What (not) to do on Red Square in Moscow

Red Square. Is quite red.

Historical Museum Red Square
Red!

There are the soaring brick-red walls sloping high up one side, protecting the Kremlin. These are cornered by the thin round (red) towers, topped with big ruby-red stars. In front of that there’s the squat blocky browny-red building you aren’t allowed to get to close to because the mummy called Lenin is inside, and the long lines of stone steps fanning out either side. At the back end is the Gothic blood-red splendour of the State Historical Museum. Next to that there’s a small coral church, and then all down the other side is a surprisingly unred beige affair, also fairly burdened with busy architectural detailing, inside which you can find the former State Department Store GUM.

GUM, Red Square, Moscow
It’s not red!

And best of all, at the front, there is the riot of colour, thankfully with red to the fore, that is St Basil’s cathedral.

St Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow
This is not the Kremlin.

Actually, Mama says that St Basil’s isn’t even called St Basil’s, technically speaking. But then she also claims that Red Square is so named because ‘red’ and ‘beautiful’ have the same root in Russian, rather than because of the scarlet nature of its surroundings. I say it’s only a matter of time before someone overrules her and paints GUM a soothing shade of pink. Mama counters with the information that Stalin already did this when he switched the previously whitewashed Kremlin walls to painted red on precisely these grounds.

She leaves out the fact that the walls are, underneath the paint, red brick.

Of course, at night, they light GUM up… yellow.

GUM on Red Square at Night
Still not red!

But on my first visit, it was midday in August. And after what felt like three thousand hours, we were only just in the centre, and wilting in the blazing sunlight.

Red Square is huge, very open, and covered in extraordinarily hard-to-walk-on cobbles. Which also have mysterious straight lines in different colours painted all over them.

Red Square from St Basil's
Biiiiig.

Mama reckons they are either for organising parades or to guide the erection of stages for some concert or other, which are the two things that Red Square is for when it isn’t covered by people in what pass for wide smiles in Russia (or, for the foreigners, fur hats with ear flaps) standing around mugging for the cameras in front of the stuff round the edges.

It’s so hot and so exposed that the only time Mama has ever found Red Square a nice place to hang out in the height of summer was on her wedding day, when she indulged in the Russian custom of taking her big white dress and her wedding party out for a stroll around all the most photogenic spots in town. Yes, Mama, too, clearly has hankerings after princessdom, for all her eyebrow-raising at my insistence on wearing my poufy pink tutu skirt to the playground, and her wedding photos therefore include shots of her daintily swigging champagne in front of brightly coloured onion domes in a large Disneyesque ballgown. Cool.

Not that the cobbles are any easier to walk on in the middle of a blizzard. Or when they are slick with rain. It’s a bit of a slog in almost any weather. Although they do have a skating rink and a New Year/ Christmas market to liven things up in winter.

Christmas Market on Red Square
Check out St Basil’s (still not the Kremlin) in the background!

I dunno, I made Papa pick me up around now and did the rest of the walk in comfort.

After a brief break while we did our own photography shoot, we resumed our hike towards St Basil’s. Mama thought we might enjoy scrambling around it.

St Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow
Onion domes! Which are not the Kremlin.

She was wrong. In my then four-year-old case.

St Basil’s is an odd kind of structure. It started when a tsar, promisingly called Ivan the Terrible, started tacking churches onto an existing structure every time he won a battle in a spat he was having with a neighbour. Having sealed Moscow’s supremacy over increasingly large parts of Russia, he decided to set the thing in stone. The architect he commissioned did not just slavishly replace the original wooden buildings, but the best that most people can say about the end result is that it is ‘unique’. There is a story that the same architect had his eyes put out by the apparently very aptly-named tsar so he could not build anything similar again. I think this is going a bit far. It’s not THAT bad.

St Basil's Red Square Moscow
My eyes, my eyes. Are not seeing the Kremlin.

I can’t blame the gaudiness on the bad taste of the builders though. Apparently that came about when Russians discovered new pigments a couple of hundred years later. The original was much more inclined towards just showing off this exciting new building material called (red) ‘brick’, which, incidentally, is how the Kremlin came to be surrounded by the stuff. The whitewash was to disguise this fact. Because traditionally, kremlins in Russia are white stone.

And the older a church is in Russia, the plainer it is, by and large. In direct contrast to how it is in the UK. History is strange.

Anyway, later restorations have stuck to the more vibrant colourscheme, with just a few areas and a model on the inside to show how it might have looked before they emptied the paintbox all over it. Mama, who is clearly a very lapsed protestant, approves of the murals inside no matter how modern. It’s like, she says, someone took the illuminations from the margins of medieval manuscripts and extended them all over the walls and ceilings. Nice.

And even I have to say that the outside is certainly a cheerful sight. Mama says it’s easy to speculate that such brightness is needed in the winter to perk people up through the gloom. But then, she adds, you get to the depths of February, and the skies are a bright blue, the sun is shining down and bouncing off the plentiful white snow, and St Basil’s then moves from being merely loud to almost unbearably dazzling.

But it isn’t my artistic sensibilities which made our visit a trial. No, it’s the nature of the inside. There are Orthodox churches which have wide open spaces inside, but St Basil’s is more of the style of a collection of intimate chapels spread across several levels, with small connecting passageways and even more claustrophobic twisting staircases. And it’s very dark, with few windows and dim artificial lighting. Oddly enough, this only makes the gold leaf richness of the iconostases stand out even more. All this gave me the willies. Mama did not help by following us up the stairs making ghost noises. Nor did the male voice choirette, whose traditional chanting from an indeterminate location added yet another layer of spook.

I spent the visit clutching anxiously at Papa’s trouser legs.

After the terror of St Basil’s, I congratulate Mama on her decision to leave visiting Lenin’s mausoleum for another few years. I reckon there’s a definite judgement call to be made in deciding when your children will happily celebrate the ghoulishness of going to look at an actual dead body in an almost blacked-out room surrounded by fully armed guards who will be abrupt if you pause to try to take a better look, or, heaven forbid, talk, or whether they will have nightmares for six months as a result. The smell is something too. Mama says. This does mean that you don’t get to see all the other graves built into the walls of the Kremlin, but Mama feels that sightseeing can be a bit full of looking at the headstones of dead people as it is. And the chances of my having any idea of who they might be are slim, so I am good with missing out.

Lenin's Mausoleum, Red Square, Moscow
Lenin has not left the building.

Instead, both Mama and I recommend a visit to GUM. It is, these days, a luxury mall, not quite as out there in terms of outrageous conspicuous consumption as its sister round the corner TsUM, but nevertheless not somewhere you are going to want to go and shop at unless you actually like spending more on a Hermes tie than you would back home. But it’s a lovely space. Built well before this Revolution everybody keeps talking about, it is something of an engineering marvel, with it’s impressive curved glass roof topped with even more impressive glass domes, which have withstood not only time but also huge amounts of snow being dropped on them every year. Mama says you should spend a lot of time both looking up and going up, because the galleries and bridges overlooking the central spaces, and the way they interact are also rather attractive.

Inside GUM, Red Square, Moscow
Roof!

Mama also thinks the cafes on the overhangs on the top floor look rather fun, not least because in summer they mist the air around the tables with a fine spray of water in order to try to counterbalance the lack of air conditioning. Seems to work. We did not find the atmosphere inside oppressive, despite the glass roof and the excessive heat outside. If you don’t fancy that, there is at least one excellent ice cream kiosk near the main southern entrance, which will allow you to indulge in a Muscovite tradition. Especially if you have one in winter. Mama likes the pistachio or melon flavoured cones. I’d go for the strawberry ones myself.

Air con in GUM, Red Square, Moscow
Misty!

Other than that, there’s usually something to look at in GUM, like the window displays of idealised life from back when this was the biggest and most well-stocked Soviet department store, or the carpet of flowers down the left hand aisle. Aside from all the things in the shops.

Flower carpt in GUM, Red Square, Moscow
Flowers!

Basically, this is the space I enjoyed roaming out of the three available on Red Square. Although if you there is now Zaryadye Park to hang out in next door, which is almost as good.

Still. You can keep your historical monuments, your mummies and your unshaded urban courtyards. Shopping malls. That’s where it’s at. Most people seem to disagree with me on this one though.

