A few days in Saxon Switzerland: home sweet home

Coming home always feels a little special, even more though with the prospect of catching up with family & friends over the annual village festivities in Naundorf and the 70th anniversary of my old football club (SV Struppen).

Admittedly the number of people that i still know in Struppen, having played my last game here 19y ago, weren’t all that many. But there were some like my best boyhood mate lars.

His wife didn’t drink and took me over to my home village Naundorf where the annual festivities were in full swing. Mum and alex were still there though headed home shortly after. I spent time with grand cousins and other familiar faces from the village. Many congratulated me to reaching Lhotse summit.

After many beers and sausages we headed for the place of my grand-cousin sandra and continued on her terrace. Was fun, but having woken up more than a day earlier in st pete i was basically dead and hit the sofa-bed. The morning turned out a bit blurry for all of us. A good german breakfast brought about some recovery and we made it (belatedly) the the ‘Frühschoppen’ – a german tradition that basically means you come back to the party and continue to drink. Mum and alex where waiting. It was interesting to peep back in time with a display of 30 years of festivities – even found a few pics of myself.

In the afternoon, mum and I headed to the village of Rathen. A rather pretty be it slightly touristy place that offers some great hiking up to the ‘Bastei’ as well as an amphitheatre. We watched ‘Der Freischütz’ (carl maria von weber) after a brief delay due to rain. Its amazing how much more you can do in an opera outdoor – horses running about, fireworks etc. Great place and something i had wanted to do for a long time.

In the evening we stayed home and spent some quality time with somewhat distant relatives from france who had been visiting. Thank god they spoke german – no chance for me with my rudimentary school french.

Monday was a hot and sunny day. Alex and I packed our stuff and went back to naundorf to see grandpa. I handed the flag I carried up Lhotse for him and, as expected, was told not to do such dangerous thing again. Let’s see ;o)

Afterwards i made true my promise to alex to spend some time in my childhood places – the forests surrounding naundorf called ‘Bärensteine’. We had all provisions for an overnight stay in one of the caves (referred to as Boofe in saxony). We gathered wood, played music, made fire and mum and dad joined for dinner. Great night out in the woods though we were dirty like coal workers next day and smelled worse i reckon.

After a fair amount of time cleaning ourselves and the gear we went to dresden to meet my cousin and alex’ godmother Denise alongside husband mitko and son anton. Kids enjoyed themselves and so did we. First over coffee and cake at home, then in a nearby beer-garden.

The remainder of my time home was filled with more visits to relatives, a family pizza dinner and the arrival of my sister on Thursday evening. Time was up and after a few goodbyes Friday morning, we drove to hradec kralove (1,5h behind prague) for a hip hop festival.

Good bye Germany, see you in December!

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School’s over! Thank you St. Pete!

My five weeks in St Petersburg went unbelievably quickly and were filled with so many good moments. Just last week again good times with Anna, Chelsea and Ekaterina (though Max just seems to dislike sleeping). It just doesn’t stop … school attendance again suffered. Life man!

Union Bar

Today I had my last language lesson and don’t want to miss thanking the Derzhavin institute for the experience especially teachers Daria, Ksenia, Nadeshda and the two Dasha’s. I shall practice hard in real life on the farms in иссад and вязье in the weeks from late August. Grammar and I remain enemies, but i am getting there and vocab and free speaking has inprovedd tremendously. Maybe one day i come back for the next level.

Last (wo)men standing in the intensive course – brandon (US) & Jessica (CH)

Fellow student Roberto (IT) and teacher Daria

 

Very enjoyable was the time with Vika, Yuri and Daniel who took such good care of me for many a week and were never short of proposing another good night out – Zenit definitely has gained a new supporter. I hope my absence will not end the unbeaten streak in the Russian premier leage. Давай, давай! Сини, бело, голобые! Obviously couldn’t leave out Hadely’s excellent BBQ skills he put on display here (though the food katya and I ordered from the hotel yesterday was also very tasty ;o). 

Rocketontour & Rocketon Tour – funny story for life

The goodbye evening was brief, but importantly did happen. First with chelsea, tom and jeanluca at dicken’s (where else) and then at daniel’s house for a few beers with a few friends such as ‘kondor’ who is into hiking as well. We spoke mainly russian and it felt like the best exam to pass – it worked as i understood them and they me. While arguably helped by the fact that we spoke about topics i like (travelling, hiking etc), it gives me the feeling that the time in st pete was well spent and helped me to get my russian up and running. Friends, thank god, dont bother too much with grammar. It comes down to having some vocab … and let it flow. And flow we did.


