Christmas in Germany kicks off pretty early on the 24th in the evening (usually with the closest family), followed by two bank holidays that are usually spent with either set of grandparents (mum’s side and dad’s side).
Striezelmarkt: Before we even got to the delights of this years’ xmas, we enjoyed a day on one of Germany’s most famous xmas markets in Dresden. 8 degrees plus didn’t really give it an authentic xmas feeling, but heh. First up a long overdue catch up with Sandra, a former fellow Commerzbanker. She was part of the insane group of people to offer me a job many years ago ;o) Then straight into mulled wine, snacks and shopping with Alex, mum and sister. Good times. Even had the time to catch up with my cousin Denise and the family of her better half. Great evening!
Take me to church: People from Saxony are mostly not religious. Those that are tend to be protestant – a statue of Martin Luther in front of the Frauenkirche (Dresden) underlines that. Our family has always been protestant yet we didn’t visit Church all that often and usually only on Dec 24th. Could be a byproduct of anti-religious policies in East Germany (the central government disliked competition) or that freely available schooling made a lot of the wanna be believers i meet in London redundant (‘pay or prey’ to get your kid into a good school). Who knows. Anyway, after a brief stop in my home village Naundorf and granddad Kaiser, we made it to church in Struppen and enjoyed this year’s nativity play. Always good fun.
Kartoffelsalat: Most of my fellow students in Russia will remember my praises for my mum’s potato salat. A tradition in Germany in most families. Each mum has her own recipe passed on from previous generations. Add a few frankfurters and you have a basic yet tasty meal … and afterwards its time for presents. Dominated by lego sets this year. I got 5 finger shoes … as inspired by ‘Born to Run’. Lets see if it helps me reducing running related injuries.
Stollen in Dresden: After our family trek to the Barbarinea, we visited granddad in Dresden. Like the one in Naundorf, he lives by himself and so we usually just swing by for coffee instead of a full festive meal. Part of any coffee that time of the year has to be Stollen (Stollen is a cake-like fruit bread, see here). And there is none better than the one from Dresden! Taaaaasty!
Goose & green dumplings: Traditionally the 2nd bank holiday is reserved for dad’s side of the family. Originally we picked that day due to them being busy on the first bank holioday serving xmas lunches to guests in our restaurant, while they closed the 2nd. Now I guess it’s a routine even though the restaurant is just a B&B by now. A lot of the lot i hadn’t seen for a year (and some like Steve’s new girlfriend Anastasia not at all really) and so we discussed a bit the Lhotse adventures and future plans. Food is always excellent including tasty & tender goose, dumpling (Klösse) made with raw potatoes giving them a slightly green-ish colour and red cabbage. Wine is also never in short supply teaditionally kicikng off with a glass of Pinot as aperitif. Its tradition in Thuringia where my grandma is from … and tradition matters (and is super tasty).
Alex’ christmas holidays started pretty early this year leaving a whole week before x-mas eve would arrive. Given my apartment is rented out anyway I figured time (&money) is much better spent on the slopes than trying to kill time in London cinema’s or Museums. Alex loves Chamonix anyway – the place of his first time outdoor rock climbing & canyoning (see here) and home of Mt Blanc. Many happy memories for him.
The trip was arguably at the cost of my first year almost without a x-mas lunch had it not been for my good friends Sara & Paul who I visited on the one night i had between Colombia and Chamonix. Both kids including my godson Bobby were thrilled and we had a great time together. In the morning the kids could even reunite with Alex … the only small disappointment when i rocked up alone the night before.
The way to Chamonix wasn’t too bad though with some delays and heavy bags given i carried my snowboard on top of winter clothing and presents. No one was happier than my little prince when we finally got to our destination … temperatures well below zero and loads of snow. Alex wasted no time getting his gloves wet (although he had an entirely different perspective on this). Thankfully the girls from ‘Chalet le Chatelle’ picked us up quickly and soon we hit the bed. I was devastated having had my last full nights’ sleep in a bed 4 days prior in Colombia!
