Should you go to KidZania Moscow (and around the world)?

Quite why I wanted to voluntarily spend a day working at KidZania Moscow rather escaped Mama.

Two adult KidZania Moscow workers stand smiling at each other in front of a theatre school and fashion studio next to a cartoon themed totem pole

KidZania, as the corporate website puts it, is a kid-sized indoor city using interactive roleplay to fuel a global learning and entertainment brand and develop financial literacy in children.

Or, as Mama puts it, it is a brutal introduction to the fact that at some point we will experience the joys of choosing between getting a fun job which doesn’t pay much or a boring job that doesn’t pay much. Or fighting with 700 people to get a chance to do something that looks interesting but turns out not to be. Or failing to get the job of our dreams. All while being chased around by our parents, who keep trying to give us advice about why we shouldn’t just follow our whimsy. Or why we should.

A white room with a large mattress tester in the middle and sample mattresses on a self to the left

Plus, other aspects of adult life such as trying to decide whether to spend the resulting pennies on pizza, rock climbing or a new car, and then realising that you either haven’t enough time or haven’t enough savings to do any of those.

KidZania Moscow shopping area with small colourful shops lit by neon signs

Advertising probably explains it.

However, in the spirit of proving that Mama does not always spend our free time dragging us round such culturally improving spots as house museums of unsuitable role models, we did, in the fullness of me nagging about it for ages, go to KidZania.

And it was GLORIOUS.

Says Mama, who found the adult zone, where they do not let the kids in at all, very relaxing.

A square workstation with charging sockets in the adult lounge at KidZania Moscow. A TV is on the wall in the background and a Bauhaus artbook on the table in the foreground.

Look how adult it is! Supremely tasteful decoration. Mama particularly appreciated the attention to detail involved in the very adult giant coffee table art book.

Oh, and my Industrious Big Brother and I enjoyed ourselves a lot too.

This is not an accident. KidZania Moscow (and almost certainly everywhere) really does put the effort in to help us achieve that.

When you arrive, for example, they have amped up the impression of going on a journey to a different world by making the area where you book in and pay very much like an airport departure lounge, a theming which is carried on as you go through the portal into the town itself.

And it is a town.

An indoor street at the KidZania Moscow themepark

There are streets. There are buildings. There are different levels. There is a race track. A construction site. A parked aeroplane. And everything. There is even the Bolshoi theatre. In KidZania Moscow anyway.

A mock up of the Bolshoi theatre inside the KidZania Moscow themepark. The blue sky and white clouds are painted on the ceiling and there is a streetlamp in the foreground.

It’s pretty big, in fact. Apparently there are at least 150 different things to do there.

The first place you go is the bank, so that us new citizens can get ourselves plugged into the capitalist system and prepare to take our places as the new cogs in the industrial machine.

And then off we went. Alone. Because adults are banned from entering the offices and factories and so on, let alone taking part.

The interior of a tea factory with a kitchen island set up with small coloured tea bowls surrounded by various stainless steel tea processing machines

The way KidZania operates is that each workplace has a little plaque outside which explains the work options offered, how long it will last, how often you can sign up, and how much you will earn.

Now Mama’s main objection to theme parks is standing in line. But at KidZania Moscow she was pleasantly surprised that this was not a particularly big feature of the day (and it wasn’t as empty as it looks in the pictures by any means).

She did find it paid to do a bit of scouting around to see what was going on, where and at what time, especially for the options that took place less regularly, like hanging out in the TV studio. But it was relatively easy to bound from one experience to another, and the waiting turned out not to onerous. And there was seating!

She was also relieved that we got just as much, if not more, out of the easy to get into jobs as the ones that she, personally, was eyeing up with interest, such as the opportunity to parade around on stage in a play.

A music studio with various instruments such as drums and a guitar on the right and padded benches on the left

Particularly fun were the ones where we got to make something like yogurt or our very own teabag or trot around the city on a quest to deliver letters or put out a fire.

A view of a model fire engine from above as it drives along a KidZania Moscow street. Bunting is hung across the street.

On top of the basic options there are some additional extras you can pay for, more extensive master classes involving things like making your own burger. Mama doesn’t think your kids will feel as through they have missed out if they don’t do them, but on the other hand, they get a burger to eat out of it.

So it is, in fact, just a rather elaborate way of taking care of lunch (for the kids).

If you don’t fancy that, the town has its very own cafe, where kids can take their lunch break, and the parents can join them for an update on the busy day so far. Which looks like GUM, just to spice things up a bit.

A mock up of GUM in KidZania Moscow which is the front for a cafe

KidZania started in south America, specifically Mexico, and is expanding slowly across the world. There’s one in London in the Westfield Centre in West London, for example. And it’s coming to the US soon!

That said, you may find that copycat ventures have already arrived. In Moscow there are two very similar venues – Kidburg in the Central Children’s Department Store at Lubyanka, and Masterslavl in Moscow City. My Industrious Big Brother has been to Kidburg, and enjoyed it, but says KidZania was bigger and so better, for what it’s worth.

Also, KidZania is in the middle of one of the more fabulous of Moscow’s shopping malls, Aviapark. I mean, if you think it’s marginally weird that people in the middle east go on about their shopping malls, and want to have a look see and find out why, then you need to come to Moscow too (and for much the same reason – weather conditions make indoor play areas for adults as well as kids a very sensible proposition).

Aviapark is, in fact, the largest shopping mall in Europe, and has an Ikea as well as a Marks and Spencers, and room for 35 football stadiums. It also has the tallest cylindrical fish aquarium (repeat after Mama) IN THE WORLD.

Parents will have ample time to wander around in a happy little shopping haze, or lounge around the (in places) upmarket food court area while their kids are occupied inside. If they don’t want to lounge in the adult zone inside KidZania, anyway. We were in there ALL DAY. And I reckon there’s still enough we didn’t do, or might want to do again for at least one more epic visit.

KidZania, then, is a theme park that really lives up to the hype. It’s probably best for kids between sixish and twelveish, and it probably helps if younger ones have an older sibling on hand to boss them into shape. But there were some teenagers bounding around when we were there too and Mama found that she was quite jealous of having to sit outside and press her little nose against the window to get an illusion of participation.

And so she was entirely unsurprised that KidZania Moscow does the occasional adult only evening.

Tempted?

If you take your kids to KidZania, and you really should, to be honest, wherever you are, then you will be.

Mama is booking herself into the town’s museum experience, for starters.

More information

KidZania Moscow’s website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Checkout: a job in the retail world.

Address: Aviapark Shopping Centre, 4 Khodynskiy Blvd, 4th floor

Admission: Kids (4 – 16) – from 1290 roubles, younger kids are cheaper or free. Adults (17+) – from 590 roubles.

Opening: 10am – 9pm Monday to Sunday.

Getting there: Metro station CSKA (western yellow and turquoise lines) is right next to Aviapark. There is, of course, ample parking, it being in a shopping mall.

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MosFilm Tour of a Russian Film Studio

Mama says acting, and in fact any job connected to the film industry, is a lot harder and frequently a lot less glamorous than you might first think. As demonstrated by the MosFilm Studio toilets on the MosFilm Studio tour. Which are horrible.

A mural showing two large hands pulling the strings of figures such as a cameraman, actors and musicians on a building at MosFilm Studio

Founded in the 20s (that’s the 1920s, says Mama, slightly shocked that we are back in the twenties already), the Mosfilm Studio is one of the biggest and oldest film studios in both Russia and Europe, responsible for a huge number of Soviet-era movies by people even foreigners might know about.

Like Sergei Eisenstein’s silent movie masterpieces, including the historical drama Battleship Potemkin. Remember? A pram bouncing down some stone steps? Regularly voted the best film evah. Or at least somewhere firmly in the top 100.

Andrey Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Stalker films were also filmed here, along with the rest of his movies. Which Mama would have more to say about if she had actually seen any of them, even the remade version with George Clooney. Apparently they are good?

The Mosfilm Studio also made many films which won international awards at every possible film festival available.

Such as Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, a melodrama about the life of a female factory director, which was one of the Oscar winners in 1980. Apparently President Regan (of the US) used it as background research before his meeting with President Gorbachov (of the USSR).

Everybody else should use it as research as to what the Russian Dream looks like. Moving to Moscow, mostly.

Also worth it for the absolutely spot on early prediction (from a Western point of view) that after nearly two whole generations of mass female access to university education and state sponsored equality, women will be able to achieve modest career success despite being (spoilers) a single mother, but men will still be telling them that they should be less ambitious if they want to have a romantic relationship. Hurrah!

MosFilm produced an even larger number of films that are extremely well known within the former USSR. For example, the Irony of Fate, in which a man from Moscow gets drunk, gets on a plane for St Petersburg accidentally, and ends up in an identical street, and an identical block of flats to his Moscow home. Entering what he thinks is his flat, he meets a woman and…. It is a comedy shown religiously every New Year’s Eve and regularly quoted as an integral part of the New Year celebrations.

It’s certainly part of Mama’s salad chopping ritual.

By the end of the Soviet period the MosFilm Studio had made more than 3,000 movies, in fact. And it was by far from being the only studio in the former USSR, or even in Russia.

It is the only one now (it says) that has the capabilities of making a movie from start (I think that means scriptwriting) to finish (something something editing?)

It survived the dark, financially difficult times of the 90s (that’s the 1990s for those of you reading in the future) to benefit from fairly hefty recent investment. Which has just resulted in some lovely shiny new buildings to house props and fit 1000 actors at a time into an indoor shooting location, for example.

A woman's purple 19th century dress costume from the film Anna Karenina

The architects are super pleased (says Mama, who googled them) that everyone wants an Instagram selfie with their sign.

A large white logo saying MOSFILM in Russian stands in front of some modern buildings on the MosFilm Studio tour.

To be fair, that sort of size is something MosFilm is used to. One of their sound recording studios can hold a full symphony orchestra and a 100 strong choir at once.

