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Preface

 

 

It happened before A.D.)…

I had another life in the past, not in retail, not in interpreting, not in blogging, not in charity, but in IT. That was my primary call, not maybe the most interesting, but a primary call in accordance to my education it was…

In 1999 I left John Fairfax Pty Ltd, after 10 years of working there and started my work for Compaq/HP. Good money, pager, laptop, Cabcharges from Randwick to Castle Hill, Tandem Computers courses in Melbourne with the future trips to Houston (HP Kingdom) – the money was good, life was also good but stressful. My partner just started to make progress in his new online business, we were so busy, that we almost did not see each other. Rich we were not, but it was the life above the middle class level for us to enjoy. But, this life had its downside. If you knew many women working in IT/Computer Industry in Australia at the start of the noughties, you were clearly in the minority. It was very hard to penetrate the male dominated culture in the work environment. HP had a female CEO, but that was where equality really ended…

IT work environment
IT Work Environment

After 18 months of working there, I had enough. I had been working through 14 hours days, and no pay was enough to compensate for this slavery…Thankfully, I was made redundant in December 2001, just an hour before the office Christmas Party. I had to be accompanied out by a psychologist hired by HP, in case people would become suicidal. That was the rule for all System Managers – during the “heart to heart” with the manager, somebody else would wipe out your passwords and make sure you never existed.

I never failed in my life – it felt for me, like failing at the exams. At that moment, in my wild catasrophing imagination, I saw, all of my life pleasures not supported anymore, including Pilates classes, the cleaner, and going out. In short, all my privileges were to be annulled. Without my big chunk of a salary, we could not afford to maintain the lifestyle we enjoyed. On the following Monday, I went to the employment agency paid by HP, and found out that my position of one person was taken already by not one, by not two, but by three sturdy guys from the other system management areas of HP. It was called centralisation of the tasks and cutting the costs.The employment agency gave me an advice “if you want to stay in the industry, don’t rock the boat, but if, after 5 weeks (my payout by HP) you don’t find a job, you need to hire a lawyer.” In five days I found a job. It was like God (him/herself) answered my prayers all at once. The role offered, entailed less stress, fewer responsibilities and a better pay. I was to look after HP team working on their project for OPTUS, including looking after those three sturdy guys. One of them was particularly mortified, as the last time I met him, he asked me to make him a cup of coffee. He also confided) in me that he liked his coffee the same way he liked his girls to be – white and sweet…HP expressed their concern about my potential lack of objectivity, but my new employer clearly enjoyed the drama. Having re-established my new animal kingdom position and having restored my privileges, I took a deep breath and cut my losses. There were none, I retained the cleaner, my Pilates classes, we were able to go out as before, I had 3 remaining weeks before I started my new job. What would the normal person do in my circumstances?

Roma

We arrived

Together with my daughter we held a military type council, and decided where to go between NY and Italy. Without any further ado we went to Italy just for 10 days in a week’s time. We flew in to Da Vinci airport in Roma on the 11th of January .2001 It was a crispy winter morning, which completely eliminated the smog of Roma. On the first instant, we were enveloped by two distinctive smells in the air – one, of the aroma of coffee, and another one of the aroma of an almond paste used in cornetti (The Italian Croissants).

Ten years prior to this visit, we stayed in Roma for two years as refugees. The city itself, Italy and the Italians were very dear to our hearts, and still are.

The train from Fuimicino took us to Termini via the EUR (Mussolini’s Fascist Third Empire Project, to the centre of the city. The colours changed from teutonic greys and whites to the typical Roma’s pinks and browns and reds. It made the city look warm and feel warm.

EUR, Rome
EUR, Rome
Streets of old Rome
Streets of Old Rome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We reached our little hotel in via Del Tritone only to be told to wait until 2pm. We had cappuccino with “never ever bad” cornetti and had a huge walk. By the time we reached the hotel we were ready to sleep, only to wake up for the bowl of pasta in the nearby trattoria. The good thing about Roma, if you know it well, there are so many non-touristy places to go to for a bowl of pasta…Or for a slice of pizza.

Pizza al taglio, Rome
Pizza Al taglio, Rome
Cornetti with cappuccino
Cornetti With Cappuccino

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Passatella, Rome
La Passatella, Rome
Bruschetta Romana
Bruschetta Romana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Il cibo e sempre buono a Roma quando si sa dove andare a mangiare.” You always eat well in Rome, when you know where to eat.

The Tea Rooms

We discovered in the next 4 days we stayed in Rome, that the only salvation from a bitterly cold weather was to hop from one café to another for a cup of tea, or a cup of coffee, or for a bathroom. If we hopped in for a bathroom, we then needed to buy another coffee and the cycle of coffee/tea/bodily functions/bathroom would become endless. It helped us to find out that the city was not only concentrated on its coffee, but on its tea as well. The culture of tea started in the late 19th century after the English tourists started to travel the world. The most famous Tea Room in Rome is called Babington’s after one of two English sisters and is made in the style of art nouveau – Italian Liberty. Before Babington’s arrival, the tea was sold in Italy only in the pharmacies.

The shop was founded in 1893 by Isabel Cargill and Anne Marie Babington, two English women, with the intention of catering for the many English-speaking people in Rome. At the time of the founding of Babington’s, tea in Italy could be bought only in pharmacies. Babington’s is located on the ground floor of an 18th-century building from which one can see the Spanish Steps, the staircase of the Trinità dei Monti church. Babington’s survived two world wars, the advent of fast food and various economic crises, and has become a favourite meeting place for the writers, actors, artists and politicians.

Cafe Babignton's
Cafe Babignton’s
Antico Caffe Greco, Rome
Antico Caffe Greco, Rome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most beautiful discovery for us was Caffe Greco near Babington’s. It is a historic landmark café, which opened in 1760 on Via dei Condotti, the most fashionable now, street in Rome. It is the oldest bar in Rome and within Italy only Caffè Florian in Venice (established in 1720) is older. The café was named after its Greek (don’t tell me!)) owner, who opened it in 1760. Historic figures including Stendhal, Goethe, Nikolay Gogol,  Byron, Franz Liszt, Keats, Henrik Ibsen, Hans Christian Andersen, Felix Mendelssohn, Morrissey, Wagner, Levi and even Casanova have had coffee there. The prices are above the skies,L’Antico Caffe Greco with all it’s connotations looks unmistakably, well… French, but is worth going there for the atmosphere, cakes, tea, history and …the bathroom…Nikolay Gogol and Casanova amazed me the most.  What were the most patriotic Russian writer and the most unrelenting heartthrob doing there?

Vatican, Saint Peter’s, Protestanism

We took a guided tour to Vatican. We were on the bus with the people from all over the world, mostly of them of the catholics. For the different reasons we loved the tour together. I personally, did not like the little gift shops, where the bus would stop every 5 minutes. Most of the stuff was badly made, some of the souvenirs were even made in China.

I should mention, it was our number “numerous” visit to Vatican. We have been there before. We attended the Christmas Mass in 1988, the audience with then Pope John Paul II. He blessed us in Russian language, he blessed the others and in the languages they spoke, and he knew, altogether, 28 languages. By the way, do not believe any greedy tourist sites.The Papal audience is free of charge! You only have to pick up the tickets from the Swiss soldiers, guarding Vatican.

The Pope shakes hands with the Swiss Guard
The Pope Shakes Hands With One Of The Swiss Guards

Vatican and St Peter’s will never stop to amaze me. The art, the faith, the soul behind the masterpieces, and of course, the history. It is breathtaking to say the least.

St. Peter’s Basilica took 120 years to complete due to the greed, corruption, fires and “comradeship” inside the Vatican. At one stage, the financing of the construction was helped with the provision of the indulgences.

A German Augustinian priest, Martin Luther, wrote to Archbishop Albrecht arguing against him “selling of indulgences”. He also included his “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”, which came to be known as The 95 Theses. This became a factor in starting the Reformation, the birth of Protestantism.

The Romans also have an expression about something taking ages to complete:they say – “Come La Fabbrica Di San Pedro”  – “Like St. Peter’s factory” But…by hook or by crook or by sheer faith something so divinely beautiful was created, that it is still beyond our understanding. Of course, Rafael and Michelangelo helped a lot too.

Christmas Eve Mass,Saint Peter's Basilica
Midnight Christmas Mass, Saint Peter’s Basilica

Sant’Anna Dei Palafrenieri, Caravaggio, Leonardo Da Vinci

On that day, we went to Sant’Anna dei Palafrenieri Church located beside the Porta Sant’Anna (Saint Anne’s Gate), an international border crossing between Vatican City State and Italy. It is located on the right hand side from the exit from St Peter’s square after the Vatican post office. By the way, all the letters sent from the Vatican post office, carrying the Vatican stamp, always reach their destination by some divine intervention. You have to trust me. I cannot guarantee Australian Post delivery considering the times we are living in. Sant’Anna dei Palafrenieri (The Pope’s Grooms) Church is a very modest church still within the the territory of Vatican. It was built during two centuries, not due to the complexity of the architecture, but due to the squabbles in the Papal Court. Sant’Anna (Hannah) was the mother of Santa Maria, the grandmother of Jesus. In 1603, the Archonfraternity (Fraternity of the Papal Grooms) commissioned Caravaggio to paint a picture of Saint Anne’s for the altar. Painted in 1605-1606, the painting “Madonna and Child with St. Anne” was briefly (for one months) exhibited in the church of Saint Anne in the Vatican. It was subsequently sold to Cardinal Scipione Borghese, and now hangs in his palazzo, presently the museum of the Galleria Borghese. The Cardinal displayed this picture only in his private gallery during his life. I believe, the Church tried to get rid of the painting in a hurry. It shows the darker side of the old Caravaggio and his quite violent nature…Before he died, Maestro had a death warrant issued by the Pope for murdering someone in a drunken brawl. The picture also shows

1) Sant’Anna as a wrinkled unkempt old grandmother

2) A little Baby Jesus stomping on a snake with his bare feet with two adults watching and supervising – where were the Children Protection Services?

3) A little Baby Jesus is portrayed with uncircumcised penis (was he not Jewish after all?)

4) Santa Maria is pictured with the biggest cleavage ever shown on the religious pictures. There were rumours at the time, Caravaggio’s model was a prostitute…

Caravaggio’s painting is very dissimilar to Leonardo Da Vinci’s portrayal of St Anne and Baby Jesus (displayed in Louvre). In Leonardo’s version, Jesus is playing with an innocent lamb, and Santa Maria is wearing decent clothes. She behaves like a good mother to Jesus, when trying to restrain Baby Jesus playing with an innocent lamb. On a closer look, however, Santa Maria is sitting on Sant’Anna’s lap. Why? Nobody knows. Sigmund Freud tried later to re-interpret the picture, as a perfect portrayal of Leonardo’s passive homosexuality. Also, in my opinion, Sant’Anna is dressed better and looks younger than her daughter, which is unnecessary.

In short, Sant’Anna was not an easy character to depict. But the real reason of our visit to the church, was the fact that the Father Confessor (Il Padre Confessore) of 10 years ago, spoke Russian and was originally from Odessa. We checked on him. We had a lovely chat, it was so comforting to re-discover our Rome…

 

St Anne with the Virgin and the Child Embracing a Lamb by Leonardo Da Vinci
St Anne With The Virgin And The Child Embracing a Lamb by Leonardo Da Vinci
Madonna And Child With St Anne by Caravaggio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interior of St Anne's church
Interior of Sant’ Anna Dei Palafrenieri, Vatican

 

 

The Walks Of Rome And How To Cross The Roads In Rome

My daughter and I completed everything in our itinerary in Roma in the first 4 days. We walked from Vatican to Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, to Basilica of San Giovianni in Laterano (all three Churches, belonging to Vatican, not to the State, but outside the international borders of Vatican). We also walked from Via Veneto, via Villa Borghese, via Villa Medici and finally ended our walk in Piazza De Spagna (2 minutes from our hotel in via Del Tritone). We went to the Botanical Garden which is the oasis of tranquility in a forever hectic city. We went to Colosseum and to the Catacombs both Jewish and Christian. I always thought, the catacombs were the hiding place from the religious persecution. The real reason behind the catacombs was quite benign and practical, the lack of burial space. The Roman authorities did not allow the people of monotheistic religions to bury their dead within the walls of the city. Only cremation was allowed, which people of the monotheistic religions considered pagan. Via Appia Antica, where catacombs are, is beautiful, the Catacombs are beautiful too. The last burial in there was in 1920. My advice: when walking in Rome beware of the absence of the pedestrian crossings, or rather of their presence, which does not change the drivers’s behaviours. They never stop to let you cross. The modern Romans are usually crossing the road when the priests or nuns do. It is a bad sign, apparently, to kill the clergy.

Via Appia Antica, Rome
Via Appia Antica, Rome

The Greatest Miracle Of The Roman Trip, 2001

We left our Sunday free of any itineraries. No reason… 11 years before we were saved by one remarkable woman from a Jewish charity called American Joint, when we were in the refugee camps. She saved us momentarily by one signature of her ballpoint pen when she allowed us to change from waiting for US to Australia (we waited for Australia afterwards for almost 2 years). She was also an inspiration for the eternal style of short skirts and thick tights and ballet shoes. I became blond because of her!) She cannot be named for certain reason, but for years, I tried to locate her. I called all of the caseworkers I worked for, in USA, UK and Australia, and no, nobody knew her whereabouts. On that Sunday morning, the 14th of January 2001, we went to the Great Rome Synagogue, which also served as a Jewish Museum.

