Monday, 28 April 2014

Connecting and re-connecting

I forgot to buy some batteries for my camera on the way up
and so you have to make do with pictures taken from the
internet. You can find some other photos and more details
from here link
Well the day after my birthday saw me traipsing off again, this time to Tallinn. I have been to Estonia lots of times this past 18 months, but only made it as far as Tartu. Tallinn is definitely different. Tartu is leafy and very much like a Scandinavian town, just as you would expect from somewhere that was part of the Swedish empire and home to one of its universities. Tallinn on the other hand looks a right mishmash of styles. As I rode into town on the bus, it reminded me of a town in Lancashire with the limestone buildings, something I wasn't expecting at all. I then had to find the tram and following the fortunately detailed instructions I had been given, I made it to my accommodation, in the process I passed the oldest parts of the city which were situated on a hill, a hanseatic town surrounded by more limestone walls. The further north I went the scene changed to something more familiar of Soviet era buildings and wooden town houses. I have to mention the trams, definitely a relic of Soviet Estonia, the driver is separated from the rest of the tram in a cab and to pay you put your money in a metal tray and push it towards the driver, they then print the ticket and put it back in the tray and push it back towards you, no eye contact, and definitely no possibility of coming into physical contact at all.

The stop where I was introduced to the trams of Tallinn.
For my Lancastrian friends, don't those buildings look as
if they wouldn't be out of place there? To see more photos
of Tallinn you can also visit this link
The young lady who kindly allowed me to stay at her home was a wonderful hostess, she would get up every morning and fry eggs for my breakfast. Her husband and housemates were definitely very welcoming and hospitable and I felt very blessed to be able to stay there. I kipped out on a Soviet era couch, as it was described to me before my visit, but it was comfortable enough for me and I slept well. The housemates also shared a home-made pasta meal with me one night, which was extremely tasty. The trip up to Tallinn was for a conference, which wasn't quite what I was expecting. I was expecting to learn more about how landscape architects view the world, which to some extent I did, but it was also about the Estonian government working out whether to sign up for the European Landscape Convention, which has been signed by many countries in Europe and as I found out Lithuania signed it in 2004 and so Estonia has been rather slow to make a decision. Funnily enough some of the reason is due to the definition of landscape - there is no direct translation in Estonia and so trying to write laws that talk about landscape is always going to prove challenging.

Paldiski Lighthouse - again not one of my photos
On the second day of the conference we had a tour of Paldiski, somewhere that not even local Estonians could visit in Soviet times never mind the likes of me from across the Iron Curtain. Paldiski was one of the closed cities of the Soviet Union where only those with special passes could live, as it was a military enclosure. It was also brought home what difficulties these areas face. When the Soviet Union collapsed the Soviet soldiers were required to return to Russia, but often they left their families behind. As many as 75% of those in the area are non-citizens, in other words they only speak Russian and have not taken Estonian citizenship. These enclaves are the fertile breeding ground for propaganda beamed into homes from the Russian federation, people bereft in a world that left them behind. One of the women in the conference was also Russian and has a Ukrainian father and the whole situation in the Ukraine bothers her, she is incredibly embarrassed about the situation and what Putin is doing and said she is not the only one. She really helped us to understand what drives Putin's appeal amongst the people of the Federation and she explained that it is the desire to see a strong Father figure run the nation that is deep within the psyche of most Russians and Ukrainians for that matter.

The lovage was nowhere to be seen one day and then in
just a couple of days time they have grown to this size
I not only got to find out these snippets of information, but learnt a little of what is happening in Lithuania too. I even found out that there are plans to cull wild boar, every single one of them to protect the pig farms from African Swine Fever which is spreading from Belarus. Of course the conservationists aren't happy about that and I think that is a step too far. A cull to reduce numbers in areas of over abundance, where feeding is maintaining the populations is needed, but culling all! It is not really necessary either. Smaller populations are easier to control and less likely to be as affected if a disease did break out, over crowded populations are almost an open invitation. It will be interesting to see what the Latvian response will be. So all in all it was nice to make some new connections and with people in the field, it was also nice to meet with some Latvians who were at the conference one who I had met before. Interestingly enough he has a new job in one of the regional planning offices and needs some help with participatory planning, so hopefully will be in touch.

We were relieved to see the hop that we bought last year
has begun to appear too
It was also a week of reconnections with someone I had made contact with before on an internet forum. A young friend passed me on some contact details for someone who was interested in rural development in Latvia from a facebook page she is connected with. She thought I might be interested. I fired off an email and then discovered in the reply that actually we had already chatted a while ago. So with any luck we will get to meet up in Latvia and talk about the kinds of issues we are both interested in. I thought it was funny though that we connected again, but via a different forum. Small world as they say!

