I’ve always dreamed of the Emerald Isle…

… but I never expected my first time on Irish soil to be on a government-chartered 767 en route to Moscow. As with most aspects of life in the time of COVID, expectations have flown right out the window.

After weeks of grappling with cancelled flights from New York to Moscow (not Aeroflot’s fault – they could only take repatriating Russians), my school scrambled to find an alternative. 88 of us needed to get back to Moscow before the start of school. After bumping the school year back by a week, the school informed us of a charter flight out of DC. I confirmed my intent to be on it and started making travel arrangements.

Our charter on a remote tarmac at Dulles.

Initially hoping to enjoy a long weekend in my old city of residence, my plans were thwarted by a last minute decree by the Russian government that we could not enter the country without a COVID test… completed no more than 72 hours before arrival. I decided to stick around Massachusetts and search for a test, a task which quickly proved futile. Citing “greater need in other parts of the country”, there was absolutely not a rapid test to be found. With nothing that could guarantee that 72 hour window requirement, I was forced to push on with plans to fly to DC the day before the charter. Last minute (ie. two days before), the school found a testing sight in DC who could test us all as drive ups/walk ups. With my father’s help, I made a quick pivot and rented a car for the drive to DC instead. All this to say, there was a lot that went on before we were anywhere near the airport.

Driving down the I-95 corridor took me back to the many times I’d traversed that road during my DC years. I miss that city a lot and I still treasure that I was able to share my love of it with my god kids a few summers back. But this was not a time to leisurely enjoy a drive. Stopping only once (mask on, of course), I drove the 7 hours to make it to my COVID test on time.

Futile attempt at social distancing on the bus to the charter. In the end, we had to share anyways.

Camping out at the Hyatt near Dulles, I spent the night in a hotel run by a skeleton crew. The front desk, which physically was barely recognizable with plexiglass protection and what amounted to a HS football snack bar stacked behind the counter due to a lack of room service, did their best. I caught up with some friends on FaceTime and tried to get some rest, hoping my test results would be waiting in my email upon touchdown in Moscow.

A strange check-in process awaited us at Dulles. We essentially checked in at baggage claim, the barks of dogs echoing through the corridor. Many animals joined us for the flight, flying with embassy families and teachers from our school. More notable were the incredible amount of children along for this ride – the youngest, to my knowledge – 4 months old. None of us were quite sure what was in store, but we knew this was our best shot. Everyone’s faces bore the look of frayed nerves, a look my parents knew probably too well after weeks of me dealing with this unknown exit.

Once checked in, we were loaded on buses and taken to a remote tarmac to meet our plane. We queued for nearly an hour on the bus as ground crew set up a security check point and stocked the plane with supplies. Would we be fed? Would there be flight attendants? Would we be turned back upon arrival due to COVID results? These questions danced in my mind. I had to delay expectations and not allow myself to do anything but putting one foot in front of the other. To get all that way, after all the weeks of build up, and be turned back would have been – I don’t use this word lightly – devastating.

Refueling Dublin Airport at 3pm – pics or it didn’t happen

They assigned families seats together at check-in. As the plane was about 70% full (it was not just teachers from my school), they were kind enough to give those of traveling alone our own set of two seats (another futile attempt at social distancing in a “germ bullet” ie. plane but whatever, I’ll take it).

Our plane was quite old and carried no entertainment consoles. It did occur to me after Hour 5 of staring out the window and only seeing mountains (not the Atlantic), that they could actually be taking us anywhere. It was an eerie feeling. Yes, it turns out that we did have flight attendants (don’t think a plane can fly without them for safety reasons) and yes, they did feed us two box meals (fairly decent).

We had been told that we would be refueling in Dublin, Ireland. However, aside from the location, we had not been told what plans there included, nor how long we’d be there, or basically anything about procedure for this flight. It was a true “guess we’ll see” scenario and we had to roll with it. It’s worth mentioning that I work with a lot of seasoned travelers (multiple of whom have been to all 7 continents) and everyone was on edge.

We flew 7.5 hours up over Greenland to the Emerald Isle. Though I’ve always wanted to visit, an actual trip I had planned was thwarted by visa issues in Moscow a few summers back. Never technically set foot off the plane so we’ll hold off on claiming that in my country count for now. Our crew disembarked (and seemed to have no idea where we were traveling on to), the plane refueled, and we cooled our heels for 1.5 hours.

