Postcards from Russia

Moloko’s perch in my Moscow kitchen
Walking with my friend Tammy around Moscow’s Garden Ring
Fili Park (my favorite) – Established in 1812
Looks quiet but actually full of cross country skiers, families, and dogs in snowsuits
The park runs down to the Moscow River, nearly frozen after a chilly week
A bright but bitter day – perfect for puzzling and sunbathing (or both)
Moloko enjoying an empty fridge on grocery day
Orthodox Christmas keeps the lights up longer at the Red Square Christmas markets
Muscovites out in droves
GUM Department Store aglow
Cinderella lights outside the Bolshoi Theatre
White lights make for bright nights
Warm and cozy – Happy February, everyone!

The Christmas Markets: Frankfurt

Happy 2020, folks!

Back in September I began researching flights home for the Christmas holiday. With no direct flights from Moscow to Boston, I generally avoid crazy busy airports like Heathrow and Charles de Galle. I’ve been impressed with Lufthansa lately and noticed the chance to have a long layover in Frankfurt on my way to Boston.

Moloko in Moscow

After calling the airline (something I’ve only recently realized merits great results), I was able to extend my layover to two nights at a minimal fee. My plan was hatched and I started researching Frankfurt’s Christmas markets.

Moscow lights

I’ve visited a few Christmas markets during my time in Russia. Red Square itself boasts a small market next to GUM, the department store dripping in white lights.

GUM Department Store in Moscow

Last year I took a long weekend in Riga, Latvia, and wandered around its multiple markets. The year before I stopped in Zurich for a night to enjoy the markets there.

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Frankfurt proved the best of the lot thus far. Essentially one huge market stretching from the waterfront of the River Main through Römerberg Square and up to Hauptwache Plaza, the market spanned nearly a half kilometer.

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While some markets tend to be weighed down by products brought in from China, I’m always keen to find arts and crafts created in a style or technique unique to that region.

Römerberg Square

Food vendors sold treats (the Berlin jelly donut of JFK fame, for one), carousels turned in the squares, and crafts from all over the world dotted the stalls (Peru the farthest spot).

Rained out on the Friday evening I arrived, I made a plan to arrive first thing Saturday morning. As December 22 marked the last day of the Frankfurt Market, crowds were even larger than normal.

The waterfront

The Frankfurt waterfront proved far more charming than expected. Perhaps it was the first sun I had seen in weeks or it’s similarity to Boston’s Charles River but I absolutely loved walking the bike path from my hotel to the market. Wood ducks played in puddles left from the storm and the locals were out in droves – running, biking, enjoying the unusually warm December weather.

Other Frankfurt attractions…

The Palmengarten

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Greenhouses full of botanical gardens

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Grounds to walk and enjoy

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The perfect antidote to market crowds

Schirn Kunsthalle

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I stumbled upon a phenomenal retrospective of Lee Krasner

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Known to many as Jackson Pollock’s wife, Lee was a great deal more

Bauernmarkt Konstablerwache

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Apple wine, or apfelwein, is a Frankfurt must

My Frankfurt layover proved the perfect kick off to the holiday season. Have any of you visited a Christmas market in Europe? Suggestions welcome!

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Frohe Weihnachten!

Dancing on ice

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Saturdays are made for slow starts

As we draw closer to the winter solstice, there is a strange absence of snow on the ground here in Moscow. Not that I’m complaining – the grey weather recently gave me a good excuse to check out the local skating scene.

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The ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating, or the Rostelecom Cup, is an international invitational competition featuring both men’s and women’s singles, pair skating, and ice dance. Our school organized tickets and we sat pretty much as high atop the ice as possible – which made for great views!

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Having never attended a skating competition before, I was thankful that one of my coworkers is a die-hard fan. She explained the sets during the singles’ long program and offered helpful commentary throughout (how many Beatles medleys are too much?). It’s so different to see a skate program from above, rather than the close ups on television. I really admire the athleticism it takes to traverse such a huge rink while performing jumps and technical elements for nearly 4 minutes.

