Friday, May 7, 2010

Holy MosCOW! Part 1

My husband and I are fortunate to have some of the best friends in the world. And when I say "world", I mean it. From all parts of Canada to Montenegro, Sweden, Russia, Serbia, UK, the US and more. I'm not sure why we've been so incredibly blessed with such dear friends (and family!), but everyday I see how positively these friendships impact our lives.

Photo courtesy of, our 5-star accomodations

It was a friend who introduced my husband to the greatest opportunity of our lives, who gave us the key that opened the door to our great family adventure. And that's just one friend.

We nurture our friendships and we give as much as we receive.

One of the greatest examples of friendship this year was our invitation to a friend's birthday party in Moscow. How many times have we all said to our friends, "You're more than welcome. Come anytime. We'd love to have you." and REALLY meant it? Often times, it's just one of those things you say. Well our Moscow friends, who I met on a beach in Herceg Novi in 2007, have been asking us to come and visit. But it was one email in particular, sent to my husband, that sincerely expressed their desire to host us, honestly wishing the pleasure of our company, that sealed the deal.

"Let's do it. If we don't do it now, we may never do it," said hubby.

From the time we said, "We're coming." until the day after we left, we felt the sincerity of their invitation and we were humbled.

It might be easier to bullet point their thoughtfulness, kindness, generosity and love, because, well, there was just sooooo much of it:
- Arranging for our visas, upgrading our room at a 5-star hotel in the dead center of Moscow so that our room overlooked the one thing hubby was dying to explore, The Kremlin.

photo courtesy of hubby, view from our room

- Picking us up at the airport. May not seem like such a big deal but D's hubby is a deputy mayor of Moscow and is extremely busy. I did not expect to see him there or as much as we did.
- Taking little man to Gorky Park to climb all over the tanks before heading out to a Georgian restaurant for a first class meal.
- Hiring the best tour guide in all of Moscow to take us on a private tour of The Kremlin and Red Square.
- Downloading some Russian cartoons on a USB for little man to watch during any downtime.
- Ensuring we had enough time between the tour and D's birthday party to freshen up before D's hubby and his driver picked us up to take us to the party location.
- The party. She told me in advance she had a surprise for us, even though it was her birthday. I couldn't imagine what she had planned. Forget the gorgeous and luxurious party location, the exquisite food, the clown she hired to entertain the children, the open bar, the fountain outside...She hired a troupe of multiple award-winning Khazak dancers that perform for the Prime Minister and visiting dignitaries to sing and dance, completely outfitted in traditional costume. No words can accurately describe that experience. And then later on in the evening, the bartender put on an impressively skillful show, much to everyone's delight. When it was my turn to give a toast to the birthday girl, I choked up at the end. It was all just too much.
- The messages on what to do and see in Moscow. From checking to make sure the Darwin museum was open for the little man to ensuring we had a reasonably-priced car to drive us to the airport.
Unfortunately, her youngest son was ill while we were there and so she shuffled him back and forth between his grandparents and his nanny, afraid our little man might catch what he had.
- The gifts. I am so thankful I spent the time and energy I did to ensure we came with our hands full of thoughtful gifts for their family. One of hubby's most prized gifts is a gorgeous coffee table book they brought for him on one of their trips to Montenegro. They added to his collection, gifted us with lovely Russian dolls, a prize jewelry box, a gold lapel pin with the Russian coat of arms and thoughtful prezzies for little man. I was if only ONE of the above-mentioned kindnesses wouldn't have been enough?

photo courtesy of hubby, Moscow at night

I know, I'm prattling on with incessant detail here but this post is more for me than it is for you. I have to remember everything, every single detail of one of the greatest trips of my life. I have to be able to come back and look at the gift of friendship bestowed upon us.

And no, this is NOT about the money. I can't even begin to fathom what our visit cost them. I think it's obvious to you that they don't live in squalor ;-). Even after repeatedly assuring her that we were low-maintenance, just-happy-to-see-them kind of people, THIS was the reception we received. I really should have worn my crown. Of course we were blown away by the lavishness of it all (who wouldn't be?).

