The Trip That Changed My Life and a Liebster Award

So a while (a shameful while) ago, Corey from Fifi + Hop (there’s a great story behind that name) nominated us for a Liebster award, which is intended as a way for smaller bloggers to honour and get to know each other better. We’ve been nominated before but Mama is determined not to let that get in the way of excited squealing and hogging the microphone.

As it happens, one of the reasons it has taken Mama a while to get a round toit and respond to this flattering tip of the hat is that she has been working on  a bit of a side project. Along with 65 other travel writers from all over the world, she has been writing a story for a charity book called The Trip That Changed My Life.

The Trip That Changed My Life

And since she has been doing a little bit of editing for the book, she can safely say that her story, of how she came to be standing on Red Square in a wedding dress and how that impacted on her life, is not by any means the most exciting, the most entertaining, the most hair-raising, the most poignant or the most heartfelt either. Although her photos should be quite something. And she does explain what not to do when invited to a Russian celebratory meal.

The aim of this project, aside from providing y’all with a jolly good read, is to generate at least $5000, after production costs, for two children’s charities, Save the Children and Unbound. The money is being raised by pre-selling the book on the crowdfunding site, IndieGoGo. You can click here to find out a lot more about the project, and, of course buy the book.

The Trip That Changed My Life Infographic

It will not be available after close of play on 21st June. That’s right, there is less than two weeks to go to get your copy!

The tradition of the Liebster Award is that you answer some questions, set by your nominator. Corey of Fifi + Hop, being a travel blogger herself, had a set of travel themed questions for Mama. Mama has decided to continue this theme, and she is going to tag some of her fellow Trip That Changed Your Lifers on the grounds that it will serve to showcase the variety of writers who are taking part.

So here are Mama’s replies!

How did you get into blogging?

A friend started her own blog and I thought that looks like fuuuun…

Where do you write your blog posts?

During term time I decamp to a café between dropping the kids off and going to work a couple of days a week. During the holidays, it tends to be the kitchen table, after the kids have gone to bed (eventually…).

What is your favorite place to go to in or around your home town/city?

Stevenage Museum is pretty good. But the Hertfordshire countryside is truly pretty, especially if you have been stuck in London for a while. Cute villages too – thatched roofs, the whole bit!

What is your favorite place you’ve been to abroad?

Well, aside from anywhere in Russia, which I suppose doesn’t count, I used to really enjoy having to go to Tallinn in Estonia once a year to renew my visa. Lovely old town. A nice continental change from the monolithic classicism of Moscow and the quaint mishmash of London.

What other hobby(ies) besides traveling do you enjoy?

That would be blogging!

What has been your worst travel “mishap”?

I very nearly allowed my non-Russian speaking mother to arrive, on her own, in Moscow for her first ever visit, while I was stuck a day’s drive away with minimal phone access. Luckily, we managed to persuade the last bus driver out of the one horse town we were staying in to let us stand up all the way home…

Of course, there’s always also the time we brought ourselves to the attention of the secret servicemen in the Kremlin…

What is your favorite cuisine?

Homecooked British and Russian dishes are pretty good and what we eat happily day to day for the most part, although I do some mean enchiladas and an equally fabulous ragu sauce. In the UK, for a change I’ll usually choose Anglo-Indian take out. In Russia, I tend to visit restaurants with food from the Caucuses.

Ocean or Mountains?

Mountains all the way! I’m not a big beach person and I get seasick if the waves are big. I like water though, so, really, lakes, rivers and mountains.

Do you plan all your trips out or do you like to be spontaneous?

Spontaneous travel is my idea of hell. It’s how my husband likes to do things though. So mostly we stay at home…

Overpacker or underpacker?

Both. I alternate. What I don’t achieve is the happy medium.

Top of the bucket list?

Tricky. But I am quite determined the get out to Lake Baikal in Siberia before too long. The only problem is deciding whether to go in summer or winter.

And Mama’s nominees are…

Hung Tai of Up, Up and a Bear. The Trip That Changed My Life is his project. He’s done a pretty impressive job of whipping us all into shape so far, and it is, frankly, an honour to be on board and following in his wake. He also has a travel blog and an excellent taste in amusing blog post titles (not to mention the name of his blog). That’s what hooked Mama onto the project in the first place, in fact. He’ll be too busy to complete this, of course, but that’s not really why we’re nominating.

Writers for the Trip That Changed My Life

Some other members of The Trip That Changed My Life team.

Svetoslav of Svet Dimitrov

Maggie of Dakota Gypsy

Kerem of 35 Litres

Denise of Travelous Mind

Mulv of Mulv Jones Writes

Nam of Laugh Travel Eat

Shannon of Lives Abroad

Wendy of Pint Size Gourmets

Neven of Journey to the Unknown

Ting of My Travel Monkey

And their questions!

1 What was your first blog post about?

2 Where do you write your blog posts?

3 Why do you travel?

4 Where in the world would you most like to have breakfast?

5 And a picnic or at least outdoor lunch?

6 And dinner in a restaurant?

7 A city or the great outdoors?

8 What day trip near you would you recommend?

9 Favourite museum?

10 What do you do when not travelling or blogging?

11 How did you find out about The Trip That Changed My Life project?

liebster

5 Ways to Celebrate Spring in Moscow, Russia

Spring, it turns out, is a big deal in Russia.

I dunno. I quite enjoyed the snow. But perhaps when you have endured many more winters than one rather mild one, you do get quite excited when the earth finally heats up enough to sustain actual grass, leaves and tulips.

So perhaps it is not surprising that when this happens, which is the beginning of May in Moscow, Russians decide to celebrate All The Things! At Once! With Decorations! And Days Off! And (in Mama and Papa’s case) digging at my school for the ‘subbotnik’, when Russians get out there and tidy up their public spaces after the snow melts and everybody realises how much rubbish and how little grass is left behind.

Lenin kicked off this spring tradition by carrying a log across the Kremlin once. Papa says the log has increased in size over the years as more and more people claim to have been involved. Cool, huh? That Lenin had some tricks, huh?

It probably helped that that this year Orthodox Easter fell on May 1st too, which is already a public holiday. So Moscow was covered in painted eggs, chicks and other traditional Easter accessories, such as famous model churches from around the world.

Orthodox Easter Eggs Moscow

Yes, I know you in the Catholic/Protestant block celebrated more than a month before that, but given that I get two Christmases and two New Years out of a weird calendar quirk, the only surprise is that I don’t get two birthdays as well.

Props to the person who decided to place the recreation of Jerusalem in sand, plastercast figures and a real donkey opposite the statue of Karl Marx though. Because the public holiday on May 1st is not officially about spring but actually for the seriously Communist one of Labour Day, just like it is in what I imagine must be that other bastion of Socialist values, the USA. Albeit on a different date.

Mama particularly enjoyed sitting next to the Bolshoi Theatre in the shadow of faux middle eastern palm trees listening to some old guard pensioners sing Soviet songs while drinking vodka and talking earnestly about politics.

Orthodox Easter and Labour Day in Moscow

Even Lenin in his mausoleum got dressed up for the occasion.

Lenin Mausoleum on Labour Day

But for the non-partisan amongst us there were just lots and lots of artificial flowers, old shoes and springtime wildlife.

Spring Festival Moscow

And arts, crafts and music.

Spring Festival Moscow

And also, the three bogatyrs, the three legendary heroes, who battle dragons, rescue princesses and overcome other obstacles.

Three Bogatyrs at the Spring Festival Moscow

Not quite sure what they have to do with spring, but I Do! Not! Care! Because as well as displays of fighting, they offered a challenge to all comers and my Enthusiastic Big Brother and I got to whack away at large mail covered men with lightly padded giant sticks!

Bogatyrs at the Spring Festival Moscow

The ancient warriors might have been softening us up for the 9th of May.

It’s quite a big kuffuffle is Victory Day in Russia, although to be fair if you can’t celebrate the end of a war that left millions dead what can you celebrate?