More Information

St Basil’s website (English).

Lenin’s Mausoleum website (English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the mystery of the Egyptian Pharaoh at Niagara Falls.

Opening: Red Square is closed when Lenin’s Mausoleum is open, which is Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday 10am to 1pm. Red Square is also closed for selected public holidays depending on whether it is being used for some kind of display. You can usually get a view of square from the corners even if it is closed.

St Basil’s is open daily 11am to 6pm in summer and 11am to 5pm in winter.

Price: Red Square is free. Lenin’s Mausoleum is free and St Basil’s is 350 roubles for adults and 60 roubles for children over 7. 150 roubles for a photography pass.

Getting there: The nearest metro station is Okhotny Ryad (red line, with connecting stations on the green and dark blue lines called Tverskaya and Ploshad Revolutsii respectively), which, if you get the exit right, brings you up just behind the square on the other side of the State Historical Museum. Head for the (restored) gates with the small chapel set into them.

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If you visit Russia, then you have to go to Moscow. If you visit Moscow, you have to go to Red Square. But what should you do on Red Square?

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Translating the Russian Disney film, the Last Warrior

Mama is not sure that Disney should have allowed their Russian language film project to be called Posledniy Bogatyr (Последний Богатырь)

This is because it is difficult to translate.

The choices in the English language speaking world seem to be between the Last Warrior, which sounds inappropriately militaristic, The Last Knight, which is better in terms of thematic relevance and all but conjures up all the wrong visual images, and the Last Hero, which has already been taken.

I mean, you wouldn’t call samurai anything else, would you? And a Russian bogatyr is a Russian bogatyr is a Russian bogatyr, and particularly so in this film, which is a romp though some of Russia’s best loved fairy tales.

Of course, Disney might not be planning an English language release. I mean, they’d have to dub it or something! Still.

The hero of the Last Warrior is Ivan (of course he is), a modern Muscovite who is a magician and a con man who gets unexpectedly dumped in a magical fantasyland version of Russia, and finds himself responsible for saving the day (of course he does).

As the Last Knight goes about establishing his backstory, there are all sorts of pleasing Moscow references  such as him living in what looks like a swish apartment in the high-rise complex of Moscow city (an extremely good choice for his character, given that the reputation of the development is mostly built on smoke and mirrors, and everyone in Moscow knows it). He’s the star of a reality TV show. He has encounters with difficult babushkas and his salt-of-the-earth middle-aged housekeeper. He also gets into trouble with VIP Russians and their bouncers, and ends up being chased around a shopping mall with a giant water slide complex inside. And look out for the gratuitous Putin reference.

Mama thinks somebody had a lot of fun with this section. The Last Hero may have been backed by Disney, but it is really driven by a Russian production company, Yellow, Black and White, who are responsible for a number of hit TV sit coms in Russia. Programmes which have also provided both the lead hero, played by Viktor Khorinyak, and the lead villain, played by Ekaterina Vilkova. The local knowledge really shows.

Not that this means that only Russians or people very familiar with Russian culture can enjoy the Last Bogatyr. Yes, if you know your Slavic folklore you will be happily anticipating certain entrances and appreciate the way that Russian fairy tale tropes are dealt with, including the way that this provides a plot twist that Mama, at least, did not see coming. But Slav fairy tales are not that dissimilar to folklore the world over, and the Last Warrior makes no real assumptions about its audience’s familiarity with the stories; each character is introduced carefully, and the plot itself is wholly new. Or at least as new as it can be given the genre.

The Last Warrior Disney Russian film selfie

So was it any good?

Well, the landscape that the heroes spend their time trekking through is lovely. High altitude meadows filled with wildflowers, oak trees and pine forests all around, babbling streams and frosty mountains looming in the distance. Mama was even moved to look up where the Last Knight was shot, and apparently it was actually filmed on Russian territory, down by Sochi and a bit further across in the Caucuses. She can only assume that this bit was sponsored by the Southern Russia Domestic Tourism Board.

Also, Mama and I are both agreed that it is pretty cool that the three most competent people in the film are women. The youngest of these, Vasilysa, (Mila Sivatskaya) is, in fact, the muscle for the band of heroes. She gets to attack people expertly with swords and wear reasonably sensible clothes for a fighting woman in fantasy land (looking not dissimilar to a certain Rey of Star Wars fame, to be honest). Sivatskaya also managed the difficult job of allowing Vasilysa’s more vulnerable side to give a bit of verisimilitude to her inevitable attraction to Ivan.

There’s a couple of really good fight scenes and horse chases of the sort that if you enjoy those scenes in the Pirates of the Caribbean, you will almost certainly appreciate the ones in the Last Hero. It is certainly the sort of thing that Mama goes to the cinema for. The problem she had here was that the camerawork in these moments favoured close up jerky movements cutting swiftly between different angles and all the characters involved, which detracted from her appreciation of the action a bit in places. As in, she couldn’t actually see it.

Possibly it was part of the obvious strategy of making the movie as whole family friendly as possible. Blood and gore was decidedly not in evidence, and the fights were inventive in demonstrating the ways to overcome your enemy without actually dismembering them. Or, in fact, killing them even a little bit. I liked this. I’d been a bit dubious about going to see a film about Baba Yaga. In Mama’s old book of fairy takes from around the world the story of Vasilysa and Russia’s archetypal witch is among the most hair-raising. This, in a book written in the seventies, when Granny was irretrievably eaten by the wolf, and the other wolf boiled alive by the pigs. Sort of thing.

And Baba Yaga doesn’t really improve when you get in amongst the Russians and hear more.

Nothing of that sort here. In fact Papa grumbled a bit that Koschei the Immortal (Konstantin Lavronenko), usually Baba Yaga’s equal in undying menace, was a bit lacking in both manic evil cackling or fighting prowess. Mama, on the other hand, rather liked the calm world-weariness he projected in what is otherwise quite a melodramatic movie, and my Excitable Big Brother thought he was The Best.

Mama liked Baba Yaga best, played by Elena Yakovleva, despite her seven-year old misgivings. Of course she did. Mama is… getting… older…  and rather appreciated the fact that two of the more important characters are not, let’s just say, in their first blush of youth. Baba Yaga is extremely grumpy, wants to eat Ivan, and is a master of magic potions and magic creature seduction.

Fabulous, and the latter scenes a relatively neat way to reference the apparent preference of fairy tales around the world to make everything about sex with nubile young women, without, actually, making it about sex with nubile young women. Especially when the Last Bogatyr turned the whole stereotype on its head. Although Mama would probably have cut that plotline out altogether. She suspects some of the scriptwriters of taking their research into folk tales and clear determination to reference nearly all of them too seriously.

Still, at least it wasn’t scary.

As for the rest of the cast, Khorinyak as Ivan manages the journey from being a bit of a cad to a true big-hearted bogatyr hero well, and is also able to handle the physical humour of the role. As for Vilkova, as the evil queen she was suitably implacable and menacing, a dab hand with a bow and arrow, had great hair and turned into a giant white badass owl. What more could you want? In your FACE Harry Potter.

There were actual laugh out loud moments, which doesn’t happen as often as you might think in things that are billed as comedies. And there was at least one joke which the adults found funnier than the kids, which was nice for them. But we all thought the business with Koschei and the rock was hysterical.

But most impressive as a recommendation is that Papa, who is extraordinarily fussy about films, liked it, his quibble about a toothless Koschei notwithstanding. I’ll be honest, this is as rare as an extremely rare thing, and it makes no difference usually whether the movie is Russian, English, French or Japanese.

Of course, he was running a fever.

Anyway, let’s hope that the broad hint that a sequel could be forthcoming pays off. The Last Warrior seems to have done decent business at the box office and been reasonably well received by the critics, so it may well. That’ll give you, what, a year or so to learn Russian so you can enjoy it all too. Although if you are in Germany, it comes out on 19th November. Go for it.

And in case you can’t access it any other way, here is a trailer with English subtitles. Enjoy!

More information

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Photocredit: Mama has shamelessly used a couple of interesting pictures she found lying around on the internet to promote this Disney film, a service for which she is not receiving any form of compensation whatsoever. However, if she should not be using these pictures, she is very willing to take them down.

