Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Setoland, Estonia: Sandwiched Between Two Capitals

The meat in the middle of my Estonia/Latvia travel sandwich was the Handicraft Tour to Setoland, which was organized by Külli Jacobson of Nordic Knitters/Kagu Kudujad. Setoland is located in southeastern Estonia so close to the Russian border that we were actually in Russia several times as our bus drove us from one part of Seto to another. After spending several days in Tallinn, we started our handicraft tour when Külli and the bus picked us up for our 3-4 hour drive to Värska Spa, our home for five nights. There were 15 of us on the tour, most from the US but also one knitter from France.

Setoland is a quiet, rural area of Estonia with a people who straddle the border of Estonia and Russia. Many traditions remained in use in this remote area for longer than in most other areas of Estonia. The folk costumes were worn longer and the handicraft techniques were kept alive longer. The Orthodox customs and the leelo polyphonic singing tradition are still practiced. The Seto language and jewelry are distinctive and unique to the area. The traditional architectural style of the Seto homestead was a "fortress-farm" or "fortress courtyard." It consists of a number of buildings around an enclosed courtyard with a big gate at the entrance. Some of these homesteads are still intact and others have been restored after their disappearance during Soviet times.

Fortress-farm gate from the outside

Fortress-farm gate from the inside

At Värska Spa, a mineral water bath or mud bath was included with our stay. When I had asked Külli for advice on choosing, she suggested that the mud bath was "more extreme . . . warm and exotic." I chose the mud bath. The Estonian-only-speaking woman motioned for me to undress and step into the tub - the tub of very warm, slightly-thickened, brown, silty liquid. On each side of me, I could hear other patrons. There were partitions and I couldn't see anyone else except the woman providing the mud bath treatments. She could walk along the far wall and look in on each person in their mud bath. When my time was up, she drained the tub and had me step out, then she hosed the backside of me and handed me the nozzle to finish rinsing off the rest of me. Glad I had the experience!

While staying at the spa, we had time for walks around the grounds, to use the pool, sauna, and whirlpools, to knit in the evening (because knitters don't get enough knitting in classes during the day), and on one special evening, to listen to a DJ and his music and watch some of the spa's other guests on the dance floor.

Külli organized an absolutely fabulous trip and really responded to the interests, questions, and requests of the group and its individuals. Our handicraft classes included four half-day knitting classes and three classes on other traditional Seto handicrafts. Our small tour group was cohesive and considerate of each other and a joy to travel with. I will write more about our classes, sightseeing, and cultural experiences in my next blog post.

After a final knitting class on our last morning, we got onto our bus, made a stop for lunch in Võru, talked about coming together again next year to some other unique area of Estonia that Külli knows, and said goodbye to Külli. Then the bus driver took us to our final destination, which was Riga, Latvia. The Handicraft Tour of Setoland was timed so that we would finish in Riga on the Friday before the first weekend of June. That weekend is always the annual craft market (Gadatirgus) at the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum of Latvia. Starting in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, and finishing in Riga, the capital of Latvia, was the perfect way to sandwich the handicraft tour.

If you are interested in participating in this handicraft tour, see my prior post regarding details on how to sign up for the next tour which will take place Tuesday July 30 to Sunday August 4, 2019. The July-August tour will include a festival on Seto Kingdom Day, Saturday August 3. It is bound to be wonderful!

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