Vacation Packing Made Easy

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We are all ecstatic because the summer vacation season is finally here! Whether you plan to embark on an amazing adventure in a new land or seek solace and rejuvenation in a familiar territory, you are going to need to do that ‘thing’ some dread the most; pack your suitcases.

Even seasoned travellers experience bouts of packing anxiety and struggle to pack light yet still take all the things they think they will need. But there is no need to panic; by applying these sure-fire tips you can graduate into a confident packer who packs smart and efficiently.

Plan Way Ahead

The most important packing tip I can impart is to start planning and organizing your trip way in advance. This gives you sufficient time to develop a comprehensive itinerary, which by the way, is an invaluable tool for packing. Planning ahead helps you ascertain your daily program so you can pack clothing that are appropriate for your activities, the weather, terrain, and other aspects that affect what you wear.

Tip – Take some time to research whether the sites you plan to visit have any clothing restrictions.

Choose a Colour Theme

One of the simplest tricks to packing light is to choose a colour theme and stick to it. By choosing a colour theme it is easy to mix and match the items you pack. Choose at least one neutral shade such as white, beige, or brown that will go with every other colour in your suitcase. A valued benefit of doing this is that you will find you need fewer shoes because one pair can be worn with multiple outfits.

Tip – Shoes make great nooks to store small items.

Pick Multi-taskers

You have already reduced the bulk and weight of your suitcase by simply packing fewer shoes, but you can go even lighter and be even more efficient if you choose versatile pieces. These are the pieces that transition easily from day to night with a quick change of shoes and accessories. Also, consider taking multi-taskers such as cardigans and jackets that can be worn with several outfits.

Pack Outfits not Pieces

The primary reason people struggle to get dressed while on vacation or return home with a suitcase of clothes that have not been worn is because they pack pieces of clothing arbitrarily and then try to create outfits while on vacation.

Save yourself the undue stress by creating complete outfits at home while you still have access to your well-stocked closet. With itinerary in-hand, pick outfits for each day of your trip. Lay your selections out on the bed and then edit down to just the items you need to look well-groomed and stylish.

Tip – Pack in layers to lessen pesky creases and wrinkles. Place heavy items such as shoes on the bottom and light fabrics at the top.

Streamline and Shrink

To whittle down baggage weight even further streamline your personal care products – you don’t need 10 bottles of perfume. Select the essential products and decant them into travel-sized bottles. Remember all liquids and gels should be sealed tightly and then placed into sealable bags for good measure.

Tip – A change in cabin pressure may cause reusable bottles to contract, so leave a bit room at the top to prevent spillage.

Make a Checklist

There are certain items that you should not leave home without; this includes travel documents, medication, power adapters, luggage tags, and sunscreen. The simplest way to ensure that you do not forget to pack these items is to create a comprehensive list and check it twice. Tick of items only when they have been placed into your bag.

Lastly, approach packing as a gratifying challenge that gets you even more excited about your vacation. Imagine the fun activities you will be doing while wearing each outfit you pack. Remember to pack only what you need and you will be rewarded with plenty of room to fill up with the treasures and mementos from your travel.

Bon Voyage

Interview with Lucy and Adrian Kenyon

Interview by Kim Waddoup

Photos by Adrian, Lucy and the family

Lucy Kenyon and Adrian Cooper decided several years ago that Moscow would be a challenge and they moved here. Now after 4 ½ years they are heading home. Moscow expat Life thought that their experiences would help many people plan their move here. Lucy and Adrian were kind enough to share some of these experiences with us.

Adrian, please tell us a little about your job and your company. How did Russia first come to your attention? I assume that it was your company that first suggested your working here?

Adrian
Indeed. Barry Callebaut is a global chocolate provider operating on a B2B basis, with 50+ factories around the world, with one to the south of Moscow in Chekhov. I’d been with the Group for 7 years already, doing various finance roles, and was given the chance for promotion as a Regional CFO to go to either South America or Russia. After looking at the options we decided on Russia, as it seemed to be more exciting and culturally different, and we also thought that it would be safer for our daughters.

Previously I hadn’t thought of moving overseas, although I had told my boss that I wanted a new challenge, having done an MBA in the UK. At the same time, our Group was carving up the Western European chocolate market, which was growing at say 2% -3% p.a, from the faster growing, more dynamic Eastern European countries, to enable a more targeted management approach. This created a new Regional CFO role for which I was chosen.

Lucy, what was your first reaction when your heard the word Russia?

Lucy
I was thrilled about the idea of coming to Russia, as my grand mother came here in 1963, on an exchange programme between the Pioneers and the Girl Guide movements. She kept diaries, so as soon as I heard the word Russia I was very excited.

Adrian
I didn’t know anything about Russia, its culture, politics or language, so I was the one who was thinking that this is really going to be a challenge, and that it might be a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience also.

So this was your first overseas posting; the expat life was a relatively new thing for both of you?

Lucy
I was a 3rd culture kid myself, having been brought up speaking Flemish in Belgium, and had watched my mum struggle with a semi-expat experience. But this was my first posting as an adult. Despite this, our inexperience led to some stressors that could have been avoided in the end.

Adrian
I was moving from a sleepy provincial central-England town to a big city, which was a new experience to me, so I knew it would take some time to adjust.
I presume that for both of you going to Russia meant new work possibilities, but what about the children? How old were they when you moved?

Lucy
They were 8 and 9, which I felt, having done a similar move a little bit earlier as a child, were ideal ages to come with us to Russia. I wanted them to go to a Russian school and become completely immersed in Russian, but the Russian system is quite old fashioned and structured and they had come from the English system where they were used to teamwork with an emphasis on creativity. So we felt it was probably better for them to go into an International School where the system was similar to what they had been used to.

Adrian
When we told friends and family that we moving to Russia, they were the ones who said: “are you mad?, isn’t it unsafe and unfriendly?” and all these usual clichés. Many westernized preconceived ideas about Moscow are actually wrong, in our experience now.

So the discussion was there about a job in Moscow, did you then come to Moscow to have a look?