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Gazing upwards at Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire, UK

The problem with visiting Anglican cathedrals is that you spend a lot of time bending awkwardly backwards so you can stare at the ceiling. Ely Cathedral is no exception to this, although there is plenty to see at less crippling angles.

Ely Cathdral Roof

Notably the stained glass windows.

Ely Cathedral Stained Glass

In fact, to celebrate this, Ely Cathedral has a stained glass museum. Which we didn’t go to (it cost extra).

The other thing we didn’t do were the Tower Tours (it cost extra. Plus there were steps). This may have been a mistake as it is how you gain access to the upper walkways, bringing you nose to colourful window, and giving you the chance to see the fabulous space that is the cathedral from another angle.

Actually, perhaps with two under tens in tow that’s not such a good idea. You wouldn’t want centuries of craftsmanship to be destroyed by one enthusiastic bounce. The kids might suffer a bit from taking a header through the glass too.

Luckily, Ely Cathedral has other dedicated activities for its younger visitors. Mama tried to interest in us in the quiz, which encouraged us to contemplate key architectural details and their historical significance, but we quickly abandoned this for the sticker scavenger hunt. There is a map. There are locations marked on the map. There are locations marked on the map, which if you can find them, have stickers for you to collect and add to your compendium of interesting things to note about Ely Cathedral. We had a high old time galloping about what is quite an expansive site, and Mama got to take many many photographs in peace while we did so.

Flowers Ely Cathedral

The only downside was that when we arrived at the relevant spot the stickers were not actually there. Mama was not entirely sure this was a down side though as it meant that we got twice as much exercise and some useful practice in polite interaction in English, as each time we failed to find our reward we trotted back to the helpdesk to collect it there. Although after this happened for the 200th time, the very obliging staff did just hand us over the whole set. After which we lost a bit of interest. It’s the hunt that’s the thing, you see. But they did then go round to top up the displays ready for the next underage visitor. You are very welcome.

Mama is welcome too. She lost her purse while in Ely Cathedral. It’s one of those things which marks you out is a tourist is losing key belongings while on a trip out. That and getting pickpocketed. Mama was quite shocked at the thought she might have been pickpocketed inside a religious institution in the UK, but almost as the thought crossed her mind she realised that she had probably just dropped it.

And thankfully for the reputation of respectable cathedral-going visitors in Britain, this was exactly the case and somebody had handed it in, so she got her purse back (if not her dignity) entirely intact.

After which we got back to admiring the building. One of the great attractions of Ely Cathedral, apart from the ceilings, the windows and the stickers, are plaques to the great and the good of Ely and the surrounding area stating their main purpose in life. Apart from dying, which seems a popular achievement to mention, there appear to have been a lot of Cambridge University professors in the area.

Plaques Ely Cathedral

Occasionally, you get statues of people sleeping. Why sleeping, I do wonder. Is being good at snoring particularly impressive? Or something that the UK is particularly known for? I think we’d better book my Babushka a place right now because her penetrating buzz-saw whiffling is surely outstanding in its class.

On the other hand, I have no idea what talent this guy thinks he is showing off.

Reclining Victorian bishop Ely Cathedral

What Mama particularly liked about Ely Cathedral, however, was that it is clearly not just a carefully preserved monument to days gone by, but a working space.

Anglican vicar at work Ely Cathedral

Mama, in fact, spent a happy twenty minutes dragging my Long-suffering Big Brother, who has a much higher tolerance for being lectured at than I do, about the cathedral demonstrating the changing nature of Christian worship in the UK over the last five centuries or so.

Admire the craftsmanship and sheer effort of erecting this huge, gorgeous building in the middle of nowhere at a time when humanity was still constructing everything by hand.

Ely Cathedral

Nothing was more important than God!

Ely Cathedral Architectural Details

See the painstakingly ornate carvings, the colourful windows, the walls which would once have been covered in paint! And contemplate the impact that having a nice place to hang out in once a week and the prospect of a brighter future might have had on the Medieval mind.

Chapel Entrance Ely Cathedral

Thrill as you recognise the moment when Catholicism gave way to Protestantism in the decision to preserve the figures in the Lady Chapel with their faces smashed off.

Note how the rood screen, with its symbolic and actual separation of the congregation from the place where the most important God veneration used to take place, is now ignored in favour of a nice plain altar on the side where the great unwashed sit.

high altar Ely Cathedral

Modern Altar Ely Cathedral

Talking to God was a specialist job at one time. And people were assumed to need a bit of visual help in interpreting the stories. But now one is supposed to take a bit more responsibility for one’s own post-death safety. And be able to read.

Yet observe the moment that history comes full circle as the modern church decides that contemporary society demands that they try to convey the concept of the divine through the medium of interpretive art.

Ely Cathedral Modern artworks

And of course, there is also the serious business of the flower arranging rota to enjoy. Mama says you couldn’t get any more Anglican unless there was quiche, stewed tea in a tea urn, a jumble sale and people bickering over who gets to babysit the vicar’s son.

Flowers Ely Cathedral

And in fact there probably was quiche in the cafe near the entrance, although we opted for the generously sized portions of cake instead. No tea urn though, but then Mama does prefer coffee.

Basically, we enjoyed our trip round Ely Cathedral, which we completed on the same day as we visited Oliver Cromwell’s House Museum. Given that the two buildings are practically next door and all. Definitely a must see for anyone visiting Ely. It’s big, it’s relatively empty, it’s full of welcoming well-meaning people, it’s got lots of interesting things to look at and there are refreshments. What’s not to like?

More information

Ely Cathedral’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about stained glass windows.

Address: Ely Cathedral, Ely, Cambridgeshire, CB7 4DL

Opening: 7am – 6.30 pm, although the best time to visit  is 9am – 5pm Monday to Saturday. Bear in mind that if there is a service going on then access will be restricted. There’s a page on the website where you can check potential closures out.

Admission: 8 GBP for adults with 6 GBP concessions. Kids under 16 are free. It’s 15 (or 13) GBP to add the Tower Tour, and 12 (9) GBP to visit the Stained Glass Museum and the cathedral together. To do it all and get a free cup of tea is 18 (15.50) GBP. People who live in or go to church in the area can get a free pass.

Getting there: Ely is a bit farther north of Cambridge up the A10 or the A14. There’s no dedicated parking for the cathedral, but there are a number of free car parks in Ely and the one we were in was just a few minutes’ walk away.

Ely also has rail connections to Stanstead Airport, Kings Cross London, Birmingham, Norwich and Peterborough. The station is 10 minutes away from the cathedral.

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Ely Cathedral is historically interesting, visually stunning and welcoming to visitors

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All dem dinosaur bones at the Orlov Paleontology Museum, Moscow

Mama has this vague idea in her head that fossil collecting is a very British and specifically Victorian thing to do, reinforced by her visits to the Natural History Museum in London. Its feverishly over-imagined Gothic vibe is, she says, about as Victorian as it is possible to get without actually getting unnecessarily worked up when somebody shows a bit of ankle.

So the Orlov Paleontology Museum in Moscow came as a bit of a shock. It’s very big. It’s full of bones. Could it be that Russia has, perhaps, MORE dinosaur bits than Mama’s motherland?

Orlov Paleontology Museum Moscow

Revolutionary thought.

UPDATE: We revisited this museum recently after our first visit in 2015 and, shockingly, there are STILL an unreasonably large number of dinosaur skeletons there! Couple of new pictures for you though and a surprise revelation at the end.

Of course, Russia is relatively large areawise.  Mama’s personal moment of horrified realisation of that, since we are sharing this sort of embarrassing revelation already, came when she was watching the weather forecast one day.

Did you know it takes three maps to sketch out the vaguest overview of this sprawling landmass, with each point identified representing distances which would take you from at least London to Edinburgh in a properly  proportioned country? Mama had to lie down in a dark room for some considerable time after cogitating too carefully on that. Russia is the sort of size that triggers Mama’s latent agoraphobia.

It’s probably best not to tell her about the nine time zones and how long it takes to chug along over to Lake Baikal on the Trans Siberian Express (six days. SIX DAYS! And that’s not even end to end of the country by any means.

Oh dear. Mama is off having another little lie down).