There is a parade of such extravagance that it requires weeks of practice and many road closures. If you are Mama, you will stroll by all unsuspecting and be confronted with soldiers standing in little knots planning out their tank positions on one day and with the tanks themselves just a few days later. Goodness only knows what she missed the rest of the time.

Victory Day Rehearsal Moscow

We did not actually watch the parade itself, mind you. We went to Gorky Park instead. This is because, traditionally, this is where veterans of the Great Patriotic War meet up in their former units and celebrate, generally just by commandeering some plastic chairs and a table and taking over some pathways for their picnics. While they do this, passers by, especially children, give them flowers. It’s nice.

But not quite as much fun as climbing on the tanks down by the river.

Victory Day at Gorky Park

We were so exhausted when we got home that we went to bed early. This was a mistake as at 11pm, the whole of Moscow erupted with firework displays and shouts of ‘oorah!’ from the impromptu street parties outside.

Russians make pretty good neighbours, Mama finds, but when they do cut loose, they do it in style. On which note, I give you, the tank car.

Tank Car on Victory Day Moscow

Thankyewverymuch and goodnight.

More Information

This link will take you to whatever festival Moscow is currently celebrating. At the moment it is fish.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about how May Day became a workers’ holiday.

Labour Day is May 1st, which is a public holiday. It will be the holiday regardless of which day of the week it falls. If it is a weekend, a weekday will usually be given off in lieu. If it is in the middle of the week, Russians often find themselves working weekends, so they can get a block of days off instead.

Orthodox Easter is not a public holiday and shifts around just like the other Easter does. But because the Orthodox church uses the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian one it may (or may not) fall on the same day as the Catholic/ Protestant one. Fun, huh?

Victory Day is 9th May and is a public holiday. See above for the complicated dance this may involve. But basically, you can guarantee that from the 1st to the 9th May in Moscow, there will be lots going on.

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Spring is a big deal in Russia and in Moscow they go all out to celebrate in the spring festival

MummyTravels

Central Children’s Store at Lubyanka, Moscow

Mama is turning into an unbearable big city snob, much like Papa, who simply cannot imagine ever living anywhere other than the capital of any given country.

The way you can tell this is that Mama considers Hamleys in London one of the least pleasant places to while away a few hours in a long list of unpleasant places to while away a few hours. She has, in fact, been spoiled by the availability in such a large metropolis of many many more interesting places to hang out, and if a visit to a toy shop is actually necessary would far rather spend the afternoon wandering around the always empty ToysRUs than brave the heaving mass of small shrieking bodies fighting over a broken demonstration remote-controlled car or the last half-inch of kinetic sand. Her children’s delight in getting to actually touch an extremely limited number of the toys on display, in Mama’s opinion, is not worth the hassle of trying to keep an eye on her over-excited and increasingly frustrated kids in one of London’s tourism scrums.

Gagarin and Laika out of Lego

Luckily, because inexplicably we, her children, do not entirely share Mama’s hatred, we now live in Moscow, where there is the Central Children’s Store at Lubyanka.

Yes, it is a bit of a mouthful. There’s a story behind it. Let me explain.

The Central Children’s Store at Lubyanka is not so called because Soviet people had no need for this pig-dog capitalist nonsense of snappily memorable brand names. Back in the day it used to be called Detsky Mir, Children’s World, and it was glorious (Mama tells me).

Central Childrens Store Detsky Mir Moscow

It was this giant warehouse of a place, with an aircraft hanger-like open space on the ground floor giving way to open plan balcony effect floors going up and up and up, each one with their own child related product theme. It was so big that the full-sized carousel in the centre of the main hall looked dwarfed. Mama used to particularly enjoy going and standing in front of the walls of a thousand million Barbie dolls. Papa preferred the acres of model train-sets. And they both used to travel to the pushchair section, pre-children, because you haven’t lived until you have seen the massed ranks of every possible make and model of four-wheeled baby carrier stretching far far off into the distant horizon.

Crowded and cramped it wasn’t.

Unfortunately just as Mama acquired actual children to go with her general love of wandering around it, Detsky Mir closed for renovation. And did not reopen for many many many many many many years. And sometime during that time, the name Detsky Mir became attached to a chain of children’s toy and clothes shops in and around Moscow. So when it reopened, the original shop needed a new moniker.

Of course, this doesn’t explain, quite, the utter lack of an interesting choice of name in the Central Children’s Store at Lubyanka’s bid to muscle into the lucrative Moscow what-do-we-do-with-the-children-when-it-is-minus-10 outside market. But then perhaps they are rightly resigned to everybody calling it Detsky Mir regardless of copyright whatever they did.

Anyway. I bet you are desperate to know what it is like inside, yeah? Mama is starting to take the piss with these long rambling introductions, isn’t she? I’ll get her to shake the format up next time, OK?

Inferior to the old version is Mama’s grumpy old woman verdict. Nooooooooo, I don’t want to go, you are the worst Mama in the world, let’s just stay for a bit longer, is mine, when anyone attempts to prise me away from it. You decide who is right.

Basically they’ve kept the galleried effect, but expanded the floors themselves so that the open area is much smaller and the available space for selling stuff much bigger, which means it feels much less spacious than before. This, of course, is the source of Mama’s grumpiness. She has had it with urban space squeeze after ten years in London. Papa is just outraged that the new commercially-minded brand has replaced the old iconic clock of his childhood and given the new one (say it with me) the biggest mechanism for any timepiece in the world.

Giant Clock Central Childrens Store Detsky Mir Moscow

But what a ground floor it is! There is a STAGE and regular free performances throughout opening hours. If you like people dressed in giant foam heads resembling your favourite TV characters jollying your children along into singing, shouting, crafting and mild exercise, this is the place to hang out. Sometimes they even show cartoons!!! It’s great!

Inside Central Childrens Store Detsky Mir Moscow

But it’s not the main event. The rest of the five floors are split between places selling toys, places selling children’s clothes and accessories, places to refresh yourself with child-friendly food, and places which offer other child-oriented entertainment opportunities.

The main toy emporium is provided by… Hamleys!(This may well be Mama’s other source of grumpiness as her face starts to twitch at the mere thought).

Biggest Hamleys in the world in Moscow

Of course, this being Moscow, this Hamleys is much more spacious than the one in London even after the renovations (apparently, wait for it, it is the biggest Hamleys in the world, which should surprise you not at all), so as well as all the many toys to gawp at, there is much more room for the interactive play opportunities. These include, a large indoor climbing frame, giant slides, one of those pianos you can leap about on and make loud plinky noises with your feet, huge numbers of Lego building stations around an interactive Lego model of Moscow, racing an go cart round a track, having a go on a working carousel (smaller then the original, Mama sniffs, mainly because it’s not for adults) and SINGING WITH THE EQUESTRIA GIRLS!!!

The Kremlin out of Lego

Oh, and people demonstrating flying toys, the opportunity to handle the squeaking jumping dogs and more kinetic sand. Naturally. Yes, it can get a bit busy, but we’ve never had to wait that long to get our go on things. And if you are used to the London one, it’s practically empty.

This fabulousness can occupy us for as long as you like, but there are other things to do. First and foremost is to boggle at how many other brand names familiar in the UK have managed to set up shop in the Central Children’s Store at Lubyanka. Mothercare makes a certain amount of sense in a child themed department store, but Mama is mildly amused that BHS, the rather down at heel Marks and Spencer’s knock off, has an outpost here in the dead centre of overpriced boutique shopping that is central Moscow, albeit a usually empty outpost.

We, however, do not do our clothes shopping here (we go to the other Detsky Mir). But we do allow Mama to take us up to the top floor where there is a food court with any number of coffee dispensing outlets, a stained glass fairy-tale depicting roof and a large free indoor play area on the topic of space. We take our shoes off, Mama sits down with her vital caffeinated refreshment and we are all happy for half an hour or so. If the usual fast food joints are not something you could consider feeding your children at, the still reasonable but slightly more respectable Grabli café is on the same floor.

