Half time at the dairy farm – changing location for a few days

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).


The way to Issad – may the farm adventure begin!

Man, its been some journey today. Woke up 5am in Hradec Kralove (CZ), sister (still somewhat impaired after a good night at Hip Hop Kemp) drove me 90min to Prague airport and then 2h flight to St Pete. We arrived early – advantage only for a horde of chinese tourists blocking the passport control – deuce.

I opted for public transport into town. Really easy on bus 39 to moskovskaya station and then a metro to daniel to pick up my jacket. He doesnt live far from grandma larisa and so ubered over to deliver the presents from germany. Of course, she had cooked and despite protests i had to eat at least some of the chicken and cabbage. Well, given i hadnt eaten all day it was fine though i was still trying to catch a village bound train at 4.30 from Moscow station.

By the time i got to katya&hadley’s that was no longer an option given public transport is severely handicapped if you travel with a bike – no bus, marshrutka or metro. The train remains the only option and these only run every 1,5h or so from Sestroretsk. Well, then the 6pm train. I picked up the bike, gathered the stuff i need for this week and off i went.

The journey from sestroretsk was easy be it that i almost missed my train waiting on the wrong platform. Silly me! Well, i made it. Next stop finlandsky station to pick-up my Boom box from larisa – i just keep forgetting things! age maybe? She was there and the handover swift. Now just biking over to moskovsky station and that’s it. Not so fast …

I arrived at the station and went to the long distance ticket office. Google has been excellent in russia so far and suggested the 5.57pm train to volkhov. Well, after waiting at least 5min for a customer ahead of me to be served the lady behind the counter told me the train leaves from a different station – 7.20pm from ladozhski station. I asked again if there are really no trains from here. She insisted. I couldn’t believe it.

So i biked over the 5km and tried there. Again, client service was painfully slow. By the time it was my turn, i had to show passport in order to get a ticket. In the end it took two ladies to get the job done. 15min altogether. Wow!

I got myself a shawarma for dinner and made my way early to platform 2. Next problem – can you fold the bike? No. Do you have a baggage receipt? Well, i paid for one and expected it to be on the ticket i was given. Can you take the front wheel off? Yes. And the back? Yes. In the end, they let me in given i would get off next stop anyway. I made it!

The train was bound for Ekaterinburg where it would arrive noon next day. In my cabin was loads of bunk beds – i got one too though that was really not necessary i guess for a two hour train ride. The beds come with covers, towel, fresh sheets etc. There is even some kind of samovar to dispense hot water. People kept getting refills. And then there is the lady that walks around the train with a plate of chocolate and other sweets. She offers them to passengers (a little side business of the train staff). I guess thats tea time a la russe! And a first taste of how travelling on the transsiberian railway (one day) might look like.

Who cares – finally i am off to volkhov (22km from issad) where richard the farm manager picked me up (2,5h later than planned – sorry). Biking over to issad in darkness seriously no option anymore.

The train-ride was painfully slow though. How else would take some 130km more than two hours. Not sure why, probably down to poor condition of the rail network on this part. However, it was comfi and the train on time. Only one other person shared my cabin. Views were at times quite cool especially on river crossings.

After picking me up, Richard gave me a brief overview of whats to come on his routine evening check at the farm where some milking was still ongoing.

He is certainly passionate about his job and so we delved right into some basic stuff. Much to learn for sure. But more of that another day. Now its time to kill some of the mosquitos in my room and read a little inspector Maigret. Thankfully, i only start 8am on my first day …

Hip Hop Kemp 2017: hanging out with sister ft. Morlockk Dilemma & DJ Access

Hip Hop Kemp 2017: hanging out with sister ft. Morlockk Dilemma & DJ Access

Already before I departed for Nepal my sister proposed to have a brother / sister weekend in the Czech Republic. Running in its 16th edition, the hip hop kemp in hradec kralove brings together a mix of hip hop music from the visegrad countries, germany, UK and US. They offer more on smaller stages such as b-boy dance offs, freestyle rap battles, a reggae beach corner and the infamous backspin stage.

Friday night: opening act sets the tone

We drove about 2,5h from Königstein to Hradec Kralove in a rather hot day (32 degrees and blasting sun). After a quick check in and a short taxi ride to the festival, we arrived 3.30pm – right on time for the opening act on the main stage: Morlockk Dilemma (Leipzig) & DJ Access (Dresden) who are friends of my sister and had put us on the guest list (thanks man!).

Here a few of their tunes on spotify.

Morlockk knew exactly what he was doing and got the crowd behind him easily and by spitting plenty of solid lyrics at us (in fact, research done in germany suggests he uses by far the most words in his peer group and beyond). I have to say that i haven’t been much involved in german hip since my days at university. In fact, the last hip hop festival i attended with my sister is 17y ago. Anyway, i got pretty quickly back into it.

I struggled a little with some of the acts afterwards – either way too loud volume or rap in a language i don’t speak (polish, czech etc), which i guess kills the point of rap. Given the locals went wild though i guess it was good stuff. We enjoyed ourselves chatting away and getting food.

We spent a fair amount of time with Morlockk and Access before they had to retire to be ready for their early morning ride to their next gig in Dortmund the day after. We stayed and didn’t get home before midnight (fighting the sleepiness) – just in time for a last beer at a local pub where two drunk fiddlers let their tunes fly. Good skills!

Sightseeing in Hradec Kralove

Saturday morning started with an average hotel breakfast before we went on a 1,5h walking tour. H.K. is a small city with some 90k inhabitants an hours drive from Prag eastwards. We could have taken the boat from Königstein given both towns are on the river Elbe (well, not really an option). The outskirts we saw when driving to the hotel looked pretty rough still and in communist fashion. The historic city center, however, is really pretty and well restored.

Highlight on the trip is the 72m tall white tower. Great views once you have mastered all the stairs. There is also a theatre, many churches and squares to be seen. Given it was lunchtime by the time we finished walking, we headed for a traditional czech restaurant. For me beer & goulash, for sister wine & duck. Needless to say, we left the place in good spirits!

Saturday: less sun, more fun

By 5pm we were back at the festival. Again a german group kicked of the action on the main stage: Mädness & Döll (munich). They too knew how to rock the crowd and we enjoyed listening & bouncing about. We didn’t return to the main state before 7pm for Rah Digga (USA). Powerful lyrics from New Jersey i believe. By now we had met two german guys (one originally from Russia, the other Kazakhstan). Funny characters to be honest.

Time for dinner! Frances wanted the stir fry we had the day before. Tasty. We chatted with a slovakian guy, admired the sun and met a group of polish girls. Olla liked to talk with my sister and (unsuccessfully) tried to talk her into sharing her spliff.

Highlight of the evening was MC Rene – by now a classic (time flies). He played on the backspin stage and really rocked and gave the whole event a really nice finish. Time was up for us as we had to leave early next day to catch my flight back to Russia.

Next stop Issad. Time to do milk some cows. 🐮👨‍🌾🇷🇺

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!

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.