What to order in an Italian restaurant in Moscow, Russia

Mama would not like you to think that she doesn’t like Russian cakes – they have one which is layers of meringue sandwiched together with cream and covered with peanuts which is her most favourite thing to eat ever – but for some time she was itching to introduce Papa to the glory that is a proper British sponge cake, because sponge cakes in Russia are made largely without the help of baking powder and invariably tasted a bit stale to Mama’s refined sponge palate.

So it was a bit of a shock when she finally triumphantly served him a slice of moist, light, spongy goodness and Papa was unimpressed. It all goes to show that food is one of those things that can cause someone to go into a tailspin of culture shock like nothing else.

Which brings me to a restaurant called La Gatta.

La Gatta Italian Restaurant Moscow

‘La gatta’ means ‘cat’ in Italian. I know this because the restaurant is covered in funny cat pictures, something that definitely makes it a good place for our family to eat out as just the wall art keeps us amused while we wait for our food to arrive.

Cats at La Gatta restaurant Moscow

And I know the La Gatta restaurant is Italian because pizza features highly on the menu, along with pasta. And very nice pizza it is too, although because we are in Russia, it is often liberally sprinkled with dill.

Pizza at La Gatta restaurant Moscow

Mind you, La Gatta also serves sushi.

Sushi and Pizza at La Gatta Restaurant in Moscow

Because we are in Moscow.

And in Moscow, sushi and pizza are the two most popular carryout food items, if you don’t count street food from the Caucuses. Many takeaways, cafes and restaurants may have started out serving one but have long since shrugged and decided to offer the other as well.

This is one of those things that strikes expats as extremely bizarre, wrong and demonstrative of a fundamental something or other about their host nation. Much hilarity generally ensues the first time someone pins a flyer for the local sushi’n’pizza place next to the lift of their new flat.

Mama, however, having recently eaten in not one but two separate restaurant chains in the UK whose menus cheerfully combine burritos, curry, koftas, burgers, pies, lasagna and jerk chicken as well as steak and fish and chips, decided recently to just go with it and order the damn fish rolls if she didn’t feel like a bread overload.

So she did. Nice huh? Go on, you know you are secretly thinking that this sounds like a good idea.

Sushi at La Gatta Restaurant Moscow

She has no idea if warm tempura-battered fried rice rolls with cream cheese inside are authentically Japanese, but they were very nice so she just does not care.

And if you don’t fancy either the Italian or the Japanese food then you can get the German-inspired sausage platter instead.

German Sausage Platter at La Gatta Restaurant Moscow

While ordering from the extensive beer menu. Because in this Italian restaurant they don’t serve wine.

Beer at La Gatta restaurant Moscow

Sorted.

More information

The restaurant’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about pizzaburgers with spam – a culinary treat from the school cafeteria.

Address: At least three locations in Moscow for La Gatta and every fifty feet for a sushi, pizza or sush’n’pizza place.

Opening: As you would expect for a restaurant.

Getting there: No need to take the car, they will bring a selection of sushi rolls and pizzas to you if you don’t fancy leaving your flat.

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What to order when you dine at an Italian restaurant in Moscow, Russia - pizza, sushi, sausages, beer and pasta.

MummyTravels

Hever Castle and Gardens: knights, jousting, action

You may remember that when we lived in the UK Mama was a big fan of the National Trust. But the fact of the matter is that while we had membership Mama was very reluctant to go to any heritage sites which were not Trust properties on the grounds that this would involve shelling out extra money. And then for what reason had we got the multi pass, hmmmmm?

This was very frustrating for her because, of course, no sooner did she articulate this rule to herself than all sorts of interesting properties popped on to her radar which she realised she would NEVER BE ABLE TO VISIT. Nothing like banning something to make it more attractive.

Hever Castle and Gardens in Kent is one such property. So Mama was quietly quite chuffed when a visiting American Friend suggested it as an alternative to more sightseeing in London during our annual stay in the UK this year. Of course, Mama could quite happily have spent time pretty much anywhere with the increasingly innacurately named Internet Weirdo Friend Posse, but doing that in interesting surroundings can only be a bonus.

Plus, Other Friend’s Child Who Is Clearly Also Used To Being Dragged Round Cultural Attractions And Making The Best Of It had brought a football. We were impressed.

Hever Castle is a wonderfully liveable-in castle whose major claim to fame is that it was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, she who married King Henry VIII, gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth I, and eventually got her head cut off in a martial dispute over whether or not Henry should get to be a complete and utter total arsehole (Mama says he won). Princessing is looking less attractive every day (except for the housing. I could totes go for the housing).

Hever Castle Gatehouse Kent

The gatehouse is part of the original fortification from the 13th Century, and it leads to a Tudor manor house you can look round and even stay the night in.

Hever Castle Tudor Manor Kent

Inside, you can see the room where Anne Boleyn (probably) slept and where she strolled up and down the inevitable picture gallery. There are recreated scenes from her courtship by Henry VIII told through the medium of interpretive waxworks! With, when we were there, someone playing Greensleeves on a lute. Live!

But the house and gardens were also extensively remodelled and added to by William Waldorf Astor, (rich, American), who bought Hever Castle at the beginning of the 20th Century. So many of the rooms are much more modern in style and decoration.

Hever Castle Interior Kent

Definitely worth having a gander at in fact, not least because as well as a room full of medieval torture implements (thank you Henry Tudor) it has a scavenger trail for kids that pays more than just lip service to trying to keep us entertained. We had to actually look quite hard at things, people! And hunt! And eliminate items from our search!

Of course, it helps that there was the added competitive element of having a child who was not a blood relation to race against. The great thing about this, from Mama’s point of view, was not the keeness with which we sprang into action, but that when we lost, when any of us children lost, rudimentary politeness towards a new acquaintance meant that we did not indulge in the usual bickering that happens if we just have each other to fight with. How the Mamas managed not to exchange smug glances all the way round I have no idea.

That said, it’s probably the grounds that are the main attraction at Hever Castle.

Hever Castle Gardens Kent

At first, our visit ran much as they always do when we go to a stately home. The adults were pleased with the gardens, which at Hever Castle in July are particularly fabulously in bloom, and we children were pleased with the naked statues (bottoms!) and grape vines.

Hever Castle Gardens Flowers Kent

We ate a grape, despite warnings that they would be sour and nasty (because of warnings that they would be sour and nasty), and the grape was sour and nasty.

Hever Castle Grapes Kent

But then we rounded the corner and began to get an inkling of exactly why we had just paid almost half the price of an annual National Trust membership to get in.

Young men whacking at each other with swords. Now that’s what I call a summer job, huh?

But this was nothing to my Monomaniac Big Brother’s delight when they brought out the falconers. He refused food in favour of standing enthralled next to the enclosure!

Mama and London Friend seemed to think the baby owl being put through its cutely inept paces was the last word in totally fabulous. We preferred the swoopy bird or prey, particularly after I narrowly missed being carried off by it as it made a pass straight over our heads. Very cool, and there is a tent next door where the birds hang out when not doing their flying thing, and you can go and chat to the people in charge about your love of all things animal. Or sulk because they prefer your Monomanic Big Brother’s suggestion for the baby owl’s name to yours.

And then sulk a bit more because Mama refuses to buy overpriced Tudor tat from the shopping marquee next door.

Round the corner were some re-enactors demonstrating aspects of life from the late medieval period. There were some people cooking, a man shaping red-hot iron with a hammer and a woman weaving.

Hever Castle Weaving Kent

There was also a maze, which we had a lot of fun dashing around and getting thoroughly lost in. Apparently we missed the one by the giant lake (no, we are NOT going boating, said both the Mamas. Repeatedly) which squirts water at you as you try to make it to the centre without getting wet. I cannot imagine how that happened.