As is the access to the roof. Yes, you can go and stand on the top of this tall building and gawp over the rooftops towards Red Square and the Kremlin. It’s very very cool and there are free binoculars for even closer up aerial sightseeing. Follow the signs for the viewpoint (in English as well as Russian). There is also a free toy museum on the same floor, which we have yet to explore but which is on the list.

As are many of the other entertainment options. For the other reason why the Central Children’s Store at Lubyanka has squeezed its former space a bit is to fit in things like a cinema, a number of stages for robotics shows and the like, an anamatronic dinosaur experience we are TOTALLY going to for my birthday, and Kidburg, one of these amusements which involves children pretending to make like the adults, go work work, earn money and generally prepare themselves for the daily grind ahead. My Jammy Big Brother and Papa have been as part of a school trip. Mama and I have not. We are sulking and therefore not prepared to say anything about it whatsoever until we have our turn.

(‘IT WAS COOOOOOOL!’ says my Jammy Big Brother, ‘I HAD FUUUUUUN! But I kept choosing jobs that didn’t give me much money and I couldn’t buy a toy at the end.’ Which just goes to show you that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But Papa was not as scathing as he sometimes is when he has had to part with money in order to keep his brats amused, so it couldn’t have been that bad).

Central Childrens Store Detsky Mir Moscow at Christmas

Some tips. There is a cloakroom on the ground floor. Use it. Says Mama. Yes, I know you will have to queue when you want to go home, but you do not want to be the one schlepping everybody’s coats, overtrousers and extra jumpers around in the winter months.

Unsurprisingly, the Central Children’s Store at Lubyanka is much quieter just after it opens at 10am than at other times of the day, so if you really want uninterrupted access to all the interactive opportunities, this is an excellent time to arrive.

And also, those little ice cream selling carts dotted around the ground floor? Make use of them – along with eating an ice cream in GUM, eating an ice cream in the former Detsky Mir should be on every Soviet-inspired traveller’s bucket list. Plus, they are pretty good.

If you are travelling to Moscow with children, Detsky Mir, sorry, the Central Children’s Store at Lubyanka is a bit of a must. An indoor themepark in the middle of downtown Moscow? What better way to bribe your children when you want to fit in a bit of cultural and historical sightseeing? I know Mama is quite prepared to trade a visit to a museum with popping in here on our way home. From my point of view this is entirely the right attitude.

More Information

The store’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the seven deadly sins of electronic toy design.

Address: Teatralny Pr-d, 5/1, Moscow

Opening: 10am to 10pm, every day.

Admission: Theoretically, it is free to get in. Getting out without spending any money when you have children with you is another matter.

By public transport: The metro stations Lubyanka (red line) and Kuznetsky Most (purple line) are actually in the basement. How convenient is that?

By car: There is also a car park in the basement. Usually with a queue to get in too.

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The Central Children's Store in Moscow is more than just a toy shop

Packing my Suitcase
MummyTravels

Tram Parade, Moscow 2016

What is it about the universe that it no sooner hears you want to go to an outdoor street party involving a tram parade than it abandons the delightfully mild spring weather it had been experimenting with previously and starts sleeting?

Vintage tram at the tram parade, Moscow

Our trip around the vintage autotechnics was, then, decidedly damp and chilly but the upside, from Mama’s point of view was that she was not forced to watch as we smeared paint all over our freshly washed ready to put away winter coats, because you can’t paint cardboard trams when the cardboard is too soggy to stand up.

Back of a vintage tram at the tram parade, Moscow

The upside from our point of view was puddles. We got to splosh about in them and almost totally ignore the trams. Hours of fun. Fabulous.

However, aside from the terrible weather, the tram parade was very similar to the trolleybus parade we attended earlier in the year (and, Mama is beginning to think, the bus parade we will surely be attending in, apparently, August).

Tram parade at Chistiy Prudiy, Moscow

A central street in Moscow was shut down for the occasion. There was a stage pumping out music which Mama is still not convinced had anything to do with trams. Crafting opportunities for children should have existed. Many many balloons emblazoned with trams were blown up and handed out to kids who promptly let go of the strings and cried as their new-found pride and joy sailed off into the nearest tree. People dressed up in clothes from different eras of the trams’ existence wandered around and had their photos taken with the general public. You could climb on and off the old trams, the thematically painted trams and marvel at the fixtures and fittings.

Space tram at the tram parade, Moscow

The main differences were that as well as trams there were some old cars.

Vintage police car at the tram parade, Moscow

And as well as passenger trams there were street cleaning trams, breakdown rescue trams and similar.

Vintage street cleaning tram at the tram parade, Moscow

Breakdown rescue tram at the tram parade, Moscow

But best of all, because trams are a much older form of transport than trolleybuses, there was also a, wait for the caps lock, HORSE-DRAWN TRAM!

Horse-drawn tram at the tram parade, Moscow

My Slightly Wet Big Brother and I actually took an interest in that one. Although it was then a massive let down that we did not get to ride away on it when the cavalcade eventually glided off home.

Green vintage tram at the tram parade, Moscow

For verily, never let it be said that Mama is not capable of learning from her previous experiences and this time we hung around for the actual end of the show tram parade itself!

Maybe next time we will get stationing ourselves to see the HORSES leave right, or even turn up in time to see the trams arrive. Who knows?

Celebration of Moscow trams

And who also knows, but maybe next time the weather will be better on the date itself, rather than reserving the blue skies and glorious sunshine for the following day.

More information

The website of transport for Moscow, with a lot more photos of the tram parade!

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Gerald the pornographic elephant and his groupies.

Address: Right next to Chistye Prudy metro station.

Admission: Free!

Opening: 12 noon when the trams arrived until around 4pm when they left.

By public transport: Chistye Prudy metro station (red line, orange line – where it is called Turgenevskaya – and light green line – where it is called Sretensky Bulvar. Yes, this sort of naming convention is confusing. Nevertheless, it is all one station really). Funnily enough, the usual trams weren’t running up this far on the day…

By car: Pfft.

Travel Monkey
MummyTravels

Inchcolm Island and the Forth Bridge by boat

Nobody is ever going to go to Scotland for the glorious sunshine, although we have experienced at least two whole days of lovely blue skies in our total of two visits to nearish Edinburgh so far.

Forth Bridge and Forth Road Bridge

Sadly, the high summer’s day we decided to take a boat trip up and down the Firth of Forth to admire Inchcolm Island and the Forth Bridge was not one of those days.

Forth Bridge in the Rain

But despite the brisk winds, the flurries of rain and the fact that we were having to wear both a thick jumper and our winter coats, this remains one of Mama’s favourite bits about our trips to one of the Venices of the North. Which is why she is writing about it almost three years after it actually happened.

It may be that she is more nostalgic for the summer holidays of her youth spent mainly in full body waterproofs in the Lake District than you might expect.

Especially because those holidays also involved messing about in boats. And as everybody knows, boats are much more interesting when there are a few waves and a whole lot of spray, which is what we got on this occasion in Scotland.

Boat Trip to Inchcolm Island

Papa huddled inside the undercover cabin. Mama stood out back with her face in the wind. And the rain. Did I mention the rain? Of course, she had me strapped to her chest as a makeshift bodywarmer. Sometimes Mama finds having children comes in handy.

The Firth of Forth is quite something from a boat, or indeed from any prospective at all. It’s really an enormous estuary with Edinburgh at its mouth and it is easily able to accommodate multiple ocean-going oil tankers passing each other at a distance. By which I mean, it’s big.

And this is why the Forth Bridge, the railway bridge first crossed in 1890 connecting the north side of the Forth to the capital of Scotland is such an engineering marvel. It is still the second longest cantilever bridge in the world, and was the first of its kind when built, says Mama nodding sagely as though either she or I have the faintest idea who cantilever is or why we should eat it.

But I do know it is so fabulous it is has just been declared a UNESCO world heritage site, along with the Kremlin and Red Square, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids, Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China, and, apparently, the whole city of Liverpool. Cool, huh?

It’s also responsible for Papa realising he’d been in the UK too long. Making small talk, someone referred to their job as being in its futility much like painting the Forth Bridge, and Papa found himself nodding sympathetically, fully understanding the obscure reference to the fact that as soon as you finish painting one end, you have to start again at the beginning again.

