Estonia is welcoming new visitors from the UK — some of whom have already tried their first Estonian smoke sauna.
Eight hundred British Army soldiers are arriving by land, sea, and air as part of TRACTABLE — the name for the current rotation of NATO soldiers, vehicles and equipment between the UK and Estonia. As you can see, it’s a complex journey:
Two of the British soldiers involved have created an online video diary to document the journey, while also exploring the culture of the countries that they visit along the way.
Corporal Natalya Platonova has just completed her six month deployment in Estonia, but is travelling with Trooper Luke Jarman who is just starting his first ever overseas deployment.
After driving more than 2,500 km to reach Estonia, their very first stop was the winter capital Otepää where we hosted them for a traditional smoke sauna.
Anni and I are a British-Estonian couple so we were very honoured to be the first people to welcome them here. The solders learnt about leil (sauna steam), got beaten with vihad (bundles of leaves), and discovered — with a little trepidation — that cooling down in the freezing lake is just as important as warming up.
You can watch the full video of their arrival in Estonia, including the smoke sauna, in their latest video diary here:
Friendship in the smoke sauna
A smoke sauna is the oldest and most special type of Estonian sauna. Early in the morning, a fire is lit beneath a pile of huge stones inside the leiliruum (sauna hot room) and it burns for seven hours until the stones have fully absorbed the power of the fire. There’s no chimney so the smoke fills up inside during this time then is released as the fire dies down and we go inside to bathe using just the radiant heat of the stones.
It was a very different experience for them compared to the saunas they are used to in the UK. In the smoke sauna, the heat is gentler, the aroma is richer, the air is more soothing, and the conversation flows more easily.
That’s why we could have a great discussion there in the sauna about the wider significance of the sauna in Estonian culture. We even explained that the Estonian military builds saunas on deployment — and Corporal Platanova confirmed that there is a sauna waiting for Trooper Jarman at the Tapa military base where he’ll be staying. While many people in the UK think of saunas as a solitary and silent activity, we emphasised that the sauna here is a communal activity so it’s a great place for him to bond with his colleagues from both the British and Estonian militaries.
Their smoke sauna visit was also an opportunity for us to explain why we value the friendship between Estonia and the UK. Anni and I don’t just host saunas, but also export them — and the UK happens to be our most important market. The connections between our two countries go far beyond business, however, and to the very birth of the Republic of Estonia 101 years ago. That’s when British forces first arrived here and fought alongside Estonians — as well as Russians, Latvians and Finns — to help the fledgling Republic achieve victory in its War of Independence.
There’s been more tough times since then though. I have family that fled to the UK from Estonia and Latvia during the Soviet occupation, while Anni has family that were deported to Siberia. Fortunately though, we are both now living freely in Estonia and are optimistic about the future here. That’s why we were happy to express our gratitude for the work that they are doing here to support our peace and security.
After our sauna, we served them a hearty Estonian post-sauna meal of hapukapsasupp (sauekraut soup) with pork and black bread. Over dinner, we also got to learn more about their work here supporting the Estonian defence forces.
Corporal Platonova’s role has been to engage local communities around where their army exercises take place. You can read about what a typical day is like for her here in this article below that ERR published about her earlier this year.
Day in the Life: Natalya the British Army corporal
When you hear fighter jets fly overhead or see tanks roll through your small village as you are picking up your child…
The sauna we chose for them is Toidupada, a sauna that we’ve written about before and have often recommended to others. We were really pleased to hear the owner, Kristi, explain that there’s been a surge in interest towards Estonian smoke saunas over the past year.
Before saying goodbye to our new friends from the British Army, we gave them a few recommendations for other places to visit while in Estonia — including the cafe in Telliskivi where they met up with Estonian singer Greta Paia later in the same video, before finally ending their adventure at the Tapa military base where Trooper Jarman and his fellow soldiers are now based.
You can watch all the episodes and learn more about British forces in Estonia by following NATO Battlegroup Estonia on Facebook. There’s also an overview of TRACTABLE here on the British Army’s website.
Thanks for reading
You can follow our own adventures exploring and exporting Estonian saunas on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. There’s also a Facebook group for fans of Estonian saunas where you can share advice and stories. Finally, you can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.