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
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.

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