Tomorrow morning its time to say goodbye from St Pete (for a little while) and to Alex grandparents, as we head for Germany where i will spend a week with my son and family (who i meet the first time since returning from Nepal). Lets see what grandpa thinks when i bring him the family flag that i took to the summit in his and my late grandma’s honour (probably: ‘thanks, but dont do such thing again!’). He will also give me a lot of tips for life on the farm ahead … such as ‘are you sure, this is really hard work’. Saturday will also feature the annual festival in my home village Naundorf and the 70year anniversary of my old football club SV Struppen – thanks to a midweek article about my Lhotse trip in a local newspaper, i hope for a few free beers back home (first and foremost from my dad). Let’s see. 

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Week 4: Time passing by so fast … 

After a busy week 3 and saying goodbye to Helen in style on monday, i did wonder what the next week would bring about. It didn’t disappoint so much i can say upfront.  

First up, i met felix on tuesday. He is the cousin of my very good friend and long standing blog follower ioana. I owe her my career in equity research for it was her who sent me a bloomberg news story in 2006 that morgan stanley was looking for a new german banks analyst. The chemistry with felix was immediatly very good, as he picked me up from sadovaya station. I had been in the pub before with mario (italy) and julie and to write the last blog, so i was  in good spirits. 


Felix is a rugby player and now manager of a st pete based rugby team. He also designs sportswear. We went to rubinshtein street and picked the fiddlers green pub to get going. Hours of fantasic conversation ensued ranging from life in norilsk (where he is from), over rugby, travelling all the way to karl marx and ‘das kapital’. After a really tasty shawarma (appearantly from st petes best place just off nevsky) we ended up on the fontanka embankment some early morning hour before i retreated home. He promised to take me to a match in september. Cant wait. And thanks for the t-short man!

Wednesday i missed the first lesson for my alarm didnt work given empty iphone and so i only got to school at 11am. Felix was still in dreamland. The day went by slow, but i felt good to have gone to school anyway. A good stolovaya lunch helped the recovery immensly. After school we went to the pub with julie, yuan and briefly yuan’s husband. Best part was a huge rainbow over the city after (yet another) shower. Then the usual catch up with the inlaws and alex. He was busy working in his fantasy magazin, which he had setup and let me practice my russian shopping vocabulary that daria to taught us a week earlier. Funny.

I got home 11:30 or so and figured that was it for the night. But then the funniest thing happened. I played some reggae music from my balcony, as i often do when i sit there, and watched people dancing to the tunes on the street. Landlady not so happy about it. well, she and in particular her friend or girlfriend are most of the times grumpy anyway (a russian thing it seems). I decided to take up the invite of a russian couple to join them and see the bridges opening. With full blast music we made our way down griboyedova canal. Many people were out for it was 2 august – the day of airborne troops. Always nice to see the bridges, meet new people and hang out in st pete. I am finding the summer nights rather good compared to the summer days. We even took a dip into the neva river though just briefly given water isnt the best and the strong currents. Again home late! 

Next morning was ok and i almost got to school on time and well before our two new italian students who had a seemingly big night out themselves. The day was sunny and so nothing should stand in the way of our visit to katya, hadley and max near the finnish sea. I met larisa and alex around 4pm and we took the train from staraya derevnia to sestroretsk. Hadley picked us up, but since he was still busy we first went for a walk with dog kiera along the coast. Loads of kite surfers made for an interesting scenery, i practiced russian with larisa (who helped me with my homework i the train already) and then had a fantastic bbq. Hadely has some skills here no doubt. 


Alex was busy with dog kiera who even listened to his commands (knowing there was a treat in it for him). They looked like a couple really. By the end of the evening, Alex managed to get the dog so tired that he wouldnt even wiggle his tail anymore – it just hang there. Never that from the dog who on good days could provide enough circulation for an office with his tail moves.

At some stage the topic of the farm came up. Larisa isnt the biggest fan of the idea to say the least and thinks village people lack culture etc. As it turns out, she used to live in one of the more rural villages (вязье) where hadely/katya operate a dairy farm. Appearantly a very poor, but beautiful region. Even larisa agreed. a decision was made that i should spent a week of my farm experience there. Sounds interesting.


Friday morning started well relaxed and the weekly school test went quite well. Sadly, we had a mass exodus of fellow students with yuan, julie and koichi leaving and collecting their well earned certificates. 


We headed again to dickson’s after school where i had the chance to talk a little more with koichi. Nice guy. Looking forward to meet in tokyo one day. 


I didnt stay overly long and headed home before meeting anna for dinner at due gastrobar. Nice place and the sister restaurant of tartarbar, which i visited 2 weeks earlier. We had quite a few starters that fikked the belly and set us up for the night out. I brought my UE boom box along for i find that in st pete in summer many people party outdoors. Music on! 