Great Synagogue Rome
Great Synagogue, Rome

It was not like that 11 years before. The synagogue of 10 years ago, was just a synagogue and a centre of the old Jewish Ghetto.

A little bit of history: The Great Synagogue in Rome was not built when Rome was built, even though the history of Jewish community of Rome goes back to the 2nd century BC. The Jewish community of Rome is the oldest uninterrupted Jewish community in the world outside of Israel. The present synagogue was constructed shortly after the unification of Italy in 1870, when the Kingdom of Italy captured Rome and the Papal States ceased to exist. The Roman Ghetto was demolished and the Jews were granted citizenship. The building which had previously housed the ghetto synagogue in a single building was demolished, and the Jewish community began making plans for a new and impressive building.

Designed by Vincenzo Costa and Osvaldo Armanni (two Catholics), the synagogue was built from 1901 to 1904 on the banks of the Tiber, overlooking the former ghetto. The eclectic style of the building makes it stand out, even in a city known for notable buildings and structures. This attention-grabbing design was a deliberate choice made by the community at the time who wanted the building to be a visible celebration of their freedom and to be seen from many vantage points in the city.

Entrance to the Jewish Ghetto, Rome
Entrance to the Jewish Ghetto, Rome

The elderly lady, working in the museum as a guide, miraculously, recognised me, since we both worked together with the Soviet refugees. She could not give me “Rafaella”s phone number, since it was against all security rules, but she gave me another person’s phone number. Another person, could not help me either. Even though, she remembered me, it was all again, “against the rules”. She could not give me the phone number of an absolutely Catholic guard “Ferdinando” who worked for the Roman Jewish community for 30 years. They had to “protect his identity”. By the time I made all my calls,  my legs carried me across Ponte Fabricio (the oldest bridge in Rome) from the Ghetto to Trastevere.

We went to see Santa Maria in Trastevere:

The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches of Rome. The basic floor plan and wall structure of the church date back to the 340s, and much of the structure to 1140-43. T A Christian house-church was founded here about 220 by Pope Saint Callixtus I on the site of the Taberna meritoria, a refuge for retired soldiers. The area was given over for Christian use by the Emperor Alexander Severus when he settled a dispute between the Christians and tavern-keepers, saying,  “I prefer that it should belong to those who honour God, whatever be their form of worship.” The lesson is that every religion should remember being in minority and refrain from persecuting the other minorities…

 

Santa Maria In Trastevere
Santa Maria In Trastevere

We had a beautiful lunch at Enoteca Ferrara in Trastevere to kill the hunger and to kill the time to go to Standa (Italian version of Target with groceries) which re-opens every day after siesta at 3:30pm. Why? I don’t know!!! I was still pretty much convinced we would see “Raffaella” on that day.

 

Lunch At Enoteca Ferrara
Lunch At Enoteca Ferrara

It did not take us even two minutes to get inside  the warmth of the commercial kingdom to see “Rafaella” of 10 years after, trying one of the coats on sale there. We hugged each other – I hugged her so tight that I thought I would break her ribs (I am in no danger of my ribs ever threatened by hugging) My daughter maybe thought, I was a clairvoyant/who married a devil for one day. The meeting was incredible, since then I try to trust my gut feeling, instead of trusting my gut wrenching fear which overcomes me sometimes…I need to invent a gut listening stethoscope…

Friends Hugging (From Downy's Advertisement)
Friends Hugging (From Downy’s Advertisement)

We had a proper reunion with “Rafaella” two days after, when we discovered she had a new marriage and another beautiful girl addition to her two other daughters. We tried to bring everything Australian for this reunion, and discovered that a good Australian wine in Rome was much cheaper than back home even if we tried to convert the price in Euro and back three times. Phew, that was it for Rome, was not it? Venezia and Verona are coming next week!

My life miracles – Roma, Venezia, Verona

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Day 5. Dublin-Galway-Dublin

Monday.

So, as it was decided by my brand new Irish friends, the day before, at Max’s restaurant, that I “needed” to go to Galway. Only ‘2.5’ hours drive. Since visiting Ireland twice afterwards, and since visiting Armenia 4 times, I know now, that the definition of time for my beloved nations is a bit skewed, to say the least.

I was in deep pain the night before, but being a responsible person, I did not take any painkillers and did not take them with me. The car I hired, was an innocent Nissan Micra with an automatic gearbox, GPS, and no air-conditioning. They explained to me that I was plain lucky to get an automatic in Europe. According to the car rentals, “the air-con should be on my next wish list, but it never gets hot in Ireland”. Why on Earth, Europeans, make it hard for themselves all the time?

Irish Village Spring
Irish Village Spring

The drive to Galway took me 3.5 hours, only because I tried to fight with the navigation system in order to pass the most picturesque Irish villages…Mind you, I always fight with the navigation system, only to discover it is right after all…

When going through the villages, I thought, why are they so beautiful, clean, taken care of? Why in Russia are they so neglected? Oh, well, where do we start?

When I finally arrived to Galway, I thought – wow!!! Is it what people say in their blogs all the time? But honestly, it was wow!!!I saw a medieval, bright, non-English looking town, something which would be born out of the marriage of Belgium and Spain.

A little bit of history 🙂

Galway Main Street
Galway Main Street

Galway is the second largest county in Ireland. Physically, it is divided into two distinct parts; the eastern two thirds are flat, with many small lakes and rivers, while the western part of the county includes the area known as Connemara, with its rocky bogs, fjords, and magnificent mountains. The west of the county has the largest remaining Irish-speaking population of any county in Ireland.

The town of Galway was first recorded in 1124 when a fort was built there. However, the town was founded in the 13th century. In 1170-71 the English invaded eastern Ireland and in 1232 a baron named Richard de Burgh took this area and created a town. After 1270 walls were built around Galway.

In 1396 Galway was granted a charter (a document granting the townspeople certain rights). Galway was made a royal borough. For centuries, Galway was ruled by 14 families, known as “the tribes” of Galway. The mayor and the leading citizens usually came from these 14 families. They were the Athy, Blake, Bodkin, Browne, Darcy, Deane, French, Font, Joyce, Kirwan, Lynch, Martin, Morris and Skerrett families.

In the Middle Ages Galway was an important port. The main import was wine. Exports included wool, skins and leather. The leading citizens of Galway were definitely English in their manners and customs. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the English kings gradually lost control of Ireland, except for Dublin and the surrounding Pale. However, to a large extent, Galway was an island of ‘Englishness’.

St Nicholas Church Galway
St Nicholas Church, Galway

The Church of St Nicholas was built in 1320 after Franciscan friars arrived in Galway in 1296. (Friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world they went out to preach).

Lynch window inside the Church commemorates James Lynch Fitzstephen who, it is said, hanged his own son for murder in 1493.

Lynch Castle, Galway
Lynch Castle, Galway

The Spanish Arch (called Spanish, due to the Spanish merchant ships docked in the quays there) was built in 1584, and Lynch’s Castle, the mansion, was built around 1600. Browne Doorway is all that remains of the merchant’s house built in the early 17th century.

Spanish Arch, Galway
Spanish Arch, Galway

At the beginning of the 19th century the population of Galway was about 5,000, but it actually fell during the 19th century. The whole region suffered severely in the potato famine of 1845-49 and there was a considerable loss of population.

During the 20th century Galway was revived. By 1950 it had about 21,000 inhabitants. Galway was still a busy port. Exports included farm produce, wool and marble. Industries in Galway in the 20th century included iron, milling, furniture making and hat making.

At the end of the century modern industries such as engineering, IT and electronics began to replace the traditional industries in Galway.

In recent years Galway has undergone an economic boom and the population has grown rapidly. Today the population of Galway is 78,000…

Coloured Houses of Galway
Coloured Houses of Galway

I did not have much time in Galway, but I went to see the Church of St Nicholas, walked along the river, where I noticed many coloured doors and thought, that the drunken husbands needed those doors anywhere in the world.

It is a very smart “husband capturing” invention. Imagine, your drunken treasure stumbles in the night through somebody else’s door and the story suddenly unfolds to the depth of the unknown. He could be lost there forever!!! He could stumble 3 years later through your doorway once again! No need to imagine, the door trapping worked wonders.

I negotiated little tiny medieval streets in the city centre. I went to buy Aran sweaters and scarves… I went to McDonald and was served there by the speaking perfect Russian Latvian girl.  I did not even flinch – my heart was healed by then fully and completely, and I had nothing against anybody speaking Russian to me…I also made few purchases in Demora boutique, where I met the lovely owner Diedre Morahan. We also exchanged our very valuable opinions on fashion industry and retail industry…

Demora Boutique, Galway
Demora Boutique, Galway
Giants Causeway
Giants Causeway

It was time to drive back. I could not go to Giants Causeway, (you can see America from there)), to Carrick-a-Rede rope Bridge (not for the faint hearted), to the Old Bushmills Distillery – the oldest Whiskey Distillery in the world (since 1608)…To miss the latter one was unimaginable for me, but I had very valid reasons – I needed to go back…

And only then, my fun and games began!!!) Remember Nissan Micra, the air-conditioning or the lack of it? It was a combination of three factors – +32 Celsius, white nights and the navigation system, which I faithfully obeyed at the time.

Motorways Map of Ireland
Map, Ireland, Motorways

Naturally, it ordered me to take the highway (M6). My little bug had to drive with the speed limit of 120km per hour for the mighty 154 km…Feeling hot, tired, sleepy with no “Stop, Revive, Survive” detours along the road, – I …fell asleep at the wheel. The next thing I remember, was a huge thump, smell of the tyres burning and the smoke coming out from the car. I hit a concrete barrier along the road… Completely awake, I managed to drive the car for another 10 metres, before I jumped out with my bag and the sling…I assessed the damage – as much as a non-mechanic could do. The tyre was burned irrevocably, the “left wing” of the car was gone and the car was not drivable. I found the spare tyre inside the car, and that was the end of me. I stared at it as with the expression, as we say in Russian “Like a sheep at the new gate”. Imagine the flock of sheep coming home and seeing a new gate?

Sheep Staring/New Gate
Sheep Staring at the New Gate

Well, I needed to stop somebody to help me to change the tyre. 8pm, blinding sun and the trucks flying by with a speed of light. None of them was stopping. I thought – what about the kindness, openheartedness and friendliness of the Irish people? Just before I demoted the whole nation from Category A to Category Z, a sleek Mercedes stopped abruptly in front of me. The driver looked Richard Gere 20 years ago, but I was no Julia Richards just at that very moment. No tall boots, no long legs, no saucer size eyes and no lips to land a helicopter on…I was Rosa, myself, but also scared and frantic on the top of being Rosa, myself. My Irish Richard Gere gave me a diamond smile (good dentists in Ireland) and changed the tyre like it was a normal thing to do when one wears a Zegna suit and a tailored shirt…He also told me that nobody could drive faster than his/her guardian angel could fly. A catchy phrase, but so true to the core, indeed…I could not help, but notice, that my guardian angel’s car had an air conditioner.

Richard Gere/American Gigolo
Richard Gere/American Gigolo

On my spare tyre I drove back to Dublin with the speed of 80km per hour and tried not to pay much attention to the rowdy truck drivers honking at my snail speed and at my grieving car.

When the staff in Dylan saw my car, my sling, my xanax free state, they treated me with the dinner on the house, with the wine and you name it, what on the house too. The amok survival feeling gave way to the waterfall of tears. I was so happy to be alive…

Day 6. Dublin – KLM – Moscow

KLM Crew
Friendly KLM Crew

Tuesday.

The morning was quite a non-event. I went shopping for antique Victorian jewellery, bought an amazing chain with a pendant for an amazing price, which would have made London antique sellers to become colour green with envy…

Antique Jewellery Shops. Dublin
Antique Jewellery Shops. Dublin

Lingus was really difficult to negotiate with a sling – I think, Irish survival skills and the history of the nation, toughened the service to the point of disregarding people with the slings and the crutches…

No shopping and really bad food for the connection corner of Schiphol (Amsterdam to Moscow). Stupid really, because the Russians are huge spenders in every corner on the planet with the cash register…Had to eat  bad food, thinking loudly “I am fat anyway”, and thinking quietly that the bad food makes you fat anyway.

Boarded a plane taking me to Moscow. Was so ready. My sling and my injuries were taken care of with lots of champagne and lots of beautiful Dutch smiles. By midnight, when we crossed into Russian territory, the pilot of the business class cabin appeared with the pancakes, generously served with nutella and condensed milk. The stewardess told us (to all of the 6 business class survivors) that this pilot loved to do it, because he loved Russia. At this stage I was not surprised with anything. I was not even questioning who was flying the plane at the time.I loved Russia too…I was so ready to land with my healed heart and a very sore shoulder…

Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport
Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport

The Aftermath

Days later I called my rabbi and told him the story. He also told me, there was, apparently, a spiritual belt between Jerusalem and Ireland. It explained everything. What else would have propped me up to the heavens and lowered me kindly to the Planet Earth? Would be either the spiritual belt or my Guardian Angel.

Few months later, I had a complicated surgery on my shoulder performed by the grandson of the Father of Space Research Sergei Korolev, Andrey Korolev, the chief orthopaedic surgeon of Moscow. The spiritual belt magnetism continued.