However! All of this was a mere side attraction to the main event, and the reason for our being at Hever Castle in the first place, the jousting.

Hever Castle Jousting Knights Kent

Mama will admit that when American Friend brought the jousting to her attention that she was expecting to be at the back of a large crowd, failing miserably to see very much of two horses galloping carefully towards each other a few times and missing making any kind of connection whatsoever for health and safety reasons. She will freely admit now that she was entirely wrong about practically every aspect of this prediction.

Of course, it helps to be adults trailing helplessly behind children who have no regard for the concept of queuing and just want to get to the front of any given show. Oh deary me, can’t let them watch something like that unsupervised, excuse me, was that your picnic blanket, ooops, coming through, watch fingers! Room for twenty-two more? Yes? Excellent.

But in fact I don’t know if it was because it was the very beginning of the school holidays (for people in the UK. We have been off since the beginning of June) and parents were less desperate to find something to occupy their little darlings in the loooooooooong summer break (Ha! Three months! We get three months!) or perhaps it was the promise of rain, but there was ample space for everyone watching to spread out around the jousting field, sit down, and get a good view.

And what a very very good view it was. As well as some displays of consummate horsemanship involving the knights whirling sharp implements around their heads, tilting at dummies, collecting rings on a lance, picking up severed heads on a spike, waving both hands in the air in triumph and, yes, charging helter skelter at each other with long sticks of wood, which shattered dramatically on impact to order, there was also a proper show. Goodies, baddies, audience participation, Henry VIII as a compere, knights brawling with swords and knights having a strop with a basket on their heads.

Hever Castle Knight Jousting Kent

Basically I, my Monomanic Big Brother, our New Friend and all the adults were, I am quite confident in saying, enthralled, right from the moment we kids got to march round the jousting field waving large edged weapons to open the tournament.

Mind you, I reckon American Friend was keen because KING HENRY VIII KISSED HER HAND!!!!! Although I’d watch it if I were her. We all know where that leads with Henry.

We didn’t even mind when it started to rain, although it was lucky it didn’t develop into much given that Mama had forgotten to bring a coat AGAIN. You’d think she’d have learnt after the previous day’s downpour.

Still, our top favourite thing about Hever Castle? More exciting than the jousting, the maze, the excellent company, the musicians, the delightfully bijou castlette and outbuildings, the beautiful interiors, the birding, the sour grapes and the flowers?

The large goldfish in the ponds and the moat. We could have stared at them for hours. Every time we got taken away to do something else, we pestered the adults about when we could go back to the fish. You can feed them too if you buy some fishfood from one of the plentiful drinks and snacks stalls. Outstanding! We were the last people out of Hever Castle that day partly because of Mama wanting to put an entire roll of duct tape on the car (don’t ask) and partly because we wouldn’t be moved from the goldfish.

Goldfish. Says Mama.

Only slightly bigger than the ones we mostly ignored in the corner of the room for two years. Says Mama.

Goldfish. Says Mama.

Mama may despair but as King Henry might have said, the heart wants what the heart wants.

Hever Castle Rose Gardens Kent

All in all, Hever Castle is a really good day out for all the family and it really works hard to make sure that you are going to get a lot more for your entrance fee than just a look round a mouldering old house and a nice scone in the tea shop. Recommended even if you do have heritage membership with another organisation. Go on, splash out! You’ll thank me. There are goldfish!

More information

The castle’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about five ladies (including Anne Boleyn) and the Tower of London.

Address: Hever Castle, Hever Rd, Hever, Edenbridge, Kent TN8 7NG, UK

Opening: In summer (April to November) Hever Castle and Gardens are open daily from 10.30am (the gardens) and 12 noon (the castle). It closes at 6pm. It is a bit more complicated the rest of the year – check the website out for opening times in the colder months. Be warned – it is closed completely in January.

Admission: Adults 16.90 GBP and kids 9.50 GBP. A family ticket is 44.50 GBP. It’s cheaper if you just want to hang out in the gardens and watch the jousting and whatnot (which is included in the ticket price). It’s also cheaper if you book online in advance.

Getting there: There is a free car park and the castle is well signposted from junction 5 and 6 of the M25. You can also reach it from junction 10 of the M23. By rail from London Victoria or London Bridge you can come into Edenbridge Town Station and get a taxi three miles to Hever or get off at Hever Station and walk for one mile. There is a map of the route on the website.

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Hever Castle and Gardens in Kent UK is an excellent family friendly day out. With jousting!

Suitcases and Sandcastles

Rather a lot of pictures of Dubna, a science town on the Volga River in Russia

You may have gotten the impression that Mama never takes us anywhere outside of Moscow, but you would be wrong. We recently spent the day in Dubna, which is over 100km north of Russia’s capital.

While we were on the bus going there, Papa interrogated the conductoress as to where would be the best places to visit. She seemed a little nonplussed, which wasn’t very encouraging. Mama has since found out that Dubna has the second largest Lenin statue in the world, which you might think was worth a mention. There are also not one, not two, not three but four museums.

But we knew nothing of this so on the advice of the locals we got off at the far end of town, next to the infestation of fancy new apartment blocks and generic shopping malls. It’s an object lesson in the difference between what residents think is important versus what might attract visitors.

Dubna is principally not very famous for being a science town (this is an official designation). Nuclear physics to be precise, but as far as Mama can tell, not the blowing shit up end of the field. It’s more theoretical physics, elementary particle physics, condensed matter physics, computing networks and nanotechnology. No, I don’t know what any of that means any more than Mama, but it all sounds very cool.

These endeavours are organised by a Joint Institute for Nuclear Research. Joint with whom, Mama wanted to know, and the answer seems to be everybody. They are very proud of their participation in the CERN super hadron collider for example. There is also a university, which leans hard on the sciences, and the town seems to hang on to a lot of its graduates, who have what is to Western eyes an unusually high proportion of women. Science, in Dubna, is a hereditary profession rather than discriminatory, apparently.

Joint Institute for Nuclear Research Dubna Russia

This is probably, says Mama, scratching her insect bites, because Dubna was built in a strategically isolated position on a virtual island at the intersection of a couple of rivers and the canal linking the Volga to Moscow and surrounded for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and (look, you do realise how big Russia is, right?) MILES by boggy forest. A forest which goes, my Babushka tells me, all the way to St Petersburg! Once the scientists were relocated here in the late 1950s, after the town had been specially built by prisoners of the Gulags, there was no getting out. You, or rather your children, might as well surrender to the siren call of STEM, regardless of your birth gender.

Volga Dubna Russia

Of course, after Dubna was designated an area of special economic interest in 2016 and investment incentives for science and technology firms set up, people probably are less interested in leaving anyway. This is the significance of the regeneration the bus conductor wanted to draw our attention to.

New apartment blocks Dubna Russia

They are also constructing in a new bridge over the Volga, which seems like a good idea as the nearest one is that thing in the far distance, which is actually the wall of a dam for a reservoir. Otherwise you have to queue for a ferry.

Bridge Volga Dubna Russia

And on the other side is likewise a fancy looking complex going up apace.

Volga River Dubna Russia

But while Mama is not unappreciative of having had this pointed out, we were much more into the Volga river itself, where Papa spotted people swimming. Before we knew it he had stripped down to his pants and plunged in. Mama, ever the spoil sport, kept a firm hand on our collars. Well, the last time she let us mess about in a river (the Firth of Forth in Scotland) we spent the next twenty-four hours tag team projectile vomiting.

Then up ahead Mama spotted what looked like a beach. After we rambled and rambled and passed the river cruise station, and Mama bought a souvenir mug and magnet at the hopeful looking stall next to it, and rambled a bit more we discovered it was, in fact, a beach.

