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“The path is found”

”It was a shock. I thought it would happen when we retired.”

Still, Maria said “yes.” A second “yes,” to her husband, by the way.

This meant a farewell to the things she had loved the most: her job, her social circle and a vibrant Moscow life.

Marie Claire and Marie Bichl

One day, skimming through the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine, the future Marie Bichl came across a small feature. A young blonde woman posing against a scenic mountain lake talked about her current dream job. “I’m exploring the best hotels in the world and pitching them to Russian media,” that girl stated. 

“I can do that too!”, Maria thought. Especially since the girl in the magazine and herself had graduated from the same university. 

Plus, “She is from Kostroma, I am from Ivanovo!”

Five minutes later they were talking on the phone. Maria didn’t hesitate to show her eagerness for the Marie Claire’s blonde girl’s job. (The latter, CEO of PRCo, a British Communications agency’s Moscow division, was the one who had actually picked up the phone.)

– We are recruiting a team, come to Swissotel. Day after tomorrow.

A queue of applicants did not scare off nineteen-year-old Maria Dunaeva. She got the job and was almost immediately sent to London for an internship. Shortly after she was already the one feeding the top Russian glossies’ editors the most exciting news on luxury travel. 

Press- and business trips, pre-launches of the industry’s top properties filled up young Maria’s work agenda. She stepped up to the challenge and a came to head her team working with luxury hotels, fast.

London – Paris

Some of new clients arrived from Paris. Maria was the one to put together the top-notch travel agendas for the French visiting Russia.

She also went to France a lot. In the French Alps, Maria first went skiing. From now on this was her new passion, along with the latest collections of skiing overalls form high-tech nano-materials. Preferably of fuchsia color, which is still her favourite.

But. 

“At 25, I had reached a turning point,” Maria recalls. “Having traveled halfway around the world and having worked with Four Seasons, Six Senses, Belmond and other luxury hotel brands I felt a bit jaded. I realised it was not fulfilling enough for me when it was just PR, just travel and only luxury.”

“I realised it was not fulfilling enough for me when it was just PR, just travel and only luxury.”

But slowing down didn’t sound like a plan. She did quit her job but sped up the pace even more, zooming on to Kingston University London, to receive an MBA.

Digital businesses, fin-tech and travel-tech startups and banking followed, along with maternity leave. But first came Lenin.

Stalin – Lenin

Peter Bichl lived in a Stalin-era high-rise on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment in Moscow downtown. One day, coming back from a date with Maria he spotted this little creature.

A cat-hater his whole life, Peter quickly picked up his smartphone.

“Maria, there is a kitten on the doorstep. I can’t just walk away. What shall I do?”

Maria brought a vet, the cat got a full check up. When Peter left for a business trip to New York shortly after, his heart was at peace.

The frau of his heart ended up visiting the kitten every day. She fed and looked after it like a loving mother should. Soon the “baby” couldn’t do without her. (That date with Peter was their first, by the way).

“It turned out that we lived just across the bridge, I was on Ovchinnikovskaya embankment, Peter – on Kotelnicheskaya,” Maria says. “So every day I had been crossing this bridge to see Lenin”.

“My high-rise is Stalin’s. Therefore why can’t Lenin live there, too?” Peter joked when he came back from the trip. Done! That became the cat’s official name recorded in his passport.  They couldn’t figure out if the cat liked. Than another incident happened: he disappeared. Maria and Peter searched back and forth the entire building, shouting out in chorus, ”Leniyin! Where are you?” 

The high-rise neighbours mumbled looking at them suspiciously, “Oh those foreigners, going crazy there, or what?”

It turned out an even more terrible thing occured. Lenin fell out of the seventh floor window. Surgery, injections and a long rehabilitation period followed.

“My high-rise is Stalin’s. Therefore why can’t Lenin live there, too?”

A month later, having said her second “yes,” with Lenin and just two suitcases along, Maria  landed at Schwechat Airport. 

They arrived just in time to savour the magical Christmas season in Vienna.

The rich shopping and cultural programme ensued as a nice welcome. Concerts at the Town Hall (three-minute walk from their new apartment), Christmas markets of sorts on Maria Theresia Square, Freyung Street and in front of Schönbrunn Palace. Advent lights and mulled wine spiced up the spirits. 

But after the grand chandeliers on Graben Street went out and the last gospel “Oh Happy Day!” was sung in St. Charles’s church, there came a strange day in the life of Frau Bichl. Having seen her husband to work, she closed the door slowly and looked around. For the first time in her life she did not need to rush anywhere.

“I’m actually not a corporation-type of person,” Maria confesses. “I love the motion. Today we are running in one direction, tomorrow in the opposite!”

“I don’t know a single person here. My German is close to zero. And Vienna is definitely NOT Moscow…”

“Okay,” Maria said to herself wistfully, shutting herself up and accepting the challenge.

She took out two blank sheets of paper from the printer, divided the first one in half, and scribbled a very specific question: 

“What makes me happy?” 

Below she added two columns: Moscow and Vienna. 

And then she began to fill out the blanks.

On the second sheet Maria put the path of the heroine, her immediate “to do” script, almost like a Hollywood screenwriter. Looking out of the huge window of her 19-the century building, she gazed, dreamily, – but not at the Town Hall, a little further.

The path is found

In fact, Maria had it all already: fluent English and French, a rare networking talent, along with her bustling energy and a quick mind.