The next days were simply great fun as usual. After 15cm on Monday (read: no sun), we were blessed with great conditions and few other skiers. 3,5 days of good snow action! Alex on ski’s (we’ll try snowboard in Austria in Feb’18) and me on snowboard. His first red run (le cornu in Brevent) still caused some tears, but I know his level and by day two the piste had become his favourite). No issues after that one run, as he rediscovered his confidence. We spent time mostly in nearby Brevent and la Flegere, but also Grand Montets – dominated by red pistes and with a great run all the way down into the valley.
Evenings were usually dedicated to a Tartiflette at ‘elevation 1904’ (tasty & good value at eur11) or the odd raclette in town, the chalet’s hot tub (his russian soul coming to the fore big time ;o) and movie time. Quality boys time!
My two weeks in London went by incredibly quickly mainly due to the time I spent with Alex (who I take care of full time when I am here). School runs, after school clubs, birthday parties, homework, Saturday school and Sunday’s at church were my new routine. When Alex was in school, i had a busy time doing admin stuff, seeing the dentist seemingly a hundred times (finally I got rid of my braces) and paperwork.
I also tried to be extra efficient catching up with friends. This often proves more difficult than it seems. They are stuck in their work schedule while it’s the opposite for me when I am looking after Alex. Still I saw loads of them and chatted away about Russia, their past weeks & months and what lies ahead. Seems there is never enough time to talk though! Also got to see loads of Nepal friends at rory’s child rescue nepal gig and a live taste of my latest musical investment (The Young Frankenstein) with Elizabeth. Ok musical, great evening (I cant recommend enough a visit to Mr Fogg’s tavern for whoever comes to London …).
One fine london morning I also managed to visit a place that I love and hadn’t seen in a while – the Tate modern. When I first came to london in 2002, my first apartment was just on the opposite river bank. Many weekends I would wander over millennium bridge to see some modern art be it alone or with one of the many friends who came to visit. A rather memorable one was of my good student friends Katrin & Ronny and fellow Commerz-banker Andre. I still own the Joseph Beust book they gave me at the end of a wonderful few days with the following inscription:
“Jeder Mensch ist ein Künstler” (Everyone is an artist)
How true in a way though I guess I am more an artist of life than any tangible artwork. On the other hand, even Beust himself considered his pedagogical side his greatest art achievement … to an extent at least I have done some of that too.
It’s always interesting to think back to those moments (or others) in my early days in London more than 15y ago. How much I loved the atmosphere then, how proud was I to show my city to friends & family and how little did i know of the great times that lied ahead of me. Unforgotten and unfortunately hard to get back. Many times I wished to feel again like on that sunny Sunday on 30 June 2002 when I first arrived.
While Germany lost 2:0 to Brazil in the World Cup final, I arrived on crutches & had to hobble to London Bridge to locate a working pub (the inner city is dead weekends) … it felt so cool to be there. I remember well when I called mum to tell her just that (and I don’t often call). It remains a cool place, but also lost quite a bit of touch, something several of my friends share.
Well, enough dwelled in memory for now. Next week is half-term in Alex school and we are on a road trip in the Extremadura region of Spain. Basically picking up on a recommendation I received during a wedding I attended in June near Girona … let’s see! Hasta Luego!
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!
The end of last week (week 3) marked half time for me here on the dairy farm in Issad. It was also reasonably eventful with some new tasks such as replacing faulty tags on (kicking) cow legs, meetings in preparation of a blogger event at our farm sponsored by Danone to promote their babyfood line тёма, covered new silage clamps, watched the vets getting literally into it and work on the excel model for the new cheese factory. Back to the office job for a bit. I could also put my injection skills to work to make watermelon vodka – knew it would be good for something! And of course we went fishing (no success!).
Next week (eg as i write) i will go a bit deeper into village life at another farm of the group in вязье (yep, that little village). Since we departed there with Richard from St Pete, i threw in a few days in st pete to catch up with yuri & yuri, nika, anna and co. Life music in the liverpool pub, a police visit on yuri’s balcony due to my boombox music and a thai massage being the standouts. It was nice to taste some civilisation amidst decent weather (even the sun came out).
So how was it so far? Clearly, there are many day-to-day jobs at a farm that i could never do for a longer period without boredom eating me alive. The bigger picture stuff and management aspects are in turn very interesting. Much have i learned about agriculture, animal health and behaviour, modern dairy technologies, the soft commodity market (QE is now even impacting butter ;o) and now how to make cheese (well, a little anyway).