Anyway. Perhaps it should not have come as a surprise that Russia, a country which we can probably agree, withoutgoingintotoomuchdetail, is big, has managed to scavenge quite a few bits and pieces of fossilised ancient lizard and prehistoric mammal. But quite clearly it did. To Mama.

Mammoth Skull and Tusks Orlov Paleontology Museum Moscow

Not an unpleasant surprise, of course! Who doesn’t like wandering around looking at giant sloth skeletons, giant tapir skeletons, a giant diplodocus skeleton, small but vicious-looking velociraptors, a huge mammoth, a small mammoth, many mammoth trophy heads on the wall and a few more tusks scattered artfully around, big birds, no bigger than that, and various squat shapes which all looked as though they were getting ready to charge at us through the glass. Also in skeleton form.

Dinosaurs ready to pounce Paleontology Museum Moscow

Now Mama would not be prepared to swear that absolutely every single one of those bones is original. Much reconstruction with plastercasts has almost certainly happened, but it has happened well and is most impressive all the same to small people who can spend hours leafing through the monster books and spew long strings of what Mama thinks are unpronounceable syllables in two languages in delighted recognition.

Triceratops skull paleontology Museum Moscow

Which may be why the Paleontology Museum in Moscow leans towards the old skool when it comes to interactive features. In that there aren’t any. Mama thinks this is a bit of a shame and that the Paleontology Museum should go and look at the Darwin Museum to see just how much more fabulousness is waiting to be unlocked without needing a radical upgrade. More stuff to touch and move around and something that fills the air with roars is my recommendation.

Bird Skull Orlov Paleontology Museum Moscow

That way you won’t have the unfortunate incident that we nearly had when we came across the many thousand year old rock covered with cave paintings. While Mama was transfixed by the UTTER COOLNESS of the exhibit, I was attracted by the shiny smoothness and reached out a hand and…

Prehistoric painting Paleontology Museum Moscow

Let’s hope that one is one of the reproductions, eh? The Paleontology Museum is quite clearly a firm favourite with the children of Moscow and their parents and I can’t imagine I am the only small person who has had their tactile limits tested by the time they get to this, one of the last items on display.

Pterodactyl skull Paleontology Museum Msocow

That said, if you are Mama’s advanced age and bored by bones, the Paleontology Museum in Moscow is still worth a visit for the art. Every room has enhancements in the form of monstrous mosaics, murals, enamelled installations and suchlike.

Artwork Orlov Paleontology Museum Moscow

With the tone being set by the terribly lizardy wrought iron gates at the entrance.

Dinosaur gates Paleontology Museum Moscow

Look out also for the pterodactyl shaped doorhandles and the similarly Jurassic window coverings!

Pterodactyl door Paleontology Museum Moscow

But our favourite was the courtyard overlooked by many of the rooms of the museum. Giant dinosaur sculptures and similar! I’ll just say that again. Giant! Dinosaur! Sculptures! And Similar! Looking a bit the worse for wear, admittedly, but if the people out there with the tape measures and enthusiastically waved hands are anything to go by, they may well be in tip top condition and ready for lounging amongst when we go in the summer. UPDATE: Nope. Still just a courtyard full of giant dinosaur sculptures and similar. I say just…

Courtyard Paelonsoloty Museum Moscow

Preferably with coffee. Says Mama. I’d go for ice cream myself. Unfortunately, the Paleontology Museum does not provide such things on its territory, or at least it didn’t when we went in the autumn. This is a bit of a shame as it’s quite a slog down a multi lane highway from the Metro, where all the food options are – at least TEN MINUTES brisk march. And that’s if you aren’t burdened by a small complaining bundle, which Mama was on the way back as I was coming down with something and had only been sustained round Moscow’s Paleontology Museum by my feverish interest in all things large and scaly, and barely that by the end of the five hundredth room.

There is a toy kisok though. In fact there are TWO, and this is, of course, far FAR more important than mere bodily refreshment. The entrance price is extremely reasonable, and thus Mama was inclined to reward the Paleontology Museum by spending money in its shops. UPDATE: Scored two make your own dinosaur kits this time round. The kiosks are still there, and still fabulous, the cafe is still non-existent.

Yes, it’s that good. Go. Bring your own snacks, a sense of wonderment and either a smartphone someone to translate the Russian explanatory placards if awed gawping alone isn’t good enough for you. Because UPDATE Mama discovered on a recent visit that you can download a free app and listen for either an audio tour or read about the Orlov Paleontology Museum’s collections IN ENGLISH! Not that she got a chance to do stand around idly listening to people talk in her ear with us there. But nice to know the option exists.

More Information

The Orlov Paleontology Museum’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Mary Anning and the fossils of Lyme Regis.

Address: 117647, Moscow, Ulitsa Profsoyoznaya 123.

Opening: Wednesday through Sunday 10am to 6pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Admission: Adults: 300 roubles (£3). Over 7s: 150 roubles (£1.50). No need to buy a photography ticket here – that’s included.

By Metro: You can either get off at Tyopliy Stan or Konkovo on the orange line. The website has a particularly helpful pictorial guide of how to get to the Paleontology Museum from both stations, but basically it’s a trek along the multi lane highway that is Profsoyuznaya Ulitsa and there you are you are.

By other means: Don’t know, don’t care.

MummyTravels
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There are a LOT of dinosaur bones an other prehistoric animal remains at the Orlov Paleontology Museum in Moscow

Musing on Monuments at Muzeon Sculpture Park in Moscow

There were quite a lot of people about when the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, Iron Felix, was torn down in 1991.

Dzerzhinsky was the man who set up the CHEKA, the forerunner of the KGB, and he was notorious. Consolidating the Revolution required the arrest and immediate execution without trial hundreds of thousands of potential threats to the imminent Communist paradise, and Felix was tireless in pursuing this most necessary work.

Not surprising, then, that after he died, from a heart attack following close on the impassioned denunciation of some of his rivals, he got a giant statue. A giant statue slap bang in front of the KGB headquarters in Moscow.

Not surprising, too, that this statue was one of the focal points of the pent up rage of the suddenly released Soviet population after the fall of Communism. It was first covered in graffiti, and then removed and dumped elsewhere. There is a monument to those who died in the Gulags there now, although it’s not half as big.

There were a lot fewer people to see Felix Dzerzhinsky put back on his feet again a few years later, but my Papa was one of them. If you ever unearth a picture of the historic moment, you will see a short man with a dandelion clock of floaty hair, and that will be him. Mama says. I dunno. He doesn’t seem to have much hair now. I suppose anything was possible in the 90s.

This event did not take place on a traffic island in Lubyanka, but in what was then a rather scrubby open space off to one side of the Central House of Artists and the New Tretyakovskaya Gallery, opposite Gorky Park, next to the Moscow River.

A number of monuments to fallen heroes had been collected here, and were being put back on display. Stalin, his nose bashed off, was erected, rather pointedly, in the midst of tortured, anguished forms, an installation to memorialise the victims of repression and terror.

Victims of Repression Monument Muzeon Park Moscow

But as for the rest, Carl Marx, Leonid Brezhnev, a number of Lenins, a giant hammer and sickle, some generals, a female worker and so on, were just dotted about here and there.

Mark Bust Muzeon Park MoscowLenin Bust Muzeon Park Moscow

And were soon joined by statues to perfectly innocuous people like circus bears…

Circus Bear Sculpture Muzeon Park Moscow

…a cloud…

Cloud Sculpture Muzeon Park Moscow

…and a bare-bottomed youth standing on his shoulders.

Youth Sculpture Muzeon Park Moscow

There’s even an Oriental section.

Oriental Sculptures Muzeon Park Moscow

And a whole square devoted to sculptures made from limestone.

Limestone Sculpture Square Muzeon Park Moscow

It’s all a bit random to be honest.

Especially the great big fuck off Peter the Great statue down by the Moscow River.

Peter the Great Statue Muzeon Park Moscow

But thus the sculpture park Muzeon came into existence and these days it is a rather trendy hangout.

You can wander around the statues, especially Felix, who is looking quite smart and has had his graffiti quite removed.

Felix Dzershinsky Statue Muzeon Park

You can admire the red squirrels Mama suspects have been specially bred to entertain visitors at Muzeon and Gorky Park.

