My Red October Factory, Moscow — Open Skies magazine, Emirates

I want to share my feature on Moscow’s Red October Factory with you. If you boarded an Emirates flight in October, you may have reached into the seat pocket and seen the article while reclining with the inflight magazine, Open Skies. If not, the pdf link is below.

This former chocolate factory in Moscow is a labyrinth filled with small business owners who are cooking, writing, silversmithing, photographing, partying, and eating. The article’s photos  were taken by Olya Ivanova, who has contributed to Monocle and PORT magazines.

Below, a few of my ipad snaps too. Enjoy!

The Street, Moscow — Open Skies October Issue, 2014

red october 2

Labyrinth

View from Reka

exterior

electic Bikes

paper

Bookshop of Brothers Lumiere

Gallery Lumiere

graffiti

flower shopMenu at BontempiWriting at BontempimemorialMizandari Cafered october

Overnight Train Travel from Moscow to St Petersburg, Russia

4am: I was glued to the window, watching sweeps of green swoosh past my window.  Russia’s White Nights were at their peak, and I’d hardly slept a wink. Not because I hadn’t drawn the curtains — I just didn’t want to miss seeing everything. The overcast sky only enhanced the verdant countryside as the train rattled over 400 miles, past lush fields, tall birch trees, and fir forests. With my ipad at the ready, I snapped pictures. They blurred from the jerk of the train but I still sent them to my friends and family back home because I had WiFi.

This was taken at around 4am during the White Nights in Russia.

This was taken at around 4am during the White Nights in Russia.

I’d boarded the train five hours earlier, giddy to have found an empty two-berth cabin and ecstatic for the internet connection, which was absent on my direct 10-hour flight from Los Angeles to Moscow. My ‘kupe’ felt luxurious compared to a plane seat. Slow travel was scoring some serious brownie points.

.Booking a trip to Russia requires creative coordination. Delays in visa application paperwork meant I had to begin my trip in St Petersburg instead of Moscow. The imperial city is one of the most beautiful spots in the world yet one of the hardest to fly into. I could either fly direct to Moscow and wait for hours in the airport before catching a connecting flight;or fly to Moscow direct and board another airline to decrease transit time, but that would mean landing in St Petersburg at some ridiculous hour of the morning; or fly with a European carrier, transit at their hub and catch a connection, which would average about 30 hours of plane travel.

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In my research, I’d figured out a better option: I could fly directly to Moscow and catch an overnight train to St Petersburg. This would mean no wandering around empty airport halls, no sleeping in airport lounges, and an arrival time of 8am as opposed to 2am. It’s not the swiftest way of getting there, but the experience of traveling on one of the country’s oldest railways was exciting. With scenes from North by Northwest reeling through my mind, I opted for a first-class cabin.

A fully laid table in my cabin.

A fully laid table in my cabin.

My Transaero flight had landed at the modern Vnukovo airport at 7.30pm the night before, where I boarded the point-to-point Aeroexpress, which whizzed through Moscow’s apartment-clad suburbs before reaching the center. Prebooking train etickets was easy. Getting to the long-distance terminal, Leningradsky Vokzal, via the subway proved more challenging. I’d transferred at the nearby Kievsky station, where, at 9pm, the subway buzzes as if it’s peak hour. Unfortunately, what the underground metro system offers in gilded opulence, it lacks in facilities for the elderly and travelers. Once I’d gotten off at Komsomolskaya station, I was helped up the stairs by a few kind Russian boys to the mile-high escalators. In spite of the trek and luggage handling, I thrived on Moscow’s energy. After a short walk around the corner of Komsomolskaya Square, I finally made it to the 150-year-old Leningradsky terminal.

Aeroexpress at Vnukovo airport.

Aeroexpress at Vnukovo airport.

The best part about catching the train is the non-existent security line. This means that if your train is scheduled to depart at 11.30pm, boarding at around 11pm is OK. No stress, no fuss, but next time I’ll note that the first class cabins are located at the front of the train, as I probably let my seat at Costa Coffee at 11.20pm and hustled down the station with seconds to spare. Checking my name off, hauling luggage onboard, I flung myself into the empty cabin, and was promptly been offered a cup of coffee by the kind train attendant. Sweet relief.

