Goodbye Russia & cycling to Shlisselburg

Time has truly been flying. Almost 3 month in Russia are over. Feels somehow I leave just in time with the arrival of colder weather and ever shorter days. The time here has been rich in old and new friendships (thanks all again!), new knowledge be it the Russian language, farm life or the ins and outs of this country and its people. I also regained my pre-Lhotse weight thanks to an uncountable number of Soljanka’s and other russian meals. But now its time for new adventures and three weeks with my son after a brief stopover in Kiev and Chernobyl.

Goodbye Issad: I only spent half the week on the farm doing the routine tasks and helping Cohan to build the new milking parlour. We also had to replace a flat tyre, which was fun. We also had a visit from the Russian special police force at the farm looking for illegal immigrants. Given Jan, Cohan and I didn’t register our stay in Issad formally (you are meant to within the 24h), we figured its better to avoid them. The evenings seemed like a non-stop good bye party. Tuesday with Richard and Wednesday with the entire issad gang. Thank you all and see you somewhere in the world another time.

Cycling to Shlisselburg: Before I came to Issad i had prepared a list of things to do in and around Issad. The only point missing was a cycle trip to/from Issad and the city of Shlisselburg with its fortress. I decided to go for it on Thursday and made the 100km ride through mainly forests, old villages and along the Novoladoshskiy canal. It was beautiful though admittedly tiring. Well, never done a 100k ride in my life. I arrived in Shlisselburg around 8pm. Next morning i visited the fortress. Its located on an island and needs a ferry to get there (RUB250 return +RUB entrance at fortress). The name Shlisselburg, originally built in 1323 and now unesco world heritage, comes from german for key (=Schlüssel) fortress (=Burg) and was given to the place by a peter the great after he took it back from the swedes at the cost of 1500 russian soldiers. In the time before and after WW2 its been used as a political prison and was host to names like lenin’s brother.

I dropped my initial plan to continue cycling to Peter given my bottom was still sore from yesterday. Instead i took the 575 bus back (RUB75 bike included) and spent some time reading. Once in St pete i just cruised about town mainly along the Neva and delved into memories as i cycled past many places i been to in the weeks before. I felt a bit melancholic.

Goodbye St Pete: Friday eve i stayed with Katya, Max and Hadley in Sestroretsk to chat a little about my farm experience and share some of my thoughts. Saturday last evening out with Nika, Yuri and Daniel. They had booked a real nice Georgian restaurant not far from Nevsky prospect. Vodka was part of the menu and set us up for a good night out. After a bar i hadnt been to (Orthodox) we went to my favorite pub (fiddlers green on Rubinshteina) where Felix joined us. After off to poison karaoke bar before we retired. Big night, many memories.

Sunday started unsurprisingly slow, but i didnt have too much time to rest with lunch at larisa’s & victors coming up. That also meant a to of olivier and cognac as usual. In the living they keep a scales on which i ‘weighed in’ at 74kg during my first Wednesday after school visit. 3month later i had added 6kg. I collected some presents to take to london (alex has turned into a book worm and asked for russian books – grandpa larisa is just the right person for that. Time for a final good bye.

The evening was reserved for another group of friends – the 1703 guys. Anna mentioned that Artëm was in town and so we all ended up at this hip-hop bar where we met many weeks ago. Arthur, the cab driver who took us for a night-tour, also came along. I once more admired the battle rap skills of some Russian rappers and karaoke at nearby poission with some good eminem tunes. Fast these guys. DJ – spin that shit! Eventually we ended up in the flat i had booked for the last evening and chatted away. Cool icing on my Russia cake figuratively speaking.

And that was it. Next stop Minsk on my way to Kiev. I can now speak Russian. Basic, but I can. See you soon Russia!

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Week five on the farm: Danone bloggers & lake Ladoga

Highlights of last week included Monday’s group of bloggers sponsored by Danone, a first proper catch of fish on the river and my last weekend here that presented itself with beautiful weather and a trip to Lake Ladoga. The international crowd in issad now counts a further guest in Cohan from New Zealand who is in charge of building a new milking parlour. The russian crowd shrank in turn as Lisa headed back to St pete. Was a pleasure!

Danone bloggers: I had written about this earlier. Danone basically uses micro-influencers in form of instagram bloggers to promote their Tëma – childhood line. They had visited Danone’s production facilities in the past, but now went a level deeper looking at the milk origin here at our farm. Quite a few big insta names in town with a total of close to 3m followers and Russian actress Anna Mihailovskaya. Overall, it went quite well though one hardly will get 100% honest feedback for these (paid) influencers I should think. Here a short movie of the farm.

Otherwise the work week was mainly routine tasks and a lot of time helping the vets again.

Fishing with success: Having changed spots to the new one Jan located a bit further up the river, I finally caught two medium sized fishes last week. great success! Rather than eating these bony little things, I donated them to Evelina’s sea turtles.

