Monday, 25 November 2019

An International Lecture Tour

Lecturing to students in Skola 6, Cēsis. I got to use one of
the co-working desks as I had arrived earlier than the
students and needed to work somewhere for an hour.
Putting on my best Lancashire accent, "Eeeee! An international lecture tour! That sounds grand now doesn't it?" Actually what that means is that I did three presentations in three different countries in three days. Latvia, Estonia and Finland. It just happened to fit together nicely. Let me add that there is a humungous difference between me doing a tour like this and say the ex-UK Prime Minister, David Cameron or such like. This was all about networking or communicating science, meaning I wasn't paid for it. It was fun though.

Ian has been busy today, shovelling muck
I was invited to speak in Tallinn, Estonia a while back to talk about the research I have been doing and the impacts of rural decline in different countries. By the time that was close to organised I agreed to speak in Helsinki the following day, since it is was only across the water and a short ferry ride (well just over two hours, which is short for someone who has been doing a lot of travelling). The hotel was organised for me anyway and I just needed to catch the early ferry to be there on time. My trip back was not expensive because at that time of the year, the ferry is cheap and buses to Riga and our village are very reasonable.

Lots of muck over the last few days
Travel was paid from my village to Tallinn (then Helsinki) and the plan was for me to do my usual three hour wait in the town of Cēsis between the bus arriving and the train leaving. I normally find a cafe to hang around in and either work or people watch. It passes the time anyway and better than hanging around in the railway station that is a bit uncomfortable. Recently I got a message though, asking if I could talk to some students from a British university who happened to be visiting Cēsis on that day. I had met up with the organisers on a previous trip, but this time I was asked to say a bit more than just a few minute of "who am I and what on earth am I doing in Latvia" type thing. The only problem was they wanted me to talk in the afternoon. I explained I'd be on the train by then, but if they could make it in the morning, I was passing through with not much to do, so happy to.

I really must get around to sorting out those old bales and
get them properly composted.
So that in a nutshell is how I came to be doing three presentations in three days. They more or less all got the same presentation but with slightly different emphases. The first one was a scaled down version to students studying for their Masters in planning, so more of a focus on how to think about rural issues from a planners perspective. The second was the longest one on rural issues from different countries, so Estonia, Latvia, a bit about the UK and some European perspectives from the Rural Parliament I attended earlier in the month. The last one was also a scaled-down version which included a little more on ecological issues and a bit about our farm for a Christian forum focussed on the state of Europe, which of course includes the rural areas.

A very abstract picture of frozen water lilly leaves
I managed to work on the train, ferries and buses in between, although I do admit to sleeping for over an hour on the bus on the way home. I was a bit shocked when I woke up and looked at the time, I had the row to myself, so I slumped over the two seats. Obviously I wasn't as uncomfortable as I thought I was going to be. I'm definitely far more energetic than I was when I was going through menopause. I can now get by on six hours sleep and can catch up with a snooze while travelling and still feel relatively okay and engaged.

Bubbles frozen in the pond
Anyway, let me dial back to last week. I spent Tuesday/Wednesday sorting out presentations, project work, thesis writing etc., in other words the usual, only Wednesday I had extra alpaca duties as well. Ian was away in Estonia meeting with other alpaca owners and helping someone with their Masters interviews in the process. Thursday I set off to early to Tallinn via Cēsis as I mentioned earlier. The presentation went well and there was some discussion afterwards, unfortunately I couldn't stay for lunch and was putting on my coat as the discussion continued. Eventually I had to dash off.

Not a recent photo but this young chap has featured on my
presentations at the end. I think I will update it to this one
because it looks much more like a photo of an alpaca who
would like to say, "Thank you for your attention", as we
always say at the end of a powerpoint presentation :D
The hotel was booked for me in Tallinn and I managed to find it no problem. My host was only arriving back from a trip that day, so couldn't meet me, but that was fine, I had some idea of the layout of Tallinn and it is a reasonably easy city to get around. I needed something to eat so once I had settled into my room I went out for a walk and found a little pizza place with fresh made pizzas. A guy sat down about two tables away from me and I noticed he had a t-shirt on that resembled a t-shirt I had seen earlier on that day on another guy. It was the picture of a rather Narnia-esque lion. I was surprised to see it the first time, but twice? It was a reminder to me that God was with me and I felt incredibly peaceful about the whole trip. It was nice to feel in a safe space.

Now are you all listening?
The following morning my host arrived. The poor lady hadn't had much sleep, if any, because her plane had been delayed and so she had only arrived in the early hours of the morning. I however, had had plenty of sleep. We walked to the building where the presentation would be and the sound and video guys were all set up, along with the translator in her special little booth to do simultaneous translation. We decided to use a clip on mike, so I didn't have to stand behind the lectern. This one wasn't as tall as some, but I still tend to disappear behind them when I have a computer to work with. Oh the joys of being short!