Beach Volga Dubna Russia

Yes, with actual sand. Which was a bit of a surprise. So Mama surrendered to the inevitable because splashing about in water in inappropriate clothing is my FAVOURITE THING. And since there was shade for Mama to avoid the plus 25 degrees centigrade heat she didn’t clench her teeth as much as she usually does when we come across unexpected water play situations. She was even kept moderately entertained by the number of boats that swished past, some of which were very wizzy. We got an impromptu WAVE MACHINE effect! Wheeee! Gurgle, splosh!

Boats Volga Dubna Russia

Cargo boat Volga Dubna Russia

Fast Boats Volga Dubna Russia

However, Mama did draw the line when I started to turn blue and shiver uncontrollably, this not actually being the Mediterranean sea, and so having unlocked that most Russian of childhood achievements, baptizing ourselves in the Volga, we went for another long walk back though the town and admired the outsides of the various apartment blocks the Soviet scientists had gotten to live in.

This was our top favourite.

House Dubna Russia

But this block looks pretty cool from the outside, doesn’t it?

Apartment block Dubna Russia

And how about this one?

Wooden Apartment Block Dubna Russia

Less enticing Soviet apartments.

Soviet apartment block Dubna Russia

In fact, clearly Dubna has everything, and a (one) hipster bar and open plan work out space as well.

Hipster Bar Dubna Russia

A few more pictures. This is a scrubby little park that smelled of overheated dog poo, but the flowers are rather attractive.

Flowers Dubna Russia

The smell from this building was much better as it is a bread factory.

Bread factory Dubna Russia

This public building didn’t smell at all.

Public Building Dubna Russia

And neither did this man, a large physicist, not a giant Lenin.

Physicist Statue Dubna Russia

Here is the war memorial.

War Memorial Dubna Russia

And some random pictures of urban decay to finish with.

Grafitti Dubna Russia

Teapot Dubna Russia

Street Art Dubna Russia

Anyway. Who knows when you might find yourself in Dubna? But if you do, it might interest you to know that we suffered no unpleasant after effects from our wild swimming experience. So don’t listen to women on buses, who clearly think that you are a hick who has never seen a MacDonald’s before. Make them take you to the beach in the old town and enjoy.

More information

The town’s website (in Russian).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about distortion – the physics of heavy metal.

Address: Dubna, Moscow Oblast, Russia

Getting there: There are trains and coaches to Dubna, which depart from Savolovsky station (Savolovskaya metro on the grey line). By car you follow the A104 out of Moscow.

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Reasons to visit Dubna on the Volga in Russia include its sandy beach, the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research and a very large statue of Lenin

Untold Morsels

Heads of Ayr Farm Park, Scotland: more than just chickens and pigs.

Today we are hosting my small Scottish correspondent again, and this time his post comes all the way from the West coast of Scotland, just down from Glasgow, in Ayrshire.

Seeing as we had our caravan holiday was right next door to the Heads of Ayr Farm Park, Mummy and Daddy said we could go after we had given the caravan keys back at the end of our stay.

So of course, we got there too early and the man said we had to wait a little while. Not a problem – we had snacks!

“Biskits!”

Oh, that’s my younger brother L. He is just a little boy. I’m a big boy –  I’m 4! Herself is looking at me witheringly. It’s nice not to be the youngest, I tell her!

Eventually we got tickets, and some animal food

“May have some?” Well done L. It’s important to remind parents that just because we have eaten our own body weight in apples, it doesn’t mean we don’t have room for more. Unless, of course it is something the parents want us to eat

But no, L, the yummy looking edibles are strictly for the animals – they’re yukky.

Next we discovered that there is a play area right inside the Heads of Ayr Farm Park gates! But spoil sport that she is, Mummy said we should go see the animals first.

Luckily we were easily distracted as there’re birds next to the playpark, and just a little further up the hill are meerkats.

“Tha’s not a tat!” There’s no sneaking anything past my little brother!

Then we found some animals we could feed – little horses, (ahem, miniature ponies says Mummy). They were a bit licky! Watch out!

Right next to the ponies were slides, but Mummy and Daddy, who had a good idea of how much there was still to cover, only let us have one shot.

“Like big slide ‘swell” L does not share their anti equipment stance.

Daddy found some little goats, (which I am surprised Mummy is not calling miniature ruminant animals) so we fed them too. Not as licky as the horsies, I am pleased to report!

The goats were next to the inside animals, so we went to see who was being so loud! It was a white birdie with funny hair (a cockatoo, coughs Mummy). There were also rabbits, and mouses, baby chickens, guinea pigs, a tortoise, rats and even more birdies (Mummy has given up). For the connoisseurs of the more exotic, we also found some snakes too – a little orange one and a big big big yellow one (Mummy has got nothing).

Heads of Ayr Farm Park lemur
Heads of Ayr Farm Park lemur

“There’s lizzy’d ‘swell”  And a lizard, yes, thank you little bro! And, apparently, lemurs.

We washed our hands and had some lunch at the picnic benches. There were lots of picnic benches! But if you haven’t brought sandwiches there are also places to buy food on site.

Then we found bouncy pillows, a bit like a bouncy castle!  

heads of ayr farm park pillows

“I no like bounce.” Sometimes small children are a bit of a bind.

At this point, Mummy looked at the map and found MORE animals, so we went off and admired more goats, a VERY fluffy sheep and… seagulls? They’re not ‘pposed to be there!

Then we saw alpacas and llamas and really big camels (I am looking at Mummy, but apparently she agrees on the terminology)! These enclosures had a tube to roll food down instead of giving them food in your hands. Wheeee!

Heads of Ayr Farm Park Camel

“We play park now?” Persistence is everything in little brothering.

And rewarded. There’re lots of places to play at the Heads of Ayr Farm Park. Trampolines, slides, castles and even pirate ships and diggers. Lots of sand play areas too with buckets and spades provided! (There were also indoor play areas but it was a very sunny day so we didn’t go in).

Heads of Ayr Farm Park Pirate ship

“That a big mouse!?” No, L, it’s a wallaby! You can walk through the wallabies field for a final encore. Now that is a way to finish a day!

All in all, I can heartily approve my Mummy and Daddy’s choice of holiday campsite. Location location location is everything, and being next to the Heads of Ayr Farm Park is definitely worth the repetition. 

The images in this post were kindly supplied by the Heads of Ayr Farm Park as we had so much fun we forgot to take ones suitable for the blog! Our visit was totally independent of the attraction, however, as are our views.

More information

The farm park’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the rise of the urban seagull.

Address: Heads of Ayr Farm Park, Dunure Road, Alloway by Ayr, KA7 4LD

Opening: 7 days a week 10am to 5pm, from March to the end of October. Some indoor attractions are also open in winter.

Admission: Adults: £11, Kids £9.50, Family £30 – £45 (depending on how many people you are bringing).

Getting there: From the A77 you can either exit just after Ayr at the Alloway turn off (there are signs for Heads of Ayr) if coming from Glasgow. Drive through Alloway and onto the A719. The farm park is 2 miles further on. Or you can leave onto the A719 at Turnbury if coming from the South. The Heads of Ayr Farm park is five miles on the left.

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Heads of Ayr Farm Park in Ayrshire Scotland is an excellent family friendly day out with a range of animal and play attractions

The State Museum of A S Pushkin is not the one with all the paintings.

Pursuing the loud classical music wafting from the back of the museum, Mama galloped my Untiring Big Brother and Papa through the foyer and out to the very pleasant, airy atrium at the back, where a full-blown orchestra was entertaining visitors of the State Museum of A S Pushkin, the Pushkin literary museum in Moscow, to Mussorgsky.

Mama likes Mussorgsky.

Initially Mama was quite irritated to have her view spoiled a bit by a woman standing up right at the front of the audience. Then she realised this was the sand painting artist. Mama does not believe that classical music really needs embellishment, but we children are much more receptive to this sort of duel entertainment. It definitely helped to hold my Untiring Big Brother’s interest in the proceedings until the concert finished.