There’s also quite a bit of state financial backing from the government for film making in general in Russia currently, as an active attempt to make sure that rapidly recovering box office sales go to home grown cinema rather than Hollywood blockbusters. This is somewhat controversial as commercially, many of these movies have not been quite the roaring success of Marvel’s Avengers series. In fact, very few of them have actively made a serious profit.

Three mannequin heads with large colourful curly haired wigs

MosFilm doesn’t do all that much film production under its own name any more, but it does lease its services and pavilions to other production companies for both film and TV. And luckily, it is also not so high minded that it won’t do quite a lot of high quality dubbing of foreign movies too.

Costumes in a sort of Cossack style from a famous Russian film

So all in all the MosFilm Studio territory is still a busy place, with up to 100 new projects each year. As a company, it claims to be highly profitable.

It also has its own hotel.

Therefore you cannot just rock up wander in and wander around what is very much a real working space. You need to go on a MosFilm Studio tour, which you need to book in advance, ideally collecting 20+ of your friends together first.

There will be signing in and registering to get through.

While waiting, you can admire the T-34 tank (among others), which MosFilm has hanging around right next to the gates, in case any of them should be needed for a film.

A T-34 tank in the grounds of MosFilm Studio

Apparently this is just a small tip of the iceberg of the tank collection held by the MosFilm props department. 170 tanks in total, in fact. Mama recommends you don’t try to invade.

From the tanks you will be taken to look at vehicles, all of which have appeared in various films. The explanatory placards tell you which ones, and the MosFilm Studio tour guide will remind you of any particularly memorable scenes as you go round as well as pointing out any other interesting facts.

Such as this not being a real Rolls Royce. It’s a Rolls Royce chassis built out of, I dunno, cardboard, around another car.

A car which has been adapted to look like a Rolls Royce at MosFilm Studio

This is a car from Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears, which Mama doesn’t have much of a recollection of ever noticing while actually watching the film.

A blue Moskvich car from the film Moscow Doesn't Believe in Tears

These fine vehicles appeared in a variety of films like the Russian version of Catch 22, 12 Chairs, a biopic of the rock star poet Yesenin, and one of the sequels (the many many sequels) to a knock about contemporary comedy called Yolki.

An old car and an old fashioned red fire engine at the MosFilm Studio

There are also carriages that were in the award winning War and Peace adaptation. And the much more recent Anna Karenina movie.

Small one or two person enclosed carriage from the film Anna Karenina

But the exhibit that blew our socks off so that we clutched each other happily when we spotted it and took numerous selfies around it was this one. Mama had already given it a shout out in our film review of Viy 2 recently. Look at it! All steampunk and everything!

A steampunk style carriage from the film Viy 2 Journey to China

What refined cinematic taste we have.

Then we set off round corridors, because a number of display cases of items such as costumes, props and All The Awards are in all sorts of random out of the way corners.

A selection of film making awards, including some Oscars, won by MosFilm Studio in Moscow

Mama quite enjoyed feeling as though she was properly backstage as she was trotting along the linoleum, past the institutional decorating choices. Mind you, this was where the toilet experience occurred so it wasn’t all joy.

In the same set of Soviet era buildings as the garage is a also small room of items related to the art of grotesque make up, including a number of casts of actors’ faces, the better to turn them into monsters for projects such as a film version of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. With, y’know, the devil and a giant talking cat.

Plastercasts of a number of famous Russian actors faces

This sort of expertise probably came in quite handy when they were assisting the real life KGB by providing a body double for an abruptly deceased spy so they could catch his CIA handler too.

The Mosfilm Studio is so proud of its historical FX department they actively advertise a special animatronic exposition. Which aims to bring a whole scene from the 60 year old original Viy horror film to life. With sound and everything.

We children of the digital age watched it. We were polite about it.

Mama thinks that perhaps it doesn’t need its own bullet point in the promotional materials.

What was genuinely thrilling, was getting to amble around the mock ups of classical St Petersburg and old Moscow. In what Mama gathers are called backlots.

Street set with classical old buildings on either side of a cobbled street at MosFilm Studio, a film studio in Moscow

This is especially true as the day that we were there, at the end of December in the warmest winter on record in Moscow, it was not snowing but it was the shortest day of the year and foggy. So, extremely atmospheric, and utterly convincing. Except for the oddly piercing lights, and super modern large new apartment block right next to MosFilm.

Set of old streets and buildings on the MosFilm Studio tour with a real modern highrise building in the background

Mama also wonders what the astonishingly hard to walk on cobbles are all about. Is it to get an authentic historical swagger out of method actors trained by Stanislavsky? Or because you need really big stones in order for it to show up properly on camera?

Old Moscow set MosFilm Studio, with cobbled streets and old crumbing buildings on either side

And! A friend who went at a different time says that the sets were actually being used for filming on her excursion, so they got to watch that as well.

Cool, although we also came across filming in progress in London once, and what that consisted of was standing around admiring some admittedly spectacular camera equipment and the lack of anything at all happening for about 45 minutes, and then someone crashed through a window, taking all of a split second.

Mama still enjoys watching Kingsmen to spot that very moment though.

Getting to see an actual sound stage, was also cool, again because, aside from the chandeliers, it comes just as it is.

Empty room used as a film studio at MosFilm Stdio, apart from two chandeliers hanging from the ceiling

They do let you into the permanent mock up of an Orthodox chapel interior. Which Mama has made a mental note to look out for in any future Russian film/ TV watching she does. She was particularly impressed that they have even recreated the little booth of religious essentials, candles, bible verses and domestic icons.

A large movie camera in a tripod stands in a set of a Russian Orthodox church at MosFilm Studio

Should you go on a tour? Even if you don’t know much about Soviet or Russian films? Yes, of course. It’s not wildly expensive, and what you are getting is a genuine unprettied up look behind the scenes look at the reality of the film industry. Akin to being allowed to go and admire how everything is held together with gaffer tape at a theatre, or watch the dancers massaging their torn up feet between set pieces, and so on.

Mama would have liked the MosFilm excursion to include the new buildings, but you can’t have everything.

Costumes of different types of armour at MosFilm Studio

Of course, you might want to pay special attention to any cars, bikes and carriages in any Russian films you do decide to watch between then and now. And see all the versions of Viy available.

If you do want to learn more about Russian classic cinema, then the street festival for City day a few years ago was quite Mosfilm heavy.

Alternatively, there is an English language podcast devoted to Russian and Russian interest films by a former Moscow resident, Russophiles Unite! which also features a number of MosFilm creations, and special guests.

And MosFilm itself has made a number of its films freely available on YouTube, many with subtitles.

What did we children think of it? We thought it was GREAT, mainly, as far as Mama could gather, because of the walking involved between display cases and little chats by the tour guide.

Children, Mama has concluded, are weird.

More information

The MosFilm Studio tour website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the Bechdel Test: Women in Film.

Address: Mosfilmovskaya str. 1, Moscow, 119991, Russia

Admission: Tours start at 460 roubles for adults and 310 roubles for schoolchildren.

Getting there: Kievskaya metro station (light blue or brown line) and then a bus or trolleybus 7, 17, 34, 119 or 205 . Or Universitet metro station (red line) and bus or trolleybus 7, 34 or 119.

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MosFilm Studio Tour
Oregon Girl Around the World

How to celebrate New Year in Russia with Ded Moroz and Snegurochka

Some kids at school, I told Mama recently, don’t believe in Ded Moroz! They said he’s our parents!

Oh? Mama responded, non-committally.

I can’t believe how stupid they are. Not believing in Ded Moroz. The very idea!

Pffft. Said Mama, clearly agreeing with me.

In fact, I not only believe in Ded Moroz, but also in Father Christmas, who Mama says is probably a cousin, or possibly a brother. It’s confusing otherwise. That they come on different days and in different ways.

Ded Moroz, you see, is the Russian winter festival magical being who brings presents.

Ded Moroz, arms outstretched, stands in front of a decorated tree. He has a long embroidered blue fur trimmed robe, a blue hat, felt books and holds a large white staff. He has a white beard.

But not at Christmas, at New Year.

And there are some other differences.

As we all know, in the west Santa was invented by Coca Cola, but in Russia, Ded Moroz was invented by Stalin.

Well, sort of. Ded Moroz existed before that.

Originally he was a pre-Christian winter smith god called Morozko. And not entirely tame. There is talk of him kidnapping children so that their parents would give him presents.

By the 19th century he was a fairy tale character.

We went to see a play about him, in fact. It turned out that he lived in a chilly underground world you could reach by falling into a well in the middle of winter (as you do).

If you were nice to him and to the other inhabitants of this strange land, Ded Moroz would deck you out in beautiful (and expensive) jewels and warm furs that you could take home to your unpleasant stepmother and step-sister. If you were a spoilt brat, trying to reproduce this feat while utterly missing the point, those jewels would turn out to be quick to melt ice shards when you got them home.

A stage with a winter scene including the character Morozko

(Mama thinks this retelling has itself been cleaned up. There was no mention of the stepmother getting her husband to leave his daughter in the forest in inadequate clothing in the middle of the winter to die of exposure, or that Ded Moroz froze the step-daughter to death for insolence, for example. Can’t think why not).

In the 20th century, Ded Moroz was supressed.

But having cancelled folklore and Christmas along with religion, the Soviets discovered that this was quite unpopular.

And so a careful rebranding of New Year eventually took place. And who better to take over from baby Jesus the important job of cheering everyone up in the middle of a seven month snow-fest than a crochety wizard?

Obviously we couldn’t have him look too much like a plagiarised Santa, though.

So he is (usually) dressed in blue. His robes are long, and decorated with rich embroidery (and fur, obviously. It’s damn cold in Russia in winter). And he has a staff (with or without a knob on the end). He rides about in a troika, a sled pulled by three horses. He even wears Russian felt boots, called valenki.

