Monday, 24 March 2014

To Timbuktu and back

"Okay what happened?"
 This week has been quite an adventure, only it is the sort of adventure I hope never, ever, ever to repeat again. The week started fine, apart from another early start and I caught the 6:40am bus from our village. I got into Riga at 9am and headed to a cafe for a supplementary breakfast, as I knew it would be a while before I ate. I then took the ordinary bus and not the airport shuttle to the airport. The Airbaltic bus from the bus station is €5 and takes 30 minutes, there is room enough to sit down and there is free Wifi, the ordinary number 22 bus from outside the bus station, however, wasn't quite so comfortable but I bought a ticket from the nearby Narvesen and it cost me a whopping 60c - bargain. I had to stand for part of the way, there was a two minute walk under the subway and no Wifi, but since there is free Wifi at the airport that wasn't a particular problem and the bus also takes 10 minutes longer. So far, so good!

I had ages to wait at the airport, as my plane didn't leave until 5pm, but at least I was able to get on with some work. Only downside was, I couldn't find a power outlet that worked, so I was fairly restricted in the time I could spend working. The plane was fine and I got into Berlin okay and then the adventure began. After a little bit of a hassle and after giving up waiting in a queue for a ticket machine that didn't seem to be going down, I managed to get a ticket for a bus into the city centre to take me to the venue for registration, from someone issuing tickets at the bus stop. The first problem I had was that I hadn't really understood the Google instructions and I got off at the terminus, instead of further back on the route. Google tells you how many stops, but not the name of the stop and I had forgotten to count them. I asked for directions at the station and got half the instructions from a person on the information desk and given a map of the transport system by another member of staff. I finally found the registration centre just before it closed at 8pm (Berlin is one hour behind Latvia). It was rather a rough introduction to Berlin's integrated transport service. Next I had to find the hotel, well that went okay, there were good instructions in the booklet I was give in the registration gumpf as it was quite close to the conference venue, which was not at the same place as the registration centre (are you still with me?). Unfortunately once I got there at nearly 10pm due to delays on the transport system, I discovered I had managed to book the hotel room for the wrong month, consequently I had no room and there were no vacancies.
Hmmm! That's exactly how I felt 
Bad night?
I am not sure if I knew something was likely to go wrong, but I had a couple of numbers for people in Berlin and I rang one person. There followed profuse apologies for ringing so late, but I was really stuck, did he have a room for the next four nights? He did! In fact he lived in an place that used to be a regular hotel and so there were 9 rooms, only it was at the other end of Berlin. Again the trains weren't running right and so my journey across Berlin, late at night, was slow. I didn't feel threatened though, it felt quite safe. At least I had the map someone gave me, to help me navigate around the train system. The good news was that the hotel was also right next door to the train station and the trains are fairly quiet. There had to be some good news didn't there. Well after that little escapade I rolled into bed at 12:15am, not a good start to my trip, as I had to be up at 6:45am and I was the first one to present in my session in the first batch of presentations. Not ideal on what probably amounted to about 5 hours sleep in the end. At least the transportation system around Berlin is fairly cheap, with zones A and B only €2.60 for any trip up to 2 hours. The system also reminded me of my three years in Copenhagen and that experience obviously proved to be good training for navigating the trains in Berlin, otherwise the evening would have been even more stressful.
Hens do like the poo piles. Anyone for eggs?
The oak tree once again stands tall after the silver birch
trees that were starting to overshadow it were cut down
I made a mess of the presentation and was not fluent at all. I managed to gabble my way through it and fortunately was coherent enough for people to be interested in what I had to say and I got some good feedback through the rest of the conference from people who had been in the sessions. I think the picture of a young wild boar and my joke about it being a particularly cute and cuddly looking specimen helped and it got a laugh. The rest of the conference went fine and I got to ask lots of questions, I was beginning to look like the class swot at times, but I wanted to know. I think part of the reason was that I am from a slightly different academic background to many of them, who mainly work with models of how things should be, whereas I like to get answers from real people by actually asking them questions - quite novel I know. I also have quite an interest in agriculture and I am not sure many of them understood some aspects of that either. For instance, some of the models predicting how much food will be available assume trees do not produce food, just fuel, timber and carbon sequestration - posh word for absorbing carbon, but in reality it is much more complex than that. For instance that tree could be producing bananas and underneath the shade of the banana tree, could be growing coffee, in other words food and a cash crop. Willow trees can also be used for fuel and animal fodder, our animals love it when Ian cuts a tree down with leaves on, he chucks them over the fence for them to nibble on, saves him trying to get all the leaves off when preparing the timber for cutting.
One of our new cockerels
I know! I know! You all wanted to see pictures
of Berlin. Well this is mainly what I saw
I told Ian of course about the escapade and in true fashion we started on a bizarre track of amusing comments centred around conferences and different countries. It started off with "Hope things settle down and enjoy the rest of the deep sea pipe welders conference in Oslo see you next Thursday," to which I replied "the deep sea welders conference is surprisingly interesting." There was more and, for anyone who knows us personally, that will not come as a surprise, so here is a list

