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Javea, Spain.

 

How on earth was this my first time on mainland Spain? Childhood holidays were spent in Tenerife, Mallorca and Minorca, so I felt I had experienced Spain. But oh no…

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I travelled to Alicante from Manchester and enjoyed the relatively short flight. Just enough time for a cup of coffee, a bite to eat and a read of a few chapters of my book (I’ve started the The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin). I landed and started down the steps from the plane. Boom, humidity hit me. I love that feeling. It was evening when I landed so I couldn’t get much of an idea about the look of Spain yet. Travelling to Javea I could see lots of houses dotted around on the hill sides. Yes, it was very hilly. I like that. I met my friend Louise at my bus drop off point. She’s lived in Spain since she was tiny but we met whilst doing our Masters research in Kenya. We were up until the early hours chatting about everything. Amazing first evening.

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Up and out relatively early the next day so Louise and her Mum could run some errands. This gave me a free hour on my own. I walked along the promenade at the port and sat at a sea front bar to enjoy a coffee. The mediterranean sea was glistening and the heat was quite exhausting, but I couldn’t help but smile. Sunshine is just wonderful. England has had a summer of showers this year so I will take any ray of sunshine I can get. Anyway… After my coffee I met Louise and her Mum for some lunch. We had a traditional Spanish dish called Tostada, a baguette type bread sliced in half and topped with chopped tomatoes. Very tasty and fresh. After a refuel we then went to the old town of Javea. This was beautiful. Jam packed full of old narrow streets, all with a different feel and character. The balconies of the buildings all have tiles underneath and so any foot passenger walking below has a lovely colourful view when they look to the sky. There is a huge church in the centre sprayed with bullet holes from the civil war. It was one of the nicest old towns I have seen. We also nipped into a nearby market and I treated myself to some fresh figs! They just don’t taste the same in England, they need heat. The afternoon was spent lounging in the sun and enjoying the swimming pool. We then got ourselves ready and went for a meal and then headed out for drinks. Tequila was had… That is all that needs to be said really.

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Due to said tequila, the next day was a write off. We just sat in the sun and chatted. We had so much to catch up on. Never a dull moment. A speedy evening meal out and an early night was had. Tequila is bad.

The next day was packed with fun. We woke up and left the house for 7 to go on a walk up the hill. There used to be a national park there but it was burnt down last year so it is quite bare now. It was extremely humid but worth the view. We caught the sunrise and it was beautiful. We shared our walk with the swooping swallows and swifts. They always look so busy in their aerial displays. We got back from the walk and then headed to the port to do some water sport. We decided on kayaking. I’ve never kayaked on the sea so it was quite exciting. We had an hour so we didn’t go too far, we just enjoyed being in the sea. The way back was tough, the waves were against us and the sun was very hot. I think it’s safe to say I’ll be sticking to my running, kayaking is tough! I was glad to be back by the end. We got back to Louise’s just in time for her other friend Amie to arrive. Yes, two Amie’s, both with an I E. What are the chances? Amie got settled and then we all met another friend, Sienna, for tapas by the sea. It was so tasty. We had squid, calamaris, pork, patatas bravas, bread with allioli. All so tasty. Spanish food is really nice. It’s so impressive hearing Louise speak Spanish. I want to learn, I’ve told her she has to be my teacher! The afternoon was spent relaxing by the pool. In the evening Louise, Amie and I went for a nice meal. I decided on a salad and that I wouldn’t be drinking. That plan failed. The salad part was fine, a nice tuna one. The non drinking part really didn’t go to plan, I blame peer pressure and tired eyes. I stayed strong for a while, drinking my virgin mojitos and soda waters. But tiredness set in, my eyes were so heavy but it was Amie’s first night and I needed to WAKE UP! One gin and tonic I said.. Just one.. 3 gin and tonics, 2 tequilas and a fruity shot later and I ended up swimming in Louise’s friends (Josh and Sam) pool at 05:30 in the morning, cooking spanish sausages on the BBQ and finally getting home at 07:30. It escalated so quickly. A proper Spanish night was had!

As you can imagine, another day was then spent being hungover and tired. We just sat around the pool and I enjoyed my last day in the sunshine. That evening we went for paella. I have never had it before and I’d been excited to try it. We got the mixed one and it came with langoustines, squid, chicken, pork and octopus. WOW. It was so tasty. I even got complimented on my langoustine peeling abilities. Not bad eh? The best bits were the scrapings from the bottom of the pan, nice and crispy and full of flavour. Perfect last meal in Spain. We sat for a drink at a sea front bar and then headed home. I had an early flight the next day and wanted a couple of hours sleep.

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And that about sums up my trip. Spain is such a brilliant place, or at least, the little corner of it I have seen is. The people, food and lifestyle is so refreshing. Laid back and happy is exactly what I wanted to be on that holiday and it is exactly what I got.

If you haven’t been then I urge you to go. Try all the foods and embrace the siestas and the late, late nights. Enjoy dipping your toes in the mediterranean sea and feeling the humidity on your cheeks. I did. I think it was just the detox I needed.

