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Malmö and Göteborg

A tale of two cities


So Copenhagen was great, but it caused me to run late to get to Malmö, and the instructions for my hostel stated in no uncertain terms to be there by 7pm. At 7.20pm I'm on the platform at Copenhagen Central, trying to call the hostel, but as usual I've forgotten how to work international dialling codes. The train journey was fine, although my trip over the famous Oresund tunnel-and-bridge combo crossing proved a little underwhelming since the train tracks go on the lower of its two decks, thus obscuring the view of water and pretty but unspectacular coastline. Arriving in Malmö I go all out and stuck as many zeros in the number I have for the hostel - and it worked. I apologise for contravening what would seem to be the golden rule of Swedish youth hostelling, but the girl on the other end of the line couldn't have been any less bothered. "It's fine, we are open all night, so come whenever", she explained chirpily. I was in no mood to loiter so made straight for the bus stops, Swedish Kronor in hand. Boarding the bus I asked the driver how much it is for a ticket. "No money", came the slightly distracted reply, with his attention focused more on a couple of lads who looked like they were trying to sneak on board. Great, I thought, he's seen a weary traveller and taken pity upon me! "No. No money, no travel - you must buy a ticket from the machines". "And where are they?" I asked. "Inside the station". I get off, walk back into the station building and find said machines, not merely positioned nowhere near the bus stops, but not even in sight of them. It brought back memories of the frustrations of buying bus tickets in Nottingham, one of the main reasons why I don't care much for that city. Would Malmö turn out to be Sweden's Nottingham, I thought to myself? Luckily, the answer would prove to be no.

Later in the evening, instead of doing as I'd intended and get the password for the hostel's wifi I get talking to an Australian guy who'd just spent ten days walking The King's Trail through the northern Swedish mountains, pretty much the toughest long distance hiking route in Europe. It rained most of the time, so I feel more than a little guilty for earlier complaining that I was tired from all the walking I'd done that day (cue flashback to my trip in the cycle taxi). We leave our conversation with him musing on whether his girlfriend is still his girlfriend after his weeks in the Swedish highlands (something he was soon to find out when he drops by her daughter in Germany to stay for a night or two), and I forced myself to leave the hostel for a late night walk. Pretty much everywhere was closed; it wasn't clear if this was because it's Sunday night or because it's Malmö.

Morning brought an amazing breakfast, moreover one sat near a German roller derby team, a feat I'm unlikely to repeat in this lifetime. I saw the Aussie guy again, just before he made his way to the station to commence his journey of relationship status discovery. Not much later and, in the pouring rain, I'm following in his footsteps (as far as the station, that is). There was one thing on my Malmö to-do list; see it's new Twisting Torso skyscraper in its regenerated docklands (two if you count fulfilling my friend Chris' request to send him a postcard from the city to complete his collection - sorry Chris if this sounds like I'm outing you as a postcard-hoarding obsessive). In many ways the area is reminiscent of Salford Quays, the only difference being that instead of a bunch of nondescript BBC office buildings it's got as its centrepiece an extraordinary 52-storey white tower. It's so tall - and the weather so shit - that the top of it is obscured by cloud. You can't get in to the building, let alone to the top of it, but when the only view you're going to get is a close up of a raincloud maybe it's not such a kick in the teeth.




The vicinity of the tower is a work in progress, so much so that there's a small public garden plonked in the middle of an abandoned carpark.


I had thought of finding another route back into town from the tower, but a quick glimpse of the Øresund persuaded me to head in the opposite direction. I ended up in a weird park where, in addition to the usual benches and bins, there were permanent horse jumps and a dog agility training area.


On the way back to the station the lure of a row of museums, including the Malmöhus or city castle, proved too hard to resist. The Technological Museum turned out to be one long joyous geek-out. As if getting to sit in a 1960s air traffic control tower was not enough, the museum's only got its own original U Boat out back. Boy are they the polar opposite of spacious. (Note to self - put the dvd box set of Das Boot on my Amazon wish list.) I also learned that Popeye was a Nazi...




Upstairs was an exhibition on nanotechnology that revealed so many unexpected everyday application I knew nothing about that it makes my head a little hurty (did you know that to the naked eye some LEDs look like they aren't working but when viewed through a cameraphone screen you can see them emitting light?). Next door is a separate museum whose name I couldn't translate but may very well be the Museum of Anything and Everything, given the randomness of its exhibits (and there were spare cases for more crap to be added in the future). The one exhibit with an English label also happened to be the best; the Robot Jazz Band, a mildly terrifying mechanical band made in the 1920s or 1930s for a department store. Unfortunately it wasn't working when I was there, though a video of the band in action just about sufficed.


