Over a couple of drinks last week we realised our friend Frida was going home to Porvoo for the weekend, the very town we were planning to visit. Just 50km east of Helsinki it’s an easy bus-ride away and Frida offered to be our tour guide.
Porvoo is Finland’s second-oldest town and was given city rights sometime around 1380 – which blew my mind because it is believed that the first Polynesians only arrived in New Zealand around 1300.
It was a beautiful, blue-sky day but fresh at only zero degrees. We wandered around the Old Town and visited an amazing toy shop; a quick poll revealing that yes, Miko and I agreed this was the best toy shop in the world.
We stopped by the home of national poet, Johan Runeberg, a Swedish-Speaking Finn. Frida regaled us with tales about how he devoted a good part of his later years to drinking, which led to his wife writing most of his work and him returning home one night so inebriated he drove his horse and cart straight into the river.*
Frida also answered my questions about Swedish-speaking Finns as Porvoo is a bilingual city and our visit coincided with Swedish-speaking Week. For some reason it’s hard for me to get my head around but she was very patient, even when I asked her twenty minutes later, ‘So when did your family arrive in Finland?’ to which she reiterated that they are Finnish, not Swedish, they just happen to speak Swedish (and Finnish and English).
The Old Town has some great shops to visit, including antique and design stores. As we looked for lunch we noticed snails feature on many of the menus but opted instead for pizza and risotto in a warm restaurant.
We walked back down the hill through streets lined with old wooden houses, peering into windows (me) to admire reindeer pelt-covered seats set in front of warm fireplaces. I stopped in at vintage store Doris & Duke and bought some snowflake leggings while the others huddled outside.
The paint on some of the buildings is red ochre and so old that it will leave a powdery substance on your hands when touched.* We dutifully rubbed the outside of people’s houses to see if we could remove some of the paint ourselves.
After all this walking, snooping and rubbing it was time for a treat and so we stopped in at Helmi Cafe which is one of those cafes you often find in small Finnish towns. It’s as though you have entered someone’s private home as you wander through connecting rooms until you find the place you want to sit.
In honour of Frida, Johan Runeberg and Porvoo itself we finished our tour with a round of Runeberg tortes – a fine way to complete our cultural exchange and more fun than riding into the freezing river.