Spain and Louise, I’ll be back.

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Better late than never

I haven’t written a blog post in ages! I’ve been busy and not in my normal routine. But today I thought I could write a quick post about what I have been getting up to.

The past month I have been back home in England and I am so happy to see my family and friends. I’m even happy to be in the British summertime weather. Rain makes the countryside nice and green after all…

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I wasn’t back home long before I went away for a couple of weeks to my second home of Northern Cyprus. It wasn’t a trip of great adventure (I’ve explored it a lot in the past) but rather a trip to try and relax. I spent every day swimming in the sea and getting a huge dose of vitamin D from the sunshine. It was very hot and humid most of the time but a nice iced coffee soon helped with that. I indulged in a fair few turkish coffees too! One of my favourite things about Cyprus in the summer are the fresh figs. Straight from the tree. Warm, juicy, sweet. There is nothing quite like the taste of a fig. Maybe I would go as far as to say they are my favourite fruit. Although the watermelons over in Cyprus are sublime too. They are about three times the size of those found in the UK and the flavour is at least ten times as intense. Just amazing. Anyway… As well as scrumptious fruits we also enjoyed traditional turkish meze. What a feast! We tried to pick our favourite dishes but it is just too hard. I love the stuffed vine leaves or courgette flowers. But then, i also love the cigarette rolls stuffed with soft cheese….or maybe my favourite is the mini lamachun… see it is just too hard. Too many amazing tastes to try and pick a winner. Away from the savoury world and we get baklava. If you have never tried this then you need to hunt some out. It is flakey pastry, drenched in a sugary syrup and usually incorporates pistachios into the mix. What a dream. Turkish food is so amazing. Aside from the food Cyprus never fails to make me smile. My Mum used to live in Cyprus and so over the years me and my sister have come to know a lot of people and so it is always nice to go back and meet friendly faces and have a good catch up. It’s like we have a mini family in the Mediterranean. How lovely!

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Back from Cyprus and I had an exciting wedding to attend. My best friend Iqra’s oldest sister was getting married and I got to go to one of the celebrations! This meant I could wear some of the amazing asian clothes I have seen Iqra wear before. They are just so beautiful! Waheeda, Iqra’s mum, had chosen an amazing red outfit for me. It was so interesting to see the different traditions compared to an English wedding. There was so much colour everywhere. All the women had amazing outfits. So many different designs and patterns. There were several performances presented to the happy couple. A comedic play about Reshma meeting Sebastian, Columbian dancing, a group dance performed by the girls. It was amazing. It was such a nice opportunity to see something different than usual.

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Another first for me came with the attendance to the horse races in York. All the family went to celebrate my Uncle’s 60th birthday. I have never been to any horse races before so it was such a treat. We all dressed up and had our own box for the day. We placed our bets and enjoyed an amazing view from the balcony. I won 1 of the 7 races and I was so chuffed. I think at least one of the family won for each race which was nice. It’s always nice to just spend time with everyone and have a laugh. I love them all to bits!

Talking about family…I finally got to meet the lovely new addition to the family. Max Rapps is such a treat. Only a few weeks old but possibly my favourite person. We worked out he is my first cousin once removed. It’s faffy to say that though so I think I will just stick with calling him my nephew!

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So those are the main events of home life so far.

What a treat I have had.

 

Gdansk and a Shaman

This working week was the usual business. Wake up, run, shower, office time and then Polish lessons or see friends.

It was Corpus Christi on Thursday and so Poland being the highly religious country that it is, everything was shut and it gave us a lovely long weekend. My friend Simla and I decided to take advantage of this and headed to Gdansk for a quick holiday.

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Thursday morning we got to the main train station in Poznan, found our train and climbed aboard! Unfortunately we were unable to reserve seats because the train was so busy and so the 3 and a half hour journey was spent stood up, next to the toilet, in the aisle of the carriage. Nice. Time passed quickly though and it was really nice to look out of the window and see all the lovely wild flowers. There are poppies everywhere now, so beautiful against the pristine green fields and bright blue sky. If I’m not mistaken I think the poppy is the national flower of Poland. I can see why now!

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Anyway.. we eventually arrived in Gdansk and got some lunch at a lovely Mexican place near the Old Town. We then went and found our hostel, changed into our swimming costumes and headed off to find a beach! We hopped on a crowded tram and made our way to Stogi Plaza. Google told us this was the most popular beach near Gdansk. It was full of people enjoying the sunshine, but we were slightly concerned as there was absolutely no one swimming! We dumped our bags, stripped off and went for it! Into the Baltic sea! To our surprise it really wasn’t that cold and we enjoyed standing in the waves and feeling the sun on our cheeks. It’s not every day we get to swim in the sea so we made the most of it.

