Visiting Porvoo And A Trip Down Memory Lane

Porvoo is a small town a short drive from Helsinki, Finland’s capital. It’s mostly known as a tourist stop for its tiny Old Town with traditional wooden houses. There is a church that dates from the 13th century.

As for me, I associate Porvoo with a tourism and hospitality school which many of my ex-collegues in the travel industry had studied at. Back when I was choosing my future career as a young adult, some twenty years ago, Porvoo was the only option for tourism studies (that, and Lapland) – Helsinki had none. I didn’t want to relocate to a smaller town, so I decided to study marketing instead.

Times have changed and now there are plenty of travel degrees available in Helsinki. Probably more than there are jobs available, making it harder than ever to land a job in the industry. I guess all those reality TV shows about tour guides and every other job on the planet, as well as social media, have made an impact; tourism must seem like an attractive career option for young people.

When I started my career in outbound tourism, I was a university student and spoke several languages. That was a good enough fit. I remember flipping through the yellow pages (how old does that make me sound?! I’m only 40!) looking for the addresses of all the airlines located in Helsinki.

They used to have town offices back then, where people booked their flights – this was before internet sales had really launched off at all. (I think a rudimentary version of internet must have existed already.) Flights were also quite commonly booked on the phone, either via a travel agency or directly with the airline.

I was already working in customer service, but I really, really wanted to work for an airline and feel the world at my fingertips… so I typed open applications with a typewriter to all of them – maybe five or six – and sent them in the mail.

Though there was no job ad, just my spontaneous letter, I got an interview at a large airline, located absolutely in the core center of town, and I got the job. The woman interviewing me said her daughter had the same name as me. (Snow isn’t my real name, you know!) Personal chemistry was often a factor in job interviews. I believe it still is.

I was in heaven – I had gotten my dream job! It was “just” a call center job answering the phone and booking flights but it was oh-so-exciting! It maybe doesn’t sound like much, but to me it was a big step towards what I wanted my life to be like.

There were little airplane models of the fleet placed along window sills for decoration. There were world maps on every wall of the office with bright red pins carefully placed on top of the world destinations the airline flew to. Blue pins marked where partner airlines flew. The world was conquered.

I was put into training with two other newcomers my age, whom I befriended quickly. We were given thick manuals with airport and city codes which we had to memorize. LAX, DXB, HKT… the difference between STO and ARN… it was exciting that I was getting paid to study geography and airport codes! Another manual was about the Amadeus-based reservation system which we had to get familiar with. We sat there studying our manuals in an empty conference room with windowed walls offering views of downtown bustle.

Colleagues played a big part in my growing enthusiasm for the aviation industry. With their mid-winter tans and street smart attitudes, they talked of exotic travels they had done.

One guy my age told me how he had traveled solo to South America sitting on a beer canister in the galley, since all the seats were occupied. During landing, the beer canister wouldn’t stay still… Oh, those were the days! (That would never have happened in Finland, by the way, where safety always rules. Good old boring but safe Finland.)

Do you remember when passengers could fly stand-by? That was a good option for students. They’d go to the airport early in the morning of their intended flight, report at check-in, and wait for everyone else to board. If there was space, they could purchase a very reasonably priced ticket.

Back then, flights often operated half-empty in order to provide a variety of flight times for the customer to choose from – competing by offering choices – very unlike today’s scenario where each flight is cost-efficiently packed full. The same airline might have had for example 4 or 5 flights to Paris daily, whereas today there would only be one option. Flying was quite expensive, too, before low-cost airlines entered the scene (they didn’t always exist).

So, this was a “little” prelude to what I think of whenever I hear Porvoo: my ex-colleagues in aviation and a little trip down memory lane to a completely different era.

To be honest, I can’t remember if I’d ever been to this small town before the trip we took last weekend: hubby, myself and the toddlers. Now that we finally have a car, getting around with the twins is so much easier!

I recently wrote about Old Town areas often feeling touristy and fake. What about Porvoo then? It definitely caters to tourists and there are market stalls and little shops selling this and that. But there are no large crowds of tourists, only a handful of both locals and foreigners (I heard Spanish several times.) And there are no touts, no one forcing anything down your throat, no one asking you to come in. Those shops and stalls would be there anyway. So no, it isn’t a tourist trap at all.

The shops were picturesque on the outside and inside. We couldn’t resist buying an illustrated parrot poster for our children’s discreetly jungle-themed bedroom.

We had cake and smoothies outdoors, while birds picked at the leftovers on nearby tables. We parked the stroller at a bench near a rose bush to give the boys their snacks, the intoxicating rose scent drifting our way.

We dodged traffic on a tiny, cobblestoned road only to realize there was a wedding taking place at the old church. Of course there was a wedding, it’s summer after all. Guests were flooding to the scene in fancy summer dresses despite the strong, cool wind. A woman was wearing very high heels, walking expertly on the cobblestones. The sunshine made the colors of the town pop.

Now, I have new memories for whenever I hear Porvoo. The boys’ first visit to this town.

