From London To Goteborg
( Originally Published 1881 )
IN the latter part of May, 1871, I sailed from New York for England ; and early in the beginning of June, at three o'clock in the morning, I drove from my London hotel, and went on board the weekly steamer bound for Sweden. After one of those long drives which give to the stranger an idea of the vast size of that marvellous city, I found myself by the Mill-well Pocks, arid just in time to jump on board the boat, which w as passing through one of the locks. The weather was thick and foggy, and we steamed slowly and carefully down the Thames. The river, as usual, was crowded with vessels of an. nations, coming from and going to every part of the world. Our destination was Goteborg, in Sweden. There were few passengers, and all except myself were Swedes.
The fog increased, and at night became so dense that there was Winger of running into some of the fishing-smacks, great numbers of which were in our course. The Swedish captain was very courteous, and spoke English perfectly. I never heard him utter.an oath; before partaking of his meals lie used to bow his head and silently ask a blessing—a custom which I found almost universal in Sculdinavia.
This part of the passage was not so quick as we expected, on account of the fog, and, moreover, the vessel was very slow. On Sunday morning, about ten o'clock the sky suddenly cleared, and the weather remained fine to the end of our voyage. In the afternoon we saw the coast of Jutland, which was low, and appeared bleak and sandy; in the evening we passed the Rau light-house, situated near the extreme northern part of Denmark, and witnessed a most beautiful snuset—the deep yellow glow which followed the disappearance of the sun reminding me somewhat of the zodiacal light at the equator; at ten o'clock the twilight was so strong that we could see only Jupiter and three stars.
Early on Monday morning we came in sight of the barren, granite-bound coast. Soon afterwards our steamer ascended the Gota-elf (river), and at five o'clock we were along-side one of the quays of Goteborg, after a voyage of three days. Our baggage having been examined by the custom-house officers, I found quarters at the Hotel Gotha Kallare, the best in the place, but inferior to many hotels of less pretension in smaller Swedish towns. Goteborg, called by the English Gothenburg, is the second city of Sweden, and is its principal seaport. It has a population of seventy-six thousand, and is situated on the western coast, in 57° 42' N. I was impressed at once with the cleanliness of the place its canals, passing through the middle of the streets, reminded one of some Dutch towns, but the architecture of the houses was decidedly French, the people living chiefly in apartments, while the villas were of, the English style.
I had obtained letters of introduction from Herr Stenersen, the minister of Sweden and Norway at Washington, and, while passing through London, had received others from the former consul in New York, and from other friends. Among the letters was one addressed to a leading firm in Goteborg, the senior partner, Herr W , was a member of the First Chamber of the Diet. I was struck by their amiability and refinement, and by the quiet and unpretending manner in which they sought to help me. The softness of their pronunciation modified the excellent English they spoke, and they gave me "Welcome to Sweden ! welcome to Scandinavia !"
There are three ways of going from Goteborg to Stockholm —by railway, which takes twelve hours, by water, from sea to sea, or by post stations. If the traveller can command the time, the steam canal and lake route is preferable. It requires two or three days, but affords an excellent opportunity to see the country without being wearied ; and most of the steamers are very comfortable.
"But you must take dinner with me," said the eldest brother of the house; "for you cannot go before tomorrow morning; we have only one train a day to Stockholm." 'Thus, at my entrance upon Scandinavian territory, I was made acquainted with the hospitality of its people.
We dined at 3 p.m., and I found, but too late, that it was proper to wear a dress-coat and a white cravat, even when dinner is served so early in the day, and that in this respect the Swedes are very particular. I had the honor of escorting the hostess to the dining room. Dinner in Sweden is invariably preceded by a smorgas, a series of strange dishes eaten as a relish.
