Porvoo, Finland

A week and a half ago I got back from traveling round 2: Finland, Estonia, and Sweden. It was an incredible trip, and I’ve had a hard time writing about it, or even talking about it. Telling someone about travel can be like trying to describe a dream—you can never truly share it with anyone, never capture the feel of the whole thing with just words, never really communicate it. Whenever I’m asked how it was, there’s so much I want to say, but then when I try I don’t know where to start, or I’ll start but know that I’m not being articulate, then I get frustrated, and I feel lonely that I can’t share this wonderful thing with anyone. Despite all the connections I made while I was there, upon returning the whole experience has felt very solitary.

But! I can share pictures! And a general storyline of what I did while I was over there. And I can let you know that the Finns are lovely and hospitable, and they have delicious food that costs so much money.

On June 12 I flew into Helsinki and took the bus into the city center, already delighting in the efficiency, English fluency, and the clean aesthetic of Scandinavia. Once in the city center, I, internetless and exhausted from the red-eye, I headed in what I thought was the direction to Kampii, a shopping center where I was to meet Ande and Harper. But it turns out it was the wrong direction, and I got grouchy as I zig-zagged through the streets and cursed at the lack of internet and my own lack of preparation. However, I made it! And found Harper and Ande. After stuffing my totally enormous suitcase into a poor, defenseless luggage locker, we went to lunch with Lasse, one of Harper’s past students who is from Finland and was to be our Nordic spirit guide for the week. We did a little bit of walking around, but after a short time got on the bus to Porvoo, where we would spend a few days. I slept on the bus, and when I do this, it always feels a bit like teleporting—close my eyes in Helsinki, open them in Porvoo!

Porvoo

Porvoo is the second-oldest city in Finland, founded in 1346, and is about an hour east of Helsinki. It’s still got a medieval old town, and there are people dressed up in medieval garb all the time everywhere. The streets in old town are hilly and narrow, with enormous lilac bushes reaching over stone walls and wooden fences, and causing the whole streets to smell wonderfully of lilac. Traveling north in the spring and early summer always feels to me a bit like traveling back in time as well—lilac season had already come and gone in Massachusetts, so it was nice to get to experience it a second time.

I don’t have too many photos of Porvoo, because the weather wasn’t great and the sky was often full of flat white clouds. But I did get a few photos of these red houses built right along the river. 

We stayed in an AirBNB a few miles outside the city, so we rented bikes to get there and back for a few days. There was a great bike path that took us the whole way, lined with fluffy white dandelions, and we’d stick our legs out to kick them into fluffy white dandelion clouds. The path ran mostly along the water, with only one significant hill that was a real challenge for the single speeds. 

Because Finland is so far north, the days were really, really long and it felt like time would lengthen out, and then quickly compress all at once, ensuring that each day still just had its allotted 24 hours. The sun would crawl across the sky, and time felt stretched, it was like being a kid again, with those endless summer days when there was nothing to do but to roam around on bikes and have fun. But this also completely threw off my internal clock, and night after night I’d realize with a start it was after midnight, but I thought it was still around 9 because it was so light out, all those hours squashed together at the last moment. I finally got used to this after about two weeks.

We were very lucky to have Lasse with us, he’s actually from Porvoo, so was able to give good suggestions. We got brunch at a fancy and delicious place with the best buffet spread I’ve ever had—there were three different kinds of salmon! There was also a platter of raw meatballs (maybe reindeer?) that I felt had been put there just for me. His wonderful family also had us over for a fabulous meal at their wonderful house, and I felt truly grateful to be able to experience that side of Finnish culture.

One day, on the way into town, we got pulled aside by a group of friendly Finns that were painting a big pile of rocks white. They said that if we helped them paint for five minutes, they’d give us salmon soup. This seemed a little odd, and I immediately saw it for what it was: by far the cheapest meal we were going to get in Finland. We kicked off our shoes, grabbed some brushes, and started painting. It turns out that it was an art installation by a local artist, but what for I can’t for the life of me remember. Perhaps Ande, with her steel-trap memory, can chime in. 

Afterwards, a man came and played a lovely song on the trumpet for commemoration, and they gave us salmon soup, as promised, and it was delicious. After that, we got a tour of the boat building workshop right next door, which had been running for five generations of boat builders, four of whom were all there earlier that day!

Another thing we did in Porvoo was get a tour of the Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, as well as the Porvoo ministry of education from Lasse’s mother who works there. She and the head of the whole thing gave us a presentation about the Finnish education system, which is the best in the world, and also got a tour of a Swedish pre-school (there are whole parts the Finnish education system that are in Swedish), which honestly felt like we’d wondered into some utopian ideal of what early childhood education should be. It was really impressive, those little Finns are lucky.

That's about enough for one post, I think, but in the next post (which I promise won't take me a month and a half to write) I'll write about the rest of our time in Finland.