Which took about ten minutes.

The family should not have stopped for refreshment on their journey from the Moscow Modern Art Museum on their Moscow Museum Night marathon visit to no less than five cultural attractions in one evening.

Still, they hadn’t actually come for the music, that was just a happy accident. They had really come for the insight into the life and times of Russia’s most celebrated literary genius, Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin.

Pushkin Memorabilia State Museum of A S Pushkin Moscow

Who?

You know, the Shakespeare of the Russian speaking world. Pushkin.

Ummmmm.

Yes, well. His magnum opus was a novel-length poem. The rest of his work was either transcendental love songs, powerful verses on the beauty of nature and the tragedy of the human condition, anti-censorship political odes, and whimsical rhyming fairy tales. I see the difficulty here. It’s quite hard to translate Russian at the best of times, let alone Russian which is the distilled essence of language, the perfectly chosen wording of poetry. Especially poetry which is especially renowned for its complex simplicity. It’s not surprising he is less well-known in the non-Russian speaking world.

Of course, Pushkin has a great back story. One of his great grandfathers was a slave from Ethiopia, or Cameroon, or possibly Eritrea (who wound up a general in the service of Peter the Great).  He married the most beautiful woman in Russia, after a youth spent energetically playing the field (and immortalising his infatuations in poetry). He was a bit of a dissident, and was exiled to the countryside a couple of times (but brought back, because the Tsar wanted the beautiful wife at court). He single-handedly dragged literary Russian out of its stilted outdated phrasing and tortuous syntax into a modern vernacular (which still resonates with present day Russians).  He also wrote dirty limericks on the side (as well as lampooning people who annoyed him in pithy verse). He illustrated all his poems with little sketches of the characters (and landscape) he was describing. At the age of 37 he was killed in a duel (over the beautiful wife after some seriously long-term trolling by his French brother-in-law). He out-Byroned Byron, in fact (and was probably less of a shit. Says Mama).

Oh, that Pushkin.

Yes. The classic Yevgeny Onegin has been turned into an opera, a ballet, a play and several films. Stephen Fry himself has voiced the audiobook translation. That Pushkin.

So there are at least three museums which have Alexander Pushkin’s name on them in Moscow alone, and he’s not even that associated with the city (St Petersburg was the capital back in his day. The museum of his life is there. There’s also his country estate somewhere thataway). There’s an apartment museum from his brief time here, a world-class fine arts museum, and one which is more about his life and times.

That’s the one that Mama and the gang were in.

You are going to ask when Pushkin lived, aren’t you?

Well…

First half of the 19th century. What would be called the Regency period in the UK. Fabulous dresses. Great china. Lovely furniture. Balls. Chandeliers and champagne.

Ballroom at the State Museum of A S Pushkin Moscow

Plus the aftermath of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia (who made it all the way to Moscow before being crushed by the terrible winter on his way out). Lots of tension between liberal modernising movements and… less progressive elements. Serfdom was still a thing. There was even a revolution attempt, called the Decemberist revolt (which Pushkin missed because he had already been banished). Further authoritarian crackdowns followed, and thousands were sent off to Siberia.

The State Museum of A S Pushkin focuses more on the aristocratic social whirl than the inevitable march towards the 1917 revolution though. Fitting as the mansion the museum is housed in was one in which many upper class visitors of Pushkin’s time would have enjoyed hospitality from the owner’s round of parties.

Dresses at the State Museum of A S Pushkin Moscow

What Mama found most interesting, though, was the basement dedicated to exploring Pushkin’s lingering impact on modern Russia. A varied and eclectic collection of literary souvenirs, artistic responses in all sorts of mediums, and films on a loop, retellings of his stories.

Pushkin's Leg State Museum of A S Pushkin Moscow

Even more child friendly, there are also a number of rooms dedicated to the fairy stories, folk art and a computer based quest around a Russian fantasy world. My Untiring Big Brother, despite the fact that it was now about 11.30pm, dived straight into the digital distraction. Mama and Papa sat in a chair and stared, somewhat pie-eyed into the middle distance.

Folk Art State Museum of A S Pushkin Moscow

Didn’t stop them going over the road to one of the Tolstoy museums to finish off though. Big band music was the order of the day here, because why not?

Dancing at the Tolstoy museum Moscow

That and a lot of photos of the great man and his family. Probably worth a closer look, although the house is just representative of the sort of place Tolstoy might have occupied; it wasn’t his actual home.

Anyway. The State Museum of A S Pushkin is not, perhaps, one for the casual visitor to Moscow, but if you are going to spend any length of time in Russia, you will be getting very (very very VERY) familiar with Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin, so you might as well get a head start at this literary museum. There is even an English language audio guide to help you orientate yourself in the period more confidently.

Just make sure that you don’t get confused and end up in the much more famous fine art museum round the corner (no connection apart from it bearing Pushkin’s name). Or leave your review for that one on the Trip Advisor page for this one, like half the other people who have written it up there.

More information

The museum’s page (in Russian).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the evolution of the Russian language.

Address: Prechistenka St, 12/2Moscow 119034

Opening: 10am to 6pm everyday except Thursday, when it’s 12 noon to 9pm.

Admission: Adults are 200 roubles, kids of 7 and above are 100 roubles, kids under seven are free.

Getting there: The nearest metro is Kropotkinskaya (red line). Turn RIGHT, away from the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. The State Museum of A S Pushkin is about a five-minute walk away.

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Wander Mum
Oregon Girl Around the World

Puttering away at Mr Mulligan’s Lost World Golf Stevenage, Herts, UK

Mama had never actually been round a themed mini golf course before she went to one at the Stevenage Leisure Park. Or indeed any golf course, barring a foray or two into a very basic pitch and putt back in the 70s. Possibly because she has no natural ball control skills and doesn’t aspire to be president of any given country. Or maybe because she actually likes walking in the countryside, and doesn’t require any further excuse. But I think it is because she spent some of her yoof working as a waitress at a golf club, which turned out to be a lot less interesting than you might expect.

However, this mini golf experience is called Mr Mulligan’s Lost World Golf, which sounds positively thrilling, and it was recommended to Mama as coming quite high up on the list of things to do in Stevenage with children that they actively enjoy, so she decided to give it a whirl.

It was probably raining, after all.

But beyond being a wet weather indoor venue, it is indeed really cooooooool!

There are two courses, which is sensible given that you want everybody in car driving distance of Stevenage to visit more than once a year. One involved dinosaurs and one was a deep sea experience. We chose the fishy one. And away we went.

Shipwreck Mr Mulligan’s Lost World Golf Stevenage

We were very very bad at it. Mama swiftly abandoned any thought of marking our scores on the handy card they had given us with our equipment. Being bad at it, however, did not dampen our enthusiasm in any way.

The course, in fact, is carefully designed to get a balance between pleasing the people who have developed a bit of skill in this sort of game and so require a measure of golfing challenge in the form of slightly tilted greens or oddly placed bumps, and pleasing Mama, who is going to take thirty-five shots just to get the ball anywhere near to the hole no matter how flat it is and therefore requires a bit of non-putting related diversion to keep her interested.

mini golf course Mr Mulligan’s Lost World Golf Stevenage

This meant some holes saw Mama surreptitiously nudging the ball into a good position on the edge of the sunken cup with her foot so that we could just. Get. Past. It.

Others we lingered over because there were piratical props to exclaim arrr at, constructions which first swallowed and then spat our ball out in an impressively random but brisk manner no matter how weakly we hit them in there, or because they were liberally splattered with luminous paint and lit with ultra violet light. Mama abandoned the game entirely for a bit in favour of photographing us cuddling a bright pink octopus at that point.