Which is a myth, apparently. They use specially formulated paint to protect the cutting edge but fatally rust prone mild steel, and as a result it doesn’t wear off that quickly. Still, that didn’t stop Papa feeling traumatized. In fact, the Forth Bridge may be responsible for our move back to Moscow!

Of course, there is no chance that my Brilliant Big Brother will take and interest in all this because of his obsession with the natural world.

Luckily, the Firth of Forth boat trip held plenty of interest for him too, mostly in the form of numerous sightings of grey seals basking on rocks, buoys and Inchcolm Island itself.

Seals around Inchcolm Island

Although we also saw a puffin flitting around the boat thanks to his animal obsessed eyes too.

The boats set off from South Queensferry, which is either a short train ride away from Edinburgh proper, or reachable by a dedicated coach journey laid on the by river trip organisers. South Queensferry itself is a very pleasant sort of town for someone who wants to get away from big cities for a while. If you are early you can wander around the High Street. There’s a fish and chippie that sells deep-fried Mars bars and everything, as well as more rustically attractive shopping experiences.

Or, if that doesn’t appeal, maybe pottering about on the rocky seaweed-infested shoreline will. We could certainly spend hours down there. Just make sure you wash your children’s hands thoroughly afterwards, says Mama darkly, who once had to weather tag team explosive vomiting after she didn’t. The Firth of Forth is pretty but it’s not that clean.

Anyway. Once you have admired the elegant red struts of the Forth Bridge and the wildlife and the choppy ride, you will be deposited on Inchcolm Island and marooned there.

There is something quite thrilling about this to Mama, who along with all Brits of a certain age, was forced to read the trapped-on-a-small-island-with-your-school-chums survival manual Lord of the Flies in school. Did we go feral and start beating each other around the head with conch shells? The anticipation would be rampant except that… how exactly is that different from a normal day out with kids? Everybody else can probably just get excited about the prospect of eating all sorts of unlikely live insects courtesy of Get me Out of Here…

Luckily, before it came to that, Mama broke out the sandwiches, which we ate inside the ruined monastery. It’s very scramble-able and picturesque and a whole bunch of fun to look round. Because of course, what else do you do with an island in the middle of an estuary but build a monastery?

Inchcolm Abbey from the water

Well, build military fortifications, that’s what. Bunkers and whatnot. Gotta protect the Forth Bridge from invaders.

We missed out on that because as well as poking around on Inchcolm Island’s sandy beach (WASH YOUR HANDS. Luckily there are fully plumbed toilets by the landing stage), we also discovered the path round the back of the monastery which leads you to the rockier, less built up island area and the end of the island, where the seals lurk.

Unfortunately we did not get to see the seals from land. Papa, who was the first to find the footpath, came back after a few minutes looking shaken and warning us to stay away. So obviously Mama had to take us to have a look.

No sooner had she stepped onto the broad green inviting walkway than she understood his fear. It was nesting season for seagulls, who turned out to be extremely unimpressed by anyone coming within any kind of distance of their young and totally unafraid to dive bomb en mass those that do so.

Seagulls on Inchcolm Island

Being attacked by waves and waves and waves of large raucously shrieking birds who have no fear of humans after years of nicking their packed lunches is quite an experience. Mama made it to the top of the incline on the off-chance it would be a momentary inconvenience, realised the whole area was covered with the angry sea birds and beat a hasty retreat.

Seagulls and the abbey on Inchcolm Island

Never let it be said that our family is not occasionally sensitive to conservation issues and leaving our animal brothers and sisters in peace.

Anyway, after that it was time to get back on the boat again. More waves, more seals, no more puffins, another look at the Forth Bridge, the chance to compare it to the prosaically modern road bridge, and if you are lucky and get there quick before it is finished, the privilege of watching the ALL NEW, almost ethereal, road bridge go up. We may be a hundred and twenty five years on, but it is still damn difficult to get it right. Perhaps you will be there when they discover they are two millimeters off in being able to assemble there flat packed 21st century bridge kit, and everything!

All in all, a highly recommended day trip if you are ever in Edinburgh. QE2 smooeetoo is what Mama says. If you want boats, you want this one.

More Information

One of the tours available.

Another of the tours available.

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

Address for the launching area: Hawes Pier, South Queensferry, Edinburgh, EH30 9TB

Trip times: The boats run between from February to the end of October.  There are between one and three sailings a day, depending on the time of year and whether or not it is a weekend.

You can also do a boat trip without getting off on the island (but that would be a mistake).

Prices: Child over 5 £9.30 – £10.30, adult £18.50 -19.50, family ticket from £49.60. Concessions for Historic Scotland members.

By car: There is a large free car park next to the pier.

By train: Edinburgh Waverley to Dalmeny Station (South Queensferry). Then you walk down the path from the station to the Hawes Pier going under the Forth Bridge. You could even have a go at going over the bridge on the train to North Queensferry and coming back again to Dalmeny if you wanted to really get your Forth Bridge fill.

By bus: Stagecoach 40/40A from Edinburgh Princes Street. Get off the bus at the Police Station (bottom of the hill) and it is a 10 mins walk along the High Street of South Queensferry to the pier.

The first tour operator also does a coach tour of Edinburgh followed by the river cruise.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

A Hole In My Shoe

ANIMALTALES

The Museum of Moscow

Mama spent rather more of her first visit to the Museum of Moscow wondering if it is housed in a former garage than she was expecting to when she saw the outside.

For Mama wondered this not because the building resembles some brutal constructivist concrete box, which in any case Mama, coming from Stevenage and never quite escaping her upbringing, is resigned to finding increasingly attractive as she gets older. No, the Museum of Moscow’s shell is 19th Century and classically inspired all the way.

Museum of Moscow Provision Warehouses

She wondered this because to get from one exposed painted brickwork and exposed air-conditioning ducts themed floor to another, you travel up and round the sort of concrete ramps you usually only find in multi-story car parks.

Museum of Moscow ramps

Was it really a place to park cars? Or a design statement? Or possibly a nod towards accessibility for all, despite the fact the incline is pretty steep? Mama found it distracting in a space which is not supposed to house modern art.

So it was nice to find out through the power of Google, that in fact the answer is…

…the building was actually used as a military garage for many years. Nice to get that cleared up then.

Particularly as the Museum of Moscow’s permanent galleries are mostly about the capital’s origin story, and so stuck in the middle ages. It is chiefly memorable for the intricate table top models of Moscow in various stages of being built up. They’re great. I was extremely disgruntled to discover I would not be allowed to play with them.

Museum of Moscow medieval gallery

Of course, it’s tricky to find your niche when you are the museum of the capital of a country which has many many museums in the same city dedicated to exhaustively documenting most of the other highlights of Russia’s history. Especially when they cover Moscow’s place prominently in each of them.

Instead, the Museum of Moscow has decided to rock its relatively small size and less established status by using the rest of its space to have regular quirky little exhibitions devoted to other eras or other aspects of the city. We’ve been to three of these now and they seem to be characterised by a desire not to be comprehensive, and possibly not even representative, but to spotlight the everyday rather than the epic.

They do this through really attractive, interesting or iconic objects, the use of historical film footage you might actually want to watch rather than suffer through in an attempt to be informed, genuinely interesting photography, challenging installations set so that you walk through them or skirt closely around them, with the odd touching opportunity thrown in.

The Forgotten Factory

First there was the series of photographs taken in and around the abandoned factory of the legendary former Soviet automobile producer, ZiL.

Museum of Moscow ZiL factory automobiles

Fascinating not just for fans of lovingly photographed urban decay, but also because a lot of the machinery was still in situ and was similarly gorgeously spotlit.

Museum of Moscow ZiL factory equipment

Mmmmmmmmmm, authentic industrial chic, says Mama.

But it was the human touches that made it memorable – the factory comes across as being abandoned much like the Marie Celeste, with the workers just downing tools one day and leaving their half drawn designs on the drawing board, their half drunk mugs of coffee scattered around the building and their half smoked packets of cigarettes stuck to the wall. Oddly compelling. Says Mama.