Last weekend in Issad: The unbelievable happened … we actually had a few more guests at cafe Britannia and some sort of party. Must have been arranged ;o)

Lake Ladoga: To visit the lake has been on my agenda already when I left london. It’s the 14th largest freshwater lake in the world (by square meters) and an absolute beauty. We made our way there on Sunday hiring a small motor boat to get around (RUB2000/day from local campsite in Novaya Ladoga). However, since the local fish shop in issad had run out of worms we were a little short of good bait. We tried fake fish with mixed success. I caught a small pike before losing my plastic fish to the lake … just got stuck somewhere on the ground I guess. Anyway, relaxing in the sunshine and taking in the scenery was top class nontheless.

One week in Вязье …

We left St Pete in Richards car at 6am sharp for my village adventure though one of these random police checks delayed us a little (with no reward for our early morning friends from the Russian police this time). On our way down south we dropped by one of the other group farms – what a difference to Issad! Really back in time and a lot of work ahead to get this one modernised.

By lunchtime we were sat in the вязье’s village Stalovaya (well, really it runs only when farm business requires it) with the local manager Anton. Richard went straight into business. I accepted for now that Anton deemed me a dutch guy (there are plenty of them active in Russia). The farm setup there is distinctly from issad and much more decentral. Long ways … I think i did 20km a day. After a look around the farm with Richard and Sergey it was time to move into mu new home in one of the concrete blocks in Issad. Nicely refurbished inside though pretty dated outside. After shopping I got my last blog done and followed chelsea winning 6:0 in their champions league opener against some aseri team I have never heard of.

Village life was quiet at best. Kids have not much to do apart from some run down playgrounds. Not surprising to see them picking up bad habits early. Some little school boys (10-12?) asked me (demanded?) for cigarettes. You can see them already arriving with a fag at school – and it’s a school for younger kids only. Time really stands still here. Demographics stink. You seemingly only meet older or younger people. 20-30s much less it feel. They have left. Big issue for recruiting farm workers. Seemingly even bigger than in issad. But then also completely understandable given tough job markets locally.

Farm work was not overly busy that week. Animals I noticed look generally cleaner given they are chained and hence their rear is always facing the right way (to the shitpusher or how ever you want to call these devices). Downside obviously is a much more constrained life. I inspected some equipment for functionality (e.g. Pulsator) and cleanliness (milking & feeding gear), scored cows for body condition (handy app there from Bayer … no limits for mobile phone use these days) and some of the operating procedures and execution of the farm workers (e.g. How well tits are sealed after milking etc). The other main job was to organise the upcoming blogger visit to issad with some microinfluencers sponsored by Danone – chiefly to write the presentation.

Loads of downtime. On top of the generally quiet place (not cafe, restraurnat, bar etc) I also didn’t feel too great myself -0with a sore throat nagging that basically grounded me even if there was something to do. On the flip side, I got through two books (detective novels of inspector maigret) and plenty of rest. Saturday I still felt bad, but used the time to do some planning for Spain and Colombia in fall as well as Thailand in January. Big world from my screen in little issad! The exceptions was Saturday evening. I had heard that there was a youth club in the village and finally decided that I can’t miss the only ‘party’ Vance in the village. It felt strange to walk into this place of strangers without knowing anyone, but turned out friendly be it a bit boring. Illuminated dance floor without dancers (only drink Igor sleeping on the floor), music not working (I fetched my boombox) and a generally pretty young and drunk crowd. But it was fun to chat and engage in yet another round of arm wrestling ;o) I lost after a long struggle to what seemed the local champion.

Back to issad. Sergey kindly gave me a lift Sunday morning to dedovice some 15km away me with a train service to st pete on Sundays. He is from the region and showed me around a bit to say the local power station, wood manufacturing plant etc. Right on time at 10.30 the train arrived and I made myself comfortable on the bed in my cabin. Love this way of travelling. More reading. Little conversation. Once in st Pete I met with Richard and together with kirill we headed for issad. Much prep was still to do ahead of the Danone event including fair bit of cleaning. Home sweet home again … for two more weeks.

Weekend in Issad: BBQ, visit to Staraya Ladoga & fishing

Since the engineer from Israel required a pick up also on Saturday morning, we decided to work that day and did our usual routine until early afternoon. Due power getting switched off on our part of the farm to investigate if other electricity circuits interfered with the ID-system we left at some stage and returned later for driving the engineer. There was some interference and we are now closer to solving the issue though it meant no PC and no weekly report. Monday is another day.

The vet students went to novaya ladoga on Saturday, which also was Lisa’s 23rd birthday. We joined them for a bit and briefly visited the annual town festival. The town really fails to impress and has its structural challenges (some 8000 people now vs 13000 in 1989 tell worlds about its demography akin to many eastern european cities after the iron curtain fell).

