Monthly Archives: August 2014

Porvoo Finland: An Inviting Old Town

The distance from Helsinki to Old Porvoo is approximately 30 miles east, or 40 minutes back in time by bus. Helsinki is the capital of Finland and a delight in itself, but Porvoo, (pronounced pour voh with rolled r), is famed for its “Old Town” (Gamla Stan in Swedish).onion bulbFounded in 1386, it’s medieval streets are filled with mostly picturesque wooden houses. I recently had the opportunity to visit Old Porvoo on a bus tour with a group of friends and would highly recommend it as a scenic day trip from Helsinki whether by bus, or in summer by boat from the Helsinki market square. It’s charming little boutiques, antiikki shops, street market, and cafes will entertain for hours.Porvoo shop

Cafe Helmi








Start at the bottom of Valikatu Street with an unlimited chocolate tasting at Brunberg’s Chocolate Factory, which is right where our guide dropped us off with maps of the old town.

BrunbergsBrunberg’s has a wide selection of truffles, toffees, and pistachio bark (which my husband loves).

After sampling a little of everything, pick up a little truffle selection for someone back home or chocolate medicated relief for those occasional stressful travel moments.




As you continue up Valikatu towards the cobbled market square, be sure to stop in Riimikko Toy Shop to check out the innovative and endearing toys for boys and girls, and for those of us who never grow old.

When you reach the market square, check out the stalls of typical Finnish souvenirs of furs, leather, trinkets, and winter hats. From here, you can walk back down Jokikatu, which is a parallel street to Valikatu.  Jokikatu will take you back to the starting point near Brunberg’s and the public restrooms. There are of course many side streets of shops and photo opportunities, but these two main streets are jam-packed with cute shops for a first visit to the old city.

 Hanna Maria man











After some dedicated retail-therapy, lunch reservations beckoned our group up the hill to the very top of town at Wanha Laamanni restaurant where our group took over two floors. Wanha Laamanni is located in a charming 18th century log building next to a medieval cathedral, and has an inviting outdoor patio as well.  We rejuvenated over a relaxing meal of wine, artisan bread (notable for the indulgence), prawn skagen for starters, and a tender lamb artfully presented for mains.  As with every meal on this Scandinavian adventure, an enticing dessert was offered as well.

I suggest packing forgiving waistbands, comfortable shoes for cobblestones, and definitely your camera, as the storefronts in Old Porvoo are extremely photogenic.

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends!

Inverness & The Clan Gathering 2014

Day two of our UK summer adventure started off with a jolt. We woke late with the Parliament due to begin in 10 minutes downtown at the Town Hall.  John raced out the door, but no good can become of a day without coffee, so I set off to explore Inverness a little more slowly along the way. Downtown Inverness seems to have changed drastically over the 7 years since our last visit, with much more expansive shopping, dining, and many coffee houses. I picked up a couple semi-skim lattes before joining the clan. I was immediately impressed to find most people wearing their tartans, whether it was a full out kilt, vest and jacket, or tartan dress, skirt or scarves for the women.

Clan MacLennan Leadership

Clan MacLennan Leadership

Our clan chief is Ruairidh MacLennan, Scotland’s youngest. Over the next hour or so, Ruairidh worked his way through the parliament agenda discussing the MacLennan museum, future gatherings, and made well-deserved leadership appointments for Canada and Australia. There was a presentation from the clan genealogist regarding the new clan database and DNA testing. The parliament last met in 2009 but it was decided the next gathering will be in four years in 2018 to coincide again with the Commonwealth Games which attracts a lot of people to Scotland for Homecoming.

Alex Graham, the Provost of Inverness (Mayor) then welcomed and addressed the clan first in Gaelic, and then in English. He most generously offered an expansive buffet lunch his staff had prepared and set out in the council board room for us.17 townhouse

The Town Hall Inverness is a gorgeous 16 Town househistorical building with many plaques, paintings, flags and memorabilia that interest history and genealogy buffs such as us.

In 2007, we had been walking past the Town and came upon a children’s performance when we went inside to look at the WWI and WWII plaques. We enjoyed their dancing, piping and singing and their families welcomed us to their coffee and cookies social hour afterwards. The Town Hall always reminds me of the friendly folk of Inverness.

After lunch there were to be the mini Highland games in the Northern Meeting park. As it was starting to rain lightly, we decided to explore downtown and shop for John’s sporran, which was needed to complete his formal attire for the formal clan dinner.

