Before I learned in Helsinki that Finns are actually quite friendly and that Petri was wrong to worry me about Finland I asked the Porvoo tourist office if I could spend the day with a local.
When I researched the city I noticed a lot of summer photos with people enjoying lunch on the patio and shopping in old town. But I was coming in the height of winter so patios were out of the question and I could only wander the shops for so long.
I wanted to know what the town was like outside the tourism stream. Couchsurfing has always been such an amazing experience because locals show you the true heart of a city.
Porvoo actually put a note out on their Facebook page. It’s a cute little town and while it’s packed in the summer it’s so scenic in the winter, perhaps only second in being photogenic to Christmas in Finnish Lapland. I was so fortunate because local Kaisa volunteered to take me around for the day and to have lunch at her home.
Now tell me that’s not friendly.
Kaisa is my kind of traveler, she took part in a study abroad program 13 years ago in Venezuela, just traveled to Cuba with her boyfriend Saku and knew exactly what I wanted to see (not museums). So we toured the Old Town with her friend Iina and chatted about travel, life in Finland and Porvoo.
Fortunately Kaisa speaks English, as does her friend Lina who was in town for the day and had never seen much of the touristy things to do.
We started by walking around the old village through the home decor stores that taunted me but I remained strong knowing I had no room in my luggage.
Later on we went back to Kaisa’s for lunch and sparkling wine, I met her boyfriend Saku, friends who had become engaged in Porvoo a year prior and one of her neighbours.
As any great hostess would do we started off lunch with sparking wine, followed by more wine and eventually I was offered vodka for my first time in Finland. (Seriously, Finland what took you so long? I thought Finns drank it like water?)
A few years ago I would have never done anything like this. I would have been far too awkward to spend the day with strangers.
But travel has changed me. Kaisa and her friends were so welcoming it felt like I was visiting old friends too. We just sat around and talked, laughed and when I didn’t like the traditional chocolate bonbon they gave me it was no big deal.
This may be one of my most special days in Finland as I have realized travel isn’t about going to museums or seeing monuments.
It’s about meeting people and knowing we are more similar than we think. I really hope this isn’t the last time I see Kaisa and her friends, such amazing people I need to make an effort to come back to Finland.
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Finnish Tourist Board as part of a Navigate Media Group project. They did not request that I write a favourable review or drop hints to Kaisa that I still hadn’t had vodka yet.