Squirrel Muzeon Park Moscow

You can get coffee or some snacks from the plentiful little kiosks. You can even stroll down the river along the newly opened up embankment towards the Kremlin.

Nobody pays much attention to the statues to the dethroned Communist butchers. There’s no egg hurling, spitting, vigils, flags, respraying or chipping bits off now. Although you do sometimes find children wanting to climb on them (cough cough). And someone does seem to have left flowers at the feet of the defaced Stalin. Mama does very much hope this was in support of the 3 million people killed in the Gulags and the larger number killed by state-induced famine, but in 2017 it’s never wise to assume that sort of thing.

Stalin Statue Muzeon Park Moscow

Of course, if you are foreign like Mama, you will almost certainly be taking photos. One person’s symbol of oppression overcome is another person’s edgy selfie opportunity, after all.

So what has caused this feeling of creeping irrelevance? Time has passed, and times are different since the heady early days of post-Communist living. The promised land of milk, honey and wall to wall freeeeedom and the Russian way has not quite worked out as expected.

Or it might have something to do with the fact that Moscow today is hardly free from Communist busts, flags, hammer and sickles, and statues. The impact of gathering the statues of the unwanted in one place so people can come and point and laugh is somewhat lost when there’s a huge Lenin at the end of the road, arm outflung as if to show the way to Muzeon (or the road to Communist enlightenment, you take your pick).

This might be why almost from the moment that Papa wandered over on his tea break to see what all the unusual commotion with cranes was about, there have been noises about putting Dzerzhinsky back on his roundabout again. Was there any point to taking him down, the thinking presumably goes? Or possibly, do we really want to encourage more such acts of childish petulance aimed at our (former) glorious leaders?

Hasn’t happened yet, mind you, but anything’s possible.

Mama thinks this would be a mistake though. Just as every memorial ever put up says a lot more about the people and times that spawned them than it ever does about the person (or abstract concept) being remembered, so does the act of removing them.

The fallen monument section of the sculpture park in Muzeon is a reminder that the values our predecessors held definitely need critically reexamining sometimes, but you can never, and probably should never, ignore them.

And it helps us remember that sometimes the best you can hope for is that there will be some relatively blameless child able to eat ice cream and enjoy the sunshine in pleasant surroundings in the future.

More information

The park’s website (in Russian).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (and Mama) has to say about First World War Memorials in the UK and their past and present significance.

Address: 10/4, Ulitsa Krymskiy Val at New Tretyakov GalleryMoscow, 119049

Opening: 8am to 10pm (winter) or 11pm (summer).

Admission: Free.

Getting there: From Oktabrskaya metro station (orange and brown lines) – turn right, cross over the massive seven million lane highway and head left away from the giant Lenin statue down the other massive seven million lane highway. From Park Kultury (red line) – turn right, cross over the Moscow river, cross the seven million lane highway. Muzeon is opposite Gorky Park.

Alternatively, the trolleybus route ‘Б’ stops right outside. This is a circular route, which takes you round the edges of the centre of Moscow and hits a fair number of metro stations on the way. It’s quite a fun way of getting to or from Muzeon.

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Muzeon Sculpture Park in Moscow is more than a home for fallen monuments of former heroes of Soviet history.

MummyTravels
Suitcases and Sandcastles

Day tripping to Belfast Zoo in Northern Ireland from Scotland

Hello, R here again, Herself’s small Scottish correspondent. Mummy and daddy took us to the zoo to see All The Animals, and I am here to tell you all about it in a guest post.

It was a day trip. Ah! I see you thinking. Scottish. I see you thinking. Zoo. I see you thinking. Off you popped to Edinburgh then! But there you would be wrong.

In fact, we went across to Ireland to Belfast Zoo on Stenaline ferries. Because Stenaline have a summertime offer which includes ferry tickets, zoo tickets, and a bus transfer between the two, which still works out cheaper than trying to see captive animals in Scotland’s capital.

And because the drive down to catch the ferry is somewhat more pleasant than dragging along the motorway and crawling through bits of two cities.

Plus, we got to go to Gran and Grandpa’s house because it’s on the way to Cairnryan! That’s where we catch the boat. Convenient, huh?

Everybody was very busy making lots of sandwiches and other yummy things to eat on the journey when we arrived. Preparations!

“moar biskits”

You remember my little brother L right? He approves of preparations too.

Although they do take a while. After waiting aaaaageeees (maybe even as much as a whole night) for everyone to get everything ready, we got in the car again. We drove and drove, then had to find the car somewhere to sleep. And then we had to wait for everyone else to come in the other car. Again with the waiting!

At least we got to have some snacks.

“my teddy bea crimps”

Yes L, we had crisps. The preparations were worth it!

Of course, after that we still had to walk a reeaaalllly looong way to get on the ferry (five minutes). Which is a really really big boat and cars and trucks can go on too. From my point of view, this is less interesting, though, than the fact that there’s a cinema and soft play, and there are also restaurants and even a spa (whatever that is) on board. The walk was worth it too!

Mummy said we were on the boat for over two hours.

But that’s not really very long as by the time we had had lunch and played in the little soft play area and explored the boat and run about for a bit more it was almost time to get back off again, and we hardly noticed this bit!

Then we had to go across aaanooootheeer big long bridge to get to the bus (ten minutes)!

I liked the bus though; it took us to Belfast Zoo!

When we got to the zoo we looked at lots and lots and lots of animals. There’s everything there! I really liked the big giraffes, and there were some baby giraffes too!

Baby Giraffe Belfast Zoo

And big elephants!

Elephant Belfast Zoo

“I seed a goats, dey was hungy”

Goats Belfast Zoo

Yep, there were goats and pigs and donkeys, rabbits and guinea pigs at the farm area, there were also LOTS of different kinds of monkeys. From huge big gorillas to capuchins and a wild variety of other things like lemurs and tamarind too.

And! There were brown bears, otters, sea lions, oh, and penguins!

Seals Belfast Zoo

We couldn’t see the tigers (they were doing very good hiding) but we did see a mummy lion!

And we also saw meerkats, prairie dogs, and flamingos too!

Belfast Zoo has all the animals, in fact, you could possibly ask for. I bet even Herself and Herself’s animal obsessed big brother would be impressed!

Of course, we had to do more walking to see all the animals. And the zoo is on a big hill so we didn’t quite get round all the animals in the three hours we had before we had to get back on the bus. It was still huge fun though. And we got to play on the ferry again on the way back, we even had dinner in the restaurant!

That’s what I call a day out!

It was so good that when Mummy and Daddy got us back in the car, L was already asleep, and I fell asleep on the way back to Gran and Grandpa’s house.

So if you live close enough to Cairnryan to take advantage, Stenaline ferries have day out offers to convenient bits of Ireland throughout the year, although this specific one to Belfast Zoo has already finished. Still, I imagine there are people actually living or staying close enough to Belfast who might be interested in a zoo experience too, so my advice is go!

More Information

The zoo’s website.

The ferry’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the motorway network of Northern Ireland.

Address: Belfast Zoo, Antrim Rd, Belfast BT36 7PN

Opening: Winter opening: 10am to 4pm daily Summer opening is longer.

Admission: Families – 33.50GBP, adults – 17GBP, kids over four – 6.50GBP, kids under four – free! Plus, the aforementioned deal with Stenaline ferries, which

Getting there: Obviously we recommend being in Scotland and going across to Ireland via Cainryan with Stenaline. If this is not convenient for some reason, you can get to Belfast Zoo via the M1 or M2 motorways depending on which direction you are approaching Belfast from. There is, the zoo’s website assures me, plenty of free parking. The nearest train station (Whiteabbey) is three miles away. There are numerous buses from Belfast city centre.

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Day tripping from Scotland to Belfast Zoo in Northern Ireland with Stenaline ferries

Bone Music and Bootleggers at Garage Art Gallery, Moscow

So one day British musician and music producer Stephen Coates was walking through a flea market in St Petersburg, Russia (as you do) when he spotted something which looked a lot like this.

Rib record Bone Music X-ray audio Garage Moscow

Intrigued, he stopped and asked the seller about it, but didn’t get a very satisfactory answer. Coates bought the thin plastic disk anyway, discovered it did in fact play music, and then set about trying to find out more.