Gorgeous sunrise over Eastern Europe

Departing Dublin, we were entering hour 11 of travel (bus + plane + refuel). The captain announced a fairly quick hop to Moscow (3.5 hours), and we were off above the clouds once again, in the land of perpetual sunrise. It was smooth sailing, thankfully, as I don’t think our nerves could have taken it.

Flying low over Moscow – the arch of buildings on the horizon is new Moscow City

We flew into Moscow’s VKO airport, arriving around noon on the day after we departed DC. I’ve never flown so low over the city (planes are banned) and I could actually spot Moscow City (the arch of buildings on the horizon) from my window. My apartment lies a bit behind those buildings, off to the right. Never been so relieved to see the Soviet apartment buildings all stacked in rows.

Upon arrival, two Russian officials came on board to collect our medical papers. There were no test results in my Inbox. No bueno. An announcement told us that they would deplane us in groups of 7-10. Embassy folks earned the right to go first. We were the last and largest group. It took me 2 hours to get off the plane and I was one of the first. They ran us in plush vans to the terminal (we’d parked in the luxury terminal, so they are used to small private jets), and supposedly disinfected the vans in between each group. I have literally no idea how all the kids under the age of 8 didn’t lose their minds but they didn’t. Rockstar world travelers already. Their parents also deserve medals.

After customs, I was met by a kind US Embassy official who directed me to take another COVID test. This one was painless and quick. I walked out of the terminal towards my waiting bags and shuttle buses sent by our school. It was a glorious day, picture perfect skies and temperature. I found a patch of grass and took a breather. The kids ran in circles, delighted to be free and to see their friends after months away (some families left in March). It was a heart-warming sight.

Wonderful to be back in my apartment

Throughout the whole ordeal I had said that I would only believe I’d made it when my key turned the lock to my apartment. It finally happened, 18 hours after leaving DC. I was greeted by my cat who thankfully does not hold grudges. It was very good to be home.

Someone was happy to see me

For now, I am teaching from my apartment as our school is engaged in two weeks of distance learning. Those on the charter flight are under two weeks of self-isolation. I can take a walk before 9am, go to the grocery store, but generally am confined to home. No matter as I have so much to do to get my classes off the ground. It doesn’t even feel like confinement since it’s just a relief to be back.

Last night my friends and neighbors held a socially distanced jam session to celebrate the end of the first week of school.

I’m back where I should be and we’re just going to have to see how this school year/2020/pandemic unfolds. I hope you’re all doing well and taking care of yourself and others. I remain frustrated by the insane pressure of this back-to-school situation and it’s effect upon students, teachers, parents, etc. This pandemic is not something that was caused by these students but now they must learn a completely new way to get an education. Teachers are killing themselves to make it work.

This pandemic and it’s far-reaching grasp is the result of human beings not do the right thing and not practicing social distancing to make this virus go away. For those who say it’s not possible without a vaccine, it is. Look at Denmark, look at Vietnam, look at South Korea. Look around the world at what responsible governments and their citizens have done. I pray for my country. I’m praying for Russia. I’m praying for our world. Let us unite our collective brainpower to fight this war. We don’t have to live like this indefinitely. Please stay home, do not socialize in groups, and think of others. Shut. It. Down.

A different kind of home leave

I’m extremely grateful to be writing this entry from my childhood home in Massachusetts. As I sit here with my mom and dad, reflecting on the last month, I carry the knowledge that I am extremely lucky to have this time with them.

Throughout the COVID spring (praying there will only be one spring of COVID), I wavered back and forth on whether I should attempt to make the trip to the States for the summer. My greatest concern was keeping my family safe and not transporting the virus back to them.

Blue skies over Moscow as lockdown abruptly lifts on the day I depart

On the first of June, I received a voicemail from SwissAir, informing me that my flight in late June had been cancelled. Having planned to wait for that flight, the disappointment I felt pushed me to act. Though there has been a single flight out of Moscow to JFK once a week for all of lockdown, Aeroflot only posts these one at a time. Occasionally they would just be rumors that colleagues of mine would have to chase down at the Aeroflot office in Moscow in person. Thankful to have outlasted the initial evacuation stress many experienced, I felt it was time to get out of dodge. I booked my ticket for the following Tuesday and started getting things in order.