Since then, I travelled to Ireland twice…I went on the famous Literary Pub Crawl, I went to see the “Lord of The Dance” with the legendary Michael Flatley. I found out why the Irish flag had Orange, Green and White colours. Not because the Red colour was bleached out by the sun:)

I visited, however, another Ireland. The magic of “anything happens” simply disappeared. I think, it was for the better, was not it?…

Michael Flatley. Lord of the Dance
Michael Flatley. Lord of the Dance

 

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I would guess, that 80% of Australians visited Ireland. At least, anybody, who has Irish roots.
I can assure you that everybody discovers their own Ireland. I can assure you, it stays in your heart forever.

Day 1

Moscow – Dublin. Thursday
I went to Ireland from Moscow to heal my wounded heart (very long story)). To be as far from Moscow in Europe as possible… Just for me, the aviation authorities created a route, which took 7.5 hours flying time from Moscow to Dublin. Connecting via Amsterdam (KLM + Lingus), I arrived to Dublin at 10pm.

Dylan Hotel

My beautiful Dylan Hotel was just in the middle of the city, and I could not think of anything better than to toast my arrival with a small champagne bottle from the bar. My healing started on a high note – Vivaldi was playing Primavera in my head. Life started anew. Bugger the broken heart. On this note I fell asleep and slept like a newborn baby, even better, I would say.

Dylan Hotel Bedroom
Day 1. Dublin. Friday

I woke up at 10am in the morning, missed my breakfast and went to take a bath.
I was feeling thin, luxurious and beautiful.
I will spare all the intimate details, but, in short, while I tried to reach the rule the bath buttons with my left arm, I performed a split on the marble floor. I could never perform a split, not even when my parents unsuccessfully pushed me for the world championship in artistic gymnastics)…
I was bruised, scratched all over and sore. To cut the story short, I decided this little accident should not to take over my life and my trip. The hotel gave me all the gauze and disinfectants they had in their storage room.
I hobbled a bit, then took it in my stride and commenced my shopping. Grafton Street, in a capsule, is a little High street and is peppered with the shops like H&M, Mark and Spencer, Mango and the others, with the welcome exception of Brown Thomas, the best department store in Ireland.

Grafton Street Dublin

Second floor in Brown Thomas is dedicated to the Irish designers, where I chose overalls by Mary Grant (still wear them) and the bag by Pauric Sweeney (a famous prodigal son of Ireland) and a very famous bag designer in the world).

I went upstairs to the rooftop café to have the best bangers and mash, and suddenly, everything around me became quite blurred in one moment. At that moment I was taken to the emergency and was diagnosed with quite severe trauma in my poor left shoulder. At least I collapsed after my shopping was finished. And once back in a saddle, equipped with not so fashionable, and lets be honest, ugly, blue, hospital grade sling, I was still determined to live up to my planned schedule.

The opening of a new restaurant at Brown Thomas, Grafton Street. 10.05.1961
That night I went to the Abbey Theatre to watch a play (Bookworms) about an unfortunate Book Club meeting which ended up like Polanski Movie “Carnage”, but in a funnier, Irish way.

Abbey Theatre 1904

I was driven back to the hotel, by the most melancholic taxi driver, who managed to scare me with many stories about the damaged left shoulders of the other people.
Dinner/tapas in my Dylan hotel – Dylan Bar, the handsomest Irish man was playing on the piano under a dangerous degree of intoxication. The songs were by Sinatra, the twang was recognizably Irish, I was in heaven mix of the painkillers, Italian wine and the crowd much more alive and lets say, less snobbish than in Sydney…Met a lovely couple from Northern Ireland, discussed potato famine, and forever admirable Princess Diana.

Dylan Hotel Room

Bruised and confused back to bed – no reading before sleep…

Day 3. Dublin. Saturday.

In the morning, wearing blue Akira dress, remotely matching my sling, I started my excursion around Dublin and Derby.

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I was driven in the limousine by the 10 years older driver/guide, who unashamedly flirted with me. Painkillers, champagne, and feeling beautiful in the eyes of an older Irish flirt, dulled my senses and dimmed my memory. The only vividly remembered part of the rich Irish history was an explanation behind cheerfully painted doors in Dublin. Are you ready for this? The reason behind cheerfully painted doors was for the drunken Irish husbands to determine which house was theirs in the dark of the night. No more and no less

Dublin-Doors
He drove me to Curragh Racecourse, in the county of Kildare.The name “Curragh” comes from the Irish (Gaeilge) word Cuirreach, meaning “racecourse”. The first recorded race on the plain took place in 1727, but it was used for races before then. The first Derby was held in 1866, and in 1868 the Curragh was officially declared a horse racing and training facility by act of parliament.  We also went to see the rich and famous houses, including those of U2(s)…

Ladies Kildare racesthe hourse who won

That night I went to see Arcadia by Tom Stoppard at the Gate Theater. Arcadia is a dazzling comedy of mystery and love, with all the qualities of a gripping literary detective story. Must say that Dublin theatre performances are superb and a lot of Londoners travel to Dublin to see them.

Arcadia Gate Theatre
That night I had dinner at Chez Max, a very traditional French restaurant, where I had the most beautiful foie gras cooked on the bed of an apple puree and served with pommes frites…(No Peta readers please()

Needless to say that 10 minutes into the meal, I was invited over to share a bottle of champagne with a family celebrating their father’s birthday. They could not stand a sight of a single woman having dinner on her own on Saturday night. Of course, the conversation veered into the history/religion/politics. Potato Famine and the history of suffering and the abuse copped from England all mixed up with a certain admiration for the Queen and Princess Diana.

Over the course of this lively conversation we all decided that I needed to hire a car and go on Monday to Galway. Just like this. Never drove in Ireland, but what the heck?

chez-max

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Day 4. Dublin. Sunday

Forget the guides, and the slings, I threw away my sling with the wild abandon of the feminists of the 60-s, throwing away their bras. I also took a double decker bus around Dublin. Discovered, the audio guide had all the languages. The driver offered me one in Russian before I even opened my mouth.
It was a day spoiler (just for a bit). Got off at the Grounds of the Trinity College. It was so beautiful that even I, who suffer from the adult version of ADD), stayed there for a few hours.

exam-hall-interior-Trinity
A little bit of history:

Trinity College was founded after the Reformation, in 1592, on the site of the confiscated Priory of All Hallows. For centuries, Trinity College was owned by the Protestant Church. Free education was offered to Catholics, provided they accepted the Protestant faith. True to the Russian saying, “The only free thing in life is the cheese in the mousetrap”.
As a legacy of this condition, until 1966 Catholics, who wished to study at Trinity had to obtain a dispensation from their bishop or face excommunication. Despite it’s 16th-century foundation, most of the buildings standing today, were constructed in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Trinity’s grounds cover 47 acres.

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Trinity College is most famous, though, for it’s splendid library. The Long Room houses Ireland’s largest collection of books and manuscripts; it’s principal treasure is the Book of Kells, generally considered to be the most striking manuscript ever produced in the Anglo-Saxon world and one of the great masterpieces of early Christian art.
The Books of Kells is a beautifully illuminated version of the Christian Gospels dating from the 9th century. It was once thought to be lost — the Vikings looted the book in 1007 for its jewelled cover but ultimately left the manuscript behind.
In the 12th century, Guardius Cambensis declared that the book was made by an angel’s hand in answer to a prayer of St. Bridget. Scholars think, instead that the Book of Kells originated on the island of Iona off Scotland’s coast, where followers of St. Colomba lived until the island came under siege in the early to mid-9th century. They fled to Kells, County Meath, taking the book with them.

The Old Library
The most famous page shows monogram, (symbol of Christ). The most famous students of Trinity include the likes of Francis Bacon, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Beckett, Thomas Moore, Oscar Wilde, Jawaharlal Nehru to name the few…

Oscar Wilde

 

Jawaharlal Nehru
Graduates from the Trinity College

 

After Trinity College, off to the Whiskey Factory excursion (Old Jameson Distillery). Love my whiskey, travelled to Scotland and loved Scottish Whiskey, but the Irish one seduced me with its soft and velvety and very elegant taste. Wait until I write about Scotland, maybe I will change my tune)
The Old Jameson Distillery is located on the original site of Jameson Distillery in Bow Street in Dublin. This distillery, founded in 1780, was Ireland’s most famous distillery for nearly 200 years, until its closure in 1971, when distilling of Jameson Irish Whiskey was transferred to the Midleton Distillery. For many years the Bow Street Distillery lay abandoned, but today, once again, it is a hub of activity, welcoming visitors from all over the world.

Old-Jameson-Distillery1The Old Jameson Distillery has recreated, on a smaller scale, the old distillery, and although no distilling actually takes place here, it is an excellent way to understand the how and why of whiskey. Every step of the distilling process has been recreated, from malting and storing barley, to mashing and fermentation, to distilling and maturation. The tour ends with a complimentary glass of Jameson for everyone and for a lucky selected few, a comparative whiskey tasting which compares and explains the differences between Jameson Irish whiskey, Scotch and Bourbon whiskies. After which, I thought, Bourbon – never!!!

jameson-tour
There is a very good restaurant on site, the 3rd Still, The menu is both diverse and contemporary, the atmosphere relaxed and friendly and it offers a bird’s eye view into the bustling lobby below. In fact, if you peer over the balcony of the 3rd Still, you can see into the original foundations of The Jameson Old Distillery which were purpose-built to bear the formidable weight of the enormous whiskey vats.
Back to the Hotel, That’s where I ended my day feeling happy, but with suspiciously throbbing shoulder
To be continued with the Day 4 and 5…Trust me, it is worth waiting for..

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ALGHERO

We flew to Alghero from NYC in August 2003 and left behind the biggest and fattest Jewish wedding celebrations, which warranted the biggest and strictest 100 years of dieting.

We also left behind the biggest blackout in NYC, one of the biggest in history.

We flew red eye to Heathrow, then to Rome. From Rome, the small flying device looking more like a dragon-fly, than a serious flying device carried us to Alghero, in Sardinia. I remember coming in and out of the deepest sleep during the flight. I remember the schoolchildren screaming English words in my ear (I guess to impress us), I remember one of them tapping me on the shoulder and saying very softly : “Guarda, this is very, very, very fantastico!!!” And “fantastico” it was. The bluest skies and the bluest water and the most picturesque coast were approaching us with the speed of light(dragonfly). I have never seen anything more beautiful.

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We picked up our hired Polo. Out of habit my husband started to drive on the left side of the road. The driver on the opposite side of the road was from UK (the chance of one in million), he was also driving on the left side of the road. We were pretty lucky. After giving each other the wild stare of the instant survivors, we switched the sides and went to the meeting point to pick up the keys from the landlord who, in accordance to our Sardinia “matchmaker”, spoke perfect English. No English, of course, but after my “perfect” Italian we finally understood the directions of how to go to our villa. Villa it was not, it was a very rudimentary house with one bedroom and a tepid shower. We had 5-6-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep. The only thing we knew, when we woke up, that we were in the deep of the night with no hope to eat anywhere. We drove our Polo to the city centre and were pleasantly surprised that at 1am all restaurants were open and bustling with life…

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When we woke up the next day and saw the garden with all possible fruit and vegetables and whatever God created in 6 days (read the Bible), after our landlord/ (ressa) brought us clean towels and pots and pans, I decided the Garden of Eden was here, forget the tepid shower.

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We spent our first full day in Alghero.

Three rules in Sardinia concerning food:

1) The breakfast (murzu in local dialect) – Expect almond cakes, pastries stuffed with panna, local honey, artisanal yogurts, pecorino made from Sardinian sheep’s milk, prosciutto e salsiccia, and of course proper, grown-up coffee to wash everything down

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2) The lunch (pràngiu) finishes early and you feel that at 1pm you don’t want to eat anyway after such big breakfast. Don’t be fooled by the current state of your stomach…

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3) The restaurants open for dinner (xena) at 8pm. By this time you are ready to eat a whole pig, a whole fish or both of them stomach permitting.

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There is a reason we stopped in Alghero and not in Porto Cervo  even though Porto Cervo is more famous by its luxury, aristocrats, and Berlusconi/Putin duet happening annually.

Therefore a little bit of history:

Alghero pronunciation: [alˈɡɛro]; Catalan L’Alguer, pronounced: [ɫəɫˈɣe], locally: [lalˈɣe]Sardinian: S’Alighèra; Sassarese: La Liéra), is a town of about 44,000 inhabitants in Italy. It lies in the province of Sassari in North Western Sardinia.

The name Alghero comes from the medieval Latin Aleguerium, meaning stagnation of algae. The Catalan Language is co-official in the city, unique in Italy.

The area of today’s Alghero has been settled since pre-historic times. The so-called Oziere culture was present here in the 4th millennium BC; while the Nuragic civilization was present in the area around 1500 BC.

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Due to its strategic position in the Mediterranian Sea, Alghero was built around a fortified port, founded around 1102 by the Genoese Doria family.

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The Doria ruled it for centuries, apart from a brief period under the rule of Pisa (1283–84). In 1353 it was captured by the forces of the The Crown of Aragon under Bernardo di Carbera in 1372, following several revolts, the indigenous Sardinian and Genoese population was expelled, and Alghero later grew in numbers because of the arrival of Catalan colonists. In the early 16th century Alghero received the status of King’s City (ciutat de l’Alguer) and developed economically.