Adrian
Yes, we came for a week in May 2009, to have a look around. We looked at about 14 apartments, I met with work colleagues and discussed things, and we did the usual tourist stuff – Red Square, museums and a boat cruise. We actually thought that Moscow was nice. One shock we did have was when we went for a coffee at a well known Moscow coffee chain, where we had the usual lattes and the kids had freshly squeezed apple juice etc., the bill was £80! That was a wake-up call to the cost of living. The children wanted to come, but only if we could live near Gorky Park [which had fairground rides 4 years ago]!

What professional help did you enlist to help you find a place to live?

Lucy
Very little – the company expat arrangements were in their infancy if even thought about! I searched on-line for Moscow rental apartments, and found 3 agents who appeared to be able to offer what we wanted. One just did a database search and gave us 50 choices – an impossible task, as we had no idea about which areas of Moscow we should be considering. Tatiana of Intermark came back with 5 apartments. They said they had looked at the school location, where Metros were, and where Adrian’s factory was and the locations were realistic with the apartments they selected.

Adrian
I realised quickly there were seemingly small things that would impact my drive to work; e.g. if the apartment was on the wrong side of a street I would have to make a long extra journey just to make a U-turn to get myself into the right direction!

Then the big day came, you packed everything up and arrived here?

Adrian
Yes, with the usual ‘moving chaos’ things got packed to storage which were needed and items arrived in Moscow, which we didn’t need. The lesson learnt was that you have to be around when the packing is done!.

How long did you get to move in before you then went to work?

Adrian
One day! I started at work on the second day. Initially I wasn’t aware of the enormity of the commute, as when I came here for the taster week I was driven to Chekhov by somebody else. So driving 80 km each way myself was a big challenge, and to adjust to the Russian driving style. Back in 2009, the roads weren’t as good as they are now, [the driving is still as mad] so it was 1.5 hours most mornings and evenings it averaged 2 hours. That was a massive shock from having a 35-minute commute in Warwickshire!

Can you remember how your first day at work was?

Adrian
I was surrounded by what I thought were foreigners, but of course I was the only foreigner there! I couldn’t understand the language, but they were all very friendly. It was a noisy, busy office, lots of people shouting as a mode of work, which I quickly learnt was actually quite normal.

We want to call the expat ladies the ‘unsung heroes’ for what they must do and achieve. What were your thoughts Lucy, when you think of that great day of unpacking?

Lucy
It actually coincided with Swine Flu, so the school in Moscow said, if you are coming in from the UK, then please don’t come to school for seven days! So I had the girls at home with me for the first ten days, to honour what the school had asked of us. In hindsight this may have affected how well they settled in and I would now make sure to arrive well in time for the start of a school term.

Adrian
Then there were many challenges, like getting a Russian SIM card, an Internet provider, trying to find and buy a TV – all relatively simple if you could speak Russian!

Lucy
Our landlady helped with the Internet, we have had a good relationship with her. I was also trying to get around to the British Women’s Club, and trying to access people, because I naturally like being with people.

Adrian
You managed to find a job quite quickly though.

Lucy, did you look for work before you came, or did you find work here?

Lucy
I couldn’t look for work due to the visa situation, however I have been very lucky and I have managed to get jobs that don’t require me to have a work permit. I worked for the American FLEX Scholarship programme as a seasonal worker, judging essays written by Russian students applying to go on a cultural exchange with American families for a year.

Then swine flu kicked off in Moscow, and both our children came down with it in October; so I was in communication with the school to support their stance on infection control, as I was a public health nurse in my other life. I then got a volunteer job of Parent Liaison and Admissions, until April 2011. Then I worked at the British Embassy, where I have remained ever since, as the Community Liaison Officer. Embassy jobs are great because they are not subject to the same visa restrictions as the host and employing countries.

How did your two daughters take the whole thing; the move, coming here, they sound like amazing kids for what they have done.

Lucy
They are absolutely incredible. It’s not been easy for either of them. Our older one is quite quiet, she likes her structure and her routine, so it’s actually been quite challenging, although she has done incredibly well. However she’s looking forward to being back in the UK. The younger one is very social and missed her friends and probably cried every day for 6 months, even though she made lots of friends here. They are active children, always out and about, in Gorky Park and town a lot.

You integrated very quickly into the various expat scenes here, what advice would you give to expat families when they’re planning to move here? Would you suggest that they make contacts before they come, or wait until they are in Moscow?

Lucy
I think getting in contact and finding some buddies for everyone in the family is really important. I’ve been very actively involved in the British Women’s Club, and we’ve been very keen on welcoming people – including before they arrive. Everyone is worried about the flat and the school but in fact having somebody to talk to and having someone to show you around are most important. Moscow is very accessible; the public transport system is very good, once you know how to use it.

Adrian
The key is where you live as to what kind of expat experience you get. In a closed compound area, mostly in the outskirts of Moscow it is great for meeting other expats, and good for the kids because they are near others. Or you can live in the centre, where you won’t have expat friends next door, but where you can be right in the centre of Moscow life. For us this was more important and a lot more fun/interesting, than a compound community based living where you have everything to hand, but it wasn’t for us a true Moscow based experience.

What have been your main highlights of being in Moscow?

Lucy
My main highlight of being in Moscow is that I effectively went back to my twenties in London, and I’ve had the most fabulous time being a city girl, going out with friends and partying. It’s been absolutely brilliant.

Adrian
One of the best experiences would have to have been riding an old sleigh through the snowy woods in Sergiyev Posad one New Year, and cooking food on an open fire in – 30ªC, whilst a local Babushka made tea on a samovar in the middle of the forest! Moscow is very much what you make of it, the experience depends on what group of friends you make, Russians, Expats, or both. We were lucky enough to make many people from a wide variety of nationalities in Moscow, and they provided a great support network also.

What has been the bad side of living and moving here?

Lucy
Well they do say that relocation is the most stressful thing you can do in your marriage, and I do think that is true. However I do think that overall, the whole experience has been absolutely incredible, and we are going home much more resourceful, and we have a lot more emotional resilience.

Adrian
Most of my worst experiences in Moscow are related to my 800 km per week drive. Once I was stuck for 1 hour in a queue without moving an inch, and decided to make a ‘u’ turn across a white line to escape. I thought I had made this without being seen, but 1 kilometre down the road I was flagged over at a police checkpoint, and ‘invited’ inside and greeted by a group of officers cradling their Kalashnikovs. After 30 minutes of ‘intense’ negotiations, the ‘fee’ came down considerably.

