A night at the Bolshoi

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It’s been a tough year for us with adapting to a new country I didn’t choose to live in and many other events that happened throughout the year which made it a year that I can’t wait to end so we can begin 2013 with hope and faith that all will be better.

I haven’t asked for much living here……in Dubai shopping was amazing and 30% cheaper than Moscow. Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chanel was not a stranger to my shopping and gift list. But moving to Moscow made me realized those hay days were gone and we needed to tighten the purse strings.

All I wanted was two tickets to the new Bolshoi that went under renovations and was closed for 6 years and re-opened late last year just in time for our arrival.

Getting tickets was another story……unless you were a Russian citizen it was virtually impossible….. Nutcracker, Swan Lake were only for the elite Russians. We tried various internet ticket sites with no luck and gave up after three months of trying.

A year later the Greek made my dreams come true. I dropped hints that my Nordic walking friend had been to the Bolshoi and bought the tickets on http://www.bolshoi.ru with great success.

I casually mentioned this to the Greek and before I knew it we had second row from the front in the orchestra stalls and were going to see Puccini’s “Turnadot” on the 12th of the 12th 2012.

The Greek always tries his best at making my dreams come true and this was yet another example. So for any expat living here or tourists visiting tickets can be found on the website http://www.bolshoi.com with a little perseverance and sensibility.

It will display all operas and ballets showing availability. It can be a hit and miss with some tickets being only one seat here and there and if you persevere you can find two together. Prices start from 3000 rubles (US$100) upwards and you will receive an email confirmation that you then present to the ticket office to collect your tickets, which we did an hour before the show. The doors open one hour before so its good to get there early and head to level seven for a champagne before the show.

We spent three hours with two intermissions which gave me the opportunity to show the Greek around this amazing building as I had already been on the Bolshoi Tour two weeks prior. You are free to roam from level to level and the staff were helpful and welcoming.

Below are a few photos we were able to take of our special night. Overall a great cultural experience full of Russia at its best. A must do if you get the opportunity.

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IWC Embassies Winter Bazaar Moscow

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Saturday morning we gave up our much loved sleep-in to help raise money for the IWC (International Womens Club) of Moscow Embassies Winter Bazaar. We headed off to one of the large hotels in Moscow to attend a fund raising event whereby countries from around the world were parading their cultural foods, wines, clothes, souvenirs, trinkets and anything else they could sell.

Of course the Greek and I were happy at the last minute to help man the Australian stand (more like a table)! The Stand was a joint venture between Australia, New Zealand and Canada, what a combo; it was more like the Commonwealth table.

Our fearless leader and wonderful organizer was Kathy Banham, her enthusiasm alone was contagious enough to get us wanting to volunteer not only our products but our time and help as well. She is an excellent ambassador for Australia; she loves our country and everything it has to offer.

Speaking of products I prepared 18 boxes of half dozen sausage rolls and tomato sauce. The Greek helped me package them in between quality controlling the sample ones I had to prepare to encourage his participation!

So with the temperature sitting at minus 3 we woke up at 7.30 am to darkness and headed off to the hotel via our trusty METRO. The Greek carried a large container with our saleable goodies to the venue whilst local citizens were trying to figure out where the crazy expats were off to now.
As we entered the great hall we were both blown away as to how many exhibitors there were! We estimated at least 50 countries were being represented. They had a food hall in one area and the other stalls selling souvenirs etc in another section.

There were continual raffles, whereby you bought a ticket walked on stage and if your number was lucky you won tremendous donated presents e.g. a trip for two to Brussels or a Christmas Hamper. The line for tickets was long and everyone wanted to win. The Greek pointed out that someone had donated a 4-day seminar on personal skill grooming by an English firm. We both looked at each other trying to picture the usefulness of this prize to a Russian Babushka from the suburbs……….but I digress!

Our stand as I mentioned was represented by 3 countries and we had sausage rolls, ANZAC biscuits, Maple Syrup, Kangaroo & Koala Dolls, flags, NZ wines, and anything else we could find to sell. Our little table raised 30,000 rubles for the charity and all of us were happy with our effort.
The Greek was like a used car sales man, he loved being out there selling whatever he could to the unsuspecting shopper and never budged on price even though every Russian knows that is the way you trade. He said “It was for charity and you can never discount on generosity and good causes”.

