The Windswept Coastline of West Sweden
By Andy Christian Castillo
After dipping through the thick cloud cover on the final descent, I was disappointed to be met with rain; but the modern city of Gothenburg, Sweden was bright and cheery, even on a cloudy day.
I also found it colder than I anticipated or packed for — much different from my hometown in the Northeastern United States.
I am always pleasantly surprised by how compact and functional European cities are: Gothenburg was no different. Tight roads, just wide enough for a small car wind around the main drag, which shoots through the middle of the city like an artery.
I took the airport shuttle to the last stop — the Nils Ericson Terminal, and found my hotel across the street at Scandic Europa.
A few days later, I was on the windswept coast of West Sweden.
Rolling My Kayak
Bitter cold water bit into my face, as the kayak flipped me under the rough ocean surface. For a second, panic struck; water surged around me, and air was sucked from my lungs — but then I calmed myself, ripped off the spray guard, and pushed myself down and away from the boat. I surfaced quickly and found my guide Marcus Skärgårdsidyllen, who owns the guided kayaking tours company Skärgårdsidyllen, hurrying to my aid.
Skärgårdsidyllen worked in finance before he quit his job and went into the kayaking business; “I downshifted,” he said when I asked him about it: “It’s easy to get stuck climbing the ladder, and it’s hard to get off.”
To me, it seemed like the Swedish value experiences more than material things.
After climbing back on the kayak, I set out once more; but the water was rough because of the wind, and flipped me over again like the amateur that I was.
While some might shy away from such an experience, I thoroughly enjoyed the ordeal — flipping kayak and all. When I travel I crave adventure and excitement; there’s nothing like cold ocean water to remind you how powerful of a mistress nature is, and how small you are in comparison to it.
Later that evening, I stood on the deck of my hotel, Everts Sjobod, leaning against the wind, which threatened to tear my baseball hat from off of my head and attack my blond hair.
I was overlooking the bay, watching the fishing boats strain against the current. I had just finished a meal of crayfish, mussels, and shrimp, capped by a few glasses of a locally made porter; when I first arrived, one of the owners, Per Karlsson, treated me to oysters fresh from the ocean floor.
“It’s an oyster beer,” said Karlsson, as he handed me the porter; “I always drink it with oysters.”
And he was right — the combination of the salt and malt was perfect.
The hotel was at the end of a quiet rode, which hugged a row of small red boathouses along the coast.
It was one of those moments when I stopped and wondered how I had gotten to where I was, forgot about everything else, and enjoyed existence at its most fundamental level.
I’ll Always Remember the Wind
I’ve been to a lot of coastlines and seen so many fishing boats and lobster traps, that it’s easy to toss every experience into one pile.
But somehow, that moment was different — perhaps it was the solitude, which sounded like the wind whistling over the shingles of the roof in front of me, reminding me of how far from home I was; or maybe it was the resolution of the boats to stay tied at their moorings, despite the rough water.
Or maybe it was the wind, which pulled waves across the surface of the harbor like a sheet being spread in the morning sunlight over a smooth bed; an oncoming roughness that never ceased, until it lapped, always reaching higher, onto the rocky shoreline.
It howled through the masts and roared across the inlet, up onto the dry ground, where it angrily shook the trees and sent dust scurrying away across the road.
That night I woke up around midnight and sat listening to the waves roll just outside my window. The wind, which wouldn’t let up, shook the old boathouse, crept in through the open windows and reminded me I was alive.
Where Life is Slow
Life is slow in Gronemad (a small fishing village on the shore where I stayed), like it’s supposed to be; there isn’t bustle or hurry, instead, there’s a shared understanding that time is more important than money. The people here live a good and fulfilled life: A life which I am jealous of.
The next morning I took my rental car up down the coast to Fjallbacka, another small village with more infrastructure than Gronemad, but the same slow pace. After checking in at Stora Hotellet Fjällbacka, I caught a boat to the Weather Islands from the town over.
The Weather Islands
The sea churned in wind-tossed turmoil, pitching the bow of our boat skyward, before it was pulled heavily back to the surface by gravity. I stood on the front deck, dipping to the rhythm of the waves, watching the earth reel, and feeling the stiff wind steal my breath away.
As far as I could see, white caps crested the deep green and angry water; ocean spray doused my sweatshirt in the distinguishable scent of the ocean and speckled my glasses with saltwater. It was a terrifying and awe-inspiring experience — the boat was a speck, tossed about at the whim of the monster nature.
“The worst I’ve ever seen the sea was my second day on the job,” the ship captain said, in reference to the waves; “But I wasn’t scared, this boat is very stable.”
Before I left the shore, the woman at the desk for the port told me that the rough sea scares a lot of people away from going out to the islands.
Overlooking Fjallbacka. Rugged and barren sandstone rock stood above the surface, in defiance of the foaming water, for as far as the eye could see; we careened in between the islands and made it to Väderöarna island in time for a delicious seafood lunch at Väderöarnas Värdshus och Konferens.
I wandered around the island, through the hardy vegetation, past the old boathouses, and up to the lookout tower, where the Pilots kept watch.
When the islands were a thriving trade route, the Pilots guided ships around dangerous rocks, through precarious passages, and rescued ships who wrecked, an old boatmaker told me.
They were masters of sailing who risked their lives on the sea for the sake of others; an exciting and dramatic lifestyle to say the least.
Watching the Evening Turn to Dusk
I’ll always remember sitting on a cliff, feeling the powerful ocean wind (which still blew boisterously) try to throw me over the edge, while I watched waves explode onto the rocks below and into the surrounding islands.
Up to that point, I had never seen the ocean so dangerous, and I was acutely aware of how dead I would be, should I take a misstep.
Wandering the Quiet Streets
Back in Fjallbacka that evening, I wandered through the quiet streets and down creaking jettys as the sun set; masts swayed to the beat of the waves, and seabirds huddled against the wind.
I found a trail at the end of a narrow road, hiked through a narrow crevice in the rock, and climbed a wooden staircase where I found a city overlook.
The wind still blew with a vengeance — so intensely that I lay down for fear of losing my balance.
I watched the haze creep into dusk, which settled over the bay like a mist and highlighted the soft rolling boats at anchor, before I trekked back down to a quiet dinner at Bryggan Fjällbacka, and the peacefulness a sleeping village on the coast of West Sweden.
Traveler’s Tip for Gothenburg
If you ever travel the coast of West Sweden, here are a few tips:
1. Plan to use a rental car; the villages are spread out — and while there is public transportation available, it’s a lot easier and faster to drive.
2. Plan ahead: even though while I was there the towns were pretty quiet, I heard that the coast fills up quickly with tourists during the summer months. Also, there aren’t all that many hotels available, so book ahead!
3. Pack warm, because Sweden is deceptively cold; even though the temperature might be warmer, the wind makes it chilly.
4. Ask the locals where to go; there are a lot of great spots that are ‘undiscovered’ by tourists, and might not be on any maps. So stop and ask — the coastal population is exceptionally friendly, and will point you in the right direction!
5. Don’t expect your cellphone to get reception — also, although the hotels do have wifi, a lot of the time it didn’t work. Most of the villages aren’t built up with infrastructure, so take a map and a notebook with you!
Here are few other good stops around the Gothenburg area (about an hour and a half drive):
Address: Feskekörka, Rosenlundsgatan Phone: +4631-139051
Explore Majorna neighborhood, tram no 3 or no 11 to get there:
Close to Majorna by the river is Röda Sten Art Hall, an art exhibit.
For more information, check out the West Sweden tourist board‘s website.
Or, you can look at the official website of Gothenburg (Goteborg)
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