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Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Transporting....the Russian way!!

I am scared of new things. It is a funny thing to say for a person who was crazy enough to quit a good job and move to Russia. Although I don't claim it should take a lot of courage to do it, since Moscow is really European New York. And I don't want to sound smug, since there are many people more courageous than me and have moved to much more complicated places... But why I started this Blog with a strange confession? To show you that even big cowards can succeed in a jungle town like Moscow.

The biggest shock for me was realisation that in Moscow I will not drive a car. One reason are the traffic jams that really last all the time, but also the size of the streets and the complexity of navigation. What can I say, don't want to test myself, knowing to be bit clumsy (Blondie), trying to drive while deciphering which of the three exits I need to take in next five second. Because, if you take the wrong exit it can mean additional 40 min sightseeing of Moscow, which was not on my agenda.

 So I knew from the beginning that metro will be my best buddy in Moscow. I got very fast over the language barrier, and thankfully many mobile applications help you get around and everything is translated in language I understand. I am still hooked on first metro app I downloaded Metropolitan, even if people tell me that every app with a word Yandex in it is really great and useful. First test I had on Metro usage was after being two years in Moscow. In the middle of trying to find the right exit from a station I used just once before, my phone went completely dead. But I was not giving up, especially as I was with my kids. We took one exit and found ourselfs in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, there were some maps, I thought I was saved. WRONG - the map shows such a small part of Moscow that I had no clue what I was looking at. I even couldn't find North (not surprising, my husband would comment). The station was in the centre, but centre of Moscow is like my whole home town with its suburbs!! I kept my courageous face, and since luck follows fools, I said to my kids "lets go left". How proud I was when I realised I found the other exit and managed to get where I needed. I was SO proud, partly felt like a true Moscowite!

Metro is now no longer a challenge. I was ready to take on something new. Summer was here, nice weather (more summer in autumn, but lets not split hairs). I want to grasp renting city bikes in Moscow. Fear number one - I need to give my card number in VeloBike app. Did you ever have the feeling that if you type your card number in some app it can download all money from your account and take a new loan with big interest rate and you don't have a clue that it has happened. Well I am one of the older generations who still get that feeling. Usually I fight it in a way that my husband puts all that info in the app and I use them. Easier, because if anything happens, he's the one to blame! But this time I closed my eyes, logged in, typed my card and still after a month the app has only charged me for monthly rental. Still no news of some new loan that I have never heard about. And moving around in Moscow on bikes which you can leave at any place, since these bikes are really everywhere, is amazing. I know cold wind has now started but the forecast still shows some reasonable degrees and I really recommend you to try the city bikes.

Just to finish off, a must have app for transportation around Moscow, and it has a Yandex in it, is Yandex Transport. It shows you the best possible way and recommends type of transport (bus, trolleybus, tram, marshirutka, metro...). Just don't rely on its forecasted trip duration. Seems that they measured walking time on sixty year old people, since for 300m it should take you 10min. And, unfortunately the app still needs to learn English names of metro stations in Moscow.

And if you use public transport a lot, definitely buy Troika card. Only this way you can buy 60 rides (1700rub) and cost per ride is cheapest. Or if you really like to move around a lot, pay 2000 rub on Troika and you can spend all day every day on Moscow public transport. See you in metro or on a bike or a tram, the possibilities are limitless...!!!!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Expat wife or what?!

When I first entered the corporate world at the age of 23, as an enthusiastic and keen worker. I was exposed to many new corporate terms. One of them being - Expat wife. For me, at the time, these were well accomplished ladies. Group of women who already did something in their life, and now focused on being there for their family and all possible charities in high class society.

Then, twelve years later, overnight, I quit my job, moved with my husband and kids to another country and became an Expat wife. But I didn't really feel like one. There was no air of classy life that I saw in Expat wives I knew before. I actually felt really strange. I understood that our apartment looked good and is in the good area. I understood that my kids went to a good school. But actually everything else stayed the same. I found myself being a complete inbetweener. Not belonging to the high class women mentally and financially. But also having issue to connect with regular local people with whom I felt to be at the same level.

