THERE are a lot of trees in Sweden. At least, southern Sweden. Coming into land at Gothenburg Airport, Gordo is beginning to think that we are about to land in a forest, you simply don’t see any urbanisation.
Which is the recurring thought during the next three days, where he is about to be taken on a canal and lake cruise between Stockholm and Gothenburg on board the cruise ship Wilhelm Tam, a boat from a different era; built in 1910, it carries 25 passengers in comfort and looks like something that Werner Herzog dragged up the Amazon. Gordo was expecting to have to help solve several murders along the way as Hercule Poirot’s aide.
The waterway that allows this to happen is the Gota Canal; it was built in 1832, by hand. The reason being is that back then, those naughty Danes controlled the entrance to the Baltic Sea and charged the nice Swedish people heavy duties to take goods over to the capital, Stockholm.
So the Swedes, getting irritated, decided to dig a canal connecting Gothenburg, the western seaport, with Stockholm, via a couple of lakes. The army weren’t doing a lot at the time, so all 58,000 of the lucky buggers were given shovels and set to work.
In no time at all, goods were being shipped down the canal and the Danes had the raging needle, much the same as Liverpudlians still go on about Mancunians today; that Manchester Ship Canal deprived them of much needed revenue, especially as they had to give up slave trading a few years before. Not that the Danes had been involved in that trade. Well, not for 1200 years anyway.
The bonus that the Gota Canal had was it didn’t traverse coal fields, but some of the most beautiful, unspoiled countryside in Northern Europe along with two belting lakes.
Which is why Gordo finds himself shinning up a rope and ladder via someone’s back garden onto the aforementioned Wilhelm Tam; he was part of a group of travel people and writers who had been invited by the people who owned this delightful ship.
The Tham was already one day into the voyage, and discovered that the lock we were supposed to use to board wasn’t working, so the Captain, not being the negative type, just pulled up at the best looking spot. Take a look at the video if you think I am joking…
First look around the boat puts a smile on the fat one’s face; it’s tiny, but gorgeous. The cabin was for two, but just about fitted Gordo. Polished brass and burnished wood, comfy bunks with first rate cotton sheets and a half bottle of champagne for welcome. A wardrobe (six inches deep) and a hand basin were built in by carpenters from three generations previous.
Upstairs, Gordo and his fellow travellers were offered coffee, tea and beer and had the boat, as well as the trip explained to them.
There were several bathrooms with great showers and loos spotted about. A really fabulous dining room, a reading room at the rear and a top deck open, with wicker chairs, blankets and an honesty bar. Gordo was going to rue being honest at the end of the journey.
At dinner on the first evening it became apparent that these people were serious about their food. It was of a very good standard, fresh ingredients of superb quality cooked well and served with humour and attentiveness; indeed, the staff, from Hakan Gullberg, managing director of the company, down were absolutely charming. Particularly Lulu, a lady of stunning natural blonde Swedish looks, the most charming manner as well as a wide, genuine smile. It would be worth taking the trip all over again just to be served by her.
During the trip across the waterway the food never faltered. The wine needs a mention in dispatches as well whilst we are at it, good quality, selection and price.
The scenery is enchanting; woods make way for lakes, locks for large expanses of water lilies. Many people come on the trip as a chance to relax and meet people. There was something of an atmosphere of camaraderie amongst the passengers from several different nations. Some of whom are there to marvel at the engineering, including Johaan, who enjoyed lecturing Gordo for an hour one afternoon about just how special the locks were.
Johaan can be best described as a lock pervert. The friendship ended at 4:20 am on the second morning when Johaan threw open Gordo’s cabin door and shook him awake to tell him the ship had arrived at the next set of locks and he should come and see the engineering.
Johaan was pale and very quiet at breakfast.
Passing through another set of locks, we were welcomed by a weird religious sect, 20 or so, dressed in Florida retirement chic, who come out every time the Wilhelm Tham passes through, singing songs and passing bunches of flowers to the crew. It’s very, very strange. Gordo has seen a video of them on YouTube from a couple of years ago. They are exactly the same, with the same clothes. Spooky. Once again, you can see Gordo’s video on this page.
That previous night we were all invited, at eleven pm, to visit a museum, specially opened for the passengers. Gordo was wishing he had been told about this earlier as he would have paced the claret a little more conservatively at dinner; never mind, let’s get on with it Gordo was thinking to himself.
The Museum turned out to be the weirdest thing that he had ever seen in his life. It was a lifetime collection of some outstanding cars alongside the biggest collection of Kitsch tosh the world has ever seen. You have to see what Gordo means, so he took plenty of photographs. You, dear reader, need to see it but drop some acid first.
There are lots of opportunities to have a quick peek around the sights canal-side. One which Gordo missed out on, the Karlsborg Fortress, which had taken 90 years to build. That’s what drinking too much of that Carlsberg does for you; those Danes are a crafty set of buggers. Gordo missed it as he was fast asleep in bed having worn himself out trying to throw a startled Austrian overboard a few hours earlier.
Other after dinner delights included a trip around the Sjotorp Canal Museum, where there is a shop selling clothes and other stuff. Gordo bought a gravy boat. Well, the lady who owned the shop was wearing the tightest pair of jeans that Gordo had seen for a while, so he had to have a reason to go to the till. It is, however, a good one. The gravy boat that is.
After a couple of days, were arrived back at our destination, Gothenburg. Yes, I know, we had been driven a 150 miles the other way to pick up the Tham.
Gordo had visited Gothenburg 30–odd years before on a weekend trip with his pal Mike, who had wangled the trip as he was a trainee wood buyer here in the UK. The place has changed a lot; we were put up in a lovely Hotel called the Elite Plaza, a nineteenth century building with a massively cool, contemporary lobby, fantastically equipped bathrooms and a heavenly bed. Stay there, it’s good.
That evening we spent a few hours in the Liseberg amusement park, having had dinner courtesy of the lovelyAnn-Charlotte, who is in charge of marketing Gothenburg to the world. The restaurant was a cracker, with some of the best food eaten this year.
To be honest, Gordo was so impressed with Gothenburg that he is going back in early summer to have a good look at the place, it deserves a few days, not just a night and morning.
As for the cruise, it was a real pleasure. Very relaxing, great fun along with food and drink which box well above their weight. The trip shows Sweden off very well and if you can manage a couple of days either side in the cities it really would be a very special week or so. Do it!
Happy Trails, Gordo
Gordo was flown courtesy of City Air. Thanks to Rob at TravelPR, he is a star.
+46 (0) 31 80 63 /15
Motala Motormuseum Platensgaten 2, Hamnen 591 35 Motala 0141-588 88
Elite Plaza Hotel Vastra Hamngatan Box 11065 SE-404 22 Goteborg Sweden +46 (0) 31 720 40 00/ email@example.com
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