Monday, 18 November 2019

The rain in Spain falls mainly where?

Unfortunately the train windows are tinted and so not easy
to get a good photo, but the fields still look rather parched
Spain is suffering from a drought, as could be seen from the parched fields on the way to my next destination in Spain. I was heading northwest over the mountains to the coastal region of Asturias. As the train traversed the mountains through numerous tunnels there were glimpses of the first snows on the mountain tops. Yes! Snow in Spain. As the train emerged on the other side, green fields greeted the passengers and overcast skies. The scene reminded me of the steep valleys of parts of Derbyshire, only the hills were even steeper. There were hedgerows and trees everywhere. A rather different scene to the dry plains of Spain. So the rain in Spain does not fall mainly on the plain, or so it seems.
Waiting for the local train at a tiny station just after the mountains

On the way to Gijón. Those clouds sure looked ominous
It was dark when we arrived in the train station in Gijón and we those heading to the conference had to wait for the bus, which irritatingly wasn't arriving until the next train load had arrived. I would have caught a later train if I had known or made sure of alternative transport arrangement. We did arrive an hour late though, so the wait didn't seem quite so bad as it could have been. I'm not sure what the problem was but the train arrived late in Madrid and then we had to transfer to a smaller, local train closer to our destination. There were a few people in the train station who seemed to be wandering around and one lady in particular looked like she might be heading to the same place. It turns out she was from mid-Wales, and yes heading in the same direction. We decided to wait in the cafe and got to know each other over a cup of coffee.
It stopped raining!

A little sunshine before the field trips
Eventually the bus arrived and the next load of train travellers arrived and off we went set to Candás, a small seaside town. I showed the driver where my hotel was, but he didn't seem to know it. That was a good start. He dropped some off at hotels along the way and then the rest of us were to get off in the centre of Candás. Most hotels were in the very centre. Mine was a 14 minute walk. No problem - at least not normally. On this particular day though, it was. By the time we arrived it was bucketing it down. There wasn't time to fasten up, just walk. Fortunately it wasn't too cold, but my GPS wasn't working very well and so I just had to walk and hope I was heading in the right direction, until it picked up a good signal. I knew it was straight up. I saw a couple of my Latvian friends sheltering and said hello before trudging on again.
Well this looks promising doesn't it? Hahaha

First stop, one of the many kiwi farms. Kiwi plants grow for
20 years and do not produce much for the first five years, so
they graft a new plant in on the 16th year and cut out the old
plant in the 20th year. Neat! The rootstock stays the same,
so an ecologically sound fruit to eat, with no till.
I managed to find my way to the hotel, but the guy who happened to be stood in the doorway told me to go across the road. There was what looked like a pub, apparently it was connected with the hotel. In I walked, sopping wet and signed in for my key. In my hotel room, I changed into my pyjamas and decided I would forgo the evening activities because I had no intentions of getting wet again. I hung up my coat to drip in the bathroom and spread out my wet clothes. I even had to empty my suitcase as water had got in a bit through the zip and the stuff in my rucksack was damp. I looked for information for the Wifi, for details of breakfast, well anything really. Nothing! Not one sheet of paper. Sigh! At least the room was clean and dry, if a little musty smelling and the bed was comfy.
The fruit is ready in November for six months, so we were just a
tad early for the first kiwis of the year. Although they do have
a variety that are ready in October only we didn't get to taste

Looks like a huge construction project. I'm guessing a new
In the light the next morning it was easy to see that the place was definitely green, also many of the inhabitants carried stout brollies and had good waterproof coats on. Could this be a clue to the climatic conditions? Yes! It was! It rained every day. It was a lovely place, with lots of little coffee shops, but it was wet. Instead of wearing my good clothes, like I normally do at conferences, I wore my new, waterproof hiking boots all the time, except for the dinner when I put my good shoes on. I might have got wet, but my feet were always warm and dry. I didn't bother changing out of my warm clothes either. One lady kindly allowed me to stop in her nearby hotel room on the night of the dinner, so I didn't have to walk back to my hotel room in the rain. Getting wet once a day was enough. Funnily enough, there was a brolly in the welcome pack. I wonder why? Mine did get broken as I put it in one of the handy bins by the door for wet umbrellas. I also managed to lose it somewhere.
We decided to eat lunch inside. This is a fishing lake