Though not an actual requirement for any US state, a two week quarantine was the only way I felt comfortable returning to my folks. Given the “germ bullet” I flew in on from Moscow, I needed a separate space to wait out the COVID timeline. After a few false starts with Airbnb (through no fault of theirs, their policies were awesome), my dad secured me a spot in an available apartment belonging to a childhood neighbor. It was an incredible gift, given the potential cost and coordination effort I was facing. Logistics solved, I lined up the cat sitter and airport transport. The hardest part about my departure was leaving this one…

Thankful for the weekly proof-of-life photos from my wonderful cat sitter, though this one is from the archives ❤

After 80 days in strict lockdown (observed by my close friends but not all in Moscow), I was more nervous than I think I’ve ever been when heading to the airport. And that includes moving to two countries, sight unseen.

The airport had an eerie vibe – everyone slightly on edge – save for the employees checking temperatures at the door. With only two international flights flying out that day, I got in a big line wearing my mask and gloves. No one was standing 6 feet apart.

Everyone seemed to have more patience than usual. I cruised to my gate and found a set of chairs far away from other passengers. Slowly the corridor filled, though only one blini (Russian crepe) stand was open for business.

Wearing my upteenth mask of the day

I needn’t have distanced because it all went to hell when the boarding line formed. Crazy pat-downs and a person in every seat. This was a coveted flight for those lucky enough to be able to enter the States right now. The captain came on the loudspeaker every three hours to remind us to change our masks. I deferred the food and drink offered having packed my own.

Landing without incident at JFK, I transferred terminals alone via the AirTrain. Kind of creepy to be solo on a rail car devoid of a human driver. I sat waiting for my flight to Boston amidst a couple in full hazmat gear and a few college students. There might have been 18 of us on a flight for 50. The terminal was empty except for the Hudson News which will one day surely survive the Apocalypse.

A virtually empty JFK terminal

Flying over Boston Harbor, I breathed easy for the first time in nearly 12 hours. My parents met me outside in the taxi stand and we maintained 10 foot distance, which was hard but just a relief to see them healthy and safe. Leaving the keys in the spare car for me, they headed home and I drove out to my quarantine apartment.

Flying into Logan at sunset

The journey was not too taxing and I am thankful for that. I’m also extremely grateful for my ability to return to my host country in August (as of now, despite flight complications). I also did not get sick on the journey. My folks and I spent two weeks meeting up at a distance at local parks and sometimes for an hour or two in their backyard. I spent two resting weeks in Canton, Mass., adjusting from jet lag and appreciating a soft-landing back into the States.

Freedom realized in a walk around Kendrick Pond in Needham

Despite what it going on in other parts of the country, I’ve been super impressed with the majority of folks wearing masks and taking necessary precautions. My friends teaching in Asia will be heading back to school properly in the fall, with their host countries having adhered to common sense and made choices for the betterment of society as a whole. I only pray our country can get it together during this politically divisive time.

Worth the effort to get to hug my mom

We are an incredible country, the most culturally diverse in the world. It is what makes us strong, what makes us special. For now I am holding my loved ones close and taking nothing for granted. I hope you are all taking care, wherever this note finds you. Be safe. We’re all just doing the best we can.

Stoney Brook Audubon in Norfolk, MA

Mental Health PSA:

Alongside the obvious physical threat of COVID-19, mental health challenges loom large. Massachusetts has set up a help line for those in need of support. There is no shame in getting help – in fact, it is the strong ones who admit they need it.

The lockdown begins to lift…

Moscow is in bloom and Moloko is enjoying her perch.

Hello everyone. It has been while! Not entirely sure where the last month has gone. The days both creep and fly by. I’d guess that many of you feel the same. I hope you’re all doing ok out there, taking care of yourself and each other.

I am presently here in Moscow. School has wrapped for the summer. I’m watching countries around the world begin to reopen. My friend’s life in Denmark is nearly back to normal. Teacher friends in Asia are beginning to return to the classroom. I’m making plans to head back to Boston shortly, with a voluntary quarantine upon arrival.

In Russian: Start/Finish. A hand-drawn racetrack in the park. Echoes of Groundhog’s Day.

What have I been up to? Well, it’s certainly not earth-shattering but I’m getting by just fine. I’ve learned to make focaccia bread (I can now pass ‘Go’ and collect $100 quarantine bucks). There is always a puzzle in progress on my kitchen table. I’ve done virtual art dates with friends across the world and in my building, all of us painting or crafting and chatting about our days. I’m working on my own COVID art series, adding my doodles to my students’ splatter paintings created on our last day before lockdown.