Russian winter felt books called valenki, which have been decorated with sparkles and sequins and similar

This ethnic branding has been emphatically reconfirmed in more modern times with the increasing emphasis on Slavic traditions in any relevant celebration. Like Maslenitsa.

There is also no sneaking down chimneys. He is quite happy to turn up at your door at midnight or thereabouts on the 31st with a sack of presents and his granddaughter, Snegurochka the snow maiden. Who is borrowed from another fairy tale where blah blah blah, and then she melted to death.

A woman dressed as Snegurochka the snow maiden stands in the dark, all lit up

Ded Moroz still expects kids to earn their reward though. Children need to recite a poem or sing a song in exchange for a present.

Mama, who is not Russian, came to an arrangement with Ded Moroz a while ago that this was not going to happen in her house, so the gifts arrive under the tree in what she considers to be the correct mysterious manner. Albeit on New Year’s Eve. So when we wake up to eat a giant meal at around midnight after a bit of a pre-celebration disco nap, there they are! Miraculous!

Of course, we also get presents from Father Christmas on British Christmas Eve. But he limits himself to a reasonably sized whatever can be stuffed into a reasonably-sized sock.

Mama says she and Papa have spent quite a lot of effort, usually, on tracking down interesting things for us for not one, not two, but three gift-giving holidays (Russian Christmas is on the 7th January), and she is absolutely buggered if some old geezer with a beard is going to steal all their thunder.

Inflatable Ded Moroz, in red, and Snegurochka, in blue.

Anyway.

Apparently you can visit Ded Moroz at his home, which is astonishingly conveniently situated a couple of hours outside of Moscow in the town, Veliky Ustyug. As discovered by Moscow Mayor Yuri Lushkov in the 90s.

But there’s no real need if you are in Russia over the holiday period. He and Snegurochka will be absolutely everywhere, and under the tree to boot. Putting carved wooden representations of Ded Moroz there is a tradition.

A carved wooden figure of Ded Moroz the Russian Santa

Or, in Soviet times (or now, because nostalgia), papier mache ones.

Papier mache Ded Moroz figures from Soviet Russia

(Top Russian souvenir tip there by the way).

You can go to a Yolka, a special festive performance for children. There will be a play, but there will also be games, dancing and audience participation*.

We went to a very big one at Crocus City Hall, one of the bigger modern theatre and performance spaces in Moscow, which had a full sized indoor fun fair in what Mama is going to call the foyer, but is actually seven hundred large halls of activities. This made it a bit more worth the trek out of the centre to get to it.

A large indoor fun fair, with decorations and rides
Seats in a theatre auditorium raked down towards a stage which a large decorated tree and festive characters including Ded Moroz

They also have a Yolka performance at the Kremlin each year (there’s publicly accessible theatre inside the Kremlin, didn’t you know? Also good for ballet).

But frankly every single theatre, museum, park, New Year/ Christmas market, shopping mall and similar will have some kind of yolka-esque event going on, and some will even be free. There isn’t really a tradition of grottos. There’s just a really big party instead.

A man dressed as Ded Moroz stands in front of a large real decorated tree

Or you can go to a gala ice skating performance at places like the Luzhniki sports stadium. Ded Moroz is bound to show up.

Or enter a kindergarten. Definite Ded Moroz appearances there.

I mean, I can’t promise these people are all the real Ded Moroz and Snegurochka. 2000 actors just turned up in Ryzan for the annual fake Ded Moroz and Snegurochka parade, for example. These impostors are what get the rumours about non-existence started if you ask me.

The face of a woman dressed as Snegurochka the snow maiden. She is looking down and concentrating on something out of the photo.

But I recommend being polite, and getting your best poem dusted off just in case.

*Do NOT confuse this with a pantomime. It’s a lot… purer. Says Mama, who is not planning to explain the jokes we don’t get if we ever go to a proper British one again.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the influence of fly agaric on the iconography of Father Christmas.

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Celebrate at the New Year and Christmas tree decorations factory in Klin, Russia

In the small town of Klin in Russia it is forever New Year, at least it is in the Museum of New Year Tree Ornaments, attached to the factory that produces them in Klinskoye Podvorye.

A number of New Year and Christmas tree ornaments hang on a tree

Or, if you prefer, the Museum of Christmas Tree Decorations, the difference being almost indistinguishable in Soviet Russia, at least as far as the secular aspect of Christmas goes. Like decorated fir trees.

Delicate, handmade glass ornaments have long been a feature of yolkas (the Russian word for New Year/ Christmas trees), and every family may well have their own set of idiosyncratic baubles, although good taste might have overtaken the ones they actually put on display.

Vintage glass tree ornaments, mostly in the shape of stars

So if you wonder around any flea market, you can pick up genuine vintage ones, and last year, there was a display in GUM of the collection that a famous TV presenter here has amassed over the years by doing just that.

Mama’s personal favourite of Papa’s own collection is the pickled onion. Shame that small children and then a kitten who climbed the tree once a day means that she tends to stick to the hand-painted wooden ones when the festive season swings round these days.

But when she was offered the chance to tour one of the more famous factories where these tree decorations are actually made, she jumped at the chance. And in fact the name of the New Year/ Christmas tree decorations factory in Klin is ‘Yolochka’, in case you were not sure what its focus really is.

That said, I think the tour at Yolochka is more of an experience than a factory visit.

There are dressed up characters who get you in the mood, tell you all about glass, tell you all about the history of glass making in Klin, and tell you all about the history of glass New Year/ Christmas tree ornament making.

A character dressed in a blue onsie covered in coloured circles wearing a curly blue wig on the tree ornament factory tour in Klin Russia

Essentially it seems that what started off as a cottage industry making small colourful glass beads for necklaces, morphed into a cottage industry making long strings of colourful glass beads you could hang on a tree, other iterations of decorations and finally went full on large glass ball blowing, albeit still in a very handcrafted sort of manner.

A seated woman in a long ornate red and gold frilly dress and an overdecorated hat explains the origins of the Klin glass factory while seated in a replica wooden peasant's house.

The Yolochka New Year/ Christmas tree decorations factory in Klin was the first large commercial production facility in Russia, in fact.

At this point on the tour, Mama was delighted that we got shepherded into a room to watch actual crafstswomen blow some glass.

Mama was grumpy that she wasn’t allowed to take pictures at this point. She also wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the women in the next room who were painting the resulting New Year/ Christmas baubles.

Tree ornamentsin various stages of being painted at Yolochka factory in Klin

It was very cool though.

Yes, the word ‘factory’ does imply a certain mechanical automation of the process. But in fact, although there is clearly a production line in the sense that it’s a different person who blows the glass to the one who paints it, they really are not joking when they call it handmade.

In case you are wondering, among the most difficult to blow are the samovar shaped baubles, because they require you to be able to get three bubbles out of one glass form.

At the end of the tour they have a display of baubles and other tree ornaments painted by some of the more renowned tree ornament artists.

Nine hand painted Russian glass baubles with variouus winter scanes from around Klin in Russia, including a statue of Tchaikovsky on a bench.

Luckily for you, she was allowed to get the camera out again when we got onto the displays of New Year/ Christmas tree ornaments through the ages. And of course, since these are mostly Soviet ones, there are some really fabulous space themed ones.

A selection of vintage Russian space themed tree ornaments, including cosmonauts and space rockets

No, I have no idea how Yolochka does the cosmonaut shaped ones, the tree shaped ones and so on and so forth. Gotta have some secrets, haven’t you?

And finally the last stop on the Museum of New Year/ Christmas Tree Decorations tour is getting to meet Ded Moroz, the Russian Santa analogue! Himself! We held hands, sang the New Year Tree song, and paraded around a truly large, thoroughly decorated tree.

Ded Moroz stands in front of a decorated tree at the New Year and Christmas tree decorations factory in Klin. He is wearing a long blue coat with white patterns and fur trim, and large blue mittens and a white hat. He has a long white beard and outstretched arms, one of which is holding a tall white staff.

In October!

Then it was onto the masterclass of tree ornament painting. Obviously. We covered ourselves in glitter. It was great.

A tree ornament in a green box with the name of the factory, 'Yolochka', on it. The ornament has clearly not been painted by a master.

And Mama was by this time thoroughly primed to buy All The Things in the Yolochka factory shop. Luckily they have a range of stock to suit every budget. Mama recommends looking out for whatever odd animal theme seems to be incongruously conspicuous among the decorations. The Russians look to the other great celebrators of New Year, the Chinese, to add a bit of spice to the festivities. So whatever animal is coming up for Chinese New Year next will have a big presence in the New Year decorations on offer.

This year, the year of the pig gives way to the year of the rat. Mice everywhere you look!

Now, to get to this Museum of Russian Christmas/ New Year Tree Decorations, you will have to leave Moscow, and it’s a good hour’s journey on a fast train. It’s possibly a bit far to go just for this experience. Luckily, Klin is also the location of the Tchaikovsky House Museum. Frankly you really are missing an opportunity if, as well as visiting that, you do not pop over and experience the tour here as well.

Whatever time of the year.

More information

The New Year/ Christmas tree decorations factory in Klin, Yolochka’s website (in Russian).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about how to make salt dough decorations.

Address: 141600, Moscow region, Klin, Ulitsa Staroyamskaya, 4

Opening: Every day, 9am – 5.30pm (except 31st December, 1st and 2nd of January).

Admission: Around 500 roubles per person, although it depends how close it is to New Year and whether it is a weekend. Children under six are half price. It’s about 300 roubles extra for a masterclass.

Getting there: You need a train from the Leningradsky train station, found atop the Komsomolskaya metro station on the red and brown lines. If you get a fast, lastochka train you will be in Klin in an hour. Buy return tickets in Moscow if you have children, as concession tickets cannot be bought in Klin and you’ll have to pay full price for your kids to return to the capital. The trains run around every one to two hours, more during peak times. If you get a slow train it will take at least 30 minutes longer. One way tickets for adults will be around 300 roubles. You can easily buy them at the Leningradsky station itself, but don’t lose the rather flimsy paper – it’s what opens he gates to and from the platform, and it will be checked on the train itself.