Mind you after about 2 hours the Greek wanted to explore the other stands, as did I, and we headed for the food hall. So we tried food from Gabon, Morocco, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. All the food was prepared, packaged and served by men and women from all over the world. The love and care that went into every dish was a reflection of the people that represented their respective countries. It was home cooking at its best with exceptional flavours and variety, the Greek was sad that this only happened once a year and not every week. Other countries were selling products that reflected their culture or anything that would sell like second hand books, bed linen and jewelry.

As mentioned this is the largest charity event in Moscow and we had a blast being part of it. It was as if we were visiting different countries under one roof. As an expat I felt very proud and honoured that women from around the world had come together to donate their time, recipes, expertise and hearts for charity and I for one was very humbled and excited to be part of it.
Finally we left the day to Kathy Banham who stayed on til the end and more. The Greek was a great help for the day but was a little annoyed that Greece was not supporting the day and vowed that next year the Russians not only experience Australian cuisine again but he may throw in a Spanakopita as well!

Ciao from Karla Spera.
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Moscow….the city of tears and fears

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So I did something silly that I now regret – I threw out last year’s plastic Christmas tree because I didn’t think I’d still be living through another winter in Moscow!

I nearly threw out my big brown puffa coat, gloves and boots but today I’m wearing them all over again with utter disgust!

I thought I’d never see snow again as I had dreams of being back in a warm country of my choice but today I walked through the first real snow of winter ……. and I smiled. In fact I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as it was so pretty and white and fluffy. The city took on a whole new light…..not grey but white.

But last week I cried – in fact I cry a lot in Moscow and I’m not the only one. I call it the city of tears and fears. I’ve never seen so many people crying openly in the streets, trains and cafes. It’s this time of the year I feel sad especially when I see the poor old ladies openly begging in the streets kneeling in the snow without gloves on and tears in their eyes. So many Russians give openly this time of the year….every second person opens their pockets for these poor souls.

But this year will be different …..I know how to walk in the snow and I’ve done a course on how to fall in the snow (it should have been the Greek doing the course not me!). I know that if you really want to keep warm to wear something that has claws hanging off the edge of your collar…..but most importantly I will have friends who have become family to spend christmas with. This is what will make another year in Moscow worth it.

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I survived one year in Moscow

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Next week we celebrate our anniversary of one year living and discovering Moscow!
I will never forget the date of 7 November 2011. Yes 711 is befitting as our arrival date reminding us that the convenience stores in Moscow never seem to shut down. Doesn’t matter what the time of day or night befalls this city it is always buzzing with people going somewhere to do something, we just haven’t worked out what that is!

Arriving after 7 years of living in hot humid Dubai to arrive in freezing cold grey old Moscow was and will always be a shock to my system.

But I have survived and it gets better each day.

The Greek and I have just experienced the shortest summer of our lives; winter has come upon us way too early. It was snowing in October and our little one-bedroom palace is still not warm enough to cope with the cold. Central heating was turned on earlier in the month but its taking weeks to feel the effects. The season for Sara Lee is upon us again as the Greek and I put on layer upon layer of clothes to stay warm. The bad hair days are back as we both cope by putting on wooly hats and scarves.

My friends and I all posted a photo of our first snow from our windows last weekend. Mine was quite pathetic….an enclosed courtyard and a makeshift garage full of snow, whereas my friends in Rosinka and Pokrovksy Hills (outta suburbs of Moscow) were posting photos of a Winter Wonderland. I looked with envy at their beautiful white covered forests but got over it when I stepped outside to the hustle and bustle of crowds casually walking on a Sunday afternoon. I am still a city girl at heart and have a love hate relationship with this particular city.

So what does one do to pass the time…….well here I go:-

To get through this long winter I have taken up Nordic walking twice a week which helps burn off all the extra calories we seem to consume once the cold arrives. I venture on the metro to new destinations to meet strangers from other countries to be led by a Russian stranger through dense forests and parks! If that isn’t the base for a mystery thriller novel then what is? The heroine in this classic survives a 7km walk through freezing cold weather whilst maintaining her dignity and hairdo.

