It was the last leg of my trip. Mentally I felt great but physically, my shoulders ached from carrying my camera and backpack around. Worst of all was the state of my feet. It worked hard. I felt like during my entire trip, I've walked enough to cover the entire year. Every morning for the second half of my trip, the first step I took when I got off the bed hurts like a reminder from my body to slow the hell down a little thanksverymuch. Pity my mind tends to be more fiery than my body. Anyway, so after the warmer climate of England, Finland was cold and rainy and that pulled my level of enthusiasm down a little.
Good thing I foresaw that when I was planning and had deliberately put Finland as my last stop so that I can slowly ease back into regular life while staying at my friend's place. That was real nice of them to let me intrude on them for quite a few days by the way.
It was also on their suggestion that I visit Porvoo. So, mustering all the last shreds of energy I have left in me, I decided to make my way there on the last day of my trip.
The bus ride took about 50 minutes each way but only about 30 minutes if you drive. The entire way there the bus only had 3 passengers, including myself. I wonder if it was because I took it during the off-peak hour or because Summer is still round the corner. Lucky me then, as I got the peace to listen to some Alt-J, Sara Bareilles and John Mayer while looking out the never-ending rows and rows of (I think) blurred pine trees that stretches beyond the horizon against the blue sky as the bus sped down the highway.
Porvoo is the second oldest city in Finland. By chance, I found out that it is former Liverpool captain Sami Hyppiä's hometown! That fun cheap thrill bit of little information for me aside, the city is made up of 'Old Town' and 'New Town'. It is famed for its cobbled pavements and wooden red houses on the riverside in the 'Old Town'.
Honestly, I just wanted to be somewhere new and explore. Doesn't matter where. I still did a little read up to find out what the small town has to offer and the only thing on my list to visit was the Porvoo Cathedral up a gentle slope. That was where I went first.
It is one of the largest and oldest cathedral in Finland. It has been destroyed by fire a few times. Back in 2006, the outer roof was burnt by a young (probably drunk) black metal young punk, so we know that is not old. This photo above is the top of the bell tower.
I walked around the ground and enjoyed the view below, courtesy of the cathedral's elevated vantage. From the second I got off the bus, I felt like I'm in a different kind of place. People were milling about leisurely, a few vehicles going up and down the road next to the bus station. Nobody was seen in a suit or walking with a goddamn phone smack in front of their faces because their Time is so precious and they are so busy they cannot just focus on walking they have to multi-task and I may have veered slowly into a rant here and I will stop.
It felt good. Peaceful vibes all around.
I stayed just a little longer than people do inside, looking at the details on the pillars and the ceiling.
The view on the way down overlooks the river if you tip-toe over the fence.
I walked back down the same way I came and strolled along the riverside. I told myself, inside my head of course, how crazy picturesque this place looks. Jumped right off a painting.
So I came to the other end of the bridge to a two-way fork. Left to walk the riverside and right to..somewhere unknown. I picked the right and found myself along a really deserted road leading to a very old looking train station. It was so deserted, I thought if I got attacked Lemony Snicket-style nobody would even know. If you noticed how there are almost no one walking around it was because there really was not!
I was really drawn to the station and its two buildings. I wanted to get in but I noticed a few workers around so I thought the better of it. Instead I walked towards the tracks and came to what looked like a cafe to me. Turns out it was some sort of shop carrying a lot of old stuff and train parts after a short chat with an old man there. He pointed me to a souvenir shop further down the same road and I thought, 'Why not?
Jim Carrey Count Olaf isn't that scary. He is merely a creepy looking man who wants three children dead.'
Look! More places with not a soul in sight. I skipped the ice-cream place and went inside the souvenir shop which was the next building down the road.
"Hello! Where are you from?"
"Singapore. Have you ever been?"
"Singapore! No I haven't been. Ah, I haven't had someone from your country in here. I'll have to show you this. Follow me!"
He led the way and I followed him down the length of the room to the back of the shop. Remember when I said Count Olaf is not scary? Well I lied. He may not be scary but he can be creepy-scary as hell. I swore that was how I felt when I followed him: Like the Baudelaire children being led into a seemingly innocent place that really is a trap. Except there wasn't three of us and that I am alone.
We passed by pictures on the wall, some chairs and a sad looking counter that offers only what looked like three variety of pastries. At this point I had my camera strapped around me and I was holding it, one hand on the body, the other around the lens like a soldier would with his rifle in of of his body style. If he shows me weird stuff, I was ready to shoot him (see what I did there?)
Somewhere in between my looking at all the stuff, two German ladies came in and the man offered all of us coffee. With Count Olaf still on my mind, I politely refused, as with the other two ladies.
We came to a stop in front of a large train set.
"I'm going to on this and the train will light up and move."
"Yeah? Okay." (Still expecting something weird.)
*Turns on and the train started moving*
I stood there in silence watching the train go for a second.
"You're supposed to say 'Wow!'"
And he walked back towards his counter at the entrance of the shop. I'm sorry I felt underwhelmed by the train moving. There wasn't even any smoke billowing from it! You know, okay let's be fair. It was probably because the scenario I had running in my head was much more dramatic than what actually happened. It was a nice gesture for him to offer and turn it on for me. As I left the train set behind to explore the other parts of the shop, I wondered if he offered to turn it on for all the people who came in. What kind of person has he turned me into now?
"Before you go you have to help me with something."
My hands moves surreptitiously back to my camera, at the ready. He fishes out a small piece of flyer for me from behind the counter.
"You can help me be an ambassador of this shop, yes? Promise me you'll bring this back and put it up somewhere in your country. Take a photo of it and email me to show me you've done it."
At this point, the only thing I can think of is where I can paste it legally.
"Thanks, sure I will do that and email you!" Lying straight into his face, I think.
"Good, then I can print it out and paste it in that room behind you."
I turned and approached the room behind me. What greeted me did not discount the scenario I had been forming in my head this entire time but rather, added certainty to it. The entire four sides of the walls are covered with printed out photos of people's photos of the flyer they've brought back to their own countries. It reminded me of a 'trophy wall' but now on hindsight, probably should have been regarded as a good sign because all these visitors before me made it out here alive. Too much Bones, perhaps.
If I sounded like I have been making fun of my entire experience in the shop, it is because I am. Jokes aside, in honesty, those conversations though not shared here verbatim, were real. It was also really how I felt, Count Olaf and all. I would go back to the shop again just because there are so many things to look at and has a quirky vibe to it. Loverly.
Probably with company the next time, though.
I wandered back out and walked along the river to look at the red wooden houses that were proposed to be considered as a UNESCO heritage site.
I crossed another bridge and walked back to the bus terminal and up to the direction of the cathedral again to look for lunch and the chocolate shop I was told I have to go! No interior photos of Brunberg the chocolate shop because I was too busy trying all the different ones they put out. The cobbled streets of Vlikatu, where Brunberg is, and Jokikatu is filled with quirky little shops.
I had lunch and spent the rest of my afternoon at a cafe near an empty square at the end of the streets and people watched a little. I did not take any photos during this time, on purpose. Mostly, I was just enjoying the quiet and the beautiful blue sky. While I was at that, a Kurt Vonnegut quote that was told by his 'good uncle', came to me.
"And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."