Hope things are going well at the "Microbiome friend or foe" conference, I would have loved to go to that one. I also hear Budapest is quite pretty, you can show me the photos when you get back a week next Saturday" <------ note the changing days too

Brazil is great and the tropical forest lectures really helpful

The geese are back and heading north! Phew!
So how was the "soft furnishings and their role in global warming" conference  go today, don't forget to get as many freebies as possible, see you Saturday, I hear the shopping in Madrid airpot is quite good.

The cabinet making and its role in green energy was fascinating. Love and God bless from wintry Johannesburg

Oh no…… you must be in the wrong Johannesburg it should be end of summer

Thought there was something a bit odd, but turns out to be Johannesburg, Michigan

When I left Latvia there was 20cm of
snow on the ground and it was -10C.
As you can tell, it melted rather quickly
There was also mention of Bulgaria, London, Timbuktu, Larnaca, Turkey, Milan, Abu Dhabi, a floristry course and a visit to the pyramids. At least it made a rather stressful situation more bearable. It wasn't all stress though, the days were pleasant and we could have lunch sat outside - not sure that is possible yet in Latvia. I had a great evening with some folks at the dinner on the Thursday evening where again we sat outside, because there weren't enough seats inside for the buffet meal, one was from New York and now living in Australia and one from Berlin now living in Brazil. They had met a few times before on conferences related to academics interested in social justice, the environment and human health - right up my street really. After the conference finished I also managed to meet up with a an Indian lass I met in Peyresq, France in September. We had such fun in Peyresq and it was lovely to reminisce, she also treated me to a cup of tea at a Café Einstein and then she took me to an Italian restaurant, where they make the meal in front of you. A nice relaxing way to finish the week anyway.

And this is what happens when it melts
fast, it floods our barn. This meant Ian
was late home one night as he was pumping
water out of the hole he had dug for such
a time as this
Ian has had an interesting week, besides entertaining his wife with inventing improbable conferences in various countries. Ian had decided to take the car for its technical inspection on Thursday, but it snowed overnight and so thought he might not bother, but then actually felt he should. Part of the reason is that with snow on the car it reduces the amount of time that the inspectors want to spend under the car, hehe, especially when they start shaking it to test the suspension. Mind you, that is an advantage as on one inspection, we are sure they shook it so much that it actually caused the suspension to fail on the way home. With snow underneath they are less tempted to do that. As he was waiting for the window sticker to be printed, the guy behind started chatting to him, he had spent time in England and so his English was good. It turns out he would love to get into farming and was fascinated with what we are doing and so they exchanged phone numbers and emails. On Saturday the guy came to visit Ian and spent over four hours chatting. They also went to a neighbouring farm which has over 200 sheep, as he would like to get some sheep and it turns out that he already knew the shepherd as they had both done an Alpha course together. Life gets weird sometimes! It was also weird that he lives in an old water mill too, like the friend we visited just the other week and both of them have used the mills to generate electricity.
Yumm! Would rather be eating snow than stuck in Berlin

Well after a fairly stressful week and lots of travelling I shall sign off from Paris, or is it Minsk, maybe Vienna or Brasilia, noooo of course it's Tartu. At least I should finally get home tomorrow, it will be nice.


  1. Wow! I'm tired just reading it so I don't know how you feel! Hope you enjoy it as well as gain something useful.

    1. It was the nearest I came to crying for a long time, I'll tell you. But I'm okay now and just longing to get home. Just had a text to say that I can have a lift home to Latvia, so that is good

  2. you're a proper jet setter!! I think improvisation and resilience are in the blood, come as standard in us Lancashire folk. I never doubted you would cope with the Berlin hassle....

    1. I think you have something there Karen, thanks for your support too :)


I love to hear your comments and will always reply, so go ahead, ask a question or just say hi