Ssingles was my favorite. American Mariah Bell impressed, earning a third place finish. The winner, Russia’s Alexandra Trusova, completed multiple quad axels to earn her victory and the crowd’s praise. And she’s only 15!

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It was an all afternoon affair and we stayed for nearly 8 hours, truly enjoying the crowd come alive for their hometown skaters and supporting others from across the globe. Just another cool way to spend the winter months in Moscow! Hope I’ll get to experience it again next year.

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Down to snuggle

The Golden Country

When my parents and I first decided to meet up in Europe over my fall break, they asked me what country would be best. I didn’t hesitate to recommend Portugal, what with its seafood, wine, and friendly residents. With Lisbon a direct flight from both Moscow and Boston, I knew it would suit us just fine. My only request was that our good friends Charlie and Deb join as well. They were game and we started planning.

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Between 1400-1600, Portugal underwent an “Age of Discovery”. Prosperous and seafaring, the country sent sailing fleets to all corners of the globe, captained by household names such as Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco da Gama. “By 1560, Portugal’s global empire had peaked. Tiny-but-filthy-rich Portugal claimed (though they didn’t actually occupy) the entire coastline of Africa, Arabia, India, the Philippines, and south China – a continuous stretch from Lisbon to Macao – plus Brazil.” This practice of international exploration yielded exotic spices, agricultural practice, and (horrendously) the beginnings of the slave trade.

Though I’d spent a few days in Lisbon in 2017, I’d missed the chance to go north to Porto, a city that has elicited only smiles and good words from friends and fellow travelers. We decided to start our journey there.

Porto

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The city of bridges, as it as known, Porto lies at the mouth of a river which runs over a mountain range and into the Douro Valley (the valley of gold), the fertile bed of the port wine industry. Taylor, Calem, and Ferreira all have lodges along the river. With a recommendation from a good friend, we made our way to Graham’s.

Graham’s Port Lodge

Featuring gorgeous hilltop view at the city across the river, Graham’s proved a great starting point in our quest to learn about the history of port. We toured it’s cellars featuring a library of vintage wines (the only wine that can appreciate with age!), some of which were over 150 years old. The atmosphere was perfect and we enjoyed a walk down to the waterfront after our port flight.

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São Bento Railway Station

You will seriously earn your steps on the streets of Porto. Staying higher atop the hill, I tried to devise a winding walk that featured mostly downhills. Our first stop was the Sao Bento Railway Station which features over 20,000 hand-painted tiles. The stained glass was gorgeous, too.

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Livraria Lello Bookshop

I could not visit Porto without seeing the bookshop which had inspired Hogwarts. Author JK Rowling taught ESL in Porto from 1991-1993 and often stopped into this bookshop. From the art nouveau staircase and dark wood finishes, it is not hard to picture sliding staircases and talking portraits. Neither the lines nor the masses could detract from the magic inside.

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On the Water

With a group of five, moving from place to place could be a bit of a challenge. We opted for a hop-on/hop-off bus tour which took us to the outskirts of town. As we drove along the water, we let our stomachs choose our next stop – a fishing hamlet with river views. Fresh cod, hake, and salmon were on offer and paired with cabbage and potatoes made for our most delicious meal yet. The atmosphere came replete with a Portuguese mother directing all the action from the window above. We joked that our meal was probably still swimming that morning and I suspect we were right.

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Ribeira

Charlie and Deb had read up on the Ribeira, an area down on the riverbank. Once a dodgy area, the neighborhood is now a fantastic spot for restaurants and music. We opted for a boat ride under the famous Porto bridges but I could easily see returning to Ribeira the next time I’m in town.

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Sé Cathedral

I could have called this post “Stairs, stairs, and more stairs” or “Just 10 more minutes walking”. Though we didn’t plan this stop well on our walk down to the riverfront, I would recommend the Cathedral for it’s beautiful tiles and gilded alters. Beautiful views over the city made the climb worth it.

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Lisbon

A quick and easy 3-hour train ride found us back in Lisbon, the City of Light. Unlike it’s French counterpart of the same nickname, Lisbon is bathed in golden light after dark, in gorgeous contrast to a typical blue velvet night sky. I had a few nights to myself on either end of the trip and I’ll say at no point did I feel unsafe taking in the streets after dark.