Octopus Mr Mulligan’s Lost World Golf Stevenage

That said, if Mama is really honest, she felt that the people who enjoy golf had won the design fight over the people who want to see an anamatronic shark try to savage their ball before it disappears into an endlessly opening and closing whale mouth while a robot Captain Sparrow rolls ineptly past, all clattering braids and fluttering hands. Sort of thing.

I think she has probably watched too many American movies which involve people taking part in crazy golf games where the sets are designed to look good rather than be actually playable. If she were really forced to try to get her ball past the rotating sails of a windmill, for example, we would almost certainly still be there.

Shark Mr Mulligan’s Lost World Golf Stevenage

You can book a slot for your round online, or turn up and take a chance that every other family with children hasn’t decided to choose this way of entertaining the children on a damp Sunday afternoon. We went at a decidedly off peak time, so we had no issues with waiting either when we arrived or because we were faster than people doing the course in front of us.

As it was, we whiled away a very pleasant mini golf afternoon at Mr Mulligan’s Lost World Golf and then at the end there was a cafe where we had ice cream, and which serves beer and all sorts if you are a bit older. Personally I am good with the whole experience and will be taking Mama back again whenever we visit Stevenage next.

I wonder if any of us will have improved in the meantime?

More information

Stevenage’s page on the website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the ‘Golf Sale’ placard phenomenon. 

Address: 3q, Stevenage Leisure Park, Gunnels Wood Rd, Stevenage, Hertfordshire, SG1 2UA

Opening: It varies a bit but either 10/11am to 10pm or midnight.

Admission: For one round of mini golf it’s adults 8.25 GBP and kids under twelve 5.25 GBP, or 2 GBP for the under 3s. There’s a discount if you book two games, and you can also get a family ticket.

Getting there: The Stevenage Leisure Park in has ample parking (some might say it;s a giant car park, with attractions and eateries dotted about), and this is free. Stevenage is situated on the A1(M) motorway out of London.

Stevenage railway station is about five minutes away oer a little bridge, and that takes you into Kings Cross London, or all the way up to Edinburgh.

Luton and Stanstead airports aren’t that far, and there’s a helipad via the Novotel on the outskirts of town.

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Mr Mulligan''s Lost World Golf in Stevenage Herts UK

Flying With A Baby

Russian Underground Rock, Naket Wimin, and the Moscow Museum of Modern Art

After being trapped in small rooms on a muggy May evening at the Bulgakov Museums with a lot of sweaty people as part of the Moscow Museum Night, where museums and galleries stay open until midnight and entrance is free, Mama and Papa were quite up for a walk. Which is how they, and my Treacherous Big Brother (who had abandoned me at home to go gadding about the city with our parents) came to be passing one of the locations of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art on their way to the museum of the poet Alexander Pushkin’s life and times. And so they decided to nip in and see what that was all about.

Half full of things which 8-year-old boys shouldn’t see, according to the woman who doled out the tickets.

Naturally, that meant that my family headed straight to those parts of the gallery.

In her youth Mama used to listen to scruffy guitar bands she is now banned from singing along to in the car. When we are teenagers, she is doubtless going to be smug about the fact that, back then, very few of them had much play on the radio beyond a few late night John Peel sessions. So she has jumped around at lot at gigs in a fair number of small, grimy, hot concert halls, and outdoor festivals where the toilets were terrible. She is particularly insistent that it wasn’t just the headliners she was interested in, but the support act of the support act. Nothing more unbearable than a 19-year-old who thinks they have found counterculture, even twenty *cough splutter* years on.

Personally, I prefer listening to [insert name of the latest poppy girl music sensation on BBC radio 1]. Mama despairs of me [and also is old so has no idea].

When she came to Russia, however, she discovered that she and all her cohort back home were comprehensively out-cooled by everyone listening to Russian rock in the 80s, which is to say Papa and his friends.

Zeitgeist Borisov Moscow Museum of Modern Art

This is because rock music in the Soviet Union was, if not actively banned, officially controlled and improvisation discouraged, and most of the bands performing it were therefore part of a truly underground music scene.

What this meant is that these musicians couldn’t get their music recorded in professional studios, certainly had no airtime anywhere at all, and were extremely limited in the places where they could perform. Gigs in people’s flats were A Thing. Arrests were not unheard of. And the rockers were poor, taking jobs such as caretakers, street sweepers and factory workers to satisfy the need for everyone in the Soviet Union to have an officially recognised job.

Word and homemade cassettes got about though, in much the same way that samizdat manuscripts were shared of suppressed writings.

So when Perestroika came along, and the Russian underground rock scene was allowed more exposure, actual performance space and bands finally got recording contracts, some of the musicians became extremely well-known, extremely quickly. And some didn’t and were still subject to low-level hassle and obstruction.

Now you might be expecting that, given how repressed they were, and that they are sometimes credited with an actual role in the downfall of the Soviet Union, these people spent a lot of their time singing rousing political protest songs.

In this you would be wrong. No need for any of that when your very existence is sticking two fingers up at Lenin. Neither did they come up with a radical new musical style. But lyrics were considered very important. No meaningless drivel wrapped around a banging hook for your Soviet underground rock bands. Just profoundly poetical explorations of the human condition. With, if you were a punk band, some careful swearing.

Which, to be honest, means that the full glory of the music is often lost on Westerners. See what you think.

Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with my Treacherous Big Brother being warned away from some of the exhibitions in the Moscow Museum of Modern Art.

Well, the thing is that one of the exhibitions was entitled (in Mama’s head) ‘Mild naughtiness with Soviet icons in the early 90s’ (but actually Zeitgeist by Sergei Borisov). Lots photos of people doing handstands under the giant statue of the Worker and the Communal Farm Worker, sort of thing.

Handstands on Soviet statues Borisov MMOMA

And lumped in with this, lots of photos of Russian underground rock bands and their followers.

Victor Tsoi Russian underground rock Borisov Moscow Museum of Modern Art

Shocking, huh? Might do all sorts of terrible things to an unformed mind. My Treacherous Big Brother’s fashion sense alone could be ruined forever.

Zeitgeist Borisov MMOMA

Actually, Mama thinks it was probably the photos of young women who were without clothes that was probably the problem. Rather than, you understand, the fact that they were wearing a fur hat and covered in hammer and sickle stickers in a blatantly subversive act.

It was definitely the fact that the next exhibition was a collection of photos of a nudist colony that had the docents frowning when Mama wandered in behind my Treacherous (and quite thrilled) Big Brother. Mama felt obliged to cover his eyes and march him straight our again, although in reality, she thinks that pictures of people of all shapes and sizes going about barbecuing and playing volleyball and so on in a perfectly matter of fact manner is considerably more innocent and suitable for small children than any number of classical paintings of young women wearing diaphanous scarf clothing, baring her breasts while staring provocatively at the painter (he hopes).

Luckily the top floor was an entirely uncontroversial exhibition of static film making. You might think that the point of using film over mere photography is so you can capture actual movement, but Mama is here to tell you that there is something quite mesmerizing about watching people fish.

Anyway, a bit of a poke round the website reveals that the Moscow Museum of Modern Art has not one but five locations in Moscow, so we shall have to go and keep trying to figure out quite how the MMOMA is different from the Multimedia Art Museum, which also features exhibitions of mostly photography and film. Unless it is indeed that they put all of the exhibitions that you might not necessarily want an under ten to go and see in the space without the Lego in the foyer. But I can’t say that the family made a thorough investigation of the gallery on this occasion, being anxious to get on with the museum going marathon that they had embarked on.

But that is a story for another day.

Grebenshikov Russian underground rock Borisov Moscow Museum of Modern Art

More information

The art gallery’s website (for Ermolaevsky 17).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about how to make lettered rock.