This was, apparently, a bit difficult at first.

Of course, had Coates asked Mama, he could quickly have found out what he had acquired. This is because Mama long ago read Back in the USSR: the true story of rock in Russia, about the underground rock scene in Russia and the former Soviet Union.

We went on about it here, you might remember.

This book, published in the very late 80s, was written by Atemy Troitsky. Who was very much in the thick of it all as a producer, musician, critic and organiser of some of the Soviet Union’s first rock festivals.

Troitsky is mostly concerned with the scene in the late 70s and 80s, but he includes as a sort of prequel a whole chapter on the clandestine music lovers who came before. These were the stilyagi, or hipsters, who went to extraordinary lengths to simulate the Western lifestyle of rock and roll fans in the late 40s and 50s, up to and including listening to bootleg records made out of old X-rays.

Rock and roll posters Bone Music Garage Moscow

One of which, of course, is what Stephen Coates had got his hands on.

Mama is smug that she knew about this before it was cool. But then on the other hand, Mama did not start a whole organisation called X-Ray Audio dedicated to preserving the records and researching the phenomenon by meeting and interviewing some of the participants like Stephen Coates did. And now there is a whole exhibition, Bone Music, at the contemporary art gallery, Garage, dedicated to these fabulous objects.

Bone Music Garage Moscow

Mind you, not that the ryebra, or ribs, were just about passing round Western rock and roll or jazz music, acceptable during the war, summarily banned afterwards. Also frowned upon by the post-war censors was music by Russian emigrees, 50s gangsta rap-esque prison ballads, and songs by any individuals who had pissed off the Communist party or one of its more influential members.

Roentgenizdat Bone Music X-Ray Audio Garage Moscow

Why X-rays, you might be wondering. Well, they were reasonably easily obtainable – hospitals had to get rid of them after a certain amount of time because of the fire risk they represented – and took the grooves cut by improvised recording equipment well enough, if not particularly well, to be able to hear the desired tunes. Alongside a lot of hissing and crackling.

So the Bone Music exhibition is not just celebrating the roentgenizdat, but the people who made them and the machines they built to do it. People who were arrested, sent to the gulags, came out, and settled down to do it all over again.

And you never thought Rock around the Clock was all that.

But also on display at Bone Music was the way that people who might want to listen to such things were portrayed in the press, or even in films. Negatively, as I am sure you can imagine.

Quote about stilyagi Bone Music Garage Moscow

Yes, much of the text in the exhibition is in English as well as Russian. But then the Garage art gallery is very hip.

Very apt.

Our favourite bit of the whole Bone Music exhibition was the room set up to simulate a bootlegger’s lair. The reason? Everything in the room was touchable. All those little drawers had bits and pieces in. Tattered ID documents, valves, more valves, bits of string, technical drawings, some wire, valves, stamps, a tin of old kopecks, and valves. We opened the tea caddy and smelled the leaves inside. We handled the freshly produced X-ray records. We looked though the old exercise books of carefully handwritten catalogues. Hours of fun.

Bootlegger room Bone Music Garage Moscow

Bone Music is on at Garage until 14th October, but if you don’t catch it before then, the X-Ray Audio project goes on tour internationally quite often. See if you can check it out when it comes to you, because the sheer ingenuity of people generally, and the indomitable spirit of those suppressed should be celebrated.

And then there’s music. You should definitely remember the days it didn’t die.

To help you, here is Stephen Coates doing a TED talk about Bone Music and his X-Ray Audio project.

More information

The exhibition’s page on Garage’s website (in English).

X-Ray Audio’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the Beat generation.

Address: 9/32 Krymsky Val, 119049, Moscow, Russia (inside Gorky Park).

Opening: 11am to 10pm all week to 14th October 2017. Other exhibitions at Garage also exist.

Admission: 300 roubles for adults, free for children under 11.

Getting there: The two nearest metro stations to Gorky Park are Oktyabrskaya (orange line) and Park Kultury (red line).

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The Bone Music exibition about X-ray records and bootleggers at Garage art gallery in Moscow Russia

Suitcases and Sandcastles
MummyTravels

Welcome our new robot overlords at Robostansiya, VDNH, Moscow

There is this assumption that children will take new technology in their stride, unlike Mama, who still remembers when digital watches were considered cool and has not recovered at all from living in the future where she carries the world around in her pocket.

However, when we found ourselves in the first section of Robostansiya at VDNH, an attraction that celebrates all things robotic, I was a little freaked out to discover that modern robots do not always look like boxes stacked on more boxes and move by lurching around with the sort of walk a zombie would be proud of. No, instead many of them look like deconstructed people, and even the ones that don’t have animated faces. They look at you. They talk to you. And then they glide towards you, frequently with an ominously pleasant enquiry as to whether or not you would like a cup of tea or something.

Talking robot at Robostansiya VDNH Moscow

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!

It’s unnatural, I tell you. Something the ken of which mankind is not supposed to. Sort of thing.

Friendly robot Robostation vDNH Moscow

This suspicion saw me mostly hiding behind Mama, which greatly interfered with her desire to read the bilingual placards and find out a) whether the robot in question would do her dusting for her and b) how to interact with it.

Engineers at Robostansitya Robostation VDNH Moscow

Mostly by making very slow deliberate hand movement or arranging the furniture in a very specific pattern and never moving it a millimetre. Which reassured me somewhat that the AIs of Robostation are not imminently going to take over the world.

Robostation space dog VDNH Moscow

Even so, it was a bit of a relief when we got round the corner of Robot Station to the bits with the virtual reality. The biggest hit for me was the one with the little cartoon robots which you can only see with the special goggles. Hours of fun shaking them around the TV they were living in, firing them out into the real world, and collecting them back up again with the high-powered laser transporter beam button. Wheeee!

Mama does not quite see why invisible robots are better than ones you can keep your eye on at all times, but what I say is that if there’s one thing the modern child has got the hang of very quickly and that is that what happens inside the computer stays inside the computer. If you are wearing the special goggles, you are safe.

My Sanguine Big Brother, who does not share my aversion to our inevitable slavery by our robot overlords as long as they do his maths homework and handwriting practice for him first, liked the robot table football. Well, who wouldn’t, especially if it means you can be part of an excited group of under tens cheering each other on.

 

Then the Robostansiya robot show started.

First there were small dancing robots, which I think Mama enjoyed even more than me.

But much better was the mad scientist who followed that up.

You know all those chemistry lessons they probably aren’t allowed to do in school any more where the teacher mixes the blue powder with the green powder and something explodes? The science show at Robot Station was like that only with bigger bangs, more singed eyebrows, and balloons. Fabulous stuff. Make sure you are down the front and you will get a chance to pop stuff yourself.

Science robot show at Robostansiya VDNH Moscow

I even fell off my chair with excitement at one point, it was that good.

But not as good as what Mama realised is the real draw for kids at the Robostation, which is to make yourself a giant robot head mask thing to take home.

And the way you do this, right, is you get a cardboard box, and you wrap different coloured duct tape round and round it until you have achieved the effect you want, and then you get the Robostansiya workers to cut out the eyehole design of your choice with a crafting knife.

Robot Heads at Robostation Robostansiya Robot Station VDNH Moscow

Cooooooooooooool. Especially when you get Mama to do most of the sticking.

So what with that and the fact that we probably spent longer playing in the board game area than with any of the other attractions, Mama does rather wonder why she paid a significant sum of money to go out and do the sort of wet weather activities we do at home.

Robot Heads at Robot Station VDNH Moscow

We kids thoroughly enjoyed ourselves though (once we got out of the dystopian nightmare future area). Plus the Robostation face painter was much much better than Mama.

And! They can register marriages! Can’t say fairer than that.

More information

The page on VDNH’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the songs of Marvin the Paranoid Android.

Address: Pavilion #2, VDNH, 119, Prospect Mira, Moscow, 129223.

Opening: 11am to 8pm, every day.

Admission: Adults 650 roubles, kids 490 roubles at weekends. During the week it’s a bit cheaper.