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The Aragonese rule was followed by invasion of the Spanish Habsburgs. Their dominion, ending in 1702, brought some stylish elegance to the city. In 1720 Alghero and Sardinia were handed over to the Piedmont based House of Savoy. Around 1750 a wide channel was excavated to improve the defensive position of the peninsula. In 1821 famine led to a revolt of the population, which was cruelly suppressed. At the end of the same century Alghero was de-militarised.

Since then, Alghero has become a popular tourist resort. It is interesting that Sardinia was the last country and Alghero was the last town in the world to submit to feudal law, several years before it was abolished all over the world.

In Alghero, a dialect of Catalan is spoken, introduced when Catalan settlers repopulated the town after the Crown of Aragon conquered the city from the Genoese in 1353 and subsequently expelled the indigenous population,

We travelled a lot around Alghero – swam in the cleanest beaches in Mediterranean sea – my best recommendation is Santa Caterina di Pittinuri beach near the little town of (you guess) of Santa Caterina di Pittinuri.

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Forgive me Australia, we have the best beaches, but they are too cold for my frozen European body. Santa Caterina beach is the warmest, the cleanest the “I want to stay here forever” beach. We had the best gelato in the town, for which we had to climb up 300 stairs (hate climbing) to reach the fortress gates. Mind you, most of the towns in Sardinia are built like fortresses due to many attacks from numerous neighbours.

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We also drove to Tharros – a hometown to Phoenician settlement.

From the 8th century BC, Phoenicians founded several cities and strongholds on south west of Sardinia; Tharros, Bithia, Sulcis, Nora and Karalis Cagliary. The Phoenicians came originally from what is now Lebanon and founded a vast trading network in the Mediterranean. They settled along the South Western coasts. Sardinia had a special position because it was central in the Western Mediterranean between Carnage, Spain, the river Rhone and the Etruscan Civilization. The mining area around Iglesias was important for the metals lead and zinc. The cities were founded on strategic points, often peninsulas or islands near estuaries, easy to defend and natural harbours. The cities were administered by Plenipotentiaries, called Sufetes.

After trying to absorb all this information, we asked our guide where we could have some dinner (6pm)?, he looked at us as we were indeed early Phoenicians. He said, that everything in Tharros opened after 8pm after siesta.

We decided to drive to Oristano , did not see much because of the ever growing hunger and decided to go back to Alghero. When we stopped at one of the petrol stations (AutoGrill) we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of coffee and the food. By the way, any petrol station in any point of Italy has excellent coffee.

Also, as a matter of interest, Sardenia does not have autostradas (toll roads), only motostradas (toll free roads), where the speed of driving is very undefined. Driving on the right side of the road was our prerogative anyway.

Next day was dedicated to Porto Cervo. We were dying to know what was there, which was not anywhere else in Sardinia, what makes Putin kiss Berlusconi with the ardency of a young lover and stay there for weeks…

We drove there for 4 hours and discovered that it was – Nah, nyet, really nothing.

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Porto Cervo seemed like a small portion of KitchenAid mix of Beverly Hills and Monaco, even cafes were scarce and shops, well, in Double Bay they are definitely better. There are no sidewalks there, hello Palm Beach!) The villas, real villas were behind high walls and to really appreciate the city we simply had no chance.

A little bit of history):

Porto Cervo (Italian pronunciation: [ˌpɔrto ˈtʃɛrvo]) (Deer’s Port in English) is an Italian seaside resort in northern Sardinia.

It is a fraction of the area of Arzachena. Porto Cervo village is the main centre of the Costa Smeralda. It was built by Prince Karim Agha Khan, together with the other investors. Porto Cervo has a resident population of 421 inhabitants. In a study released by the European luxury real estate brokerage Engel & Völkers, Romazzino Bay in Porto Cervo is the most expensive location in Europe. House prices reach up to 300,000 euros per square meter. In 2011 Costa Smeralda had the second, the 4th and the 6th most expensive hotels in the world, the Pitrizza, the Romazzino and the Cala di Volpe Hotel. In 2012 the Hotel Cala di Volpe, which is featured in the 1977 James Bond film The Spy who loved me is listed at number 7 on World’s 15 most expensive hotel suites complied by CNN Go in 2012. The presidential suite of the hotel billed at US$32,736 per night. And we are saying Intercontinental in Double Bay is expensive)!

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After such uneventful day (we did not even meet Berlusconi) we returned home to pack – next day we were flying to London, only to discover that we had people in the “villa”. There was a family of our landlords, cooking for us a farewell dinner.

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They were very disappointed that we could not eat their local delicacy roasting suckling pig, so they made the most delicious pasta con vongole instead. There were lots of cheeses and fresh figs, local wines and of course, limoncello, (a must to bring from Sardinia along with the local coral jewellery).

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Mama, Papa and two kids spoke to us in a mix of Sardinian dialect, Italian and English. The food and the wine dissolved any language differences…Cicadas were singing in the background. The trip was ending with the saddest feeling that we needed another 3 days to fully enjoy Sardinia. Is it not the best trip, then? The one, which makes you want more and more? Very, very, very, Fantastico!

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This is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places on earth, and virtually any building in the large historic center, threaded with canals dotted with baroque bridges, can be considered an attraction—and indeed, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is a magical city, with a long list of major attractions. Its Hermitage Museum, housed in the Winter Palace of the Romanov Dynasty, is both one of the world’s greatest and oldest collections of art, treasure, and antiquities, and one of its most beautiful buildings.

If it was my first time to visit St Petersburg, and I did it now, in 2014, as a foreigner, I would say wow!!! – “Such a beautiful city, placed in the middle of a very different looking country. It is a Venice of the Northern Europe, no more and no less!”

Summer and Winter Gardens, Hermitage, Peter and Paul Fortress, it is a Disney Land of the 18th century Europe, no more and no less.

I was born in USSR in 1960 when St Petersburg was called Leningrad. In the annals of history we studied, St. Petersburg had been the capital of Russia. The Government was overtaken by The Temporary Government in February 1917, the city was renamed Petrograd in the proper Russian way. It was later, overtaken by the Bolsheviks on the 25th of October 1917. It was renamed Leningrad to commemorate the most loved leader of the working people. Is that it for the history of St. Petersburg?

I will tell you the story from the point of view of a very little girl who grew up in USSR, who was familiar with the officialdom of the history of the country, who knew nothing better, than to trust in the open and to doubt in hiding, who learnt studiously the history and tried to discover the facts behind the lies.

Leningrad to me, was a dream, to finally come true. When I was 12, my school chose the “chosen” ace kids to go to Leningrad school for an exchange for two weeks. I don’t know, what my city of Belgorod could offer for this exchange, apart from the warm weather, but an exchange it was.

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We went in a bus via the outskirts of Moscow (Moscow Outer Circle Road), through one of the oldest cities of Russia, called Novgorod (New City, no more no less, of 1220 AC), and straight to the city centre of Leningrad. The ride lasted for two days. When we approached the city centre of Leningrad and we saw the most beautiful cake/bread shop, we behaved in all honesty like a herd of wild tigers let free by Putin into China (not so long ago). The people in the queue asked us whether we were from Moscow, in the same way people from San Fransisco would ask a rude misbehaving person in a supermarket queue, whether he was from New York. We settled in the old school gymnasium, and after two days of riding on the bus, we fell in the thick of the sleep slumber. Straight on the floor mats which was a plenty. For 5 consecutive days we had dozens of excursions all of which, tried to reconcile the history for us with the history of communism, via the history of Peter The Great, who built the city on the swamps in 1703, via Decembrist movement (first aristocrats-rebels) in 1825, via the serfs liberation reforms in 1861, via the first failed revolution in 1905 and via the second successful revolution in 1917…Via relocation of the capital to Moscow and via the siege of Leningrad which lasted 3 consecutive years – from 1941-1944 inclusive. These 5 days gave me my first sense of pride – I saw the most beautiful city in the most beautiful country in the world.

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These 5 days inspired me for the rest of my life to look for a beauty in my life, to find a place to live, which was not anymore offensively ugly. Forget Western Siberia, and Belgorod (a little after that, I lived in Moscow, Roma, Vienna, and …Sydney).

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My second visit to Leningrad happened during perestroika, in 1986. It was in January, in the coldest January since 1941. Coincidentally, it was 45 years since the start of the siege of Leningrad. I was sent to study some obscure accounting software for some obscure computers made in USSR. It was bitterly cold in the dormitory of the University of Finance where we all stayed. But it was the time of perestroika, and the genie of the evil spirit of Stalin was let out the bottle. Leningrad, once again, became the vanguard of everything progressive. We went to the concerts of “Time Machine” (Mashina Vremeni – prohibited in Moscow), to the lectures of Vitaly Korotich , the editor of “Flame” (Ogonyok), the most readable and the most progressive weekly edition in USSR. The old age communists whistled and booed him at this lecture.

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We listened for the first time to the Poem “Babiy Yar”, prohibited since 1960-s and read by the Soviet poet Evtushenko. And look, we were not arrested. It was another country, elevated by hope and by love to “thy” neighbour.

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My third visit to Leningrad happened after Putin came to power. He is also from Leningrad. By that time, the city was called St Petersburg. It was a rather neglected city, aged beyond belief, but nevertheless beautiful. It gave away an impression of past glory and not so much of the future. The new cafes and coffee shops, however, were bursting with life and witty interiors. The canals were frozen, the winds were strong, the bridges were the same – I counted them again and again. But the Hermitage desperately needed renovation and the buildings looked like they also needed a facelift.  The main feeling was that the decadent, progressive city evolved into a city chained and waiting to be released when the time was right.

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Yet again it became the city of Gogol and Dostoevsky, depressed and physically unwell.

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Since the early noughties, St Petersburg became more radicalised, more homophobic, more racist…For the Russian people to become racist, there needs to be a heating from inside to the point of explosion. When there is no steam outlet there, the kettle whistle never whistles. It is called displacement in psychology.

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A little bit of history:

Saint Petersburg was founded by Peter The Great, on May 27 1703. Between 1713–1728 and 1732–1918, Saint Petersburg was the imperial capital of Russia. In 1918, the central government bodies moved from Saint Petersburg (then named Petrograd) to Moscow. It is Russia’s 2nd largest city after Moscow with 5 million inhabitants..

Saint Petersburg is often described as the most Western city of Russia, as well as its cultural capital. The Historic Centre of the City constitute UNESCO protected cultural site.(8000 monuments are UNESCO protected). Saint Petersburg is also home to Hermitage, one of the largest art museums in the world.  Louvre and Hermitage are still competing for this title.

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Peter the Great was interested in seafaring and maritime affairs, and he intended to have Russia gain a seaport (“window to Europe”), so it could trade with maritime nations. He needed a better seaport than Archangel, which was on the White Sea to the north and closed to shipping for months during the winter.

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During its first few years, the city developed around Trinity Square on the right bank of the Neva, near the Peter and Paul Fortress. However, Saint Petersburg soon started to be built out according to a plan. By 1716, Domenico Trezzini, had created a project, where the city centre would be located on Vasiliyevsky Island and shaped by a rectangular grid of canals. The project was not completed, and is evident in the layout of the streets. In 1716, Peter the Great appointed Jean Baptiste Alexandre De Blonde as the chief architect of Saint Petersburg.

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In 1725, Peter died at the age of fifty-two. His endeavours to modernise Russia had met with opposition from the Russian Nobility —resulting in several attempts on his life and a treason case involving his son. In 1728, Peter II of Russia moved his seat back to Moscow. But four years later, in 1732, under Empress Anna Of Russia, Saint Petersburg was again designated as the capital of the Russian Empire. It remained the seat of the Romanov Dynasty and the Imperial Court of the Russian Tsars, as well as the seat of the Russian government, for another 186 years until the October Revolution of 1917.

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In 1825, the suppressed Decembrist Revolt against Nicholas I, took place on the Senate Square in the city, a day after Nicholas assumed the throne.

The Revolution of 1905 began in Saint Petersburg and spread rapidly into the provinces.

On 1 September 1914, after the outbreak of WW1, the Imperial government renamed the city Petrograd, meaning “Peter’s City”, to remove the German words Sankt and burg.

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In March 1917, during the February Revolution, Nicholas II abdicated both for himself and on behalf of his son, ending the Russian monarchy and over three hundred years of Romanov Dynastic Rule.image

On November 7, 1917 (Julian Calendar, October 25), the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, stormed the Winter Palace in an event known thereafter as the October Revolution (there was not much to storm, to tell you the truth), which led to the end of the post-Tsarist provisional government, the transfer of all political power to the Soviets, and the rise of the Communist Party. After that the city acquired a new descriptive name, “the city of three revolutions”, referring to the three major developments in the political history of Russia of the early 20th-century.

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During World War II, Nazi Forces besieged Leningrad following the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. The siege (“blokada”) lasted 872 days, from September 1941 to January 1944.The Siege of Leningrad proved one of the longest, most destructive, and most lethal sieges of a major city in modern history. It isolated the city from most supplies except those provided through the Road of Life across Lake Lagoda. More than one million civilians died, mainly from starvation. Many others were eventually evacuated or escaped, so the city became largely depopulated. My own father’s auntie survived the siege, but died 10 days later from the consequences of food deprivation. Shostakovich dedicated his longest and the most famous 7th symphony to Leningrad and the people living under the siege. It was completed in December 1941 and is called Leningrad.

In 1960 they opened Piskarevsky Memorial with the words engraved at the entrance:

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“From the 8th of September 1941 till 22nd of January 1944, there were 107185 bombs dropped on the city from the planes, 148478 of live ammunition, 16744 people were killed, 333782 wounded, 642803 persons died from starvation.”