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After drying off and changing, we went back to Gdansk city centre and enjoyed a coffee on the Old Street. Then we wandered around and even decided to get on a big wheel to see the city from a birds eye view. Very touristy! We enjoyed looking at all the lovely buildings and watching the rowers practicing on the river. I have to write a few words on the Polish people and their obsession with ice cream. On the old street there are at least 15 ice cream shops and all of them have queues! Everyone you see is eating the stuff! I know ice cream is nice, but here it is like a drug. I’ve tried some in Poznan and I must admit, they make it well. My favourite so far is werthers original!

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Anyway, I digress..

Tea time came and we found a nice place to eat next to the river and I had some lovely halibut. Only seemed right to have some fish when at the sea side. A wander back to the hostel followed and the day ended with a read of my book and the sound of swifts outside.

Friday morning we headed for breakfast and went to a museum in the old town hall of Gdansk. It was mainly about the history of Gdansk in the 16th and 17th centuries. There was one room, the “red room”, which used to be the summer time meeting room. The ceiling was covered in amazing paintings. Even the doors were impressive, the wood carvings were so intricate.

After the museum we grabbed a quick lunch and went to get our train back to Poznan. The train was relatively empty compared to the outward journey. We found our carriage and got settled. There was a man in our carriage too, dressed in technicolour trousers and fashioning a large beaded necklace. We started talking and he told me that he moved to Ireland 15 years ago and was an accountant there, but a year ago he packed it in, went to Peru, drank the “medicine” and became a shaman. His guide in life is his necklace. He was so interesting to talk to. He asked me what I did, so I told him I was an ornithologist. He then produced a small plastic bag filled with feathers. He insisted I chose two to keep. They were from birds of the amazon. His name was Chris and for a good hour and a half we chatted about anything and everything. He was saying how nothing is a coincidence, everything happens for a reason. I love talking to fellow hippies!

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At Bygdoszcz, a city half way through the journey, an elderly Irish couple with their daughter joined our carriage. They were visiting Poland because Maive’s (the daughter) husband is currently living in Poznan, teaching at a flight school. They had a huge bag of strawberries with them and insisted we helped them eat them. They were delicious and a nice unexpected treat. We talked about all sorts and it was so lovely to hear all the anecdotal stories from the couple. The journey passed so quickly and we were back in Poznan before we knew it.

We said our farewells and me and Simla headed home. I felt so happy after that journey, it really lifted my spirits. I love meeting different people and hearing their stories. And now I have my feathers as a lovely reminder of my special train journey and the shaman.

x

A northern girl at the Opera

This week has gone quite quickly. Had lots of nice little things happen.

On Monday I had my Polish language exam. It seemed to go okay, although I thought of a couple of silly mistakes I had made. All that grammar is hard to remember! The first lovely thing in my week was enjoying a refreshing drink with my friend Simla after the exam. It was that time of day, just before dusk, when the air goes slightly humid and the light in the sky is a mix of pastel colours. I think that is my favourite time of day. It reminds me of playing outside with my sister when we were little, listening to blackbirds singing and catching fresh water shrimp from the stream. Anyway…

Tuesday is reserved for rock climbing. Me and Pavel set off and had good feelings about routes we would choose and exercises we could do. Half way there Pavel realised he had left his climbing kit at the office so we turned back. During the retrieval of his gear the tram 16 we need to take to get to the climbing centre had a problem and had stopped running… disaster. But oh no.. Pavel decided he would make up for this lost opportunity and hire us city bikes to ride back to the city centre. It was so much fun! I haven’t been on a bike in years and I had forgotten how great it is! We were riding for about 25 minutes and then enjoyed a scoop of ice cream afterwards. Maybe he should leave his rock climbing kit more often!

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Wednesday was exam results day. I got 58/60! So so happy. In English we don’t really use cases and conjugations and so I am so proud of this grade. Polish is a really hard language but everyday I am getting to understand a little bit more which is quite exciting. I need to keep practicing now!

Thursday’s lovely thing was seeing my colleague Michał at the coffee break at work. He has been really busy doing field work and even when he is not in the field he lives in Warsaw and so we don’t get to see him much. We were talking about the work he has been doing and about Cameroon. Sometimes the little things can make a lovely change.

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Friday was another office day and then I went to an amazing Mexican restaurant with Simla. It is on a tiny street off of Old Town and I genuinely forgot I was in Poznan for a while. It is like you are transported to Mexico. There was a lovely atmosphere and colour all over. I love finding these new little places. I must say, I haven’t had a bad meal since being in Poznan. The food is always top notch.

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Now for the day of the Opera…

People that know me will understand that I am not exactly the Opera going type… I don’t have high heels, I don’t have minimalist clothing. So I was slightly stuck with what to wear. So me being me, I put on my most colourful dress, matched with Birkenstocks and bangles and my favourite wicker handbag and off I went. Safe to say, I was under dressed. I met my friends Viola and Łucaś and we went to a great vegetarian restaurant called Słodka and Ostra in my district of Poznan. We had a taster of the different soups and then a great salad. It was brilliant. Then off we went to the theatre. It is so grand inside, a huge chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Gosh I was out of my depth. But I sat in my seat and became mesmerised by the beautiful voices. We saw die zauberflote. Viola had informed me that the Queen of the Night character has one of the most difficult aria’s to perform in any opera. It was so impressive and beautiful. Her voice was incredible, I’m not sure how she got to such high notes. I wasn’t exactly sure on everything that was happening due to it being performed in German and translated in Polish, but it didn’t matter. I thoroughly enjoyed it. A night to remember! Next time I will probably opt out of the sandals though…

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Sometimes it’s nice to pick little things that have been lovely in your day. You might think it was just any old day but there are always little things that can make you smile. I’m a big believer in silver linings.