A stone's throw away was a gallery space in a converted something-or-other housing a display on how Malmo is pretty much wiping the floor with all other cities when it comes to the sustainability of its new developments (but with the underlying message that they could still do better), and opposite that was the Malmöhus. It's a hodge-podge of a museum, art gallery, historic building and concert hall all rolled into one, which made for some interesting juxtapositions, in particular how the displays on the prehistory of the area led into a show on 1920s female fashion. So here's some high fashion for Soph...


...and some hyperinflation for the rest of us...


The castle-y portions were interesting too, albeit largely because of the portraits of various seventeenth-century members of the Swedish royal family, a spectacularly unfortunate looking bunch.


Malmö had won me over but it was high time to get the hell out of town: the clock was ticking, the clouds were getting greyer, and Göteborg no closer. Unfortunately, Swedish railways were not up to the task of laying on a service to Göteborg until around 90 minutes after it was scheduled to depart. This dented my impression of Sweden as a land of flawless public services, although I can't really extend any complaints to the journey when it did begin (and then stop and start again). It was my first look at the Swedish countryside. Bits of it reminded me of the view out of the window on trains to Leeds, Cambridge and Scarborough, although on none of them can I remember seeing even a single example of the tapering, serpentine Swedish national flags which fly from poles outside an extraordinary number of houses. Oh, and there was a short but sweet sunset.


It was dark by the time I got to Göteborg. The city has trams (the ground being unsuitable for construction of a metro, fact fans), so I avoided having to fight the good fight with bus ticketing arrangements for a second night in a row. That said, the on board, Visa-accepting card machine wouldn't accept my Visa card, so I got to ride for free (probably to the chagrin of my fare-paying fellow passengers). My hostel couldn't have been much more different to the one from the night before: young, loud and, with 15 other people in my room, tiny amounts of space to yourself. I chose a top bunk with a ventilation pipe at ideal head-bumping height. Later on I helped a Japanese guy work the hobs in the shared kitchen as he'd spent the past 10 minutes unable to heat up some ham and onions to add to his pasta. Satisfied, I got into bed, only to smell a smell distinctly like fried ham and onions. The pipe above my head was connected to the extractor fan above the stove. Oh well, I reasoned, there were a lot worse things he could have been cooking.

I was excited about visiting Göteborg as I'd heard many good things. The city's main park was just up the road from the hostel, so I had a quick walk around that before paying my way on the tram back to the station. It was idyllic in a very Swedish way.


The train fares to Stockholm seemed pretty reasonable (which is still hard to comprehend from a British perspective) but I'd read getting the coach can be a lot cheaper. Not only did the guy in the booking office tell me this was not the case, but he was also the one and only Swede to insult me during my time in the country (unless you count the guy who shouted "MOTHERFUCKER!" out of his car window in my direction in Stockholm a couple of days later, but I'm not sure if that was intended for me). "You know who you remind me of? Karl Pilkington" he says out of the blue, "Only taller and with more hair". I'm not sure how to take my equation with a Gervais-tainted British comedy export, particularly when he follows it up with the observation that "You even speak a bit like him". I handed back the timetable, left, and bought a train ticket.

From what I could glean from the guidebook, daytime things to do in Göteborg are a bit thin on the ground. I headed for the Maritime Museum, past its rather unattractive new opera house and some drunk Somali guys having a universally-recognisable rant of the "And another thing I hate about..." type. The museum bills itself as the largest floating collection of historic ships in the world, which may well be true, but the claim has to be seen in the context of most of those ships being small and uninteresting. There was a destroyer (or frigate - how to tell them apart?) and a submarine, but I'd been in one of them the day before, and when it clicked that ships are probably more interesting when seen from the outside I chose to walk on and find some food.


I passed through the oldest bit of town and into the main shopping area, stopping for some food at a Persian place. By now I was really struggling for things to do. The Saluhallen, or food market, looked delicious, but I'd already eaten, and the line of the old town defences were just that, a line (one where someone appears to have erected a monument in stone to the XX's album):


Whereas I'd rushed to see all I wanted in Malmö (and benefitted in this regard from the delays to my train), here I couldn't find enough things to do to fill the time until my train left at 3.12pm. Later Dr Briggs diagnoses its problem; Göteborg suffers from "Second City Syndrome" (copyright me). It's like Birmingham: a big city with lots of people and lots going on, but who's ever chosen to go there for a couple of nights to see what it's about? In my mind Birmingham is Gladiators at the NIA, a place to change trains on the (marginally) cheaper services from Manchester to home, and Future Systems' shiny Selfridges store. I'm sure there's so many more sides to Göteborg that I missed in my 18 or so hours in the city, but I would say this to any would be visitors; if you go make sure you know someone in the city to act as your guide, or make some new friends fast.

And hey, if you get bored Malmö is (delays permitting) only three hours away on the train.

Posted by RobertJSBriggs 00:49 Archived in Sweden

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