The Retirees in Helsinki – Passing time in Porvoo

Today we are off again on the local bus this time towards the east and Russia to a town called Porvoo. Porvoo is situated on the southern coast of Finland approximately 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of Helsinki. It is one of the six medieval towns in Finland, first mentioned as a city in texts from the 14th century. Porvoo is the seat of the Swedish-speaking Diocese of Borgå of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.

The Porvoo Old Town is a popular tourist destination, known for its well-preserved 18th and 19th century buildings and 15th century cathedral, the Porvoo Cathedral. The Old Town is recognized as historically and culturally significant as one of the National landscapes of Finland.

Once again we walked over to the bus station. Now familiar with how it operated we waited at gate 1 first in line to board the first bus to Porvoo. As our bus left the bus station, I noticed that two giraffe were keeping an eye on us so I took a precautionary photo to identify them should there be trouble with giraffes later on. We travelled for an hour to the east of Helsinki and arrived at the bus station of Porvoo. Very ordinary. An open square pocked with bus stop signs from and to various places and a municipal building that looked like a public toilet block – which it was and it was locked of course.

We were seeking the old town and there was plenty of signage but we had arrived on Mothers’ Day and before 10.00am so nothing was open. Or so we thought. We walked into the old town finding old style Finnish homes with narrow cobbled streets becoming more and more prevalent. Without knowing where we were going Kerry smelled out an open shop – a mixed tourist shop/fabric shop. I had been looking for a new shaving brush and lo and behold what should I find in the most unexpected place.

But that was the highlight until the Fins started to move about. We made it up to the church square to view the 15th century cathedral the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. From there we wound our way through the old town with its well-preserved 18th and 19th century buildings. Whilst strolling through these back streets a local hare hopped into view. We accidentally encountered this hare as we moved around the village – he must have thought we were hunting him. Once we reached the highest point in the village we discovered a set of natural stone steps which have some folklore around them – apparently a witches path where many people suffered damaging falls. Long dark winter nights, a vodka shout and voila those steps become a bitch.

At the end of the natural stairs we found the Manse – so out of keeping compared to the size and style of the village you had to guess it belonged to the church. As commented earlier it is Mothers’ day and the church is open with early morning services. Inside is an austere dome and walls unadorned with any artwork. On the one hand this is suggesting the church utilises its funds for the community but on the other it is suggesting the congregation doesn’t care for their church. Outside the church gate we encounter a bust of Albert Edelfelt and an example of the his art making Finnish culture visible.

Edelfelt was born in Porvoo. He began his formal studies of art in 1869 at the Drawing School of the Finnish Art Society. He married Baroness (friherinnan) Ellan de la Chapelle in 1888, and they had one child. He also had romantic relationships with many other women. He lived in the Grand Duchy of Finland and made Finnish culture visible abroad, before Finland gained full independence.

We made our way down into the commercial section of the village where things were becoming more alive. Kerry was taken with the animal pelts on sale at a shop. However, what did surprise us was the old river warehouses where traders would land goods and collect products for sale in Helsinki. Speaking of trader/travellers I thought we had found where Robert of Umbria had left his Fiat but he flatly denied it.

Remember I said this was Mothers’ Day. Well we chose a hotel for lunch, but it was a special menu for Mothers’ Day and we had a window before the dining room would be full of local families celebrating the day. Well we had a 3 course lunch finishing inside our window of opportunity. Nothing remarkable about lunch but we were stuffed and needed to walk it off. We crossed the river giving us a bigger view of the wharf area and the size of ship visiting Porvoo wharves. This side of the river has undergone redevelopment but in a style sympathetic to the old village. In a park surrounded by the modern Finnish style we encountered a monument to the three distinct cultural influences on Finland – Russia, Sweden and since the beginning of the 20th century Finland.

At the end of the park is a footbridge connecting the new with the earlier and old. We crossed and were stunned to be confronted with a jumble of rusted bikes looking as though they had been dredged from the river and carelessly cast on the bank. Tangled into the knot of bicycles were a few chairs. No indication as to whether this was recovered litter or a symbolic piece of street art. However, a few hundred yards along the bank another pile and this time a shopping trolley included. We encountered 2 further piles of junk which answered the question of the reason and origin.

Parvoo is very pleasant with parks scattered throughout and a strong historical connection with Finland. We were making our way back to the bus station and in a small park running down to the river we came across a monument to J L Runeberg (featured image) . Johan Ludvig Runeberg was a Finland-Swedish lyric and epic poet. He is the national poet of Finland and the author of the lyrics to Vårt land (Our Land, Maamme in Finnish) that became the Finnish National Anthem.

Our trip to Parvoo was coming to an end. Sitting on a bollard each we waited patiently for the bus back to Helsinki which eventually arrived almost like an afterthought. The journey back to the city allowed us to rest our weary feet and relax before our walk back to the apartment.