Despite what some people say about Moscow being an unfriendly place, many foreigners with children seem to find things for their charges to get up to. One family, resident here for over six years carefully compiled a list of things that they got up to, and used it to create a website www.childreninmoscow.ru in August 2008. It has already become a popular and trustful source of information for over 1,000 Moscow families. Passport interviewed Harriet Kalinin, mother of a nine-year-old boy and cofounder of www.childreninmoscow.ru, to find out more about Moscow from an expat-parent’s perspective.
What prompted you to launch your own website?
When we moved here there were no children’s groups for expat families and there weren’t as many family-friendly places to visit as there are now. As a member of the British Women’s Club, I started up their Family Network. A group of us would go out every week with our children to explore the newly-opened indoor play rooms and parks together. I compiled a list of these places, which grew and grew, until my husband suggested putting it all together on a website and making the information available to everyone in both English and Russian. We have been developing the website since then to cater to the growing needs and wants of our users, such as the calendar of events and editorial page.
What kind of information do you post on your website?
Our information is mainly posted as listings, covering all aspects from schools and medical centers to museums and parks. We try to keep up with current events that might be interesting to our users, for example, we now have the school summer programs and summer camps listed on our calendar of events. For expats in particular, our article on giving birth in Russia as a foreigner has proved to be a great help for those considering having their baby here rather than in their home country. We receive comments and feedback from our users, sometimes giving us information on places not yet listed and sometimes asking us to incorporate different ideas – all of these are discussed and acted on. We hope that users do find our website both interesting and informative as we develop and grow.
Do you think Moscow offers enough things to do for families with kids?
The main positive aspect of living in Moscow now is that you can’t complain of boredom – there’s far too much going on! For many expats, the problem is finding out about everything available, especially for those who do not yet read or speak Russian.
What are your favorite places for family recreation?
Our favorite places are large estates like Arkhangelskoye, Kolomenskoye and Tsaritsino and the smaller parks like the Apothecary Gardens, Frunzenskaya Detsky Park and Novodevichy Convent. Neskuchny Sad is also a fantastic bit of woodland in the center, running along the river (it certainly lives up to its name, which translates as “not boring gardens”!).
Indoors, the Polytechnical Museum on Lubyanka Ploshchad is very interesting. We used to enjoy going to Mir Detstva (now Ogorod). Our son’s absolute favorite indoor place when he was younger was the play area at the Five Stars Kino Theater, which has recently closed down. That’s the thing with Moscow – old places close and new places open up all the time, so there’s always plenty to choose from when planning an outing. We enjoy trying the Sunday brunches, which offer good deals for families during the winter months, and the restaurants with patios and outdoor areas during the summer.
Have you ever traveled outside of Moscow in Russia? What towns would you recommend for newcomers?
Yes, frequently to St. Petersburg as well as trips around the Golden Ring towns and Gelendzhik on the Black Sea. Places like Suzdal are an easy drive from Moscow and make good weekend trips, especially with friends. I did an intense trip exploring the Golden Ring towns with my parents. It was great fun, although it’s probably better to do that kind of thing over a long weekend. There are plenty of dachas and health resorts around Moscow that also make good weekend trips. Most of them offer entertainment and sport activities for families.
What would you wish to say to new expat families with kids arriving in Moscow?
In a nutshell: have fun and make the most of your time here – Moscow has a lot to offer!