Here is to more silver linings next week.

xx

 

This week I slept in a car…

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This week started off very exciting. I was invited to join my friend Paweł with his field work. I went to work on Monday and collected the equipment I needed to record the Ortolan Buntings: recorder, GPS, parabola microphone, headphones and batteries. I packed the bare minimum, with the most important thing being my binoculars. I went to my Polish lesson, got back, grabbed my stuff and went to meet Paweł. Now, I have to say… He had informed me that I would be sleeping in the car, which was fine. I have seen his car before and it’s a hatchback and so big enough to fit a 5ft 2inch girl like me. However, a few days before our trip he had an unfortunate collision with a roe deer which meant his car was in for repairs, leaving him with a small fiat rental car. This car was not a hatchback… anyway.. more on the sleeping later.

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So we drove to Odolanów. First we made a detour to Leszno so Paweł could collect his equipment from his parents home. His mum was so lovely. She insisted we drank some juice and gave us a huge bag of food to take for our trip. How kind! After a couple more hours driving we arrived at our destination. We grabbed a beer from the petrol station and then went and found a good place to park the car. It was very dark so I couldn’t get my bearings but we just parked in a random field in the middle of nowhere. The stars looked amazing, I think I was slightly hypnotised! We stood and drank our beer and listened to quails calling and the barking of a nearby roe deer (quite a scary sound when it sneaks up on you). Time to sleep…. I rolled back the passenger seat as far as possible, got in my sleeping bag and attempted to get some rest. It didn’t really happen…

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I was woken up by a tap on the car window at 03:30 the next morning, the birds were up and singing early! I quickly got ready and we headed out to record the beautiful Ortolans. They have a lovely little song. They choose song posts (spots they perch to sing) that are high in trees, usually pine or oak, at the edge of small forest patches in farmland. This makes it relatively easy to find territories of males because you just have to walk along the edge of a forest fragment until you hear the lovely tune. It was a great morning, but it soon got very hot and the birds stopped singing quite early. I headed back to the car and then met Paweł shortly after. We drove to a few other spots to see if the males were still singing. I had already seen and heard so many birds including white storks, a marsh harrier, red backed shrikes, a buzzard, barred warblers, quails, pheasants, yellow hammers, wood warblers, a blackcap, chiffchaffs and of course the lovely ortolan buntings. After a few site checks we went and found somewhere to nap in the shade. We had checked the weather forecast and there was a storm on the way so after checking a couple more sights we parked up and waited it out. It was quite exciting, at one point it was right above us. It lasted about an hour and then it passed over, taking a lot of the humidity with it. We decided to go bird watching after the storm to see if any  interesting species had dropped by to take shelter. We went to some huge fish ponds and saw great reed warbler, common tern, penduline tit, gadwall, wigeon and marsh harrier. We also heard rose finch, hoopoe, kingfisher, icterine warbler and marsh warbler. Near one of the fish ponds there is an oak tree that is 400 years old! It was massive and so grand. We went and got some food and beer and then found a new sleeping spot. The mosquitos were out in force and I got bitten several times on the bum! I slept better that night as I was shattered!

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Woke up at 03:30 again but this time no bird song. The weather was very windy and drizzly and so it put a delay on everything. Even the skylarks weren’t singing. We waited and waited and still no singing so we moved to another site and managed to record a couple. Paweł made a decision for us to head back to Poznan. The forecast was the same for the next day so it was pointless staying. We got back by 10 which gave me enough time to shower and get ready for a course I am attending on teaching techniques. On my way back home after my class I passed a stall selling fresh strawberries so I decided to treat myself to a punnet. I am so happy it is strawberry season. They are huge and so sweet. I had a polish class that evening and was slightly delirious from the early mornings and the fresh air detox. What a fantastic couple of days though!

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Thursday was a day of resting. I also baby sat my Czech friends kid for an hour or so which was sweet. We drew on the pavement with chalks and then watched rocket launches on youtube.

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I’ve been really enjoying solo walks this week. I walk to my favourite spot in Poznan, Sołacski park, and then to Rusałka Lake. It’s an 8 kilometre route and it gives me lots of time to enjoy being outside and have a pause. I heard a lovely reed warbler on one of my trips. Chaffinches are so vocal and it’s nice to pick out the individual differences in the songs.

Back in England, the wildlife trust does a 30 days wild event for the month of June. This means that for every day in the month you have to do something that connects you with nature. I did this last year and it was so nice. It allows you to really explore, learn and appreciate everything wild around you. I am excited I am doing this again. So far I have appreciated colours, bird song and the amazing David Attenborough.