Address: 17 Ermolaevsky Pereulok, Moscow, 123001

Opening: Monday – Sunday 12 noon – 8pm (9pm on Thursdays). Closed every third Monday in the month.

Admission: 350 roubles per adult, 150 roubles kids over seven, kids under seven free.

Getting there: Mama has no idea. She was just following Papa. Somewhere between Mayakovskaya metro (green line), the Bulgakov Museum(s) and the Arbat? Just look at a map, will ya? We gave you the address.

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Wander Mum

A night at the Bulgakov Museum Moscow. And the other one too.

17th May was International Museum Day. Apparently.

Mama didn’t know this in advance, but she should really have been looking out for it as this date triggers the Museum Night event across Europe. And Moscow is in Europe, right?

So what happens on Moscow Museum Night, or Ночь в Музее in Russian, is that Museums throw open their doors, or perhaps, leave them open would be a better phrase, until much much later than usual. And since these days museums regularly stay open until 9 or 10 in the evening at least once a week, this means midnight.

But that’s not all! It’s an opportunity for the museums to put on a bit of a show, so there are all sorts of events going on inside the museums on top of whatever is usually there. Concerts, danceshows, crafting, fashion parades and theatrical performances.

And in Moscow, if you usually have to pay for entrance, on this night they are free!

Quite why Mama and Papa decided that they and my Stoic Big Brother should try to visit as many of Moscow’s museums as they could on foot between the hours of 7pm and 12, I do not know, as this isn’t an integral part of the programming. But somewhere between sauntering from one location towards their next choice of cultural experience they came across another, and an idea was born.

In total they managed four museums and an art gallery. Mama spent much of the next day lying down with her feet up and a wet cloth over her eyes declaring that next weekend we would find the most low brow thing for kids in the capital and do that.

So where did they go?

Well, they started off at Mikhail Bulgakov’s flat, famous not just because he once had a room in a communal apartment there and abandoned his wife in a second apartment in the same block, but because it’s the building the Devil, Woland, lived in when he came to Moscow in the book Master and Margarita.

Bulgakov Museum Moscow Bulgakov Graffiti

Who was Mikhail Bulgakov? You probably aren’t asking this, the man is famous, but Mama is going to tell you anyway. Born in Kyiv, Ukraine, Bulgakov’s first career was as a doctor. He worked on the front line in world war one, then in a provincial backwater, then back in Kyiv and later was co-opted by whichever army was passing through his region in the civil war following the Russian Revolution of 1917. Not a pleasant experience by any means. He ended up abandoning medicine forever in favour of becoming a writer in Moscow.

In this new endevour he was somewhat successful, as one of his early plays, the White Guard, dealing with the fortunes and misfortunes of an anti-Bolshevik family in Kyiv during the civil war, was a huge box office hit. It was also hugely popular with Stalin, for reasons which nobody seems to quite understand. Despite Bulgakov adding scenes such as the youngest son’s move towards the communists towards the end of the play in a bid to get it past the censors, it was blasted by reviewers for being entirely too sympathetic towards the bourgeois main characters. Nevertheless, Stalin saw it more than 15 times.

Unfortunately, Mikhail’s literary ouvre continued to be… complex and so many of his later projects were either also panned by critics or outright banned. He was in regular employment behind the scenes at theatres thanks to Stalin’s patronage, but he wasn’t able to get any of his own works published after 1930 or thereabouts. Master and Margarita was only made public in 1966, twenty six years after his death, for example, despite him having begun it in the late 20s.

It was an immediate hit at that point, both in the Soviet Union and abroad, and since then Bulgakov’s reputation as one of the finest writers of the 20th century has grown. Master and Margarita is often quoted as Russians’ top pick for greatest work of literature of all time, in fact. Yes, over War and Peace, over Crime and Punishment.

If you are given to enjoying grotesque magical realism with oblique digs at contemporary society, you will like it too. It’s certainly one of Mama’s favoutite books. Go read it (again, if necessary). And when you have finished that, please enjoy a five minute speculation as to quite how Heart of a Dog (a man’s heart is transplanted into a dog, with unpredictable consequences) and Ivan Vasilievich (Ivan the Terrible and a 20th century petty criminal become switched, with predicable consequences) both  very popular Soviet era movies, are also examples of biting social commentary. You think the analogy in Animal Farm is clever, you haven’t come across Bulgakov.

Anyway. As it turns out Bulgakov’s former block of flats boasts not just one Bulgakov Museum but two apparently competing ones, both of which were enthusiastically participating in Moscow Museum Night. Oddly, the more authentic one, flat 50, the one with Bulgakov’s actual room and satanic connection, was the one without the really long queue to get in. As my Papa is someone who says that he didn’t avoid queuing in the dying days of the Soviet Union only to start now, that’s the one the family went to.

Bulgakov Museum Moscow Courtyard
The door on the right is the actual flat museum and on the left is the other one.

There is a lot of Master and Margarita related graffiti in the stairwell.

Graffiti at Bulgakov Museum Moscow

The Moscow authorities spent most of the 80s fighting a losing battle against it, and after they gave up at the end of the decade it has flourished, only once succumbing to some anti satanic nut job who set out to destroy it and some of the holdings of one of the museums.

Original Graffiti Bulgakov Museum Moscow
I think this is a bit of surviving graffiti – it’s certainly older than the rest.

Well, the devil does have all of the best lines in the book, and Jesus comes across as a decidedly unmagical sort of person. That might be irritating, even if you didn’t have some kind of axe to grind as a former neighbour of the Bulgakov Museum(s).

Graffiti at Bulgakov Museum Moscow

Once you get inside, the flat itself is more of an art installation than a straightforward retelling of the life of Bulgakov and his books. My Stoic Big Brother particularly enjoyed the room where you could push buttons and light up windows to little dioramas representing many of the people who also lived in the building over the years. Because as well as being Bulgakov AND the devil’s dwelling place, it’s an interesting building in and of itself. Which may have been why Bulgakov interwove it into his stories in the first place, of course.

Bulgakov Museum Moscow

More likely, though, it was because he absolutely hated the place.

It was built pre-revolution as a luxury apartment block in the Art Nouveau style, which architecturally speaking has echos all over this area of Moscow, and was originally occupied by luminaries of the artistic establishment. Post revolution, it became one of the first communes, and although it still retained a bohemian tone, Bulgakov was not a fan, particularly as the plumbing was difficult.

Mama, who didn’t have to live there, liked the kitchen.

Bulgakov Museum Moscow Kitchen

But there were also items of furniture and nicknacks and even Bulgakov’s own typewriter. Admittedly sourced from, mainly, other places Bulgakov had lived, or his relatives. And there were tours (in Russian). And on this Moscow Museum Night, the whole place was cheerfully busy. Mama and the gang had a very satisfying poke round and then they left and went back to the courtyard.

Where there was a cat drawing competition.

Bulgakov Museum Moscow Cat Drawing

For those who do not know the novel Master and Margarita, a black cat is one of the most memorable characters in Woland’s retinue. He’s also called Begemot, which is the Russian word for ‘behemoth’ but is also the word for ‘hippopotamus’ in Russian. Master and Margarita, Mama is assured by every Russian she has had a conversation about it with, loses a lot in the translation. Certainly her copy had extensive footnotes for practically every line trying to explain either the word play or quite why mention of a seemingly innocuous household object was a profound satirical dig. And you can see why, given that Mama has just spent 100 words on why a cat’s name is funny.

Bulgakov Museum Moscow Cat Graffiti

Literary criticism aside, the cat drawing competition having a connection to the animal world, my Stoic Brig Brother got involved, and naturally he won.

It turned out the prize was to jump the queue for the other Bulgakov Museum.

