Expatriates: Finnish in Barcelona – Meet Katja Rusanen

We love to feature some of the expatriates in Barcelona who are members of EuroCircle. This month you meet Katja Rusanen, a Finnish/European entrepreneur in Barcelona, Spain. Do you know other Finnish people in Barcelona?

Where are you originally from?

I’m originally from Eno, Finland.

Where are you living now (city + suburb)?

I’m living in Barcelona, Spain. The neighbourhood, where I live, is called Les Corts and it’s located in the western part of the city. This neighbourhood’s must-see for visitors is the Barcelona Football Club’s home arena Camp Nou.

When did you move here and from where?

I moved here from London in September 2004.

Why did you move?

I moved because I was looking for warmer weather – there are plenty of sunny days here. I had also fallen in love with the beauty and the cosmopolitan feel of Barcelona during my visit.

What do you do?

I’m a fully qualified Spiritual Life Coach ( www.katjarusanen.com). I help people to make minor or major positive transformations in their lives. My coaching program will inspire and empower people to move from fear to courage, from insecurity to confidence and from confusion to clarity. The coaching sessions include specific information about how people can overcome different aspects of their challenges, access to their innate wisdom, and tangible action steps to help them take the steps to release the past and move forward in their lives.

I’m also a published author of a novel entitled “And You Must Love Me” ( www.amzn.to/10kBaZX). It’s the first part of a transformational trilogy.

What do you enjoy most about Barcelona, how’s the quality of life?

I enjoy most the sunny days on the beach. I find that the quality of life in Barcelona is very high. We have the beach, the mountains, the mild climate, the rich culture, and the beautiful architecture. Of course some things could be better, the financial crisis are affecting heavily many people.

What do you miss most about home?

I miss most my family and Finnish rye bread.

Is the city safe? Are there any areas expats should avoid?

I find the city quite safe but unfortunately there are pickpockets especially near the tourist attractions and in the metro.

How would you rate the public transport? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?

I’d say that Barcelona has a very good public transport (metro/bus/tram/taxi/train). It’s not necessary to own a car if you live in the centre.

How would you rate the healthcare?

As with any business or service, there are good and bad tales about Spanish medicine. Personally I have received good healthcare while in Barcelona. It’s good to note though that not all doctors speak English. When it comes to dental care, I was lucky to find a Nordic dentist in Barcelona who saved my tooth with a root canal treatment while his Spanish colleague wanted to take it out.

Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat? How do you rate the standard of housing in the city?

It’s hard to say as this really depends on your needs and wants. There are many short-term housing options available, so it’s not necessary to secure long-term lease before visiting the city. The standard of housing varies a lot. My biggest complaint is that most of the flats have very poor isolation, so it can get cold during the winter. Also the central heating and double glazed windows are not that common.

What’s the cost of living compared to home?

The cost of living in Spain has increased over the years, but the average Spanish salaries have not, this formula makes life a bit tricky here. Therefore I’d say that the cost of living is higher here than back home.

Was it easy meeting people and making friends?

Yes, it’s very easy to meet people here and make friends. Barcelona is a very active city and there is always something happening. It’s easy to find an activity where you can connect with like-minded people.

What’s the economic climate like in the city, is there plenty of work? And how does the work culture differ from home?

Spain and Barcelona have been hit hard by the economic crisis, and the Spanish unemployment rate is sky-high. Though there are many multinationals and foreign businesses and huge tourism industry which still offer many job opportunities, especially those who speak many languages. Every company is different, but in general, I think that the Finnish culture values more a healthy work/life balance. Also the time management seems to be more flexible here than back home.

Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?

Give yourself time to adapt to the culture. Learn Spanish and/or Catalan. Take things as a positive learning experience and bring a big bag of patience with you. Some things will work here smoothly and some things will require patience and persistence before they will be solved. It’s also good to connect with other expats as they can give you useful tips.