And here is a fish sculpture
Once I had adjusted to the fact I was going to get wet and not see the sun after all, I relaxed. It was a fairly easy conference to meet people to talk to, some academic conferences can just be hard work. On the first morning coffee break, a lady put her hand on my back and asked me how I'd slept last night. Just as I was beginning to wonder at the strange greeting, she gasped and apologised. I wasn't who she thought I was. That was funny! She recovered quickly and asked me where I was from and we had a great conversation. There is even a remote possibility of a piece of research out of it, so happy to be the subject of a mistaken identity.
The snow covered mountains in the distance

Next stop a pellet factory. We thought
we were going to see small rural
businesses but we ended up at this place.
Quite fascinating and a local company,
but not many jobs because it was mainly
automated. No pictures were allowed at
the coffee roasting factory we went to.
I also had many a cup of coffee or tea paid for by someone, which was rather nice. One guy inadvertently ordered over the top of us in a cafe. He had stood behind us and had managed to catch the eye of the lady serving. The lady, who I was with, a rather lovely Irish lady, and I were a bit shocked. We sort of let him know what he had done and in return he bought our drinks. We assured him, he could butt in any time he liked after that.
A bit hard to see due to the dim light! Did I mention it rained
a lot? This is a fancy construction but many homes had
something similar. I think it is a place to keep the winter
feed dry and off the floor. These constructions were all on
pillars with a good airflow underneath.

Spanish bagpipes. This was taken on my
phone but it has a very painterly quality
I think. 
When the conference had ended I went for a walk with another lady who was not dashing off. It had stopped raining and so an ideal time to explore, or so we thought. We got about half way around a promenade and then it started to rain. We found a coffee shop and the waitress took our cups around the corner to a place where we could watch the sea out of the scenic window. It was the best place to be as it poured once again. The lady I was with paid for the tea. Finally it stopped and we decided to venture out. Half way around, it started to rain again, so we just headed for the next coffee shop. I fully intended to pay this time, but the chap in the coffee shop she knew and who we spent sometime chatting with before leaving paid for ours too. It was turning out to be a cheap trip from that point of view. Someone even paid for my meal in the evening. Every little helps as they say!
Will we make it back before the rain? Nope!

In the few days I was in Asturias, it snowed up in
the mountains. Taken from the train.
The one aspect of this European Rural Parliament that I found useful was the lack of presentations that happens at academic conferences and more time for discussions. It's great that young academics get the chance to present what they are doing and it does generate some interest from time to time, but there just isn't enough time to fit in some good discussions. I guess it is because the Parliament approach is more focussed on outcomes and not on research. There was one group, however, that are trying to put a research section together because there still is a need for research. Evidence is still needed - and yes, I am going to get involved in the research section, I've already been in discussions but at the end of the day, there still needs to be money allocated. That is easier though when there is a definite call for it and willing academics from multiple countries. We'll see though.
Sunshine! Yay! My friends on
the beach, five minutes away from
their house

These oranges were wonderful, fresh
from the tree
With the conference over, it was time to head right the way across Spain to see some more friends. From the northwest coast to Valencia, just north of my friends it was 8 hours. Another lady was also travelling back from the conference and when we got to Valencia she made sure I knew where I was going and so I managed to get the next train down to my friends. The weather was drier in their place and I woke in the morning to see the numerous orange trees in their garden. Not many were ripe, but enough to have a few oranges and I also got a good dose of sunshine. They were pretty busy but we managed to have some good conversations on life before I headed back to Ian in the gloom of Latvian late autumn. I took some oranges back, it was the best I could do.
A garden of oranges

