Porvoo: the wooden city

español⌋  ⌈français⌋  ⌈italiano

At the beginning of March, a very good Finnish friend and her boyfriend invited my friend Martin and I to spend an afternoon in the small town of Porvoo. This city is about an hour away from downtown Helsinki. It is one of the six cities of Finland that were founded in the Middle Ages, so the material of most of the buildings of the historic center is wood.

Although the weather was very cold, about -15 ° C, the sun made it a very pleasant climate to walk on the frozen river. Generally, the freezing temperatures at this time are quite normal for the Finns. However, the Finns were extremely happy  —and I will not deny that I was happy too— because since some years ago the winter has not been so cold, so there is little snow and many grey days. But as it is to be understood, it is very pleasant to see the sun after many days of darkness. It is also very gratifying to know that you are walking on a river and that you can walk under a bridge, ride a bicycle, or why not, make a hole in the ice and sit down to fish.

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If you ask how to know when it is safe to walk on frozen water and when not, I also wondered the same, but one can never know for sure. One thing is sure though, the thickness of the ice has to be preferably greater than 7cm. If one were to fall, the important thing is not to put your head under water. For my part, I follow my friend’s advice: “If you see more people walking on the water, then do it too.” However, this time this did not worry me so much because after a week with temperatures at -30 ° C!, I do not think there was any risk of falling through.

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On the sides of the river, there are many wooden houses painted in red. Investigating I discovered that the color is due to two reasons: a historical and a chemical one. The ocre-red paint was used at the end of the 18th century to paint the warehouses (today houses and boutiques) to honor the visit of King Gustav III of Sweden. The houses painted in red were to be only those that were on the king’s route. In addition, when used as warehouses it was important to keep the products fresh. The ocre-red color was manufactured with a mineral from the soil of that area and served to protect the wood from wind, sun and humidity.

The cathedral of Porvoo is, perhaps, the most important historical place in the city. It is more than 800 years old, over time it has suffered many fires and renovations. The most recent fire is that of May 2006, when a crazy guy decided to light it on fire. The roof that is all wood was totally destroyed, but it was rebuilt and can be seen today from its exterior. I would have liked to take a picture of it, but at that time I was very cold and the only thing my fingers wanted was to hold a cup of hot chocolate, but you can see it in the distance in the photo below.

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I have visited Porvoo at least three times but never done it with snow, sun and freezing temperatures at the same time. And to be honest I fell in love with Porvoo like that. The snow gave such a cozy touch to all the houses, and I was falling in love with all of the little doll-like houses that I was finding out there. It is a city that lives slowly, but where one can feel the real Finnishness, that feeling of home, design, nature, and tranquillity. In the colorful center, there are also many design boutiques, restaurants, and cafes that can make your visit warm and cozy.

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Porvoo is a small city that even being so small, it is worth visiting at least in the morning or afternoon if you visit Helsinki.