I must also warn you that Barcelona has its unique charm; many people plan to stay here only for a month or two and end up living here for years.

Website: www.katjarusanen.com

Meet Sofia Talvik – A beautiful and Talented Swedish Singer

How would you describe your music?

I usually say its contemporary folk. I’ve been compared to artists like Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez but I think I have added a little more “pop” to my folky music. I play the guitar and I do a lot of finger picking. Lyrics and melodies are very important to me. I have a pretty acoustic sound but I like to add some unexpected effects to my live shows.

Tell us a little about your tour

My Drivin’ & Dreaming tour started out in December 2011 so I’ve been on the road now for well over a year. We’ve played about 250 concerts in 37 states so far. The tour is called Drivin’ & Dreaming because we are touring in an old RV that we bought down in Florida. It’s been such an amazing experience and we’ve seen so much of the US.

When did you first start singing?

If you ask my parents they’ll say I’ve been singing since I was a little kid. But I count it from when I started writing songs at 18 years of age, to learn how to play my new guitar.

What did your family do to encourage you?

My family has always been very encouraging. Both my parents are artists although not in the musical field. I started playing the piano at 8 years old and my grandmother was actually a piano teacher.

Who are your musical inspirations?

I think inspiration comes from everywhere not just music. Inspiration is the raw material and music is the product shaped from it. I find inspiration in life, love, tv shows, music, books – anywhere.

What kind of music do you listen to today?

I listen to all sorts of music except maybe metal and opera. Some of my favorite artists and bands are Neko Case, Aimee Mann, the Killers and the Doors, just to mention a few.

What embarrassing songs might I find on your MP3 player?

I’m not ashamed of any music I listen to so if you get embarrassed that’s your problem ha ha

Great attitude. Where would you most like to perform?

Anywhere with a great audience. On this tour I’ve been lucky to play some wonderful venues and some of the best gigs have been the most unexpected, where you think no one will turn up and it turns out being a great gig.

Who would you most like to open for?

Neko Case. I think I’d be a good opening act for her and I would never get tired of listening to her play.

If you weren’t singing, what would you be doing?

Well my day job used to be graphic designer so I guess I’d do that. But I love cooking too so someday I hope to open a small hole in the wall restaurant in Spain or somewhere.

If you could dabble in another genre of music, what would it be?

I think I could if I wanted to, but I’ve chosen to be a folk singer because this is the genre I love the most and feel most comfortable in. I did a project in 2011 though, where four hard rock bands did covers of my songs. That was really fun and interesting. It’s four EPs called H.A.T.E and you can listen to them on http://music.sofiatalvik.com

What genre of music can’t you stand to listen to?

Probably hardcore or death metal.

What hidden talents do you have?

I try not to hide my talents ha ha. Well I guess it would be my green fingers. I’m pretty good at growing stuff.

What do you like to do outside music?

I love traveling. Me and my husband has traveled in Asia many times and we got married in the Philippines. We’re both divers and the waters down there are great for diving.

YouTube channel is YouTube/makakimusic.
Press pictures are available on http://sofiatalvik.com/press-photos
Sofia is performing in Austin, on Wednesday Jan 22 2013 (SACC TX)
Houston at Stag’s Head on Thursday January 24th, 8pm.
All her upcoming dates can be found on

From Russia with Love – Meet Varda & Vladimir

After a lengthy wait for The Russian House NaZdorovye to open in Austin, I was delighted to hear from fellow EuroCircle member Varda Salkey on Saturday they will open in August if all goes as planned. I think the steady following at Facebook attests the warm welcome. Co-incidentally while we sat at Annie’s Bar Varda realized they signed the lease exactly a year ago.

My first visit to The Russian House NaZdorovye was during May when we truly hoped to get the Eurovision Song Contest event with the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce held there. After numerous unexpected delays Varda suggested we better have the event somewhere else. Thankfully Henrik Johanssen decided we can use the Boundless Network space just around the corner. (Sweden won and Russia did really well too!)