Thanks, Pooja, for your recent comment that inspired me to write about these old memories!

78 responses to “Visiting Porvoo And A Trip Down Memory Lane

  1. ahhhh – delightful read from imagining the rose scent and the birds eating scraps to going down memory lane – and forget the yellow pages – the typewriter is what made me wonder your age? ha!
    and side note – the two flights I had last month had a huge list of standbys for both flights.
    One had six on the computer and the other had around 5 – hm –
    but there were weather delays and maybe that is why some were trying to reconnect.

    Liked by 2 people

      • I just flew east coast areas – family visits – but the best part – I met interesting people – and I am sure as you have likely flown a lot more than me – there are times to talk to fellow passengers and times we need alone time. I was hoping to write (even bought a jounral and some nice pens) but when like-minded folks buckle in next to us – we must connect.
        and I thought it was from the delays, but actually – the more I looked around on layovers and talked to folks – it reminded me of a restaurant or salon where there was a crowded multi-task going on.
        Like at my sister’s salon (which I think I have mentioned a story from before) she had a stylist who banked (like talking six figures some years) and part of th ekey was she multitasked and used assistants to her advantange.
        And in this case, I felt a shuffle that might have happened to condense flights.
        Maybe projecting things – but what if they only had a few folks on a flight and it was better to delay it seven hours rather than fly it half full??
        met two ladies and their daughter and they all had separate seats because their early a.m. flight was delayed (I moved so they could sit together) and well, little things like that made me think the airline was maybe forcing some shuffles – to condense flights –

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I learnt to type on an electric typewriter a long time ago but although I never worked in an office it has been a useful skill for the digital age! We have visited Porvoo every July for an afternoon for the last 12 years until this year, I really like it there and there’s even a branch of Laura Ashley! Now we are at home and I’m relaxing in the garden whilst my men folk are watching the World Cup on TV! I half watched the England game earlier but that was more than enough for one day. How nice you now have a car, it will make life so much easier for you all x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Such a celebration you must be having, with England’s success!! 😊 About time, eh?!
      Why no Porvoo this year? I hope I can catch the Christmas market there this year – have you ever been?
      I think I saw a sign for Mark’s and Spencer’s in Porvoo too, or maybe I was imagining it!
      Enjoy your evening in the garden! I’m sitting on our balcony, it’s 10:30 pm but the sun hasn’t set yet.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Lovely to enjoy the long nights. Have just tidied up outside and returned indoors. It’s been nice as there haven’t been any annoying wasps yet this summer. We can’t rent the usual flat in Tapiola this summer as the girl has moved in with her mother and tried to sell her flat but had without success so she is renting it out for a year and hoping to sell it later. It’s in a lovely position overbooking the sea but it’s third floor with no lift and a spiral staircase so useless for young families or the retired, typical design of the 60’s. So we are exploring pastures new and heading to Stockholm next week for two weeks renting a flat there I found on Expedia. We’ve only been twice before and that was on the Silja Line day cruises so we haven’t done much so I’m looking forward to it now but will miss Helsinki x

        Liked by 2 people

        • You can always cruise over to Helsinki for a day from Stockholm, hahah! I’m sure you’ll love Stockholm, there’ll be a lot to explore. I’ve only done short trips there, too so I’ll be looking forward to seeing what you post about it! 😊

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Love this memory lane post – and photos. You have an eye for the unusual. Porvoo looks charming. Not touristy. Just my speed. Glad you got to bring the boys! x

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sorry to say, but even knowing what a typewriter is probably makes you old! I say that as someone who’s ancient. I remember, in my youth, visiting a computer installation that fit in one large room. Imagine that.
    Your very interesting and entertaining post provoked a couple of travel memories.
    The first time I went abroad I visited Japan and Hong Kong courtesy of my brother working for BOAC (remember them) and getting the tickets at 10% of face value, around 50 pounds. It ended up including a flight from Tokyo to Osaka on a 747 with a grand total of seven passengers (they had to fly the route to use it for the 1970 Expo there). And, leaving Tokyo for Hong Kong, the plane had a problem and the flight was delayed. Much grumbling among the passengers – missed connections, etc. – but we were happy campers. No sleeping in the airport after arriving at some ungodly hour, but an expenses paid stay in a ritzy hotel on the coast which undoubtedly cost the airline more than our tickets.
    And standby flights. First time I visited the U.S.A. I flew standby from London. My destination was Seattle, but I was ready to fly to New York, Chicago, New Orleans, where-ever. I did end up going to Seattle because the flights worked out, but I remember that wide open willingness to take whatever option came up. Golden days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hehee, typewriters were so professional back then… now I feel as if I were some kind of female Hemingway when I think of typing. Not that my writing was in any way similar 🙂 But the feeling of it.
      I enjoyed reading about your fun memories. I can relate to them and I have so many similar ones. Several years after the events in this post, I started working as cabin crew (after having lived in France, Italy, Greece, graduated from uni in Finland and done other things)… I too flew onboard an empty plane for a couple of flights, at the beginning or end of the tourist season, when the plane had to be transferred along with the crew to pick up passengers. We lounged about on whole seat rows, wearing comfy outfits, watching movies and snacking on sweets, courtesy of the airline. On arrival, we changed into our uniforms and were ready to put on our professional faces for the customers 😉 Maybe we still had a few sweets on the sly.
      And yes, that willingness to go anywhere… there was an amazing feeling of freedom in it, wasn’t there. Is your brother still working for an airline?

