Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Knitting Retreat in Latgale, Latvia

A 5-day knitting retreat in the Latgale region of Latvia is what took me to the Baltics this summer. The Latgale retreat was offered by Senā Klēts, the National Costume Center in Riga, and had been planned for 2020, then postponed to 2021, and finally scheduled for August 2022. As travel restrictions eased, it seemed that it might be the time to go. However, the SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) pilots' strike in July 2022 had me wondering and worrying for a while. As it turned out, the strike ended days before my departure and my flights through Stockholm were fine.

The retreat was well-organized by Senā Klēts and its representative, Ziedīte Muze. I had last been on a retreat organized and led by them in 2018 when I went to the Kurzeme region in the western part of Latvia (see my blog post about that retreat here). Now I would be heading in the exact opposite direction - Latgale is in the eastern part of Latvia. At one point in our travels we were just about 100 meters from the Russian border.

Our base was Rēzekne, the seventh largest city in Latvia. One of our participants, Dace, was from the region. She is Latgalian. During our first evening of introductions, Dace introduced herself in English, then in Latvian, then in Latgalian.

Knitting instruction and museum tours were in English or translated from Latvian to English for us. Countries represented by the participants were: Canada, Estonia, France, Germany, Japan, Latvia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Tasmania, and USA. Our group was 20 in number including the organizers.

We visited a number of smaller towns in the area and experienced a welcoming atmosphere everywhere. We met with our teachers and master knitters in various types of buildings including museums, a craft center, a cultural center, a school, and a manor house.

We were always welcomed with food and drink. Besides our breakfast, lunch, and dinner, each day we had a morning coffee break and an afternoon coffee break which were oftentimes substantial and always beautifully displayed. Five meals a day! Yum!

In Baltinava, we were welcomed with accordion music and singing.

Baltinava was the only location where the director offered an alcoholic refreshment - before noon! Cheers!

Most classes focused on technique including interesting textures.

Every morning and every afternoon we had a new workshop and a new selection of colors.

So much to learn. We even kept busy on the bus. Serious knitters at work.

At the end of the day, a beautiful lake nearby and sunset around 10:00 PM provided us with time to relax, to walk, to talk, to swim, to look, to laugh.

Thanks to Senā Klēts and Ziedīte and our translator Astrīda for a fantastic knitting retreat in a region of Latvia I had never experienced before. 

If you are possibly interested in a retreat with Senā Klēts, they will be offering two retreats in 2023 - Kurzeme in May/June and Latgale in July/August. Check out their Facebook page for Knitting: Latvian Mittens and Traditional Patterns, email them for information at cimdi@senaklets.lv, or click on one of the links below to see details and/or indicate an interest. Clicking on the link shows pricing information.

Kurzeme May 29 - June 2, 2023

Kurzeme link

Latgale July 31 - August 4, 2023

Latgale link

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Rendezvous in Riga

What fun! I met a new knitting friend on Instagram. And then I met her in person. She’s a knitter of Latvian mittens and she’s Latvian. I actually had no idea where she lived but I wrote her while I was in Riga asking if she lived in Riga and if we could meet. We had friends in common. No, she doesn’t live in Riga, but yes she would gladly meet me there. I wrote, “I don’t even know your name.” I knew her as “bulaslaiks” on Instagram.

Mežaparks is a large park on the outskirts of Riga where the Song Festival grounds are located. As our plans came together, they included her husband and two sons, and a visit to Mežaparks. It was disappointing that the Song Festival grounds (Mežaparka Lielā Estrāde) were closed that day as there had just been a special event there the day before. The gates of the estrāde were closed as they took down equipment.

However, we were undeterred and continued our walk to the south end of the park and the zoo. This was a good choice and all were happy at the zoo. 

Lunch outdoors in the park followed. We had time to share knitting projects and talk knitting as knitters do.

On my own, I explored the yarns shops of Riga. I'll provide an update here to my prior post in 2019 on yarn shops in Riga.

I learned that Hobbywool was open in the Old Town. I had heard the shop closed during the pandemic but I was happy to find a couple of yarn-bombed bicycles, a decorated downspout, and their doors open for business. You'll find the entrance on the back of the building, not at Mazā Pils iela 6 as the address is listed (iela translates as street).