Was there one particular low point where you felt that we shouldn’t have been here?

Adrian
My mistake was not learning more Russian – as this isolates you from many simple daily routines, and you really need to communicate to get the most out of living here.

In their future lives, how do you think the girls will remember their time in Moscow?

Lucy
I think that they will be more adaptable, and I think that it will help them find jobs more easily in the future. In the future they will be competing with lots and lots of international candidates who have more than one language who will be at an advantage over English speaking candidates who only have one language. I think the girls will also have the advantage of not fearing going somewhere new, and being able to learn a foreign language relatively easily.

Now that you are leaving, may I ask you to share some of your advice for business people or families who are contemplating a move here? Where do they start to research things?

Lucy
The first thing to do is to make sure that the package is correct, and that you get all the support you can get. As Moscow becomes more organised I think having a driver is really important, and having a company car is also a big benefit. They have imposed visa restrictions brought in to stop foreigners committing civil offences. Moscow is a much less chaotic place now than it was, but it is essential to make sure that you have all the relevant information about what you can or can’t do in Russia, as you can’t wing it so much any more. I think come to Russia if you are interested in coming to Russia, don’t come to Russia thinking that Russia is going to accommodate you, because it won’t. If you do try to learn the language and you respect people, then you get a lot out of the country.

Adrian
We made use of the various expat chat rooms, such as expat.ru these are useful to look at before you come here, to find out things like what is it like living in a certain area. You can ask questions, you may get a biased answer back, which you need to judge on their own merits. For work, you should get involved with a business club, for us it was both British and Belgium Business Clubs. You can find people who can tell you what the unwritten rules are for doing business and what you can and can’t do. You need strong networks and friends to survive and enjoy it here.

It has primarily been expats who have been in your network?

Adrian
Mostly, yes, from a wide number of countries.

Lucy
My closest friends are some British, Belgium, Dutch and Armenian ladies, and they have been a massive support. And I have a Russian friend who I’ve met pretty much on a weekly basis, for a coffee, who has been very supportive, so I have friends both local and in the expat community.

Lastly, if you could take one memento from Moscow, what would it be?

Lucy
Russian pop music.

Adrian
I’d like a policeman’s hat.

Moscow expat Life would like to wish Lucy, Adrian and the girls all the best in their future life back in England. These are two expats who came and become part of our multi-cultural society. Those of you that knew them will miss them, but that’s the expat way of life!

Spirits on Solovetsky

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A giant ice halo appears overhead as the ferry draws away from Bolshoi Zayatsky Island forming a perfect white circle in the clear blue sky and adding to the already deep aura of mysticism and spirituality that seems ever present in the Solovetsky Archipelago. The gulls dip and swirl frantically above us. They too seem caught up in the mood. The guide snaps at the halo with her mobile phone. This is a rare occurrence she tells us.

Bolshoi Zayatsky is one of the largest islands in the Archipelago. The island is flat and exposed. Small shrubs and lichens are about the only plants that can grow there. The former prison used the island as an ‘isolator unit’ to hold women who refused to work on religious grounds or were otherwise troublesome. These included women made pregnant by guards and needing to be placed out of sight.

The island holds 13 of the 35 stone labyrinths on the Solovki and some of the best examples in the world. There is speculation about these structures, which date back to 2000 BC. One view is that they represent a path travelled by the soul after death before exiting and taking on a life in a new body. Apparently it’s OK to enter a labyrinth as long as you can find the exit or you risk having your soul trapped forever.

We make it back to Solovetsky Island. The ferry lists heavily to the left for the six-kilometer journey there and back.

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The Kayut is the only restaurant on the island outside of the hotels. Our waitress, Svetlana, bustles up and down her line of tables. You have to order everything at once, she insists – so you can be sure it will still be available when it’s time to eat it. The cuisine is Russian. The menu offers nine brands of vodka. The grilled fish and boiled rice is simply prepared and bland. The local mors is excellent.

Construction of the Church of the Transfiguration started soon after the arrival of the founding monks in the 1430s. Ensuing generations created a level of self-sufficiency that might have appealed to the Bolsheviks with their apparent notions of community or communality. Instead, the new Soviet authorities deemed the island the perfect venue to banish political opponents and expelled the monks and shut down the monastery in 1920.The canals that link the lakes on Bolshoi Solovetsky are another legacy of the ancient monks, and facilitated the island’s hunting, fishing and farming activities. Rowing boats are rented out by the hour. The lake is flat and serene as we leave. On the way back the sky darkens quickly and the wind whips up the water. We head for the shore and a short intense shower follows, with thunder and lighting to match. The rain ends as quickly as it arrives, the sky clears and the water calms immediately. An old bus is standing at the boat house. Ask the driver if he’ll give you a lift back to the monastery, suggests the boat lady. Sure, he says, but it’s 150 rubles each. “Make hay while the sun shines” is the motto for everyone in the very short summer economy on Solovetsky.

Selection_232The prison museum is housed in a former prison block and is magnificently laid out. The guide is excellent. Solovetsky was set up as a detention camp for mostly political opponents of the Soviet regime. It functioned initially with some freedom; there was, for example, a camp newspaper and an active theatre scene. However, the ambience soon turned menacing and forced labor became the norm and the model from which the concept of prison labor in the vastly expanded GULAG system was developed. Some 60,000 people passed through Solovetsky in the 15 years until the camp was closed in 1939 and thousands perished in conditions of indescribable horror and cruelty. The guide informs us that three people were always present when someone was shot: one to read the order, one to do the shooting, and one to witness the event.

It’s late afternoon and we are standing next to the labyrinth on the north shore, reluctant to enter. The sky is overcast and grey and the water slaps at the seaweed clogging the rocky shore. This is one of only a few labyrinths accessible to visitors. As I move back into the woods lining the shore I feel the wind swirling, like leaves being lifted; it gets intense, a sensation of invisible people rushing around. As I lift my camera I notice someone in my peripheral vision on the shoreline. I turn to look but there’s no one there. There’s no wind either, no leaves blowing about, only a sense of movement, of people moving around intensely. It’s a deeply peculiar sensation and I feel my hair standing up. It’s gone as soon as I reach the road.