Museum of Moscow ZiL factory personal effects

Everyday War

Then we saw the Museum of Moscow’s World War Two displays, which focused mostly on the people living though the war in the capital. As a Brit, Mama’s war story involving everyday people tends to revolve around London, air raids, evacuations, the mild inconveniences of rationing, Dad’s Army and bringing women into the workforce in both rural and urban areas.

Much of the Former Soviet Union has a more… dramatic version ( Mama prevaricates), but Moscow, unlike Stalingrad, say, was never actually invaded and raised to the ground by the fierce fighting from both sides to hold it, and unlike St Petersburg was not besieged for 872 days, causing mass starvation and football fields full of unmarked graves, so the exhibition was not quite as… traumatic as it might have been. But it was a shock to see the preparations the inhabitants had made for either of those possibilities, the very real part that children took in them.

Museum of Moscow World War Two defence

Mama also thought the way the Museum of Moscow exhibition kicked off, with a table of glasses and bread to symbolise the tradition of setting places for fallen comrades when the news of their deaths came though was an appropriately sobering opening, and a statement that this was not primarily an exhibition about the glory aspect of the war (WE WON!!!!!!!!! LOOK AT OUR COOL TANKS!!!!!!!!!!).

Museum of Moscow World War Two memorial

People did carry on living during this time, however, and Mama and Papa both had a good nose at the typical living room reconstructed with keys as to why Muscovites were expected to have this or that bit of kit hanging about. Papa felt that the electronic equipment, billed as a radio for listening to the latest war announcements, was of a high enough quality to get you arrested for being a spy rather than being standard issue, mind.

Museum of Moscow World War Two living room

The mock up of the very modest dining room from which the Soviet entry to the war was announced was also, to Mama, fascinating.

Cars! And Dresses!

The last exhibition we attended was one about cars and dresses. An interesting juxtaposition, particularly as Papa was very vocal in his pre visit estimation that ordinary Soviet people in the sixties, the era the exhibition was billed as focusing on most, had neither in any interesting quantities. As it turned out, it was more about the first half of the 20th century in its totality. Or rather the first half of the 20th Century with the Revolution, its aftermath and the World Wars left out, which Mama felt was quite some feat.

Museum of Moscow dresses

Probably this explained both the seeming juxtaposition of the first and last decades of the period and the limitation to personal transportation and clothing.

Museum of Moscow white dress

Unless the point was supposed to be about periods of relative prosperity.

It was difficult to tell and Mama never did decide whether this exhibition was a case of style over substance, or just ingenuity born of the determination to give every item in the Museum of Moscow’s storage its day in the sun. But she liked the cars on display, coveted some of the dresses, and again thought that the collection of photographs or people enjoying their leisure time around the capital in all weathers and over a number of decades were particularly interesting, all lacking in the usual Soviet symbols to tell you that this was the USSR instead of, for example, the USA.

Not everything has to be about ideology, Mama thinks.

Museum of Moscow car and film

Some things are about voyeurism.

That and the film clips. Silent movies in Russian being about her speed, linguistically speaking. We were less impressed, once we had realised that the oddly jerky on screen action notwithstanding, it was not going to turn into a cartoon. But we did enjoy giving Mama a heart attack when she rounded a corner having lingered in front of the silver screen and found us with our heads stuck deep inside an antique car after we had wrenched the door open for a better look inside.

Museum of Moscow moskvich

Until we informed her that this was what everybody else had been doing before we tried it.

Look for the lack of the little rope barrier, I advise you. Quite why something made out of thin cheerfully coloured material at shin level provokes such fear in adults that they cannot cross it I am not sure, but if an object is in the middle of the floor and it doesn’t have a little rope barrier at the very least in Moscow, it means touching is ON! Mama thinks that there are a number of museums and art galleries in London that should take note of this useful signal for visitors.

Bargain Hunting

However, the main reason we originally went to the Museum of Moscow wasn’t actually historical appreciation of the capital at all.

We were there for the Museum of Moscow’s occasional flea markets. We are big fans of car boot sales and somewhat disappointed that Russians have not, by and large, embraced this particular method of getting shot of the cuddly animal toys they no longer want but we can buy for 20p to take home and add to our alarmingly large collection.

As it turned out, this flea market had more of an antique flavour, which was disappointing for us if not for Papa given that there had been a pretty big queue to get inside.

Museum of Moscow flea market

Not that we were bothered as we got to mess around in the giant piles of snow next to the plaster of Paris replica sights of Moscow in the courtyard of the Museum of Moscow while we waited. Mama would have preferred to hang out in the onsite café, but someone had to stand in line.

Museum of Moscow Courtyard

Mind you, there was a children’s section, which saw kids taking tables and selling some of their well loved tat. Of course, we were horrified at the idea that Mama might suggest we join in and part with some of our most beloved possessions ourselves and couldn’t even be bothered to haggle.

There was also entertainment laid on. I particularly enjoyed the lindy hop amateur dancing display.

Museum of Moscow lindy hop

Mama was more interested in the refreshments. Retro soft drinks, soups and ice cream. Very hipster.

So all in all a fun atmosphere if you happen to like shiny old objects, but not really one for those looking for second-hand bits and bobs for your everyday life.

Basically, the Museum of Moscow is one for the locals, who would like something reasonably distracting to look round every now and again when they are in the vicinity of Gorky Park. The Cars and Dresses exhibition is on until 10th May and then the next upcoming one is Moskvovedy, which apparently celebrates the establishment of the history of Moscow as an actual thing. No, Mama doesn’t understand that either. But she has already decided to go anyway.

The Museum of Moscow also, unique among museums and galleries in Moscow so far in Mama’s experience, has a decent shop. Surely a direction that should be encouraged. So go.

Just be sure not to try to park your car on top of the interesting objects d’histoire.

More Information

The museum’s website (in Russian because the English bit is minimal. Google translate exists, people).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about challenging a parking ticket issued in the UK.

Address: 2 Zubovskiy Bulvar, Moscow

Opening: 10am – 8pm Tuesday to Sunday (except Thursday 11am – 9pm). Monday – CLOSED.

Admission: To access all the galleries and exhibitions – adults 400 roubles (£4), children over seven 200 roubles (£2). Individual exhibitions – adults 200 roubles, kids 100 roubles.

By public transport: The metro station Park Kultury (red line and brown circle line) is right opposite. The tolleybus б/ бк, which circles the centre of Moscow also stops right outside, as do other buses.

By car: The temptation might be too much for you…

Wander Mum
Ersatz Expat

Open Air Ice Skating at VDNH, Moscow

Mama has been putting off going ice skating on one of the open air rinks in Moscow.

Ice skating and lampposts at VDNH

She says it is because this winter has been unsatisfactory. Outdoor ice skating in Russia’s capital, she says, should be undertaken when the temperature is determinedly at minus 10 or lower, and with huge piles of snow surrounding you on all sides and, preferably, falling from above too.

We had about three weeks of that just after New Year. It was great.

Since then the thermometre has barely got below zero and while it has snowed, sometimes energetically, it has also rained quite a bit, and in Mama’s stated opinion, one should not have to wade through slush and one should have to put on skates to take a slide past some of the iconic sights on Red Square, VDNH, Gorky Park or similar.

This, however, is nonsense.

Mama’s real reason for not taking us ice skating was fear.

I attribute this to her twice breaking her arm aged seven due to the terribly dangerous activity of falling over a bit awkwardly while running around outside and then falling over a bit awkwardly having just recovered from the first fracture. Since then, anything that might involve falling over has not really struck her as something fun.

It’s not the anticipation of pain, it’s the anticipation of sitting staring moodily at your friends playing outside for half a year while you scratch under your plaster with a knitting needle.

Foremost among Mama’s most mistrusted sports, then, are roller skating, rollerblading, downhill skiing and ice skating. Under normal circumstances she cannot be doing with any of them.