My knowledge of plants in Spain is limited, so I have no
idea what this is, but it's a gorgeous colour
So I've been back nearly a week now and I haven't seen the sunshine since leaving Spain. At least it has more or less stopped raining and the ground is drying slightly. It is also relatively warm for this time of the year here. I've dug up some Jerusalem artichokes and put a good load of manure on them. I've been working on my thesis and the EU project, I've been to town to sign papers and show my documents to the accountants, had a meal at a friends house and tried to catch up with bits and bobs of things that needed doing like marking students' work. I even made soup for some visitors because they were coming to talk about alpacas and I figured that everyone would need warming up as I know how Ian likes to talk.
Oranges ripening

Another garden of oranges

And of course there has to be palm trees

Kind of quiet around here

Date palms

Obviously the time of the year to visit to get the beach to

The sea was rough though for the Mediterranean. Sometimes
it's as still as a lake appparently.

Yes it was warm too and I had my good shoes on, which I
didn't want to ruin in the sand.

A long time since I've been on the beach 

Spain! White buildings and cables everywhere

Tiles on walls

A decorative mosaic on an artist's workshop

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Which country?

Before I left it had snowed but it didn't last long
So I'm in Spain. I thought I might take some time to write the blog before I go, but I didn't have any pictures and I didn't have much time. I had an early morning and much reading to do, so needed the time to do that instead of blogging. Life at the moment is a bit all over the place. Travelling, writing, trying to get things done on the land before winter hits, but being frustrated by the rain and a cold. It's all there in the chaos of life. It had rained a lot before I arrived back the week before and so the ground was soft. Not ideal for moving the caravan and chicken arks without chewing up the ground, which got left before I went away. We try and avoid making a mess, as we want to take care of our land. One of the mornings though there was a heavy frost, which meant the ground was firm and so we quickly got organised to move the chicken arks into the greenhouse. That went fairly well. The next was to get the caravan in. That didn't work so well.

Leaving a dreary Latvia. This was from the airport in Riga
Getting the caravan into the greenhouse requires a degree of precision. Getting it in, isn't the problem but lining it up in the most convenient place is not so easy. There is not much room for error and it was not helped by the fact the brakes kept locking up whenever it was pulled forward. It reversed beautifully but wouldn't go forwards to straighten up without digging great holes in the dry, soft ground inside the greenhouse. Ian started to take the wheels off and dismantle the brakes as they were never used. The caravan is only ever moved between the greenhouse and just outside the greenhouse and never on the road, so the brakes were just inconvenient - when they don't work properly anyway.

I did see some sunshine in Madrid and
at least it wasn't raining
One side came off no problem but the other one would not, so that meant a quick trip up to our friend to get an axle puller. We felt a bit bad as we could only do a flying visit. He has been very ill over the last few months so enjoys a visit. The days are getting so short so quickly that there was not time to chat as we needed the caravan set up so we could go to sleep in it that night. The axle puller did the trick and we managed to get the caravan in place and with a bit of time to spare to sort it out before the evening set in.
Central Madrid

They have interesting street signs in Madrid
Before the frost I did manage to dig up the fodder beets, beetroot and carrots and store them in the greenhouse under cover. I knew they would survive a light frost but they would need time to recover before digging up and the forecast was not great. I haven't had chance to dig up some of the Jerusalem artichokes though, which we feed to the chickens over winter. They are unlikely to get dug before I get back either, as it is set to rain for about 2 1/2 days solid. So I left Ian with the miserable weather. Mind you the weather was only a bit warmer and no less wet in Spain. Sigh! My first trip to Spain and it rained. I guess that's what comes of travelling in November. My friend did say that it is a fairytale land where the sun exists and to bring some back - I'll try. Maybe I can sneak some in my suitcase.
Central Madrid

A street in Madrid
I was supposed to be on holiday from work, but it didn't turn out like that. I was hoping for thesis writing time but instead ended up doing more on a protocol that needed submitting to a journal. Frustratingly the deadline came and went and it didn't get finished. There were issues that still needed sorting that I couldn't resolve.
Homeless Jesus, a very poignant sculpture in a very poignant

Homeless Jesus outside the cathedral with
many visitors passing by without even
seeing him.