You can drive (or get a taxi). Head for St Petersburg.

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In Klin it is forever the winter holidays on the tour of the New Year and Christmas tree decorations factory. You can even make your own baubles!
In Klin it is forever the winter holidays on the tour of the New Year and Christmas tree decorations factory. You can even make your own baubles!
Suitcases and Sandcastles

Guildhall Art Gallery in London: go for the Romans, stay for the plates

If you and a friend are idly rambling across the City of London from the Bank of England towards the Museum of London, you may find that you stumble across the Guildhall Yard outside the Guildhall Art Gallery.

And if you stumble across the Guildhall Art Gallery you may realise that you have never actually been inside, and decide to visit.

And this would be a good decision for any number of reasons.

Firstly there is a Roman amphitheatre in the basement.

Well, part of one, because Roman amphitheatres were pretty big, actually. Go back up to the Guildhall Square, and they have drawn a big black line on the ground to help you trace our the perimeter further.

Guildhall Yard, with the medieval Guildhall to the left and the 20th century art galley building to the right. In th foreground you can see a curved line which represents the perimeter of the amphitheatre. People are walking or standing in the square.

In fact, the amphitheatre is probably the reason the Guildhall, the administrative buildings for the City of London was built where it is. No need to start from scratch when you can re-purpose some nifty foundations and all that.

The City of London (note the capital letter), in case you are wondering, is a sort of super local council, needing to organise all the usual things in its immediate surroundings such as schools and the bin collection. But it combines this with continuing its historical role representing the financial, mercantile and commercial interests that still have their home in the City (note the capital letter). Bits of it are modern.

An old medieval building is on the left and at right-angles a modern concrete building with many glass windows.

Bits of it are not. It had special mention in the Magna Carta and everything, and was such a political force that it was stripped briefly of its powers after it supported the republicans against the kind in the civil war (when Charles II took back over, obviously). It survived the Great Fire of London and the Blitz mostly intact. Mainly it just lost its roof, and its protective guardians, the two giants Gog and Magog, chained up in the main hall since time immemorial. Luckily they were able to carve some new ones.

Incidentally, if you are wondering what the Magna Carta is, here is a song about how the British invented democracy.

Anyway. Guildhall has one of the 17 copies of the Magna Carta. Because of course it does.

A picture of the Magna Carta, an old parchment with a large seal at the bottom

It’s not the administrative centre for London as a whole. It’s not where the mayor of London (currently Sadiq Khan) hangs out.

No. It’s where the Lord Mayor of London hangs out. Glad we cleared that up then.

Anyway. The historical buildings are now used for municipal and corporate entertaining. You can hire them, in fact, should you need a medieval banqueting hall that seats 900 and is suitable for formal dinners and cabarets (apparently). You can also visit them on a tour once a month or so.

But underground you can enjoy the fact that 2 000 odd years has exposed the clever plumbing arrangements for the amphitheatre, thus putting the focus on the Roman’s mad engineering skills not the fact that the stadium was used for watching people and animals fight to the death.

Some people stand in a darkened room containing some ruins from a Roman amphitheatre. Glowing green digitally projected figures and seats give an impression of what it may have looked like.

The Guildhall Art Gallery has about 4 000 works of art to its name, but only displays about 250 of them at any one time, which means that there’s a high chance of being able to go back a few times and not get bored after you have looked at your favourite things.

A gallery in the Guildhall Art Gallery. There is a woman walking up some stairs bewteen colums to a large open plan room with a red carpet, green walls and gold framed paintings. The ceiling is white glowing panels.

Among the things that will be there will be (changing) paintings of London. Mama has been out of the Big Smoke for just long enough to forget just how irritating she found travelling around, sorry, trying to travel around the capital, and decide that there were some things about it she quite liked enjoyed. In a misty nostalgic sort of way. So she liked that area.

Three paintings of London at the Guildhall Art Gallery. The top one shows an almost phtograph like quality of a pleasantly overgrown bit of wasteland and some red roofs. The bottom left is abstract black, grey and white squarish shapes and lines. Another shows a street scene at a markey with some cars and a building in the background.

The Guildhall Art Gallery is also big on the Victorians. Now Mama is not big on the Victorians. Mama tries not to judge historical periods, but largely fails when it comes to the Victorians, irrational though this may be. She considers them class and prejudice ridden, sentimental, violent, sexist, hypocritical, with terrible fashion and interior design sense, and a particularly unfortunate habit of demonstrating all of these traits all over the rest of the world.

Still, free art is free art. Which is presumably what all the great unwashed thought when the City graciously started collecting them paintings in the 1800s.

Two Victorian paintings. The upper one shows a woman cradling a dying man in a forest. A figure in black stands behind a tree, holding a sword. The second shows a groups of women in long red, blue or green stresses standing draped beside a river.

And then there is thirdly. Which is that if you are really lucky, you will be there when they have got the plates of William de Morgan out of the cupboard for a special exhibition.

A selection of William de Morgan plates with styalised animal and plant designs in blue, red and brown.

Mama was just this lucky.

A large plate with a styalised blue bird design by William de Morgan

William de Morgan was an Arts and Crafts sort of person, a friend of the wallpaper designer William Morris, who spent a very long time mucking around with tiles in Fulham and trying to work out how to do iridescent glaze on his pottery, called lustreware. And managed it! At which point this sort of thing became very unfashionable and so he turned, considerably more successfully, to novel writing.

A William de Morgan vase and plate in red lustreware in the Guildhall Art Gallery. Tiles are displayed on the wall behind and some people are in the background looking at them.

Mama does not share this lack of enthusiasm for de Morgan’s ceramics, and was actively distressed when she was alerted to the appearance on the Antique’s Roadshow of someone who had bought a de Morgan dish at a car boot sale for a fiver. Bah.

A large plate with a brown styalised dinosaur and foliage design. A woman in a floral dress stands in the background with her back to us.

Mama also appreciates de Morgan because his wife, Evelyn, was such a good painter she subsidised the pottery for years, a suffragette and an outspoken pacifist. Mama always admires people with taste. Even if they were born in the Victorian era.

Large plate with a styalised red peacock design by William de Morgan

De Morgan’s Dad was also on display. For excellence in maths. Mama quite enjoyed that bit too. Mama enjoys other people’s excellence in maths. It’s like watching somebody juggle with 17 balls while standing on a tiger. Or something.

The back of a William de Morgan plate which has blue and white rings and the name of his factory on it

So. The Guildhall Art Gallery is worth a visit if you are ever at a loose end in the area. Would probably be improved of they had a cafe on site though.

More information

The Guildhall Art Gallery’s page on the City of London website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the Corporation of London.

Address: Guildhall Yard London EC2V 5AE

Admission: Free

Opening: Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm. On Sunday it closes an our earlier.

Getting there: Don’t drive. I don’t care if it’s a bit of a walk from either the underground stations of Bank (Central and Northern lines) or St Paul’s (Central line). Just don’t. There’s probably a bus, but Mama doesn’t live in London any more so her encyclopedic knowledge of London’s bus network has faded.

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GUILDHALL ART GALLERY in London has a Roman amphitheatre as well as paintings and a copy of the Magna Carta
Fifi and Hop

Raised eyebrows at the Yesenin Museum in Moscow

Within the first ten minutes of the tour of the Sergei Yesenin Museum we were standing in a circle round a tree reciting a poem.

A two story wooden house, which contains the Yeseinin Musum

Yesenin is what the Internet describes as ‘one of the greatest Russian poets of the 20th century’ and Mama describes as ‘who?’

So before we went to his museum she looked him up.

And given what she found out she was really looking forward to discovering how his life would be conveyed to a mixed group of 5 to 12-year-olds.

A black and white headshot of a young man, Sergei Yesenin, with short fair hair, a wide nose and lips, staring into the camera

The Internet calls Yesenin a lyric poet. This means that he was extremely enthusiastic about just how damn beautiful existence, the world, and Russian nature was. Which doesn’t necessarily mean happy, of course. Painfully beautiful is also a thing.

Here is the poem we all learn off by heart the minute we set foot in school in Russia, the one we kicked off with at the beginning of the tour, the one that Mama really should have a vague memory of, having launched children into the Russian education system twice now. It’s about a tree:

The white birch tree/ Beneath my window/ Has covered herself with snow,/ Like silver.

The fluffy branches/ Trimmed with snow/ Have grown themselves bristles,/ A white fringe.

And the birch stands/ In sleepy silence./ And the snowflakes burn,/ Golden fire.

Dawn, lazily,/ Walking around,/ Sprinkles the branches/ With new silver.

It rhymes in Russian. Mama also thinks there is a more poetic way to say both ‘fluffy branches’ and ‘bristles’ but cannot think of it off the top of her head. Have at it if you want to improve on her translation efforts.

Mama stood out on the tour of the Yesenin Museum, as aside from the tree-worshipping opening, the guides had the habit of every now and again throwing out a the first few lines of a stanza, and everybody in the room reflexively finished them off. Except Mama. Hey ho.

Mama suspects that Sergei Yesenin wrote his poetry the way he lived his life. Because Yesenin seems to have flung himself into it with blind passion and a total disregard for what people might think, any sense of self preservation, or what he probably should have been doing.