But here we are in Moscow, Russia for the foreseeable future and outdoor ice skating is one of the things you have to do when it’s too cold to go to outdoor yoga classes. And Mama decided that the sooner we get started, the sooner we might actually get good enough to enjoy ourselves a little bit. She doesn’t want us to end up being forced to stand at the edge holding everybody else’s coats pretending we are too cool for that sort of thing because of the deficiencies of our English heritage.

Ice skating at VDNH

So there we were at the end of the ice skating season, biting the bullet and heading off towards Mama’s first choice for an ice skating venue, VDNH, which has for two years now held the title of most extensive outdoor ice skating complex in the WORLD, and has an array of striking buildings to distract you from the wobbling Mama really will get around to explaining on the blog one day.

Anticipation was high (me and my Optimistic Big Brother), trepidation was rampant (Mama) and it was business for usual for the man who regards outdoor winter sports as something to be endured as part of the PE programme at school (Papa).

It has to be said that for the first half of the experience, Mama was really not enjoying it, and my Increasingly Less Optimistic Big Brother and I were not far behind her.

There is a children’s rink where you can pilot some penguins around and get your ice legs, and there is also an option to hire a tutor for an hour to help you take your first steps. We, of course, did neither of these, just blithely hired the skates and flung ourselves onto the main expanse of ice, where we promptly fell over. Except Papa, who was annoyingly good.

We then spent a long long looooooooooong time, making our way round the edges of the skating track, clutching desperately at the barriers in order to stay on our feet and hating every minute of it. By the time we got to the farthest end, we were ready to go home. At which point we realised that going to the most extensive outdoor ice skating rink in the WORLD has its drawbacks and one of those is that there is a considerable way to go before you can get back to the place where you left your shoes.

Frozen fountain at VDNH

I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are exits and entrances all around, and we could probably have flagged down one of the skaters in VDNH jackets who are obviously there to make sure that all is ok with the ice and its inhabitants, but there is a not unreasonable expectation that you will at least be able to complete one circuit and so the builders of the rink do not provide you with walkways around the sides so you can stagger back overland.

There are, however, places to sit down, as well as a wealth of cafes and even toilets that you can access from the ice. And after a brief pause to loll about on one of the on-ice benches and eat oranges, things started to get better. My Suddenly More Optimistic Again Big Brother developed a style of running on ice which made him happy if not much more upright, and Mama put on her big girl pants and let go of the side rails, which meant that she and Papa could now tow me along at a glide between them, which was almost (almost) fun.

To celebrate reaching the half way point we stopped and had hot chocolate, a drink which is usually inexplicably rarer than you might expect in a country which a) is cold in winter b) likes children and c) thinks that children consuming cold drinks in anything less than 30 degrees centigrade above freezing will addle their insides.

Ice skating cafe at VDNH

Fortified by my favourite beverage, we managed to complete the final circle in style, and then Mama decided to throw caution to the winds and go round again all by herself.

And there, on the ice, sailing reasonably eptly along in the open air in a location she thinks of as one of the coolest in Moscow, Mama decided that the whole moving countries project was TOTALLY worth it. She has completed a bucket list she never new she had and the rest of her life will be downhill from here on in. Sort of thing.

Friendship of Nations Fountain in Winter at VDNH

At which point she fell over, naturally.

And then she fell over again, because she found my By Now Positively Giddy With Optimism Big Brother half way round, insisted they held hands while gliding incautiously fast, and got taken down by my Actually Protesting This Quite Loudly Big Brother and nearly wrenched her left shoulder out of its socket.

Ow.

Luckily it only took a week for her to be able to lift her arm above her head again, so it does not seem to have put her off.

Lovers Lane ice skating at VDNH

The open air ice skating at VDNH, and everywhere else, is now closed for this season, though, so we will have to wait until next year to get truly proficient. But we will be back and Mama now has an ambition to check out every outdoor rink in Moscow, so watch this space.

More Information

VDNH’s website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about why we slip on ice.

Address: 119, Prospect Mira, Moscow, 129223

Opening: From December to Mid March.

Price: 300 roubles to 550 roubles for adults and 150 roubles to 250 roubles for kids in 2015/2016.

By public transport: For the Metro, you want the orange line, station ‘VDNH’. If you are on the first wagon from the centre, head for the nearest exit. There are a huge number of buses, trams and trolleybuses which also stop here, and the monorail too.

By car: Actually, I reckon there is parking. Somewhere.

Wander Mum

Tring Natural History Museum, Hertfordshire

It is a truth universally acknowledged that in the UK, London has all the best stuff worth visiting, with just a few lesser, obviously compensatory, projects mopped up by either the other larger British cities or the National Trust, at least until the capital figures out how to fit those in and insists on bringing them home too.

Which does not explain the existence of Tring Natural History Museum as it is in none of these locations.

Interesting Mammals at Tring Natural History Museum

Tring is a modest collection of dwellings at the other end of Hertfordshire to the one that Mama calls her hometown. It is principally famous for being the location of Mama’s uncle’s house for many years, for having an excellent running club, a canal, the 7th longest comedy festival in the world, a Co-op, a Tesco AND a Marks and Spencer (according to Wikipedia), and for being one of two possible birthplaces of the great-grandfather of the first president of the United States of America.

It was also a home of the Rothschild family, one of whom closely resembled my Zero Empathy Big Brother in both his passion for animals and his determination from a young age to catch as many of them as he could and keep them, alive or dead, it doesn’t really matter, in his house for his own gratification serious scientific study. Unlike my Zero Empathy Big Brother, being both Victorian and fabulously rich, this is precisely what Walter Rothschild actually did when he grew up, and the resulting collection of stuffed animals passed in the fullness of time to the nation and became known as Tring Natural History Museum (affiliated to the one in London).

Sadly his zebra drawn carriage, or at least the zebra drawn carriage with actual zebras attached, did not make it to the modern age, which is strange. I thought museums were short of funding these days. Imagine the prices you could charge for rides round Tring in that!

Anyway. Despite the fact that my Great Uncle mentioned Tring Natural History Museum to us a number of times when we saw him, we were generally too busy admiring his tortoise to bother visiting, and it was not until we needed a wet weather place to hang out during our recent Christmas visit to Stevenage that we actually got around to going.

This delay in checking it out may have been a mistake.

The thing is, just as having a pet is supposed to help children get their heads around the concept that animals are actual real beings of value as well as introduce the concepts of caring, responsibility and cleaning poo off everything in preparation for having their own children, there really is a lot to be said for being confronted in person by the sheer variety, the spectacular beauty, and the breathtaking unlikeliness of the animal world.

Delicate balancing act that, and in many ways stuffed animals are better than zoos for this. You can cram a lot into a small space, boggling opportunities therefore abound, nobody worries about how many square metres are the minimum for comfortable living for an elephant, or whether that rocking motion means the bear has gone mad with the boredom of it all, and, best of all, none of the livestock are going to go off and skulk at the back of their enclosure and refuse to come out until we are gone.

Plus, at Tring Natural History Museum there are animal-themed fancy dress costumes and a fascinating video of someone committing taxidermy, with none of the gory bits left out.

At small child eye level.

Taxidermy Video at Tring Natural History Museum

We gathered round it and refused to move until the last drop of blood had been wiped off the scalpel.

It was FABULOUS.

And surprisingly nobody had nightmares, not even Mama.

In addition, we may not consider hunting animals down and dragging their decomposing bodies back to admire on our mantelpiece quite the thing these days, but that doesn’t stop many more of us than just the super rich exploiting the natural world for our own amusement, and the Tring Natural History Museum is a good place to contemplate the consequences of letting your enthusiasms get the better of you at the expense of the greater good.

Especially as this message that this sort of behaviour is hardly all in the past is underlined by the notices telling visitors that the rhino horns on display are all fake, so nobody should contemplate trying to steal them.

Fake rhino horn at Tring Natural History Museum

Which, apparently, someone did once. WT actual F. Says Mama.

All of these animals are housed in the splendid Victorian building Walter Rothschild had built to house the largest private collection of stuffed animals ever assembled. This makes it tall rather than wide, and our first top tip is to head straight up to the top floor while everyone else starts at the bottom.