Selection_233It’s dark by the time we reach the Kayut which is busy with the dinner crowd. Svetlana steers us towards her line of tables. After my experience at the labyrinth I need a shot of vodka and choose the brand from Archangelsk. It goes down like paint remover. I sense a presence again and look up. It’s Svetlana. You have to order everything at once she says. We have about 1,000 people living on the island and our school has eleven students, she tells us. I order the pork goulash with buckwheat and shredded cabbage and a side of grated carrots with sugar. Help yourself to sugar from the bowl, she says.

A storm beckons as we bid farewell to Solovetsky. There’s an order to boarding the boat irrespective of when you arrive at the gate. Tour groups first. These are pilgrims and they rush below decks to find the good seats. Tour guides top the pecking order because they will be back tomorrow with more business. Mothers with children next. Ordinary ticket holders board last. A man in a fluorescent safety jacket signs something and the boat heaves away from the pier. The sea is rough unlike the calm water on the journey to the island. The ferry’s nose is low and it has to punch its way through the water. I walk around and count the passengers: about 170 souls. I count the life rafts: 14 rafts with a capacity for 140 people. Some of us will be swimming if this ship goes down.

Selection_234I am still unable to pronounce ‘Rabocheostrovsk’ properly but nonetheless relieved to get there. The captain shouts at me to get out of the way of the anchor rope as we approach the dock.

Kem railway station is accustomed to travelers hanging out in the waiting room and there are signs in English. There is a столовая (dining room) run by the railways nearby. As expected, it offers ‘starch and steam’ cuisine. I drink the tea.

The train arrives predictably on time at 13:12. This one is the Murmansk-Adler Express, which runs from the White Sea to the Black Sea in two days. The attendant hands out the bed linen and towels. There is no water in the coach and the cabin light doesn’t work. But nothing much matters after four days on Solovetsky. A kaleidoscope of images turns through my mind before the clattering rhythm of the train puts me to sleep. Invisible people sweeping around me like the tail of a comet, the magnetism and energy around the labyrinth, a walker on the shore who wasn’t really there, gulls silhouetted darkly against the giant retina of the ice halo, impressions of unimaginable cruelty and suffering, mysticism, spirituality, serenity, and above all, great beauty.

Selection_235The Solovetsky Islands (or Solovki) are an archipelago located in the Onega Bay of the White Sea in Russia. They are the setting of the Russian Orthodox Solovetsky Monastery complex, which was founded in the 1430s. The islands attained notoriety as the first Soviet prison camp, which ran from 1923 to 1939 and upon which much of the expanded GULAG system was modeled. Following that, the islands became a training base for naval cadets of the Soviet Northern Fleet. In 1992, the monastery was handed back to the Church. In the same year the Solovetsky Islands were included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List “as an outstanding example of a monastic settlement in the inhospitable environment of northern Europe which admirably illustrates the faith, tenacity, and enterprise of later medieval religious communities”.

Suggested reading

The Journals of a White Sea Wolf, by Mariusz Wilk (Harvill Press – 1998). The account of a Polish journalist who spent six years on the Solovetsky islands and in the process became acquainted with all the residents.

Solovki – The Story of Russia as told through its Most Remarkable Islands, by Roy R. Robson (Yale University Press – 2004). Roy Robson recounts the history of Solovki from its first settlers through the present day. From its first intrepid visitors through the blood-soaked twentieth century, Solovki—like Russia itself—has been a site of both glorious achievement and profound misery.

Interview with Brian Johnson

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Interview by John Harrison

Why did you decide to live in Moscow, and continue your career in financial services in a completely different environment?

Simply really, I was fortunate to meet and marry a beautiful woman in the United Kingdom. She happened to be from Russia. With the financial crisis looming in 2006, the mortgage and financial services company I was working with was struggling for clients, profits were low and redundancy’s were increasing and I realised that it was time to get out of the UK. Moscow seemed to be a place of opportunities.

I took a position with a financial services company in Moscow and although I quickly realised that I loved the job and helping all my clients, the companies credibility and business ethics left a lot to be desired so I decided to leave. At the same time, I wanted to stay in Moscow, and still felt that I had a lot more to offer the clients whom I had already worked with. The choices were: either set up my own company from scratch, and become Brian Johnson Independent, or find a company that I could actually believe in and trust to work with.

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What regulatory basis does your new company work by?

Platinum Financial Services is a Hong Based company; covered by Hong Kong regulatory authorities, So whilst there are limited regulations as such in Russia governing financial services, by using the same regulations as we have in Hong Kong our clients receive a far superior service.

When we opened the office for PFS in Moscow, there were three of us, we had no clients. We had a telephone and some prospective clients names, we had support from head office in Hong Kong, and that was it. We worked 20+ hours a day. Yes, we had to call people and say, “we’re here, please come and talk to us,” but now, a lot of people call us. Obviously this new office is not cheap, it’s actually the most expensive in the whole group, and we have to do quite a high level of business to cover our costs here. But we’re doing it.

We’ve now made a big commitment to Russia. We have a lot of staff in here now, and we will be recruiting more this year. We will be opening additional offices across Russia and former CIS countries. We have a real opportunity to help not just expats but Russians. I see the business going forward.

What’s the worst business experience you’ve had in Moscow?

Last December our bank account was frozen by the tax authorities because we were a couple of days late filing our quarterly report. That to me was a complete shock. I’m used to the UK system where if you don’t file your tax returns on time, you get a nasty letter. That was just before Christmas when we had salaries to pay. It took weeks and weeks to get the account unlocked, and then we also received a penalty for filing late. We’ll never be late again.

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Click to Learn more about Platinum Financial Services

What are the best business experiences you have had here?

Being able to ensure that our clients get the best possible advice. We have genuinely 100% independence. So I can look at a client’s personal circumstances, his or her lifestyle choices, and I can find exactly the right solution. No ties, no restrictions. And that’s a great position to be in for a financial advisor.

Is that something that would be difficult to do elsewhere in the world, such as in the UK?

You couldn’t do it in the UK because the UK government tightly controls which products clients can have access to internationally to prevent the treasury losing any tax.

But you are using a Hong Kong based regulatory framework?

Yes we operate in all our locations to exactly the same standards and regulatory procedures. I think we are the only financial services company here in Russia dealing with expats and locals who do this.

What are the most popular services?