Getting there:  The VDNKh (VDNH) station is on the orange line and you will go in through the rather splendid front gates of VDNH if you use this. You can also come in the back by getting off at Botanichisky Sad (the orange line, and also the new Moscow Central Circle Line) and there’s a shuttle minibus that takes you from this station into the very heart of VDNH too. There are also numerous tram, trolleybus and bus routes going past the park. Robostansiya/ Robostation/ Robot Station is next to the very shiny gold Fountain of Friendship.

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Welcome our new robot overlords at the interactive robot exhibtion and show Robostansiya Robostation at VDNH Moscow

Wander Mum

Going wild at Zaryadye Park near Red Square in Moscow

Zaryadye Park, subtitled ‘wild urbanism’ by its designers, is a wholly new park just off Red Square in Moscow, the first new park in the capital of Russia for fifty years.

There are, apparently, four different zones, to represent the different terrains of Russia, all with their own different microclimates and appropriately chosen plants, geological features, trees and so on to match.

Birch Trees New Zaryadye Park Moscow

There are also new performance spaces, one indoor built into a hill and one outdoor on top of the hill and all covered up with a fancy dome so you can sit out there even if it is raining. Not sure what they will do about the snow and the sub-zero temperatures, but I daresay you can bring your own cocoa.

Philharmonic Hall Amphitheatre New Zaryadye Park Moscow

There is going to be an underground ice cave, an underground museum of all the archaeological whatsists they found while digging the park, and an underground media centre showing wall to wall films, with surround sound, surround wind machines and surround, I dunno, smellovision about just how awesome Russia is. Although this isn’t quite ready yet.

There is a lovely view onto the back of one of the oldest streets in Moscow, Vavarka Ulitsa, which is lined with churches, the house of the Romanov family back before it became a royal dynasty, and the Old English Court.

Old English Court Church of the Martyr Vavara New Zaryadye Park Moscow

Znamensky Monastery New Zaryadye Park Moscow

There are also a number of vistas across Red Square and the Kremlin, the most impressive of which is from the floating bridge, which sweeps dramatically out over the Moscow River, and then sweeps right back round again, with no visible support (or, you know, actual transportational point).

Floating Bridge New Zaryadye Park Moscow

What there isn’t in Zaryadye Park, though, is a playground. I was not amused.

It has been constructed on the site of the old Rossiya Hotel, a gigantic guesthouse which was legendarily ugly. Ten years ago it was knocked down, and the area spent a long time looking like the abandoned lot it was.

Rossiya Hotel Knocked Down Zaryadye Park Moscow

But for the last five years they have been turning it into the ambitiously fabulous public space you now see before you.

Kremlin Floating Bridge New Zaryadye Park Moscow

This will go nicely with the ambitiously fabulous public space that the mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, has been busy turning the whole of central Moscow into in recent years. Mainly, on the surface, by softening the multi-lane highways that used to bulldoze their way through the centre – widening the pavements, planting lots of trees, bushes and benches, renovating squares, rerouting traffic on an impressively ruthless scale, and pedestrianising large numbers of streets altogether.

Of course, this sort of thing costs. And Zaryadye Park itself has cost an absolutely eye-watering amount. But central Moscow is now a really very pleasant place to go wandering around. A very very pleasant place. Mama rather enjoys this, and is somewhat defiant about it.

Which makes it no surprise at all that Mama decided one week after Zaryadye Park had opened would be the perfect time for me and her to go and see it.

So did much of the rest of Moscow.

Entrance New Zaryadye Park Moscow

In fact, it is already in desperate need of replanting, that many visitors have wandered along its paths, wandered off its paths, and trampled willy nilly over the foliage in the seven days since it opened.

Replanting New Zaryadye Park Moscow

And that’s before you take into consideration the fact that some people have allegedly been seen digging up some of the rarer plant specimens and making off with them.

So if you look carefully at the picture down below you can see orange suited workers already trying to make up for some of the damage. Including some standing on the top of the dome of the amphitheatre, as within hours of Zaryadye Park being opened, someone had managed to lob something up there which broke a number of the solar panels.

New Zaryadye Park Moscow

In fact, while Mama was taking this photo, she was standing next to two policemen, presumably there to protect the last remaining Altai heather orchid or something, who had simply given up trying to stop the mass of humanity from dashing hither and thither across what was left of the rest of the greenery, muttering to each other about how ‘Keep off the grass’ clearly had a meaning they weren’t previously aware of then. Unless someone was doing a bit of particularly blatant plant dancing, in which case they said it a bit louder.

A colleague further on had not yet given up hope but was looking somewhat frazzled as yet another babushka sailed straight past his ineffectual gesticulating with a cheerful, ‘Whoops, sorry, didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to step there.’

Wild urbanism indeed.

Mama, I’m sorry to say, found this quite funny, not least because she gets to say ‘wild urbanism indeed’. But although I was keen to get in on the flora squashing act too (‘EVERYBODY ELSE is walking there, Mama! Why do WE have to stay on the path?’), she only let me stand on some strategically placed rocks right next to the walkway and have my photo taken. Spoil sport.

Anyway. Mama recommends that if you wait about six months everyone might have calmed the fuck down and the park will be the place of marvel and wonder it was conceived to be by the same people who designed the High Line park in New York. Possibly. They might have even added a playground. In the meantime, tread lightly and remember the bridge is only designed to take 4,000 people at once.

More information

The park’s official website (in Russian).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about urbanisation.

Address: Varvarka Street, Moscow, 109012

Opening: Wednesday to Monday 10am to 10pm. On Tuesday it opens at 2pm.

Admission: Entrance to the park is free, but the coming attractions such as the ice cave will cost 600 roubles for adults.

Getting there: The nearest metro station is Kitai Gorod (orange and purple lines). The park is a bout ten minutes down towards the Moscow River from there. Or you can nip across Red Square from Okhotny Ryad/ Teatralnaya/ Ploshard Revolutsi (red, green and dark blue lines). Parking, what parking? How can they fit parking in with all the newly pedestrianised streets to accommodate?

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Newly opened near Red Square Moscow Zaryadye Park features a variety of terrains, a floating bridge, an ice cave and an all weather outdoor amphitheatre.

MummyTravels
Untold Morsels

Warts and All at the Oliver Cromwell House Museum in Ely

In case you were wondering if Mama’s previously stated interest in history is what landed her in Moscow all those years ago, the answer is no.

Mama’s period was always very firmly the early modern one, not the dubious social experiments of the 20th Century. What she really knows a lot about is religious kerfuffles between the Protestants and the Catholics in continental Europe (remember the Jansenists, anyone?), and Venice.

This is what you happens when you offer people free higher education. I’m going to be an engineer, do something with Maths or learn to draw really really well, preferably in a digital medium. Says Mama.

Anyway, this does also mean that she has a passing interest in Oliver Cromwell and the English Civil Wars, which, for the calendar challenged, happened in the 17th Century and had a certain amount to do with arguments about how much incense was the right amount to pacify God (some and hell no none were, variously, the answers. It’s a tricky one, of course).

So it came as something of a surprise when she admitted that she had never visited the Oliver Cromwell House Museum in Ely, Cambridgeshire, in the building he moved to at around the time his political dabbling as a member of parliament got a lot more serious. It’s only one and a half hours up the road from Granny and Grandad’s! What can she have been thinking?

Oliver Cromwell's House in Ely

Mama has had a horrible suspicion ever since Donald Trump came to power in the USA that a lot of the leaders from history she who amuse her were probably a lot less entertaining when you were forced to deal with them on an everyday basis.

Peter the Great springs immediately to mind.

Yes, he lived in a small modest shack of a house (still there) next to what would become the grandiose Winter Palace in St Petersburg (also still there), worked as a carpenter to learn shipbuilding and a foot soldier to learn warmongering (both of which he was quite successful at on a grander scale later), married a peasant, making her Empress in 1724, and had a collection of animals picked in jars.

But he also went round feeling up women all over the courts of Europe and being surprised that they had ribs that went up and down rather than side to side, exercised an extremely violent temper and a tendency to drink to excess on a regular basis, put to death with extreme prejudice a whole regiment of soldiers out of revenge (and because they were trying to overthrow him) had his son tortured with the result he also died (another rebellion), forced a number of inconvenient women into convents and forced his wife to keep the head of her lover in a jar in her bedroom until she died. After Peter had had it chopped off, you understand.

