Day 16 – Wednesday, 20th July (Porvoo)
Moose count = Are you trying to be funny?!
The day began with breakfast on the terrace at Haikko Manor itself in the Romanov Dining Room – and very good it was too with all sorts of choice and lots of lactose and gluten free options, so much so that things with lactose and gluten appeared to be the exception not the rule. Excellent all round is my verdict. It was a lovely sunny day and as it turned out we might well have saved the best till last with a trip to Porvoo for the day.
Porvoo is delightful, or at least it was once we’d found a car parking space we could have for more than 4 hours, with a lovely old town area full of wooden houses (why yes, it did burn down more than once including the Great Fire of Porvoo in 1760 caused by fish soup left cooking overnight), tiny cafes and restaurants, and shops selling all manner of things from tourist tat (though I do like the bear t-shirts that say “send more tourists.The last ones were delicious) to high quality jewellery and many genres of artwork.
We started by the river after the inevitable detour to the Tourist Information office. There we found that the river trip we were interested in left on the hour a couple of bridges along.
We found the boat, the historic M/S Frederika, only to find it was quite full, at least outside, and what’s the point of sitting inside on a tourist boat on a gloriously sunny day? They managed to pack us in on one side on the outside deck. The river was looking pretty brown after all the recent rain which had washed a lot of soil down from agricultural land upstream, causing the captain to joke that it just meant you could go swimming and have a mud pack at the same time! The boat set off and the captain did his best to commentate in English as well as the Finnish and Swedish he was used to. We were very grateful as the only two non-Finnish/Swedish speakers on the boat. After a turn up river and then down, we’d seen the old town, the new development that is deliberately mirroring the old town river frontage, and the reconstructed riverside warehouses the new housing is modelled on we returned to the landing stage and decided it was time for lunch.
The Wilhelm A looked attractive and so we planted ourselves at an outside table and ordered beer and – in my case – a salmon soup. Interestingly the beers we got were two different strengths, which was a bit odd as we were paying the same price for them, but as I was driving I took the weaker one.
The soup was excellent, and again there was a portion of malted bread with it.
I need to find a recipe for that particular bread (ed: Found one here for island-baked bread) because it’s so tasty. Mind you, that could be a dangerous road to go down. I wonder if it might be in this incredibly comprehensive book on Nordic cooking which is already lurking on my bookshelf and certainly has recipes for many of the foods we’ve encountered on the trip including Karelian pastries and cinnamon buns, oh and puffin though we didn’t encounter any of those on a plate thankfully! It does have a salmon soup recipe or four too so I shall be making my own some time soon.
After lunch, and after spending some time watching the incredibly cheeky hooded crows helping themselves to leftovers direct from the tables, we headed into the old town, following a walking route we’d been given in the Tourist Information office.
It started on the far side of the river and went past the massive town cemetery were a number of famous Porvoo residents are buried. We only found J L Runeberg, the man regarded as Finland’s national poet, but as he does seem to be Porvoo’s most famous son, to the extent of even having a cake named after him, we settled for that.
From there we meandered past the old railway station, which no longer has regular connections to Helsinki, and then across the river, past a field gun left behind after the Continuation War and up the steep, cobbled hill to the cathedral, a structure that partly burned down far more recently than most Finnish old town structures, this after some idiot decided playing with fire around tar and tar barrels was a good idea. It’s been very sympathetically restored and was well worth the slog uphill. There’s some very fine vaulting, and a votive ship, frescoes and all the things you could possibly want in a medieval church.
It has a separate tower for reasons we couldn’t quite fathom. Speaking of things you can’t quite fathom, we did encounter a slightly crazy couple (he was American, she was Finnish) outside taking a photo of their garden “gnome” which may have been a reindeer but I like to think was a moose which was wearing a small suit. Apparently the “gnome” travels to lots of places and has his own Facebook page. And why not?
After that the walk led us down lots of narrow streets full of the most wonderful wooden houses. I can’t say I’d want to live there in the summer when the place is heaving with tourists but it’s probably lovely in the evenings when they all go back to Helsinki or wherever. We continued to wend our way through the streets and eventually came back down to the market square, and then swung round into the more commercial sector of the old town.
It was definitely time for a refreshment stop. We’d aimed for the historic and eccentric Cafe Helmi. There are a half dozen or so small rooms inside with tables rammed in wherever they can fit them, and the garden was equally packed with gazebos and awnings. We snagged a gazebo to ourselves and I went in to round up some cold drinks and a pair of Runeberg tortes. They looked sticky, they were sticky, but they were also very good being soaked in rum, tasting wonderfully of almonds, and loaded with jam. I couldn’t have eaten a second one there and then, and really we could probably have shared one between us. I certainly have no wish to know the calorie count in one of them.
We went from there to the Holm House Museum only to find that it was 20 minutes to closing time. The very kind lady on the till let us in for free and we managed a very quick scoot round but it wasn’t enough to take much in really.
Back outside there was a craft market in full swing and I got sidetracked into buying a pair of amber earrings. I have a soft spot for amber and was delighted to find something that suited me. I was not too surprised to discover the guy selling it was Polish and the amber came from there as well but decided not to let that stop me.
We opted to do one last visit, this to the very pretty orthodox church on the edge of the cemetery, but it was closed so we could only admire it from the outside.
After that it was back to the hotel for one final dinner. This time we made no attempt to get through a full menu and simply chose 2 courses each. They brought some lovely fresh breads out for us while we chose a bottle of wine.
This time the starters was slightly salted whitefish, marinated radish and shallots, very delicate, very fresh and very pretty.
After that we moved on to Haikko Manor’s smoked fillet of beef “since 1966” with herb butter and pickles sauce, as they were celebrating the hotel’s 50th anniversary. The beef was definitely something to celebrate, tender, melting in the mouth and beautifully done.
It was more than enough. Dessert was not an option, not unless we waited until morning anyway. And just when it couldn’t get any better, there was an odd phenomenon, as a rainbow appeared out of a clear blue sky. It hadn’t been raining, the sky turned an odd colour, and the rainbow hung about for a ages, baffling all of us.
Eventually we gave up puzzling over it and went back to our room to get a good night’s sleep before we had to start the journey home.