Friday, May 17, 2013

Powering down, Porvoo, and Final Looks

After the sojourn to Tallinn, complete with a return home in the fog ( which I must say was mildly rattling- you know you potentially could hit something when the foghorn is on fairly rapid repeat and you can see nothing out the window)- we decided to power down.
The girls were thrilled with the chance to SLEEP IN! After all, they did come straight from finals, and they are not normally morning people by choice. In the morning while they caught up on sleep, we walked into the Esplanade and had a leisurely coffee and bun at the Café Jugend. It is conveniently right by tourist information for those who might travel there, and is also one of the places with the large and lively sidewalk café areas. And on sunny days, the chairs end up all arrayed to face the sun and drink coffees, tea, wine, what have you. Later Cat and I did this and it kind of felt like we were lizards sunning, but happy lizards.
I got a chance to take some more of those pictures that filled my Facebook page.
Then we got the girls to be awake and vertical and took an afternoon bus to Porvoo.
Before saying anything about Porvoo, I must say that Finland has the most amazing transport system and for things like city buses, trains, trams, and ferries, there is a website you can visit where you pick your method of transport, intended destination and time desired and it will tell you all routes and ways, and also where there are disruptions. And getting day, multi day, or week passes is absolutely the way to be. You don't even have to show them all the time, just get on and off. But know that if they ask, you best have in on your person or there is an 80 euro fine.
But really, it says a lot about the Finns that this system exists, and works.
On the other hand, for buses out of the city, there is another website, though equally useful, and we could know the when and where of both local and express buses to and from.
We did learn that city buses and non-city buses leave from different stations. Which we had been told but forgot, but in spite of ourselves we were on the express to Porvoo, on time and on our way.
I suspect however that Michael secretly was a doubter until he finally saw a road sign that said Porvoo. After all, we were not in Helsinki anymore, and there was that possibility I had got it wrong.
You can also travel by ferry to Porvoo, though the trip is longer, and on a cool or breezy day, it will not feel like the best option.
When we arrived at Porvoo, on yet another sunny day, we decided that lunch was in order, and after walking the short blocks from the bus station, we were in the old town of Porvoo in all its glory. Seeing a café that offered "comfort food" we decided to enter Hanna Maria, which was exactly as billed- large and very tasty portions of lightly battered whitefish, pork in a tomato sauce, mashed potatoes, and my favorite- salmon and potato soup!  I later learned that fish soup was the culprit in starting the Great Fire of 1760 started by a cook making fish soup.
In any event, every one thoroughly enjoyed the food, which came with some choices for salad, and fresh bread, and homemade ale or water. And coffee- always, coffee. It is estimated that each Finn consumes 10 litres of coffee per year.
Feeling comforted and nourished and restored, we moved on to walk through the old town of Porvoo, which, like Tallinn, is an exquisite slice of history, as well as a great center for art and handicrafts. We of course went to Porvoo Cathedral which took its present form in the late 1400's. While we there the organist was practicing for an upcoming concert. The cathedral plays an important role in Finnish history since it is here that the Diet of Porvoo met in1809, setting the stage for Finnish autonomy. When the tzar visited, the townspeople had constructed a walkway from his lodging to the cathedral some blocks away so he would not have to suffer the indignity of getting his feet wet!
The house where the tzar stayed also hosted Swedish King Gustav III but apparently he did NOT get a walkway.
Many of the other structures date from the 1700's and serve as galleries, shops and museums
Walking around the stone streets that slope down toward the river, one can appreciate both the view and a look into another time. Along the river are deep red painted shorehouses that were used to store cargo for onloading and offloading from ships. There is also statues dedicated to Albert Edelfelt and J.L. Runeberg. Edelfelt was an artist who went off to Paris to study art, but immortalized views of Porvoo in his paintings. Runeberg was the national poet, and is not only the subject of a statue, but a Day in February, and Runeberg torte, a tasty treat with raspberry filling.
Since we heard that a trip to Brunberg candy was in order, we stopped by only to see the tiny place swarmed with Indian tourists. We did sample the salted licorice only to learn we were not fans. As we left, we connected with Elise, who as schedules would have it was on a work day trip to Porvoo!
After we had a good laugh, she shared that they had just had yummy treats at Café Cabriole. And since it was by the bus station, we headed over for a coffee and treats- caramel apple cake, chocolate pinapple torte with raspberry and vanilla sauces, a chocolate cherry tart and the necessary Runeberg treat! Of course part of the fun was ordering based upon what you thought you might be getting, and each was not only beautiful to look at but definitely worth the recommendation.
After our bus ride home, dinner at home- even on vacation there is a "clean out the fridge" night. And  sauna time!
And then for our last full day, we took in last experiences. we had been walking around our island in one direction, and decided to take the opposite side. Not only were we
 rewarded with great views of the harbor, but also the ice breaker fleet. I was reminded of the sign I had seen as we were motoring through the commercial port area- " We make, and you break- the ice."
We walked through the shops and the necessary pilgrimage to Stockmann, the flagship department store. Mainly window shopping but checking out all the fashion, and buying a Moomin mug and Angry Birds mug for the girls-each Finnish cartoons.
Finally we were treated to an invite for dinner at Elise's place. She met us at the train station and we traveled on one of the new trains to her neighborhood. There are many areas where the buildings of condos and apartments are clustered around walking paths, park areas, shops and transit. As the transit line moved farther out, the development was planned accordingly- what a concept, eh?
We took a short walk from the train stop to Elise's condo, and enjoyed a yummy dinner on her terrace for the official "opening of the terrace" since the weather was nice! And we got to sample cloudberries with ice cream and cloudberry liqueur along with our meal. we walked through the area for walking/biking/running, and a community garden area where some plots were well underway and others not so much- rhubarb was up and onions and potatoes started.
We were absolutely blessed to be able to spend time with Elise on our trip- she helped us get oriented, and shared her time and her insights, and her hospitality. Our trip to Finland would have been a good one, but her accompanying us in so many ways, offered us a depth of experience we could not have otherwise had. While we had known each other her one semester at LTSG, we both agreed this time was a great extension of that connection now several years ago and I hope to return the favor someday!
And it was great to see Finland when there is sun and grass. My two prior trips were in January. Even now there is not much dark time. At the height of winter, it is never brighter than dusk and in the height of summer, in some places, it is never dark. On a personal note I was glad to know that I had not only packed the right adapter and surge protector, I packed the right neck protector. In Finland, everyone has a neck scarf, either around their neck or tied to a bag- men and women. As someone who only travels with a carryon- neck scarves allow me to believe I am really not wearing that black top again.
Finally, I must say that I asked us all to go out on a bit of a limb and use AirBnB to find a flat, rather than book a hotel. Helsinki is a delightful place. Helsinki is an expensive place for lodging. We probably would not have taken the trip if we had to book two hotel rooms for the week at 200 euro a night. And we were not euro hosteling it.
Our booking exceeded expectations in every way and provided a wonderful base. If you are looking to travel, it is a viable option. And now, having returned on another delightful Finnair flight, it is time to do laundry and write that sermon...

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