For a lighter form of exercise I attend Bones for Life on a Monday. If you don’t know what that is then Google it like I did to find out or think of Tai-Chi without the Asian influence and performed in someone’s kitchen.

And if this wasn’t enough to keep active and meet more people I decided to take up Scottish dancing on Wednesdays! One would ponder as to why an Italian Australian married to a Greek Australian would want to take up Scottish dancing? Well I can already dance the Tarantella and of course the Zorba which comes in handy when attending weddings but what if we end up in Scotland one day? The Tarantella and Zorba are not going to help me.

So a dance studio of 12 women all from different backgrounds and nationalities (and not one from Scotland) are being taught by a tall handsome young Russian male teacher…OMG. We are lead through one and half hours of laughing and knocking into each other with every step. The teacher looks at us and rolls his eyes and explains again which way is left and which way is right. But we don’t listen as we are still trying to work out who has the prettiest shoes and in which country were they purchased.

So with so much happening we look forward to the next year and await the new summer, whilst we work out how we will survive the winter that is about to befall us. In the meantime does anyone know where I can sign up for Thai Boxing classes as we intend to visit Bangkok later on in the year?

Karla Spera!

View from our window on Sunday

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Nordic walking in the Forrest today

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Moscow’s melting pot

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Yes it’s long overdue and with a push from a few friends I had to stop my now very busy life and blog to keep updating you all on our life in Russia.

So a quick reminder of the fact that I had spent the first 9 months in Moscow trying to work out what I had done wrong to end up here and wallowing in my self pity. I finally took the plunge to venture out and meet other expats and my first meeting was with the Australian and New Zealand group and that was a great success and the beginning of lasting friendships.

The next big step was to join the International Women’s Club known as the IWC. The basis of the Club is to meet other expats from all nationalities and together we see new sites, discover hidden treasures, exercise, visit embassies and generally have fun with women of similar interests and at the same time help raise money for charity.

Well that is what I thought but it is more than that, I have found some amazing women from amazing parts of the world. We share stories, recipes, ideas, antidotes, remedies, experiences and of course debate about our spouses and how we ended up in Russia!

My special group has ladies from the USA, Canada, Sweden, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia. Our stories make us smile, laugh and cry; but a true sense of unity has developed amongst us as we huddle together as a minority amongst so many Muscovites that go about their daily business.
Even though we all speak English a lot of our time is spent explaining what we mean to say to each other! In Australia we take out the rubbish in the USA they take out the trash, a fanny in the USA is a bottom, a reporter is a mole and tomato sauce is not ketchup it’s just tomato sauce! And when I say I’ll meet you in the arvo I don’t mean some new metro station I mean in the afternoon!

Our Mexican delegate was bought up on “Home and Away”, fair dinkum as she puts it. She loves everything Australian as she serves us up an enchilada with refried beans and Mexican rice…..yummy! As for our Swedish lady, what a true international; she speaks perfect Swedish and has the European accent when speaking her English, only thing is she went to Sweden at the age of 24 from Australia……….are you kidding me………….she is amazing! We even had a Swedish smorgasbord at her place which was so traditional that we didn’t leave till the early hours of the morning after reminiscing about ABBA through copious amounts of Vodka.

When the boys gathered together at the Mexican house the Greek was surrounded by a Colombian, a Mexican and an American. Jokingly they pointed out that one produced it the other distributed it and the other consumed it……I will let you guess what they were laughing about.

We go to museums, Nordic walks, shopping and celebrate birthdays with each other. Our USA lady now makes Aussie Sausage rolls and the best pumpkin bread I have ever eaten, the Mexican lady throws boomerangs around the park, the Swede is busy organising our social life as we share our favourite dishes with each other.

Bottom line, these ladies are making my stay in Moscow so comfortable that I now don’t want to leave!! We are all learning so much about our respective country’s traditions and mannerisms that we laugh every day making my new friends the best medicine one could ever hope for……………….Ciao, G’Day, Da Svidaniya, Adjo, Despedida, Antio, Lebewohl and Goodbye till next time!