For Russians, probably real estate purchase and second citizenship are very popular now for obvious reasons. For expats, it is pension planning, making sure that the money that they have earned here is kept safe and well for when they eventually want to retire. A lot of our expat clients have married locals, that’s pretty standard, but this can complicates things in the future.

How?

If you are a Brit and married to a Russian, and you drop down dead in the UK, the inheritance tax is far more complex than if you had an English wife with a British passport, it could cost you a lot more. It isn’t just expats, many Russians who have invested into expensive real estate in the UK and Europe are also oblivious to the fact that they are going to be hammered by inheritance tax. We are not trying to avoid paying tax, but want people to be aware of the facts before it is too late.

Children’s education is a big thing that expats are letting themselves down on. Many have children going, like my family, to one of the English schools in Moscow, which certainly costs more than the average UK private school. A lot of parents are fortunate to work for large international companies, or working for an embassy, which pay for the schooling. This is wonderful for the children, but maybe their parents will not be working for an international company or an embassy one day, the children could end up in not very good school, or not be able to go to university because mummy and daddy don’t have the money on the day that it’s needed. I can’t understand why parents don’t set up a children’s education fee programme and put away a few hundred pounds a month. It seems crazy that parents are gambling that they will have the money available to continue the education costs when required in this unstable world.

A lot of expats want to buy property in the UK for when they return. They would like to buy a house in say Oxford to retire to, but are shocked to discover that they can’t afford to do that. So we help them buy a property in a cheaper location for example, which they rent out with a guaranteed income. The rent is used to pay the mortgage, and they are then able to sell and buy the property they want when they get older. But it’s no good waiting until you are 55 or 60, have just lost your job and want to go back home. This is especially true for younger people, all these English teachers and young professionals in Moscow, they should be buying something now for £50,000 or £100,000.

Social Movers – Summer 2014

Selection_197Well this is definitely a time to reflect on what has happened, what is going on, and what will be. With the current political and financial crisis, we are seeing a direct effect on business in the nightlife arena. With the new laws on signage and with the new smoking band everyone is waiting to see how these changes will further affect daily business trends.

The big dogs are still trending and doing decent business on a daily basis such as Papa’s, the Standard, and the various Ginza projects. New Startups like the Bud House are making head way but it is not an easy climb and a lot of effort.

Looking forward to the open air and summer Café season, loving the new walk street on Nikolskya, and of course the standard, the Old Arbat.

 

Selection_198Summer time is open-air time. With only three months of summer, Muscovites try to make the best out of it. Restaurant and club owners rival each other with expensive posh terraces. Last year’s famous ‘Jagger’ place with its open-air beer garden apparently won’t have a terrace this season. But don’t worry, next door’s ‘Mad Place,’ has one of the best terraces I’ve seen this year. ‘Fish,’ the Italian seafood place in front of the Ukraine Hotel, will probably be the most posh terrace in town this summer. As for us, we’re doing Saturday pre-parties at ‘Krysha Mira’, Fridays at ‘Fish’ and ‘Artel Bessonnitza’; Goroby’s new and famous club project. Thursdays we’ll have jazzy network cocktails at Mendeleev, which was recently awarded to be Moscow’s best bar. And for all of the clubbers among you, I have a special deal at ‘Space Club’ for upcoming parties, incl. Tiesto. Write me (on facebook) for details. ‘Space Club’ is the Moscow’s largest club with around 7,000 people per party.

 

The English International School (EIS)

EIS has been very active over the last two terms of this academic year. We had a very successful school-organized trip to the Sochi Winter Olympics for our Years 6-9 in February, an exciting Book Day in the primary school when the children came dressed in costumes depicting their favourite children’s book character, climaxing with presentations in a special assembly on the day. Secondary students were involved in a Young Scientist competition with COBIS (Council of British International Schools) and hosting an International University Fair. Finally EIS hosted their first Primary Football Tournament with 6 a side teams taking part from local Russian schools, ISM and EIS West Campus on the 29th of April.

Taganka Children’s Fund

Thanks all participants and sponsors of the 9th CHARITABLE BOWLING TOURNAMENT that took place on April 23rd at Bi-Ba-Bo. With your support we raised 156,000 roubles to support children in need from over 700 disadvantaged families in Moscow. Congratulations to the winning team – Mercury! More at http://charity-tcf.ru/eng/

The Swedish Women´s Organisation in Moscow (SWEA)

The SWEA invited Anna-Lena Laurén, journalist at Swedish ”Svenska Dagbladet” and Finnish ”Hufvudstadsbladet”, living in Moscow, to talk about her books. As her latest book is about democratic revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kirgizistan, many people came to listen and to put questions to Anna-Lena who had just returned from Krim and has reported from Kyiv during the past few months. Anna-Lena is very knowledgeable and committed and therefore very interesting to listen to.

David Wansbrough and Nicholai Drovod talk at ELE

With more than 230 meetings since 1998, on April 18 English Language Evenings hosted a lecture with Australian artist and author David Wansbrough and famous Russian Naturalist Nicholai Drodov titled ‘Russian Australia’s Strange Geography, Weird Animals and Strange Weird People’ at the Chekhov Library near Pushkin Square in Moscow.

Kidsave

Monica Bellucci and Dolce&Gabbana helped raising over $12,000 in support of Kidsave’s Teen Mother Program at the dinner organized by Procter and Gamble. Through its programs Kidsave makes sure that every child grows up in a family with love and hope for a successful future.

Jonathan Salwa yand the Moscow English Theatre

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The Moscow English Theatre is now attracting a lot of well deserved attention. The Theatre’s founder and major driver Jonathan Salway, who first visited Russia back in 2009 on a short work contract didn’t realise then that 5 years on he would regard the place as home and have his own growing theatre company here.

In May his company’s – the Moscow English Theatre’s (MET) – sell-out production of Willy Russell’s classic comedy, Educating Rita, returns for their 5th season at the Mayakovsky Theatre. “We have to keep on bringing the show back for people who say they missed it – and even for those who want to see it again!”, Jonathan quips.

MET is a company that employs professional actors from the UK to perform in successful, contemporary British drama and Educating Rita has been joined by two other shows in the company’s repertoire. “We plan three new productions each year and those that gel with the public we will add to our repertoire and play them again for short seasons.” He promises a mixed diet of serious, thought provoking drama alongside comedy and, this coming December, a whodunit.

