One day after taking the ferry to Suomenlinna, I hopped on the train to Savonlinna. These names all sound so much alike, don’t they? The four hour train ride included one transfer in Parikkala. No surprises or stress there as I had bought my tickets beforehand.
When prepping the solo part of my Finland trip, I had considered taking the plane to Savonlinna as it would have saved me a few hours. I decided against it because it was too expensive. Besides, I kind of like seeing the landscape unfold from the window of a train. Especially in a beautiful country as Finland.
Having some more time to write wouldn’t hurt either, so that ruled out renting a car.
Savonlinna lies in the southeast of Finland, in the heart of the breathtaking Saimaa lake region. The Finnish name of the town means “Castle of Savonia” and the Swedish name means “New Castle”. It has about 35000 inhabitants.
I arrived at Savonlinna around noon. The hotel was at walking distance from the train station, also something I had verified when booking. The two main attractions, Olavinlinna castle and the museum were also nearby.
That afternoon I continued my post on Pascal’s wedding, went through my photos and allowed myself to get some shuteye. For some reason I didn’t get much sleep the night before. I figured resting a few hours would allow me to enjoy the evening more.
Pearl of the Castle
That night I used Foursquare to pick an inviting restaurant called: Perlina di Castello or Pearl of the Castle. Yes, Italian again. It even had a wood-fired pizza oven at its center.
Thank you Foursquare and thank you unlimited data!
Come to think of it, deciding on restaurant is one of the few things I still do on the spot, simply because I never know beforehand what type of food I will be craving.
That night I ate steak (bad for the environment, I know). While sipping my fine red wine near the fire, I read the thrilling story of Savonlinna’s hidden treasure. It was conveniently printed on the back of the menu. Here’s how it goes…
The Lost Pearl
In the late 18th century an Italian explorer Giuseppe Acerbi (1773-1846) traveled across Finland towards the North Cape, the northernmost part of Europe. Many know the travelogues Acerbi published, but most haven’t heard about the treasure story related to his journey.
The story began after Acerbi’s death, when his secret journal was discovered. In the journal the explorer refers to the mystical Perlina di Castello, a treasure hidden somewhere in the city of Savonlinna. The stories about Perlina di Castello traveled fast among treasure seekers. None knew exactly what the treasure was, but it was believed to be something of immeasurable value.
Numerous Italian expeditions headed Finland to track down Perlina di Castello. The treasure was looked for within Olavinlinna Castle and its surroundings. Regardless of the various attempts, none succeeded. In the end, the treasure hunters started to believe that the whole story was just a myth and Perlina di Castello was forgotten.
Now here comes the part of the story where I felt a bit cheated:
Now, over 200 years after Acerbi’s travels we are ready to reveal you a secret. The treasure hunters seeking wealth and glory were looking for the wrong thing. For Acerbi, Perlina di Castello meant the warm hospitality and delicious food he discovered in an inn near Olavinlinna Castle.
Thankful, Acerbi decided to give the inn owners a collection of his secret family recipes from which they began to prepare incomparable delicacies. As the explorer continued his journey towards the North Cape, he knew that he had left behind the true Perlina di Castello.
Traveling in the 18th century
Ok, I know I know… I should have seen this coming. After all, this legend was written on the back of menu! Still, it tapped into my love for history and fantasy tales so I had to look him up.
Turns out this guy Acerbi was real. He wrote journals and did travel all the way from Italy to Lapland at the end of the 18th century. In fact, he was the first Italian ever to reach the North Cape. I know this part to be true because the Internet Archive preserved his journals for you right here.
* The Internet Archive is a non-profit that was founded to build an Internet library. Its purposes include offering permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format.
One can’t help but wonder what it was like, wandering through these barren region over two hundred years ago. When Giuseppe Acerbi left Lombardy in Italy and visited the northern reaches of Europe he could not get unlimited data from DNA to help him on his travels. He set out before television or landlines were invented. Probably even before the majority of Finns spoke English (or Italian for that matter). Compared to today, traveling – or should I say exploring – must have been a profoundly different experience.
Back then writing and drawing were the only means of creating an account of what you had seen or experienced. No Instagram for Giuseppe, no vintage camera either! In comparison, even Hiram Bingham got to take this brand new Kodak with him when he discovered Machu Picchu back in 1911.
No, Giuseppe had to make do with some paper. Luckily he was accompanied on his travels by Anders Fredrik Skjöldebrand. The Swedish count presented their travels through a series of incredible drawings:
The secret… recipes?
In the end the story of the pearl of the castle was about as anti-climactic as finally learning the Secret of Monkey Island. Secret recipes instead of hidden riches? If this restaurant was really using Giuseppe’s family recipes, the Finns clearly had never tasted real Florentine steak! The best (Florentine) steak I ever tasted was served in a small family restaurant in… you guessed it: Florence. But that’s a different story.
However, the chocolate cake I got for dessert was an irresistible delight.
After a wedding dinner and reindeer steak and beaver sausages I am beginning to see why Pascal has put on those extra pounds since he migrated to Finland. Those early nights and cold temperatures outside make you want to huddle up near a fire and dine like there’s no tomorrow!
Time to go…
It was getting late and the restaurant was closing. I put on my winter jacket, gloves and cap and stepped into the cold darkness again. Casually I glanced up to the stars. They are still the same stars Acerbi saw over two centuries ago. They had not changed at all.
I couldn’t help but wonder about Giuseppe. What did this area look like back then? Was the inn Giuseppe and his companions had visited far from here? What did they talk about by the fire? And what intrigued me most: would he have believed that, two-hundred years from then, a Belgian traveler visiting Savonlinna would still be thinking of him and sharing his adventure through a blog? Writing does make you immortal… kind of.
During my short stroll back to the hotel I passed the Hertz cabin where I would be picking up my rental car the next day.
I really looked forward to driving to Oravi, hopping on a taxi boat to Linnansaari island and hiking in the National Park. It would be my very first solo-hike… and according to all weather forecasts, snow was coming my way!