Tīnes on R. Vāgnera iela in the Old Town has a large selection of wool yarn for mittens as well as hand-knit Latvian mittens and other clothing for sale. The Tīnes website makes online ordering easy for those who are not in Riga.

Also located in the Old Town is the Knitting Shop on Zirgu iela. Nearby, the Zvaigzne ABC book store at K. Valdemāra iela 6 still has a large selection of Limbažu wool yarn at the bargain price of 2.21€ per 100 grams.

Lana Mama and Filati are still open on Matīsa iela and I stopped in a nearby new-to-me shop, GrietaKnits, on the corner of K. Barona iela and Stabu iela that carries some of the local Pāces wool yarn as well as Schoppel Wolle and other yarns.

Senā Klēts, just off Town Hall Square (Rātslaukums) in the Old Town, is one of my favorites. It is the National Costume Center and has wool yarns, mittens, woven fabrics for skirts, and books. It is a treasure trove for those with an interest in traditional folk costumes and mittens. Senā Klēts produced the fabulous book, Mittens of Latvia, by Maruta Grasmane, now available in seven languages.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Excerpts from Estonia

After three long years without international travel it was great to get back to Estonia and Latvia this year. On my way to a knitting retreat in Latvia, I spent a few days in Tallinn and had time to meet up with several friends.

I had seen Estonia's food delivery robots before but I enjoyed watching them whiz down the sidewalks of Tallinn, congregate occasionally, and even stop for a coffee break.

In the spirit of e-Estonia and all things electronic, I took a ride on a self-driving shuttle bus. I had just read an article on the Estonian World blog about a self-driving bus being tested in the Mustamäe district of Tallinn, so I convinced my young friend, Rauno from Tartu, to join me. We located the route and hopped on the 8-seat bus. We were the only customers on that circuit. The bus had a human operator on board to monitor safety and intervene if necessary. As it happened, we did experience one instance when the bus stopped, apparently losing its place on its route. The operator pulled out a keyboard and took care of the problem and we were back on our way. It was a rainy morning and a fun experience on our way to the Tallinn zoo.

Meerkats! My favorite from the Tallinn zoo. So alert!

Telliskivi is a hip and trendy area of Tallinn and I met a fellow fiber friend, Mari Pukk, for dinner at LITERAAT, a restaurant that is part of the Rahva Raamat book store in the area. Even the graffiti is hip and trendy in Telliskivi.

Signe, another knitting friend, lives outside of Tallinn, just a short train ride away. I was invited to visit her at her home and see the coursework she had recently finished for her textile craftsperson certification. This is in addition to her professional career. She's a busy woman! Signe's barely visible companion is Rosin ("Raisin"), a very black Scottish Terrier.

It was nice to be "back in the saddle again" (the travel saddle) and to see good friends.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Meet-ups in Estonia and Latvia

Besides my more extended visits this year with Signe, Solvita, Külli, and the knitters on the Handicraft Tour to Setoland, I also had a chance to see other friends in Estonia and Latvia.

Kaidi is a young Estonian woman who was on the Knit in Kurzeme trip last year. A group of us met Kaidi for dinner at Moon Restaurant in Tallinn. In Estonian, Moon means Poppy. Moon Restaurant has "modern Russian food with great passion!" We had an entire room with a large table for our group of eight and enjoyed a variety of dishes including pirohzhki and borsch soup.

Reunion of five knitters from 2018 Knit in Kurzeme retreat
Patricia, Rebecca, Dayna, me, and Kaidi

Mari Pukk was one of my Estonian instructors for finger-woven flat braids or plaited ribbons when I attended Estonian Craft Camp in 2014. We met and walked to Faehlmanni Kohvik (cafe) for a light meal. My chicken curry soup was outstanding and very filling. However, Mari told me about the onsite baker and we couldn't pass up the eclair, filled with cream and cherries, that was just as good as the soup. Mari has been working on her dissertation - producing reproductions of historical cotton fabrics from the island of Kihnu. Original fabrics from the Kihnu Museum were used as the basis, but Mari had to extrapolate and interpolate missing bits to complete the designs. And then there was the matter of color. Well done, Mari!