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6am: I was still in bed, belly down, with my head pressed against the window. To my left, the small table jutting from beneath the window was no longer a pristine setting but a display of midnight feasting: The two crystal glasses had been christened with water and wine; the unwrapped chocolate bar was half eaten; and the bread rolls – well, they’d been delicious. The only thing left untouched was a green apple laying next to a white vase with a yellow rose. On the floor — a pair of flimsy slippers, yesterday’s Russian newspaper, and an amenity bag with ear plugs and sewing kit. Next to the wardrobe was a sink, where I’d left an open sachet of detergent after doing some laundry. The TV in the top left corner had been playing a black-and-white Russian movie, but I’d switched it off before turning in. The sound of the wheels on the tracks was my white noise. I didn’t mind the gentle rocking either.

The quasi bathroom.

The quasi bathroom.

I reveled in the luxury of space, stretched out my legs, charged my computer and camera, and caught up on emails before venturing out of my comfortable nook to the (clean) bathroom, located at the end of the hallway. The air was cool; the row of cabins, still. We were about an hour away from the destination when, after getting dressed, there was a knock on my door and a “dobroye ootro” (good morning) by the smiling attendant from the night before, who was holding a breakfast plate of crepes with smoked trout, slices of cheese, and a black coffee. The food was simple and lovely – a warm welcome to the country that so loves its cold cuts and appetizers.

Breakfast is served

Breakfast is served

As the train pulled into the Moskovskaya train station in St Petersburg, I was relaxed, recalibrated, and excited to see my mum and sister, who were at the station, waiting to greet me. I alighted to hugs and kisses in the open air, relieved that there wasn’t a long drive from an airport to the centre — I was in the midst of it all already. As we strolled and chatted into the heart of St Petersburg, it occurred to me just how much slow travel allows you to savour the journey. I’m a hopeless romantic, and despite the rigmarole of train transfers and lack of sleep, the seamless train experience made up for it. I wondered when I’d have the luxury of such thinking time again.

Me, my sister, Katherine, and my mum, Nathalie, reunited. Picture taken at the top of St Isaac's Cathedral, St Petersburg.

Me, my sister, Katherine, and my mum, Nathalie, reunited. Picture taken at the top of St Isaac’s Cathedral, St Petersburg.

Moscow’s Best Hotels, Russia

Writing about Moscow allows me to reflect my favourite moments in the city. I love the cobblestoned Red Square, the lively Gorky Park, the cafe and bookshop at Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, the new Tretyakov Gallery, the local characters… and I will never tire of the candy-coloured swirls atop St Basil’s Cathedral.

Compiling a list of the the city’s top five hotels for A Luxury Travel Blog was a pleasure, not only because I adore hotels but because I was whisked on a journey to the beautiful capital.

You can take a read of the post here: 5 of the best hotels in Moscow – A Luxury Travel Blog.

Some images that took me back:

View of Red Square from Hotel National

View of Red Square from Hotel National

The bookshop at Garage

The bookshop at Garage

Volleyball at Gorky Park

Volleyball at Gorky Park

Interior of the New Tretyakov Gallery

Interior of the New Tretyakov Gallery

Chef Valentino at Bontempi restaurant

Chef Valentino at Bontempi restaurant

The Moscow River, from The Red October Factory

The Moscow River, from The Red October Factory

The Red Square

The Red Square

From Russia With Love Locks

If you’ve scheduled a cruise along the Moscow River, you’re likely to come across Luzhkov Bridge — a pedestrian walkway lined with iron trees decorated in hundreds of love locks. Apparently this area is a popular backdrop for wedding photos but the only people I saw posing under the blazing sun were snap-happy tourists.

Whatever the season, it is a very cool sight to see. You can get there on foot, about a twenty-minute walk from the Kremlin; by metro; or by chance, as I discovered it after visiting the nearby Tretyakov Gallery.

Wishing you a lovely weekend!

DSC_0589PS

Moscow’s Stunning White Nights, Russia

As with all things last minute, paperwork processing delays had me push my trip to Russia back by a week. This meant I missed touring Moscow with my mum and sister; instead tacking it on after our sojourn in St Petersburg. Alas, I travelled solo.

I have a soft spot for Moscow. The capital moves at a faster pace than St Petersburg, which is located an easy four hour train ride away on the speedy Sapsan. She buzzes like New York but her grand squares and wide boulevards allow breathing room to appreciate the vast historic surrounds.

