I recently took a fabulous cruise with Norwegian to the Baltic Capitals and if you have followed my posts from the other ports, you will find this one much different. The four cruise port days prior to Finland has been magnificent. That ended for me when we arrived in Finland. Other than checking Finland off of my travel bucket list, I was sorely disappointed. However, we were blessed with a sunshiny day, though this was definitely the least interesting stop on the cruise itinerary.
Our Cruise Excursion in Helsinki
We chose the Porvoo: Town and Countryland excursion with the cruise lines. The price was $119. Our tour group boarded buses and rode to the Savijarvi Mansion, a well-known horse farm. The friendly third generation farm owner greeted us with personal stories of the property and warmth. She was a lovely hostess. We considered it a privilege to be invited into her home, property, horse training facilities, and breeding grounds. Best of all, she had prepared a gorgeous spread of delicious Finnish goodies for us to sample. Laid out on the table for our indulgence were fresh berries, homemade caramel sauce (YUM!!), assorted teas, coffee, and a cake. We loved the pretty white cake, a favorite local recipe.
Helsinki translates to “Daughter of the Baltic” and is the capital of Finland with a population shy of two million. King Gustav Vasa of Sweden founded it. The Finnish people thrived on outdoor life. Much of their daily life was spent exercising, boating, and socializing. Produce was abundant and fishing was their main staple. October brought the herring market, a very popular event, where fishermen sell their foods and crafts.
We drove to the 15th century Church of St. Sigfrid in Sipoo for a quick visit and photo opportunity. The inside of the church was minimal in decoration. Interesting enough, the roof was made of wooden panes painted with tar to weatherproof them. Some say the tar smell adds to the essence. We knew in advance the church would be closed, since our excursion was on Sunday. A few WWII grave markers were found in the front of the church. Personally, I felt this stop could have been skipped or our time better spent elsewhere.
The Stunning Town of Porvoo, Finland
The highlight of the day was a visit to the picturesque countryside town called Porvoo. The town, favored by many artists, was founded in 1346 and was the second oldest town in Finland. Its Old Quarter’s cobblestone streets were lined with 16th century wooden houses and sprinkled with handicraft shops and restaurants. The center of town was on top of a steep hillside. Porvoo Cathedral, one of the oldest churches in Helsinki, had parts that dated back to the 11th century. Due to the fact we were there on a Sunday morning, the restaurants and shops were closed. However, I did find Tee Ja Kahvihuone, an adorable teashop, on my way back to the bus. Tee Ja Kahvihuone was fashioned after a British tearoom and offered a wide array of drinks and pastries. They were scrumptious!
Our last stop was to the Sibelius Monument. This unique piece of artwork, found in a beautiful park, was made of 600 organ pipes welded together. As we traveled back through town to our ship, the guide pointed out some points of interest. We were free to hop off the bus downtown but had to find our own transportation back to the ship, which no one chose to do.
Disappointment and Corrections
On this excursion, our bus driver was confused and nearly got us stuck in the middle of the countryside on a winding private road on the way to the horse farm. Our tour guide was an unorganized older lady whose facts were not relevant to the excursion at all. I found this to be one of the worst excursions I had taken in 20+ cruises. Some of my disappointment could have been avoided by changing the time of the excursion or by just not offering it at all, on a Sunday, since two out of three places we visited were closed.
My friend and I went promptly to the shore excursions desk when we got back on the ship, to share our concerns and disappointments. NCL refunded part of our money. NCL’s customer service impressed me. Not only did they listen to us, but they offered partial compensation for it. After the fact, I read reviews of Porvoo Town & Country; and it seemed many people suggested skipping Helsinki and just lounging on the cruise ship. It was also a day to recover after our long tour days in Russia. If ever there again, I would just go to downtown Helsinki and enjoy a cafe and the scenery.