The wake up call came when I was offered to join International women club. It sounded so upscale and important. I was a bit proud to be able to be a part of this organisation. Just until I learned that there was a yearly admission fee. I mean, yes - we have nice apartment, yes- kids go to good school. But actually, moneywise, I did not feel like an Expat wife at all. My resolution was to find friends some other way. Anyway, regarding charity, I was always a more hands-on person. I like to see actually who I help, and not do it just through money (partly because I have a limited budget!).

 So I started with small steps. In first months I was trying to get to know women on the playground. Big issue there, since all the kids above the age of four, in Russia, have sooo many activities that the only mothers you meet are with kids three years old or less. I also tried scanning our building. I did ambush few mums with kids same age as my kids, but still today I am not quite sure if they gave me their number or some fake one. I was always to scared to try and call them.

The big brake came from our school. Actually, one mum I met at the parent teacher meeting, was just like prescribed, and she actually lived a street away from us. And my now really great Estonian friend was matched to me by my daughters teacher. And she was the best matchmaker I have ever met. Although, this Estonian lady was also the reason I visited one time International women club charity exhibition. Because she is a still an unknown painter with amazing drawing skills, and she needed support. There was no doubt that my wild Russian mum friend and I will come and help promote her work.

Picture this - a nice church, gloomy, rainy morning. My friend and me storm the show and buy one picture each, from our Estonian friend. As we come in, we are greeted by very friendly ladies. I still feel like I am crushing a cheerleaders party and I am the nerd. But to make best time of it, I don't only buy her art, I start selling it. You have to know the atmosphere is really composed and calm. And there I am, dragging people to her stand, trying to explain how this flower drawn by a pen, will make an excellent piece in their new home. I think that few of them wanted to call a psychiatric hospital to take me away.

In the end I accepted to be a simpler type of expat wife. And over a course of one year I met at least ten amazing women who felt quite the same. And we formed coffee dates which have no obligation, no admission, no lipstick and good hair and, to my relief, no high heels. And I really enjoy their company. So if you are new in Russia and don't feel you fit in the true Expat wife category, feel free to find us. No admission, no expected pedigree, just be yourself and have fun meeting girls from all-around the world....

Monday, 20 March 2017

Non Russian parties like a Russian - part 2.

Sometimes it is hard to understand what happens to you as you grow older. You feel exactly the same as you did when you were twenty-something. You think you look the same, just a bit more refined in your style and views on life. You realise you are closer to forty, than to thirty, only when you try to do things you did at twenty, and your body refuses to act in the same way as it did then.

This time was just like last time and, unfortunately, with the same result. And that actually made me think - What the hell is wrong with me!! My Estonian friend had a birthday and as it started with my birthday and it was quite fun. We decided to organise a surprise night out for her. We booked the place where you can paint and at the same time drink wine. As she is an artist, it was a perfect place to start the party. There is actually an internet site ( on which you can see in which bars around Moscow they organise the painting and choose place, date and time. As ours was in the center we decided to continue our night in Papas bar (already tested that they would let us in).

The start of the night looked really promising. Though our birthday girl was a bit late. A bit late in Moscow is around one hour. When you are two hours late, then people start to complain. Luckily, she new her way around painting so she was able to catch up and still finish with better painting then all the rest of us. The artist, who is in charge of the evening, guides you step by step through the process of painting the picture, and it is actually amazing how in the end you feel like Vincent van Gogh. Probably two glasses of wine help you to see a much better painting then it actually is, but the whole two hours we spent there were really amazing and a lot of fun.

Next stop was Papas, and that is where my troubles start. It is like my brain is not used to go to two places in one night so it decides to forget that I already had two glasses of wine. Now we are deciding what to order, and my Russian friend orders a beer, so I decide to follow her. Still feeling like twenty. Half an hour later, my Estonian friend decides to order tequila, and I follow. At that moment I get up and try to walk in my heels with my friend. She walks in front of me. I am on heels. Which I wear three times a year, and this is already second time this year. I try to walk proudly but at that moment my left leg decided to slide on the heel forcing me to do a split. I graciously try to keep up with the split, catching the seats next to me, nocking down menus from them and completely terrifying a young couple in love. Oh, just can imagine what went through their heads. My friend, walking in front of me, turns, at that point, to tell me something and sees me doing a half split in the middle of the bar. Enough to say she nearly peed her pants laughing....