There is a permanent heartbeat of the metronome upon the entrance to the cemetery. The diary of Tatiana Savicheva whose whole family died from starvation during the siege, is displayed in two pavilions of the cemetery. The diary is eerily similar to the diary of Anna Franck. Maybe all human suffering is eerily similar?

The wars and revolutions, this city lived through, makes it one of the most suffering city in the world. And yet, the soul of Leningrad is not destroyed.

It might have hardened, but it lies in waiting for the winds of freedom coming its way…See you soon, one of the most beautiful cities on Earth…

My love, my youth, my dream

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When we first visited Korean Fashion Week in Seoul in 2009, the experience was similar to Taipei Fashion week of 2014, with the only exception that Seoul is a major hub city in the world, and Taipei is more provincial and quaint.

We were met by the interpreter in Hotel Rivera, which is pronounced by Koreans as Ribera, to do with [b] and [v] sounds mixed in Korean language.

It was an OK hotel, but predominantly Korean speaking, which did make our life a bit difficult. We did not know that the interpreter was like a spy for the fashion week). They had to report how many shows we missed and why. At the time it was important to see the shows, more important than to do a buy. On the following morning, the bus picked us up and we went to the location.

In 2009 Seoul (Soul Fashion Week) was held in the Seoul Trade Exhibition & Convention at Hangnyeoul station, the event comprised the Seoul Collection (a catwalk show featuring leading designers in Korea), Generation Next (featuring selected promising local designers), and Seoul Fashion Fair (with a focus on the presentation of only13 designers). There were lots of delegates who were invited season after season and who did not buy anything. It was a free trip, free accommodation (I should not have whinged). We were real buyers, we tried to buy and we could not. In the front rows apart from the buyers and the press (VIP seats) were the faces of pensioners (free tickets) and officials who were nodding off during the shows. I must explain that in Korea the first seats are given to the pensioners and disabled, the second turn goes to the children, the third turn to the tourists and only then to the ordinary Koreans. As much as this feels fair, as a general rule, officials were a bit out of place at Seoul Fashion Week. Unfortunately, the government suits who were sitting in big boardrooms then and commanded large amounts of money for Seoul Fashion week, generally liked to engage in promotion for promotion’s sake. Unfortunately, the government officials, preferred girly, pretty, feminine fashion, of 50 years ago), and there was nothing for us to buy for our style women’s fashion. The problem was even deeper than the style of fashion itself.

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The problem was with the sizing and the prices too. Korean designers were eager to sell abroad, but for exuberant prices. You could feel it was their only chance to get ahead. The only brands suitable for western women were at the time Kuho (Chiel industries-Samsung), Time and Mine, System (LG), which did not participate in Seoul Fashion week, but were widely available at the luxurious department stores.

We found few brands among men’s fashion, namely Songzio and General Idea.

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In general, Seoul Fashion week was exclusively for Korean speaking people at the time. There were Korean celebrities, Korean press, none of the English speaking media including the bloggers were invited.

A little bit of history:

Korean fashion industry has been on the international scene for a long time, but as an export industry since after the Korean War. Many from the fashion industry already know that South Korea has been a major exporter of high quality textiles for decades already. It is still very slow in producing top end designers well known on the world runways.

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You must remember, that until the early 1990s, South Korea had essentially lived under military dictators, the 1st of them, Park Chung Hee, had banned fashion shows outright after his takeover in 1961 as part of austerity measures designed to weed out as negative elements of bourgeois society. South Koreans are still wrestling with the challenge of untangling the civil society from government control.

Since our first fashion week in Seoul to the last one in Spring 2014, a lot of things have changed. The buyers and press, are now staying at W hotel, the shows are at DDP (Dongdaemun Design Plaza), one of the most futuristic locations in the world. The male and female designers are plenty, the government officials decided to share the fashion week with the KFDA (Korean Fashion Designers Association).

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But…for the likes of Anna Vintour or Emanuelle Alt to come to Seoul Fashion Week…It needs to be enough knowledge spread there by medium-level fashion media outlets doing stories on Korean designers and the street. And to get to that level, Seoul fashion Week needs to have enough English speaking bloggers and journalists doing stories on Korean fashion and “Soul” fashion week to generate the basic information in the “ether”. The biggest problem for the Korean fashion industry is the same problem as for the country as a whole. South Korea is a pretty insular culture, both online and offline. There is a lot of information about Korean fashion designers on the Internet, most of it in Korean. Korean cultural assumption is such that non-Koreans do not care about Korea anyway. Even the international events information is mostly in Korean. Combined with the fact, that Korean language is one of the most difficult languages in the world, Korea is still the country with the big Non-English speaking padlock on the outside, and with the most hospitable people on the inside.

“Soul” Fashion week, in my opinion, deserves to be one of the 5 major weeks in the world. It only needs to be “seasoned” with the English interpretation.

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I always thought, if another week would have to be added to 6-7 days of Paris Fashion Week, I would had needed direct champagne line going straight to my head, feeding my brain 24×7. That and the constant buzz, and, sometimes purely Brownian motion of designers, buyers, fashionistas, journalists, bloggers, people to be seen and people not to be seen ever…All of this creates the feel of madness after which one needs to sleep for few days, somewhere, in the soundproof room…

The fashion week usually starts with preparation. Your PA would make your appointments and would also make few mistakes, resulting in you flying from one arrondissement to another within a minute.

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It usually continues with arrival to Paris, naturally…As much as anybody dreams Paris, Aeroport Charles De Gaulle is a bit of a shock and would be better fit for the city like Moscow. Warsaw or Berlin,  than for the City of Lights. It is plain and  grey. It could be sunny and hot, it could be rainy and cold, it could snow outside, inside of this airport the colour is always grey. If it was intended to turn off the visitors, it did not work…

Upon the exit from the airport, the reality throws you another curved ball – Parisian Taxi Driver…Parisian Taxi Driver will not speak any English and will not take credit cards. When you give him a big tip, he will say “Thank you” in English without a tinge of an accent. You spend 10 Fashion week seasons dreading taxi drivers in Paris, and Paris in all totality, until you come up with a unique idea of hiring your own driver. You quickly realise that this decision is blessed by heavens. It changes your impression of Paris forever, for the better. You start to smile and notice that the world is smiling back to you.

Designer showrooms…

The first morning of the fashion week starts from 5 minutes before the appointment, because you sleep in. Forget the breakfast, nobody in Paris has breakfast anyway and here you go.

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5 appointments per day mean 2 hours spent on each appointment. You have to really concentrate on the sizes, silhouette, the preference in colours for Russia or Australia. Sometimes you really have to concentrate, because your designer friends give you so much champagne) Sometimes, you have to interrupt the appointments for the fashion shows of the designers you buy or are lured to buy.

Fashion Shows…

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The fashion show is an animal on its own. It is a good manner for a designer to start later. The more important this designer feels about him/herself, the later is the show. Rick Owens shows usually start 1.5 hours later, John Galliano (before his famous escapade), used to start 2 hours later than scheduled. It is interesting that Junko Shimada shows were always on time (and she is one of the famous remaining couturiers in Paris). It is imperative to be sitting and to be seen in the front row. For the buyers and bloggers it is not a problem. There is also the pressure to be photographed and not to look exhausted or fat)… It starts to take its toll at the end of the day. Champagne is always handy and it comes handy before or after the show.

Trade Shows…

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To make the story really complicated there are very important shows outside the designer showrooms and outside the designer shows. They are called Trade Shows and they are split between Tranoi and Premiere Class. Tranoi is owned by the owners of L’eclaireur (chain of the very good concept stores in Paris), by Hadida family, namely by Armand Hadida. It takes place in Palais De La Bourse and in Carousel Du Louvre.  Tranoi started in 2002. You need two full days to visit those locations and to make the orders.

The other Trade Show is called Premiere Classe and its usually held in Jardin Des Tuileries. It is very good for the buyers of shoes, bags and accessories. Champagne is served during lunch, afternoon tea and, I am afraid for breakfast. Premiere Classe started in 1989…

Two Fashion Weeks Per Season…

To make the story even more complicated, there is another fashion week in Paris end of June/start of July and end of January/start of February. It is for Haute Couture and Men’s collections. I am afraid, that people who attend four of those fashion weeks in Paris are completely champagne dependent.

A Little Bit of History…

Long before Fashion Weeks became, what they are today, fashion reigned, as you may have guessed, in the salons of France. The concept of the fashion presentation dates back to 1858, when Charles Fredrick Worth first developed the concept of showing his clientele a pre-prepared selection of original designs (a collection). Furthermore, he shocked high society by showing his designs on real, live women (models) for all to view. Both were highly novel ideas at the time.

In 1868, Worth helped create the Chambre Syndicale de la Confection et de la Couture pour Dames et Fillettes, a trade association whose mission was to develop the French fashion industry. One of the most noteworthy functions of the association was to legally regulate the phrase “haute couture” – meaning it could only be used by registered members of the Chambre Syndicale. The organisation also set a minimum number of looks for those designers who were granted membership.

The tradition of bespoke fashion presentations in private residences or in a designer’s salon for aristocratic clients continued in France into the 20th century, securing France’s reputation as the fashion capital of the world. As the trend grew, the presentations became more and more grandiose, engaging all of the senses in a full experience of photography, music, sophisticated staging and sets. Designers started calling them fashion “fêtes”, and thus, the basis of the modern fashion show was set. As the world looked almost exclusively to Paris for fashion inspiration, international fashion magazines from around the world filled their pages with chic styles being shown at these fêtes.
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The course of fashion history changed, however, in 1943. With World War II at its height, fashion journalists were unable to travel to Paris for fashion inspiration, with the shows being cancelled due to the Nazi occupation in France. In an unprecedented maneuver, a fashion publicist named Eleanor Lambert seized this opportunity to divert the attention of the fashion industry from Paris to America, in order to enhance the reputation and prestige of local American designers on the international scene. She invited all of the journalists to New York instead, arranged shows, and advertised that “Press Week” was coming to town.

There are Main Four Fashion weeks now – three of them preceding Paris (New York, London, Milan). For the buyers, Paris fashion week is still the best venue, since almost everybody from New York, London, Milan shows comes there with their collections.

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Paris is a very hectic place at the time, and if you are a tourist, just wait for another 5 days to feel fully welcome in this beautiful city. All decent brasseries and restaurants are fully booked and the Right Bank is teeming with all fashion week characters. The places to be seen and eat well are Les Flottes in Rue Cambon, Le Meurice Restaurant in rue Rivoli, Les Jardins Du Marais in uber trendy Le Marais. The places to drink champagne and to be seen doing so are Costes Hotel, Pershing Hall, Experimental Cocktail Club, where you can say goodbye to mojitos and margaritas, since it is a proper mixology bar.

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That’s not it, of course, for Paris fashion week. I failed to mention the friendships you forge, the encounters with people from all over the world. Paris fashion week is a like a little World Global village of like minded people. I dread it every time, I miss it all the time…

A bit thirsty now, in desperate need to reach for this long stemmed glass of perfectly cold champagne…

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It is very difficult to write now about Russia, without mentioning political situation surrounding Russia and Ukraine, but I will. I won’t mention politics, because Moscow, as one of the most beautiful cities in the world deserves my love and admiration. My story of Moscow is not politically clouded.

I was born in the city of Kursk, grew up in the city of Belgorod (size of Newcastle but with pollution of 100 times more than in Newcastle). We had asbestos factory, 5 nuclear stations around, we even had Vitamin A pollution from the vitamin factory.

I have never been to Moscow until I reached the age of 14. My school organised a trip to then Leningrad via Moscow. We stopped in Moscow for 15 minutes to buy Fanta and to allow the driver to have his long awaited cigarette. I remember, that we stopped on the outskirts of the city, the night was lit by the windows of “very tall buildings” and by the huge streetlights – anything was bigger and taller, than in Belgorod. I did not see a city, I saw mirage. At the age of 15, during summer holidays, I fell in love with a very cute Moscovite. All factors combined, I promised to myself to make everything possible to get an entry to one of the Moscow Universities. To cut the story short, I did. 5 years passed, and my husband and I had to leave Moscow, since Moscow was the city closed to people from other regions (see “propiska”). Since then, I saw Moscow only in my dreams, I was desperately, hopelessly in love with the city, with my own mirage.

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25 years passed since I came back to Moscow from my homeland Australia to start our own Cara&Co, to get a second education, and to re-start my life there in some sense. I did not recognise the city. All of the streets were renamed back from their communist names to the original pre-revolutionary names. It clashed with my geographical cretinism and, voila!, I found myself in the city, completely unknown to me. It was again, a mirage, based on my amnesia.

As Heraclites said:

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

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I lived in Moscow from 2006 till 2012. I can only vouch for my own experience.

I will start from few postulates:

1)   Moscow never sleeps. It is a very entertaining city. Forget New York, which sleeps sometimes, – if you want to go to the nightclub in Moscow, the alcohol supply won’t stop at 1 am (makes Sydney stupidly provincial), you can go to the movies at 1am, you can sit on a beautiful veranda in the restaurant at 1am, and nobody, would be washing the floors around you, to show, that your time is over.You can have manicure and pedicure at 1am, a bit more expensive than in daytime, but you can. You can sit with your friends at 1am and leave their place at 4am, because Russians are incredibly conversational people, and they don’t need to drive their kids to netball on Saturday morning). The fitness centres close at 1am and open at 6 am. The nightclubs are abundant, and are one of the best in the world.