It was good we started early for i had agreed with viktor to meet early saturday to head to their dachia in the north of st pete. On the way we did all sorts of shopping from a new bbq (mongol) to vegies from the market and drinks. The weather was, as so often, mixed. Rain and sunshine alternated all day. Still, the freedom such a places in the countryside gives is great. Even more so with nice shashliks and a steamy session in viktor’s banya (russian sauna). Beating each other with birch branches naturally included.


Sunday was much of the same though early afternoon i left for the city (after eating loads of garlic with salo – basically pig fat). Zenit was hosting spartak moscow – a game not to be missed. First issue thought was transport. I decided to hitchhike with an armenian guy to the closest metro. From there it was easy to petrogradskaya and the infamous corner pub. Daniel, yuri and a few of their friends already waiting.


The game was brilliant. Great choreoraphies from the fans, firework and a 5:1 win against the reigning russian champion. Zenit had 5 shots on goal and made it 5 out of 5. The midweek loss to an israeli team all but history. Given the late start of the game and difficult transport, i decided to crush on yuri’s couch. He’d take me back to the dachia monday late morning for a repeat banya & shashlik session. School drew the short straw. But thats life! 



Week 3 in St Pete: A long way to the Mariinsky theatre – goodbye Helen!

As per my last update, I took the monday off to relax after a pretty heavy weekend out (not used anymore to such liberal bar openig hours), but managed to catch up with Helen to chat about previous days and school gossip at one of the many Irish pubs in town. It was fun and Helen informed me that my absence provided plenty talking points for the class – chiefly the Saturday morning jump into the canal ;o) while chatting at the pub we decided to go to the theatre together and managed to sort out tickets for the mariinsky theatre later in the week – swan lake it would be on helen’s final night in town. 

School was better this week and the last week in level A1.2. From next week we progress to pre-intermediate level (though i somehow missed the friday test). Below a shot of our A1.2. teacher Daria – thanks for all your patience. Its been great.


We would make these pub meetings a regular event from there and kicked it off with a visit to an aserbaijani restaurant tuesday followed by a rather classy live music venue on the fontanka canal (white night music joint). Food, drink and chat were all top class and made for yet another fun evening out.


Wednesday i had my usual catch up with the inlaws – this time with alex, his cousin and mama present. It was the first time that we all spoke exclusively in russian all evening. Alex was also pretty excited to do daddy’s russian homework (i should have had him alongside me all the way). As he commented, not too hard so he needs to work on his adjective endings (who am i to judge!). In any case its harder for daddy, but at least his handwriting is as bad as mine. As usual, food and cognac galore at the shabalin’s.

Thursday helen, julie and myself went to one of the best pubs in town (dickens  on the fontanka canal) and enjoyed the nice weather in the garden though only about 7pm the sun actually hit you. The main event was when Julie got excited about a haircut after we watched a russian shaving his friends head. She decided to ask for the shaver and helen had a go at a new haircut for her with some remarkable success. Funny beyond believe the whole situation and suddenly the focus for all customers sitting in the garden. See for yourself regarding the result. I still can’t believe this happened. Needs some balls (or the female equivalent).


After Dickens, we decided to go for russian dinner afterwards at изба. Slow service, but nice food. The issue i guess was the samagon – russia’s version of moonshine – which ordered alongside a decent portion of salo (basically slices pig fat). Hits you hard and almost cost julie her phone (as she left it in the menu that she returned to the waiter). Drama with happy ending! Fun discussions continued from everything like US politics to gender equality. 
Who is Julie?

  • She lives in Utah in a shared house with many friends and studies philosopy and antropology
  • Outspoken anarchist 
  • Does loads of voluntary work including providing free bikes (and advice how to fix them) and food to people
  • She and her friends celebrate a garlic festival – some sort of anti thanksgiving (since the americans stole the land and in theory should all leave the continent)
  • A lot more. But that remains offline

Half way through the evening we met Hank. A chinese born australian who studies piano at the st petersburg conservatory. He caught us speaking english on the street and asked to join. Altogether a really good night out.


While my friends went home, i barely made my next catch up with anna who i got to know the prededing sunday. She had a bad day of interviews and was up for some company. We had few drinks at a georgian restaurant before moving over to the infamous dumskaya street where one pub sits next to the other. They are all opened until the last guests leave – Well, by 8am they closed. Gave us a chance to walk about town, have breakfast, visit a cathedral and the training program of the russian navy for the upcoming national navy holiday. All bridges open at 11am. The sun was out too and invited for some lying about in the park. Needless to say that i skipped school. Good times. Friday night i skipped too ;o)


Saturday i met helen again for some more cultural program. We went to the nearby town of pushkin to admire ekeratina’s palace (well, one of them). Nice walk in the park before the weather turned to its usual rain. By then hank had gotten in touch and we agreed to meet back in the city. 