The Russian House NaZdorovye is homey. It’s fashioned in Russian house style with a welcoming feeling. It is no co-incidence as Varda and her Russian chef- husband Vladimir Gribkov aimed for this. Within the walls of their Russian “home”, the guests can view the inside of a typical Russian home. They stroll through generations of Russian history, learn about some of her well-known citizens, and even have their picture taken in a traditional Russian folk costume or Soviet-era military uniform. Varda and Vladimir want to treat the diners and visitors as their “guests” who feel they are at home.

Vladimir has twenty five years under his belt in the restaurant business, says Varda, and he’s worked in Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany. He is very Russian and contrary to his wife who came to the USA at the young age (17) to play basketball at Georgetown University, he does not speak fluent English. His first visit to the USA was 2 years ago when he arrived with his wife at New York City where they had originally thought about opening a restaurant. Not surprisingly Vladimir’s specialty is Russian food and he is extremely knowledgable and respectful of the Russian history and traditions.

His wife, who has spent almost years in the USA, says she has learned so much about Russia from her husband. Varda’s own work experience is in professional sports as a basketball player, sports agent, occasional modeling and as a sport director for one of the best basketball teams in Russia. She laughingly recalls being in tears when her coach once thought she did not play well and suggested she go back to modeling. It was like an insult. Her family is extremely well-educated, and considers modeling and professional sports as something “off-the-wall” – of course in Russia doctors, professors and teachers make nothing compared to national team basketball players.

So how did they end up in Austin? Varda’s friend and former Georgetown teammate Narumol Andersson (Swedish), who works for a large marketing organization, invited them for a visit to Austin. Varda and Vladimir soon realized that not only was Texas NOT all about The Wild West, the cowboys, cattle etc but Austin as a growing city offered them a better opportunity. There was no Russian restaurant even if there are approx. 6,000 Russians or Russian speakers in Austin area.

Little did they know how much longer it would take to get renovations and all necessary bureaucracy sorted out. Vladimir had an idea but Varda was more taken aback with all delays, red tape and unpleasant surprises but looks like it will all work out now!

It has been a couple years since I ate at any Russian restaurant. At length, I asked Varda what she would recommend or likes herself. Apparently Vladimir has studied quite a bit the American culture as well and added some interesting twists. The menu is very diverse from the blinis, caviars, Kulebyaka, house-made Russian pelmenis, sasliks, beef stroganoff, excellent lamb dishes, the exclusive Tsar’s Fish- Sturgeon covered in black caviar, vegetarian options, Apple baked with cottage cheese nuts and honey, éclairs, cakes, rye bread – and of course infused vodkas! It’s truly authentic Russian. I can’t wait for their housewarming party!

It is also worthwhile to mention that Varda and Vladimir plan to offer language lessons as well as screening Russian movies. They have stocked an excellent collection of Russian movies and books in their Russian House library. Oh, and if you are addicted to the latest American popmusic, you are in for a surprise. In addition of playing Russian music they have extensive plans for other types of entertainment, theme weeks and a little Russian store (a piano is waiting to be used!).

All in all, Varda’s and Vladimir’s Russian House NaZdorovye is the most interesting and diverse bar/lounge/restaurant opening in Austin. It will attract visitors from out of town during Austin City Limits and F1 as well as people who live here – not only Russians and EuroCircle members. Their location on East 5th Street just around the corner from Hilton should also entice convention and business visitors to a different lunch, brunch or dinner!

UPDATE: This interview was conducted in July, now in October 2012 we really hope they will open due to all twists and turns with the City of Austin. I want to have my Russian “thing” and have the next (October 2012) event at The Russian House NaZdorovye 307 E 5th street, Austin, TX 78701.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RussianBistro
Website: The Russian House NaZdorovye
Varda at Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/varda.tamoulianis