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A cardamom pastry – second only to the famous Pasteis de Nata which we ate daily

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Lapa

I spent my first two nights in the charmingly local neighborhood of Lapa. I’m told it’s a hub for Lisbon intellectuals – artists and writers abound. If you’re seeking an actual oasis just beyond the street, look no further than this supremely charming garden and private backyard suite. Two of the nicest hosts I’ve stayed with, to boot.

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Basílica da Estrela, Lapa

Cervejaria Ramiro

We certainly earned our steps back in Lisbon as well. One of our major treks included a very early bird dinner at Ramiro, a seafood house made famous by Anthony Bourdain during a visit back in 2012. This place surely did not disappoint with crab, shrimp, and clams as tasty as I’ve ever experienced on the shores of Maine and Cape Cod.

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Ascensor do Lavra & Jardim do Torel

Lisbon is known for it’s funiculars (ascensor) and we took a lesser known one to the Jardim do Torel lookout. With 270 degree views of the whole city, it was a perfectly quiet spot to watch the sun go down behind one of Lisbon’s many hills. The graffitied cable car was a charming way to travel.

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I love this photo of the crew – Dad and Charlie have been best friends since Grade 8 and Deb not long after. My mom is the newest member, having met these guys when she was only 18. It was really special getting to spend time with them all together.

Jerónimos Monastery, Belem

Our last day found us in Belem, a small town just down the river from Lisbon. The monastery was well worth the 10 euro entrance fee and left us marveling at the architectural flare throughout. We enjoyed pasteis de nata in the park and took the slow boat back to Lisbon, which was a perfect choice.

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Largo do Carmo & Bellalisa Elevador

Deb had the idea to return to a square we had spied the night before called Largo do Carmo. With quaint tables and umbrellas, we enjoyed our drinks next to the ruins of a convent. There is a famous elevator in Lisbon which has lines for days (literally) but with a little help from a guide, we realized that the Bellalisa Elevador Restaurant would make a perfect spot to cap off our trip together. The drinks were flowing and seafood was top notch. Before we knew it, it was time for the crew to fly back to Boston.

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Gulbenkian Museum

On recommendation from a train seat mate, I spent my last day in Lisbon visiting the Gulbenkian Museum. Soaking up the sunshine in the museum’s gardens and the Turkish artwork inside proved the perfect send-off. I look forward to my chance to return again and will look back at this special trip with fond memories.

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Moscow or Washington?

Fall is a brief season here in Moscow. Back to school and before we know it the daylight hours are growing short and the night much longer. But before winter takes hold, we have tennis season!

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This was my second time coaching MS Girls Tennis and I really enjoyed seeing the team evolve from young Grade 6s to a more mature, stronger team this year.

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This past weekend we flew to Prague for our tournament. We were blessed with gorgeous weather and thrilled to encounter autumn in full swing! Yellow leaves and blue skies were a welcome reprieve from the Moscow grey. The girls wasted no time getting down to business.

We spent two days on the courts at the International School of Prague, trading points with students from schools in Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, and even Albania. The best part for me is the downtime between matches, when I see the girls playing four square with players they’ve just spent 60 minutes going toe-to-toe with in an 8-game pro set.

fullsizeoutput_52b7When my tennis players begin a match, the first question they ask is: “Moscow or Washington?”. As they spin their Wilson tennis rackets and determine who will serve first, that question seems so innocent.

We worked to defend last year’s title and were thrilled to place 2nd by only two games. It was an exciting weekend of ups and downs and I was proud of the girls for pulling this one out.

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Tomorrow we celebrate as a team and pack our rackets away until next season, lessons learned and heads held high. It’s a highlight of my fall and of theirs, too, I hope 🙂

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Penguin Tennis 2019

Just touched down in London town

Just back from the Global Art Teachers Exchange at the American School in London. Highlights included…

Seeing my first Banksy! This installation is up for only two weeks in East Croydon. #GrossDomesticProduct bringing people together from all over.