Some of my most memorable moments were spent gazing through hotel windows and strolling by the Moscow River, listening to the sounds of the city while watching the sun set way past its usual bedtime.

View of Red Square from Hotel National

View of Red Square from Hotel National

The Red Square

The Red Square

St Basil's Cathedral

St Basil’s Cathedral

Volleyball in Gorky Park

Volleyball in Gorky Park

Fountains in Gorky Park

Fountains in Gorky Park

St Basil's Cathedral

St Basil’s Cathedral

Supermoon

Supermoon

Moscow River sunset

Moscow River sunset

Bontempi at Red October Factory

Bontempi at Red October Factory

Church of Christ the Saviour

Church of Christ the Saviour

Moscow River

Moscow River

The setting midnight sun

The setting midnight sun

Festive Moscow and Dubai ~ Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to you, dear readers. Sharing a bit of holiday cheer with scenes from my recent trip to Moscow and Dubai. With Russia in New Year-celebration mode (the country celebrates Orthodox Christmas on the 7th January), and UAE’s Dubai catering to a large expat population, the Christmas tree, decorative baubles, and snow (!) were a common theme throughout my December journey.

Wishing you as much light and joy as it brings me when looking over my photos. And a shout out to my guide from afar, my papa, and traveling companion, my mama,  who was determined to navigate Moscow’s underground and ice-slicked streets despite my all-over-the-metro-map itinerary. Much love to you both in scorching Sydney on this Christmas Day, Australia time!

MOSCOW

Light Show in Moscow’s Gorky Park

Light Show in Gorky Park

At the main entrance of Gorky Park

A tree made of fairy lights in Gorky Park

A tree made of fairy lights just outside Gorky Park

The GUM-Yarmarka markets and ice skating rink within the Red Square.

To the right is GUM, the pricey State department store.

To the right is GUM, the pricey State department store.

At the holiday markets in the Red Square

Holiday markets.

Tops of the Kremlin behind the markets.

Tops of the Kremlin behind the markets.

Whatever is left of the Red Square during the holiday season.

Whatever is left of the Red Square during the holiday season.

Outside our home-away-from-home, Swissotel Krasnye Holmy Hotel, Moscow (which is amazing by the way. More info to come on that property).

Outside Swissotel Krasnye Holmy Hotel Moscow

Outside Swissotel Krasnye Holmy Hotel Moscow

Metro Lights

Lights by the metro

At Kropotinskaya Metro Station

Flurries: I used the camera’s flash and unexpectedly, this is the effect I got.

I used a flash and unexpectedly got this effect with the flurries

Church of the Holy Martyr Clement, Pope of Rome (1762—1774) near Tretyakov Gallery/Trekyakovskaya Metro

The festive facade of an Italian cafe/restaurant in a lovely neighbourhood near the centre of Moscow.

On Klimentovsky Lane in the pedestrian zone near Tretyakovskaya Metro

On Klimentovsky Lane in the pedestrian zone near Tretyakovskaya Metro

Ded Moroz, or Father Frost, is Russia’s Santa Claus. Ded Moroz is said to bring presents to children, however, unlike the secretive Santa Claus, the gifts are often delivered “in person”, at New Year’s Eve parties and other New Year celebrations.*

Ded Moroz

Ded Moroz

A “Snoopy” decorated Christmas tree in a main hall of the Bolshoi Theatre.

Inside the Bolshoi Theatre

Inside the Bolshoi Theatre

Christmas in a Matryoshka doll.

A store on the Old Arbat street.

A store on the Old Arbat street.

DUBAI

Through the looking glass — at the indoor ski field in 25C+ Dubai.

At the Mall of the Emirates.

At the Mall of the Emirates.

Baubles.

At Deira City Center.

At Deira City Center.

A snowman, and a snow machine

At Burjaman Mall.

At Burjaman Mall.

More shops; a couple more Christmas trees.

At Wafi Mall.

At Wafi Mall.

At the Wafi Mall Bazaar.

At the Wafi Mall Bazaar.

And decorations at the most expensive, and largest, mall of them all – the Dubai Mall.

DSC_0728PSDSC_0773PSDSC_0754PSA Christmas vacation on the Arabian Gulf.

In the Jumeirah area, near the 7-star Burj Del Arab hotel.

In the Jumeirah area, near the 7-star Burj al Arab hotel.

*Wikipedia