The sun was in the wrong place to get a
good picture of this sculpture. I love the
gentleness of the man holding the bird.
On the Monday evening of last week I was in Madrid with a good friend of mine and his wife enjoying a meal, so another reason not to blog. It has been a while since I last met my friend but we have known each other for a long time. The last time we reconnected was in the UK at a prayer event that happened shortly after we left the US, so nearly 12 years ago. Before that we met up in Brazil, where I helped him and a group of others in churches over there. Are you following? We've met up in various places over the years, but this was the first time to really get to know his wife, although we have "known" each other on Facebook for a while and share the same birthday. They showed me around central Madrid and their neighbourhood. I sampled tapas and Vermouth. It was a short stay but I learnt a lot.
There are variations of this model decorated
by artists all over Madrid

I will try and get a catch up for last week written up soon. It was certainly an interesting week.
The bear of Madrid

Parliament building in Madrid

Tuesday, 5 November 2019


So this is where I am and my plane was delayed but I got here in the end. I would have had a blog done but I don't have pictures. It was too wet and dismal in Latvia for alpaca pictures and too dark in Madrid. I will catch up soon.

Monday, 28 October 2019

Spit happens

I gather it was a week of sunshine and showers for Ian, but
maybe more showers.
Well as you may have gathered, the last couple of weeks have been a bit hectic. Trying to work in academia and do farm tasks can get a bit tricky trying to balance the various tasks involved for both. They get done though. It is no wonder there were times last week in the conference I attended where I had a gentle dig at comments made by academics when it came to issues affecting farmers. One comment in particular from one young academic was about the apparent need for farmers to diversify. That particular comment is like a red rag to a bull. Of course farmers would like to improve their income but the costs to body, mind and soul can be enormous. It's like telling a nurse that actually if she could take on a bed and breakfast establishment as well as work shifts then her income will be fine. Hello! I don't know many lazy farmers who get lots of time off. Yes arable farmers may be able to take off on holiday while the crop grows but really do they not deserve a holiday? For livestock farmers the issue is even harder. I'd better stop there!

I think all the alpacas have been having a party while I've
been away. Aggie looks like she's been on the razzle
It's hard to believe but two weeks ago, I had just returned from a trip to Finland, this time it is from Hannover in Germany. So just like two weeks ago there was a bit of email catching up to do and sorting out for work. Supposedly I'm on holiday but there is a deadline to make and besides I get a few days off next week, in between more travelling, so I have to be a bit flexible. At least that is one advantage of remote working and everyone seems happy enough with the work I do put in, so all is good.
I'm glad she picked up later. She looks much better now

Even Herk looks like he's had a drink too many
Before I set off to Germany there were a few things that needed sorting on the farm that Ian wouldn't be able to do on his own. We didn't get them all done but we did get the most important ones done. One of the main tasks is the bimonthly trimming of toe nails. We got 16 done in one day and three the next - or to be honest two and a half. Half an alpaca? Yes! Brencis! Our gentle giant is not that gentle when it comes to rear toe nail cutting. Not sure why but he does kick up a fuss but he's too big for me to deal with and hold still when he doesn't want to cooperate. I guess we will have to sort that out this week, one way or another.
Apparently there were still leaves on trees. The gusty weather
over the weekend meant there were none left by the time I
got back

Dear, sweet Chanel. Pity she is just a little excitable.
The alpaca owner's refrain is "Spit happens!" and it sure did during toe nail cutting. Chanel always kicks up a fuss, but she wasn't too bad, we coped and avoided the spit. I wasn't quite so lucky when it came to cutting the toe nails of her baby. I got a face full. Fortunately not full on but I still had to go back and wash it off my face in case it burnt before carrying on. I do hope little Ilvija isn't as bad as her mum when she gets older, I don't think she will be. The only issue will be how long will Chanel be possessive if Ilvija stays with her? I guess we will find out.
Little Ilvija glows like her Mum. She was out for a stroll
this evening though