But I did not consider this to be a sign from my brain and body telling me to be satisfied with three litres of water till the end of the night. Oh no. I had two additional tequilas and decided that instead of water in between I should continue with wine. Well, at one o'clock my brain just pressed taxi application without me even realising it. And I just managed to tell the girls, I am going home. In the taxi I nearly fell asleep, but as we came to my house taxi driver asked me for 400 rubles. I first gave him a thousand so he politely asked if I have smaller money. As at that moment my Russian was also in a bit of a drunken state, I couldn't really immediately understand, but I managed to take the 1000 back and tried to look for a 500 bill. But I was soo tired, I gave him the first bill that had five on it. He still tried to explain something. My brain decided this was too much conversation at that point, gave up and my face went white. The guy just said - go. Later the other day I realised I actually paid him 50. I must have seemed in such a bad shape that he just decided to get rid of me.

In the end I really believe I learnt my lesson this time (after repeating it for the second time). And here are some rules when drinking in Russia
  1. NEVER EVER try to drink same amount or variety as your Russian friends
  2. Have a wingman, who will remind you that you are not in your twenties
  3. Write your age on a piece of paper and keep it close to your glass (maybe you can also add how many kids you have.)

So I am prepared for next time. Lets see if it will work!!

Friday, 17 February 2017

Learning THE OTHER Russian

I learned the hard way some bad words in Russian. But to start from my background. In Croatia it is very common whenever a foreigner comes and asks you if you can teach him few words in Croatian that you will start with, Hi, How are you?,  but really fast you transition to some not so nice words in Croatian. Actually it is a way to make people know that you accept them and you want them to be a part of your friends list. Croatian, in that respect is very rich. I think it is because we are really open and this is the easiest and fastest way to get rid of your frustration with - never ending paperwork, politics and lets not forget, traffic problems.

Now in Russia, I found people are very polite. Unless you catch them by surprise. They really don't want to tell you any bad words and if you find one by chance and tell it to them they blush, turn their heads away and don't want to confirm if you said it ok or it is completely wrong. So, after some time here I was very interested to know some phrases. At least to be aware if someone said it to me and not to look like a dumb foreigner.

I did have some luck. The catch is that you have to listen carefully to your friend, especially when she is talking to a plumber, delivery service or post office. So one day I had coffee with my friend and as she was discussing delivery for her washing machine and went of the phone after trying to schedule delivery time for at least fifteen minutes, her frustration finally came out and I had one word. Now, because this blog is nice, and I am still not sure if this Russian word composition is bad or really bad I will just put it in brackets with some dots (B.... M...)! The reason why I don't know is because when I tested it with few of my Russian friends, some didn't react and some nearly fainted.

The biggest breakthrough for me was when another friend, this time Estonian. They seem to be more open, although she will probably kill me now. Sent me a link to a popular Russian summer song (Leningrad - Exponat). Now my Russian this summer was not that good that I could understand all the words. And I was just too lazy to check the translation. I liked the song soo much I downloaded it as a ringtone. I was so proud to have a Russian song ring every time, in metro, in post office, in school. I wanted to show how I assimilated well. After this song was my ringtone for some time, I would say at least few weeks, I really got interested what it actually says in the song. Who better to ask than my Russian teacher. Poor lady, she is a teacher at university and a part of the well educated old Russian school. When I played it to her she nearly fainted and said she could not understand but will let me know next time. She really sped out of my apartment barely saying goodbye. Now I was a bit worried. Finally I found good girls at my dancing school who were willing to translate it.