Photo courtesy of Mari Pukk

I met Rauno, a young Estonian man, when he worked at the Viljandi Tourist Information Center in 2013 and have seen him each time I've returned since then - whether he's living in Viljandi or Tartu. My history with Rauno has been documented here in 2014, here in 2016, and here in 2018. On this trip, I thought that I would not have time nor opportunity to meet up with him and was disappointed. However, as the bus for the Handicraft Tour to Setoland rolled through Tartu on our way from Tallinn to Seto, I messaged Rauno to say hi. He offered to make the drive to Seto for a meet-up and I found a free evening, so our plans were made. He arrived just after dinner and I showed him around the Värska Spa (Värska Sanatoorium) grounds where our group was staying and then we had a drive to explore the surrounding area a bit. Thanks, Rauno, for taking the time and making the effort to get together. It was a delight!

A Japanese woman named Ai (pronounced I) was also on the 2018 Knit in Kurzeme trip. She spent months in Latvia last year and I had heard that she was back in Latvia again. At a bus stop on my second day in Riga, I saw the back of a young woman with dark hair. She had a backpack with miniature Latvian mittens hanging from it. I leaned forward to look at her face and it was Ai! So excited to see her on our way to the annual craft market!

Before my travels to Estonia in 2013, I had found a blog written by CarlaM, one of The Dutch Knitters (http://lifenknitting.net/). I enjoyed reading about her knitting travels in Estonia and found her blog to be helpful and informative. I then met Carla in 2013 at the Conference on Traditional Knitted Sweaters Around the Baltic Sea. We've been friends ever since. We were both in Riga at the same time this year, having each just finished with different knitting-related tours, so we made plans to meet one evening. Carla was traveling with her friend, Titia, and the three of us met for drinks and dinner.

Carla, Titia, and me

Mara, a Latvian knitting friend who has twin toddlers and whose knitting time is now a bit more limited, was able to meet me on a Saturday morning and we decided to go to the Kalnciema Quarter Farmer's Market. It's a bus ride from the Old Town and a bit upscale for a farmer's market, but there was live music and we enjoyed walking, talking, eating, and shopping.

Mara shopping for a new hat

Well in advance of this trip, I had arranged for a half-day knitting class with Baiba Pilāne in Riga. I originally met Baiba in Strazde, Latvia on an earlier knitting trip. She offered to teach a class on "knitted ribbon cuffs" which are cuffs that are knit flat, rather than in the round, and sideways, which is not the usual direction. Eight knitters, including Ravelry friends, learned about these unique Latvian ribbon cuffs at the Craft House of Riga Culture Center "Ilguciems." In addition to the class, we also had a sneak peek at mittens that would be in an exhibit opening the following weekend.

Studious and diligent in the classroom

Baiba and me with mittens from the exhibit

I was lucky enough to be invited to join Ansis Grasmanis and his wife, Monta, for a small dance festival taking place in the town of Ikškile on a Saturday. Ansis works at Senā Klēts, the National Costume Center of Latvia, and is the son of Maruta Grasmane, author of the fabulous Mittens of Latvia book and owner of Senā Klēts. Compared to the Song and Dance Festival that happens every five years in Latvia, this dance festival was small, but so much bigger than I expected.

Look at all those performers on stage at once!

It was a very hot day and Monta picked me up in Riga for the half hour drive to Ikškile. Jeannie from Colorado (known as soxnsox on Ravelry and one of the moderators of the Knit Like a Latvian group) was also part of our entourage along with Ansis' and Monta's daughters. There were vendors selling food and handicrafts, incredible decorative displays of cheese, street dance performances on stages, and an interesting cheese power-lifting competition. In the evening, we went to a larger outdoor stage area for the folk dance performance. The dance performances were wonderful and we watched especially for Ansis who was performing with one of the dance groups.

Cheese power-lifting competitor,
photo from Siera Klubs Facebook page

Ansis in folk dance costume

Linda Rubena, organizer of the 2016 Knitting Retreat in Strazde, was available to meet on my last evening. We met and walked to her office at the Latvian National Cultural Center where I saw samples from a recent dye workshop that she attended as well as the amazing library of textile reference books in her office. I now have her latest book, South Kurzeme Knitted Jackets. Then it was off through the park to Herbārijs, a fairly new cafe on the rooftop terrace of Galleria Riga, a seven-story shopping mall in the city center. A light but delicious dinner was perfect for my last night.

