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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Hilltops and water routes

H and I don't travel the way most of our peers do. Because H boasts mad skillz as an amateur travel planner, we only occasionly end up going where the guides (be they paper or virtual) recommend. Usually, H finds one or two things for us to see or do, often based on advice from friends and/or family, and we then leave ourselves the rest of our time to roam the streets, poke around in shops and cafés, and in general grok the vibe of the city.

Göteborg has much to grok. It was founded in 1621 by King Gustavus Adolphus (Gustaf II Adolf), who hired a bunch of Dutch engineers and builders to come to Sweden, drain some marshlands, dig some canals, and construct fortifications. The city... but why am I telling you this here? This is the internet; you can go and read the Wikipedia article if you want more info.

Where I was going with my little historical rundown was to note that Göteborg has some intriguing buildings and a very particular urban shape, texture, and structure. One of the most peculiar buildings is the Skansen Kronan, an octagonal fort overlooking the entire city. We discovered to our astonishment you can host your wedding reception at the SK, but only if you enjoy hanging out with canons while you nosh on cocktail wieners.

Enjoy our reception! Enjoy the view! Enjoy our celebratory bombardment of the harbor!

But the view is extraordinary--even given the furtive clouds which dogged our visit.

H demonstrates the ancient Scandinavian ritual of "pumping it up"; while J drinks in the prospect of west coast fika.

In addition to its fortifications, Göteborg also enjoys the blessings of Dutch engineering for its wonderful canals. I've heard Stockholm referred to as the "Venice of the north," a cognomen which is apparently a point of some international controversy, since Amsterdam and St. Petersburg also lay claim to the moniker. For Stockholm, the Venice comparison derives not from its canals, of which it has comparatively few, but from its archipelago geography. Göteborg, in addition to being quite a smaller city, showcases the canals it does have (and it has kilometers of them) quite prominently. (An interesting footnote: Sweden has a larger canal--the Göta Canal--which connects the east and west coasts. Not quite Stockholm to Göteborg, but close. These days you can cruise the Göta, if you so desire.)

There is no magic like water magic when it comes to creating wonder in cities.

H and I found Göteborg big enough to be quirky, small enough to be friendly, and delightfully open. While we're lucky enough not to have to make a choice, all other things being equal, I think we'd chose Göteborg over Stockholm for either visiting or living. Can't recommend it highly enough.

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