On our way back to the car we went shopping and decided to have a BBQ that evening. It ended up with some 7 people as Evelina invited two farm workers from Tajikistan along and Vlad the agronomist joined us too. Given there ain’t much to do in issad, all were pleased about some socialising. After we were done i visited a club in novaya ladoga while Jan stayed home to be ready for another driving job on Sunday. Thanks mate! The club was pretty low key. Some guys were a little aggressive in the beginning, but that settled quickly. We ended up doing some arm wrestling (which seemed a popular thing to do) and i was intrigued by how many people brought their own drinks (vodka & juice) to celebrate the night (ever watchful that the security guys don’t spot it). I ended up playing my own music in the boom box and got all people to stand up for the russian national anthem. Fun times though i didnt last all that long after a 6 day week at the farm.

Naturally, i didn’t get up too early on Sunday (with a small intermission to let richard in who returned from hungary for a brief stop before heading to another farm). 1pm jan and I had lunch and visited staraya ladoga after. Pretty village i have to admit with its fortress and monastery. Evelina, who is from there, said all the refurb was helped by a putin visit some time ago. Clearly he hasn’t yet been to novaya ladoga – it would help!

Staraya ladoga is sometime referred to as the first capital of russia given it was a trading center in the 8th & 9th century connecting the baltic sea and Constantinople at the time. The people inhabiting the city at the time were of Scandinavian origin and called Rus. So much for naming.

Near the fortress we practiced our hunting skills with crossbow and bow & arrow for 200RUB / 10 shots. I though we both were quite good and are sure that we would definitely have killed the wild boar we were aiming at.

Jan then had a brilliant idea – lets go fishing. Problem – no equipment. Now issad, a village of 1,000 people, surprised on the upside. There is a proper fishing shop right next to the supermarket. We weren’t even aware of it. For 750RUB each (11EUR) we got ourselves as fishing rod and all the little things to get going.

The weather was pleasant as the sun made an effort and clouds cleared. Just the wind kept it a little on the chilly side. Great afternoon though apart from an anchovy sized fish each nothing to brag about. Looks like we found ourselves a new hobby!

One week done already (well, almost)

Busy day again here in Issad. Can’t believe its been 5 days already. Admittedly, its tiring even without a 5am milking round on my schedule. We had some more time to chat with the veterinary students Lisa & Evelina, learned how to administer intrauminal boluses to cows (hard work!) and were busy again with blood sampling and plasma analysis. Time went by quickly and I feel much more aware of the broader business, speak more often Russian (now that people know i can understand some) and recognise more issues using the experience gained so far. So not too bad a week after all though its not finished yet – work continues for us on Saturday chiefly because we have to driver the engineer around anyway.

I was up pretty early and had a relaxed start to the day. After bringing Nachshon (and his croissants) to the milking parlour, Jan and I were increasingly quick to get through our daily routine and had it done before midday. Pushouts had decreased (cows probably liked the silage more), dry matter samples were ok yet milk output was down on the day. Not sure if influenced by the ongoing ID-ing modifications in the milking parlour. Its possible. More importantly, the system still doesn’t run as expected as of the time of writing. Fingers crossed Nachson & team can fix it tomorrow.

Kexxtone: Today we administered intrauminally kexxstone boluses. These are given cows pre-calving to manage ketosis risk. First you need to manoeuvre the cows into special boxes that lock their head, than one holds the head and opens the cows mouth while the other injects the bolus. No need for a work out after that exercise! Chapeau to the two vet students to do this usually by themselves.

Blood tests: We also looked through the plasma results from the previous day of samples using a refractometer. The test basically checks the level of antibodies in the calves blood that mainly originate from the mothers colostrum (first milk). Fewer antibodies make the calves more susceptible to getting sick basically (as far as i understand it). Sadly, not good reads for either bullocks we tested.

Jan and the calf giving him his first successful blood sample

We went for lunch with the vet students having spent most of the morning together. They are both in their last year at uni. Evelina has been a regular intern at the farm and is here on her 3rd placement. Lisa on her second. Good russian practice over lunch though i didn’t like the cold soup today (Okroshka with Kvaz).

Harvesting remained slow. Vlad, the chief agronomist, said they managed 230tons, but its not great. Weather remains and issue and silage coming in has dry matter readings that remain on the low end (27%ish). But the cutting is fine at least.

It felt great to have a shower and fresh clothes before we picked up nachshon from the farm and headed for dinner. We ended up staying in Issad – pub britannia was calling. For a change, there was actually other people too. Eventually it turned into a 3h russian session. I had told vlad that we’d be there and he joined us. Probably a bit boring at first for jan (since i needed all concentration to focus on what vlad said), but eventually even they talked in a mix of english, russian and gestures. Good night after all.