Who knows what natural amazingness I will come across next week…

 

A sister and a bee.

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This week has been very emotional for many of us.

A terrorist attack in my home city of Manchester has taken 22 lives and effected so many in ways I cannot fathom.

I am not a great writer. I can’t write a blog post to explain this. Or in any way make it better. But I can write about how utterly proud I am to be from such an amazing city. I can talk about Mancunian spirit and the way we rally together. I can say that Manchester is a great city filled with inspirational people.

Mancunians…We are kind. We are strong. We are one.

I used to work in the city centre. I would walk through the streets hearing a jumble of different languages and seeing a mash up of different faces. In a line up of people you couldn’t pick out a Mancunian. We are a people of all sorts. We have china town, the curry mile, hipsters in the northern quarter. We have buskers, business people and students. We have sport, music and pubs. We are diverse and weird and amazing. It took me to move abroad to realise this. It is no ordinary city.

This week we have seen Manchester show the rest of the world just how me we care for each other. Strangers coming together in times of crisis and showing such compassion. In times of such horror, this is not our shield. This strength is our weapon. We fight with love. Love for any human being who needs it.

I am so proud of this.

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Now for my usual post…

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I had a visitor this week which was nice. My lovely little sister joined me for 4 days of sunshine, ice cream and walks.

Most of our time was spent wandering around parks and chatting. One day we went to a place called KontenerART which is created for the summer season. It is a venue made from shipping containers with a beer garden and small beach. At night there is even space for bands to perform. We didn’t feel like we were trendy enough to stay here but we embraced it and sat for a while!

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One afternoon we went and sat by Warta river. This is the river that runs through Poznan. It’s a nice place to go to escape the centre of the city. We had a lovely view of the Cathedral and just enjoyed the quiet. We played cards. I won 5 of the 6 games…

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I mainly enjoyed the hugs. It’s always nice when you are with your favourite person.

Just lovely.

And that’s that.

xx

 

 

 

Bird song

So this week has been a pretty bog standard week in the life of Amie. Polish lessons, rock climbing, swimming and socialising. All this on top of my work.

I thought I’d write a little bit about what I actually do most days and about bird song in general.

So..

This week I have been looking at natural duetting behaviour of my lovely study species, the mighty yellow-breasted boubou. This involves sitting in front of a computer and looking for synchronous male and female vocalisations. It takes a really long time because the recordings are from 5am until 7pm. Lots of minutes of recordings and lots of duets to highlight. In total I have around 8 days worth of these recordings to finish. It might sound boring to most people but actually when the field work is over, the hard science kicks in! Analysing recordings and then doing the statistics on the data means that we get inspiration and ideas for the next field season. Which is a really exciting thought.

Anyway..

One of the reasons I love bird song so much is that it is always around. You might not ever see the bird, but you know it is there. And most of the time, the songs are beautiful. I think bird songs are a constant reminder that animals are all around us, all the time. Which I find really exciting. We share this planet with amazing species. How lovely is it that I can walk down the street back in Manchester and in the city centre hear beautiful blackbirds. Walking through Poznan city centre I get to listen to swifts screeching overhead. Early mornings when you think no other thing is awake and all of a sudden a robin will start his early morning chorus. Definitely makes early morning worth while right? Then slowly throughout the day the music of the sky gets full and loud. Until you can’t help but tune in to all the amazing sounds. It can feel overwhelming sometimes. Even as I write this there is a house sparrow chirping away nearby, swifts screeching and jackdaws calling to a neighbour. Lovely.

This is why I appreciate being able to study bird song so much. Understanding its uses is exciting for me. Are they singing to show off to a female? Are they singing to defend a brilliant territory from a pesky competitor? That’s what I aim to find out!

It’s not a long post this week. More of a short rant about my love for beautiful songs. Maybe next time you’re sat at home and hear a bird, try and identify it. Not every bird species. Just the next one you hear. It’s quite nice investigating and realising which species it is. They are your neighbours after all.

Listen out and be happy. The world is full of lovely things.

xx

A geeky week

This week has been a geeky one. I had a numerical ecology course all week which was really useful but intense! We had two professors visit from Switzerland who taught the class the ins and outs of all the statistical tests related to ecology and the related computer code needed for the computer software we use. Yes, that’s right, I can write computer code! The course was from Monday until Saturday and most days seemed like ground hog day. I met some new people which was lovely and got to see a new part of campus too. The geography building. To get to geography required walking from biology, past maths and physics, and through a small forest. This was such a lovely part of my days. The forest is so loud with birds. Thursday, Friday and Saturday were particularly nice because the weather finally became brighter and so the birds were singing with joy. Or at least it seemed that way. Every morning I got to listen to chaffinches, wrens, blackbirds, song thrushes, great tits, willow warblers, yellow hammers and chiffchaffs. On two mornings I even heard a golden oriole! Although I didn’t manage to spot it. The main thing making me smile this week has to be the swifts. They are soaring high in the sky and screeching. I love that sound. A screech doesn’t sound like it would be nice to listen to but it really is. These birds have come all the way from Southern Africa and when I hear them it reminds me how amazing birds are and why I love doing what I do. I urge you to stop next time you hear a swift and just close your eyes and listen for a while. It’s so relaxing.

