Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Sweden: Land of Volvos and Swedish meatballs

Did you know Volvo has an overseas delivery (OSD) program where you can purchase a vehicle and get a "free" vacation?! I didn't. But Micah did. And when he was looking at getting a new vehicle and settled on the XC60 T8 hybrid, he ended up going through the OSD route to get all the specs he wanted—and it wasn't really any more expensive than if he had purchased a car from the dealership lot!

The Volvo OSD program gives you two roundtrip tickets to Volvo's HQ in Gothenburg, Sweden. However, you're able to add in a layover or fly out of another city as long as it falls within the price range allotted. Since we were going to be in Europe anyway, we decided to make it a 2-week vacation and visit several other cities. Volvo's travel agency allowed us to have a 30-hour layover in London before getting to Gothenburg and then we would fly back home through Vienna. In between, we would visit Stockholm and Prague! We decided to visit all new places for us. 

We flew British Airways for the long legs from Houston and it was the first time we flew Economy Plus—which was included in the tickets. Micah was in heaven. Larger seats, seats that recline back further AND a foot rest. Oh, the 6-foot-3 man was happy. I will say the Economy Plus is a nice option and after experiencing that, Micah says he's only going to fly Economy Plus for long oversea hauls. He's bougie. I'll be in regular old economy. 

London Layover

Since we only had 30 hours in London, we decided to stay at the Hilton Paddington since it's connected to the Paddington station. We were coming in from the Heathrow Express train so it made sense to stay there and not have to haul luggage around for such a short pitstop. 

Having visited London before, we only made plans to eat and drink! After getting through Passport security, we got to the hotel, ate breakfast sushi and ventured out.

I managed to drag Micah to the British Museum (it's free!) on Easter Sunday morning. 'Tis a miracle. 

After the British Museum, we stopped off at The Victoria pub, which dates back to the late 1800s, if I remember correctly. It's a Fuller's bar, which means it serves only Fuller's beer, which is a-ok! The fish and chips was massive, it was basically half a fish on a plate. 

The bar is charming and quintessential English. Ther'es a winding staircase that takes you up to the smaller rooms upstairs. 

After a quick power nap, we ventured to the Cask Bar and Kitchen in the Pimlico area. Great craft beers on cask and a good selection of Belgian sours available! There was a funky jazz band playing, so we settled in for a few beers and a bottle of Cantillon.

We ended up waiting for an hour for dinner at Dishoom Carnaby location. The place made their own naan!

The place had a black daal (lentil) dish that was superb. It reminded me of chili but with no meat.

After a quick trip in London, we said bye to Paddington Bear and got back on a plane and made our way to our Gothenburg, Sweden.

The Basics
Time there: 3 nights
Where we stayed: Clarion Post Hotel in Gothenburg (Volvo choice)

Day 1 

First and foremost, Gothenburg is pronounced "Yur-tor-boree." Sweden has never been on my list of "must see" places but I was excited to visit a place I didn't know much about. I know about Ikea, H&M, Volvo and meatballs. That's about it.

When you land, Volvo has a driver pick you up and take you to the hotel. Normally they would only comp one night, but since the vehicle's price dropped after we booked, Micah got Volvo to comp two extra nights for the slight difference.

Volvo also gives you a meal at Norda, the Marcus Samuelson restaurant inside the Clarion Post Hotel we were staying. We decided to do that the first night we checked in and it was a lovely and delicious 3-course meal!

We both had the cured arctic char, I had the veal and Micah had a cod dish. The dessert was a perfectly plated cheesecake.

We went to bed early since we had to get picked up early to get the new Volvo the following morning!

Day 2

New car pick-up day!

The Volvo customer center is airy, spacious, well lit and very Scandinavian. We chatted with several other people who were also there to pick up their brand spanking new Volvo. Then came the reveal. When you pick up the car, you can drive it around for several weeks and drop it off at a variety of ports for shipment to the US. We decided to only keep the car for the time we were staying in Gothenburg.

I think our two dogs will appreciate Micah's new SUV! I, too, will appreciate the extra space. Micah's basically a soccer mom, sans kids.

Micah's intrigued!

After picking up the vehicle and going over all the details, we had lunch at the Volvo cafe (my first plate of Swedish meatballs! They also love these little scrimps, which I think they call crayfish.).

We then took a tour of the manufacturing plant. It was interesting to see the robots on the production line but the company still employs a good amount of humans to do a variety of tasks.

With keys in hand, we made our way to the nearby Volvo museum.

The tickets come part of the OSD deal, so we went back in time to see all the old models and concept cars Volvo made. They even had a Volvo made of Legos!

After getting our fill of Volvo history, we ventured back to town and spent some time visiting the Haga neighborhood.

In a tale of a small world, a former co-worker was also in Gothenburg with friends and we met up for a quick chat in front of the fish market.

Micah and I knew Sweden was going to be cold, but while we were there it was also really dreary, so it made it even colder. We had to stay bundled up the entire time! I'd love to revisit when it's slightly warmer.

We ended the night grabbing sushi, which was surprisingly affordable!

Day 3

Since we had the new car, we decided to take a drive up the Bohuslan Archipelago coast—which is made up of thousands of islands. Our main destination was Nordens Ark, a wildlife sanctuary about 1.5 hours north of Gothenburg.

Red pandas!
Wild dogs

Pallas' cat. Who are you looking at?!

Leopard getting his/her meal. They feed them horse meat.

Found the perfect place to rest.

The wildlife sanctuary was one of the highlights of the entire trip! The sanctuary is built in a way that you walk through the canopy and can see the animals in a very natural environment. I was worried the animals wouldn't be active due to the dreary weather, but they were strutting their stuff.