See! I said they''ve all been having a
We had hoped to move the chicken arks and caravan into the greenhouse but decided against it as the ground was still soft and we were running out of time. Ian is regretting that decision as over the weekend it rained, and rained and rained and so the ground is saturated. At least the well is filling up very rapidly despite being pumped out several times to help flush it through, so that's an improvement on last year. We soldl one of the cockerels and then culled the rest to free up an ark so that repairs can be made later. I spent a while explaining to one lady, who I think was vegetarian why it is necessary to cull the excess cockerels. They were beginning to fight and if there are too many cockerels to hens then the hens get harassed. One of our hens has only just got her feathers back after being harassed by one cockerel in particular. It is just mean to keep them for too long unless they have a role of mating for fertile eggs to keep the flock going. Even if we let them go, they would fight or be eaten by foxes so not much of life either way.
I'm not sure Amanda was joining in the party though. Maybe
she is pregnant then. I guess we will find out soon.

Mari looks like she's been dancing all night
With those jobs out of the way, it was time to catch the bus to Riga in time for the overnight bus to Berlin. I would like to catch a train as there is more room to move around, but it is not that convenient from the Baltic States yet. The bus though is convenient, as I can get the international bus from the same station that my village bus goes to. I wouldn't say the seat was that comfy but at least there is enough room to recline without the seat going into the face of the person behind. It also reclines more than an airplane seat and I found I could sleep. I think it is the practice I've had of travelling. The neck pillow I took though was helpful.
I think Jakobs looks like he was dancing like his Mum
The pond is very full now
One of the nice things about travelling to conferences is that I get to meet lots of people from all over the place, as well as make friends with people who they know. It was a friend of a friend who I organised to meet up with in Berlin. I'm not particularly fond of cities and so no burning ambition to go sightseeing, but if I can stop for a chat with someone then I'm happy. There wasn't much around the bus station apart from mainly fast food eating places. There was a restaurant with a view over Berlin but my new friend was not particularly fond of heights and this restaurant was 55m up a tower.  I wasn't keen of the staircase and wasn't sure if there was a lift so I wasn't keen either, not with my suitcase in tow (if you fancy a visit, here's the link). We decided that the American diner worked the best for us and it didn't turn out too bad if you ignored the rather rude or laidback service, depending on your point of view.
With the leaves gone off the trees it's
easier to see across the road to the
other section of our land. I love the
misty look in this photo

At least Freddie looks like he would
never be out partying
So after a lovely lunch with good company it was off to Hannover. I did have one heart stopping moment as the bus pulls away - where was my handbag? It had slid behind under the seat, but fortunately for me the kind lady behind found it. I arrived in Hannover mid-evening and found where I was staying easily enough, but then realised that I hadn't got the details to get in. I think it was my fault but with a quick hunt through my emails on my phone and a text to the owner I was let into a lovely apartment with a nice clean room and comfy bed. It was a nice place to stay and the lady even bought me some black tea because there weren't many black tea teabags left. She taped one teabag onto the handle of the door for when I got back after my first day at the conference, so I would know they were in the drawer where the teabags are kept, which was very sweet of her.

Leibniz University where the
first day of conference was held.
We moved to the Hannover
Conference after that.
The conference week had some long days and early starts so that comfy bed was very welcome. I think that is probably why I don't feel so worn out. I also didn't have to do any cooking all week, which made a nice change. I hadn't been to one of these kinds of meetings before and they had been going for 10 years, so I was surprised to meet quite a few of the people from my summer school in Peyresq, France from about 5 years ago. One of the keynote speakers was also a fellow student on that course and we had gelled as two older ladies. I was surprised she remembered me as she is a busy kind of lady. I managed to embarrass myself when a young lady walked past who I recognised and she recognised me, but I couldn't remember where from. It wouldn't be so bad but it was only the week before in Helsinki. I guess I had the excuse I had been on an overnight bus the day before. It must have addled my brain more than I thought. She was very gracious though and I found out she would be joining us for an evening dinner.

Mr. Cool. I don't think being at a party would ruffle George
One aspect of the conference made me realise what a rich life we lead. The conference dinner was rather pricey. It was great that I got to chat with a lady who does work with communicating research to people on the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland who would be affected by climate change.Many traditional activities would be affected with the knock on effects on tourism and a whole way of life if, as they expect, sea ice does not build up in winter. No cross country skiing across the ice, no ice fishing, no driving on the iced up areas and so on. Life would be very different!