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Anyway…

I finally got to see Cameroon Kasia this week. I haven’t seen her in so long and it was just so lovely to catch up. We always end up laughing about Cameroonian tales. We enjoyed an amazing honey beer in the sunshine and kiełbasa (Polish sausage) cooked on a proper fire. There was a party on campus so it was nice to just relax after a hard day of statistics.

After my course finished on Saturday my weekend finally began. I invited Simla and Donata over for Eurovision. Donate made traditional Lithuania cold beetroot soup. Simla made a traditional Turkish buffet of kisir (tomato and bulgar wheat), kofte (amazing meatballs), pilav (yummy rice) and Patates Püresi (a kind of mashed potato). It was all delicious. Unfortunately because I’ve been so busy this week I had no time to make my pudding. So instead I made proper British builders brews with rich teas for dunking! In between the starter and main course Simla prepared Turkish coffee for us. When you finish the coffee there is sediment left at the bottom of the cup. We placed a saucer on top of the cup and flipped it upside down and let the coffee drip down onto the saucer. When the mug is cool you can remove it and then read your fortune! Simla did this part for us. It was so interesting! I love things like that, it makes you look for the positives in things I think.

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A geeky but enjoyable week.

I am feeling very inspired.

xx

 

Lithuania: From Capital to Coast, and back again.

Well what an adventure I have been on. There is so much to write about I don’t even know where to start.

First thing is first. Lithuania is amazing.

To get to this amazing country we got a train to Warsaw and then from there a 7 hour bus trip to Kaunus. The Neman river meanders through the city and nestled in a river bend, in the middle of a forest, is Donata’s family home. It’s like being in Hansel and Gretel, although luckily the gingerbread witch was missing! Auguste, Donata’s sister, had prepared some kluski for us for breakfast. These are my favourite Polish food, small dumplings that are just the cosiest things to have after a long trip. I also tried these cottage cheese bars covered in chocolate (varškės sūrelis) which were super tasty! By the end of the morning I had met all the family and tried out my first Lithuanian words, Laba Diena (Good day) and Ačiū (Thank you). Ačiū is easy to remember because it just sounds like a sneeze (A-choo). Donata’s grandma was particularly excited to meet me. Apparently she kept saying how cute I was and that she can’t believe I was doing a PhD because I’m so tiny. She sent us away with half a pineapple, some wine and dark chocolate. Yum!

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A walk in the forest was a nice wake up. Still hadn’t slept from the previous day so the fresh air did us good. From the forest we moved to Kaunus centre, via a retro style electric bus, and I was shown St. Michael the Archangel Church. It is a very grand and huge building. It looks a little worn but I think this adds to it’s character. First of many impressive building I got to see on this trip. We met Donata’s friend Sigita and then Auguste and we all got on a bus to Vilnius, the Capital. For the trip we bought these amazing sushi sandwiches. For anyone that likes sushi, I urge you to find these. Perfect travelling snack!

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We arrived in Vilnius after a couple of hours and had an explore of this beautiful city. We walked down the Old Town and came to a huge bell tower. For a few euros we got to go inside and so me and Donata climbed to the top for a birds-eye view of the city. It was beautiful. There are lots of churches dotted around, all very impressive. My favourite was the Church of St. Anne. It looked especially old and really gothic. From the top we had a great view of the Castle on the hill. A popular landmark of the Lithuanian Capital. Once down from the tower, we headed to the Cathedral. Wow! A lovely building. We went inside and had a look around. It was extremely beautiful. During all this travelling Donata found out she had passed her Masters degree so we went to her favourite bar for a celebratory Long Island ice tea! We also tried another Lithuanian dish of fried bread with cheese sauce (Duona su česnaku). This is probably the best food I tried the whole trip. It would be incredible after a hard night on the town. Move over cheesy chips, fried bread is where the action is! After the refuel we headed to the concert hall and saw Imany. She was absolutely fantastic. Such a talent. And yes, this was all without any sleep. After the concert Donata and I stayed at her friend, Agnė’s, house in the city. That night I slept like a log. Exhausted, but what a day!

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Up the next day and ready for more adventure. Me, Donata and Agnė went for breakfast and then me and Donata headed to Trakai, the castle island. The weather was miserable but it did not dampen our spirits! Oh no! En route to the castle, a fellow tourist joined us. A woman from Turkey who was on a fleeting visit. All three of us wandered around the castle and tried to take in all the information. It was a really interesting place and once the Capital of Lithuania. The castle is situated on an Island in the middle of a huge lake. It’s really medieval and different to anything I have seen before. I got to send some post cards home with the official castle stamp! After the castle we headed back to the bus stop and managed to grab some traditional kibinai for the journey. Kibinai are a sort of pasty, but probably half the size of the British cornish pasty. They are a lot lighter too. We had one filled with chicken and another with spinach and cheese. Both were delicious. Lithuanian food is good!!! Bus back to Vilnius and then a double decker train back to Kaunus! I was so excited, I’ve always wanted to travel on a double decker train.