Mama also thinks that a lot of people at the time considered that building a city on a deserted piece of mosquito infested marshland where every piece of stone had to be carted in from far away with a not dissimilar sense of horror to the idea of building a wall across the bottom of America. Although to be fair, Peter did actually get the job done, while I do not see any fencing currently going up in the USA yet. And, unlike Trump’s, a lot of Peter’s more autocratic diktats were aimed at dragging his compatriots forward, kicking and screaming, into the more enlightened century of the Fruitbat. You might not think making everyone shave their beards off to be the equivalent of Obamacare, but…

He did have tiny hands though.

Oliver Cromwell is another such larger than life character Mama rather approved of back in the day. Well, you have to be impressed by the balls of someone who both goes to war with and then drives through the execution of a divinely anointed king based primarily on the power of his conviction in his own righteousness, don’t you? No? Well, perhaps you too are no longer eighteen and have paid attention to the extreme discomfort being stuck in a country whose system of government has just been overthrown with very little care as to what comes next.

The organisers of the Oliver Cromwell House Museum are not entirely blind to this issue, and present their exploration of his life in the guise of letting you decide for yourself if he was a hero or a villain. Although I am here to tell you that in my opinion the museum is just a teensy bit biased in favour of Cromwell, unless you happen to be so outraged at the mere idea of overthrowing the monarchy that you ignore the charms of a pleasant sort of kitchen containing recipes from Mrs Cromwell’s repertoire and a spirited defense of the lady in question’s cooking skills.

The kitchen at the Oliver Cromwell House Museum

There is also a reasonably large selection of dressing up clothes and period appropriate toys in the room upstairs devoted to the bliss of domestic life in a 17th Century Puritan home. Mama was disappointed to discover the petticoats did not come in her size, and I flatly refused to even contemplate such a ridiculous outfit, but we made up for it by trying on all the helmets. Which are quite heavy!

Dressing up and helmets at the Oliver Cromwell House Museum

Then it was onto the war room! Which brings us back to Donald Trump, mainly so that Mama can have a dig. This is because Oliver Cromwell shares with Trump the background of taking on a role he had no training for whatsoever, after he became one of the first members of parliament to sign up to fight the king. However, it turns out that Cromwell (unlike Trump) was very good at his new job.

Of course, until discovering his true talent he wasn’t all that. He started off as a very minor farming gentleman, having to leave Cambridge University before completing his studies because his father died and he needed to take care of the family. He and his wife moved to Ely when he was left some property there, and he became a tax collector. As an MP, he was active in opposing the king, but not influential. It was his success in leading his troops, and in winning their respect, that led to his eventually being promoted to second in command the of the whole boiling. And when King Charles was eventually defeated, the loyalty of the army meant that he could get away with doing things like dissolving parliament for fannying about too much. And that meant that he was eventually crowned in all but name as Lord Protector, and went swanning about Whitehall and Hampton Court being called Your Highness.

Popular support is very useful for a head of state.

Part of the way he won that though was in looking after his troops rather better than most in a conflict which was particularly badly provisioned. With, usually, a consequently particularly bad effect on the surrounding countryside. Not to mention the fact that this was a conflict renowned for bitterness, with families divided and willing to fight each other to the death for their side of the cause. Which also makes Cromwell quite considerate in the unusual discipline he imposed on his troops, who were infamous for the looting and other atrocities they had a tendency not to commit.

Although this didn’t always work as successfully as we might have wished, as a story on the audio guide which everybody gets free with their entrance tickets shows.

Which I listened to.

Mama, who was about ten seconds up the road in her guide did make the beginnings of a move to snatch the headphones off my ears, but too late.

Poor girl.

Mama stopped encouraging me to activate the extra commentary attached to each of the display cases after that. Stick to the basic kid friendly one is her advice. Although the side discussion about how Cromwell didn’t personally ban Christmas interested my Stoic Big Brother. Mama thinks that’s reaching in terms of rehabilitation though. Trump is inevitably going to blame everything on Congress and the Senate too when history delivers its final verdict that he is a bit of a tit.

Of course, what makes particularly uncomfortable reading in this day and age is the insistence that it was Cromwell’s religious faith that drove him forward. He was certain, certain, that he was doing the work of God in pursuing whatever course of action he took, and that his successes were proof of approval.

Mama does not consider this a mindset to admire.

But in the end, the main entry into the Cromwell-might-not-have-been-a-laudable-man-after-all ledger that the Oliver Cromwell House Museum admits to is contained in a small plaque mentioning in passing the vigour with which he tackled the uprising in Ireland following the beheading of King Charles.

Not, perhaps, too surprising then that when visitors get to vote by putting their token on a board in the appropriate column towards the end of the visit, the balance of opinion is more in favour of the man than against.

Voting Oliver Cromwell House Museum

I insisted on putting a tick in both columns (letting me listen to the guide was clearly a mistake there, the Oliver Cromwell House Museum) which Mama (who defiantly went for the hero side for old times’ sake) says is really the right answer, or rather that the question itself is wrong.

Partly, it depends on where you stand. If you are Irish, or pretty much anyone whose country was overrun by the British Empire then you have cause to see Cromwell as an unmitigated disaster. This is because the eventual restoration of the monarchy did not mean that monarchical or aristocratic power survived intact. Post interregnum, Great Britain was, for its time, a remarkably socially mobile society, and this almost certainly contributed to its success in technological and industrial advances. This, of course, contributed to its expansionist ambitions later.

And if you are a Brit and not from somewhere at the top of the social pile to start with, you can also be bitter that the class system has survived much longer and much more rigidly than you might expect for a 21st century country because of this early flexibility.

So where are we?

Oliver Cromwell was a man who rose to a position of power through a bit of good luck and a lot of being very competent when the situation demanded it. He had principles and tried to see them through, took them farther than many people would bother with, and was willing to compromise his own comfort to do so. But when given power he did not usually go blindly after the other side. For a man whose religious convictions had led him to war and eventually to killing a king, he was extraordinarily active in promoting the freedom to worship whatever way appealed to a person’s conscience, a tolerance he extended even to Jews, long expelled from Britain.

That’s not villainy. But is it heroism?

At the same time, his actions had consequences. The proportion of the population who died in the English Civil Wars is huge, even when you compare it to some of the other ugly wars the country has been involved in. Was it worth it?

And that’s before you consider the massacres in the towns of Drogheda and Wexford. Which is certainly not heroism. But is it villainy? Out and out evidence of his basically evil nature? We recognise the brutalising effect war has on modern-day soldiers, and how sometimes the systems armies use to try to keep it in check fail. Why not understand the same processes are at work on people from the past? On Cromwell as well as the men he commanded?

Not that this is much comfort to all the dead people or any survivors, of course.

Warts and All Oliver Cromwell

But mostly Mama thinks that people shouldn’t be encouraged into the learned helplessness of thinking of their leaders as either saviours or the cause of all their ills.

Anyway. The Oliver Cromwell House Museum in Ely is worth a look round for anyone interested in the history of the UK, the nature of power and its relationship to responsibility, and ghosts, as Cromwell is said to appear in the bedroom at the end of the tour, and the museum does its best to allow you to imagine this experience.

Death Oliver Cromwell House Museum

More information

The museum’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say ( at even greater length than Mama) about Oliver Cromwell – Lord Protector of the Commonwealth.

Address: Oliver Cromwell’s House, 29 St Mary’s Street, Ely, Cambridgeshire, CB7 4HF

Opening: 10am to 5pm dailt in the summer with slightly shorter hours in the colder months.

Admission: Adults are 4.90 GBP and kids, 3.40. A family ticket is 14 GBP. There is also an Escape Room at the museum, which is what Mama understands is the British name for a Quest. Yes, she is sulking we aren’t old enough to appreciate this form of entertainment. Yet.

Getting there: Ely is a bit farther north of Cambridge up the A10 or the A14. There’s no parking at the Oliver Cromwell House Museum itself, but there are a number of free car parks in Ely and the one we were in was just a few minutes’ walk away.

Ely’s train station can take you to London King’s Cross or Cambridge, Norwich and the Midlands. It’s a fifteen minute walk to the House from there.

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The Oliver Cromwell House Museum in Ely invites you to decide if Oliver Cromwell was an English Hero or Villain

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