I was led to a little table, called smorgasbord, around which we all clustered, and upon which I saw a display of smoked reindeer meat, cut into small thin slices; smoked salmon with poached eggs; fresh, raw, sliced salmon, called grafar, upon which salt had been put about an hour before; hard-boiled eggs; caviare ; fried sausage; a sort of anchovy, caught on the western coast; raw salted Norwegian herring, exceedingly fat, cut into small pieces; sillsallat, made of pickled herring, small pieces of boiled meat, potatoes, eggs, red beets and raw onions, and seasoned with pepper, vinegar, and olive-oil; smoked goose-breast; cucumbers; soft brown and white bread, cut into small slices; knäckebröd sort of fiat, hard bread, made of coarse rye flour, and flavored with aniseseed; siktadt bread, very thin, and made of the finest bolted flour; butter ; 'amoral ast, the strongest old cheese one can taste, and kummin, ost, a cheese seasoned with caraway; three crystal decanters, containing different kinds of branvin (spirits); renadt, made from rye or potatoes; pomerans, made from renadt, with the addition of oil of bitter orange, and somewhat sweet; and fin kelbranvin, or unpurified spirit. Around the decanters were ranged tiny glasses, and the gentlemen of the party drank one or the other of these potations as an appetizer; the dishes and the spirits were alike strange to me. Everything was taste-fully arranged upon a snowy cloth—the plates, knives, forks, and napkins being placed as at a collation ; but when, as the guest, I was invited to help myself first, I was at a loss how to begin ; the meal was eaten standing. Observing my predicament, the hostess came kindly to my rescue, and helped her-self first—taking a piece of bread and spreading butter upon it, and then selecting tidbits with a fork. I kept up a conversation with the host, but observed the proceedings warily all the time, in order to know what to do next; knives and forks were used in common. I began with bread, butter, and rein-deer meat, which were good ; and seeing that every one was enjoying the graflax, I resolved to try it, but the slice was hardly in my mouth before I wished I had not made the experiment.. It was too date ; I had to eat it ; there was no possibility of escape. My stomach was ready to give way; but the only thing to be done was to swallow what I had taken; a small glass of renadt, drank immediately afterwards, saved me. I did not repeat the experiment of eating graflax that day, nor for many days thereafter. The smoked salmon was an improvement upon the graflax, but that was bad enough ; the sillsallat, which is considered a great delicacy when the herrings are fat, I found to be palatable; and sundry other dishes I liked very much, the smoked goose-breast being particularly delicate ; but I shall never forget my first impressions of the raw salmon. Afterwards I became very fond of sillsallat, and, in fact, of everything that was put upon a smorgasbord, with the exception of graflax, which I can now eat, but have serious doubts whether I shall ever be able to enjoy. The Swedes regard it as a great delicacy; and as the first salmon caught in the spring are dear, the graflax is considered a luxury.
The smorgâs, however, was only a preliminary to the dinner an appetizer. We went to a large table close by, and took seats, the place of honor on the right being assigned to me. The dinner and the wines were like those of any other country. At the beginning of the meal the host welcomes his guest with a glass of wine, then bows to the hostess and to him, and during the repast, host, hostess, and guests, glass in hand, bow also to each other, and sip their wine. It is customary for each gentleman to escort back to the drawing-room the lady he takes to dinner ; then follows the charming and invariable custom when every guest shakes hands with the hostess, saying, Tack for maten (thanks for the meal, or, literally, thanks for the food), to which she answers, W albekommet (welcome to it). The same ceremony is repeated in honor of the host and the rest of the family; and then the children follow, with the same form of thanks addressed to their parents, thus being taught from their youth to be grateful to those who support them. A general interchange of civilities ensues, often accompanied by hand-shaking and the bowing of the guests to each other, and a considerable interval of time is occupied by conversation before coffee is served. I was, indeed, at a loss to know the meaning of this hand-shaking, and accordingly neither gave thanks nor shook hands. So I had made two blunders on my first day: I had appeared at dinner without an evening suit, and had not expressed my thanks for the hospitality I had enjoyed.
The weather being delightful, a promenade was proposed. "You must see our little park," said the host and hostess; and I found that their praise of that beautiful pleasure-ground was not extravagant. This was the favorite summer resort of the inhabitants of Goteborg. It was tastefully laid out, with paths winding through shrubbery and along the banks of a little river, and with flowers springing up everywhere in profusion ; a small fee was charged for admission, and carriages were excluded. The spring was said to be a week or ten days behindhand ; but the hawthorn was beginning to bloom, the lilacs and the apple and horse-chestnut trees were in full blossom the poplars, elms, and lime-trees were flourishng; the oaks had just put out their young leaves; the grass was green, and the whole scene a lovely picture. Under a central pavilion a band of good musicians were playing, flocks of tame sparrows were twittering around ; beneath the shadow of the trees hundreds of visitors were strolling, lounging, or conversing, taking refreshments at the little tables provided for the purpose, or exchanging the gentle courtesies characteristic of this people.
So passed the first day of my visit to Scandinavia: The charming family who had received me as their guest exacted a promise of another visit on my return to their city.
The railway from Goteborg to Stockholm was built by, and is under the management of, the Government; it is the main road from west to east, connects with the north and south and other points of Sweden, and also with Christiania: this and the grand trunk railway from the south are the two finest roads in Scandinavia.
At six o'clock the next morning (June 13th), I was on. my way to Stockholm—the distance being 42.6 Swedish miles. The cars were similar to those in use in all the countries of Europe; only seventy pounds of luggage were allowed to each passenger, and the charges on the amount in excess of this limit were very high. I was not permitted to take my gun with me, this being against the regulations, and it had to go with my luggage. After leaving Goteborg, the scenery at times reminded me of that of New England. The country was barren and rocky in many places, and some of the fields were surrounded by stone walls, precisely like those commonly built in
America; others were fenced with split wood. Little likes, woods, swamps, cultivated fields, and some magnificent oak-trees, were passed in succession; the farm-houses were painted red. As we travelled farther inland, the vegetation seemed more backward, and the scenery became peculiarly Swedish-low, bleak barrens and polished granite hills showing the glaciers ; forests, chiefly of fir, pine, and birch, alternating with arable tracts, marshes, and long stretches of moorland, with here and there patches of sandy soil covered with boulders or stunted trees.
