GOTEBURG, Sweden — One of the first major adjustments called for here is to convince yourself that you're not in Holland, what with canals weaving throughout the city, flowers blooming in every pot along pedestrian streets lined with linden trees and outdoor cafes, even architecture reminiscent of the solid yet fanciful Dutch.
Goteburg comes by it honestly, having been laid out in 1621 by Dutchmen who felt that a town couldn't function without water-filled ditches and enough blooming foliage here and there to satisfy the eye and keep spirits high.
It also comes as something of a surprise to the first-time visitor that Scandinavia's largest and busiest port city, noted foremost for producing Volvos and more ball bearings than any town on earth, can still wear all the trappings of a major continental city with elegance and aplomb.
Goteburg can also match London, Paris and Vienna in greenery, with more than 20 manicured parks that add up to 70 square meters of playground per citizen. One of these, Liseberg amusement park, is Sweden's most popular tourist attraction.
But what struck us most forcefully was a jaunt through town with a native that ended in Feskekorka Market. This soaring Gothic fantasy for Goteburg's fish stands is in a class all its own.
Feskekorka's fishmongers are a lively and friendly lot, not only eager to describe the flavor of each of the 80-odd edible aquatic types but just as free with their wife's favorite recipe for its preparation. We learned a lot about fish.
Here to there: SAS, via Copenhagen, is the only airline to get you here by itself, other domestic/foreign-carrier combinations from gateways in London, Paris and Amsterdam. SAS and other combinations will fly you via Stockholm, or you may take the City Express train that leaves Stockholm daily for the four-hour run through the heart of Sweden.
How long/how much? Give it two full days and you'll still be busy. Expensive is the only word for lodging here, unless you happen in town on a weekend when hotel packages can cut costs in half. Dining can fall below expensive if you're careful in your selection of places. See below.
A few fast facts: The Swedish krona was recently valued at .14, or about seven to the dollar. Best times to visit are from May through August, May delightful and least crowded, midwinter to crack your tooth enamel. Be sure to buy a Key to Goteburg pass, $9 for 24 hours, $13.50 for 48, giving you bus, tram and boat travel, museum and parking chits, entrance to Liseberg, even a free steamer ride to Denmark.
Getting settled in: Liseberg Heden (Sten Sturegaten; $98 B&B double weekdays, $57 weekends) is a low, rambling place in the center of a park at mid-city. This one belongs to the amusement park, so entrance is free. Spacious lobby, smallish rooms, sun lounge and sauna, bright restaurant. If weather is sunny, take your breakfast outside under the trees.
Lorensberg (Berzeliigaten 15; $74 to $80 B&B double weekdays, $55 weekends and summer months) has a small, private-hotel feeling, breakfast only but it's a generous buffet. On a quiet street near best shopping, museums and concert halls, Lorensberg has gained a measure of fame for its trompe l'oeil lobby walls that bring outside in with handsome paintings of flowers and vines.
Regional food and drink: Those 80 kinds of fish and shellfish come at you from every menu: cod, mackerel, herring, shrimp and other-worldly salmon. Gravad lax is pickled and served with mustard, dill and lemon, while smoked salmon is as good in Sweden as anywhere. A first course to describe on post cards home is lojromstoast, fried bread layered with red caviar, then topped with onion mayonnaise.
The best Continental wines are imported and sold by state-run stores, which keep prices low, hard liquor way, way high. All of which makes Swedes some of the hardiest and most knowledgeable wine drinkers in Europe. If you must have that sundowner of Scotch or a martini, we suggest you bring your fixings along. Pripps Spendrup is a very good beer made locally.
Moderate-cost dining: Christina (Lilla Kyrkogatan 2) is a gorgeous cellar dating from the 17th Century, combining whitewashed walls, heavy oak furniture and soft candlelight with touches of Swedish modern, an exquisite contrast. Lunch specials run about $5 including beer, an a la carte evening meal of grilled salmon with creamed dill potatoes for $12.50.
If you're downtown at noon, head for one of the big department stores, where many Swedes take their substantial meal at midday. The huge N.K. store has a top-floor restaurant serving the likes of pork or fish fillet, salad, breads, light beer or milk for $4.50, very large portions.
Hotel Europa, one of the town's best, has an even better deal: an endless salad bar, choice of half a dozen hot dishes, four kinds of potatoes, six vegetables, juices, ice cream and coffee for $5.25. All in garden-like surroundings, an irresistible mix of good food and friendly prices.