I recently spent a couple of days in Sweden. This was a different kind of trip for me: No wine, and no big cities. I actually went to visit cousins, an entire family I had not met, split by immigration in the 1920s. A lengthier return trip is in the cards, but for the moment I've something to offer the European traveler seeking a moment of peace and quiet in a beautiful country. I can't think of a more pristine place.
To Gothenburg by air
My Norwegian Air flight in took me from London Gatwick to Gothenburg Landvetter airport on Sweden's west coast. The country's largest and capital city, Stockholm, sits on the east coast along the Baltic Sea; Gothenburg (Göteborg) faces westward past Norway and Denmark towards Great Britain. I'd have explored Gothenburg a bit (and will, one day) were it not for the winter's first snow falling as I landed. Ah yes, I was happy to have spent the night in London as a way point in my transition from 80 Fahrenheit in Portugal to the snow coming down all around me when I stepped outside in Sweden.
Sweden for those who don't speak Swedish
The odds favor you're not being a Swedish speaker, though happily for travelers, Sweden is filled with more very fluent English speakers than I've found in any country where English isn't the primary language. The first girl I met at an airport sundries shop put me at ease with her impeccable English, I do say much better than what I've heard spoken in parts of the United States. Genetics make me look mighty Swedish, leading some folks I encountered to begin our conversations in the native tongue on the assumption that I'd been there my whole life.
Out to the countryside, by road
I picked up a car from Enterprise (which represents both Alamo and National, through whom I had booked) just across the drop-off lane from the terminal. Easy. Google maps guided me east towards the city and north about ninety minutes to near the town of Uddevalla. A reasonably experienced driver has nothing to fear, as linguistic proficiency is not a barrier to navigating the excellent roads. I turned east again near Uddevalla, off the multi-lane highway and across the bridge to the island of Skaftö and the village of Grundsund.
Life on a quiet island
Grundsund -- my ancestral home -- is but one of several small villages on Skaftö, a beautifully quiet refuge of a place. I doubt one could cook up a more idyllic Scandinavian fishing town on a movie set. I had booked an Airbnb with Lena, a wonderful host who operates both the small cottage where I stayed and a cozy hostel-like guest house next door. I heartily recommend her whether you're seeking a quiet winter weekend or a few days in summer when spending time outdoors is the order of business. She'll show you a map and directions to all the local attractions, though I specifically recommend a hike along the boardwalk at the waterfront and a drive out to a nearby hill where great maritime views and a fjord will make up your vantage at the island's highest point.
Some whisky to go with that dinner
The nearby village of Fiskebäckskil rings in at less than 400 residents (there are about 600 in Grundsund), but is home to the Brygghuset restaurant that reminds me of Lot 12 Public House in Berkeley Springs, WV thanks to its "great restaurant in really small town" credential. I stepped from the biting cold and rain whipping off the harbor into what felt like a cozy sail loft, warm enough to wrap you up inside of it any time of year, but particularly welcome on this night. An appetizer buffet features variations on the all-too-Swedish pickled fish theme, and my (cooked) fish chowder was absolutely delicious. Brygghuset really shines, though, with its incredible whisky collection sourced from around the world. I easily found more enticing whiskies here than I have in any American whisky joint save for the incredible Jack Rose Tavern in Washington, DC. The presentation is striking as well: Hundreds of bottles are lined up in beautifully lit display cabinets that completely encircle the restaurant's innermost dining room. It's an incredible collection that you must try.
Driving through a snowstorm
Dinner wound down as the snow began to fall again. I knew I had to get back to Gothenburg or risk missing my flight to Berlin the next morning, so I hopped in the car and was off quite carefully through the night. The weather thickened around Uddevalla, but was otherwise manageable once I met the highway. I learned the hard way that Gothernburg City Airport and Gothenburg Landvetter are not one in the same; pre-booking a hotel at the wrong airport 40 minutes away from your intended departure point when it's snowing is not ideal. I re-booked at the Landvetter Airport Hotel, which I loved. The heated bathroom floor was essential. Car drop-off the next morning could not have been easier, and… GOT airport is a true pleasure, with the nicest security screening area I've ever seen, and some of the highest quality bars and restaurants I've ever found in an airport this size (a bit over 6 million passengers per year).
Sweden is a wonderful country to which I plan to return next year. I am a big advocate of modern city dwellers taking the time to get out of the city and into the beautiful country the world has to offer; thirty-six hours in Sweden certainly fits the bill, though is not nearly long enough. Grundsund on Skaftö is about as far away from tourists as you'll find. You'll be pleased with the quiet, the people, and the sea.