I want to tell you a story! It is funny the mannerisms we use
in telling a story, but my message was serious enough. We
need to take more care of rural areas, because cities need
thriving rural areas.
The presentation went well and had a panel discussion afterwards. I had to kind of perch near the front of the seat because otherwise my feet didn't touch the floor. It kept me alert anyway. I'm just pleased I didn't have to sit on the chair for long. Afterwards there was lunch for a group of us from the meeting and this included more lively discussion. I am definitely looking forward to exploring more of Estonia, particularly the north-west after hearing about it. It was nice to get a lot of positive feedback on the presentation and to hear the comments that it stimulated. All in all a very enjoyable time.

A view from the ferry window out of Helsinki. I like
the glow from the reflection of light on the upper right hand
side
My host then took me on a tour of Tallinn. We of course saw the Christmas market, which looks nice and all that, but I got to see Tallinn from an insider's view. Not just any insider but someone who knows a lot about the origin of many of the crafts created for the Estonian market that have originated in the rural areas. Her organisation is active in helping bring some of these products to the market, so I not only got to see the different crafts in some out of the way places, I also got to hear the stories behind them. It was fascinating for someone researching rural development. It also meant I managed to buy some nice little gifts with extra meaning for Christmas presents.

Another view from the ferry window
All too soon it was time to head back to the hotel to get some sleep before the early morning ferry. I was awake just before the alarm, something I have a tendency to do, but even so it was rather early - just after 4am. I didn't need to get breakfast as that was ready for me at the check out desk in a brown paper bag, so I only needed a quick shower, get dressed and out. I was actually at the ferry a bit early for the gate opening. There were not many people on the 6am ferry, not walk on passengers anyway and really I didn't need to be there that early.

My phone camera is not great
but I wasn't messing about getting
my good camera out of the bag.
I could have missed the picture.
I arrived in Helsinki just after 8am as dawn was beginning to break with a deep red glow. It was nice to finally see some sun again. The only problem is that I hadn't arrived at the port I thought I was going to arrive in. I had looked at the map of where I was heading to and saw it was close to the port and wrongly assumed that is where I would arrive. Never mind, dear old Google managed to show me that I just needed to get on the tram that was right outside the door and it would take me in the right direction. Fortunately having already been to Helsinki, I was familiar with the system and got a ticket easily. I found out later that there are ticket machines dotted around the city that double up as car parking ticket machines. What a great idea!

This doorway amused me. What is
an abnormal lyceum? 
I found where I needed to be and was greeted shortly after I arrived with a  booming, "Good to see you Joanna," by a chap I hadn't immediately recognised since he was swathed in a big coat with a hat on, wrapped up against the chill. It was nice to be warmly greeted though. I got settled in with a cup of coffee (Oh! Those Estonians have a lot to answer for with my two coffee a day addiction and I told them so) and I soon saw others who I recognised, although also many I did not. Again it was a time for much discussion and it was good to hear how music can contribute so much to health and wellbeing. Along with nature, the arts are often neglected in our consumer mad world. Unless it can be bought and sold then the powers that be are not interested and hence our world is in such a mess.

Good morning Tallinn, nice to see you again, so soon.
I'll not go much into the discussions I had as I will save that for another day, this post is already quite long enough. It is something that has been troubling me for a while though and I want more time to develop what I have to say. Just for now, I was encouraged and discouraged in equal measure. I was very encouraged by the people I shared a platform with in the session I was in. Both with good things they had to say and good comments to think about, but dismayed about some unhelpful ideas on climate change, which do us no favours. At least the day finished with a lovely get together afterwards and a great theological discussion with a Latvian friend after everyone else had gone.

The setting sun on my way home from the bus
It was then time for bed and another early morning to wend my way home. Sad there wasn't time to see any of my other friends who live in Helsinki, but I do need to see my husband sometime you know! My homeward trip was not without incident. First there was the drunk who was evicted off the bus and left at a bus stop in the middle of a forest. I thought about him this morning when it was -9C in our greenhouse. Not nice having a drunk on the bus but also not great to leave him in the middle of nowhere, even if it was a bus stop. I think the driver would have had a riot on his hands if he hadn't though. Tough choice. I can't imagine many drivers letting the drunk on later though, like the one who tried to get onto my last bus of the day heading to the village. At least that was in another little village, not the middle of nowhere. In Riga there was another incident, I got off the bus coach and was dragging my case along when suddenly my bag snagged on a pothole and I stumbled into another one. The path on that side of the bus station is awful and not very well lit. I ended up on my knees, my rucksack catapulted forwards and my thermos shot out from its holder on the side. I was not amused and I bet most people just thought I was another drunk. At least I got home safely and none the worst for my tumble. So here I am back in our caravan - yes still here even though it's starting to get a bit cool now and just grateful for heaters.

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