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Seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child! A two-night affair, it was theatrical and intense and cool to be around that many Potterheads.

A photo hunt through Piccadilly Circus and Soho. This is what happens when you let art teachers out of the studio 🙂

My first visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum. Always wanted to go, amazed to find it was free!

Hands-on workshops – one on soft sculpture, another on printmaking on clay. Met a lot of cool art teachers from 24 different countries! The farthest anyone travelled was from Nairobi.

Lastly, I had dinner with a student from my time in Seoul (he’s now 24!). He now attends Central Saint Martins and it’s wonderful to see him doing so well. Good times!

Next up in this crazy month of travel – I’m off to Prague for our MS girls tennis tournament! Go Penguins!

Ah, yes – the sand…

We’re a month into school and autumn has officially arrived in Moscow. This week we could see our breath at tennis practice! It’s been a whirlwind getting up to speed, teaching five different classes and getting to know the IB Visual Arts program but I’m loving it. So when my friend suggested a long weekend meet up in Dubai, I jumped for it!

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Having never been to the United Arab Emirates (of which there are 7 “states”), I didn’t know what to expect. I knew of the Burj Khalifa (highest building in the world, a smidge of it visible above right). I knew the cities had gone up very quickly, fueled by oil money. I knew there was a monarchy and I also knew there was a mall with an indoor ski slope. Otherwise – no real idea of what I was jumping into.

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Turns out all of those facts were true, including the ski slope. Malls and shopping are a big part of life in the UAE. Dubai has two large ones, the Dubai Mall (replete with an ice rink and aquarium) and the Mall of the Emirates (ski slope land). My friend Emmalee had told me that if you were looking for a western store chain, it was most likely available in Dubai. We proved this logic true by having brunch at IHOP on our first morning there.

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Living in Russia, which does not have access to many western brands, makes you oddly nostalgic for the comforts of home. Despite the fact that I would pretty much never choose to spend time at a mall when I’m in the States, we whittled away a few hours shopping for gifts and enjoying the sights, such as the huge aquarium below.

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The ice rink was hosting a number of birthday parties – made evident by the shrieks of delight as we passed. When it’s 102F outside in September, an afternoon at the rink seems a surreal experience.

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My friend Emmalee lives in Saudi Arabia, a good friend who I worked with in Seoul.

As Emmalee had flown in from Saudi Arabia, she brought with her a pair of abayas for us to wear when visiting the Grand Mosque. As a foreigner in Saudi, she wears the abaya whenever she’s not on the school compound on which she lives and works (an island that is 3 miles x 3 miles). Her she is modeling the more stylish of the two options. I myself had the chance to wear the simple black one that her husband affectionately calls “the flying squirrel”. It is as attractive as it sounds.

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Given our limited time and our want to catch up rather than stressing about plans, we booked two small group excursions via Viator – a “desert dinner” (common in the Middle East) and a visit to Abu Dhabi, the neighboring emirate to Dubai. The desert dinner was a 7 hour event, including pick up at our hotel, transport to the dunes near the Oman border, and “dune bashing”, an activity that involved riding in an SUV with a steel reinforced frame up, over, and down the massive dunes in a national park. Much like on the Cape, our driver let some air out of the tires at the highway’s edge and we met up with a convoy of 18 cars, all on the same tour as us. Here’s Emm below modeling the latest in Middle East explorer chic (ie. covered shoulders and knees, light airy attire). No abayas or coverage required in Dubai.

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The dunes were absolutely gorgeous. The tracks of the wind made mountains beyond mountains and we rolled with the best of them. I was lucky enough to have scored the front passenger’s seat so I got the best view in the house! Like flying over a rollercoaster in your own private car. Picture a snowboarding bowl and us at a nearly 45 degree angle spinning around it. Not every car made it through with stomachs’ intact but we rocked it.

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Halfway through the dune bashing, we stopped at a local camel farm. The camels were very friendly and well cared for, though they are either current or past racing champions. Yes, camel racing is a big sport in Dubai and these guys can be sold for top dollar depending on their success rate.