“Moscow audiences are such a treat to work for – attentive, appreciative and flowers at the end”, says Emma Dallow who plays the role of Rita and trained at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama.

With a B.A. from Hull University followed by Acting Diplomas from the University of California and Drama Studio, London, Jonathan had spent 20 years living a typical actors life in the UK – in and out of theatre jobs, temping one week, auditioning the next, in the West End for a while or off on a tour.

Selection_200It was during one of his temping stints as a drama supply teacher that a colleague said he knew of a summer camp near Moscow that needed someone good at drama. “Thankfully he recommended me,” Jonathan notes.

The rest is history – he fell in love with Moscow and was surprised that a metropolis so rich in theatrical history and culture, a growing number of Russians well versed in English and a large expat community did not already boast an English speaking theatre company. “I’ve worked in Italy and Germany and for the English-speaking theatre of Vienna it just seemed natural that such a theatre should be here. I was surprised that it didn’t already exist.”

MET was born. His fiancé, Karina Sagoyan, a language professor at MSU = Moscow State University, helped him in establishing the company. “She gets all the bitty, gritty jobs – tax, translations, box office issues etc. Show business eh?,” jokes Jonathan. “Actually she is the creative pulse of the company. I always seek her advice for shows that would work here and get her to vet prospective directors and performers. Her input is invaluable and acts as a kind of ‘quality control’ so that we offer the professional standards we want to offer the Moscow public”.

It seems to be working. Four sell-out seasons and a growing confidence means they already have plans for the rest of this year and into the next. “In the autumn we will be producing a fantastic English comedy – Relatively Speaking – by the master of theatre comedy, Alan Ayckbourn”. Regularly produced in the UK and throughout the world Ayckbourn’s work hasn’t had enormous exposure in Russia (certainly not in English) but Jonathan and Karina are convinced it will delight Moscow audiences. “It has crackling, witty dialogue and a plot of confused identities and that cheeky English humour”, says Karina.

Then for the New Year time they will stage the ever popular murder mystery, Sleuth by Anthony Shaffer.

Selection_201“One practical criteria for us at this stage of our development is small cast plays. Sleuth has two actors, Rita two and Blue/Orange (their spring production) three.” Flying actors over, organising visas, accommodation and paying a wage takes a large cut from the budget and large casts are a luxury they cannot afford. “Moscow has many large theatre companies with actors who work in one company for their entire careers. In the UK it is different. Yes, the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company (for which Jonathan has worked) can afford large companies of actors but that is not the norm.” Actors in the UK are freelancers and go from job to job and so most producers find small cast shows more economically viable. “This has meant a tradition of writers writing shows for smaller numbers of performers. And there are some great shows!”

In April MET played 4 sell-out performances of Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange, a psychological drama with a cast of three. For this, experienced director, Gary Sefton who works regularly for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Theatres Royal in Northampton and Bath, was flown in. “It’s quite a tricky piece – detailed plot and complicated ideas – but the audience went with it all the way”, Gary explained.

This positive audience response has encouraged Jonathan through the hard work the project has entailed. “I still sometimes run around on the metro delivering tickets and then get back to have a rehearsal.” Such are the demands of launching a new venture with the ambition that MET has.

“We want to be a permanent feature on the Moscow theatrical skyline and add at least three new shows a year and even start to include Russian actors in the future if their English is of a high enough standard (and their acting as well of course).” Education ventures are planned as well with a schools’ Oliver Twist in development – “updated with lots of music and fun but true to the original spirit” – as well as MET Youth which aims to offer Russian children 10 week courses in play rehearsals followed by performance.

But this is into the more distant future. For the time being they are in rehearsal again for Educating Rita which BBC Arts Critic, Lord Melvyn Bragg, described as “magnificent” on his BBC blog after seeing the show in September.

“We want to produce quality contemporary drama to the same standard (and language standard) as you would see in London.” As Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote “MET offers Muscovites a performance with professional actors not just native speakers.” Jonathan assures us that this will always be their mission.

See for yourself by coming along to the Mayakovsky Theatre some time in the near future to catch MET in action.

 

Children of the World International Preschool

Selection_203Children of the World International Pre-School was opened in 2008 for children of 2-7 years of age and has gone from strength to strength ever since. Children of the employees of international businesses, foreign embassies and international families attend this school. Many Russian children enrol to the school to learn English and become bilingual in 2-3 years.

It is a very English kindergarten. Not only does it follow the British national curriculum, but all the teachers are experienced, enthusiastic and qualified early childhood specialists from Great Britain. All the staff is committed to providing a great pre-school experience for children.

Activities include: fun outdoor games and wonderful park walks; finger painting; flying kites; feeding animals in the local zoo; baking cup-cakes and organizing tea parties for parents; reading books with a torch at the Pyjama Party; decorating a Christmas tree and writing letters to Santa; playing ‘Bingo!’ and ‘Musical Chairs’; sports competitions and hosting school visitors… Life at the school is child-oriented, bright and memorable! The school somehow manages to allow children to be children yet provide a sound academic programme.

In a city where lots of ‘English curriculum’ pre-schools are trying to copy secondary schools providing ‘English lessons’ to 2-5 year old children, the Chidren of the World International Preschool is a good find. Mrs Prozeraj, the Headmistress commented: “Young children’s brains are equipped to absorb language and learn to speak without the necessity of formal language lessons; they learn by hearing the language spoken around them and adapting what they hear to form their own responses. Children of the World International Preschool provides a total English immersion learning environment where children gain an understanding of the English language simply by going about the daily classroom routine.”

Selection_204The school’s syllabus is fully compliant with the children’s ages. It’s a cosy place with a very friendly and homelike atmosphere. All the activities are cheerful and challenging. The children are listened to, valued, trusted and respected. They feel comfortable and enthusiastic in exploring and discussing the greatest mysteries of language and science.

Children of the World International Preschool is located in a park area of the Golden Keys residential complex and has wonderful outdoors play areas and sports facilities. A small zoo located within the site provides a wonderful opportunity for students to observe animals very closely throughout the year.

“The care and thoughtfulness with our children as human beings is exceptional. I worked across the USA and internationally in education. You are a model in both the philosophy/implementation of pre-school education as well as a model of cultural diversity. I feel so fortunate for my children to be part of Children of the World pre-school.” Said Robert P., a parent of a child at the school.

