John’s trip to Gotëborg, Sweden
17 September – 20 September 2001
17 September 2001, Monday
My first flight was at 0600. Mary Ann dropped me off at the airport at
0500. I had no idea what security I might have to go through considering
the attacks in New York. Turns out, we passed through the metal detectors
and then walked out to the plane as normal. If there was any additional
security it was very discreet. It feels strange to be flying to a foreign
country without Mary Ann along.
Hope Mary Ann made it back to the house; she was never comfortable driving
a car with a manual transmission. The new car will have an automatic transmission
but the Geartronic option lets me drive like it has a “stick”.
Finnair uses MD 82/83s with rear doors and the
stairs that extend down from the tail of the aircraft. Most U.S. airlines don’t use them
anymore since D. B. Cooper hijacked a plane long ago (what a trail of terror he started!)
and it felt strange to board and exit that way.
Wish my mother was alive and knew I was going to Sweden.
She had hoped we might be able to visit Sweden some day but we never had the opportunity.
I hope I can find Ballstanäs, my maternal grandmother’s home, and learn more about Elsa’s
side of the family. Then perhaps about the Nilsson side later.
While I was standing at the airport check in I noticed the clerks whispering
questions to one another, as if whispering would prevent me from understanding
them. Except that I could not understand their Finnish if they were talking
directly with me. I was reminded of the “Pig
Latin” my mother and uncle would use when I was young and they were discussing something I
should not understand.
When I arrived in Sweden I was wondering about customs and passport control. I stopped at
one counter and the officer asked where I came from. After I responded “Finland”, he said
go on. That was it. Went through the next door and I was standing in the terminal under
the International Arrivals sign. The ride to the hotel didn’t appear so I caught a taxi
into town; Gotëborg airport is twenty-five
kilometers from the city center.
Gotëborg is located on a river in western Sweden and is a port for ferries to Denmark.
There always seems to be one moving somewhere on the river.
After a nap at the hotel I took a river taxi/ferry to the city center; great ride and
only 15 SEK (1.50 USD). If you don’t have much time take the ferry both ways for 30 SEK
for a mini tour of Gotëborg. The north side of the river has a lot of apartment buildings
built in the last ten years. I walked through the
Gallerian - the “largest shopping center in Sweden” - and along a shopping street
for about six blocks to the canal which surrounds downtown Gotëborg. The
canal boat ride lasted an hour and circled the island formed by the canal.
Some of the bridges are so low that you have to lie down in your seat to
clear the bridge. Then we went onto the river. Gotëborg was a major shipbuilding
and repair center until the 1980’s. Only the floating dry docks seem to
do any business now. One of the left-over items is an eighty-four meter
tall rolling crane; although not used for ship building or repair any longer,
you can climb to the top for a good view of the city or to bungee-jump.
The boat tour is a capsule of Gotëborg’s history since you pass by the
old shipping warehouses, parks, shipyards, historical buildings and along
many streets. Like most of Europe, buildings are built, used; and, if they
last long enough, become revered for their place in history – but they
are still in use. They don’t have the luxury of space like the U.S. to
set aside buildings and parks to “freeze in time” like the Van Dyke house
in New York City, Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia or Sutter's Fort in Sacramento, California. Warehouses become offices and apartments, schools
become offices and old mills are turned into hotels and shopping centers.
Gotëborg was the home of the East India Trading Company. At one time its
“turnover”, or sales, was larger than the Swedish national budget.
Then I visited the Gotëborg Maritima Centrum,
in particular to see the Swedish destroyer and submarine that are part of the collection.
The destroyer was about the same size as the high endurance cutter I sailed on while serving in the
United States Coast Guard. The crew size was double
what we carried (254/132) and the spaces seemed smaller. I hope their food was as good as the Guard’s.
Then I went on board the submarine. Now that is close quarters. No privacy, small spaces;
my claustrophobia would definitely kick in. Tall people should not apply (or have very
thick skulls) and I have a great deal of respect for anyone who has ever served in
the “silent service” for any navy. One interesting thing I noted was the storage for
spare torpedoes. Behind the four front tubes was a rotary housing, much like a revolver
pistol’s rotating chamber. When aligned a torpedo could be slid from storage to a tube
very easily. Looked much easier than the more common style where they are stored in racks
on the side and had to be hoisted into position.
