Monday, 28 October 2013

From somewhere

A frosty morning in Tartu
What a week! Now let me get this straight, I'm in Estonia, it's 8:33pm at night on a Monday and therefore blog night. Right I think I have that all in order now. Can you tell it's been one of those weeks? It started off on Tuesday with one of those freezing cold days where the wind blows through you, just perfect for a train journey that didn't go completely to plan. I have two wonderful conductors to thank for making sure I got to my destination of Riga, otherwise I am not sure if I would have. One young man collected the train fare, but he didn't seem very confident with me, yet very chatty to all the other passengers, later I found out why. Just before I got to the station Valmeira in the north of Latvia, he came up with another conductor who spoke English and he told me that the train was stopping and we would have to take the bus for four stops. All well and good, but it wasn't immediately obvious which bus, that was because we ended up waiting about 20 minutes in the freezing cold for it to arrive. When I realised that it wasn't coming immediately a minor panic set in as I was meant to be meeting with someone. The nice young chap helped me work out what time I would arrive and I contacted the anthropologist I was meant to be meeting to make sure he knew I would possibly be late. The conductor chappy also made sure I was off the bus and back onto the train and alls well that ends well on that one, apart from being made to wait again in the cold before they let us, including the conductors, on the train. I was freezing by the time I got to Riga.

A beautiful but unwanted guest to our land. Stories abound
of these little fellas getting into chicken houses and causing
mayhem as they go into a frenzy and kill every sleeping
chicken in the hen house. This one will not be
causing mayhem
The meeting with the anthropologist went really well. It was nice to be able to talk about my observations of Latvian life and hear some extra pieces of information that made so much sense. It was also nice to hear it from someone who was firstly Latvian but also used to deeply observing his own culture. That's not to say I go around minutely observing my friends and neighbours you understand, it is just observations from trying to make our way around in a different culture to the one we grew up in. It is also the sort of observations made in trying to work out plans for ways forward in our community. We have both, observed the tendency amongst the authorities and NGOs to call something participatory, when all it is doing is ticking boxes for consultation with "the public" in a very loose sense of the word. I am glad we both agree that something has to improve for people to be given a genuine say in what is developed in this country of Latvia. I will see where this link takes me and I am pleased to have someone to contact to be able to ask questions when I am puzzled about something or need confirmation. Certainly worth having to catch the later bus for.

Three happy grandchildren. It was about the closest we got
to all looking in the right kind of direction with a smile
You may have guessed this wasn't a usual Estonia-Latvia backwards and forwards type of week, I have also fitted in a visit to the UK too accompanied by my lovely hubby. Only he wasn't very lovely this morning as I woke him too early. He was tired bless him, and we just arrived back from the UK yesterday (oh yes we missed THE storm) and so while it meant we actually got to lie in an extra hour yesterday and so 4:30am didn't seem quite as bad as it could have been, it did mean by the time we got back home we were not bouncing around and for probably the first time in our married life, he did not change the clocks before we went to bed, hence me being up too early. It was really 5:30am and not 6:30am like I thought. Heh ho! We'll live. The reason for visiting the UK was a chance over the course of the weekend to meet the family, our kids, their spouses, their children, my parents, my sister and her family. It was a bit of a take over, we took over a house, took over a cafe, took over a park (okay not really a took over as there was plenty of room) and took over a pub. I guess that's what happens when families expand. It was sad it couldn't be longer and I hope we can have some more times when we can meet, but for this season we take the opportunities as they arise, no matter how short.

Café takeover. We squeezed in, just with all the strollers
One of the things about travelling is you begin to realise how important toilets are. Not a delicate subject I know, but you know this is the stuff of life. Tartu train station in Estonia has toilets that are immaculate, up-to-date (apart from having to chuck your loo paper in a bin -trash can- rather than down the loo due to the inefficient drain systems) and they are free. Riga train station in Latvia has a lady who collects your 20 santims and next to her on a stick is a toilet roll from which you take your toilet paper before heading to the loo. The toilets are clean and yes you have to put the paper in a bin and not put it down the loo again, but why can't they trust you with a toilet roll? How much would it cost them to put loo roll holders in each toilet? Rome has a problem with the drains too and so despite the fact that Rome airport has modern looking toilet facilities that are regularly cleaned, the smell is awful - at least it was in the middle of summer when I was there. Modern and clean looking toilets with access to loo paper, preferably free so you don't get caught short without enough change says a lot about a place I feel. It reflects well and reduces stress. It made a difference today to visit a nice little cafe whilst driving back up North to Estonia which had lovely toilets. I badly needed a coffee to stay awake and the fresh out of the oven biezpiena cake (sort of like a cottage cheese cake) was wonderful, a log fire and clean toilets too - what more could you ask for?