Here are some shots of the beautiful sights we have visited

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Moscow’s Bridge of Love

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One of the greatest things about being an expat is seeing the things people do that don’t happen in your own country. Living in Moscow we have seen a few strange customs but I wanted to write about a tradition that we felt was unique to this city (although it started in Italy but has since stopped)!

On one of our discovery walks the Greek and I headed for the river that flows through the centre of the city past the Kremlin leading to the small island linked by bridges.

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Throughout the year young couples are getting married and heading to various locations to take photos of their happy day. You can find them at Red Square, Gum Shopping Centre, Gorky Park, Victory Park, Moscow River or any other major tourist attraction!

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They usually arrive to their photo destination by a procession of cars adorned with flowers, balloons and ribbons. If the decorations don’t let you know they are coming then the constant blowing of the horns reminds everyone in the immediate area that they have arrived.

Once the doors open the brides who look aged between 18 and 21 are accompanied by a mass of bridesmaid carrying umbrellas, Russian champagne, cameras, food, makeup and anything else a bride may need when traversing the streets of Moscow on her special day in unpredictable weather. The grooms who looks around 16 but is obviously older gets swallowed up by all the white froth and looks like a last minute addition to the bridal party.

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There are so many weekend marriages that you can expect to see over 50 brides in one day during a one hour walk through the city, so the Greek and I must be in a least a dozen wedding photos!

On a pedestrian bridge that leads to the small island are metal trees that look like the shape of a small orange tree but with no leaves on the branches.

Looking closely at these strange row of trees we notice that it’s made up of thousands of locks. We watched as bride and groom pledged their eternal love for each other on this special day by placing their names and the date of their wedding on a lock and hanging it on a tree forever for all to see!

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This tradition is called ……? I actually have no idea what it’s called and it seems everyone does it. Like the brides the locks come in different shapes, sizes, colours and models.

Family and friends surround the wedding couple, whilst they place their lock on to the tree. They celebrate with copious amounts of free flowing cheap champagne and vodka. Everyone is in great spirits as well as drinking a lot of spirits. Cameras and i-phones are clicking faster than watching me at the Boxing Day sale in Harrods. Once it is all done they all jump into their various modes of transport to attack the next photographic location within this amazing city.

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What the Greek wanted to know is when the marriage goes south do they come back with bolt cutters and try to find the lock amongst the thousands that are placed there or do they rely on rust?

I personally think this is a beautiful and symbolic tradition.

I might get the Greek to buy us a lock and place it on the bridge of love in Moscow to say “been there done that now let’s move on to our next adventure”!! But I don’t think I’ll find a lock big enough to fit all those words!

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Who stole Moscow’s Summer

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So this is Summer and outside it’s pouring with rain and the skies are grey. To quote my three year old grand nephew in Australia……. “What’s going on here?”. Every now and then I can see sunlight fighting its way through those fluffy sad clouds that just want to open up and shower down tears every time I attempt to step out in my new high heels. Jumping puddles and making my way through slippery broken pathways to the supermarket is no fun.

Someone has lied to me! I was told Moscow has a beautiful hot summer with blue skies, sunshine and the chance to get a tan while walking the city.

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The Greek and I have been away for two weeks sunning and beaching in Greece visiting family, eating wonderful Greek food and exploring new quaint beach towns and the highlight is always a visit to Santorini island…our own piece of paradise.

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Arriving back to Moscow tanned and little bit heavier I was looking forward to the new season fruits of sweet white peaches, black cherries and nectarines in my local supermarket. The week before I flew out for Greece I had to fight the notoriously famous grey haired babushkas (grandmothers of Russia) to get to this limited fruit. On my return from Greece I was looking forward to a more quiet city where the supermarket would be all mine in July and August.

Not only did I come back to a quiet Moscow but also no seasonal summer fruit! So not only has someone stolen our summer but they took the white peaches with them! Is it because all the wives, children and grey haired babushka brigade have left for their Dashas or Vilas in the South of France for the next two months that the supermarket decides it’s not worth selling any more seasonal fruit?

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