I caught the river ferry back to the hotel for a nice dinner in the bar.
18 September 2001, Tuesday
The big day!
A taxi rolled up to the hotel at 0929, one minute early, to take me to
the Volvo Factory Delivery
Center. It was about a ten-minute drive, over onto the north shore of the river.
After introducing myself and showing some identity our car was moved to the inside garage
where Lief walked me around the car, pointing its new or important features. I then took
the car for a brief test drive on their “test track”. The “test track” is a short loop
that lets you at least check that everything works, no squeaks or rattles and you have
the seats and mirrors set correctly for when you hit the road. Everything worked, the car
handled well and I looked forward to getting on the road for a longer drive.
While I was waiting for the insurance to be extended from two weeks to
six months I ordered some accessories – the prices looked reasonable, especially
since they included installation. The major accessory was the block heater
("engine water heater” as it is called here) which is an absolute
necessity considering winter in Finland has temperatures to -30C (-22°F).
Wall outlets to plug in your car are standard here, just part of the landscape,
and are provided wherever you work. The options were installed and the
car was ready when I got back from lunch.
I walked to lunch at the Volvo World Headquarters. There is a section of the cafeteria
set aside for Tourist and Diplomat deliveries. After lunch I visited the Volvo Hall where
they had a variety of old and new Volvos on display. Then I went on a tour of the
Safety Centre. Volvo, a number of
years ago, started to visit the site of any accident that involved a Volvo – the police
would call them. They have accumulated the data on over 26,000 accidents. The statistics
help them determine how accidents happened, what safety features worked and what needs to
be added. As consumers we only see the smooth skin of the car but it is amazing what they
have put underneath, like crush zones, side impact protection, electronics and air bags.
The cut-away model was interesting.
Unfortunately, the factory tour I had looked forward to was unavailable. I enjoy technology
and seeing how things are manipulated, put together, etc. I hope to take the factory tour
when we return the car next summer for shipment to the U.S.
After the tour I headed for Stockholm.
The Swedish highways are smooth and it is easy to keep up a good pace unless you get
stuck behind a truck. When possible they will move over to the right to let you pass –
many of the two-lane highways have paved shoulders that are a lane wide. The majority
of the traffic flows right at the limit – very few speeders.
Highlight of the drive to Stockholm was Jönköping at the southern end of Lake Vättern.
The area reminded me of the lakes in the Swiss and Italian Alps. I drove along it for
about thirty minutes before turning northeast towards Stockholm. I found a motel about
fifteen kilometers south of Stockholm.
19 September 2001, Wednesday
Stockholm – I drove in and got lost. During my drive I drove around an
island that included an amusement park, theatre and lots of park land.
Also drove by some embassies. The streets in Stockholm are mostly paved
vs. Helsinki’s cobblestone so they are definitely quieter as you drive
about. The city is clean but Helsinki is cleaner.
Stockholm is as cosmopolitan as San Francisco – but then, while waiting at a traffic
light, a man in a suit rides up with a briefcase clipped to the luggage rack. He is
in lane two of three lanes. Here bicycles are ridden in traffic, not on the sidewalk
I found downtown by accident. I was lost, saw the “P” sign for parking
and parked. Turned out I was in the heart of downtown with the Tourist
Information office only a block away. I took a boat tour through
the harbor. There are over 200,000 pleasure boats for 1.4 million
people. From the water Stockholm looks a lot like Helsinki except
the hills are steeper, the buildings a few stories taller and a mix of
old and modern. Many of the significant buildings are on the water.
Swedish store clerks are the quickest to switch languages. I would stay
“Hello” and they responded in English, without hesitation.
One of my goals in Stockholm was to do some research on my maternal grandmother’s
family. I asked at the Tourist Information office for any info about the
town/village. One of the notes added to the story written by my grandmother
was that the family estate was now on the map as a tourist site. Well,
no such luck for me. I went to the City Library to see if I could find
anything out but the man in the genealogy department was swamped. I need
to do more research on the web for the next trip.
Bikes are common in Stockholm. In Oulu the bikes are ridden on the pedestrian/bike
paths while in Stockholm they ride in the traffic.
Drove back to the hotel for dinner.
20 September 2001, Thursday
I had purchased my ferry ticket for Thursday morning on the
Silja line; I’ve been told it is the nicer of the two lines to Turku. Got up
at 0415, dressed and started north to Stockholm. Silja line ferries to
Turku leave from Kapellskär, about forty miles northeast of Stockholm.