He ended up with a childhood spent in a village being used as a gun dog by his uncles and flung into lakes to teach him how to swim; a book of poetry completed before he left school (unpublished); some time as an editor in Moscow; a military career (short-lived); sudden and enduring FAME very shortly after he started publishing poetry (in a children’s magazine); a book of religious poetry; the habit of dressing theatrically as a peasant in St Petersburg’s literary salons; arrests for refusing to publish pro-monarchist verses, for participating in revolutionary activities and later for continually pissing of the Soviet authorities with criticism that this was not at all what he had meant (sometimes in verse); eight wives/ girlfriends (depending on how you count it), who included the American dancer Isadora Duncan, with whom he did not share a common language, a famous actress and Lev Tolstoy’s granddaughter, as well as a number of same-sex flings and relationships; four kids; his own publishing house and literary movement, heavy on metaphor, Imaginism; a drinking problem complete with drunken rampages in private and public and a large number of low drinking dives where everybody knew his name; a drug habit; at least one nervous breakdown; and an affinity for the stray or abused animals he took as pets.

Black and white photos of Sergey Yesenin and Isadora Duncan together as a couple, as well as a large pencil portrait at the Yesenin Museum

All before he was thirty.

Which was when he died.

He killed himself.

Probably.

There are those who say that he was killed by the Soviet security forces.

But there is also a farewell poem. Written in his own blood. Because he had run out of ink. Apparently. Which he sent to his final lover a few days before his death.

Papa describes Sergei Yesenin as a rock star.

Some feat, given that he died in 1925, but I daresay you can see what he means. And why Mama’s eyebrows were well in her hairline contemplating our visit. Not helped when a friend said that when she was at school, the tidbit of retained information a classmate actually wrote in an essay about the poet was ‘Yesenin usually felt the urge to drink with hobos or illuminate [sic] some prostitutes’.

Mama thinks the child may have been exposed to some of Yesenin’s later poetry.

Here is one from that era. Mama has been wondering around after Papa all day going, so when he says this, does he mean that or this other thing? Why doesn’t Google translate recognise this word at all? And then they argued about whether some image would be better translated as ‘I’m depressed’, or whether they should leave it alone, even if it is a bit awkward in an English version.

This poem also rhymes in Russian.

That is beyond Mama’s poetic capacity entirely so you will just have to imagine that part.

Yes. It’s decided. There’s no going back./ I’ve left my roots behind./ The rustling poplar leaves/ Will sound without me.

Without me the small house is falling into ruin,/The old dog is long dead./ On Moscow’s winding streets/ I’ll die, I know, God promised me.

I love this old town/ Be it ever so run down and ever so decrepit./ Drowsy golden Asia/ is slumbering on cupolas.

But when the moonlight is shining,/ When it shines – the devil knows how!/ I go, head down,/ Down the alley to a local bar.

The noise and chatter of the den is unsettling,/ But all night long, until dawn,/I read poems to prostitutes/ And knock back shots with gangsters.

My heart is beating faster and faster/ And I find myself suddenly saying,/ “I’m just like you, lost,/ There’s no going back.

Without me the small house is falling into ruin,/ The old dog is long dead./ On Moscow’s winding streets/I’ll die, I know, God promised me.”

In fact, so rock star is Yesenin, that actual rock stars have borrowed his lyrics for songs. Here is the one Mama has been labouring over performed by Zemfira, who was very big in the 90s in an angsty riot grrrrl kind of way. Mama, in fact, knew the song, but did not know it was co-authored by Yesenin.

‘He led a very full life’ was how all this was covered on the tour of the Yesenin Museum. A very full life. So full, they said, that although he died young, Yesenin crammed what everyone else might be reasonably expected to manage in three years into one. Which instantly made everyone feel OK about them opening the tour with the early death (by unspecified means).

(Mama looks forward to seeing if the death scene is how every tour of a House Museum in Russia begins, what with the one of Tchaikovsky’s house being much the same. Watch this space).

The Yesenin Museum turned out to one small room and a corridor in a much bigger wooden building. Yesenin was only actually here at the very beginning of his time in the metropolis – it’s actually the room his father rented while he worked as a bookkeeper in a butchers. He tried to get Yesenin to join him in this, but Yesenin didn’t fancy it much. This room doesn’t actually take much time to tour, especially of you are providing a, ahem, heavily edited version of Yesenin’s life.

A room full of Russian furniture from the early 20th Century

We ended up focusing mostly on Sergei Yesenin’s love for nature, for his motherland, for village life, and for animals.

This meant that we disappeared off to a different room and participated in all sorts of dressing up opportunities, animal themed charades, folk dancing, rustic games involving things like winding and unwinding wool and such like, and a memorable moment where my Star Struck Big Bro thought that he was actually going to get to remove a live frog from a pitcher of milk (don’t ask). His disgust when it turned out to be a toy was a sight to behold, but luckily the next activity was a competition of guessing the name of birds from their song, which he won. Comfortably.

A table covered with items associated with Russian folk crafts and games

Inevitably, my Star Struck Big Bro’s two favourite stories about Yesenin post-tour are about animals.

Firstly there is the time he took his bread ration and fed it to the sparrows, which outraged some people watching, who felt that if he didn’t want it himself, there were plenty of hungry people about who did. Yesenin was unrepentant, and declared that birds had just as much right to eat as humans.

The second story is about a dog, which Yesenin acquired from a man who declared that its unusually shaped ears meant it was an unusual breed of dog. When he got it home, Yesenin discovered that it was an ordinary mutt, whose ears had been stitched up. Yesenin unstitched them, and kept the dog anyway.

A handwritten poem in Russian about a dog by Sergei Yesenin

It may not surprise you, then, that the Yesenin Museum is committed to supporting the work of animal shelters in Moscow.

Anyway. The Yesenin Museum, or rather the tour of the Yesenin Museum, works very hard to keep you interested in the poet, without actually boring you with all the details of his humdrum existence. They seem to be English enabled as well. If you have got a taste for blistering pastoral metaphor, and fancy contributing to the welfare of Moscow’s cats and dog population to boot, this is one for your list.

More information

The Yesenin Museum’s website (in English – ignore the fact they don’t seem to be keeping the news up to date in this version).

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

Address: 24 Strochenovsky Pereulok, Building 2, Moscow, 115054

Admission: Adults, 300 roubles and kids, 150 roubles. There is an audio guide for 350 roubles, but Mama really recommends investing in the face to face tour, assuming it is much the same in English as ours was in Russian. You also have to pay 150 roubles if you want to take photos.

Opening: Wednesday through Sunday 10am – 6pm, although it opens at 1pm – 9pm on Thursdays. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Getting there: It’s between either the Brown/ Grey line stations of Dobryninskaya/ Serpukhovskaya and the Brown/ Green line station, Paveletskaya, a short walk away from either.

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Feelings at the Tchaikovsky House Museum in Klin

One of the interesting aspects of trying to impart nuggets of wisdom to others is that you cannot entirely control what they take on board. Unless you repeat your message over and over in different ways, preferably in 30 second slots, with excellent visuals. For six months.

So there Mama and a group of other parents were, standing in the garden of the Tchaikovsky House Museum in Klin, idly wondering what, if anything, their children would remember after a tour of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s house.

The Tchaikovsky House Museum is a grey wooden house at the end of a path covered in autumn leaves, with bushes on either side, covered in yellowing leaves.

And so they decided to ask who the children thought Tchaikovsky was.

A poet. Said one child with incautious briskness. Nonono, wait, he added, when all the adults responded with that deadpan stare that Russians are particularly good at and his friend elbowed him. A… musician?

This is not a mistake Mama’s children would have made. Mainly because Mama and Papa had demonstrated the Dance of the Swans in the kitchen while humming the tune loudly and (in the case of Papa) off key only a few days before. That sort of thing sticks in the mind.

Still, Mama was now interested in what we had retained.

Confidently, I stepped up.

Tchaikovsky died. In St Petersburg. The doctors were unable to help.

Yes, said Big Brother enthusiastically. He never made it back to this house.

Mama blinked. She hadn’t previously suspected her children of developing goth sensibilities. But Mama was also on the Tchaikovsky House Museum tour, and recalled that death was indeed how it had opened. And openers do tend to be memorable.

Items relating to Tcahikovsky's death, including a conductor's baton

Of course, and the almighty uproar the death caused at the time does serve to underline quite how famous Tchaikovsky was even in his own lifetime. It’s not everyone whose family has to issue what amounts to a press release exonerating his doctors from negligence or incompetence. It’s also not everyone whose death spawns rumours of suicide years later (drinking a slow acting poison that mimics the symptoms of cholera so as to protect a member of the royal family from scandal. As you do).

Still. Mama does perhaps think that the morning tea-drinking habit in the pleasant annex off the main room might have been a nicer way to kick off. Especially on a child-focused tour.

A small round table covered in a white table cloth in a conservatory with a small tea cup and saucer and a vase of purple flowers.

Now at this point Mama is imagining people looking shifty and wondering if they know enough about Tchaikovsky to satisfy her, so here are some of the reasons why you may have heard of him.

Tchaikovsky was one of the first internationally celebrated Russian composers, as well as hugely well regarded at home. Mama has always considered him a very Western influenced composer, and indeed he was classically trained in St Petersburg’s newly opened conservatory, and later taught in the also newly opened Moscow one, which still bears his name. But it seems that everyone else feels that while he did not go as full on down the path of Slavic folk music influenced harmonies as people like Mussorgsky or Rimsky-Korsakov, he did nevertheless manage to annoy the crap out of his old teacher, Rubinstein, by sticking unmistakable sounds of his motherland into his tunez. With added harp. Which wasn’t for the likes of recently graduated students, apparently.

And in fact Mama is forced to admit that if you listen to the very opening of the 1812 Overture, to take just one example, you can hear exactly what they mean, which is no mistake as Tchaikovsky wrote it to be as over the top nationalist as possible. Which is probably why he scored actual cannons in it.

This habit of innovation likely contributed to the fact that almost every one of his new works seems to have opened to mixed reviews, despite generally going on to become phenomenally popular later. Problematic, because Tchaikovsky felt things. He felt all the things. Well, you can probably tell that if you listen to his music.

Luckily, he also seems to have had enough tenacious self-belief to push on regardless. This is important because he found the process of creating new masterpieces often tortuous and it exhausted him.