Early on, a coworker shared this article which comes to mind when the days start to blend together – “Your Only Goal Is to Arrive“. For those of us not on the front lines (praise them all), doing our part by continuing to stay home, this is our contribution.

My cat is still taking quarantine extremely hard. Clearly. She continues to be a great comfort. Her sister comes around for playdates which are both amusing and distracting.

Lockdown in Moscow has meant many, many hours spent walking the perimeter of my compound parking lot. I’m thankful to have a lot, to be safe within it, and for moments of beauty like this.

Moscow is beginning to ease the lockdown. There is a color coded map to denote which day of the week each residential building is allowed to walk freely within a 2km radius.

Despite this elaborate plan, my building was not given a color…

Some stores are starting to open. I can definitely hear more traffic out my window. Unfortunately, rates of infection are still quite high. I am increasingly curious what this will all mean for school in the fall. So much remains day-to-day.

Playgrounds are still roped off, though this isn’t always observed.

For now, I have a newfound appreciation for freedom of movement and my own privilege (more to come in a future post). I am so thankful for technology and the ability to keep up with family and friends on a daily basis. Hope I’ll soon be writing from the Boston area. Take care and stay safe!

Hello from the other side

We are four weeks into working from home, three weeks into quarantine, and so far, so good. The weeks are flying by. I’m so thankful for my job, my students, and constant contact with family and friends. My cat continues to be a comfort (she’s in my lap as I write this) and to amuse. This kid is alright.

Some of us are literally climbing the walls 😉

Over the past few weeks, I have watched rumors spread across the internet. For those who notice when Russia makes the news, this isn’t happening. Unfortunately, this is. On a happier, Russian-tastic note, this also happened. I enjoyed this photo series taken at the proper social distance. And artist Yayoi Kusama’s poem about resilience against COVID-19 is beautiful.

Amplifier.org

In the past week, Moscow has adopted a QR code pass system. For better or worse, the aim is for people to stay home and minimize public contact. There are considerably less people on the streets, which I can observe from my 8th floor apartment, because I am not leaving my compound. I have read reports of chaos in the metro due to QR pass checks and a lack of safe social distancing. I pray that essential workers are able to get safely where they need to be.

The Moscow digital pass – really doesn’t apply to me as I can still go to the store if needed.

I’ve been making art as a daily practice for the first time in a very long time. Trolling YouTube for relaxing art tutorials, I paint daily in my sketchbook and I’ve become a patron of an art therapist. I try to pick up a brush daily.

My assistant, ever curious, is thrilled to take credit for these daily doodles.

On the work front, Google Classroom is my main portal. I spend time crafting art lessons, breaking directions down into manageable pieces, and aiming for big picture goals (primarily to help my students find artistic outlets for their stress).

The Unsung Hero Project – the kids nominated a community member (in this case, a beloved HS science teacher) as someone who makes their lives a little better each day.

Students in my drawing class pulled off a pretty sweet project this past week. Challenged to mix their colored pencils and photograph their finished squares, they worked collaboratively even as they are scattered around the world. From a shared folder, my wonderful assistant Masha pulled these tiles together using Photoshop.

Like April weather the world over, this week has brought rain, snow, sleet, hail, and lots of sunshine.

For exercise, I’ve been running up and down the 8 flights of stairs in my building. I also walk the perimeter of our parking lot many times each evening. I’m loving that it is staying light until nearly 8pm as we inch closer towards the solstice. This past week was chilly but, in general, we’ve been blessed with more sunshine than I recall from my other spring seasons in Moscow.

On warm days, we enjoy the grass patch outside my door.

I recently saw a quote from Maya Angelou that seems to apply:

“What I know is that it’s going to be better,” she said. “If it’s bad, it might get worse, but I know that it’s going to be better. And you have to know that. There’s a country song out now, which I wish I’d written, that says, ‘Every storm runs out of rain.’

For all of us, I’m just looking forward to that day…

A Dispatch from Moscow

Hello everyone. I hope this post finds you all safe and sound. The impacts of the COVID-19 virus are now being felt across the world and for us here in Moscow, it is no different. I thought I would give you a peak into what life has been like here for the past few weeks.