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If you can see the horizon in the background, we were surrounded by nothing but sand out there. Very easy to see how you could lose your way trekking across all that sand and air.

We reached camp and took in a falcon show. We had our hands henna-ed, in true tourist fashion, and settled down to enjoy the sunset. It was still blazing hot but no AC out there! 100+ degrees at sunset will put you into instant slo-mo.

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To Emm’s delight (Saudi being a dry country), our camp had a bar! Nothing like a G+T to take the edge off. I always think of the British in Jaipur when drinking one, though we thankfully did not have to worry about warding off malaria with our choice of bevvies.

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As night fell, we enjoyed a number of dance routines, including sword and belly dancing, an amalgamation of cultures thrown adopted into one show, not specifically from Dubai. Dinner was delicious – hummus, olives, tabouli, and all the baklava one could want.

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The next day we were again picked up for our excursion and ferried off to Abu Dhabi, the emirate next door. While Dubai is a playground for the rich with the best nightlife, Abu Dhabi is rumored to be where the money is at. Architectural wealth was certainly on display.

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The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is only 12 years old but it already encompasses the grandeur of a UNESCO World Heritage site. It took 11 years to complete and boasts the best of the best – marble from Italy, tiles from Turkey, and gold on every minaret and dome.

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As an active mosque, women are expected to wear an abaya and cover their hair. Men do not have this expectation but you can see one man in white wearing a thawb, popular attire among men in the Middle East.

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The site featured 82 domes and countless minarets (the tower seen here).

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The pillar columns represent the trunk of a palm tree, which were once used to create buildings in the region.

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The artist in me could not get over the gorgeous inlaid Italian marble or all colors and shapes.

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As mentioned, wearing an abaya and head covering is expected for women visiting the mosque. Though I’d covered my head, knees, and shoulders at mosques in Turkey and churches in Moscow and Rome, I’d never worn a full abaya before. I actually found it surprisingly liberating and very comfortable. Liberating in the sense that I wasn’t concerned with how my outfit fit and I could move it around to get air flow, which I was desperate for in the 100+ degree heat.

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Gorgeous Turkish tiles.

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Inside the mosque – only foreigners are allowed to take pictures. The lattice work was even more stunning than it appears here.

Our second stop of the day was the true impetus of our travel to Abu Dhabi – the brand spanking new Louvre Abu Dhabi! I’d heard of it being built and certainly over the hubbub surrounding the purchase of an is-it-or-isn’t-it controversial da Vinci painting in recent years.

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Twombly’s in the foyer…

The museum is heavy on cultural anthropology. In fact, it is comprised of 12 sections, each one a slice across continents and cultures, categorized by a defining heading – ie. Ancient Era or Religions of the World.

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I really dug how a scroll from the Etruscans could be alongside an inlaid box from Japan, both being created during the same time period but continents apart. It really put a grand art history timeline into perspective and started some wild conversations seeing unusual items juxtaposed.

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A major highlight for me was seeing Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps in person. I’m never one to take a picture in front of a work but since I teach it to my students every year, this one deserved an exception.

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For fun, here is the contemporary version I share with students when we discuss plagiarism versus appropriation, done by an artist I greatly admire, Kehinde Wiley of President Obama’s official portrait fame.

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I could have stayed all day. When it came time to go, I ran into my Associate Principal from Moscow who was visiting for professional development! My friend Emmalee also ran into coworkers from Saudi so I think it’s fair to say it’s an equally small world for international teachers abroad.

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Emm lost in a contemporary art installation/maze.

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A big ticket item in our hotel search was a pool. Knowing this would probably be my last gasp of summer, we booked at the Conrad Dubai. A word to the wise – the room was cheap but the food/drinks were not! But there’s nothing like enjoying a drink poolside and we milked it for all it was worth.

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All too soon it was time to return to Moscow and my real life here. This kind of getaway is definitely not something I do regularly but was totally worth the effort and beyond. Sand in my shoes, I headed back to Russia…

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This one was certainly happy to see me 🙂

Up next, I’m off to London for an art teacher conference and to catch a showing of The Cursed Child! Pics and stories to come…