After yet another irish pub where helen and i enountered a somewhat strange russian girl with a seemingly dark history, we headed for mascha and ivan’s restaurant for a bit of food and my favorite beer – chimay blue. Hank joined us briefly before taking us to Pinch – great cockyail bar where we did some relationship councelling for him. Really nice guy. He is off to catch up with family / friends and play at a festival in germany, but really hope to see him again in september. 

                              
Sunday was family day and i took alex to divo park alongside yura, nikka, artëm and daniel with family. Kids had fun. Parents too! After that alex and i attended the 1st birthday party of alex cousins sister. Famiky gathering … and you guessed it more food and drinks. 


The evening held something special. Yuri and daniel treated me to another football game. This time, at least technically, an away game. We went to see tosno playing zenit at the old zenit stadium. Needless to say that this turned out as a home game. 1:0 to zenit, fireworks and i found myself singing at least some of the songs i learned the previous week. Seems i bring the team luck, as yet another sluggish performance brought about three points for the team in ‘голубые’. Next week spartak will in town. Showtime!

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Monday i turned up in school ready for the next level though still weak grammatically. It was tiring and i couldnt wait to get it done. This was especially so since the last evening with helen was waiting and our tickets formswan lake. Julie and hank joined for pre-performance drinks at the shamrock. How nice of both. First farewells to helen, who is heading back to canberra as i write this, and then it was time to see st pete at its finest. We were off to the mariinski theatre just opposite the pub.

While it was helen’s first ever ballet, the place holds some memories for me. First time i came here the evening before i met my wife to be on a corporat event 9y ago. I went again with katya a year later. But there was no time to dwell in memories for thaikovsky’s swan lake was on. The third time i see it in less than a year having been at the royal abert hall with cedric and in dresden with chanel. It was to be great yet again though i liked the performance in dresden most.

Goodbye Helen!

What a week.

Week 2: A week to forget, a weekend to remember

School didn’t go as well this time round as my new enemies dative and genitive entered the scene. Really struggled with these cases. If dative / genitive were my wife I’d divorce them, if they were guys I’d probably pick a fight! Well, as a good friend suggested – learning a language is like life. That was the downhill bit (not to say it can’t get worse). Star of the week was my intensive group teacher Ksenia with her enormous sentences embedding all sort of cases for which we had to come up with the right questions. It got better towards the end of the week, but somehow i still feel less confident than a week ago. My first test ended up at 68% – with a fair amount of goodwill from Daria (спaсибо!). 

Other noteworthy events included my first thai boxing session at legend fight club. They offer 7-8.30am sessions, which fits my schedule well though makes already long school days even longer. Wednesday evening the usual catch up with the inlaws. On Thursday i joined the first excurision – the neva embankments. Nice indeed and a good chat with Nastia who currently interns at the excursion department.



Friday couldn’t have arrived sooner. I started into the weekend in style with a few after school pints with helen from australia and a strong force in our group. Afterwards it was dinner time. Daniel had booked places at tartarbar – an upmarket though not crazily priced restaurant. Yuri & Nika joined us too. Many other places followed that night including union bar (great house music) and a karaoke place with more rock music. We met two austrian sisters (lisa & vera) on the way and had a fab time altogether. We wouldnt be home before morning and, clearly not quite sober, i even chipped in a short swim in one of the rivers (shower afterwards was mandatory given the water). Yuri crashed at mine, which my airbnb landlady found less than amusing after she encountered him in her kitchen at 7am ;o) well, thats life.


After some sleep we headed back out to meet daniel and then watch zenit playing rubin kazan. 2:1 in the end to zenit though the game was little inspiring. Anyway, 6 points from two games now for new coach manchini. I also got my zenit short done – with rocketontour label. In fact, we got teo since they misprinted the label at first. Good deal and a new jersey for yuri! In two weeks spartak moscow will be in town – should be fun.

Один город, одна каманда!

One city, one team (aimed at the multiple clubs from Moscow)


The evening was again rich in party as i went out with Chelsea – a fellow student and agriculture consultant funny enough. Two farm guys on the road. It turned into a long night again as we met a few locals. Fun times and a few new friends on top.


But the weekend wasnt over just yet. After some rest, i met katya, alex and the rest of the shabalin clan in a pub for dinner. There flight from london via moldova got very delayed and so they arrived only in the morning. Good call then that i skipped the pick up. Afterwards a catch up with the new friends from the night before at St pete’s no1 hip-hip meet up – 1703 bar. We ended up doing a night guide tour with artur – a cab driver with inpressive knowledge of the city. Finally, i got a glimpse of the open bridges. Beautiful place this city. One thing was for sure by then – no school on monday for me ;o)