You will briefly have the place to yourselves, although this will not stop the bottom floor from being absolutely rammed by the time you get to it. Tring Natural History Museum is clearly (and deservedly) a favoured hangout for those with kids in inclement weather and people will be arriving all the time.

Antelope with a big nose at Tring Natural History Museum

This means that it is great that the cases are decidedly families-with-small-children friendly, coming straight down to the floor with plenty of interest at all eye-levels. Big up to the forethought of our Victorian forefathers there.

Who also appreciated the delight of a good set of drawers set round the gallery overlooking the ground floor. Admittedly these are a bit higher up, but Mama had just been eating for Christmas so the effort did her good. Butterflies! Shiny beetles! Cockroaches! Coool!

If you like your animals bigger, there is plenty for you to look at too, with crowd-pleasers like a polar bear front and centre.

Polar Bear at Tring Natural Hisotry Museum

That said, I think it was the more unusual looking animals that caught our eyes, and there are plenty of those too.

Vampire Deer at Tring Natural History Museum

The only downside is that you will want to be leaving the pushchairs and such like in the car. Quite apart from anything else, the queues for the lifts will annoy you, but mainly it’s because it’s all a bit narrow and crowded.

Another suggestion is to either bring your own sarnies – there is a lunch room in the car park – or plan to eat out somewhere in the town (the High Street is just a short walk down the road), as the café is quite small and mainly set up for coffee and snacks rather than anything more substantial.

But there is parking! We arrived at the beginning of the day and caught the last two parking spaces in the museum’s very own FREE car park. It’s a busy place on a wet winter holiday day, is Tring Natural History Museum. Not to worry though. There are other (reasonably priced. It’s not London after all) car parks not far away in Tring proper.

Of course, any display of stuffed animals is going to garner the inevitable comparisons (from my besotted Mama) to the Darwin Museum in Moscow, and we may as well get it out the way up front that is not quite as extensive and therefore as fabulous as that.

Rams at Tring Natural History Museum

It is, however, the closest we have found in the UK to the world’s best museum so far, and therefore if you are not planning to hop across to the other end of Europe any time soon, it will have to do.

And it certainly will do. Its London-deficient status notwithstanding.

More Information

The museum’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the resurrection of George Washington.

Address: The Walter Rothschild building, Akeman Street, Tring, Hertfordshire, HP23 6AP

Opening: 10am – 5pm Monday – Saturday, 2pm – 5pm Sundays.

Admission: Free

Public Transport: Trains exist out of London from Clapham Junction. The station is about two miles from Tring Natural History Museum. There are buses.

By Car: See above re the parking! Tring is on the A41 about 30 miles from London. You want junction 20 of the M25.

ANIMALTALES

The Historical and Ethnographic Theatre, Moscow

Going to see a theatrical performance of a fairy tale which isn’t a pantomime is an oddly disconcerting experience for Mama. But this was the mission she took on at the Historical and Ethnographic Theatre in Moscow.

Historical and Ethnographic Theatre Moscow
In we go!

Which, incidentally, is a fabulous space. The classical façade notwithstanding, inside someone has gotten busy with the carpentry, and the foyer transports you straight to rural Russia, with the traditional wooden log cabin on your right representing the entrance to the stage, and the typical windows of your average village house on your left inviting you into the café. Wonderful conceit.

Historical and Ethnographic Theatre Foyer Moscow
What is behind this door?

Especially when you do get inside and you find that there are rustic theatre boxes lining the sides of the auditorium, turning it into a sort of peasant Bolshoi theatre.

Boxes at the Historical and Ethnographic Theatre Moscow
How cool are these boxes?

Mama is quietly determined to splash out for one of them as soon as she can manufacture an occasion to faintly justify it. But even the sound and lighting guys and gals at the back had their own little wooden hut to hide out in. It’s all really really cool.

And very intimate as the space is not vast. You’ll get a decent view from wherever you sit, particularly as for our afternoon performance at least, the place was only about half full. This sort of thing is important when you are as short as me and can have your enjoyment of a show ruined by an incautiously tall Papa in front of the seat you are determined to have for your very own.

Anyway. The Historical and Ethnographic Theatre, being a Historical and Ethnographic Theatre, has a regular programme of weekend performances of traditional tales, told in a traditional way and including traditional folk singing and traditional costumes from around the various regions of the Russian Federation and other similar territories.

On the day we went the story was entitled ‘Marya Morevna and Koschei the Deathless’, which is one of the more Slavic ones.

Mama was a bit worried about that, to be honest. She thinks that Russian children’s tales can be a bit frightening – certainly the one about the witch Baba Yaga and her hut on a chicken’s leg surrounded by glowing skulls in her childhood book of magical realism from around the world gave her the screaming heebie jeebies way back when – and the idea of an unkillable antagonist who locks up young women and insists they marry him is not encouraging of peaceful dreams for when we get back home.

No, much better to stick to the ones for really young children, like Kolobok, the chippy little bread roll who gets eaten by a fox in the last act.

But she relaxed when the entire first half of the story seemed not to be about Kosehi at all, but the archetypal Slav hero, Ivan Tsarevich, and his search for his fated wife, Marya Morevna, complete with comedy animal side kicks.

Mama was quite pleased about that plot. Particularly as the entirety of the contribution of the other female characters aside from Marya Morevna, Ivan’s sisters, was to get hitched to strange wizards in the first five minutes. Important, of course, because these wizards would be continually rescuing Ivan from the consequences of his folly for the rest of the play, but hardly a role to aspire to. Mama says.

Marya Morevna herself seemed much more promising to Mama. She’s billed as a warrior princess, for goodness sake, and indeed seems to have quite comfortably kept the dread Koschei (who did eventually make an appearance) chained to the back of her throne until Ivan turned up, got bored and let him out.

Koschei at the Ethnographic Theatre Moscow
Koschei the Deathless revealed!

But then she was relegated to being unsuccessfully rescued by Ivan not once, not twice, but three times. She did get to wheedle the secret of his immortality out of Koshei, how very typically devious and female of her, but all that got her was allowing Ivan and his brothers-in-law to dash about and have more brave manly adventures conquering it. Mama would have been much happier had Marya been the one to lop the monster’s head off at the end.

Unsurprisingly after all that, I thought that the point of the whole thing was the new crown Marya Morevna got when she and Ivan finally got it together. Headdeskheaddeskheaddesk, says Mama, who doesn’t think she is going to have much luck persuading me that the heroine was supposed to be Baba Yaga, who also made an appearance in the second half. Nondescript headgear, the big nose and the one tooth do not compete with sparkly outfits in my eyes, even if Baba Yaga does have four fabulous horses at her command.

Naturally, my Slightly Obsessed Big Brother thought the animal characters were the best bit. In this he is generally excellently served by Russian fairy tales, where talking magical animals are frequently central, and especially excellently served by this retelling, which had foolish frogs, timid mice, clever sparrows, and earthy toads at its disposal. And, I would like to point out to Mama, all of these were female. Mama, however, does not feel that they count, not being human females after all, even if one of the toads did offer to marry Ivan if he didn’t find his Marya.

Still, that’s fairy tales for you. I really don’t know what Mama was expecting. And on the upside were the moments of rather good acting that broke out. Mama particularly enjoyed Koschei, who managed to be not just frightening, but also pathetic, and at the same time the sort of massively irritating person you actively want something faintly unpleasant to happen to all in one bewigged package.

And what’s this? A plot? Well, ok, it is a fairy tale so it rambles around a bit but still, a story with more than one basic episode is almost confusing after so many years of paring Cinderella down to the bone to fit in the business with the ghost, the underpants and the mystery parcel belonging to Buttons. Where were the broad innuendos? The cunning interplay of the traditional story and the latest pop songs? The VERY LOUD soundsystem? The fancy sets and the many set changes? The pyrotechnics? The audience participation? The men dressed as women? The singalong? Not… actually… necessary for an afternoon’s enjoyment, you say?