The park takeover, yes they are all our kids and families,
well some of them anyway. I didn't manage to get
a picture of the pub takeover, I was too busy stuffing myself. 
Our animals played up for us, both before and after we went away. They seem just like children when the babysitter is about to arrive, making life difficult for the parents. Before we left, the boys escaped their fence and took a lot of rounding up and persuading to go in their shed and the girls were difficult too. The day we came back, the chicks didn't all go in without a bit of persuasion, the girls led us a merry dance around the paddock before we got them cornered and leashed up to lead them in and two of the big chickens got left out for the night as they weren't cooperating either. The boys had to be persuaded again to go in. Apparently tonight though, all but our cockerel were well behaved. From now on our cockerel shall be named chicken stew, his days are numbered. Think we've worked out why one of our chickens is missing this week and it doesn't bode well. Ian was working in the barn threshing buckwheat, which our chickens adore, when suddenly the chickens hurtled into the barn. Ian stood up to shoo them away, thinking they were after the grain when he realised that there was a bird of prey chasing them and got within a metre of one of them. Fortunately the bird saw Ian and executed an about turn and headed away, meanwhile our chickens went very quiet. We do wonder if that is the reason for the disappearance as they chickens have seemed a little subdued just lately.

House in Tartu
Not quite on the subject of animals or families but certainly something to do with the land we manage, we declined some bags of chemical fertiliser. We were offered several large bags of the fertiliser and we had to weigh up the pros and cons of whether to use them or not. A one off application, probably wouldn't do a huge amount of harm, but we decided that the possible risk to the soil organisms and the possibility it might just fertilise the weeds instead of the grass meant we decided against it. We'll stick to rotating our animals around more instead. We just have to work out how to do that and teach them to follow Ian to new pastures. May take time but I think we are getting there.


  1. Wow, sounds like a hectic week you've had but also enjoyable. All the busyness of your everyday life on the land sounds quite tame in comparison!

  2. Right now the land seems quite a nice place to be, not sure if I will get out this week either.

  3. What a busy time.You are certainly an experienced traveller!

  4. There has certainly been a lot of that this year

  5. If you're interested: "biezpiens" is cottage cheese (literal translation: 'thick milk'). I remember it being called "biezpien maize"... i.e. cottage cheese cake. That certainly brought back memories from way, way back!

  6. I must admit the translation of biezpiens as cottage cheese always confused me, as it was never like the cottage cheese I knew. Cottage cheese to me is lumps of cheese in a creamy liquid. I equate biezpiens more to curd cheese in texture, although it is really a bit more grainy than that. I suppose it is a halfway in between product. Thanks for the translation though, I always thought it was mashed milk, because biez kartupeli was used for mashed potatoes.

  7. I think there's quite a bit of variation in cottage cheese. I remember mom used to buy stuff in Boston called farmer's cheese. It vaguely resembled cottage cheese that had all the liquid pressed out of it. Softer than any cheese, but more solid than cottage cheese. Then she'd add sour cream to it, to get it closer to cottage cheese consistency. The actual cottage cheese in the stores wouldn't do.

    I tried to find farmer's cheese out here on the west coast and it is actually a rather soft, mild cheese. Same names with different regional variants I imagine. I don't think I've ever encountered curd cheese (at least by that name.) We do have a cheese factory not far from here where they sell the curds. If they're really fresh, they squeak when you chew them.

    As for mashed potatoes... I'm not sure how it gets the "biezens" in its name, but other uses of the word definitely mean "thick".

    Oops... I should have read my previous comment. As you likely already know: maize = bread, not cake. ;)

  8. It does get rather complicated when trying to describe cheeses and compare, sometimes there is just no real translation.

    I guess the thick potatoes is because when mashed it does seem rather thick - maybe And yes I did know maize was bread and not cake :)


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