As a result of his widespread fame he travelled. A lot. In fact, even the location of the Tchaikovsky House Museum is testament to that as it is on the main highway between Moscow and St Petersburg on the outskirts of Klin. Although he only occupied this particular house for the lest year or so of his life, he’d been renting houses in the area for some time previously, because it was both convenient for travel, but also discouraged visitors. This house was the best though, being a little bit harder to get to, so cutting down on the number of times he was forced to stop writing music and attend to his groupies.

A display cabinet at the Tchaikovsky House Museum which has a Statue of Liberty souvenir in it.

And indeed, the Moscow-St Petersburg main road still roars past right outside the Tchaikovsky House Museum, and the train you can get is one of the super-fast lastochka ones, being on the main line between Russia’s two biggest cities. But it is a bit of a slog from the station if you decide to walk, and Mama would not say the route was particularly scenic, apart from the bit when you go across the river Sestra. There are buses, however.

A wide slow moving river flowing between two tree covered banks in autumn. In the right hand foreground a man is fishing.

You probably also know, because tediously this is still a controversial thing, that Tchaikovsky was gay. Quite how Tchaikovsky felt about it is also the sort of thing people argue about. Opinions range from it tortured him and possibly contributed to his death, to actually he was content, thanks, sod off.

A black and white photo of two men arm in arm in long 19th century coats and top hats.

He did attempt to get married at one point. It did not go well. Aside, of course, from the fact that the person he married was a woman, Mama thinks that Tchaikovsky does not sound like a very monogamous sort of person. At all. A dramatic person, yes. When he realised it was not going to work, he stood in the rain, hoping he would get pneumonia and die.

You can see how the suicide rumours got started to be honest.

As well as composing and falling in and out of love, letter writing was also something Tchaikovsky did prolifically and well.

A selection of handwritten letters and photos on display at the Tchaikovsky House Museum. Some of the letters have extracts of musical scoring in them.

The Tchaikovsky House Museum holds 1200 letters between him and his wealthy patroness, Nadezhda Von Meck. These are lengthy, philosophical, wide-ranging, introspective and only stopped when Von Meck cut off his whopping great 6 000 roubles a year allowance somewhat abruptly.

An oval black and white portrait of a woman in Victorian era clothes

To be fair to her, at this point Tchaikovsky was really very famous, and he even had another pension incoming from the Tsar, Alexander III. Von Meck’s finances, on the other hand, were increasingly in trouble, and her family were increasingly unhappy about her artistic subsidy eating into their precarious situation. This did not stop Tchaikovsky moaning bitterly about the loss of income, however.

Mama feels that Nadezhda Von Meck is worth a digression, not that much was made of her on the tour.

Married to a minor engineer in the civil service, she spotted that railways were the future and argued her husband into quitting his job and getting involved . Hundreds of miles of track later, the family was extremely well off, and then Von Meck’s husband died, at which point, she took over the whole enterprise – it was handing over the reins to her sons that seems to have caused problems in the cash flow – and looked about her for new causes to get off the ground, Tchaikovsky being the lucky recipient of her energy. Her stipend allowed Tchaikovsky to leave his job at the Moscow Conservatory and devote himself to composing full time.

But!

They never met.

At Von Meck’s insistence. Well, actually this is not true. They saw each other briefly from a distance by accident a couple of times.

Mama feels that Von Meck’s idea here was absolutely right, as finding out about people you admire is often disappointing, at least when you don’t have the opportunity to mitigate their more irritating tendencies with the warmth of friendship. She also admires the fact that Nadezhda Von Meck sounds like a woman of absolute commitment to eccentricity and strong mindedness. She was, broadly speaking, against marriage for example. She was also an excellent judge of musical artistry – the person she hired to tutor her children was a young Claude Debussy.

If there were a house museum about her, we would totes be on our way there now. Even though we might have to travel into Europe as she had estates there as well as in Russia, which Tchaikovsky often stayed at.

On a less well documented note, Mama learnt that Tchaikovsky wore slippers. Here they are in Tchaikovsky’s bedroom, which leads directly off the main living area.

Tchaikovsky's bedroom with a single iron frame bed on the right. On the floor is a redish Persian style rug with green embroidered slippers. There is a wooden glass fronted cabinet. In the background is a simple wooden desk and chair under a window. On its right you can see part of a sofa. The walls are pink, there is a green patterned wall covering next to the bed, and beige curtains tied back over the window. The floor is brown linoleum.

See that table under the window? That’s where Tchaikovsky did all his composing although given the short time he was in the house all he actually wrote here was the Pathetique Symphony, as well as revising a few bits and bobs. It was this piece of music that did for him – he went to St Petersburg for its opening performance and that’s where he incautiously drank unboiled water in a restaurant afterwards.

It doesn’t help allay the suicide theory that some musicologists point to its early echoing of the Russian Orthodox requiem liturgy. That said, the name in Russian is better translated as passionate rather than sad. And there are a number of sections which are much more aux anges than melancholic. It seems, in short, that it might after all be fitting epitaph for a highly emotionally charged individual, whether it was intended as one or not.

After Tchaikovsky’s probably not all that mysterious passing actually his brother, Modest, was the one who started the Tchaikovsky House Museum. He continued to live there himself, along with Tchaikovsky’s nephew, ‘Bob’ (no, I don’t know why he’s called ‘Bob’ either. It’s not his real name. A whim of Tchaikovsky’s apparently).

Modest and Bob did add an extra wing, though, so they could keep living there without disturbing Tchaikovsky’s stuff. Lots of wood panelling. Splendid.

A wooden panneled room with a wooden floor. There is a desk and chair on the left, a wooden wardrobe in the middle and a very large house plant to the right.

And thus it remained until the revolution when it was occupied, briefly, by an anarchist and his family, before being turned back into a museum again. Did I mention that Tchaikovsky is really very very famous and beloved in Russia? This is much more important than overthrowing the elite and occupying their stuff.

Such was his status that despite the quite desperate struggle the Russians were having in World War Two, they took care that Tchaikovsky’s effects were evacuated in anticipation of occupation by the invading Nazis. Sensible move in the event, as indeed the building was taken over by the German army, who parked vehicles on the ground floor.

Birch trees in autumn in the grounds of the painted wooden Tchaikovsky House Museum (on the right) in Klin

Now it is fully restored as a memorial to Tchaikovsky’s life, with added concert hall and art gallery complex off to one side, only troubled every now and again by winners of the International Tchaikovsky Competition, now gearing up for its XVII’s round, coming and playing on his personal piano, and planting a tree in the garden.

Brief pause on the tour at this point while we all listen to some of Tchaikovsky’s piano music while standing in the really very pleasant living room where the piano actually is. This would be the only place you would hear him play. He wasn’t a great one for performances in public, although he would entertain friends.

Tchaikovsky's living room with a round wooden table bottom right foreground, which has a vase of purple and orange flowers on it. Wooden chairs stand around it. There is a large wooden desk on the right with a green leather top and a number of items under glass on it, as well as a 19th century lamp. On the wall are a number of black and white photographs of people from Tchaikovsky's life, and an silver icon is in the corner. There is a Persian style carpet on the floor and a window with long curtains framing it in the background to the right. A plant is on the windowsill.

To be honest, Mama could have done with a lot more focus on the music during her visit to the Tchaikovsky House Museum. As a former bass player, Mama’s view of Tchaikovsky is somewhat limited, and admirably summed up by this video and its concern for accurately counting the rests, obsessing over whether it should be der duuum or der duum, and a magnificent attempt to pretend the twiddly bits don’t exist.

I dunno, perhaps we Russians are all supposed to have Tchaikovsky’s Greatest Hits on loop in our heads or something, but both Mama and Papa would have quite liked it piped over a loudspeaker as they wandered round the house and grounds. As it was, in addition to the piano recording, we got herded into a room and forced to watch the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies, which was nice, but still a little bit thin compared to the richness of the available oeuvre. Mama understands that possibly the audio guide tour, as opposed to the face to face tour, is a little more music focused, so she recommends giving that a try.

Anyway. Tchaikovsky’s House Museum in Klin. He’s one of the greats, is Tchaikovsky. His house is very pleasant indeed. It’s easy to get to from Moscow. There is a cafe on site. And there’s a cat.

More information

The Tchaikovsky House Museum’s website (in Russian).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1.

Address: 48 Tchaikovsky Street, Klin, Moscow region, 141600

Opening: 10 am – 6pm Friday to Tuesday (closed Wednesday and Thursday, and the last Monday of every month).

Admission: 550 roubles for adults who cannot pretend to be Russian, 300 roubles for adults who can pretend to be Russian (or who are, y’know, Russian), 190 roubles for children. You will need to buy a photography permit for another 200 roubles to be able to take pictures in the house.

Getting there: You need a train from the Leningradsky train station, found atop the Komsomolskaya metro station on the red and brown lines. If you get a fast, lastochka train you will be in Klin in an hour. Buy return tickets in Moscow if you have children, as concession tickets cannot be bought in Klin and you’ll have to pay full price for your kids to return to the capital. The trains run around every one to two hours, more during peak times. If you get a slow train it will take at least 30 minutes longer. One way tickets for adults will be around 300 roubles. You can easily buy them at the Leningradsky station itself, but don’t lose the rather flimsy paper – it’s what opens he gates to and from the platform, and it will be checked on the train itself.

You can drive (or get a taxi). Head for St Petersburg. The Tchaikovsky House Museum will be somewhere on your left, between Moscow and St Petersburg.

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Suitcases and Sandcastles

Viy 2: Journey to China with a Mystery in an Iron Mask and a Dragon Seal

Picture the scene. It is autumn. The leaves are well on the turn, lending a welcome splash of colour to the iron grey skies. A faint smell of mulch sweetens the air. And it is raining. Again.