Now, this Bulgakov Museum is an unofficial one. It was started first in a different part of the building to the one Bulgakov lived in because flat 50 itself was at that time unavailable. They do have a fair number of small items belonging to the great writer or his relatives, and some enthusiastic cos-playing guides who run an excursion (in Russian) around them. But it was originally a small theatre for Bulgakov’s banned plays, which have now relocated (loudly) to the basement. What is left mostly seems to be a cafe and souvenir shop, and a lot of Bulgakov-themed event planning (in Russian).

Although, oddly, when you have finished the tour of that Bulgakov Museum, they take you for a climb round the back stairs of the building to the other Bulgakov Museum. So perhaps the rivalry is not that fierce.

Still, to be honest, Mama thinks that if you are ever in Moscow and trying to choose which of the two museums you should go and look at, as a non-Russian speaker, you should go straight for the other one. Especially if there is any kind of queue. This may be because she was a bit Bulgakov-ed out by the end of it all though, and now, dear reader, as a result so probably are you. You are welcome, and your mileage may vary. The unofficial museum definitely has a better statue outside.

And what did the family do after the Bulgakov Museum(s)? Well, that is a story for another day.

More information

The Flat 50 Museum (in English).

The other museum (in Russian).

The Moscow Museum Night page, if you want to try to guess where else my family went (in Russian).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Mikail Bulgakov, Satirist and Playwright.

Address: 10 Bolshaya Sadovaya street, Moscow, 125047.

Opening: Bulgakov’s former flat is open Tuesday to Sunday 12 noon to 7pm, but CLOSED on Mondays. The other one seems to be more built around events.

Admission: Flat 50 is 150 roubles for adults and 50 roubles for schoolchildren.

Getting there: The Bulgakov Museum (both of them) is just round the corner from Mayakovskaya metro station (green line).

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Everything you ever wanted to know about Mikail Bulgakov, the Master and Margarita an the two Bulgakov Museums in Moscow

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Suitcases and Sandcastles

Lavender’s blue at Hitchin Lavender Farm, Hertfordshire

Outdoor activities are hard to predict in any country. In Russia, you may think you are going to get a guaranteed couple of months of minus 15 and tons of snow, and then find that it’s March and you still haven’t had suitable climatic conditions for a proper go at outdoor skating. Or that it’s barely mid November and the snow drifts are up to your hips before the leaves have finished turning yellow, scuppering the last opportunity for walks in the countryside to inhale the delightfully dank smell of rotting leaves and hunt the wily mushroom entirely.

In the UK, of course, the problem is usually rain. Certainly was this last year gone, wasn’t it? Says Mama who abandoned the (typical) heat of a Moscow summer to spend July in a jumper in Stevenage, Hertfordshire. Although she’ll admit it picked up a bit there at the end. Briefly.

So we were lucky that the day we went to Hitchin Lavender Farm was actually very pleasant. I believe we may have made do with a light cardigan or something.

Lavender at Hitchin Lavender Farm

Now, I’ll be honest, I was expecting the fields of lavender to be a tad more extensive than one admittedly quite large one round the back of the outbuildings, which just goes to show that you can take the girl out of Russia…

But this almost certainly means that it is a more suitable small person rambling space that the average country walk Mama takes us on if she has half a chance. Especially as instead of expecting me, the city girl, to glory in the variety of trees, grass, the occasional bird sighting and fifteen different varieties of nettle, at Hitchin Lavender Farm you get to wield scissors in earnest in order to cut enough of the smelly blue sticks to fill a few bags to take home with you.

Lavender rows at Hitchin Lavender Farm Hertfordshire

Although I found that a bit difficult, unfortunately. My fingers as yet are insufficiently muscly. As a result Mama and the Grandparents’ determination to stop every few paces and gather more, just a bit more, and yes, a bit more sweetie pie, got a bit old rather quickly. You’ve sniffed one lavender bush, you’ve sniffed them all in my opinion.

Except that this is not true, says an excited Mama, for whom finding out anything new is always a pleasure. Must be her age, because I, personally, was much more jaded about the realisaiton that while the lavender on this side was pretty, the lavender on that side was much more fragrant. You can also imagine her delight in the discovery that photographed from this angle, the boring but stinky flowers looked a rather dull grey, but from the other side of the field the purple highlights showed up much better. It’s lovely to see Mama’s little face light up. Big up to one of Hitchin Lavender Farm’s workers for pointing that out to us.

The smelly lavender Hitchin Lavender Farm Hertfordshire

There is white lavender too!!! Exclamation marks definitely Mama’s.

The adults also enjoyed looking at the view from the top of the field, and admiring the red poppies mixed in with the blue.

Lavender and Poppies at Hitchin Lavender Farm Hertfordshire

I really think they need to get out more.

But Mama brought out the sandwiches at this point so the day improved significantly for me, and Grandad revealed he had coffee, so Mama was also thrilled. Again.

My Twitchy Big Brother liked chasing the swifts (or possibly swallows) who swooped obliging round the giant tent at the bottom of the hill.

Tent Hitchin Lavender Farm Hertfordshire

And, grudgingly, I am prepared to admit that the fact that Hitchin Lavender Farm has HORSES is also pretty cool, especially as they were very happy to let me stroke their noses!

Horses Hitchin Lavender Farm Hertfordshire

And yet more small girl pleasing experiences were to come in the shape of the play area next to the cafe, which didn’t just have climbing equipment outside, but also model farm buildings, animals and toy transport items to buzz around under cover. There was lavender flavoured shortbread too. Mmmmmmmmmmmm. Says everyone.

All in all, Hitchin Lavender Farm is not a day out, more of an afternoon. And it’s only open in the summer months, and the lavender doesn’t come into full flower until mid June. Which means you should make haste to visit when it is open! Because if you fancy a lunching spot with a difference near Stevenage in July, this will definitely do it for you, even if you are dodging rain showers.

More information

The farm’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about ideas for a small herb garden.

Address: Cadwell Farm, Ickleford, Hitchin, Hertfordshire, SG5 3UA

Opening: Hitchin Lavender Farm is closed from the beginning of September until the beginning of June. Opening hours are 10am to 5pm. The flowering season begins in mid June.

Admission: Adult 5GBP, Kids 1GBP, under 5s free. Picking rights included in the price.

Getting there: You’ll need a car for this one. It’s not far off the A1M. Detailed instructions on the website.

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A family day out at the Hitchin Lavender Farm in Hertfordshire is fragrant, colourful and has lavender flavoured shortbread.

Plutonium Sox

Tsaritsyno: gingerbread palace, fairytale chateau.

It is quite some time since Mama went to Tsaritsyno Park in Moscow, and while she wasn’t paying attention they have built a full-sized imperial palace in its environs.

Grand Palace Towers Tsaritsyno Moscow

And a whole bunch of royal outbuildings.

Palace buildings at Tsarityno Moscow

Tarted up some bridges and the like.

Bridge Tsaritsyno Moscow

And replumbed a cascading water fountain.

Fountain cascade Tsaritsyno Moscow

Which was all a bit of a shock.

Tsaritsyno references the Tsarina Catherine the Great who first saw the area, liked it, had it washed and brought to her, and decided to construct a nice new palace for herself there. Of course, at this time the capital of Russia was, and was to remain, St Petersburg. And Tsaritsyno was some way outside of Moscow proper at the time. But you can never have too many palaces, can you? And presumably there was something wrong with the Kolomenskoye royal estate, which is just down the road.

Anyway, the Empress’s dwelling was duly constructed, and unusually was designed and built by a Russian architect, Vasily Bazhenov, who deliberately set out to incorporate a certain amount of traditional Russian styling into the basically gothic sensibility of the place.

They certainly make gingerbread which looks a lot like this in Russia says Mama brightly. Thank you, Mama for your informed opinion about architecture.