What they explained is that this song is really popular but it has two versions, polite one and not so polite one. Of course I, the stupid foreigner, had the bad version on my phone. And than it started coming back to me. There were some strange looks in metro but the worst looks I got at school. I could really just imagine what the other parents and teachers thought about me. I removed song and decide not to test any more Russian songs without knowing proper translation first. And in relation to trying to get bad Russian words I have to wait to go and drink with my Estonian so I would get the words in controlled and familiar place not to come out as a dumb foreigner blond, again.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Hair and other Renovations

There are few types of renovations that became important as we moved to Moscow. First is rather pleasant, if conditions are right, and it is renovating your hair. More commonly known as - getting a haircut. The other one concerns apartments, but I am going to come back to that later.

Getting a haircut in the center of Moscow is not hard. Hairdressers are in every second building. The problem is the price and the length of service. Price for a women haircut can go up to 260 euro and above. So the trick is finding good service at right price. And being new in town there are not many people who can recommend the right ratio between price and quality. Even worse is trying to get my little boys hair cut. Russian hairdressers don't believe in hair cutter machines. They do everything with scissors. Getting into the artist role and it lasts for at least one hour. A wake up call came to me when my poor boy fell asleep in a hair saloon and they needed to use two people to cut his hair. One holding his head and the other cutting. And they would always cut his hair to one centimeter length. After this, I took up YouTube classes and became a 'professional' hairdresser for my boy. Husband still not trusting me enough.

For me it was a different story. I didn't doubt quality in good saloons but the price was over the top. First year I tried to get by, saying that grown out hair and color is in fashion. Luckily my friend became my saviour and found a girl that comes to your home. Affordable, practical and amazing with colors. You drink coffee, practice Russian and get your hair done in the comfort of your home.

But now let me get back to the other part of the renovation. And not with an ending as pleasant as the hair one. Just stay with me and imagine......
Monday, 10h in the morning, just about to have a coffee after sending kids to school and than.....BANG, BUMP, WIZZZZZZZZZZ. Floor shakes a bit, but at first I am thinking it is just a Metro train passing by, although I have never felt it before. Then after few minutes everything becomes clear since, instead of listening to music I listen to a drill drilling for next five hours. They are renovating apartment above us. I leave the house and try not to be home as much as possible.

But little did I know that renovations in Russia are completely different from any other renovation I have ever encountered in my life. First of all, they ambush you. During your three year stay you have to factor in that in every building in Moscow, being old or new, there is at least two to three apartments waiting to be renovated. So there is no way to avoid it and they start out of the blue, just when you are about to feel relaxed in your apartment!

Second, they last. And when I say last it can be everyday noise from ten am till six pm (if you are lucky and they don't decide to continue throughout the night) for next three to six months. Just recently I visited my friend living in a really nice area and there we found the record of renovation for now. A house is being renovated for at least two years. Meaning workers are there everyday working on something. And it is not some wealthy politicians villa in which they are installing golden toilets, as far as I know.

From the moment we moved into our apartment I think in total we had one month of no noise. And same thing happens to all friends I talk to. I still did not manage to try and talk to the workers to get the proper insight. Are they so thorough, or they like long breaks (not according to the amount of drilling we hear). Promise will try to get down to the bottom of the subject next time I see a worker. Maybe even join them in order to fully understand!!

Friday, 27 January 2017

Curling my pain away....

Russia is known for very many sports. There are some standard ones, like in the rest of the world and special ones. Regular ones most of us have tried at least once, like - skiing, skating, sledging.....But some are strange, at least to me. Like for example - Curling.

Curling is a sport that I have never understood, at least I could not understand the point of watching it. You have two teams. One person is sliding and pushing a stone on the ice and another person is using something like a broom to make the stone go faster. It seemed so boring on TV and I could not understand the adrenaline that the guys playing it were experiencing. So we decided to try it out. Russia is the home of winter sports and Curling is an Olympic sport, so there has to be some catch in it. One Sunday we decide it to try it together with kids and another family.

Arriving to the place, you get a special pair of shoes and team jackets. A Russian instructor explains the rules in 15 min, you get your broom and you are ready to go.  The tricky part is to learn how to slide in order to propel your stone as far as you can, but not too far of from the red dot at the other side. You slide on one leg on which you have the plastic part which I professionally call - the slider. It looks so damn easy, when you look at other people doing it. But when my turn came, I gave soo much of me into sliding the stone that each time I landed on my back. Ok after 3 tries I managed to realise that the black thing around my knee is there to slide on it and I was feeling like a real Curler.

