecuted by the Faithful. It was an escape, and embrace, a sanctuary.

However, I was also struck by a sadness as I sat there in that echoing church. I realized the experience was a uniquely Swedish one, occurring in a small city in a small outpost of Europe and an unlikely sight in other churches, mosques, temples and tabernacles around the world.

In that church, amongst the rainbow flags, we were far far away from Uganda, and Tanzania, and Russia.

The relief of Swedish Advent

 

So it’s the first of Advent this weekend and this year it comes as a major relief for those of us in Stockholm.

You see at Advent, Swedes decorate their houses, apartments and windows with lights. From ceilings, illuminated stars are hung. On window ledges, electric advent candles are placed. On tables, four candles are positioned and one is lit every Sunday up until Christmas. Small candles, often red, are dotted about the home.

Some years, there is already deepish snow at the first of Advent, but this year in Stockholm, there isn’t. So it is very, very, very dark. The collective advent decoration is a definite reprieve from this darkness as light is spread into these murky places.

The word ‘advent’ comes from the Latin ‘adventus’ which means ‘arrival’ and is traditionally the start of the period where we wait for the arrival of nativity, or Christmas. Some religions also see it as waiting for the second coming of Christ. But in this secular society that is Sweden, the waiting is probably for the snow to come, the cold to hit, the water to freeze to ice and for winter to clasp its fingers firmly around us.

Spectacular Swedish serenity on All Saints’ Day

I remember walking around Stockholm when I had recently moved here. It was a pitch black Saturday evening in November, cold and crisp. As I approached a majestic church, I noticed that it was shimmering from the grave yard. This yellow and white light slowly flickered and cast shadows on the gravestones and the church wall. As if drawn by a magic spell, I walked up to the church and looked over the wall. The sight that met my eyes was spectacular and serene at the same time. Hundreds of candles were spread around the cemetery, decorating each of the graves. In the memory grove a bright blazing blanket of candles lit up the area. It was as if the spirits of the dead had come out to play.

In Sweden, the first Saturday in November is All Saints’ Day (the Sunday after All Saints’ Day is called All Souls’ Day to separate between the saints and the dead).

Since the 1800’s Swedes have, during this weekend, made pilgrimage to graveyards up and down the country to decorate the graves with candle light and to pay respect to the dead. It is a much more elegant and atmospheric tradition than the typical Halloween parties that otherwise have become very popular in Sweden.

It is a truly beautiful experience to walk through the churchyards this weekend. In the pitch black November Nordic darkness, it is a peaceful reminder of those who have gone before us. So head for your nearest cemetery this weekend and, if you happen to be in Stockholm, go to the Forest graveyard (Skogskyrkogården) for a specifically spectacular experience (pictured below).

Swedish ways to die #5 Death by tick

Today, I conclude my sojourn into culturally Swedish ways to die. I have written about death by lift, death by cyclist, death by fishing and death by ice. Today, we come to death by tick – a particularly creepy way to bite the big one.

Although Sweden has a reputation for being a safe country, it is actually infested with life-threatening creatures. These small spidery insects survive for years and live in their millions in the long grass around the country. The blood-sucking tick exists around the world and carries many pathogens – in Sweden it’s a disease known as Lyme disease.

If you are unfortunate to be targeted by a tick that is infected, you can become very sick and have life-long health issues or ultimately, die. They might be small, but they are lethal little critters.

The gross thing about the tick is that they live and feed on the blood of mammals. Once you have one on your skin, they crawl around to find an appropriate moist area. Then they dig in and start sucking, and as they suck their bodies fill up with blood. In the end, they look like grey grapes on the surface of the skin. So gross!

They say that even paradise had a snake. Sweden’s snake in the grass is the blood-sucking, parasitical tick. It sucks to be bitten by one and is a particularly Swedish way to die.