3 the old high church



4 old high church





We stopped in the churchyard of the Old High Church to peruse the headstones, before making our way down through the raindrops to Leakey’s Secondhand Bookshop and Cafe. 4 LeakeysWe follow Leakey’s on Facebook and are treated to the day’s soup and sandwich menu from 3,600 miles away. I had been craving a bowl of their hearty soup with “a chunk of crusty bread or oatcakes” for over a month, but was no longer hungry after the Provost’s luncheon. Leakey’s occupies a former church and is warmed by a wood burning stove next to the cash register station. The second floor cafe and print selection are accessed by a metal circular staircase.5 Leakeys 15 Leakeys6 Leakeys latteWe enjoyed looking down on the stacks and stacks of books while enjoying perfected steamed lattes and sharing a piece of pecan shortbread tart. It was unusual to see all those books in one place as we usually read on our iPads. Even when we go to the library to enjoy the reading room, we have not seen the massive amount of books that Leakey’s has on their shelves. It was very cosy and I can imagine spending another rainy afternoon by the warmth of the wood stove skimming through the stacks. We did find two prints verified over 100 years old, with sketches of the MacLennan and Munro crests, so we scooped them up as souvenirs of Inverness.Munro printMaclennan print

7 the butcher








We continued to explore in the rain and found a wonderful old indoor Victorian Market. Huge black and white historic photos are displayed over many of the shop’s arched doorways. There were some expected touristy shops including one that sold Yankee Candles, a dentist, spice shop, hair salon, and an inviting coffee shop.14 Market

9 Victorian Markey








10 Vic Market

11 Vict Market










Marks & Spencers was close by, so we stocked up on wine and bottled water (travel essentials) and shopped around. It’s always fun to see what is on grocery stores shelves in other countries. My grand-cat Max might enjoy the cat milk?

11 Marks & Spencer cat milk 10 Marks & Spencer






The high street around the corner from Marks & Spencer and Eastgate Centre Mall is closed to cars for pedestrians to enjoy. Where we would have teenagers with guitars busking for change, we found delightful bagpipers in full Highland dress – across from McDonald’s…at least it sounds Scottish.

16 bagpipers

16 chisholms

Why can’t’ we have a purple tartan?

The search continued for the elusive sporran as it had to be authentic and created in Inverness. We shopped at Highland House of Fraser and Ben Wyvis, but the windows at Chisholm’s Highland Dress had caught our eye, so we ended our search there.

1 chisholms


Upstairs we found the perfect combination of old world craftsmanship, attention to detail, and with the help of a very knowledgeable and sweet saleslady, we found the perfect pewter silver thistle sporran made in Scotland. What about me you ask?  I did find a brooch for my MacLennan sash with purple amethyst-like stones as a remembrance of Inverness. Lovely.

2 chisholms

fine leather working


The perfect authentic sporran

Chisholm brooch

Made in East Kilbride






Later in the day, a shuttle delivered everyone to the Dores Inn  for pre-dinner drinks and socializing down by the shores of Loch Ness. Clansmen gathered with children, families, and new friends for photos, to raise a glass, and to gaze at the amazing scenery.

Loch Ness 2 Loch Loch 4

After an hour or so, Chief Ruairidh picked up his pipes and called us all to the street to march behind him and his colours to the Dores Parish Hall, where we were to have the traditional ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee).

Chief Loch Ness


John kicking up his man-skirt at the ceilidh

At the hall great room, we quickly found ourselves at the last vacant table and were seated with a fantastic couple, Jane and Dave from the area, and 3 wonderful new friends from Ontario, Marilyn, Leslie, and Kristin.

The catered dinner started with prawns and Scottish salmon appetizer and was delicious as all Scottish salmon usually is. When it came time for the main course, they had run out of food for our table so there was a fair amount of joking and teasing while we waited for the hotel to prepare and deliver the missing meals of stovies (Scottish meat stew) and cranachan, which is literally a huge container of whipped cream, honey, whiskey and fresh raspberries.

Creaky Dores provided music for dancing and our new friend Jane got my husband up on the dance floor to learn a reel. He had been hiding his prowess on the dance floor all these years, so there is definitely dancing in his cards soon! There were raffles for prizes and a very cool bottle of Scottish whiskey with a Clan MacLennan label and games with pitching coins.  A great evening was had by all. Soon it was midnight and time to drive back down the country roads in the moonlight to the Beaufort.

Tomorrow we travel to Eilean Donan Castle.








If you liked this post, please share it with your friends!