They can’t all be winners.
On paper, the medieval town of Porvoo has a lot going for it: second-oldest town in Finland, site of the 1809 conference with Czar Alexander I where the future of Finland for the next 50 years was decided, home of famous artists and writers, a picturesque wonder of beautifully coloured wooden buildings densely packed on the east bank of the Porvoonjoki river. It sounded like a worthy day trip from Helsinki, and was our first and only foray out of the capital within Finland.
Perhaps we shouldn’t have gone there after Tallinn. In summer it must be lovely, with crowds thronging the tight streets and the buildings shimmering brightly in the sun. Kristen liked it accurately to Berry in NSW: a pretty town trading on its history that has become a mecca for antiques, art, food and relaxation. B&Bs prosper around Porvoo in the warmer months, and it has a reputation as a top gourmet destination. In winter, it’s dead. The handful of people we saw on the streets of the Old Town had looks of either bemusement or bewilderment at our presence, and we quickly began to share their mirth and confusion as we trudged along.
With snow falling steadily and adding to the deep drifts piled up against the walls, we followed the suggested walking route through the Old Town and read aloud the descriptions of the “highlights” contained within the free town guide. With commentary gems that informed us of important facts such as ‘this building is famous because the Finnish national poet spent the night there when he first arrived in Porvoo’, ‘that building houses the oldest continuously operating department store in Finland’ and ‘the well-loved Runeberg cake is thought to have been developed over there’ we couldn’t help but laugh at the whole experience. The river is frozen over and covered in snow, the colours muted, most of the shops closed, and there we were bang in the middle of it all. Unthrilled.
The biggest disappointment was that the bus fares there were exorbitant for such a short journey, and as we’re on a budget it felt like a big waste of money. Time was not the issue – we have plenty of that 🙂 To help us overcome our mixed feelings, we decided a bottle of wine and some cheeses back in our cosy apartment was the right course of action. That required us to make a visit to the state-run alcohol store, the exquisitely named Alko.
The idea that alcohol in Finland (and the rest of Scandinavia) is massively expensive is a bit of a myth. It’s true that drinking at a cafe, bar or club is pricey and not recommended for more than the occasional drink. However prices for take-home alcohol at Alko are broadly similar to what we would pay in Australia – or in some cases considerably cheaper. By law any drink with an alcohol content higher than 4.7% can only be obtained for consumption at home via the government-owned network, whose opening hours are strictly controlled. However drinks of 4.7% alc or less are widely available at supermarkets and convenience stores. This includes most beers, ciders and “long drinks” (what we know as pre-mixed drinks or alcopops), and their prices can be much cheaper than in Australia.
The Alko in Kamppi Square had an extensive selection of wines including a healthy range of quality NZ and Australian drops, but we let our wallet prevail and opted for a reasonable but cheap Chilean chardonnay. Perfect with the wedge of Castello Blue and French camembert which we bought at the local Aldi clone for next to nothing. What’s that about Porvoo? I’m already thinking of our next stop: Oslo!