Two weeks with Alex, friends and some memories

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!

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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!

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. 🐮👨‍🌾🇷🇺