Mama likes this kind of weather. Well, she would, she is British. And every now and again she remembers that it is perfectly possible to put on some wellies and waterproofs and go into the big outdoors to admire the change of seasons. Mama was this close to ordering us out to prance around a botanical garden and look at trees.

But we are in Russia now. Rain means staying indoors and staring at the sky mournfully. Unlike minus ten and knee deep snow, obviously. That’s for sledging, gleefully, all afternoon.

Plus, we had only just recovered from the annual back to school virus. Mama’s native affinity with the water that falls out of the sky wars with her latter day training in draft avoidance and the need to swaddle any illness in seventeen layers of wool and cover it in mustard plasters.

And so she looked at the cinema listings and was lost.

Because Viy 2 was on.

Now, Mama has seen Viy. A version of Viy. The only Soviet horror film ever made of the Gothic horror story by satirical Gothic horror master, Nikolai Gogol, in fact. It hadn’t led her to believe she might need to go to the very next showing of this film, especially at premium rate prices.

But Viy 2 is less a Soviet horror film and more of what you might call an AngloRusski-Chinese martial arts mashup.

It’s got both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan in it, and much to Mama’s surprise, they have more than brief cameos. I mean, they aren’t the lead characters, but they do fight each other. At some length. In the Tower of London. Apparently this is their first ever fight sequence together. There’s a whole joke about it. That and Genghis Khan’s helmet.

The film is nominally about a British cartographer who gets sent out east from the Russian court in Moscow to map China. As you do. The tenuous connection with the original story is that it is the same British cartographer from the 2014 Viy who encountered the supernatural in a small Eastern European village (that was an AngloRusski-Ukranian production. Mama looks forward to Viy 3 and the combination that produces).

Once past the Great Wall of China, after a lengthy trek across snowbound Russia in a pimped out carriage (which we recently saw at the MosFilm Studio in the flesh), our mapmaker gets caught up in dragons, peasant rebellions, flying machines made of umbrellas, steampunk warriors, and not fewer than four fighting Chinese princesses, among sundry plucky children, BFFs and honourable triplets. Mama didn’t recognise any of the actors here, which just goes to show that she really needs to check out more Chinese cinema. Young and exceedingly limber was her overall impression.

Meanwhile, converging on China from another direction, we have Alexander Dumas, Peter the Great, a boatload of Russian sailors, and a cross dressing British lady aristocrat, played by an actress from Yekaterinburg who speaks four languages fluently, and is a master of fencing, motorbikes, horse riding and jet skis.

Although once she is outed as a woman, she does tend towards fewer greatcoats and more revealing buxomy swashbuckling attire. Mama is uncertain if she really approves of this, and also questions the truly hideous outfit they stuck the character in at the beginning too. But on the other hand, she might have been blond, but she wasn’t young, so this gets points. Particularly as her cartographer husband is also getting on a bit. He’s played by Jason Flemyng, otherwise known as him out of Lock, Stock… and didn’t he also do League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (underrated, in Mama’s opinion)?

This, incidentally, pretty much is the plot of Viy 2 in its entirety. Except for the business about how dragons’ eyelashes are responsible for really good tea. And the appearance of both Rutgar Hauer and Charles Dance. And Peter the Great steering a ship through a storm. And the small cute flying monster.

Make no mistake, it was marvellously, wonderfully, gloriously silly. Highly recommended. Not least because seeing multiple characters from multiple cultures and/or nationalities represented more or less equally on screen was something of a novelty.

No idea if it is coming to English language cinemas near you any time soon. If it is look out for it under one of the myriad names it seems to be known as. As well as Viy 2, you can find it called The Journey to China; the Mystery of the Iron Mask; Return to the Forbidden Kingdom; and in Russia it is currently billed as the Mystery of the Dragon Seal. Apparently it’s been ready to roll for a year but got into censorship trouble in China, which took a while to sort out.

This is a shame as there is great potential for our hero to mapmake his way round the whole world, and Mama for one would be very up for an AngloRusski-Bollywood combination. Momentum has probably been irrecoverably lost, however.

Here, in any case, is the trailer for the Mystery of the Forbidden Viy Kingdom Iron Dragon Seal Mask which lured Mama into spending more than 1000 roubles on matinee cinema tickets. And it is in English!

If you want to read another of our Russian language film reviews, click here.

More information

This is what Douglas Adams himself had to say about tea in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Photocredit: Mama has shamelessly used a couple of interesting pictures she found lying around on the internet to promote this 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.

Gorky Park in Moscow is not what you think (probably)

Mama was recently startled to find that despite her best efforts on Instagram, at least two of her UK-specific friends seem to have a very Soviet view of the centre of Moscow. Don’t they know that the monumentally ugly Rossiya hotel was pulled down and is now the most hipster of hipstery parks IN THE WORLD?

For example.

We now have trees and specially widened pavements on what used to be an unrelievedly grim multi-lane highway, Tverskaya Street, barreling down to Red Square.

The massive pedestrianisation project of the rest of Central Moscow is almost complete.

Cafe culture, albeit strictly in the spring and summer months, is a thing (in the winter it’s all outdoor skating rinks, light shows and street parties).

Not only this, but you can hire not only bikes but, god love us all, scooters, the better to idly tool your way round the leafy, flower-infested boulevards, past the restored facades of pre-twentieth century mansion houses, factory buildings and churches, or around the ponds. As well as gasp at the monumental Soviet architectural doorway architecture, constructivist balconies and such like.

At night, it’s all lit up!

And at any given moment you are very likely to find the whole of central Moscow putting on some kind of festival. New Year, spring, jam, history, fish, teachers, singing, war – we celebrate them all.

I’ll grant you that some of the residential tower blocks in the suburbs are a bit grim. But if the Moscow Mayor gets his way, many of these are not long for this world either. Of course, this demolition project has prompted the Guardian to publish a series of articles explaining how these are not monstrous carbuncles with inconveniently small kitchens, out of date wiring, inadequate sewage systems and nowhere to put a washing machine, but charmingly well thought out residencies and one of the pinnacles of communist social and engineering achievements, which all the former Soviet states were lucky to benefit from. Why oh why would anyone think of pulling them down? And rehousing the inhabitants!

Although they are right about the fact that the replacement of the generously sized leafy courtyards and five floor blocks with 24-story high rises and concrete forecourts is less than ideal. And that this has proved a lot less popular with Muscovites than perhaps Sobyanin was expecting. Possibly because in addition to the loss of pleasant surroundings, the developers and city hall have also found a clever dodge so that the city government does not have to keep its infrastructure provision in line with the proposed quadrupling of residents.

However.

As a result, Mama is of the mind that perhaps y’all have entirely the wrong picture of Gorky Park, Moscow’s most famous outdoor space in your heads. Which is a shame.

In the foreground on the left are some spiky palm leaves. On the right some formal flowerbeds made from low clipped bushes and some deep red flowers. In the background is a rectangular white stone structure. Two pillars and six pairs of columns hold up a roof of the gateway to Gorky Park in Moscow. It is a bright sunny day and the sky is blue.

So what is Gorky Park like?

In summer, you can lounge around on the free cushions, benches and other seating admiring the flowers.

Selection of white, pink, yellow and red flowers in close up
A circular flowerbed with a swirly pattern made of different coloured flowers, especially red. In the middle an urn made of a clipped bush rather than stone rises up, with spiky leaves growing out of the top. The flowerbed is surrounded by trees and benches, and there are people sitting or walking around it.

Or you can hire all sorts of modes of personal transport: bikes, scooters, tandems and so on and enjoy a lengthy run along the Moscow River embankment.

A white structure holds bikes for hire. Hanging from the ceiling are some skateboards and scooters. On some shelves to the left are roller skates. Two people are talking to the assistant in the centre. They are dressed mostly in white and the assistant has a yellow T short on. In the background are trees. The sky is blue.

Or get a pedalo and drift around the lakes (there are two).

A pond surrounded by some reeds with some pedalos drifting around it. There is a small arched bridge and trees in the background, as well as a sculpture of white boxes stood on one another in a 3x3 grid

You can take part in other sports too, with a beach volleyball area, and plenty of free outdoor yoga classes and the like.

A group of men are bunched under a basket ball hoop, looking up. Another man to the left in green shorts has shot, and the ball is about to go though the hoop. Other players are distributed around the court. A spectator watches from the side. In the background there are people playing beach volleyball in swimming costumes on an artificial beach in Gorky Park.
To the left there is a red stage with Reebock written over it. On stage people in exercise gear demonstrate moves. In front of the stage, some people in aerobics gear are copying them, while others watch. They all have their back to the camera. It is a rainy day, and everyone is dressed for that weather.

There are children’s play areas, which are pretty cool no matter what the weather.

In the Gorky Park playground there is a large wooden blue cruise liner style ship, slighly heeling to one side as if sinking. There are handholds so children can climb the sides and lots of small round portholes because you can climb inside and look out. At the back is a large white sphere, which you can also climb inside and a round red pipe. In the foreground are some wooden steps in the form of waves to climb over or sit on. In the background there are trees without any leaves on.
Behind some bushes there is an area with swings set in a circle suspended from white metal frames. Some of the swings are traditional, some are less so. You can see adults, teenagers and kids in the swinging equipment. In the foreground are some bushes and in the background a concrete building with lots of windows.

Food and drink stalls, cafes and restaurants abound.

There are five food stalls. The signs are all in Cyrillic. The nearest has tea urns with bread snacks a bit like pretzels handing. Stallholders are busy preparing food or standing looking out. One customer is leaning on the stall and chatting to the stallholders. It has been raining and the customers are wearing warm coats, hats and boots.

And! There is a dancing fountain!

In the foreground are spikey blue and white flowers and in the background, out of focus, a fountain arcs water straight up, left and right. A man is looking at it with his back to the camera.

In winter the whole place turns into a giant outdoor ice rink. It’s not quite as big as the one out at VDNKh usually is, but it’s just as cool.

