Just a few weeks ago, we were still dealing with the end of winter weather here in Estonia. However, now in mid-May spring is finally here! Spring in Estonia is absolutely gorgeous, the temperature has been between 50-60 degrees, the flowers and trees are blooming, and we no longer need to wear our winter jackets or boots. Last week, I visited the University of Tartu’s botanical gardens. I was so surprised to see how large the gardens actually were and the wide variety of plant life. I enjoyed sitting next to a pond and watching the salamanders and snails move about in the water. It was incredibly peaceful and I got to soak up the sun when I laid in a field of wildflowers. Just the other day there was a spring market held in Raekoja plats (town hall square) and it seemed as though everyone in Tartu came out. There were hundreds of tents where local artists and merchants could sell their work. There were also traditional Estonian dancers performing in the center of the market and it was very fun to watch their show.
One of the sellers at the market was selling unique sauna hats, these hats were shaped as fish tails, flowers, animals, characters, or just had a beautiful design incorporated into the felt. This reminded me that I wanted to discuss Estonian sauna culture in my next blog. Saunas are an essential part of many northern European cultures. A sauna is a room that is used for steam baths to refresh the body. Usually after going into a sauna, you will jump into cold water to revitalize your body. Saunas are a way for people to relax, to spend time with friends and family, to conduct business, to detox, and in the winter they are a way for people to survive the frigid cold. There are many different kinds of saunas such as aromatherapy saunas, salt saunas, traditional Finnish saunas, ice saunas, and much more. The first time I experienced a sauna was during my Lapland trip; we took a day trip to Bugoynes (a Finnish county in northeastern Norway). It was a large, traditional Finnish sauna where our sauna master instructed us to pour water over hot stones in a large oven-type machine. After spending time in the sauna, we were to go down to the beach and swim in the Arctic ocean and we did this several times. When our time in the sauna was over, we were told not to shower that day and even the day after because the salt from the water was supposed to be very good for our bodies. When I first arrived in Estonia, I found myself in a souvenir shop and actually bought a sauna hat without realizing its purpose, I just thought it was a fun thing to have. Sauna hats are supposed to protect your hair from heat damage and keep your head at a stable temperature so that you don’t overheat in the sauna. I have since gone to a local spa twice now to go to the saunas and every time it has been a very relaxing, pleasant experience for me. However, I still have yet to actually put my sauna hat to use as I haven’t seen people wear them in public saunas.
Last month, my friend/roomie Luiza and I spent a few days in Stockholm, Sweden. The city was charming and there were so many cool places to go and things to visit. I loved getting to visit Gamla Stan (old town), Stockholm’s original city center. It had gorgeous buildings and quaint shops. The weather was quite cold and snowy at the time, but our trip was still very delightful. I have appreciated all of the trips I have gotten to go on so far since being abroad, not only have I created new memories but I have also gotten better at navigating the public transport system. This seems ridiculous to Europeans, I know, but it is completely different than at home where I drive everywhere.
I love spending time with my friends and roommates here. We are constantly trying new things and exploring, I am grateful to have met so many amazing people who challenge me to go out of my comfort zone. On my roommate Marie’s birthday, we went out for the evening and had the most incredible time. Here at the University of Tartu, there is an ‘unofficial’ list of things you are supposed to do as a uni-Tartu student (created by past students, and likely not condoned by the University itself). Two of the items on this list include walking across the bridge arch and swimming in the kissing students fountain. We ended up doing both of those activities and I will never forget that night.
We are now in the final weeks of the semester, but I will still be in Europe until the end of June. Finals and end-of-term papers have been challenging, and rest has become a priority, but I am looking forward to traveling around Europe more when my classes are over. I will be very sad when I have to say goodbye to my friends here, but for now we continue to make the most of our time together.