During our travels up north in Lapland, we came across a lone Austrian traveler, on an adventure. His mission was to travel to every capitol city in Europe (except for Moscow and Minsk, of course, because why would anyone want to go there?). At first everyone seemed rather impressed at this feat, accomplished by car, over a period of a few months.

I’ll admit I was of another opinion, considering the capitols I’ve visited over the years. As impressive as these cities can be, they tend to be very false representatives of the countries themselves. Considering how different Moscow is from Russia, among other examples, it made me wonder: how can we truly appreciate a country for what it is? Do we need to run off to the countryside and speak with farmers, or is it the metropolitan area where we mingle with the city dwellers, understanding the nightlife and vibe of a place? or perhaps a little bit of both?

I still stand by my opinion that it is impossible to comprehend a nation while traveling on a holiday, and perhaps as a foreigner it’s difficult in general to totally understand what it is that makes a country. Yet, in this writer’s humble opinion, there are efficient ways to better understand a place, while avoiding the crowd of tourists. First, go to city number two, or a somewhat smaller city in the country you are visiting; and secondly, seek out the locals.

We were extremely lucky in that Fredi’s family happened to live near Gothenburg, the second largest city in Sweden. Not only did they let us stay with them, but we got some quality family time and delicious moosemeat out of the deal. It was our chance to learn about Sweden, from the locals, and appreciate what life was like there.

Finally, we went into the city, to check it out, and what a pleasant surprise it was. Neat and tidy, with a cute old city center, this city was also more of a practical, liveable city, compared to Stockholm. As we toured by boat, ducking under the bridges, since the water level was incredibly high, our guide pointed out interesting sites. The port was sizeable, and well used for sure, but the more interesting landmark was of course the volvo headquarters skyscraper, fondly known as “the Lipstick.” Like the Volvo itself, “the Lipstick” was not the most fashionable of buildings, or the prettiest, but one could definitely call it memorable. It’s a city like Gothenburg, with its unique and memorable places, as simple and nontouristic as can be, that give you the true feeling of being there, in the moment.