I am a small town girl who grew up in Scandinavia, Finland. Most of my life I lived in Kokkola, which has about 47 000 residents. Many towns in Finland have so called "old towns" with their wooden houses and little alleys. So does Kokkola. Kokkola's old town is called Neristan and it is the heart of the town. It is something that we all are proud of.
The name Neristan comes from Swedish (ner i stan) and means downtown. Back at the time there was also Oppistan, uppertown, which now is the real downtown. It used to be where wealthy storekeepers lived, and it had a lot of businesses. There is still a lot of of businesses in that area, but it is modern and very few old buildings exist there. However, Neristan was the place for craftsmen and sailors. Most of the houses are built in the 19th century, with some dating to the 17th century. In 1664 a big fire destroyed almost the whole town which led to a new town plan. That plan is still used in Neristan which includes 12 complete blocks.
One very cool thing in Neristan are the road signs. Many of them tell you about the history of the road. If you walk around the old town, you should keep your eye on the windows. You can still see some old porcelain dogs or mirrors on the windows. In the old days, the "sailor's dogs" were there to tell people wether the residents were home or not. If dogs were facing inside, it meant that there was someone home. The "gossip mirrors" got their name from people being curious about what happened in the streets of the old town. This way, it was easier to see the road from inside the house. At that time one could tell how prosperous the family was by the height of the plinth in their house.
The oldest building in Kokkola is called Pedagogy and it is in the museum block right next to Neristan. It was built in 1696 to serve as a school building, and is now part of the K.H. Renlund Museum. Inside Pedagogy, you can get familiar with an exhibit of the history of schools. In the next building, the Lassander House, you can find an exhibit of the history of trading and seafaring.
There have been several cafes and restaurants in Neristan over the years. If you get hungry, you should try Vanhankaupungin Ravintola which is the only true fine dining restaurant in town, and very passionate about what they serve. Now, if you just want something smaller with a cup of coffee, one of my favourite spots during summer time is The Waffle Cafe & Art Bakery. They serve both savory and sweet waffles in the museum block, right next to Pedagogy.
Walking distance from Neristan, you can find "barkassi", an English gunboat. It was left in Kokkola at the battle of Halkokari during Crimean War in 1854, when residents managed to successfully defend themselves and captured the boat and the crew. You can find it in English Park.
There is a lot of other interesting things to see in Kokkola as well, especially if you are a friend of light houses or the sea, but Neristan can be seen even with a short stop when passing by.