Drove through Stockholm, didn’t get lost, found the E18 highway and arrived
at the ferry terminal at 0530, before sunrise.
The “ferry” is a cruise ship that you can drive your vehicle onto. Feels strange
driving into a steel tunnel that runs the length of the ship. 300 SEK ($30 USD) for
the Volvo and me, very reasonable. The ship has duty-free shops, casino, movie theatre,
bingo, upscale restaurant, fixed-price buffet, serve-yourself buffet and fast food shop.
The ship is diesel powered so there is always vibration and it varies according to
where you are on the ship. The duty-free store is aft and all of the bottles rattle
constantly, as if I was in a liquor store next to a freight train crossing. Even
forward, in the buffet, there is a rumble and the coffee in your cup is always rippling.
As we sail through the thousands of islands, some of them solid rock and
only a hundred meters long, the ship weaves it way (and leans) to follow
the channel. In the buffet I am sitting level with the tops of trees on
most islands; outside, five decks above, I can see over the nearby islands
to others in the distance. Global warming, if it occurs, will be a disaster
for coastal Finland and Sweden. Few islands appear to be over thirty meters
tall (one hundred feet) at the tree tops.
Mariehamn is the administrative center for the
Aland islands and a transfer/turn-around point for people riding the ferry to
take advantage of the duty-free stores.
Following Paul Lindfors’ trail, I explained to the ship’s purser that I had been
in the U.S. Coast Guard and asked if I could get a tour of the bridge. “We are
under heightened security and tours are not possible”, he explained. Bummer, I
would have enjoyed comparing the 1930’s technology I used on board the U.S. Coast
Guard Cutter WHEC
which backed out of Pearl Harbor, to the 1990’s technology I have read about
and seen on television.
While I was having a cup of coffee, about an hour before we landed, I got up to
take a picture of a passing island. I said “Excuse me” as I blocked a table’s view
for the moment. The women asked in English how long I had been in Finland. The three
of us chatted for a while. The couple knew Vallejo
since their son had attended the California Maritime Academy there. It is a small world.
I did my tax-free shopping just before we arrived and was able to take my purchase to
the car. The car deck is closed except for thirty minutes after departure and thirty
minutes before you arrive. I then earned the car has an alarm system. I had unlocked
the car, stowed the purchases, opened the sun roof and window, took the key out and sat
down to wait. About fifteen minutes later I went to clean the mirrors and set the alarm
off, surprising the deck hand and myself. I had to scramble to find the unlock button.
I think Finland will have ferries for a while. Southern Finland is geographically
isolated from Western Europe with the Gulf of Bothnia to the west, the
Baltic to the south and Russia to the East. The ferries offer an inexpensive
method to move people and vehicles. The start of the European Union will have some
effect due to the reduction in tax-free shopping advantages.
As I drove off in Turku I kept looking
for customs until I realized I was on a public street heading for the highway so I
headed for Tampere. The farms between Turku and Tampere appear to be larger than those near
Oulu. I don’t know if they are larger or if they just didn’t leave any
trees up for windbreaks between the fields. I was making good time as I
approached Tampere so I headed for Jyväskylä. That was a wonderful road
to drive due to a combination of rolling hills (reminded me of the New
England area in the U.S.). I would pop over a hill and see just trees but
the next turn might reveal a “picture postcard” view of a lake with a cabin or farm. This
stretch was a little slower due to the trucks that cruise at 80 Kph but
they would move over when they could and there were occasional passing
It was dark when I rolled out of Jyväskylä after a food and fuel stop. From there on,
light traffic and the road stretched ahead of me, punctuated by a string of trucks
going south and the occasional town or village. No moon so my view was whatever the
The trucks and buses often have lights on top of the cab. When you first see them
they blink off and the vehicle disappears. Then the rest of the truck comes over the
rise with the running lights stretching behind it. Some trucks will have the factory
headlights and fog lamps plus four more lights on a grill bar and two more on the
roof. They must have huge alternators to drive ten front lights, the running lights
on the tractor and trailer and the cab hardware (radio, CB, heater fan, instruments, etc.).
I arrived in Oulunsalo around 0030 Friday and crashed (into bed, that is).
The next day Mary Ann got to see her “new” car (I had driven almost 900 miles).