Expat Experience

30 Mar 2018

Interview with Virginie Durand, director of the private trilingual early education centre Le P'tit Cref.

- You have been living in Moscow (in Russia) for almost 20 years. Has the city changed much during this time?
- Of course! Moscow’s changed a lot over this period. I’d even say that it’s actually two totally different cities. Now everything has become more “European”, if you will. When I first arrived, you could totally feel the “Soviet” spirit in everything. Moscow is even more beautiful now, it’s a lot more tourist-friendly and the streets are pleasant to walk on. The sidewalks are wide, the boulevards are green and leafy. I remember how it was very difficult for me to take little Sati (my older daughter) anywhere in a pram. Now, with my third child, we go for walks with great pleasure! The parks of Moscow are excellently equipped. I remember Gorky Park 20 years ago…it left a horrible impression. But now, all of the city’s parks are very cozy and perfect for walks; they have modern children’s playgrounds where you can spend a weekend day with great pleasure.

- Is Moscow "understandable" for foreigners, in particular, for tourists? Is this city convenient for those who do not speak Russian?
- Now all the street signs are translated and the metro has English language announcements. You can move around the city freely without being afraid of getting lost. Before, getting around in the metro wasalmost like some sort of quest: you had to study the signs carefully and always be super focused in order not to end up somewhere totally different. All schools teach kids at least basic English so asking a younger Russian for help in English has a pretty high likelihood of working. Although, quite possibly, I can’t be entirely objective because during my time in Moscow, I managed to learn fluent Russian and so I may not notice any inconveniences that tourists who don’t speak the language or understand the alphabet may encounter.

- Do you have any personal must-visit places in Moscow?
- Having three kids means that I can’t really go to museums like I did when I first came to Moscow. Of course, for every tourist on their first visit to Russia there’s a standard “package” of must-visit places: the Tretyakov Gallery, the Red Square, Christ the Savior Cathedral and even Lenin’s Mausoleum. But if we’re talking about places that are more off the beaten path that I enjoy, I’d have to recommend Izmailovsky Island, where you can find what’s left of the Tsarist Izmailovo Estate. You can enjoy some breath-taking views from the island. On the island itself you can find many buildings from the 17thcentury, which will open a window to old Moscow. It’s a tranquil and beautiful place with very few people around. Tourists might also enjoy one of the many general or specialized tours of the city.

- Since you work with children, where would you advise to go with kids?
- Moscow is a huge city that, like any city of its size, has some problems in terms of ecology. There’s a serious lack of fresh air here so I always advise to take your kids to the parks. Neskuchny Garden in the center of the city gives you the feeling of being deep inside a forest. There’s also an eco-playground there. Every park in Moscow has little ponds, wonderful playgrounds and corners with real wilderness. Some of my favorite parks to take my kids to are Muzeon, Krasnaya Presnya and Devichye Pole.
Apart from parks, Moscow has a huge number of entertainment centers for kids. And if you’re planning on staying in Moscow for some time, come to our children’s center P'titCREF. Aside from our regular program, we always have a selection of master-classes and evening activities for children conducted in different languages. There’s always something on during the school holidays, too. So while your child is busy learning new skills, playing, drawing, completing quests, trying their hand at arts and crafts and going for walks, parents can unwind and spend their time visiting Moscow’s amazing museums, exhibitions and sights.


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