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2)   Moscow is a very old city – the first reference to it dates back to year 1147 when Yury Dolgorykiy met Svyatoslav Olgovich. The original Moscow Kremlin was built during the 14th century. It was reconstructed by Ivan,The Third, who in the 1480s invited architects from Italy, such as Petrus Antonius Solarius, who, in turn, designed the new Kremlin wall and its towers, and Marco Ruffo, who designed the new palace for the prince. The Kremlin walls, as they now appear, are those designed by Solarius, completed in 1495. The Kremlin’s Great Bell Tower was built in 1505–08 and augmented to its present height in 1600.

Moscow ceased to be Russia’s capital when Peter the Great moved his government to the newly built Saint Petersburg on the Baltic coast in 1712. After losing the status as capital of the empire, the population of Moscow at first decreased, from 200,000 in the 17th century to 130,000 in 1750. But after 1750, the population grew more than tenfold over the remaining duration of the Russian Empire, reaching 1.8 million by 1915.

3)   Moscow is still a very Russian city. Usually, when the foreigners praise St Petersburg, as much more beautiful city, Moscow, however, IS a Russian City, The Mother of the Russian cities (“Мать городов русских”). St Petersburg was built mostly by the Italian Architects, based on Peter the Great idea to create a European city. St Petersburg, somehow, does not have the same feel of Russianness, that Moscow has. Moscow has incredible examples of the early Russian church architecture like St Basils Cathedral, where the history mentions the name of the architect, Ivan Yakovlevich Barma (Varfolomey). Legend held, that Ivan The Terrible blinded the architect so, that he could not re-create the masterpiece

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There are incredible examples of Russian/Soviet modernism architecture, evolving later as the Soviet constructivism. There is a very distinct parallel in those styles with Art Nouveau, and Art Deco in Western Europe and USA. At the same time there is a distinctly Russian /Soviet difference.

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The finest examples of this are of Yaroslav Railway station (by Fyodor Schectel), Church of Saint Martha (Aleksey Schusev), Moscow Metro (first stations like Mayakovskaya and Belorusskaya were based on designs of Alexander Deineka), The Government House, aka “Dom na Naberzhnoy” by Architect B. Iofan, TSUM by architect Roman Clein.

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The architecture course in France is taught and based on the early examples of Soviet Architecture, with the best names in mind like Vladimir Tatlin, Nikolai Nikitin, Roman Klein, Aleksey Schusev.

4)   Moscow is a fashion savvy city. Russian women have, as I always put it mildly, so called “garbage bin syndrome”. They would rather be seen dead than without proper makeup and proper attire, even when they take the garbage out. Nothing like Australian celebrities, wearing approaching their death sentence garments, caught by paparazzi, when picking up the morning newspaper.) Moscow shops have all brands imaginable on the planet. Moscow does not have giant shopping malls, the ones I was writing about before, and invading Sydney, but it has very good shops and boutiques and department stores.

GUM:

William Craft Brumfield described the GUM building as “a tribute both to Shukhov’s design and to the technical proficiency of Russian Architecture toward the end of the 19th century”.

The glass-​roofed design made the building unique at the time of construction. The facade is divided into several horizontal tiers, lined with red Finnish granite, Tarusa marble, and limestone. Each arcade is on three levels, linked by walkways of reinforced concrete.

It is still open nowadays, and is a popular tourist destination for those visiting Moscow. Many of the stores feature luxury brands from all over the world; locals refer to these as the “exhibitions of prices”, the joke being that no one could afford actually to buy any of the items displayed.

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TSUM:

TsUM is one of the most fashionable and trendy places in the city, and the largest fashion department store in Eastern Europe. It carries more than 1000 brands of fashionable apparel, perfumery, jewellery, as well as “TsUM Globus Gourmet” gastronome, a fusion restaurant, a cigar room, a café, and champagne-bar “Veuve Clicquot”.

TsUM new seasonal collections appearance is supported by sound advertising campaigns with world-famous fashion stars, Milla Jovovich, Naomi Campbell, Natalia Vodianova, Malgosa Bella, and Cindy Crawford.

The world-renowned designers participate in TsUM events, introducing to the guests and clients of TsUM their newest collections in person.

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Tsvetnoy Central Market is a mall located in a newly built 5-storey building near the Tsvetnoy Bulvar metro station. It’s one of the trendiest places in the city, a real hipster paradise. The more you go upstairs, the more expensive and extravagant the boutiques get, and there is a food market on top.

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Stoleshnikov Pereylok, Tretyakovsky Proezd, Petrovka are the areas where the best concept stores are located, Podium, Kuznetsky Most 20, 3.14 (Pi), Luntz, Leform.

Below are Miroslava Duma – a socialite, famous blogger, and aspiring designer(on the left) and Vika Gadzinskaya, the most famous Russian designer. Her creations are in Colette, The Other Stories(H&M) and many other famous stores in the world.

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5)   Moscow is a very cultured city

With 50 museums, I mean museums-museums (not just the History of Buttons Museum)), with around 100 art galleries, with 80 State Universities in Moscow alone, with so many theatres and world renowned directors like Kirill Serebrennikov, Russia is still an epicentre of all things cultural. My favourite place, when I lived there, was the Catholic Church (Metro Belorusskaya) where Sunday concerts of different varieties, all of incredible finesse and perfection were held, and where the tickets would cost you only 50 roubles (1.6 AUD). Our Australian Ambassador gave away to me this well hidden secret. My Sundays became very memorable.

I must admit at the same time, there is a Vodka Museum in Moscow…)

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6)   Moscow is a very corrupt and very bureaucratic city. I have had my business in Moscow. Russia is proudly ahead only of Nigeria and Bangladesh in the corruption ladder, depending on who is making the order.

One has to oil the wheels every time, when one wants anything to happen. That’s why so many Western companies in Russia have an army of brokers and middle people to handle all of the awkward situations. To start and register a company in Australia takes you one week, to do the same in Russia takes about 6 months. Go figure.

I left Moscow in 2012 to start my business in Sydney. I left a very successful business there and the rest is history. I still miss Moscow, not as a mirage anymore, but as a city, where I forged many friendships, the city where I lived a non-stop social life, and where the sparkles were not only in champagne, but in the pure atmosphere of the city. I miss Moscow, as one misses a very good friend, maybe a bit unstable and manic, but a friend, nevertheless.

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Across from the Jewish Ghetto, across the river Tiber, pass Isola Tiberina lies an area which only Romans know and only Romans visit. It is called Trastevere.

It holds for me the most of Rome’s magical secrets, and every time I visit Trastevere, something magical happens.

A bit of history:

In Rome’s Regal period (753-509 BC), the area across the Tiber belonged to the hostile Etruscans: the Romans named it Ripa Etrusca (Etruscan bank). Rome conquered it to gain control of and access to the river from both banks, but was not interested in building on that side of the river. In fact, the only connection between Trastevere and the rest of the city was a small wooden bridge called the Pons Sublicius (Latin: “bridge built on wooden piles”).

In fact, Trastevere is one of the oldest regions of the city. The area is so specific and so isolated, that it has its own dialect/accent, and its inhabitants are called Trasteverini.

Of course, the bridge connecting two banks of the river is now made of stone and is called Il Ponte Garibalde. Garibalde withstood and attacked the French hiding in Trastevere.

When we lived and worked in Rome, and tried to survive in order to get to the wonderful shores of Australia (legally – we were refugees from USSR then), I saw this area first from the main street (Viale De Trastevere) and spotted a house with no glass windows and, obviously no inhabitants, with the huge marionette dolls and skeletons sitting peacefully on window ledges. Their legs were swaying slowly from the wind. It was a bit macabre sight, but I did not have a chance to see Trastevere then.

12 years passed and we went to Rome with my daughter. On one glorious Sunday we ended up having a lunch in Trastevere.

By then we have been living in Australia already for 11 years, and since we left Rome I did not have a chance to say goodbye to the nicest American Joint caseworker, who looked after us for two years while we were in refugee camps. I had a niggling feeling that we would meet her that day. I had a niggling feeling we would meet her in Trastevere. And we did, after lunch, just like this on the street.  The skeletons were still there…

I went to Rome 4 years later and rented “la cantina”, (a cellar), which promised a lot on the internet, and turned out to be a very dank, smelly and dark place with a room upstairs representing a bed and nothing else. The water was temperamental and no washing machine existed as a device of civilisation. I was so depressed that only ventured out to have a cornetto and cappuccino and dinner in the nearest trattoria. Until I discovered a Laundromat on the corner of my street, and met there a wonderful Australian lady, who worked for Caritas Vatican and was about to fly to Thailand to help the locals with medical supplies and food amidst the terrible floods. I also met there an owner of car repairs shop, who looked like our Aussie bikie, albeit with the Roman nose. He made the best cornetti and the best cappuccino. He also had two huge Dobermans who would kiss and lick everybody in vicinity in a very Italian dog way. Something must be happening with the dog breeds, after they get Italian citizenship. I started going on my own for lunches and dinners and not every time, but quite often, the owner of my favourite trattoria would drive me on the back of his Vespa home.

 

La Dolce Vita does exist.

As for more formal review, Trastevere does not have your usual brand shops and luxury restaurants, but it has many artisan places with unique choices and many little restaurants, which are simply unforgettable.

My favourite shop there is Roma Store Profumi on via Della Lungaretta 63.

It seems that all other perfume stores in Roma have the “usual” name brands — Bvlgari, Prada, L’Occitane, etc. But this shop has better selection with: Laboratio Olfattivo, Eau D’Italie (of Le Sireneuse fame), I fell in love with two different Eau D’Italie scents…

For shoe shopping it’s the best to go to Joseph De Bach

You won’t find a more unusual shoe shop anywhere. DeBach, a native of Tripoli who now lives and works in Rome, makes fantastic clogs, sandals and wedgies for men and women. Leather is stamped with comic strip art, with metallic patterns. Heels are made of iron in unlikely shapes- curves, curlicues. It is as much a gallery of shoe art as a store. Check it out when window shopping, if nothing else. The address is Vicolo del Cinque, 19. Open evenings only from 7:30 pm

Fabrizi is in via Lungaretta 98 – there, you will find Italian leather goods in snakeskin, crocodile and calf. The shop has exquisite purses and accessories, as well as a collection of interesting jewellery. Its run by the same family since 1954.

The best dinner in Trastevere I had, was in Enoteca Ferrara in Piazza Trilussa 41,

This is a wine bar with tables on three levels and a lovely back garden for warm weather dining. The two wine lists (one huge book for whites, one for reds) provide for a full evening reading. Some visitors come to Ferrara to buy a bottle or a little gastronomic treat from the in-house deli, some for a pre- or post-dinner glass of wine, others opt for the full-on restaurant experience. The cuisine is undeniably creative, with a tad bit of Slow Food approach. The crowds happily drinking beer on Friday night make this little piazza disappear– they are not from Ferrara, they are from the pub next door. It is still a huge difference between the ruddy crowds behaviour In Roma and in Sydney. I wont tell which one I appreciate more. Whatever you decide to do in Trastevere„ be assured ,that it’s a little Rome inside Rome and it’s a place like nowhere else. Its so much to write about, but…En plus, I forgot to check my skeletons…

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When I first entered the holy grail of Potts Point it was in 1994 – Holiday Inn was on Macleay street, where Icon Building is now. I was supposed to be studying Project Management course there, but instead I was studying Potts Point.

For 4 days we had coffee breaks at the hotel with incredibly bitter burnt coffee, and I tried to see the glimpses of the suburb, which has taken my heart since and never let my heart go. There were tree-lined streets (like in Europe), there was an incredible Bookshop, which, unfortunately, closed its doors only a month ago. At the time, it had the books translated from all the languages from all over the world. The shop reminded me the bookshop in Verona in Piazza D’Erbe. There were little cafes with an outdoor chairs (like in Europe) and rather roguish looking pubs on Darlinghurst Road. I walked to Woolloomooloo and saw, – OMG – Navy Ships in the middle of the city. After visiting Sebastopol in Ukraine (sadly Russia now), which had about 10 military zones, before you could spot any ships, the feeling of openness was amazingly liberating. The whole buzz was of European city, patchy somewhat, but still of European city.

Of course, there was the City, 5 km away with its skyscrapers and dusty palm trees.

The City had no feel of Europe and no buzz.  It had sterile looking office workers, lunching strictly between 12pm and 14pm, and dispersing back to their suburbia every night.

I thought to myself – what would persuade my then family to move to Potts Point? Nothing would….

I tried… I moved there after my divorce…(I must say, that divorce its not a liberation – it is an opportunity to make your own decisions without consulting the other half, for all right and wrong reasons)… and I intend to stay here, I think, until eternity. My second coming to Potts Point happened when my friend Maree told me to visit one of the shops there. Maree’s opinion mattered the most (she had a beautiful perfume shop in North Sydney at the time). Only because of her, I first entered the kingdom of Macleay on Manning. I became addicted to its Limoges cups, to Fornasetti plates (the real ones), to little cards, and candles and cute presents, which looked like gifts from Paris in Vaucluse (where I lived then).

