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!

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 …