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 …

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. 


Week 4: Time passing by so fast … 

After a busy week 3 and saying goodbye to Helen in style on monday, i did wonder what the next week would bring about. It didn’t disappoint so much i can say upfront.  

First up, i met felix on tuesday. He is the cousin of my very good friend and long standing blog follower ioana. I owe her my career in equity research for it was her who sent me a bloomberg news story in 2006 that morgan stanley was looking for a new german banks analyst. The chemistry with felix was immediatly very good, as he picked me up from sadovaya station. I had been in the pub before with mario (italy) and julie and to write the last blog, so i was  in good spirits. 

Felix is a rugby player and now manager of a st pete based rugby team. He also designs sportswear. We went to rubinshtein street and picked the fiddlers green pub to get going. Hours of fantasic conversation ensued ranging from life in norilsk (where he is from), over rugby, travelling all the way to karl marx and ‘das kapital’. After a really tasty shawarma (appearantly from st petes best place just off nevsky) we ended up on the fontanka embankment some early morning hour before i retreated home. He promised to take me to a match in september. Cant wait. And thanks for the t-short man!

Wednesday i missed the first lesson for my alarm didnt work given empty iphone and so i only got to school at 11am. Felix was still in dreamland. The day went by slow, but i felt good to have gone to school anyway. A good stolovaya lunch helped the recovery immensly. After school we went to the pub with julie, yuan and briefly yuan’s husband. Best part was a huge rainbow over the city after (yet another) shower. Then the usual catch up with the inlaws and alex. He was busy working in his fantasy magazin, which he had setup and let me practice my russian shopping vocabulary that daria to taught us a week earlier. Funny.

I got home 11:30 or so and figured that was it for the night. But then the funniest thing happened. I played some reggae music from my balcony, as i often do when i sit there, and watched people dancing to the tunes on the street. Landlady not so happy about it. well, she and in particular her friend or girlfriend are most of the times grumpy anyway (a russian thing it seems). I decided to take up the invite of a russian couple to join them and see the bridges opening. With full blast music we made our way down griboyedova canal. Many people were out for it was 2 august – the day of airborne troops. Always nice to see the bridges, meet new people and hang out in st pete. I am finding the summer nights rather good compared to the summer days. We even took a dip into the neva river though just briefly given water isnt the best and the strong currents. Again home late! 

Next morning was ok and i almost got to school on time and well before our two new italian students who had a seemingly big night out themselves. The day was sunny and so nothing should stand in the way of our visit to katya, hadley and max near the finnish sea. I met larisa and alex around 4pm and we took the train from staraya derevnia to sestroretsk. Hadley picked us up, but since he was still busy we first went for a walk with dog kiera along the coast. Loads of kite surfers made for an interesting scenery, i practiced russian with larisa (who helped me with my homework i the train already) and then had a fantastic bbq. Hadely has some skills here no doubt. 

Alex was busy with dog kiera who even listened to his commands (knowing there was a treat in it for him). They looked like a couple really. By the end of the evening, Alex managed to get the dog so tired that he wouldnt even wiggle his tail anymore – it just hang there. Never that from the dog who on good days could provide enough circulation for an office with his tail moves.

At some stage the topic of the farm came up. Larisa isnt the biggest fan of the idea to say the least and thinks village people lack culture etc. As it turns out, she used to live in one of the more rural villages (вязье) where hadely/katya operate a dairy farm. Appearantly a very poor, but beautiful region. Even larisa agreed. a decision was made that i should spent a week of my farm experience there. Sounds interesting.

Friday morning started well relaxed and the weekly school test went quite well. Sadly, we had a mass exodus of fellow students with yuan, julie and koichi leaving and collecting their well earned certificates. 

We headed again to dickson’s after school where i had the chance to talk a little more with koichi. Nice guy. Looking forward to meet in tokyo one day. 

I didnt stay overly long and headed home before meeting anna for dinner at due gastrobar. Nice place and the sister restaurant of tartarbar, which i visited 2 weeks earlier. We had quite a few starters that fikked the belly and set us up for the night out. I brought my UE boom box along for i find that in st pete in summer many people party outdoors. Music on! 

It was good we started early for i had agreed with viktor to meet early saturday to head to their dachia in the north of st pete. On the way we did all sorts of shopping from a new bbq (mongol) to vegies from the market and drinks. The weather was, as so often, mixed. Rain and sunshine alternated all day. Still, the freedom such a places in the countryside gives is great. Even more so with nice shashliks and a steamy session in viktor’s banya (russian sauna). Beating each other with birch branches naturally included.

Sunday was much of the same though early afternoon i left for the city (after eating loads of garlic with salo – basically pig fat). Zenit was hosting spartak moscow – a game not to be missed. First issue thought was transport. I decided to hitchhike with an armenian guy to the closest metro. From there it was easy to petrogradskaya and the infamous corner pub. Daniel, yuri and a few of their friends already waiting.

The game was brilliant. Great choreoraphies from the fans, firework and a 5:1 win against the reigning russian champion. Zenit had 5 shots on goal and made it 5 out of 5. The midweek loss to an israeli team all but history. Given the late start of the game and difficult transport, i decided to crush on yuri’s couch. He’d take me back to the dachia monday late morning for a repeat banya & shashlik session. School drew the short straw. But thats life!