I became addicted to their owners Rod and Jill, too). Then Arida spruced up in the lower end of Macleay, followed by Bekker and Minty across the road from Macleay on Manning, followed by Blood Orange in Elizabeth Bay.  Forgive my historical chronology, if I made an omission there and then, but Potts Point became a shopping Mecca with a twist. Even the little laundry with a duck image in Elizabeth Bay, which looked so Dutch, was like an omen – I felt compelled to move there. In all honesty, its not my Russian community area, it does not have big houses with the swimming pools, it does not have this comfortable Australian dream/suburbia feel. It has a feel of all night Parisian entertainment maybe in not so glamorous arrondissements.

It is a perfect suburb, my Potts Point, for its great restaurants and great shops but it has very little space for development and growth. The car owners are treated like pests and are surrounded by Tow Away signs at every mm of the Potts Point. When you find a parking space, or if you are in the luck, and don’t get a ticket, if you parked illegally, you feel as fortunate, as you would be feeling, when winning 1 million dollars lotto.

The car drivers are persecuted in Potts Point as the dogs are persecuted by Woollahra Council – Parsley Bay, for example has signs – Dogs Are Totally Prohibited – fine $500.

With so much to give to Sydneysiders, in terms of culture, shopping and food, Potts Point started shrinking back to the embryo it has been before…Something needs to be done, the long awaited cinema needs to be built, the watershed between Kings Cross and Potts Point need to be eliminated. The undercover parking next to Woolworths needs to be built, something urgently needs to be done to Potts Point to allow it return it to its own glory, and at the same time to make it livable for the residents, and accessible to the visitors. As for me, I will be around I will wait.

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When I first went to Paris on my own for two weeks only, I went to contemplate life, to make decisions, marriage including. It was in August, 2003 – the year when Paris was liberated 60 years ago from the Nazis. Well, Paris was a free spirit and even loved the Americans. My Russian accented English was welcome everywhere.

In general, the easiest way to “survive” Paris is to go for the “prescribed walks” during the daytime, the hardest way to survive is to go for dinner on your own. Not because it is Paris, it is because going for dinner on your own in an unknown city it’s a hardest thing to do for a woman… That was my thoughts and anxieties thrown together.

That’s how thought a woman, who never had a dinner on her own in her own life since her brain started to develop…

It put my life strictly into perspective and made me think that marriage was the best invention in life…

 

Nevertheless, it was August, and the asphalt was melting. My little apartment under the roof did not have any air-conditioning. And it was melting too. Drinking wine and eating cheese under this hottest roof for the 4th day in the row would have killed my Paris spirit forever. My prescribed walk (I lived in Bastille) told me to go to Brasserie Bofinger. En plus I decided to try steak tartare. I took a book with me (I needed it as much as a fur coat on this balmy evening).  I took a plunge and …

Forget the steak tartare, I entered the most beautiful restaurant institution in Paris. Of course there were no tables available, but flirting in English with a Russian accent gets you anywhere in France…I got the best table under the most beautiful ceiling, Art Nouveau could ever invented (please forgive my naivete, I was mesmerised). The waiter did not leave my side and …of course…I decided on oysters Fin De Claire number 4, and on (Please God, if I have to burn in hell, could you make the temperature there a bit lower) Foie Gras steak on apple puree and brioche. I also ordered Bourgogne and I drank (wow) two glasses of it.

I was in heaven, I also justified to myself that the ducks are fed in the same way, as all Jewish children are, by force (from my own experience)…Since that “fatal” evening I was eating out on my own in Paris every day. My fear was unleashed…

A little bit of history…

 

In 1996, when the French restaurateur Jean-Paul Bucher announced he was buying the great Parisian brasserie Bofinger, in a narrow lane just off the Place de

la Bastille, the regular customers reacted furiously. In a city where its great brasseries are regarded not merely as restaurants but as grand historic symbols as rich in heritage as any museum or opera house. They are temples to the French way of food, which must surely never be allowed to come under the control marketing men. Despite this, over a 30-year period, Bucher has purchased nearly a dozen in the French capital for his Flo restaurant group, including famous names like La Coupole and Terminus Nord (been there, they are wonderful too).

 

Bofinger was opened in 1864 by FrÀdÀric Bofinger, a refugee from war-torn Alsace on France’s north-eastern border with Germany. The first Bofinger was tiny: little more than a bar that served draught beers – it was the first establishment in Paris to do so – and charcuterie. It soon became fashionable and has remained that way, as it has expanded and grown, through four different owners, including one of the Rothschild family.

Today it occupies almost the entirety of the rue de la Bastille, its brilliant red awnings decorated with an over sized gold ‘B’. The whole of the interior is now a protected national monument. But the crowning glory is the intricate glass dome above the central dining room. Upstairs there is more rustic room, named after the Alsatian artist whose Teutonic landscapes decorate its walls.. Bofinger seats 300. Each day a staff of around 100 – 30 of them in the kitchen – serve 800 diners. One of the most important things about Brasserie Bofinger, it is always busy. My sometimes, beautiful eyes and my English Russian accent secures me the table almost every time. If my luck ever stops, I will go for a plastic surgery)…

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I have been in many places in the world – to be exact in almost all of Europe, Asia, North America. I don’t like sweet things, I never eat dessert, but one place completely transforms me into ravenous dessert eating creature. This place is not in Paris, not in Italy, Spain, Vienna – it is not in the best dessert places in the world.

This place is in Hobart, and for those, who don’t know, it’s a capital of the smallest state in Australia, Tasmania.

My love affair with Hobart started 20 years ago when I started working at the Antarctic Conference (CCAMLR). Before going there I knew it was a very provincial place. It did not seem so to me. During 2 weeks of the conference the town was alive with the scientists from all over the world. We had endless evenings of talks with the help of Tasmanian Pinot, we had very enlightened conversations about everything in the world. We touched the topics of sex, religion and politics without any reservations. We went to all classy restaurants – lots of them in Hobart, but we never had a cool place for breakfast.

Then, suddenly, in Battery Point one of the English scientists discovered the BAKERY. It was a pretty local affair with two little rooms and few tables outside. We would sip our coffee (excellent, on par with Sydney) and eat the sandwiches, quiches, croissants, as the world would end today. Everything was crunchy in the right place, soft in the right place, savoury in the right product and sugary where it was needed. The herds of Labradors and Golden Retrievers passed our tables, but I did not give them anything. It was nothing left to give.

I haven’t been to Hobart since 2006 and we travelled there with our friends in January 2014. After nothing to do in Launceston and its surroundings, Hobart suddenly looked and felt like a capital of the world. The town has changed a great deal. In fact, the presence of MONA changed it beyond recognition, but about this, later. We went to traditional Salamanca Markets and we popped in the BAKERY.

Jackman and McRoss Bakery did not change. It became bigger and lighter – it expanded into 4 rooms. There was a queue for the table. There were couples, obviously 20 years into their own marriages, reading their own newspapers or sms-ing the outside world, there were families with lots of kids, gay couples…The BAKERY looked much more urbanistic, than before. Hobart looked much more urbanistic than before. The Labradors were still there, they did not have much space anymore.

We had an amazing breakfast. In fact, we have had three amazing breakfasts in this bakery in a row. The strawberry tarts, sandwiches on the best sourdough bread, eclairs, quiches…Well, it is not a place for the scale conscious people. I dream to return to Hobart again, for its best seafood, for Mona, for local antiques shops, but mostly, for the BAKERY. It will happen soon.

 

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I must admit I am biased – 10 Corso Como is my favourite concept store (after Cara & Co, of course). In my opinion its one of the most beautiful and organic.

First time we went to Corso Como it was in 2006. It was an OK concept store where somehow I felt obliged to buy one of the Prada “Polo” shirts, which became instantly small on the highest points of my chest. It always happens 5 minutes after the purchase. The shop was not so special, the collection was mostly Prada, café was very good.

To be specific, any good Italian food in Italy washed down with a good Italian wine consumed al fresco style is immaculate.

What struck me as the most beautiful part of this one storey old and new building, was Libreria , not the Library, as it had been introduced into Russian. It is a bookshop in Italian. It sold mostly coffee table books and lots of books about fashion and art. It was in the most beautiful conservatory style corridor building, where the light was eternal and the books were tastefully presented.

Historically 10 Corso Como is a shopping and dining complex in Milan, Italy. It combines outlets that show and sell works of art, fashion, music, design, cuisine and culture. It was founded in1990 in Milan, Italy, by gallery owner and a publisher Carla Sozzani.. Is it enough to create the most famous concept store in the world? Lets see. Carla Sozzani was editor-in-chief for some of Italian Vogue’s special issues..

Sozzani left Italian Vogue in 1986 and was appointed by Alexander Liberman as the American Vogue‘s editor-at-large for Italy.

Sozzani launched Italian Elle in 1987. As editor in chief, Sozzani worked with photographers Steven MeiselNick KnightPeter LindberghJuergen Teller and the illustrators Mats Gustafson and Francis Berthoud.[6]

In 1989 Sozzani met American artist Kris Ruhs, beginning a collaboration in both their lives and work.

Sozzani has had an enormous influence in the world of fashion. What she started as the first concept store in the world was a combination of impeccable taste and the status in the fashion world. We haven’t visited Milan for a hefty three years – we arrived there for negotiations with Pomellato. They said that, 10 Corso Como was not going so well in Milan, and suddenly it was like an explosion  – Samsung Group, its Fashion subdivision Chiel, invested in 10 Corso Como, Seoul.  We were present at the opening of 10 Corso Como in Seoul and yes, we finally felt – it came, what Carla deserved and that would be her future, not on the shaky European GFC infected ground.

When we attended Fashion weeks in Seoul everybody was saying, look, 10 Corso Como is losing money and only because of the daughter of the President of Samsung it was kept alive. Gossips are the worst type of propaganda, gossips in the fashion world are worse than poison.

Not only 10 Cosro Como prospered in Seoul, it opened three shops of different varieties, luxury, 10 Corso Como in Cheogdam, 10 Corso Como in Avenuel (my favourite – the books selection is immaculate), and discount 10 Corso Como in Garosugil.

Amid the cruellest gossips when we were buying Delvaux or Antonio Marras in Paris, 10 Corso Como teams from Seoul arrived in numbers of 5 for each buy. It could not be that bad)). It made me happy.

10 Corso Como Shanghai (2000 square metres) opened on 14 September 2013 at 1717 Nanjing West Road at Wheelock Square.

The logo for 10  Corso Como and all consecutive store designs were created by American Artist Kris Ruths.

One thing I completely forgot!

In 2002, 10 Corso Como opened in Tokyo in partnership with Comme des Garçons, designed by Rei Kawakubo and Kris Ruhs, which makes it related to Dover Street Market.

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I’m one of those people who can’t live without shopping. Even after becoming a professional shopper (and not that long ago, either – only 7 years back) I still naively hoped that I might be able to kick this habit that is so bad for one’s wallet. But nothing of the sort. Do drug dealers ever go off drugs? Are there any owners of cigarette companies who aren’t smokers? The jury’s still out on those two, but with shopping it’s actually not quite all so bad. When you’re out shopping that highly elusive feel-good hormone, dopamine is produced. Nobody’s measured the actual quantity, but I reckon that it compares only to your first kiss. At least, that’s how it is with me…

What does it mean to go shopping on your travels? When you’re travelling you’re less inhibited about parting with money and buying clothes as you completely forget about the inner landscape of your wardrobe (oh, how convenient!) and what’s to be found there. You stick all your purchases on your credit card, meaning that you don’t actually have to pay until later. The Euro or the dollar begins to sound like your own currency, which only resurfaces when you see the prices converted back into it on your bank statements. Husbands are off their guard and afraid of looking stingy when they’re abroad. In short, there are plenty of reasons why shopping should be enjoyable. So how do you find your way around once you’re inside a shop? How do you go about shopping so as not just to take advantage of the sales, but to get something unique and give your wardrobe a proper makeover?

As far as handbooks go, I’m very keen on the Luxe pocket city guides published in Hong-Kong. They speak with the voice of the characters out of ‘Sex and the City’ and their discernment and recommendations are spot-on. There’s just one problem – the guides that have so far been produced in this series, are mostly about the cities in the Asia-Pacific region.

Having racked my brains on what to do, I decided to start from the recent basics. Chloe Sadchev, one of the most famous fashion bloggers in the world wrote an article for www.dualshow.com. In August 2013. The site does not exist anymore.

Chloe Sadchev does.

She choose 5 best concept stores in the world:

1. Dover Street Market, London

2. 10 Corso Como (Milan, Shanghai, Seoul)

3. Cara&Co (Sydney, Moscow)

4. Opening Ceremony (New York)

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What is really a concept store – they have been breeding like rabbits since start-nineties, and anything now, starting from one designer store, or one philosophy store or one simply store is called a concept store. Not so fast….

In late 1990s some European retail traders developed the idea of tailoring a shop towards a lifestyle theme, in the form of “concept stores”, which specialised in cross selling without using separate departments and separate tills. One of the first] concept stores was 10 Corso Como in Milan, Italy followed by Colette[ in Paris and Quartier 206[7][8] in Berlin. Several well-known American chains such as Urban Outfitters, Australian chain Billabong and, though less common, Lord & Taylor adapted to the concept store trend after 2000. In a peculiar way concept store is what slow food is to 30 minutes dinner preparation. Its slow shopping, the customers can linger for hours without being harassed by the loud music with the rhythm “Buy, Buy, Buy now!!! Or Run Away” They are not harassed by the sales people, pushing the customer to buy, but are very happy to explain, to teach, because its so much to look at, and they know you will come back.