Linda trying to blend in with the greenery

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Knitting Sojourn with Solvita in Ventspils, Latvia

When planning my trip to the Baltics for this year, I considered some possibilities for a three or four day side trip from Riga. I thought of some locations that I have not yet visited: St Petersburg in Russia, Warsaw in Poland, Kaunas in Lithuania, and Kaliningrad, an exclave of Russia (exclave is not a term that we use often but it refers to a "portion of territory of one state completely surrounded by territory of another" - Kaliningrad is part of Russia but is located on the Baltic Sea and bordered by Poland and Lithuania, and is not connected to any other portion of Russia). Instead, I decided to stay closer to "home" and have a sojourn within Latvia.

Ventspils is the sixth largest city in Latvia, a port city on the Baltic Sea, and known for its cow statues decorated by local artists. It is also home to Solvita Zarupska, a knitting instructor and master knitter whom I met in 2018 when I attended the Knitting Retreat in Kurzeme. Solvita was one of the Latvian instructors who taught her beaded knitting class in English, without assistance from a translator. We are friends on Facebook and I thought it might be nice to visit her while in Ventspils. When I contacted Solvita, she was excited to have me come to her city and she offered to show me around. As it turned out, we had two and a half days together and she was a wonderful hostess in her hometown. She is known as Solvitas Rozes and you can find her website here: http://www.solvitasrozes.lv/.

Solvita, stopping to smell the peonies

I chose an Airbnb apartment with a bicycle (lock and helmet included). Since I'm a daily bike rider back home, I thought it would be the perfect way to get around town. This also worked out great with Solvita who uses a bike for transportation. What I didn't count on was a very short bike (I am rather tall) with just one extremely low gear; what we call a "granny gear." A granny gear is great if you need to bike up a very steep hill, but on other terrain, you end up pedaling like mad and going nowhere fast.

After our first evening of biking around the sights of Ventspils, Solvita and I both decided that this bike was not suited to our next day's destination, a lake eight kilometers away. She offered me the use of her son's bike. It turned out to be a very nice mountain bike with a big range of gears, disc brakes, and an adjustable-height bike seat. It was almost perfect. However, her son is perfectly happy with a very narrow, very hard bike seat, unlike my comfort saddle at home. Also, the bike was equipped with clipless pedals which require a shoe with a special cleat. Therefore, my Keen sandals weren't resting on flat pedals, but rather on little rounded knobs. So, there were still a few challenges.

Biking to visit Ventspils' cows

I managed to ride to and from Būšnieku Lake, an inland lake, where we spent the entire day sitting at a picnic table knitting away and enjoying glorious weather. On our way to the lake, we stopped near Staldzene, an old fishing village on the Baltic Sea, with an iconic tree as its symbol. We had a picnic breakfast under the iconic tree whose fate has now been determined by erosion.

Earlier photo of Staldzene tree from www.ventspils.lv

Picnic under Staldzene's famous tree,
no longer standing upright

Solvita and me knitting near Būšnieku Lake

I was happy to leave the bikes at rest on the third day. We took a bus to Kuldiga and walked around this charming town that I had visited briefly last year. In Kuldiga, there is the Ventas rumba (Europe's widest waterfall) and a picturesque bridge over the Venta river.

Me standing at the top of the low, wide waterfall

Solvita and Kuldiga's picturesque bridge

On our walk to these sights, we just happened upon the Čaupe knitting group. They were knitting together outside a museum and waiting for a TV crew to show up to film a segment on "Knit in Public Day" that was coming up on Saturday, June 8.

The TV reporter interviewed members of the knitting group as well as Solvita. During the interview, Solvita mentioned that I was a knitter from America and then the camera was on me. I got a few seconds of fame on the morning program called "900 sekundes" on LNT (Latvian National TV). I found the segment online and there I was, "Mērija Džermaine, knitter from USA."