The girls out on the grass. They love
walking through the branches that Ian
left in. The oak tree behind is looking
lovely with the removal of the birch
trees, a fact one of our visitors
commented on last week. She has sent
me a link to a site where they are
searching for the best looking oak tree
 in Latvia, as she thinks ours has
While I was on the tour Ian text me to say he would like to talk to me about Alicia. My heart sank. I knew that Ian would not send a text like that, if it wasn't important when he knew I would be in a meeting or something similar. Poor Alicia has been fighting with bad health since giving birth to Benedikts and this week was no exception. She wouldn't even get up and her breathing was noisy again. Ian called the vet out and she has prescribed more steroids and more antibiotics, along with hawthorn extract which is supposed to strengthen the heart. She has started to improve and even got up herself today, normally Ian has been standing her up. If she appeared to be in pain, we would have had her put down, but Ian felt her all over and she didn't flinch, so we are giving her a chance. It is so close to the time of year when a good day out on the grass will do her a world of good. The grass though is being slow to get going as we haven't had much rain, in fact none in the last two weeks with none really forecast for a few days more. There has been enough growth though to let the alpacas out to eat a bit anyway, although they have been spending quite a bit of time indoors due to the heat, as the temperatures are now starting to soar as well.
The boys enjoying the grass too

The lawn mowers in action
The sheep have also been moved out of winter quarters. That was a calm experience fortunately. As we don't have much in the way of spare electric poles at the moment, Ian plonked a bale of hay in the middle of the field where the sheep have been kept over winter and then took down the fence. Well that worked for a few minutes, but one sheep decided that no fence meant time to wander. Fortunately on the other side of the bales of hay that marked the exterior of their paddock the grass was long and green, so that kept them occupied for a while. Ian meanwhile was arranging the poles for their next enclosure. At one point I thought they were going to head off in the wrong direction and so just calmly walked up towards them, to discourage them from moving away in the wrong direction. They decided to just carry on eating where they were and then slowly little by little they moved further towards the place Ian was creating for them. The grass was enough to keep them occupied. Whilst Ian was sorting out electrifying it, I kept an eye on them, especially when they spotted the very green clover field, which I know wouldn't be good for them when they have been on hay all winter. Each time they got near to the fence I moved up close just to discourage them. There was just one point when the particularly nervous one decided to bolt and ran up to the fence, but fortunately not through it.

The chickens too are now out on the grass
Apart from that, there are just the regular ins and outs of farm life and gardening. I have done some more digging of vegetable plots and chased our new cockerels off several times from the greenhouse and the general area. Once I had to chase one of them out of the caravan as we had left the door open. I wasn't quite sure how I was going to encourage this rather large cockerel out, in the end I threw a towel at it and then left, hoping that would encourage it to depart - it did, but not quite how I thought it would; it managed to squeeze out with much squawking through the caravan window. Since there is not much for harvesting in the vegetable plot I have continued to add spring greens to our diets from plants I have foraged, so nettles and ground elder are pretty frequently in our diet, along with other plants like dandelions that are fine to eat at this time of the year. A good spring tonic. I did harvest our first rhubarb of the year from our allotment plot which is a wonderful change. I even managed to eat it without sugar after roasting it.

Ducks on the pond in the early morning
Besides nursing Alicia, Ian has been busy trying to finish off moving wood piles and sorting out rough patches damaged by wild boar in preparation for ploughing. He even slept in the caravan while I was away, but wished he hadn't one night as the first few nights were rather chilly. The plus side of being out on the land is seeing it in the early morning and the ducks that visit at around 6 ish. It also meant he could let the animals out in the cool of the day, which I am sure they appreciate with their thick fleeces. The girls have been spending quite a bit of time indoors in the heat. We can't shear the two pregnant ones until after they have given birth and so they will just have to suffer for the time being and we need extra sets of cutting blades before we start on the boys, actually we need to get the seeds in first before we start shearing too. At least we now have a set of hand shears so that if the blades stop working on the electric ones, we still have a means to shear the animals.
The burial mound! Well it is kind of. This is the lowest point
 in the land and often gets rather boggy, so we have made a
raised bed of old rotten wood, soil and hay. It will be a
pumpkin patch this year. Over time it will of course sink and
rot down, but still at least raising the level of the soil at that

The wood piles have been moved and humps and bumps
kind of moved with the bucket of the front loader on the
tractor. Next will be the ploughing.


  1. I'm pleased that you enjoyed your visit to Tallinn.
    I hope that you have a good week & get some rain soon.

    1. Thanks Pene for the connection. It seems strange not to be heading up your way soon. I hope we get some rain too soon, just not today :)

  2. what is the world coming to when ''the likes of you'' can creep behind the Iron Curtain? lol...that made me laugh. I hope Alicia recovers??? and that your snow doesn't last too long. I have all these nice words for you despite the fact that you didn't miss me :(

    1. It does feel weird when I stop and think about it though, sitting behind what was once the Iron Curtain, Things unfortunately are not looking good for Alicia I'm afraid, we need to make some decisions soon. You do indeed have lots of nice words for me, but you did ask on your blog if we missed you :) I just got so busy I hadn't noticed the days had slipped by.


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