You can also climb on top of the entrance gates to a viewing platform. And visit Gorky Park’s very own museum (it’s on our list. Obviously).

The Gorky Park gateway from underneath. You can se white stone columns on either side and sandy coloured stone above, with large round indentations cur into the stone. The sky is a strong blue colour to either side.

There is even a highly regarded modern art gallery, Garage, to look round.

Delicate blue, purple and white flowers with on tall thin stems with frothy frondy leaves in the foreground. In the background are some trees and grass surrounded by paths, and behind that a silver rectangular building that is Garage art gallery.

And an observatory.

Partially hidden by trees is a small cylindrical red and white building with a shiny silver metal dome that the sunlight is bouncing off. In the foreground there is long grass and a plant with bushy broad leaves. There are some white globe lamps dotted around, close to the ground.

Gorky Park always gets in on any of the big city wide celebrations happening in Moscow, so it’s a definite place to consider going if you want to join in.

Two men and a woman stand around a small forge next to the Moscow River in Gorky Park. The woman is looking down, with her hood up and her hands in the pocket of her coat and operating bellows with her foot. A man opposite her is smiling and holding a long metal rod in the fire. He has on a beanie hat and a cagoule and some gloves. The other man stands between them with his hands in the pockets of his trousers, looking at the fire. He is wearing a hoody and a bodywarmer.
There are a whole bunch of people climbing over tanks parked on the embankment of the Moscow river in Gorky Park
Two large men have picked up a large tractor tire and are carrying them in parallel in a rage. Straw bales mark the area they are racing in. Other people are standing and watching them. It is a wet day.

But you also probably don’t realise how big it is.

Neskuchny Gardens are not boring

The bit with the organised fun, the bit actually called Gorky Park, is really only the start of it.

If you amble further along you get to Neskuchny Gardens, which literally translates to ‘Not Boring Gardens’. These are the remains of the formal gardens belonging to the mansion houses of aristocrats, which after the revolution were commandeered to form the backbone of the new proletarian leisure facility.

This isn’t a mansion house though. It is a library.

A classical looking yellow and white  building with a columned frontage sits on top of a steep hill covered in brown autumn leaves. The trunk of a willow tree leans in from the left, and dangles its thin branches down from the top of the picture.

There are also grottos, statues, pleasant grassy knolls and a continuation of the embankment to continue to stroll along. Somewhere there is also a round pavilion where What? Where? When? is filmed. A quirky and very beloved TV show, it is something like what would happen if you crossed University Challenge and QI, let the participants wear evening dress and had members of the public setting the questions.

And! Mama and Papa came here for their very first date. Which seems to have worked out quite well all told.

Sparrow Hills are quite hilly and might have some sparrows

If you keep going, you will find yourself in the midst of the wooded Sparrow Hills. Through which you can walk and walk and walk, and take in this fabulous building.

It’s the Russian Federation’s Science Academy. Isn’t the architecture just perfect for an academy of sciences? And if you nip across the bridge here you can go to the Moscow Art Deco Museum.

However!

You are still not done and can continue walking though woods, next to the river, past the urban beach, which Mama does not really recommend you swim from, right round to the Luzhniki football stadium, Novodovichiy convent and Moscow City. Although you’ll have to cross the Moscow River to get to them.

Luckily, a brand new method of doing this has just started up – taking a cable car. Which doubles, in winter, as a means of getting to the inner city downhill ski run.

So, Gorky Park. Well worth a visit, especially if you are in Moscow for any length of time, in summer or winter. Not much to get back to the USSR with (you want Muzeon, just over the road, for that) but a lot of other things to see and do.

And for more information about the man behind the name, see this post.

More information

The park has its own website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Terry Pratchett, author.

Address: Krymsky Val, 9, Moscow, 119049

Admission to the park is free.

Opening: 24 hours. Allegedly.

Getting there: For the main entrance, you want either Oktyabrskaya metro station (orange and brown lines) or Park Kultury (red line). But there are a number of other entrance points, notably Vorobyovy Gory (red line), which will give you a walk through the Sparrow Hills wooded area, through Neskuchny Sad/ Not Boring Gardens and on to Gorky Park.

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Fling out two hands at the Moscow Art Deco Museum

It won’t come as any surprise to people who are familiar with certain areas of London, but some Russians have a lot of money.

Quite how much money is actually quite hard to comprehend for mere mortals such as Mama, but let’s just say that the first time Papa heard Alan Sugar’s boast about having made 800 million pounds from scratch in the opening credits to the Apprentice he laughed and laughed and laughed at the idea that this was in any way impressive.

Vast wealth beyond even the most avaricious dreams concentrated in the hands of a very few is what you get when you believe a bit too naively in the capitalist dream, which is what Russia did in the 90s. Not controlling the rampant asset stripping of the former Soviet Union was, in Mama’s opinion, a mistake, and not one made entirely though cynicism or lacking the tools to do so. Not… entirely.

Of course, not all the oligarchs made their trillions from the fire sale of the oil, gas, telecommunication networks, metals, or gemstone industries. Some people managed to make a fortune from kitty litter and concrete, and one of them is Mkrtich Okroyan, who has put his resulting 100 million dollar collection of Art Deco doodads on display in his own private museum in Moscow. As you do.

The Moscow Art Deco Museum is  a large room filled with furniture and figurines as well as some artwork from the Art Deco period.

Mama, all fired up by the Art Nouveau sensibility of Gorky’s House, and her success in accidentally coming across the gem of the Forest Museum, decided to take us there while idly scrolling around Yandex Maps one day.

And what Mama decided after touring the Moscow Art Deco Museum’s one largish room is that it is a pretty good entry into a New Russian pissing contest. Because it is, in fact, only marginally more tasteful than building a house with seventeen fairytale turrets and filling it with repo Louis XIV furniture before covering everything with gold gilt. Says Mama, who thinks you can only really get away with that if you are actually a 17th Century French king with a giant 1000 room palace to fill, and multiple dancing fountains or 200 pairs of diamond studded heels to offset.

Is Mama relentlessly middle class or what?

That said, many individual pieces are very nice indeed.

And the Moscow Art Deco Museum collection includes pieces by some of the big names (Mama gathers, vaguely) in Art Deco sculpting.

An Art Deco figurine bent over in the middle of a dance

Although what Mama most gained from the experience in the end was an overpowering urge to cavort, contortedly, arms outflung.

A dancer in a particularly dramatic pose standing on one leg, with one arm hooked behind her head

She contemplated having us pose in front of the figures and try to copy them in a nod to educational something or other, but a) she probably can’t afford the hospital bills and b) we were supremely uninterested in helping her walk around and photograph everything because there was an Art Deco colouring area and other children there to talk to. And if we got bored of that, the Art Deco style chairs round the Art Deco inspired coffee table we were exercising our creativity on spun round! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Actual Art Deco objects d’art cannot at all compete with that.

A figurine wearing a dramatic blue and red theatre costume at the Moscow Art Deco Museum

You have to buy a photography pass if you want to emulate Mama, by the way, a practice which is dying out in Moscow generally. And what with that and the entrance price, Mama concludes that kitty litter and concrete is not, perhaps, as lucrative as you might suspect. Clearly patronising the arts is an expensive hobby.

Anyway. A visit to the Moscow Art Deco Museum is not going to take up a vast amount of time. So it is nice to know that it is set on the banks of the Moscow River, and that if you shlepp across the bridge nearby, you will be bang in the middle of the Sparrow Hills section of the southern embankment.

And before that you can go and have a look at the rather fabulous building that houses the Russian Academy of Sciences. Mama says it is the architectural equivalent of standing on to of a hill in wet copper armour during a thunderstorm shouting ‘all gods are bastards’ because she thinks its form very much matches its function, and because she has always thought that was one of Terry Pratchett’s best lines.

She is quite pleased that it is a building very visible from a long way away in the current day and age. Just to keep people grounded (hahahahahahahahaha. HAHAHAHAHA. Oh, deary me).

There are cafes dotted around the Moscow Art Deco Museum too, partly because the museum seems to be in some kind of re-working of former factories into trendy office space. Although because it was a weekend, they were mostly closed, and so we had our lunch in a cafeteria attached to a car repair outfit round the corner.

If you are looking for a real post Soviet 90s-esque experience, this should be your stop too.

In fact, Moscow is still full of these stalovayas, the Russian equivalent of the greasy spoon kaff, anywhere where people actually work. They serve food such as hearty soups, plump pork or chicken burgers, buckwheat kasha, a number of (admittedly mostly mayonnaise inspired) salads and cheesecake style puddings out of curds and raisins, washed down with compot or mors, mild tasting drinks made by boiling fruit in water (more or less). Which a distinct step up from MacDonald’s when you are trying to insert a certain amount of food into children with a reasonable level of nutrition. And at a fraction of the price of named chains which do more or less the same but in slightly more up-scale surroundings. Admittedly they have a wider range of tea and coffee options.

No you cannot always just take sandwiches. It’s damn chilly outside in winter. Mama has experimented, but shovelling food into your kids on the Metro is frowned on. Although now it is actually summer, a picnic is something to consider.

From there you can have a pleasantly wooded walk down to Gorky Park. But that is a story for another day.

More information

The Art Deco Museum’s website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Napier – New Zealand’s Art Deco paradise.

Address:  Luzhnetskaya Quay 2/4, building 4, Moscow, 119270

Opening: Tuesday to Sunday (closed Monday), 11am to 9pm

Admission: 200 roubles for adults, 100 roubles for children, plus some more money if you want to take photos.

Getting there: The nearest metro station is Vorobyovy Gory (red line), which is actually on a bridge over the Moscow river. You need to get to the northern embankment and turn right, away from the big stadium that was one of the World Cup football venues. It’s about a ten minute walk.

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The Moscow Art Deco Museum houses a 100 million dollar collection including this Russian dancer figurine