Around by paddan boat
It’s always the same. They want to show me views. And tell me things. Like the height of things. And how many inhabitants they have.
They want to feed me dates. Meaning history. They expose me to culture. Subject me to architecture. They push rubble. And pedal art. In the form of altar paintings, statues and flying buttresses. And tapestries. And important, artistic and very adult things like that.
They make me walk. And walk. And listen to them do their job. Tolerance is the key. A travel writer nods well. If he doesn’t, he may have to pay.
I suffer from the braininess of strangers. I suffer from a low-guided tour threshold.
Wherever I’ve been (almost) the generous people who happen for no fault of their own to know me least have been kind enough to provide me with a guide. To help me orientate. To show me around. To escort me through local history. To educate me. To leave me with the best impressions.
Guides are stereotypes. Maybe I’m biased. Maybe mis-guided. I’ve had a few guides in my time. Mauricio in Guatemala was unforgettable. So was the driver of the around-Dublin bus. But no one tops the Gothenburg paddan boat guide. Evelyn ensured Gothenburg is one of my favourite European cities.
You can see the west coast Swedish city many ways. By tram or on foot. Or, just through your hotel window.
But the best way is by flatboat. Paddan boats started in 1939 and are basically an airport transfer bus. But without a roof or a chassis. And far more buoyant.
Leaving from Kungsportsbron, the tour takes you down and around the city’s canals and into its famous harbour on the Gota Alv river.
In the company of Evelyn and ‘Captain’ Magnus you see the sights. The latter drives while the former ever-smilingly chats charmingly on in Swedish and then very Home Counties English about the city’s construction and defence.
Evelyn gives good spiel, periodically interrupting herself and keeping everyone on their toes, or rather hands and knees, by shouting “Duck!”
The 50-minute tour takes you under 20 bridges, including the infamously low-flat Osthyveln bridge, commonly known as the “Cheese Slicer”. On Evelyn’s command, everyone ducks and lies prone or hunched up on deck as the metal bridge passes over head at the level of the top of our seats.
It is essential you obey Evelyn. When she says “Duck!” you must duck. Concussion or decapitation means all the information at her disposal is impossible to assimilate or retain.
Thankfully, Evelyn doesn’t go on too long about the city’s population. However, she does tell you Gothenburg has been variously called ‘Little London’ , ‘Little Holland’ and ‘Little Venice’.
She tells you that Norstan is the leading retail therapy centre with over 180 ‘specialist outlets’. She points out the 83-metre ‘Skanska Scraper’ (Skanskaskrapan) office building and, unable not to laugh at the wit, tells you it is often called by the locals the ‘Lego House’ or the ‘Lipstick’. Mainly because it is red and white and looks like lipstick. Or ‘lego’.
You give her the benefit of the doubt. You know she can do better. That she has it her to say something that will bring the roof down. If the paddan had one. After all she is a student and a very nice lady. And we are only tourists.
Magnus silently pilots you through the moat and past the Horticultural Society rose garden which Evelyn tells you very sincerely “is very beautiful”.
In 2006, the city’s botanical gardens came third in The Most Beautiful Gardens of Europe competition. It boasts, our charming tri-lingual guide tells us, 1,600 species of trees and plants.
Then she says “Duck!”
Locals, legs dangling over the canal wall, watch as another group of visitors cower for their lives as they pass under another life-threatening bridge.
Evelyn has to talk about history. So she has to tell you that the city was founded in 1621. And named after the Geats tribe. She tells us that Gotherburg is the second largest city in Sweden and fifth in Scandinavia.
She fails to mention that the first Volvo car was built in 1927 and was called Jacob. She glosses over the fact that the ball bearing was invented in Gothenburg. That is taken as read. If you have read the small print in the guidebooks. And she chooses not to mention that the city has a suburb called Angered.
Instead, she tells us – quite correctly – the city has many nice parks; but not that it has many great restaurants as well as Liseberg amusement park.
But, as we putter along Rosenlund canal, she points out interesting buildings. Like the 1874 water-side Feskekorke Fish Church or ecclesiastically-designed Gothic fish market. And the former Swedish East India Company headquarters.
It would be remiss of an official tourist guide not to point out the famous port’s statues and churches used as navigation aids. Notably, the Oscar Fredrik church.
As a professional guide you must talk about ‘vibrant nightlife’, pedestrian areas, galleries and arcades. And the great shopping opportunities on offer. And, working front-of-house for her city, she must talk greenly. And inform the 40 passengers on board the flatboat cruise with her big, believable smile that Gothenburg is a green city with 175 metres of green space available per citizen.
You take it all in politely. And wait. Because you know it is worth it. A guide in Australia once said that female alligators have a clitoris. You know Evelyn has something similar up her sleeve. It is a question of when.
So you patiently and with some interest ingest the chat about Haga, the town’s oldest and most Bohemian suburb mainly made out of wood. You wait for the gem. That piece of trivia that will crack you up.
And paddan boat skipper Magnus, in his done-this-heard-all-the-before quiet way, swings into the famous harbour and Evelyn puts on her sunglasses and her ski jacket and regales you with the city’s shipbuilding, Dutch and Scottish past.
As you putter past the floating Maritime Museum, she tells you the city is still the largest port in Scandinavia. And probably the prettiest.
And then she tells you that the weather vane on one building you should be able to see on your right if you are young enough won a prestigious competition. For weather vanes.
And, if you are still listening and taking it all in and not rather chilly, you know it won’t be long. You know she it has it in her. And she won’t let you down. Few guides do.
Suddenly, it happens. She smiles and then laughs about the hilarity of what she is about to say. She knows it’s a winner. We pass the place where the banana boats used to dock in the good old days.
Evelyn pulls her microphone closer to her mouth and delivers. “Of course, the Swedes love their bananas to this day. Swedes eat 26 bananas every minute. It has been calculated.”
Immediately it was all worth it. It was the kind of information that makes a guided tour. The kind that will forever stick in the mind.
And makes you remember that Goteborg is the same place as Gothenburg. And a great and friendly city. In a great and friendly part of the world.
Unless you failed to obey Evelyn’s instruction to duck. And lobotomised yourself at your own expense.