Great care had evidently been bestowed upon the construction of the road, the bed of which had been solidly made, under the supervision of Government officers, with the best material. Economy was consulted in the management of details, waste iron was gathered into heaps along the line, every piece being preserved for remelting; even the oiling of the engines and the car-wheels was so performed as to prevent loss by dripping. The stations were kept in perfect order, the name of each being displayed upon its front in large characters, with its distance from Stockholm and from Goteborg ; nearly all were surrounded by flower-gardens, and the convenfences for the use of travellers were admirably arranged. The railway officers were studiously polite, and uniforms were in-variably worn by station-masters, conductors, porters, and other employés. At intervals of about three miles, little red houses had been erected or the use of the watchmen who guarded the' road; these were numbered consecutively, and the business of each man was to walk half-way up and down the track, to see if everything was in perfect order; at every cross-road a watchman was also stationed, the Government regulations requiring the companies to adopt every precaution to insure safety.
In the afternoon we stopped at a station called Katrineholm, one of the best dining-places on any railway in Sweden. Hearing the cry, " Twenty minutes for dinner," I rushed from the train and hurried to the matsal (dining-room), for the bracing air had given me an appetite. Remembering railroad experiences in America, I thought it not improbable that the stipulated limit of twenty minutes meant ten ; hence my haste. But when I entered the hall, I felt ashamed of myself for having elbowed my fellow-travellers as I had done; every-thing was quiet, orderly, and clean, and I stopped to survey the spectacle, impressed by its novelty. In the centre of a spacious room, the floor of which was spotless, was a large table, covered with a snowy cloth, upon which was displayed a variety of tempting dishes, including large fish from the lakes, roast beef, lamb, chicken, soup, potatoes and other fresh vegetables; different kinds of bread; puddings, jellies, sweet milk, cream, butter, cheese, and the never-failing buttermilk, which many site first, and before the soup. Every article of food was cooked to a turn, and the joints were hot, having just been taken off the fire. Piles of warm plates, with knives, forks, and napkins, lay ready to the traveller's hand; and the whole aspect of the place was tidy, cheerful, and appetizing; one might have fancied a banquet had been spread for the entertainment of a private party. The purveyors had been apprised by telegraph of the exact time of our arrival; and, as the railway trains are punctual, unless delayed by sudden snowstorms or accidents, all was in readiness for us. I was much interested in observing the manners of the travellers; there was no confusion; the company walked around the central table, selected from the dishes they liked best, and then, taking knives, forks, spoons, and napkins, seated themselves at the little marble tables scattered in the room, rising when they desired to help themselves again. I noticed particularly the moderation of the people : the portion of food each one took was not in excess of that which would have been served at a private table; and every person in the company seemed to remember that his neighbor also might fancy the dish of which he partook. The sale of ardent spirits in the -railway stations being forbidden by the Government, only beer or light wines could be procured, and these were served by alert and tidy young girls. From a large coffee-urn placed upon a table, the travellers helped themselves to that beverage; milk was provided without charge.
The dinner concluded, and the given period of twenty minutes having expired, we stepped up to a desk to pay the reckoning, which was received by the girls; the price charged for this excellent meal, including coffee, was one rix dollar and twenty-five ore —now it costs one rix-dollar and fifty (ire: an additional sum of twenty-five ore was charged for the bottled beer. I observed that the word of each guest was taken without question as to the quantity of wine, beer, or coffee he had consumed, and no one was at the door to watch the people going out. Leaving the dining-room, I was more than ever impressed with the unfailing courtesy of the people.
The scenery had become more and more beautiful, even be-fore reaching Katrineholm, the railway skirting a picturesque narrow lake, well wooded with pine, fir, birch, and oak : some of the oak-trees, with their spreading branches, were striking features of the landscape. As we approached Sparholm, the scene grew finer—rich fields, groves, forests, lakes, and rivers passed before us in quick succession, forming a charming panorama. At six o'clock we reached Stockholm, and soon after my arrival I was comfortably settled on Gustaf Adolf Square, at the Hotel Rydberg, where from my windows I had a commanding view of the royal palace and of the most lively part of the capital.
The next morning, surprised at seeing the servant lay a bill upon my table, I drew the natural inference that I was expected to pay by the day, and accordingly tendered him the amount necessary to meet the obligation; but, with much politeness and apology, he declined to receive the money, explaining that it was the custom to present each guest with his bill daily, with a memorandum of the amount due on the previous day—the purpose being to provide for the immediate correction of mistakes. This custom might be copied with advantage by hotel-keepers in other parts of Europe. It is an honest habit, and served still further to strengthen the good opinion I had formed of the people.
My first call was at the American Embassy, where I was warmly welcomed by the minister resident, General C. C. Andrews, of Minnesota. No one has ever represented the United States with more credit abroad. During his seven years of residence in the country he won the respect of the inhabitants, and few foreign representatives have left behind them so many. friends and pleasant recollections. Like myself, he is a great admirer of the Scandinavian people.