Russia top, Germany flop… But great world cup!

And so quickly is my time in St Petersburg over and it’s time to go home… Just like for ‘Die Mannschaft’ 🇩🇪 yet in a completely different mood. I want to express my gratitude to Russia 🇷🇺 for a truly perfect organisation of FIFA18 and to my friends for many moments with great emotions that will life on forever. Ahead lie 2,5w in London, motorbike license and more refurbishing work before I finally get back outdoors. First up is project ‘Canoe 🛶 Elbe: Usti n.l. ➡️ Cuxhaven’. Much to prepare.

School – much to learn still… 🤓

School was ok though it is also clear that from B1 level its gonna be a long and hard way to progress. Textbook suggests 320h towards B2 in total – I have barely 50h behind me. Let’s see how far Skype classes get me. Definitely need more vocab though grammar is beginning to make sense. The improved language skills this time definitely suggest its worthwhile the effort.

An epic thursday night prevented me from any other studies than how to recover. But given it’s the only day I skipped, its ok. Also managed to catch up with my Skype teacher Daria last week in a nice Georgian restaurant (and thankfully with signficantly less impact on my ability to attend school the next day).

More football – WTF Die Mannschaft! 🇩🇪 

Amidst a lively week only one thing remained consistent and was sadly the poor performance of the German national team. No hunger, no pace, no ideas… In a way I am glad its over. It was really hard to watch for any football fan.

Well done to Sweden for a convincing performance against Mexico and to South Korea for laying bare how bad the German side was. Well, at least Colombia 🇨🇴 went through.

Russia 🇷🇺 kicking a$$ – Защищай 🔫 

The complete opposite was the Russian team that gifted me and my friends an unforgettable last night in Russia by kicking out Spain. The level of the game was low. Russia defended with all they had, Spain had few ideas to break that iron curtain… And lost on penalties.

Emotions in our favorite football venue, the corner pub, went wild. Even more on the underground and on Nevskiy Prospekt later on. Memories forever. Bodo & Steve saw the game live in Moscow before taking the night train over to St Pete.

Felix the beast & Russian rugby

Felix plays in a St Pete rugby team for a few years now. To most of my Russian friends the sheer existence of this sport in Russia was surprising. So we took Felix up on his invitation and watched the battle of the titans. Despite our full support they lost. Well, a liter of beer will help Felix to get over it 🍻

Bit of sightseeing as well

It was not all about football, rugby or school though. Apart from hanging out, watching football and school I also managed a bit of sight-seeing. It was a cold saturday morning, but enjoyable to refresh some city facts in the busiest free tour I have come across.

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Back in St. Petersburg

Hello Russia, hello FIFA 2018 world cup, hello friends! The first week flew just past me over here amidst a mix of a heavy school schedule, two live matches, many good friends to catch up with and time with the grandparents of my son. Sightseeing simply has to wait.

Mexicans everywhere…

Arguably i was a little tired on the red eye flight over from Ibiza, a party skewed weekend and an unexpected loss of Germany. It didn’t exactly boost my mood that I had to skip my connection to St Petersburg in Moscow due to luggage transfer delays nor did the Mexican’s everywhere help. Thankfully I was undercover in my Zenit shirt 🙈🙉🙊.

Russian welcome: Olivier & Cognac

I am staying at my son’s grandparents this time. Helps the progress in Russian, time to watch football with Viktor (even Larisa is interested) and gives us some time to talk as far as my Russian capabilties allow. First evening as usual a big dinner including the traditional salad olivier and, of course, cognac. Good to have Russian meals back on the menu.

School – starting at B1 level

I have, at least on paper, by now reached B1 intermediate level in all three languages in have studied since last year July. Arguably I struggled most to get there in Russian despite the tremendous patience and weekly skype efforts of my teacher Daria who I have weekly skype classes with. Thanks to the unnamed soldiers for their help with the tests 😎.