Well, Mama remains skeptical about that as these aspects do serve to remove her attention from involuntary feminist critique. But we certainly do not and will definitely be going back to the Historical and Ethnographic Theatre to see some of the other performances. Vassilya the Beautiful sounds suitably focused on pretty dresses and prince charmings to me. Mama is nodding with suspiciously enthusiastic agreement…

More Information

The theatre’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Baba Yaga, witch, crone and archetype. 

Address: 3 Ulitsa Rudnevoi, Moscow, 129327

Performances: The performances of plays probably more interesting for adults Thursday through Sunday at 7pm. Children’s shows, including but by no means limited to Marya Morevna and Koschei the Deathless, are on Saturdays and Sundays at 12 noon.

Ticket prices: Between 300 roubles (£3) and 800 roubles (£8) depending on where you sit. Oddly, there is no information about how you hire a box.

Public Transport: The nearest station to the Historical and Ethnographic Theatre is actually the overland train station. You want to get one of the local elektrichka trains out of Yarolslavskaya Station (metro Komsomolskaya) and get off at Losinostrovskaya. If you head straight out of the station and keep going down the road, the theatre will be a couple of minutes walk on your left.

The nearest metro is Babushkinskaya, and from there it is either a good 20 minutes walk straight up Menjinskovo Ulitsa or you can get the 124, 174, or 238 buses or the 88 or 38 marshutka and get off at the station. The theatre is on a parallel road. You need the last wagon of the train, turn right into the underpass and right up the stairs, cross over Minjinskovo Ulitsa to the bus stop on the other side (or turn left and keep walking, if that’s your decision).

By other means: Well, you might be able to park in the station car park.

Wander Mum

Undisturbed Russia Photography Festival 2016

Last weekend Mama outsourced finding us somewhere to hang out to Papa, who came up with the photography exhibition translatable as Undisturbed Russia, Pristine Russia, Natural Russia, or (the official tag) Primordial Russia.

Ice at Undisturbed Russia
Ice!

Mama was a bit dubious about the last phrasing and even more dubious that we might find such an outing worth the trek into town. However, since she didn’t have the personal fortitude necessary for something as child-pleasing as an indoor play area, and since we have already written about such indisputably fabulous venues such as the Moscow Zoo on the blog, she thought we would give it a whirl.

Volcanoes at Undisturbed Russia
Volcanoes!

Partly because the exhibition is in the Central House of Artists. Mama has fond memories of the Central House of Artists. It used to be a place where you could not only nosy round the workspaces of any number of hard at work craftsmen but also turn a corner and unexpectedly trip over an installation of millions of tiny paper gingerbread men. These days it serves as an exhibition space along the lines of Earl’s Court or Olympia in London and has been hosting first a conference of estate agents and then the Russian equivalent of a Crufts for cats the last couple of times Mama has been wandering past. Somehow we didn’t quite make it inside. It was clearly time to remedy this.

Plus, the Central House of Artists is also opposite Gorky Park, in the same building as the New Treatyakov Gallery and in the middle of the sculpture park Muzeon. If we really didn’t like Undisturbed Russia, Mama reasoned, there were numerous options for escape.

As it turned out, she needn’t have worried about my Easily Pleased Big Brother’s happiness with the entertainment. ‘This is much more interesting than I thought it would be,’ was his verdict as soon as it was evident that those parts of Russia that are Undisturbed are covered with photogenic animals, which was very quickly indeed.

Timur the goat and Amur the tiger at Undisturbed Russia
Who hasn’t heard of Timur the goat and Amur the tiger by now?

What followed was a thousand hours of me and Mama trying to keep up as he bounded from one picture to the next with the clear intention of photographing every single one of the bears, the seals, the bears, the walruses, the ladybirds, the bears, the tigers, the foxes, the squirrels, the bears, the whales, the lizards, the bears, the frogs, the butterflies, the bears, the bears and the bears (there were a lot of bears).

Bears at Undisturbed Russia
Bears!

My camera, on the other hand, turned out to be too full of pictures of Papa’s ear to allow me to follow my whimsy in this way and thus I was initially considerably more disgruntled about the whole experience, which, it turns out, was large.

Do not be fooled by the fact that the first few taster pictures are in the foyer next to the cloakroom (Mama was, for a moment), or taken in by that the first display space proper is skirtable in about five minutes if you tow Mama about really determinedly (I was at first). You will pass from there to a massive room, with even more spaces leading off it, and there will be many many lots of photos and quite a few people.

The Central House of Artists, unlike the Tardis, is just as big on the inside as it looks from the outside and the giant exhibition didn’t even begin to fill all its available area. If you get bored (you won’t get bored) you can always have a look round some of the other galleries.

Central House of Artists Moscow
It is just as large as it looks on the inside.

Back in Undisturbed Russia, there’s room for a stage and everything.

We sat down quite hopefully in front of it, but it mostly seemed to be for showing films about how you can remove rubbish from Lake Baikal by doing yoga. So I went back to grumping my way past the glories of nature and my Easily Pleased Big Brother went back to standing earnestly behind his camera in front of a photo of bears.

Undisturbed Russia
Undisturbed Russia!

But then we found the children’s crafting area which, in the best Russian tradition, was full of opportunities to get covered with goop! We bounded happily over and from a choice of clay modelling, sand collage creation and spooning gobbets of paint into frames and smearing it around to make animals, we chose the messiest.

Crafting at Undisturbed Russia
Paint!!!

To be fair, the aprons this time were particularly well designed and only Mama ended up with paint in her hair. Despite this, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

After this lengthy interlude, my good mood was quite restored and I was actually able to take an interest in posing cutely in front of all sorts of backdrops, which was how Mama snuck in her quota of landscape appreciation amidst the distractions offered by mammals, reptiles and fish.

Dramatic mountains at Undisturbed Russia
Dramatic mountains!

Russia, it turns out, is not only very very very very very very very big but also wildly varied in terrain (and fauna), and you can admire some utterly stunning pictures of everything from active volcanoes through trackless forests in all sorts of weathers and seasons over bodies of water both large, small and colourful to the northern lights.

Northern Lights at Undisturbed Russia
Northern Lights!

It’s bloody impressive (says Mama) even when you aren’t dealing with shots taken by people who definitely know which way of a camera is up.

Daisys at Undisturbed Russia
It’s pretty but it’s also coooooooool.

Running through it all is the Volga river, which gets a whole room where you can lie and float virtually along it as a film plays on the walls and ceiling around you.

Except we were too busy scoffing croissants and eclairs while Mama revived herself with coffee in one of the pop up cafes, and watching urbanite Muscovites being entranced in the nearby cinema room by how the most exciting thing to happen in your average Russian village is a tragic swan love story ( <spoiler> the male swan gets electrocuted at the end </spoiler> ). There was folk singing, moody fishing shots and farmers leaning on gardening implements sucking cigarettes contemplatively and everything. Mama was delighted.

Basically it’s a great exhibition for anyone who likes large professionally breathtaking nature photography, friendly environmental films and small scale amateur crafting, which is surely everybody. The exhibition runs until 25th February, so still time to get in there and enjoy.

More Information

The festival’s website.

The Central House of Artist’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about sunsets and why we see the colours- a photographer’s view.

Address: Krimsky Val, 10/14, Moscow, 119049

Opening: Until 25th February 2016, 10 or 11 am to 8 or 9pm.

Admission: Adults: 350 roubles (£3.50), children under 10: free, concessions: 150 roubles (£1.50).

By Metro: Oktabrskaya (orange and brown lines) – turn left, cross over the massive seven million lane highway and head left down the other massive seven million lane highway at right angles. Park Kultury (red line) – turn right, cross over the Moscow river, cross the seven million lane highway. The Central House of Artists is opposite Gorky Park.

By other means: Actually, the trollybus route ‘Б’ stops right outside. This is a circular route, which takes you round the edges of the centre of Moscow and hits a fair number of metro stations on the way. It’s quite a fun way of getting to or from the Central House of Artists.

MummyTravels
Travel Notes & Beyond