But it was all the little things; their genuine affection towards our family, the cartoons, the fretting about having her home "presentable" (I'll save "her home" for part 2), the constant checking to make sure we were ok, chatting over a cup of Starbucks coffee in her kitchen, introducing us to their friends and family, making sure our little man was always a priority, D's hubby's availability when we know he is always so busy, putting their day-to-day lives on hold to be with us, the smiles (no matter how stressed they must have been). These are the things I will cherish the most. You know, I have a few draft posts about "hospitality" that I have never published. Mainly because I didn't want to offend anyone. But they go something like this, "Never, EVER show up to someone's home empty-handed", etc. I have been inspired to publish them and I will.

I feel grateful, humbled and above all, blessed. I am not sure what we did to deserve such friends, such an experience. I am honoured to call them our friends and am already planning for their visit to Sweden, whenever that may be. And when I extend that invitation to them, it will be a sincere request to enjoy the pleasure of their company.

This was Part 1, the most important part of our journey. Part 2 will have loads more photos, once hubby finishes editing all 700 of them...oy.

Thank you D, A, M and E for the experience of a lifetime. xoxo


Hyacynth said...

So, so glad you had a nice time.
You are very blessed to have such wonderful friends who geniunely care for you and your family. It's one of the best blessings, besides health and family, isn't it?

Mon said...

wow, what lovely lovely people. and super bonus points for making the little guy such a priority. is this the nice woman i met?

how come i only know poor hippies? lmao

i hope you took kremiln pics. me & hubby would like to visit Moscow.

talking about etiquette tec...
all this would be too much for me though, and in comparison i would be a crap host. LOL
i'm just so laid back, and social niceities and such can make me uncomfortable. like, i would just want a friend to pop over rather than drive around looking for something to bring, you know? or, say i forgot to buy/make something, i hate the idea of feeling obligated and then thinking the other person thinks bad of me.

i usually bring wine/choccies/etc, but just dislike feeling i SHOULD bring them.

and i know enough people who are brilliant at bringing and giving 'stuff' but aren't the nicest people.

empty-handed but full heart is fine by me ;)

SwedishJenn said...

Hey Mon. This is indeed the woman you met.

This was obviously an extreme example of hospitality :-). And like i said, it was the "little things" that warmed my heart the most.

Generally speaking, my rule of thumb is unflinching: never show up empty-handed. I don't care if it's a dish of food for the table, something homemade, wine, chocolate, whatever. This feeling was compounded by a guest I had recently, which I will write about in a separate post ;-). Of course, there are exceptions like popping over for a chat and a cup of coffee or helping out someone in need. I'm speaking more about being invited over to someone's home for dinner, an extended stay, etc.

For me, it's about thanks and respect. In practical terms, I would even think like this, "Hey, it's a meal I didn't have to make, so I should show my appreciation."

I DO feel obligated. The full heart is obviously the most important part but I just can't fathom empty hands. It's deeply engrained in my psyche. Especially after spending so much time in Monty where I've seen locals, some with very little means, that would cancel before showing up empty-handed. It truly amazes and humbles me.

This "practice" varies by culture. In Sweden, you bring flowers. In Monty, locals bring booze/chocolate/small gifts, etc. In North America, well, it can be all or nothing.

And I agree, there are those that mask something ugly behind a lot of fancy material stuff.

I think this is one of those "agree to disagree" kind of issues :-).

SwedishJenn said...

@Hy: Health is definitely first and foremost.

LostInTraslation...Literally said...

WOW Jen! Those are some amazing friends. I'm so glad you have them, You deserve it babe. :)
That IS really , quite kind, and unbelievably thoughtful of them to do. Every single thing.
I really loved this post.
I'm looking forward to your Hospitality posts. I REALLY want to read those. HELP ME LEARN!! hahahaha
I'm shiz with that stuff. <= no social skillz.

SwedishJenn said...

Hiya Lost. You're still young yet but old enough to learn the basics ;-). And these basics are completely according to Jenn, inspired by Emily Post, common sense, thoughtfulness and kindness. I promise it's coming soon!

LostInTraslation...Literally said...

I'm pretty good with it, but It still really good to learn different cultural 'obligations" I guess you can say :P

I can't wait !:D

septembermom said...

I'm so jealous again!! That experience must have been unbelievable. You took some great pictures. You have wonderful friends.