On top of the weekly efforts, the extra exposure to spoken Russian with family, friends and ‘farm’ people in Issad have problably made a difference. Grammar still needs a lot of work, but i am hopeful as progress feels very good and I feel comfortable in class by now despite a certainly narrower vocabulary than most of my classmates.

My group consists of mainly US students (most of which have been at the language for almost 3y). First test (mainly dative & instrumental cases as well as public holidays) also went well with 87% score. I miss my group from last year though. Its not as much fun though more intensive owing to lower student count (partly seasonal, partly due to prohibitively priced accomodation during FIFA18).

Football in large daily doses

First up of course very enjoyable live matches – Russia / Egypt (3:1) with Ekaterina & Hadley and Brasil / Costa Rica (2:0) with Yuri & Daniel. All is very well organised here, transport infrastructure more than capable of dealing with the many visiting fans and athmosphere very nice (especially around Nevskiy and Rubishteina).

Besides live gigs, we meet regularly to watch games together – be it at home, in retaurants or bars. Germany’s last minute win still weighs on my voice. Great times, great guys. Really makes a difference to know people on the ground (eg the complete opposite of my early days in Amsterdam).

Enough for now. Germany 🇩🇪 is playing soon. Auf geht’s Jungs!

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!

9 things to do in & around Issad village

Having spent close to six weeks in Issad, I summarise here the highlights of what to see & do. Enjoy!

5 things to do in Issad

  • Visit the local Orthodox Church (Tserkov Troitsy Zhivonachalnoy): Pretty run down and under some form of reconstruction at the time of writing, but if you have nothing else to do an option to consider.

  • Fishing on Volkhov river: Given limited indoor options in the village, a fishing trip is a must do. View of the Volkhov river are great and within walking distance from anywhere in the village. No fishing gear? Absolutely no problem since there is a fishing store right by the local supermarket. I got a fishing rod and some accessories for RUB700-800.

  • Eat in the roadside restaurant just outside Issad: I had food vouchers from the farm and went there twice a day. Typical Russian menu with good soups and generally tasty food. Much better than other cafes located roadside in the village. The one thing I didn’t like was that they serve food in plastic are open from 8am to 4am every day.
  • Have a BBQ: Sometimes its best to make your entertainment given limited options in the village – a BBQ is a great way of doing just that. All the kit you need can be bought on the 2nd floor above supermarket. Enjoy your meal!

  • Visit Cafe Britannia: The only place to go for non-Russian food (like pizza ‘standartne’) and a beer in the village. Styled in a London theme though doesn’t quite feel like a pub. Drinks are often not cold though maybe my time here has trained them a bit. Opened to 10pm Sunday to Thursday and 2am in Friday / Saturday. They have TVs and it’s possible to catch the odd football match though champions league is tough given games tend to start just before closing.

4 things to do around Issad

  • Staraya Ladoga: Located just on the other side of the river, the town is pretty stunning and one of the oldest in Russia. There is a fortress, monastery and some good views. I have written about my visit here.

  • Veliki Novgorod & Kayak on the Volkhov river:  The town is located up the river Volkhov and a 3.5h drive away. Beautiful old town, many bars and decent nightlife options. See here for details. We decided to see the tour via kayak from the riverside – highly recommended.  Best get I touch with Nikita (http://kayakvn.ru/). You are looking at about EUR20 per kayak per day including pick-up from wherever you finish.

  • Novaya Ladoga & Lake Ladoga: While the city of Novaya Ladoga underwhelms on a good day, the nearby lake is simply stunning (14th largest by area in the world and largest in Europe). Don’t miss it! For more details the lake have a look here. We rented a small motorboat for RUB2000/day at a lakeside camp side (www.krenitsy.ru).

  • Volkhov: Not that much too see there really beyond the hydropower station (best views actually from the other side of the river on the way to Staraya Ladoga). Has a Megafon shop (best network in Issad), a sushi area and an entertainment Center with pool, cinema, bowling and a decent restaurant called Ёлка (https://m.vk.com/elkacafe).

There are certainly more things possible (eg sauna, hunting, forest walks etc), but thats my best-of list.

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.