And now we can start

Dover Street Market :

I have been to London many times, and for many reasons did not visit Dover Street Market. Either its position was too obscure for me or it was too obscure for the taxi driver.

I remember, it was the beginning of the middle of September 2008. London was sunny and friendly. GFC started to scream from the Internet, from all TV stations, it caused me indigestion and a huge credit card bill. Rouble and Aussie fell to the bottom of the food chain. When flying to London from Moscow on BA I took a glass of champagne for eternal bravery, came to Mr Gorbachev sitting in the first row and thanked him for “letting my people go”(we left USSR as refugees in 1988). He was a bit surprised, but I guess worse things happened to him before. In another words, everything was so unpredictable, that the visit to Dover Street Market was inevitable.

Let me start from only two bad things. First was the smell, the shop smelt with cheap café food. I also did not like the layout – 6 floors with very small landings/rooms, similar to the size of the Soviet apartment. Everything else was black/white perfect. In short, I was not in awe of the layout, I was in awe of the collection.

Piloted by Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons fame, this place is cutting-edge and super-cool. A minimalist, functional interior – steel beams, brick walls. All of the designers displaying their wares are encouraged to adapt the space to suit their collection, which means that the interior is often as dynamic as the range of clothing. The designs on display won’t be for everyone – this is high fashion, not high street fashion – but even if you’re not there to buy, walking around this construction-site-come-shopping-centre is a rare treat. The shop sells understated luxury, what we call nowadays “non-conspicuous” luxury Don’t be fooled by the ‘market’ name tag – prices here aren’t exactly cheap and any attempt to haggle them down will result in a few raised well-plucked eyebrows. I wish Sydney retailers would be able to do the same exercise with their eyebrows…Maybe they are not so well plucked.

See you in Milan, Shanghai, Seoul

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In South Korea there are 16 public holidays scattered throughout the calendar year but everyone has just one week’s entitlement of annual leave. The per capita income of the population of Korea has recently started to overtake that of Japan. Koreans don’t get to call a place their own until around the time they retire – in Seoul property is even more expensive than in Tokyo or Sydney. Have you guessed what I’m driving at? If you’ve got cash to spare, you’re in no hurry to become a mortgage slave and you can’t take a proper holiday lasting at least a month, then what’s left to do? The answer’s simple – you go shopping. I’ve never had to queue to get into a shopping centre before – not even when the new Westfield opened in Sydney – but I did at the entrance to a Shinsegae mall. At three in the afternoon on a normal Saturday. And now, let’s get down to brass tacks…

There’s shopping in Seoul to suit all tastes and budgets, even if the latter is measured in loose change. And if that really is the case then head for the so-called night market known as Doota-Dongdaemun Market for cheap shopping on a grand scale. This market is spread across eight floors, including some subterranean ones. But though the goods on offer might be cheap and even if the designers are students of design rather than household names, they’re anything but run-of-the-mill.

The children’s floor is worth a special look. As you watch people buying children’s clothing by the kilo at prices not to be found anywhere else on this planet, it’s hard not to feel sharp pangs for a child – or, at a push, a grandchild – of your own. You’ll be in raptures at the abundance of colours and the wealth of fantasy. The contrast with the drabness of the clothes that I wore during my own childhood in the Soviet Union brings tears to my eyes. Mind you, to be blunt about it children’s clothing in Australia isn’t exactly hot on quality or good looks either. But at this market you’ll find both in spades.

Shifting up a rung on the shopping ladder to shopping malls, I have to say that this is the most popular form of shopping not just in Seoul, but throughout Asia-Pacific and Australia, to say nothing of the USA or Canada. Once you get pulled into this world of shopping, then that’s it – there’s no way back! It’s impossible to resist the lure of the crowds, the 15-percent discounts and the euphoria that comes from being a consumer.

There are four ‘brands’ of shopping malls – or rather, shopping cities – in Seoul: Hyundai, Lotte, Shinsegae and Galleria. In each of these shopping cities there are Duty Free sections, where you can register your purchase as tax-exempt at the till, rather than having to run the gauntlet of bureaucracy to get your money back. For Japanese who are flying in (they account for the lion’s share of visiting shoppers) or Koreans who are flying out Duty Free cities have been built not far from Incheon airport.

You can easily find your way around all the shopping centres with your eyes closed – on the ground floor at street level make sure you don’t miss the Korean-made skincare products for facials. They’re really cheap, really good quality and really effective. When you make a purchase you get showered with presents. The best known brands are Isa Knox, Ohui and Hera. They’re not quite up to the standard of Botox, but they’ll iron out your wrinkles for at least half a day. And they certainly are up to the standard of the most expensive and most heavily hyped European brands. You can breeze through the clothing departments on the other floors, apart from the third or fourth floor, where Korean brands such as System, Time, Mine and Kuho are to be found, the last of which belongs to Samsung. The first three of these brands are fairly classical in style, but spiced up and with a flare to the cut that is peculiarly Korean – bolder geometry and less of the zaniness to be found in Japan. Kuho is based on almost the same principles, but is a shade wackier. Top quality and incredibly varied materials are used – for instance, a dress might be made from the thinnest sheepskin combined with cashmere or knitwear.

But if you’re a fan of brands that are household names then hold back before you splash out in one of the downtown shopping malls. I’ll let you in on a little secret: twenty kilometres outside Seoul that is an entire outlet city, where they’ve got absolutely everything, even the really big names, only from last season and sometimes at a tenth of the price. They’ve even got the brands that never appear in the sales or on discount. The city is called Chelsea and it’s owned by Shinsegae, who back in 1929 opened the first department store in Korea. They’re old hands at this game.

And now for the holiest of holies – the boutiques and the discount stores. There’s a boutique for enlightenment – all Koreans love it and it’s called Boon The Shop. It’s located in Cheongdam-dong (Seoul’s equivalent of Potts Point in Sydney – the property prices are off the top of the scale) and it is owned by Shinsegae, which means that there are also franchises of Boon in their chain of shopping centres. Why do I say that it’s for enlightenment? The way the space inside is used is beautiful, but very unusual. There’s the now slightly wearisome combination of wood, glass and metal. The prices are astronomical, which can’t be explained by the customs duties – the brands aren’t Korean and you’d find them in any other major city. But the service is amazing – they’ll accompany you to the lift and bow to you at great length when seeing you out.

On the lower floor of this boutique there’s an exhibition space, empty except for a sculpture in the vein of Rodin’s ‘Thinker’. There’s a slightly unappealing smell of fried food coming from the neighbouring cafe.

A stone’s throw from Boon The Shop there are two more shops that are worth a visit: Koon, which is grungier and cheaper, and Gallery Mui – beautiful design and good, decent brands.

Walk another 500 meters and, as you come out onto one of the main streets of the local answer to Potts Point, you’ll come across a cousin of Milan’s Corso Como 10. This concept store has exactly the same name but is owned by Samsung, while the design comes from Prada, who tried and tested the formula. This shop is run by the favourite daughter of Samsung’s C.E.O. and while it has yet to turn a profit, it’s already made its mark on the retail map of Seoul as it was the first concept store in the city. The design of its Milan counterpart is undoubtedly more interesting, but you have to give its creators their due as the choice of brands, the merchandising and everything else has been done to the highest standards. There are never any sales in this shop, but take heart – on Garosugil Street in Sinsa-dong there is an outlet store for Corso Como 10 where you can indulge yourself to your heart’s content. The street itself, each side lined with closely spaced gingko trees, looks like it could be somewhere in Europe. There are loads of restaurants, bars and interesting shops of kinds of different stripes to be found there. Go and spend a few hours hanging out there and browsing, you won’t regret it.

And just what could there be to regret, in any case? Take your time, because you’ll always find an excuse to go back to Seoul. The people, the service, the Koreans’ sense of humour and their good nature will stick in your memory, as will their unique culture, historically isolated from the rest of the world, and their ability to create something beautiful from the most unexpected forms and textures. It’s not for nothing that in 2010 Seoul was made a UNESCO City of Design.

I almost forgot – you can and will need to take a break from shopping in yet another place brought to you by Samsung – the Samsung Museum of Modern Art…

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tumblr_n0jnqjmrrs1tsozpto2_12801-300x225No offense Dubai and Singapore, but there are cities where you might as well be blindfolded when you go shopping. You wake up in your hotel room and step out of the lobby into a kingdom of marble, air conditioning and identical-looking shops. It’s all very predictable and convenient for, say, a weary businessman who knows that there’s no way his special lady is going to turn down a Tiffany ring or a Gucci bag. It’s a fail-safe option.

You can do exactly the same in Florence and hide yourself away in the airport duty free-style shops on the Via de’ Tornabuoni. But you can also go shopping for really unusual things in a city which is famous and interesting for all sorts of reasons. Above all, Florence is famous for its jewellery, leather goods and top quality paper. During the Renaissance something called a ‘bottega’ appeared. The word translates as ‘workshop’, although the English word isn’t an exact fit, as in workshops like these the master craftsman (the maestro) would create a masterpiece and his apprentices would then imitate it. So it’s very difficult to tell apart the original masterpiece and things that are copies of it, but by no means fakes. Everything has always been and always will be of the highest quality.

The realm of jewellery is to be found on the Ponte Vecchio. This bridge was originally built in 1177 and was then rebuilt in 1345. Ever since then there have been shops, boutiques and stalls on it. A point of interest is that this is where the word ‘bankrupt’ originates from. When traders couldn’t pay their rent soldiers would come along and break up their counter – or ‘banco’. That would ruin the counter – it would become ‘rotto’, which gives us ‘bancorotto’ and from which in turn we derive the English word ‘bankrupt’. Another point of interest is that originally all the traders on the bridge were butchers, until the Medici family (and you have to see their point) got fed up with having to look all the time at the blood pouring off it into the Arno and that was how jewellers came to take up residence there. When you’re walking across the bridge with your guy then you can tell straight away that men really did arrive on Earth from Mars and that we women are from Venus… A man’s eyes will glaze over, he’s got the frightened look of someone who knows he’s been cornered. Any woman who at that point was taken in for a dope test would come out positive, without a shade of a doubt. By the time you get to the middle of the bridge you’ll both have got your breath back and by that point it’s obvious that there is nowhere else where you can see so much beautiful jewellery, the work of true artists, anywhere else…

It’s said that we have the Medici family to thank for Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel and for leather caskets made without a single stitch. Catherine de’ Medici brought her dowry and valuables with her in boxes and caskets such as these when she arrived in France to marry the future Henry II. Her future husband was so impressed by them that he ordered a number for himself. All the nobles of France followed suit and the lasting fame of the Florentine leather workers was assured.

In the 1930s the Scuola del Cuoio, the only school in Italy for training leather workers, was set up in the monastery of Santa Croce. Back then there were orphans who lived and were raised in the monastery and the school was supposed to teach them the trade and give them a start in life. But these days it’s a school for high-flying leather workers. You can call in and take a look at the students and masters at work. In the labyrinth of the numerous backstreets around the monastery you can pick up some of Florence’s leather wares – something traditional, in the line of what so impressed Henry II, or something up to the minute.

Marbled paper arrived in Florence in the 16th century. It was probably invented in China, then appeared in the Middle East in the 15th century and finally in Florence following the Battle of Lepanto. It attained widespread popularity in the city in the 18th century. Initially this paper was just used to decorate books and it was only later that it was used for printing. The ‘Il Papiro’ chain, which sells marbled paper, has achieved worldwide renown, but think twice before checking out any of their stores – in the historic centre you’ll find a huge number of tiny boutiques selling marbled goods which aren’t quite so high-end and without the corresponding price tag. You can’t finish your historical shopping spree until you’ve been to one of the oldest pharmacies in the world – Santa Maria Novella, founded by Dominican monks in 1221.
In a small garden in the courtyard behind the pharmacy the monks once grew herbs to make medicines, balms and ointments, mainly for the monastery’s own infirmary. In 1612 the ruler of Florence gave permission for the Dominicans to open a little chemist’s shop, whose fame spread throughout all of Europe. It may have had something to do with the fact that the formulas for many of the creams and balms was based on remedies invented especially for Catherine de’ Medici back in the 16th century.

The origin of eau de Cologne is also related to the history of this pharmacy. In fact the substance was originally Catherine’s own perfume, which she took with her to France before her marriage to the king. Originally that was what this perfume was called – ‘the queen’s aroma’. Then, in 1709 the Italian Giovanni Maria Farina took up residence in Cologne, rediscovered the recipe and began to mass-produce it. He named the perfume ‘eau de Cologne’ in honour of the city, forgetting that it was still being produced in his homeland under a completely different name as it had been for ages. And three centuries later we think we have problems legally protecting registered trademarks…

Once you’ve taken the two to three days that you need to explore the city’s history and do a bit of historical shopping I strongly recommend that you pay a visit to a very beautiful shop called PNP. There are two of them in Florence and the one on the Via del Proconsolo is the newer and the more handsome of the pair. It has an unusual looking interior with a glass floor through which you can look down at the medieval remains of what is either columns or something turned up in an archaeological dig. Their lines of clothing is equally unusual, so exclusive that they’re not to be found anywhere else in Italy, and the staff are really friendly, as are the successful owners. You can take a seat in the bar, relax after an overdose of history, take your other half off the leash and leave him in the trusty care of the salespersons. You won’t regret it.

Florence is the kind of place where embarking on a shopping trip means embarking on an excursion into its history. And PNP is no exception – make it your aim to find out what’s under the glass floor beneath you.

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