      Liked by 1 person

      • There was a lot of freedom in traveling then, and without all the security hassles that are so prevalent now. My brother’s retired now and only worked for the airline for 5 or so years, but he made the most of it. He used to fly to Europe many weekends that way I’d go to the beach!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Hahah! Well yes, I’ve actually had some people think it’s my real name and in general it’s caused some confusion here on the blog with new followers (sometimes). I guess most people blog with their real name! Anyway, thanks Peter for taking the time to read and comment! Porvoo really is a nice place for a day trip! 🙂 Enjoy your week!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ohhh, what a lovely post! I’m so glad you’re making new memories of old towns. 🙂 I love your approach of getting hired and the non-touristy way of selling things to them of your country. But my favourite is the bear shirt! 😀 Oh, and the photo of the colourful… things (books? planks?) from the third to last gallery. I wish you many more rose-scented sunlit trips that end with a wedding. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Snow. What a lovely post! I am glad my comment encouraged you to write about your airline days.
    I’d have loved to memorize the codes for airports and get paid to learn geography too! I love geography. Stand-by travels sound so different from today’s era. I’ve never experienced it myself. That was probably a steal deal for students back in the days and not having to travel in today’s budget airlines-like planes is already a bonus in my eyes hehe. I always look forward to my Nepal travels and somewhere exotic every year or so just so I can fly in proper airlines, and not the usual Ryanair types that I often use here in Europe.
    Porvoo looks so cute. Always love your photos as it brings back so many memories from Finland. I wanted to visit so many places while I was there, but I never knew I’d abruptly move to Poland and not go back 😀 Maybe one day I’ll make it to Porvoo – it really seems like everything I love – small, cute town where there’s something to see and isn’t too touristy. Sounds like you had a great day over there! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I don’t know which way to love first 😆 I loved the photo guide of the town – it reminds me of the wooden house my grandma lived in (built in Finnish style, it was said). That “gelato” sign pic is my favorite. Besides the guy on the unibike))
    I also loved your story of work. You have such a nice narrator style! And the day – with boys, roses and wedding – it was a cherry on top. Total ❤️❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Porvoo would definitely be on my wish list if I came to visit Finland! Your photos are pure pleasure for the eyes!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Memories from airplane 30 years ago… Flying with companies which doesn’t exist anymore (Pan Am, Air Inter, Air Liberté…)… A smoking section in the plane (ashtrays hidden in the arms of your seat… Having a meal served whether it was breakfast, lunch or dinner… That last memory is the best one!!! I used Ryanair today to come back from Marseille. I always wonder how possible it is to have such a young – efficient and trained – crew?! They are most of the time smiling and polite but would a bunch of twenty year olds be able to react in case of an emergency…?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It was interesting to read about your memories. Also the photos of Porvoo! What a lovely little town – we visited there in 2015, and you are right – unlike most of the places we visited, it was delightfully uncrowded. I remember walking up to the old church. There were some kids there who were supposed to be drawing – the church, I assume. Some teenage girls sat on the lawn at the front of the church and a photographer was sneaking around with his huge lens. It was quite a leisurely visit. I hope to have more time in Helsinki some day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for stopping by and for your comment! 🙂 I’m happy you liked Porvoo, too. It’s great for a day trip. Helsinki keeps changing and growing so quickly, maybe next time it’ll look and feel different from your last visit! 🙂 Enjoy your week!


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  12. Quite frankly, I am old enough to remember standby travel and typewriters too! I remember a little electric typewriter with an LED read out so you could proof read the sentence before it typed it on the letter. Very advanced for its time. I planned to go to Porvoo when I was in Helsinki last time, following your recommendations. I never got there as time was too short and I went to Suomenlinna instead. I love these old towns one finds in the north and in Scandinavia. They don’t seem to feel fake to me, and I love the decorative elements, the coloured woods and the sometimes quirky people that live there. Isn’t it funny how we don’ t often explore our own backyard ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds like an advanced typewriter indeed! I had one those little bottles of white stuff to cover typos.
      And yes, about backyards. I haven’t traveled much in Finland actually! (It’s expensive.) Thanks for reading this old post, Amanda! ❤️


      • I think it was in the late eighties I used that kind of typewriter but I did have a very old push button mechanical one in Uni. So then I also used ‘white out’ too. Ah the memories! I visited Åtvidaberg in Sweden a few years back to see a friend and there is a museum there dedicated to the typewriter. Apparently the typewriter was invented there in a little workshop! Such an unlikely place, a small village in rural Sweden.

        Liked by 1 person

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