When I first heard about school closures for friends who work in Macau, Hong Kong, and China, I was surprised but aware that epidemics had caused disruptions like this before. I was in Korea when MERS came to the country, my first real interaction with the societal impact of a virus. It effected us on a much smaller scale with school being made optional for the last two weeks and more masks in public than usual. Thankfully, MERS came to an end right around the end of the school year and I was able to board a plane to the States to begin my summer.

My new assistant on Day 1 of distance learning

Today I am here in Moscow. My school campus is shuttered, I am teaching from my kitchen table. After careful deliberation, I have decided to ride out the storm here at least until the end of the school year. Without going into great detail, my school has taken extraordinary measures to ensure our safety and sanity. We had warning, we watched our friends in Asia bear the initial brunt and, as teachers so often do, they turned their misfortune into teachable moments and shared their wisdom, successes, and failures with us. I sent students home with art supplies, we hosted a mock graduation, and my Grade 12 students cleared out two years of their beautiful artwork – their senior IB art show cancelled. It was a very emotional week.

My seniors on their last day in high school. Despite so much having been taken from them, I was stunned by their maturity and poise. They will be missed!

Given time to prepare, thanks to the school’s forethought and pragmatism, we teachers rapidly shifted into digital learning. Certain subjects lend themselves better than others but, as teachers, we are often asked to go above and beyond, and teachers worldwide have risen to the call. I am blessed with a population which has access to a personal digital device. This is not true for all communities across the world. The vast majority of my students will be fed and safe during this stressful time. Again, this is not true for others. In Oregon, the state has seen a sharp decline in reports of child abuse. This is heartbreaking knowing that it is the mandatory reporting of teachers that brings in so many calls. No one knows our kids like we do. In Paris, the government has put aside thousands of hotel beds for those who call a national domestic violence hotline. People are trapped at home with their abusers. If any of you are in the same position, you can call: 1-800-799-SAFE. We can all do our part to keep an extra ear out for our neighbors during this time.

So what does daily life look like in Moscow? We’ve been told by the government to stay home, mandated to stay in our apartments until April 30. We can leave only for emergencies, to take out the trash, walk the dog, or visit our nearest pharmacy or grocery store. This may seem extreme to some but I am gladly complying. I have had friends who have already experienced the virus and recovered. This virus is no joke. Please – if you are not already doing so – stay home.

I am thankful I still have a job. I have friends across the US who have been furloughed, who are now dealing with unemployment offices that are so overtaxed that once (if) they reach a human, they’re told to call back next week. It’s not pretty, folks. I am 100% aware that I am one of the lucky ones. Work keeps my days on track. It has made the two weeks I’ve taught from home fly by. My community here and in the States is incredible. Everyday I speak with friends over Skype, Zoom, Google Meet, Facebook Messenger, KakaoTalk, Facetime, Marco Polo, Whatsapp, etc. etc. etc. My friends who are abroad are all in the same boat, to varying degrees of isolation. We keep tabs and check in constantly.

A Zoom call uniting Ontario, North Carolina, Qatar, Moscow, Saudi Arabia, and Seoul

I also have an amazing community here in Moscow, in my very building. Without going into detail, I will say I remain extremely well informed by both my school and the US Embassy. I feel safe. I have enough food. There is toilet paper on the grocery shelves (so I am told, I have not been to the store in two weeks).

My cat has proved excellent company. Initially, she resented me interrupting her naps but now we have adjusted. If I leave to walk the staircase a few times (we have no hallways but I’m on the 8th floor), she bounds to greet me upon my return, meowing her hello. Again, I’m extremely thankful.

Moloko humoring a nap interruption

Knowing that my family and friends are taking precautions back home keeps me sane. I’ve done my best to build a healthy daily routine for myself. I’m doing what I’m sure so many of you are doing – cooking, cleaning, exercising, making art, reading, watching The Tonight Show, etc. I have running water, electricity, and heat. I have community. I will be fine.

Please take care of yourselves and drop a line, even if you don’t normally. I would love to hear how you are getting through this and what the situation is like where you are. Or your Netflix recommendations. Or a shared recipe. We will get through this together ❤

My new assistant is such a creeper!

The city of eight rains and four rays of sunshine

Those 4am don’t-leave-me eyes

Back before things got so messy worldwide, I took a little trip to see my good friends Jeff and Tori and their wonderful family. Friends from Seoul, they left Korea with one kiddo and not four years later are now a family of five! Life has become quite a dance!

