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Meet our local guide: Valentina

a person holding a bag and walking on a city street

“Dreams are illustrations… from the book your soul is writing about you.”      

Marsha Norman

Do you remember the moment when your life changed significantly? I am sure that I will never forget my own one. Just a year ago I got a much-awaited call from the company’s co-founder and heard that they were ready to invite me to the team of the best guides ever. Oh, how happy I was! Now to lead excursion and to show the best places in Moscow to our guests is my personal addiction and I cannot imagine my life without it.

About “Crazy 90s”

“Hello! My name is Valentina, and as more than 50% of Moscow citizens, I wasn’t born here. I was born in a different country, grew up in a small Russian town but for the last 11 years I’m a local in Moscow”, – this is my greeting at every tour for tourists, just to give them a quiz to guess from which country I might be from. 

I was born in the ex-capital of Kazakhstan Republic, Almaty, which is a very beautiful big city with warm relationships between people. However, my family decided to move to the birth land of my father to a small town Kurgan, which is located close to the famous Ural Mountains. It was a very difficult decision about which my parents still regret. We moved to Russia at the hardest time in our country, the so-called “crazy 90s”. When people were thinking about big political changes in the center of Russia, we just tried to survive. My mother worked as a nanny in a kindergarten with a very low salary, my father worked at the bus factory and he was not paid any money at all. Instead of money, the factory gave him a big loaf of spoiled bread, monthly bus tickets (which my sister and father sold in the streets to get some money) or soap. Of course, as a child I did not understand much, just noticed that some children had better clothes or that our family ate simple pasta without meat all the time. The understanding came at the age of 12 after I had read my mother’s letter in one of the newspapers: “Today is a celebration. My girls will eat one sweet bun for two…”. I was shocked by how my parents coped with all that poverty and bleakness and I promised myself that I will fight hard all my life so that my family would never be in such conditions again. I started to study hard at school and in just two years changed my ordinary school to one of the best gymnasia in town. 

On How We Moved to Moscow

Every year, my parents and I traveled to different places. Finally, in 2007, we decided to visit the capital. I finished the 8th form, which is a very important time to decide what to do after school, and when I saw one of the Stalin skyscrapers, which was Moscow State University, I was so impressed that I told my parents: “I want to study there!”.

a group of people standing in front of a building

The main building of Moscow State University-one of the Seven Stalin Sisters

My poor parents had to follow my dream and we moved to Moscow Region. They again lost everything and had to start everything from scratch. Due to their courage, my dream came true. After graduating from school, I successfully passed exams for Moscow State University, where I got my first degree. 

How did a Geologist start to Give Tours?

When tourists ask what is my degree about, they are so amused to know that their tour guide is a Petroleum Engineer (no worries, I do not speak at all about oil and gas production, only interesting stories about Russia). How it is possible that a geologist knows history so well?

Honestly, I’ve been searching for the answer myself for a very long time. My dream was to be a ballet dancer, then a translator, after that an IT manager. Fortunately, sometimes parents can help to choose “the right way”. My mother said that since I liked nature, I should apply for the Faculty of Geology, which is located in the main building of MSU. So, I enrolled in the Faculty of Geology occasionally, because it is located in one of the most beautiful buildings in Moscow and not because I wanted to become a geologist.

Before graduation from MSU, I had got an offer from my research advisor to apply for the new International Institute in Moscow – Skoltech, the analog of MIT. To catch this opportunity I learned English by myself in just half a year, successfully passed exams and got a second degree in Petroleum Engineering. At least at that time, it was my personal choice! Again I tried different activities: I was a vice-president of the Student Council, Russian language teacher for foreign students, organizer of trips around Russia and Europe and even created a personal course “Mysterious Russian Soul” about Russian history and culture. These activities gave me so much, due to them I found best friends – one of the most precious things in life. 

One of my friends from India (with Russian name Shurochka) helped me to take part in Guide’s Camp-2018. She found an offer on the Internet and assured me, that I definitely had to apply because I have a talent in storytelling. With the support of my friends I found a job of my dream, successfully passed all exams and started to help tourists to get to know Russia better.  

a person holding a bag and walking on a city street

The day, when my life was changed – the day of the final guide exam

Now I have two lives, without both of them, I cannot imagine myself. I continue to study as a Ph.D. student (it is very difficult to stop studying…) with a major in Unconventional Resources of Energy in the permafrost regions and to work as a tour guide. 

So, please visit Moscow, maybe in a few years, your excursion will be led by a professor in Petroleum Engineering!

a person standing on a bridge over a road

Permafrost scientists even in hot Russian summer have to wear warm clothes

On Favorite Places in Moscow

I would definitely recommend you to visit three places: Tsaritsyno, the territory of MSU and Skoltech.

Sounds predictable, but honestly, these are very nice places to see.

Tsaritsyno is an amazing newly restored park with a palace. This place has an interesting tragic story connected to one of the most famous architects of the 18th century. Unfinished palaces and parks were abandoned for almost 200 years and only in the 2000s, the government of Moscow decided not only to renovate it but also to finish the palace as it was planned 200 years ago. Now it is one of the most favorite places of Muscovites and guests of the capital.

I would also highly recommend visiting the territory of Moscow State University, especially during springtime, when this entire area is filled with the aroma of lilac bloom. And so many stories are connected with fountains (they are the ventilation of the huge bomb shelter), buildings (like freezing of the main building basement or KGB on the top floor), parks and of course plenty of stories from students’ lives.

Do you want to see completely different, modern Russia? Please, visit our silicon valley, Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology. This place is filled with innovations and modern technologies. You can see taxis without drivers (you can even try to order it), try Russian pancakes made by a robot, take a nap in an innovative fast-sleep capsule and many other things. Even though this area is still under construction, there is a lot to see even today. 

a view of a city next to some water

The new campus of Skoltech

Of course, there are plenty of other places that I could recommend, but let’s keep them as a surprise for you.

written by Valentina, local guide