Selection_205“Children flourish at the Children of the World pre-school, they thoroughly enjoy their learning and achieve extremely well in relation to their starting points”, says Maria G., another parent.

What makes Children of the World pre-school unique is that it gives young children an opportunity to experience an ‘authentic childhood’. The school’s logo is: ‘A great place to grow!’ Nothing can be better for young children than to grow and learn in a safe and challenging environment while having fun and making life-long friends from all over the world.

Children of the World International Preschool

Address: 1G, bld.3, Minskaja str. Moscow

WWW: CHILDREN-OF-THE-WORLD.COM

Phone: (963)976-2228

Financial Planning Dispelling the Myths and Misconceptions

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Contrary to popular perception, planning for your financial future is not an impossible task, not for anyone. But there are persistent myths that first need to be dispelled. If you have no real financial plans for your future are you really ‘planning to fail’?

When I meet someone who needs to give commitment and hard work toward making a solid financial future for themself, there are usually two responses they give to the idea they should be taking some action and that now is the right time to start. The first is that they will never retire. The second is that they are glad this has been raised and they need help to start on the right path.

To the first response I always realise that the person has their head in the sand and that they are actually hiding from the stark reality that they are way behind in their planning. I hear all sorts of excuses which people ultimately justify to themselves about this.

The second is much easier to deal with; this person recognises the need and the urgency and is always keen to implement a strategy and structure plans that will help them reach calculated targets. The person for whom we start planning will almost always feel better about themselves about making a start on the road to financial security.

If you have read thus far you are likely a number two. But no matter where you stand there are some myths which are often misunderstood and other misconceptions which may be leading you astray.

My property is my financial future

This really is a myth because property is not everything. Many people have made great returns on property but the capital appreciation can only be realised once you actually sell a property. Feeling you have made sufficient gains to create enough wealth to retire on is often incorrect because inflation takes over, depreciating any gain you have realised when you cashed out.

Property also has a mysterious way of not selling at the value you feel it should and sometimes not selling at the exact time you want it to. Its inflexibility means you are unable to draw down a part of the capital value of any single property without entering debt.

For those relying on rental income, property is a good idea as one of the asset classes you can use. Rental rate escalation gives some protection against inflation. However, do not rely entirely on this single asset class because then you have all your eggs in one basket and if the rental market declines or even collapses you will be in trouble. Not only will it be difficult to generate the revenue you need from rentals but you may also not be able to sell a property to realise capital.

My employer pension will be adequate

Unfortunately this is rarely true. If you have had the same job and moved up the career ladder with the same employer, the chances are that you will be in a stronger position when it comes to your pension being adequate to fund your financial future. However, pensions are generally designed to generate half your earnings rate just before retirement if you have been in a scheme for forty years. A number of schemes will aggregate toward a secure financial future but will usually be insufficient.

When I profile clients I usually find that the amount they feel they need to retire on have no relation to the amount they have been earning in their job. We must also assume that the company scheme you belong to will not collapse or have to reduce benefits payable to retirees.

Contributions paid into a corporate scheme are often accumulated into your personal retirement fund. Sometimes, through the poor investment decisions of others, schemes have not created good returns and the amount which you are left with at retirement is totally inadequate.

Investing is too risky

This is often a cop out for people who know they need to do something about accumulating investments but actually feel insecure about it. Corporate pension schemes invest in markets and equities typically form a substantial part of those investments. So, as an individual, you may be nervous about investing when in fact you are actually blindly invested in equities anyway.

If you find the right investment adviser he will be able to show you ways of investing whilst taking account of your risk appetite. You will be surprised at the options available without very much exposure to equities. Such holdings are also able to generate returns far greater than you will find in any bank and they will be exposed to much lower risks.

I have left it too late

It is never too late to start making arrangements toward your own personal financial independence. If you are driving a car when suddenly a brick wall appears and you have no chance of stopping do you not bother hitting the brakes? If you are on the way to a meeting and traffic holds you up so that you will be late do you simply not bother to turn up? In both these cases the chances are that your reactions and your instincts tell you to do your best and try to stop that car or arrive at the meeting late. It is never too late.

In the same way it is never too late to start making preparations toward your retirement and you will certainly not regret this. I have met individuals who say they have retired on too much money; it is usually the exact opposite for the majority. They were late is starting and originally thought they had no chance of “getting there” but have managed to secure a comfortable retirement for themselves because of a forward thinking plan which ultimately changed their entire lives.

Quite often people can defer their retirement and gradually slow down by working part time. They will sometimes seek help from a finance professional who shows them how to uncover possible pensions they actually thought had been lost or cancelled. In the western world there is no such thing as a cancelled pension.

Investors are frequently surprised at how savings can grow without taking unnecessary risks. These smaller aspects collectively assist them to pool together a larger picture which works.

I won’t live long anyway

This is almost as bad as “I will never retire”. Medical science is constantly improving; extending lives. Look around you and you will see the reality that people are healthier and live longer. If you plan to expire in your eighties and you happen to run out of reserves at that time you really need to plan again.

I cannot afford sufficient savings

This is also a common myth similar to those who feel it is too late. Starting small and at least accumulating assets toward ultimate financial independence is a really great idea. If you started saving say $150 per month for your new born child and increased the amount by 5% per year, growing at 6% it would be worth around $90,000 when your little one got to eighteen years old. That would be a pretty good start for anyone at that age.

Ignore all of the myths and get moving on a plan today. Seek the right help and you will be nicely surprised.

No Need To Leave

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Business managers operating in Russia are likely to be focused on one key question in the coming months; ‘what will be the legacy of the Ukraine crisis’ on the economy and the business environment? Specifically, how might the crisis damage previous growth assumptions and for how long? The good news is that nobody should be planning to pack their bags. The long term growth story in Russia remains intact. The bad news is that the economy may lose at least one year of growth and the quarterly reports back to head office may need a lot more reassurance than previously. Plaudits for exceeding 2013 performances will be scarce in calendar year 2014.

The crisis over Ukraine could not have come at a worse time for the Russian economy. Last year’s growth of 1.3 per cent was about one-third that of the previous year and the Economy Ministry recently warned that growth this year may be as low as 0.5 per cent or even zero if inflation cannot be brought under control and capital flight continues to rise.