Gateway Tsaritsyno Moscow

You are, or perhaps were because the occasional careless jumble of stones suggests that they haven’t quite recreated the exact floor plan of the original, supposed to view the collection of buildings as one whole. The idea was that as you moved around the complex, each structure would work in combination with the others, forming and reforming different pleasing ensembles. A bit like the work of Capability Brown, the English garden designer, but with fewer artfully natural-looking lakes, cunningly places spinneys and the ha ha keeping the sheep off the centuries-old lawn, and more red brick.

Sometime as it was nearing completion, Catherine turned up to see how it was getting on and hated it.

Not because the Russo-gothic style was a bit much, but because the rooms were too small.

(The. Rooms. Were. Too. Small. Yes, Mama is howling with laughter as we type this).

So they fired Vasily and got his apprentice Matvey Kazakov to try and sort out the lack of largeness a bit by building a huge new palace in amongst the gingerbread gothic ones. Has a certain Disney châteaux aesthetic around the towers, donchathink? Not surprising as Catherine was famous for being a big fan of the enlightenment, a pen pal of Voltaire’s, and German. Very continental.

Grand Palace Tsaritsyno Moscow

It didn’t help though; Tsaritsyno palace was never occupied for real. As a result, it soon fell into a state of disrepair and for a long time, including when Mama last visited, it was a picturesque ruin you could go and picnic around, paint a watercolour of, climb over and get your self engraved next to or have your photograph taken with. Depending on the era.

And then in 2005 they decided to rebuild it. Well, it’s very difficult to have a heritage tourist industry if you used to build everything out of wood and had a revolution. If you don’t do a bit of creative reconstruction, you will be stuck with flat museums of great Soviet writers and churches forever more, and nobody wants that.

Certainly my family decided it was worth having a look inside. The entrance is underground, and you can buy tickets for individual buildings separately – and there are quite a few of them, the territory is quite large – or for a number of buildings at once. We opted for the combined main palace and Bread House, mainly because Mama was quite curious about whether she was right about the architectural style after all.

We decided to put off finding out, and look at the main palace building first.

Now you may be wondering if they have redone the interiors to match the exteriors the answer would be, largely, no. There are a couple of Catherine-esque rooms though, including a giant gold covered reception room.

Ballroom Tsaritsyno Moscow

The thing about wandering through an ornate reconstruction of a room is how bright, gaudy and slightly fake it looks to someone who has been a National Trust member for years and expects such places to be faded with 400 years of patina all over everything inside. And yet, presumably, this is what all those stately homes looked like when they were actually lived in by the people we go and learn about, give or take a few square metres of gold leaf. It’s quite an eye opener really, because Mama finds it fairly tacky when new.

Except the chandeliers which are always fabulous.

The room also demonstrated the wisdom of asking docents what they think we should be interested in, because they directed us to admire the floor. Hand laid parquet, of many different shades from different types of wood, all fitted together in pleasingly symmetrical design. Cool. Give it 100 years or so and even Mama will coo over it.

Parquet Floor Tsaritsyno Moscow

Some other rooms have been left semi restored so you can compare the then and now and also find out more about the history of the palace and how they went about fixing Tsaritsyno up.

But mainly they have contented themselves with making the rooms look blandly pleasant and then filling them with art exhibitions.

Which lean towards the arts and crafts side of artistic expression. So in the basement, as well as a room full of things which were dug up during the restoration work (coins, mostly), there is an extensive display of silver and crystal work.

Russian cuisine leans heavily on salads, and crystal bowls of this type are an absolutely essential part of a celebratory table here. The silver lobster is, generally, optional.

Lobster Crstal Bowl Tsaritsyno Moscow

There was also quite a lot of porcelain and ceramic art. Some of this was pre-revolution, some from the big factories in the Soviet era, both folk-inspired and revolutionary themed, and some were individual works of decorative artists from the last 100 years regardless of political affiliation. Mama really enjoyed it, and as she allowed a fairly brisk pace, so did we.

Ceramics Tsaritsyno Moscow

There was also a whole floor given over to recreating the interiors Tsarskoye Selo, which is not actually anything to do with Moscow at all, but the suburban palace of the imperial family from turn of the 20th Century, Nicholas II, his wife and children. Mama took this at a brisk pace too, even when we wanted to linger round full-sized Christmas tree! Not sure why she looked a bit uncomfortable when they showed us little clips of the children at play and the like. Probably because you weren’t supposed to take photos, which always makes Mama cross, although the number 1917 appeared in such giant letters at the end of the series of rooms that I feel that this may also be significant.

As if in compensation for thwarting Mama’s hobbies, they have interactive photography opportunities on the next few floors. Mama was particularly delighted to find that you can hire costumes and parade around in them for your friends and family to snap you looking sharp! Although my Fashionable Big Brother didn’t get a look in as there were no outfits for boys she could see on a casual glance. Mama considers this a shame, as 18th century menswear was particularly fabulous.

Costumes Tsaritsyno Moscow

If you don’t want to have a go at this, there are 18th century themed cut outs for you to pose with on the top floor near the cafe.

Cut Outs Tsaritsyno Moscow

The cafe, ah yes. There are in fact, not one but TWO cafes inside Tsaritsyno palace, one at the top and one at the bottom of the building, which Mama considers very sensible positioning. She suspects the one at the top is less well-known about because it is much quieter. But it’s definitely worth searching out as next to the dining area is a display of cake design. We towed Mama over and pointed out the ones we want for our birthdays. Mama is totally going to be able to reproduce five stories of lifelike replica birds with a bit of fondant icing, yeah?

If for some reason you don’t fancy either cafe, the warmer months see stalls of food sellers popping up all over the park, and there is also some kind of restaurant down by the fountain too. For once your visit to an attraction is Moscow is not likely to be blighted by finding eateries unavailable!

Anyway, after some refreshment it was time to finally go and find out what the Bread House was.

Well, there’s a covered atrium, which was very pleasant, and then it is full of animal themed ceramic displays.

Ceramic Bird Tsaritsyno Moscow

No, we don’t know what that has to do with bread either, but as there was also animal themed crafting, we did not complain. And neither did Mama because since we now owned a new paper pet, we trotted disinterestedly past the shop at the exit and had renewed enthusiasm for gamboling around in the grounds before we made our way home.

Mama was more enthralled by the intergenerational volleyball matches in the casual volleyball court area, the very popular chess meet and the over seventies outdoor disco we wandered past, where if you assumed they would be playing sedate waltzes you would be very very wrong.

Chess Tsaritsyno Moscow

Tsaritsyno clearly has it all and a boating lake to boot. Definitely worth a trip if you are bored of the usual Moscow sights.

More Information

The park’s website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about how to make a gingerbread house.

Address: 1 Dolskaya St., Moscow 115569

Opening: Tuesdays to Fridays: 11:00–18:00, Saturdays: 11:00–20:00, Sundays: 11:00–19:00, Mondays: CLOSED.

Admission: It varies depending on which building or combination of buildings you want to visit, but the combined Grand Palace and Bread House ticket we had costs 350 roubles for an adult, 100 roubles for school children and anyone under seven goes free. You can get an all in one ticket valid for one month for 680 roubles if you are really keen.

Getting there: If you get off at Tsaritsyno metro station (green line), don’t expect much help from street signage about which way to go after that. It’s not that difficult though, even if you don’t have your smart phone plugged in – just head under the railway tracks and there you are right next to the cascading fountain. A much more obvious entrance is in from the next station out from the centre, Orekhovo, and then you cut through the wooded area down to the palace. Although there isn’t much to tell you which way to go then either (go forward and left. Or left and then forward). To ensure full coverage and not missing the fountain, you can do what we did and enter one way and go out the other.

Don’t ask Mama about cars and car parking – she doesn’t know.

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Tsaritsyno in Moscow, originally built for Catherine the Great, is a cross between a gingerbread palace and fairytale chateau

Wander Mum