What's nice is that they only keep animals that live in climates similar to that of Scandinavia. The Persian leopards, which are extremely endangered, were a sight to behold!

After seeing the animals, we decided to take the scenic route back through the seaside towns.

However, since it wasn't full spring season yet, all of the seaside towns weren't really open for visitors. We wanted fresh seafood but all we could find was a pizza joint.

That night, Yelp led us to a great meal at Smaka. The meatballs were some of the best I've ever had, legit. The sauce was perfectly unctuous and played well with the lingonberry sauce.

Day 4

We dined on our last continental buffet breakfast offered at the hotel and got sad that we wouldn't be eating like this every morning on the rest of our trip.

The hotel seriously had an awesome breakfast spread. 

We had a few hours to play with on our last day in Gothenburg so we wandered around and went to the oldest building in town, the Kronhuset, which was built in the 1600s. There, I found a lovely souvenir made by a clay artist. 

As we were driving to Volvo, we decided to stop off at Vega Brewing, but because of Swedish laws, the taproom wasn't open. So it's not just Texas with weird alcohol laws. But, the owners were so lovely they offered us a couple of their beers to go! 

After dropping off the car, we hopped on a 3.5-hour train to make our way to Stockholm. As I write this, it's been a little over a month since we dropped off the car. From there, it gets cleaned up, prepped and placed on a ship for transport to the US. We expect it to be in Austin by the end of May, maybe before Memorial Day? Yes, folks, it takes awhile to move vehicles across the ocean.

The Basics
Time there: 2 nights
Where we stayed: Hilton Stockholm Slussen

Since we didn't get into Stockholm until close to 9 p.m., we made a beeline for dinner. Micah found a Greek restaurant nearby and while the service wasn't the best initially, the food was great!

Church grounds we walked through.

In a twist of luck, our hotel was mere steps away from one of the best beer bars in Stockholm:  Akkurat. The place had a ridiculous cellar list.

Apparently, the owner collected Belgian beers for the longest time before he decided to open up this bar. Micah's favorite thing was Cantillon on tap! And the prices weren't obscene! WIN!

Day 5

We ventured out into the cold on a Friday morning to take in the sights and sounds of Stockholm. 

We bought a day transportation pass so we could take the ferry and subways around town. 

Our first stop on our one and only full day in Stockholm was the Vasa Museum. The museum was built to house the world's only pretty-much-intact 17th century ship. Because of poor human error (more like the king's ridiculous request for more canons), the ship sank as it was leaving the Stockholm harbor. The ship would remain dormant in the brackish water for more than 300 years before it was discovered and carefully removed from the water. 

The ship's detail and enormity are impressive. The museum spans 5 floors so you can walk all the way around the ship. I highly suggest a visit! It even has a great cafe!

We spent the next few hours walking around Gamla Stan—the historic part of Stockholm. It's on an island that full of shops, restaurants and bars. 

For drinks and dinner, we jumped on the subway and headed a few stops south to Brewdog. While there, we talked to a couple about the prevalence of chewing tobacco in Stockholm. While they don't actually chew it, it's like a piece of gum they slide into their gum line. We saw tons of guys with the package in their pocket. Gross, but I guess it's better than tons of people smoking at the door—which is prevalent in Prague/Vienna. 

We ended up having Peruvian food for dinner at Checa, a teeny tiny place. The wait was excruciatingly long, but it was tasty and beautifully plated. 

We spent our last night in Stockholm drinking one last beer at Akkurat. We had an early plane to catch Saturday morning from Stockholm to Prague. Pro Tip: Take the Arlanda Express train from the central station. It's super easy and cheap if you book it in advance.

Take Aways

Sweden was actually a really beautiful, clean and friendly country. The people were all lovely and traveling around is a breeze. I would really love to come back and explore during the warmer months, especially the seaside towns. I want to kayak in those inlets! 

Dining and drinking is not cheap, so come prepared to spend 25-30% more than you normally would. All those things are taxed at 25%. On average, our beers were running around $10USD/beer. 

Stiff taxes is how the country provides such great benefits to its citizens. Moms and dads get more than a year off from work when they have a baby, yep, both of them! Can you imagine if America did that? 

I definitely would've liked to spend another night in Stockholm since we were kind of pressed for time there. Oh, and I would've eaten more seafood if I had time.


  1. Nice job. Looking forward to the next one! Robert H.

  2. We're picking up our OSD this fall and would love the name of the sushi place you visited! :)

    1. It was AI Sushi: Have a great trip -- we had a blast! Let me know if you need anything else.

  3. Thanks so much and will do. Really appreciate all the great information in your blog. We're doing 3 nights Gothenburg, 12 nights Ireland and 7 nights London, so your blog was incredibly helpful! Thanks again!!

    1. Oh, you guys will have blast in Ireland (check out Cork and Kilkenney!). And London will keep you busy, to say the least.

  4. Nicely detailed info, great photos and useful places to visit ! Thanks for your blog post - it will come in handy as we are planning on picking up an XC40 in December!

    1. Thanks for reading! Hope you guys have a great time -- it'll be cold but the Christmas markets are supposed to be amazing.

    2. Why are you picking it up in December? Thinking of signing up tomorrow and wonder if that's how long I'll have to wait!

  5. Great blog about your pickup. That's on my bucket list (at least to VISIT Sweden) when the kids get out of the house!

  6. Hi Calily, really enjoyed your blog on Gothenburg/Stockholm ! We'll be arriving in Stockholm 3/10/19 for our 3/14 Volvo delivery. We're also staying at the Hilton Stockhom. How far is the Central Train Station to the hotel ? Is it walkable or did you take transportation?
    Thank you!