My biggest issue is my competitiveness. If I play something, I am really in it. That is how I managed to break my toe playing football in our apartment. Yeah, I know what you are thinking now. But if you need me to do presentation for kids - Why you shouldn't play football in the apartment - call me, I will be amazing speaker with real life experience. But to get back to Curling. So, I am waiting for my daughter to slide the stone. I am ready to broom the ice to make it faster. But the stone goes faster then expected and I need to get to it. I turn and try to make a step with my left leg (forgetting its the one with the slider). My left leg goes under me. My right leg follows and I hit the ice full force with my butt. I got up faster than I fell. The competitiveness in me screaming - 'Of the three kids there you are the only one spread flat on the freaking cold ice!' I stroll along pretending its a standard thing. But oh my God. Next two days I spent home with my butt telling me where it is located every minute of the day. Fortunately it got better soon. But falling with 36 and when you are younger actually makes huge difference. I have a new mantra now - It is just a game, no need to break myself if not participating in the Olympics!

In the end the other family won, but actually me and my friend found out a great thing. In the game guys were really doing great in wiping the ice with the broom. So, my plan is to buy some stones, place them around the apartment. Place a broom dipped in cleaning solution next to the entrance to our apartment. My idea is that when my husband comes home and sees the stones he takes the broom without thinking and starts working around the stones. Good practice for him, clean flat for me. And yes, if you try this please let me know if it works for you?! Until my butt fully recovers I continue to practice a less dangerous Russian sport, very good for cold months of winter - drinking vodka!!!!

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Perfect Russian wife, to be.....

When I think of a Russian lady, first thing that comes to my mind is a good looking lady in high heels and with perfect hair. Probably from all the influence from Russian top models in the news. Nobody warned me that they are also really good at cooking. In Russia there is still this notion of a perfect homemaker. You, as a woman, are expected to always look amazing and at the same time be a perfect wife at home. And that is where my troubles start.

In Croatia I was a working mom and my cooking was limited to anything that could be done in fifteen minutes. And even when I tried doing something more complex, like a banana bread, it ended in a disaster. Here I really decided I will try to change that. Especially since all my Russian lady friends were experts at everything. And I did try. I even put different names on some things I prepared so that it looks as If I have done it on purpose. Like my famous Flat Banana bread. You can imagine that the trouble was that it never raised in the oven but stayed in some mushy flat shape.

One day my Russian friend, an amazing cook and a lady always looking her best, invited me and my kids to come and build a gingerbread house. It was before Christmas and since in Ikea they sell the houses it sounded to be a fun playdate for the kids, assembling houses and decorating them. She did not really know how bad I am, so she asked me to look up the recipe for cream, in order to be able to assemble the house. I thought I was reading the recipe right. But somehow the cream did not perform what I expected - stick the pieces of the house together. But I was not going to give up. I did my house. Luckily, my kids were already used to my fails and although the house broke and fell apart they were looking forward to eating it. It helped when I explained that actually this house has gone through an earthquake but is still edible.

That night I took my kids home, but my Russian friend did not accept the failure, she stayed up really late. But, she managed to have all three houses, for each kid, done and ready to be decorated. Even my Earthquake house was up and ready.

After this adventure, I think she understood how much I struggle. In a few days she sent me lamb chops prepared in some amazing sauce. She said that at least sometimes my husband should get a proper dinner. I still continue to try, and I did have some success lately. I thinks also if I hang around women who can prepare great meals it will pass on to me. And I will wake one day ready to make my own cook book, or so I wish.

And not only can they cook, they always look amazing, no matter what the weather is outside. A lot of women constantly wear high heels. Last week in Moscow was minus twenty seven. And you could still see women walking in heels with no sign on their face showing that it is, at least, a little bit uncomfortable.  I think everybody could see that I am not from around here. I walked dressed warmer than a polar bear.  My Russian friends vowed that in two years time I will be wearing high heels. Somehow, I think, I might cause some Russian ladies to go into comfortable mode. Look out, this time next year all Moscow will be in warm boots.