– How and when did you turn up in Moscow? What were your first impressions of the city?
– The hotel business is such that you have to travel the world: where you live and work keeps on changing. It just so happened that a year and a half ago I arrived in the Russian capital having until then worked for some time in Germany.
However, the first Russian city I visited wasn't Moscow, but St. Petersburg. I arrived there in March of 2011. You know, I was worried. I mean, I didn't speak a word of Russian... Petersburg left a great impression on me.
About Remco Gerritsen
Remco Gerritsen was born in Holland in 1969. He graduated from the Catering and Hotel Management School in Amsterdam, specialising in “Economy of Enterprises and Staff Management”, and was awarded an MBA in Management in the Hospitality Industry. He has worked in Belgium, Britain, The Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. He held management positions in the Golden Tulip, NH Hotels and Park Plaza Hotels chains. In January 2010, he was head of AZIMUT Hotels Company Europe. Following operational consolidation of the Russian and European branches in August 2011, he became head of the whole AZIMUT Hotels chain.
But I also very well remember arriving in Moscow. It was five o'clock in the morning, just before dawn. And I saw Moscow: a city which never sleeps. I was somewhat taken aback. I had a foretaste of a whole array of new sensations... something which was to be proved right.
– So, what were these new sensations? How does Moscow differ from other world cities?
– As I said earlier, until I found myself in Moscow, I had worked in London and Berlin. Compared to London or Moscow, Berlin is a quiet city where life goes by slowly and peacefully. There, you can rest assured that by the end of the working day, at six o'clock in the evening, all business meetings will be over. In Moscow and London it is quite different. There is a completely different tempo there. I was struck by these dynamic megapolises, and by how similar they are in their rhythm. Here, business and life never stop. And it is simply mesmerising.
Here, business and life never stop. And it is simply mesmerising.
– There are several myths which do the rounds in the West about Moscow: the cold, the snow, gloominess... Right down to bears on the street. Have you seen any bears on the street?
– No, you know, somehow that hasn't happened yet. Yes, Moscow can be cold but I don't find that a problem. They say something else about Moscow in the West too: that, for example, there are very good-looking women on the streets here. Which I can readily confirm: yes, there are.
– So you easily adapted to Moscow's surroundings?
– I have happened to be in many different countries, I've lived amongst various cultures, and I have got used to adapting quickly to new surroundings. People here are the same as anywhere else, you can always find common interests and subjects for conversation. Some of my western friends, when they heard that I am living in Russia, said: you're a real hero! To get to such an out-of-the-way place! It must be so hard to live there! Nothing of the sort. Living here isn't hard. I feel completely at home here.
About Azimut Hotels
In 2004, the Russian investor Alexander Klyachin acquired hotels in Samara, Ufa and Kostroma. In 2005, he added hotels in Petersburg, Vladivostok, Astrakhan and Murmansk to the chain . In 2006, the AZIMUT Hotels brand was born, positioning itself as a chain of business hotels. In 2008, the brand entered the European market in Germany and Austria. Since 2012, the head office has been located in Moscow. The Chairman of the Board of Directors is Alexander Klyachin, the CEO, Remco Gerritsen.
– Are you learning Russian?
– When I came to Moscow, I spent a fortnight with the family of a Russian teacher. I can read Russian, but I can't speak it (well, only a few everyday phrases). But my wife is hard at work learning Russian, and that helps when we are choosing which restaurant or theatre to go to. I don't really need Russian in my work. Our Russian mangers – to give them their due – speak brilliant English. All business communications are done in English, so there are no problems there. Generally speaking, I would like to learn Russian, of course. It all turns on the frenetic pace of Moscow life. I can, for example, be arranging a Russian lesson for the next morning, and then at nine in the evening the phone rings, and I'm flying off on a business trip. It may be annoying, but my 11 year-old daughter speaks better Russian than I do.
It may be annoying, but my 11 year-old daughter speaks better Russian than I do.
– Does your daughter go to a Russian school?
– No, she goes to an international school, but they are serious about teaching Russian there. In June she is going off on a week-long trip around the country on which she'll only be able to speak Russian. It's like an exam in a way.
– What is the problem: why does the West have such a negative perception of Russian reality?
– It is a stereotype sown by our media. What is it they report on most of all about Russia and Moscow in the papers and on TV? Snowstorms, disasters, criminality... There is nothing said about the everyday life of Muscovites and other Russians. Who, for example, reveals the fact that in Moscow's Gorky Park there is the infrastructure for roller-skating, the like of which you'd be hard pushed to track down anywhere in Europe? I like living in Moscow, and I try to tell everybody that, on social networks too. And people react to my messages, they show an interest and ask me questions about it.
I like living in Moscow, and I try to tell everybody that, on social networks too.
– How do you spend your spare time? Do you have any favourite places in Moscow?
– Usually, I only have the one day off a week. It's spent with my family. We love the Russian winter, we love skiing in the Krylatsky Hills. In summer we also do activities: cycling, swimming. We often go walking in the Serebryany Bor (Silver Forest). And a favourite place, of course, is Red Square, especially early in the morning, when it is quiet and deserted.
What are the Krylatsky Hills?
The Krylatsky Hills is a landscaped park in the Moscow district of Krylatskoye, in the capital's Western Region. It is a popular place amongst Muscovites for skiing and cycling. Serebryany Bor (Silver Forest) is a forest tract in the western part of Moscow, in a bend of the Moskva River. The forest has been turned into a park and has fitted-out swimming areas on the banks on the river.
– Do you have a favourite restaurant?
– My family and I like the restaurant Sixty. The food there is great. Though, generally, we try to visit different establishments. We are always trying to discover somewhere new. But we are unequivocal about preferring Russian cuisine: it's unbelievably good!
– Do you go to any of Moscow's theatres?
– We love the ballet, the opera... Art everywhere is wonderful, and Moscow is no exception.
– The shopping in Moscow is considered to be superb. Do you agree with this?
– My wife and daughter would definitely agree. Their favourite shopping centre is the “European”. There is an ice-rink on the top floor. And there is also a large food court which I particularly like.
About Moscow shopping centres
There are quite a few shopping centres in Moscow: large trade and entertainment complexes for shopping and leisure. The “European” is located not far from the city's historical centre, between Dorogomilovskaya Street and Kiev Station Square. It is built in the style of a Russian shopping arcade and has eight levels (two of which are underground).
– Everyone complains about the congestion in Moscow and the problems with parking. How do you get around this?
– With parking, in my opinion, everything is still fine: there are enough free spaces in the city. But, now, the traffic jams: they are a serious problem. Sometimes you have to allow a lot of extra time.
– When the city is grid-locked, it is possible to use the metro. Have you been on the Moscow Underground?
– I have. Everyone knows about the Moscow Metro: it is beautiful. It really is. And, of course, the Moscow Metro is convenient: but only for those with Russian.
– What do you think: will you live in Moscow for much longer?
– It's hard to say. In our business, you are always living out of a suitcase. But, however much time I end up spending here, the memories of living in Moscow which stay with me will be of the most pleasing kind.