The knitters had a display of knitted items available to view. I was intrigued by the series that members of the group knit using a traditional motif from the region.

Love the repetition and variety!

After our TV interlude and our river sightseeing, we found a gazebo in a park and continued with our knitting.

During the course of our two day mini knitting retreat, I'm sure I knit at least a dozen swatches of new stitch patterns and techniques. Thank you so much, Solvita!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Riga: Sometimes What's Old is Also New

After May's Handicraft Tour of Setoland in Estonia, I returned to Latvia's capital, Riga, just in time for the annual craft market, or Gadatirgus. The Gadatirgus always happens on the first weekend of June. Hundreds of vendors come to the grounds of the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum of Latvia, where OLD buildings have been brought together from all over Latvia. The pathways through the woods of the museum grounds are lined with vendors selling their NEW handicraft wares, books, and food. You will find many music and dance performers as well as vendors dressed in traditional national costumes, blending the OLD and the NEW.

Food vendors

Performers stopping to pose in the crowd

Mittens galore!

Woven belts lined up for sale

OLD and NEW Ravelry (knitting) friends had a meet-up at the Gadatirgus on Saturday:

Photo courtesy of Lizzy who is behind the camera

Riga is known for its OLD Town and its Art Nouveau (literally, NEW Art, but also referred to as Jugendstil) buildings, most of which are located in the city center, just outside the Old Town. The largest collection of Art Nouveau buildings in the world is located in Riga! I had toured the area of Riga known for its Art Nouveau buildings on other trips, but this time I also went on a free "yellow suitcase" Art Nouveau Walking Tour with guide Kaspars, whose background was in architecture. He was an entertaining and knowledgeable guide. In fact, my friends and I had already had him as a guide on an Old Town walking tour just the day before. He probably thought we were stalking him!

I also got a chance to visit the Art Nouveau Museum, which I had missed in the past. Be aware that most museums are closed on Mondays in Latvia. I made a point to get to the museum on a Sunday morning. When I arrived, with the help of a Translate app, I read a poster that indicated it was actually World Art Nouveau Day and that there was special pricing for admission to the museum. Unfortunately, that meant that the museum was busier than normal. However, it was not too bad and I was able to see everything I wanted to see and use some of the interactive screens to learn more about Art Nouveau. The very first Art Nouveau building in Riga was built in 1899. However, most of Riga's Art Nouveau buildings date between 1904 and 1914.

Looking up at the incredible spiral staircase
located in the Art Nouveau Museum

The Laima Chocolate Museum also warranted a visit. This OLD chocolate company began in 1870 as Rigerts, and after being unified in 1937 with a number of other confectioners, it was given the name of the most well-known company, Laima. The museum opened in 2013 and was NEW to me this year. I learned about the history of the company, the production process, and the benefits of chocolate: sharp mind, happiness, strong bones, energy, healthy skin, and improvement of metabolism and blood circulation. Well, they didn't need to sell me on the benefits of chocolate, but it was interesting material. My entrance into the museum provided me with a sample cup of dark hot chocolate and a discount card for the factory store. Not surprisingly, I brought some Laima chocolate home with me! There were many natural photo opportunities, and although I was viewing the museum displays by myself, I had some fun at the self-photo exhibit area.

Me at a much younger age

Me as the master confectioner

While in Riga, I returned to the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design. There was a NEW, temporary exhibit of works by Magdalena Abakanowicz as well as the OLDer permanent exhibit of historical decorative arts, which had changed since I last saw it.

Work by Magdalena Abakanowicz

A beautiful tapestry rug
in the permanent exhibit

Folk Dance, 1979, tapestry by Dzintra Vilks

I also made a repeat visit to the Central Market in Riga. These five OLD hangar-style buildings house a variety of products, and I found that they have updated one of the buildings to include a NEW food court. Throughout the various buildings and the surrounding outdoor space, you can find pork, fish, bakery, dairy products, fresh produce, salads of all sorts, and so much more. I found the best lunch of fresh-baked, stuffed naan at Registan.

Food court at the Central Market

Fish display

Colorful salads and pickles

Got Pork?

Naan and the wood-fired ovens at Registan

It was great to be back in Riga again, exploring the OLD and the NEW!