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We got back home and had a wash and change before our next journey. Me, Donata, Auguste and Justas, Donata’s brother, all piled in the car and made our way to the coast. This was about 2 hours in the car. This was really nice because I got the chance to see the beautiful Lithuanian countryside. I saw lots of white storks and a fair few cranes too. We arrived at the city of Klaipeda in the evening and stayed with Donata’s grandparents. Her grandmother had made a feast for us, including lots of amazing sweet treats. My favourite was the honey cake. It was like a dream. I noticed that the Lithuanian recipes often use sour cream, for both sweet and savoury dishes. It’s really tasty and gives a different flavour than recipes I am used to. I only use sour cream for a mexican fajita! There was lots of chat that evening, mostly in Lithuanian, but it was nice. The Lithuanian language sounds really bubbly and fluid. A bit like a lullaby. Full of amazing food and adventure, we all went to sleep ready for the next day.

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Waking up to the smell of pancakes was just divine. Fresh pancakes, omelette, coffee and more honey cake greeted us in the living room. We feasted until we were full and then wandered to Klaipeda Old Town for a quick sight seeing tour. It was lovely. At around 11 Donata, Auguste and I jumped in the car and got to the ferry to cross the Curonian spit. This is a huge lagoon formed between the mainland and a small strip of land cutting off the Baltic Sea. It’s beautiful. A 10 minute ferry and we were across, and we had entered paradise. First stop was a Dolphin and Sea Lion show. From here we drove across the sliver of land to Juodkrantė, a town in the middle of the Curonian spit. Lithuania’s largest cormorant and heron colony is situated here. It was amazing to see. The sounds from the nesting birds were brilliant and the smell was powerful too… Unfortunately the cormorant droppings are really acidic and so their presence is actually having quite a negative effect on the forest. One of those complicated conservation stories. We walked to the town passing fishing nets that had been hung out to dry. Lunch was in a tiny house with a few tables. The menu was great though and the food, surprise surprise, was delicious. My favourite part of my Lithuania trip was in this lovely town in the form of the hill of witches. This is a short walk where you can find lots of wooden sculptures of witches, devils and folklore characters. They were so impressive and it was just so interesting. Donata and Auguste were telling me all the old folk tales. One involves a women turning her children into trees because her snake husband was killed. The usual stuff…

Next we headed to the end of the Lithuanian part of the Curonian spit to a town called Nida. We were informed of a free concert in the town so decided to go. We stayed for a few songs, the musicians were amazing. By this point Sigita had joined us again and all 4 of us decided to go for a walk along the lagoon edge. There were two swans who started a courtship dance which was amazing to see. I’ve never witnessed it before, they were very elegant. That evening was spent splaying board games, drinking wine, dancing and laughing.

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The sun beaming through the curtains woke me up. Yes, the sun was finally here. We all got ready and headed to the town for breakfast. I got to try traditional potato pancakes. They were delicious. The Lithuanians certainly know how to spruce up a potato. I also tried Kvaas, a bread based drink. It is very similar to beer but it is non alcoholic. Really tasty. We made our way to the sand dunes after breakfast. This was the most beautiful part of my Lithuanian trip. They are magnificent. We climbed to the top of the dunes and found the sun clock, and it actually worked! I’m not sure when this was built but it is a huge stone structure sat right on top of the largest dune. From this place you can see the Lithuania- Russia border. Luckily it’s not that easy to get to it so there is no risk of stumbling across.

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From the dunes we then went to the seaside. The beaches have bright white sand, like a paradise island. We all walked for a while in silence, the sound of the waves and the smell of the sea was hypnotising and we all fell into a trance for a while. Bloody lovely! A quick lunch break in town allowed me to try yet another traditional dish of cold beetroot soup. This was so refreshing, probably my second favourite meal after the fried bread! We wandered around the town again for a while and managed to find some traditional smoked fish to try later in the day. We all bundled into the car, got the ferry, and went back to Donata’s grandparents. The smoked fish was amazing. Donata’s grandma had once again cooked up a storm and she had also bought a Šakotis cake. Šakotis is a spike cake that is made by pouring batter over a cylinder placed over a fire. This means the batter drips and bakes at the same time making it look like a spikey tree. Really tasty. That evening us four girls and Justas went into Klaipeda city for a drink. Another amazing day.