After three months, Maria landed a job at Runtastic sports tech startup (later sold to Adidas for $ 220 million) (note by Atpoint). A year later, Maria’s German was already business-proficient, and her social circle grew every day.

“I’m actually not a corporation-type of person,” Maria confesses. “I love the motion. Today we are running in one direction, tomorrow in the opposite!”

The next stop en route was the global fin-tech company Cellum and later – Handy Travel, a Chinese travel-tech startup.

What about Lenin? He had adapted almost as quickly to the four-meter ceilings in their Piaristengasse flat. But when Maria and Peter moved out to a new place, a two-level apartment near the St. Gertrude church, he decided to repeat the Moscow trick.

One evening, Maria’s ear caught a strange scratching sound. An instant later she peeked out of the window. Oh no, not that again!

Firefighters rushed over, pulled Lenin out and got amazed. A cat, just fallen out of the fourth floor, flicked his whiskers and just kept walking about his business!

Same blood type

“In my third year in Austria and in my ninth month of pregnancy, I discovered that I didn’t know anything about kids there,” Maria recalls, smiling.

“Create” button – click! And a new networking venture was there: the community of Russian speaking mums in Austria. Food, beauty, lawyers, trips, mountains, strollers, Russian schools for bilingual kids, doctors, wine, robotics. Loads of comments and support 24/7. And more important, that invaluable feel of a community.

“The group I created was not for advertising,” Maria says. “Suddenly, from a small circle of friends, we managed to form a powerful platform. You find all the relevant info there. Take sports, take health, take children’s psychology and other issues of today’s parenthood. I am proud of our girls. All very interesting women. I take membership applications very seriously. And five out of ten I refuse.”

No wonder that even leaving Austria hardly anyone leaves this group (even though, it seems, all countries have got Russian speaking mums’ groups on social media these days).

MIA

Maria launched this community right before the birth of Mia. The girl, now five, studies ballet, plays in the English theatre, attends a robotics class and stoically hikes with her parents up in the mountains on Sundays. She also doesn’t really mind to pose for her mother’s camera just like a professional model. Having jumped right into Maria’s shot for a moment, she manages to work with a heel on an invisible stiletto, change three micro facial expressions in an instant, and then burst out laughing while already running up the stairs.

Maria’s plans for Mia? They include STEM Academy at Engineering for kids, music and dancing schools, modern etiquette training. Which valley will eventually appear closer to Mia Bichl – Wachau or the one across the ocean, only time will tell.

In the meantime, during cold and rainy evenings in Vienna, mum and daughter cozy up near the fireplace, reading the finest of the world’s children’s literature. In summer hammocks replace the fireplace matching the laidback beat of Kein Stress Austrian lifestyle.

Well, not that laidback actually. Maria gathers her international team twice a day for a Zoom meeting. Everyone is getting recharged and re-energised.

“We got the first place in Europe according to KPI right after the end of quarantine! Well done, team! Maria grins.

The ambition of this travel-tech company is to become the largest in the world in the 21st century hospitality industry. Maria’s team is using a combination of real estate, hospitality and technology to meet customer needs and makes sure that innovations go in harmony with traditions. 

Just the way Maria actually likes.

Schloss aus dem 19. Jahrhundert. ©️ Bild: Belvilla/OYO Vacation Homes

“If you want to book a chalet or a cabin in the mountains – we are here for you! If you need a nineteenth-century castle with twenty-two rooms and your own private lake, you’ve got it!” 

My five favorite spots in Vienna:

1. Kutschkermarkt in the 18th district (there you can meet me both at the playground, and over a cup of coffee with friends, and in my favourite fish restaurant having dinner! The weekend brunch after shopping is a must, too!)

2. There are vineyards and Kahlenberg mountain right near our house –  I can wander for hours there and meditate.

3. I love Viennese rooftops, especially bars with a view (for example, Bar Dachboden at 25 Hours Hotel or Aurora Bar at Andaz Vienna am Belvedere) 

4. I like Seven North restaurant in the 7th district (they offer excellent brunches with entertainment for children) and it’s probably the most Instagrammable joint in Vienna.

5. Definitely, Albertina (by the way, Albertina Modern has recently opened – VIENNA’S NEW MUSEUM OF MODERN ART. Going there soon!)

Text by Agness Oganesyan 
Photo: Julia de Robertis,
Press office, personal archive.
Style: Maria Zako
Makeup, Hairstyle: Yuna Puh
Jewelry: Ani’s Worlds I anisworlds.com
Sandersen Jewelry I sandersen.com

 

Julia De Robertis
«I am an artist photographer. I like to take portraits. I take photography as a way to unveil the character of a person, sometimes of a person-brand or even the character of the brand itself. It happens that sometimes one moment is enough – and sometimes it is a whole series of stories. Stories in fashion or advertising».

 

Yuna Puh
«I am a stylist, image maker and makeup artist. I like to transform people, revealing their inner beauty. My goal is an imperceptible and soft transformation. No shocks. When the client sees his new image in the mirror, – that’s the result of his inner transformation».

 

Maria Zako
«Having an education of a civil engineer and a Ph.D. in technical sciences at the ready, after giving birth to three children and moving to Austria, I was steeped completely and without looking back in color palettes, appearance colors, body geometry, building a solid foundation for a “smart” wardrobe, where every thing 100 % reflects the external and internal identity of a person. I am inspired by minimalism and consumption awareness. My work motto is «Clothes work for you,  and not vice versa»!