But with headlines so bad and risks apparently high, why do so many foreign businesses even bother with Russia exposure? The short answer is they are in Russia because they make money in the country and, in most cases, a lot more than they make in most other developing economies. Businesses and investors who bailed out of Russia exposure during previous crisis missed the lucrative recovery that followed. Russia has changed a great deal over the past dozen years. Opinion polls certainly show strong public support for the re-integration of Crimea into the Russian Federation but other polls show a steady rise in concern over rising inflation and the weaker rouble. Russia has the highest per-capita internet usage in the world and the middle-class has become used to travel, and spending, across the world. Policy makers in the Kremlin are very well aware of the need to sustain lifestyle improvements as a basic condition for social and political stability.

Russia is already the second largest consumer market in Europe and, with 144 million people and 55 million households, potentially the largest. Although precisely defining what is the middle class segment of the population is problematic and highly contentious, using the OECD definition Russia’s middle class is just over 50 percent and compares very favourably with a similar classification of 30 percent in Brazil, 21 percent in China and 11 percent in India. More importantly the classification of wealthy households, i.e. those with annual income of $50,000 or greater, is 15 percent in Russia compared to less than 5 percent in Brazil, China and India. Russia is already one of the largest profit contributors for major international consumer and service companies and, last year, New York Jewellers Tiffany opened its first flagship store in east Europe on Red Square just opposite Lenin’s tomb.

Between 2000 and 2012 retail spending in Russia grew at an annual compound rate of 20 percent. Part of that was the low base effect and part was as a result of the trickledown of the over $1.6 trillion worth of oil and gas exports revenue earned by the budget. But while the boom period in consumer and services growth is over, Russia will sustain annual growth in this sector close to the 4-5 percent recorded over the past twelve months as people’s lifestyle and consumer habits continue to migrate towards those in developed economies. Despite the rapid changes of the past dozen years people living in big cities, such as Moscow, will attest to the fact that there is still huge scope for improvement in the consumer services sector.

But what of the fears that Russia’s economic progress is at risk of a collapse in oil and gas earnings? It is certainly true that about two-thirds of the value of Russian exports is from oil and gas. But because of the steady expansion of the economy over the past decade less than 50 percent of tax revenue is generated from these industries. Also, the government learned an expensive lesson in the 2008 crisis when the oil price collapse quickly eroded foreign exchange reserves and led to a budget deficit of 6 percent in 2009. Today there is a more flexible approach to balancing the oil price and the rouble’s exchange rate so that at an average of $80 per barrel (Brent) the budget would run a deficit of 3-4 percent of GDP. For a country with only 11 percent public debt to GDP that imbalance could be accommodated for several years while the reformers in government would welcome the decline in complacency to push much needed and long overdue reforms.

The next phase of growth in Russia will have to be investment based in, e.g. agriculture, food and medicine production, healthcare and infrastructure. Foreign companies will make will money as these industries recover and expand as others have, and are, in consumer and service areas. Of course that implies that not only will the legacy of the Ukraine crisis be overcome but also that contentious issues such as corruption, heavy handed bureaucracy and a perceived weak rule of law will also be improved. The bottom line is Russia has never been an easy location for business and investment and that is unlikely to change for a very long time. But despite the regular intrusion of politics and the overhanging hydrocarbon risk, Russia is still a country to make money and that is why so many foreign companies are staying.

The Napoleon Hostel in Moscow

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When Richard came to Moscow there were two options for him to do for living. He can become an English teacher or start a kind of a business. He chose the latter.

“When I worked for a bank I decided to do backpacking and in six months go back to London. I visited a lot of countries. All of a sudden I wanted to settle in Moscow. I thought about going to the university to get an MBA there and to learn Russian. I liked Russia. In Moscow back then, there were a lot of expensive hotels and a lack of hostels. My university mate introduced me to my current business partner Misha. So we agreed to set up a hostel,” says Richard.

Selection_245Though Richard had no experience in running a hostel, having stayed in hostels in 50 different countries, he knew what people wanted. “You have to find a good location close to tourist attractions with cheap bars and restaurants around. You have to hire a receptionist who is good at languages and maths. It took us 6 months to find a place we could rent, and another three months to renovate the place. We put in a kitchen, bought furniture and constructed the beds. We registered a company, did marketing and appeared on different booking sites. That was in 2007, and there was a shortage of hostels in Moscow at that time. Napoleon became popular very quickly,” says Richard.

“For the first year it was a very profitable business, but that didn’t last long. There is a lot of competition now. Almost every week there is a new hostel opening up and one closing down or being sold,” said Richard. He says that if you run your business well your profit could be between $0 and $4000 dollars a month. The prices vary from 450 roubles up to 700 roubles per night, in winter the hostel charges a little less than in the summer.

There are several factors that make Napoleon different from other hostels. “We have an extremely good location, it’s only a seven minute walk from the Red Square and the Kremlin. We have been operating for seven years now, and we try to be the best amongst our competition. We provide free Wi-Fi and maps of Moscow. Our customer service is very good; we explain about all the interesting places to visit. We have comfortable beds and a nice living room, we have board games and TV; it is very easy to socialize for guests. We can serve meals if guests want,” he added.

Despite all the horror stories we hear about Russia, Richard doesn’t think that it is difficult to do business here. “It’s a little bit riskier than in London. There is too much bureaucracy in Moscow. Napoleon is a hostel but it still follows the same regulations as a hotel. You need a paper from the department of sanitation to say that it is clean. You need a paper from fire inspection to say it is safe… So in London there is heavier competition for just about everything, but in Moscow a more complicated bureaucracy and more opportunities. Having a Russian business partner is a huge plus for me, it helps me to avoid tricky situations. Overall, even for foreigners who don’t have a good command of Russian I would say that the risks are there, but there aren’t too many of them,” says Richard.

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There are some things that Richard is not so positive about: “Prices for food, clothes and computers are more expensive than in England. The quality of service is definitely a problem here. People who work in hotels or restaurants need to smile more. But then again, there are plusses. I used to live in London, which is a big vibrant city. Moscow is bigger. There is more energy. There are a lot of attractions. You can have everything you want here. You never know what is going to happen next, life is full of surprises. It is great going to the bars speaking with locals and teaching foreigners how to live here. Moscow is full of such a diverse bunch of people.”