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Another day and more seaside adventures. We said our goodbyes to the grandparents and then us 4 girls headed to the Dutch hat. This is a lovely beach further along the coast. Again, we became hypnotised and just wandered along in thought. So peaceful. After the Dutch hat was Palenga. This is a seaside resort town filled with alsorts of attractions. We ate these amazing waffles on sticks. I got mine covered with coconut. Yum! We went to the sea and walked out onto a bridge that extends quite far away from the shore. It was loaded with fisherman that day, all waiting patiently for the perfect catch. When we reached the end of the bridge we all through a cent out to sea. This is a tradition done by many people here, wishing them a healthy year so they can return to Palenga once again.  We walked through a lovely park and then all piled into the car again. For lunch we went to a strange little resort in the middle of nowhere. It was a few buildings of touristy things and then a huge restaurant in the middle. With a huge queue. We eventually got a table and ordered a selection of traditional dishes. Including cepelinai (meat filled potato dumplings), potato pie, chicken shashlik and more fried bread and kvaas. All so tasty. I’m starting to think I must be slightly eastern european in origin. I love the food too much. After lunch we made the 2 hour drive back down to Kaunus. What a lovely weekend. That evening we just relaxed and chatted.

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Last full day in Lithuania. I got to try Lithuanian white cheese with honey for breakfast. A prefect combination and something I need to try again. A wander into the forest followed. We found an ornithological site near a reservoir and managed to see lots of common merganser which was nice. Being in nature is always lovely, especially when you’re in enchanting forests surrounded by the chorus of what seems like a thousand birds. Donata’s mum had prepared some amazing turkey for lunch so we had this with a salad. No potato in sight, for a change. In the afternoon Donata, Auguste, Justas and I drove into Kaunus so I could see the Old Town. It is a beautiful city, and seems to contain restaurants with cuisine from all around the globe. We walked to a point where the two largest rivers in Lithuania meet. That was really beautiful. Apparently from above you can see how the rivers have different colours. We also managed to get to a view point to look across the city from above. A perfect evening stroll. We got back to the house and had a small celebration for an early Lithuania Mothers Day. We had cake and I got to try Lithuanian beer. The rest of the evening was spent watching a film and relaxing.

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Wednesday, and back to Poznan. We set off mid morning and after 7 hours on a bus, a 3 hour wait in Warsaw and then a 3 hour train journey, we were back.

Wow!

I just want to say a massive thank you to all of Donata’s family for hosting me and making me feel so welcome. Auguste was the best driver and a brilliant tour guide! And thanks so much to the wonderful Donata for all her planning and inviting me in the first place!!

Lithuania was just beautiful. What an adventure. I climbed dunes, ate amazing food, laughed, danced, saw witches, smelt the sea, explored castles and wandered through forests.

I’ll be back again Lithuania.

I did throw my penny off the bridge after all…

 

 

Visitor number 4

This is just a quick blog entry. I haven’t managed to write for a while as I went on a lovely little adventure. More on that in the next couple of blog entries.

Anyway…

I had another lovely visitor recently, in the shape of my friend Beth! My first friend visitor and it was so nice. Even if the weather wasn’t…

Beth arrived on the Saturday evening and we got back to my flat and just chatted and laughed. Sunday we wandered into the Old Town so we could have a coffee and Beth could see the Poznan goats. It was my fourth time seeing them. I’m dreading how many more times I will have to endure the bloody goats above the clock… If you could see it you would understand why. It’s not exactly the northern lights or the statue of liberty… There was a new highlight this time though. Real goats! I guess it’s the new attraction. The rest of the day we mooched around the city and I pointed out various historical facts along the way. We found a lovely little cafe called Lavenda which does amazing food. I’m starting to have a good list of delicious places to eat. I’m spoilt for choice! I must point out, since living in Poland I haven’t had one bad meal. The food is always amazing. I’m going to hunt out Polish restaurants when I’m in the UK to get my fix.

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The next day we walked around Cytadela park and Beth insisted on seeing the goats again. I sat away from the spectacle in protest. She loved it. We had pierogi for lunch from an amazing little place specialises in these delicious dumplings. We could watch the ladies making them at the front of the shop and there were so many flavours to choose from. My favourite was pumpkin and cinnamon! We managed to try the much talked about Kolorowa ice cream too. On a sunny day the queues are ridiculous and I’ve always wondered what all the fuss was about. Now I know. It was so tasty! I had a banana and biscuit scoop and a blueberry and mascarpone. Even the cone was tasty! I left Beth to go to my Polish lesson and then Donata joined us after for tea. We had an Italian at Ristoro Viva Pomodori. I’ve wanted to try this place ever since passing it on the tram back in October. It didn’t disappoint.

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Tuesday was a very early start for me. I was assisting Paweł in his bioacoustics field class today. It was a great morning. Although my extremely limited Polish meant I wasn’t exactly helpful. But I did smile a lot. Smiling always helps right? When the students were off recording Paweł and I went for a good old birding session. It was amazing. I saw white stork, grasshopper warbler and my very first wryneck! They were beautiful. Stonechats and whinchats were flitting about and lots of corn buntings too. The chorus of birds was really exciting. At lunch time I managed to get back to Beth and we went back to Lavenda. We walked around some more and then enjoyed tea before Beth had to head back.

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We had such a lovely few days. It’s so nice to have a mix up of the normal routine. And when laughing is involved it’s always good. It’s the best medicine after all.

Next stop… Lithuania.

xx