We chilled, caught a few sunsets, and even got a minute to watch Parasite (Go SoKo!). Tori, her mom, and I even popped down to Phuket Town for a little getaway.

I hadn’t heard a lot about Phuket Town before I arrived. I had chosen our hotel fairly last minute and figured it would be a nice change of pace to be able to walk and wonder in town.

The first thing I noticed was the facade of the buildings. The majority of the structures were two stories high, featuring a storefront on the ground level and a living space above.

The shutters, columns, and corrugated roofs seemed reminiscent of Hanoi to me, a fusion of Asian and European. Turns out, it’s an architectural style all it’s own called Sino-Portuguese.

As history goes, the Portuguese came to Phuket in the 1500s. Phuket became a booming trade capital, with tin as its major export. Rubber followed shortly thereafter. As they set up shop, the Portuguese hired Chinese workers to build their port town. The result was the style which is still present today, also known as Chinese Baroque.

Love those upstairs windows ❤
Little alters and offerings to relatives adorn the doorways of homes all around Phuket Town.
Chinese Temples adorn the town and were especially well-dressed due to Lunar New Year.
The view from my hotel room

Our hotel turned out to be the most beautiful gem of all. The Woo Gallery & Boutique Hotel makes it feel like you are sleeping in an art gallery. Essentially, we were, as the front of the building boasts an in-home museum full of trinkets collected by the owner’s father-in-law. The home has been in their family for three generations, with their ancestors coming from China to make their fortunes in the mining industry.

When the present owners took the space back from renters, they undertook a multi-year renovation from top to bottom. The female proprietor designed every aspect of the space herself, researching historic tiles, woods, and glass to bring to life the glorious vision you see today.

Collections of pottery and artifacts from far reaching cities like Penang, Singapore, Shanghai, and Delhi enrich the space, adding to it’s unique ambiance. We were lucky enough to have a private tour of the rooms and collections. All three of us left awestruck and inspired.

I spent the last few nights at a B&B run by a Finnish couple, close to Jeff & Tori’s place. Night swimming beneath the palm trees was magical and I tried to soak it in, knowing that this might be my last opportunity to travel for a while.

Twirling under the lights with Garvey

On my last night in town, Tori and the kids took me to a restaurant run by a friend of theirs called Artisan. Another gem, it was the perfect send-off from Thailand, capped off by time hanging out with Garvey under the lanterns. Thailand is truly a special place made infinitely more wonderful by dear friends.

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.

Riga

Zurich

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.

Frankfurt

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

fullsizeoutput_5629
Greenhouses full of botanical gardens

fullsizeoutput_5603
Grounds to walk and enjoy

fullsizeoutput_5611
The perfect antidote to market crowds

Schirn Kunsthalle

fullsizeoutput_5642
I stumbled upon a phenomenal retrospective of Lee Krasner

CB3ED6FD-7C6F-4C04-B130-099266C31482
Known to many as Jackson Pollock’s wife, Lee was a great deal more

Bauernmarkt Konstablerwache

fullsizeoutput_55fc
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!

fullsizeoutput_55db
Frohe Weihnachten!

Dancing on ice

IMG_0341
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.

IMG_0478

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!

IMG_1070 2

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.

Singles 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!

IMG_0489

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.

IMG_0434
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.

IMG_0003

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

IMG_0010

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.

IMG_0009
IMG_0008
IMG_0007
IMG_0006
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.

IMG_0013

IMG_0014

IMG_0016

IMG_0012

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.

IMG_0017

IMG_0019

IMG_0021

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.

IMG_0025

IMG_0027

IMG_0024

IMG_0029

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.

IMG_0030

IMG_0032

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.

IMG_0034

IMG_0035

IMG_0033

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.

IMG_2283

IMG_2287
A cardamom pastry – second only to the famous Pasteis de Nata which we ate daily

IMG_2285

 

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.

94A47D9D-21FC-4212-A28C-7EC0CCC1AD81
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.

IMG_0038

IMG_0041

IMG_0040

IMG_0042

IMG_0036

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.

IMG_0045

IMG_0044
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.

IMG_0047

IMG_0046

IMG_0048

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.

IMG_0049

IMG_0051

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.

GAcZSorwRXyVv%7Q1KGM2g

fullsizeoutput_5358