But don't be beguiled by his sweet looks. He's the naughty
one who eats through fences, just like his Mum
Anyway the meal itself was nice, but felt rather ordinary. It was all locally produced and ecological. Errr! Yes! It tasted nice. I had guinea fowl with green beans, broad beans, pine nuts, salad and pesto sauce. It just did not feel very special when we kind of eat like that anyway. Okay not the pine nuts and much pesto sauce, but we quite often have wild mushroom sauce instead - it's no big deal when you have a forest. All our vegetables are locally sourced, either from our own garden or gifts from others. I haven't had guinea fowl in a while but grass-fed lamb, grass-fed chicken, elk, wild boar, beaver sausage once, organic goat and so on. All locally sourced. We eat like kings.

I love the balustrade on this house. This
was on my walk to the conference. I always
try to make sure I get to walk from where
I stay to the conference centre. 
Of course it was interesting getting to know some of the research going on, but it was more interesting meeting new people and reconnecting with others. I did manage to recognise one name, a fellow PhD student who used to take me in his car from Latvia to Tartu for some of the courses we did together in the same year. I hadn't seen him for a few years, but it was good to hear what was going on in forestry in Latvia, whilst on the field trip to the lovely Lüneburg Heath. There were other people who I did not know but were at the same university that I work for, but they knew me. The head of department had been telling them about me and the fact I had alpacas. One of the guys and I had quite a long conversation on alpaca care to see how they might work for conservation purposes on some of the sensitive heathlands. Not sure if it would work but it might be something worth investigating and I was able to point him in the direction of the Estonian Alpaca Association, which he hadn't realised existed and also to say that he would be better talking to my husband too. So maybe we could organise a university field trip to alpaca farms - now that would be intriguing.

It's hard to believe that much of Hannover is actually
reconstructed as it was decimated during the second world
The week flew by and my waistline may have suffered again, although I was fairly good and didn't snack often. I wasn't happy though on my last night in Hannover to be woken at 3:00am by a text from the company I had booked a train to Berlin with to say they had booked me onto the later train. It would be a bit tight to get from the train station to the bus station. I looked to see if there were any other trains but to re-book on those would have cost a fortune. I had to leave it till the morning. I woke early and looked at the train times again and then the bus times. It was possible to book on the bus an hour earlier than the train time and I still had time to make it to but had to rush to make it. I had told the hosts I would be getting the 10am train and so had to leave a note to say I had to leave earlier and hope all was okay. I gather it was as I got a nice review on the AirBnB site, as a quiet hardworking guest.

Slept in?
Fortunately I made the bus and it didn't cost me much more - although I shall complain about that, it shouldn't have cost me extra at all. It would have been helpful to have had more of a choice in timing.  At least I didn't have to work out how to cross Berlin, it just meant an extra hour sitting on a bus. I went back to the diner for lunch where the service had improved since the last time I was there, which was a good job as I didn't have as much time for them to mess around to eventually serve me. In fact the older lady was very pleasant. I had more space on the bus to Warsaw as the adjacent seat was empty and I had the chance to spread out. Unfortunately that wasn't the case for the nighttime but I still slept. With plenty of coffee, tea and lunch in Riga before my bus home to the village, I was fine, but it was still nice to see Ian turning up in the wind and the rain that greeted me on arrival in Latvia.

Munching away. There isn't much grass so they've been
eating more hay. It's probably good for them as it is easy for
them to get too fat.
I was back to work this morning and learning to work in the coolish caravan. It can be warmed up quickly enough, so not too bad at night, but during the day we try to be economical. It was a bit of a chilly afternoon though as our local vet came around. She wants to learn how to make blood slides so she can check the blood of the animals she cares for. Ian was showing her what to look for. A step back in time for him as it would be over 30 years since he learnt the techniques. It was amusing for him to think about the guy who taught him, as I guess he wouldn't have thought how useful that skill is on an alpaca farm in the middle of rural Latvia.