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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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

Extraordinary Chaos
Wander Mum

How does Russia My History multimedia historical park compare to every other museum we have ever visited?

It’s true what they say about how easy it is to indoctrinate children. Mama would not have said that she displayed a wild sort of enthusiasm for wholesome educational family outings when she was a child, but here she is putting us through the programme she was once made to endure, and enjoying herself hugely.

Family days out are wasted on the young.

What this means, though, is that Mama has spent a lot of time over the years in museums, girl and woman, and she thinks this entitles her to have an opinion. Not to mention the fact that she is both a history graduate and erstwhile history teacher.

And do you know what they make you do at the beginning of a teacher training course in history in the UK? Study the history of history teaching. Gotta love historians. A wee bit obsessed.

Anyway, this is a bit depressing because it basically goes ‘… and then the history teachers refused to teach the type of history politicians think is important and so Margaret Thatcher and every subsequent government set about reducing the hours spent on the subject to its current high of two and a half minutes every other Tuesday in favour of citizenship classes and more remedial literacy’. Oh, and half the time the programme will be delivered by geography teachers, who last studied the subject when they were 13 (If it helps, half the time geography is being taught by historians. Luckily the map of Europe looks a lot more like the 18th century one than it used to 20 years ago).

Mama also learned that it was now very unfashionable to do what she had done at school and take a superficial jog steadily through the list of kings and queens from the start of civilization (Alfred the Great defeating the Vikings sort of thing) to the pinnacle of achievement that is the reign of Elizabeth II and Theresa May.

Which involved learning the dates of important wars, the lists of laws enacted and religious controversies weathered. With, if you were Mama’s history teacher, little stick men drawings of the tortures carried out by the Spanish inquisition to copy into your books. Also good for the messy deaths of royalty in the Wars of the Roses and remembering what happened to Henry VIII’s wives.

No, it changed to being all about lingering on one period for some time and taking a three sixty look at not just high politics but the everyday lives of ordinary people, and thinking about the nature of cause, effect, and consequence, developing the ability to appreciate that there was some logic to WHY ON EARTH people ducked harmless old women in a village pond in an effort to discover if they were witches, and deciding how we can trust anything an eyewitness says when everybody lies, to some extent or another.

All very well and good, but it turned out that what with pupils not having the linear timeline to hook it into, this study of patches of in-depth historical understanding had become so decontextualised that it was causing people to have problems grasping how situations develop over time, how each of these isolated events were connected to each other, and why what we think of as the right way to do kinging today isn’t appropriate as a benchmark to analyse kinging in the middle ages.

What is needed is to make sure that when looking at history, you take both a long term approach combined with carefully chosen case studies. Look out for a teacher who will spend a few lessons doing the WHOLE OF AGRICULTURE FROM PREHISTORY TO THE PRESENT before launching into the agricultural revolution is what Mama says. Especially if you are an inner city kid who has never seen a cow in the wild before.

Mama thinks a good museum manages the same balancing act. Particularly important given the aforementioned lack of time for history in actual educational settings.

One of the reasons why she is not keen on the British Museum, in fact, is that in her opinion, it is a bit too full of the glorification of random stuff. And empire.

It reduces things like the Elgin Marbles to the controversy surrounding their acquisition and the fact that we won’t give them back, this being 90% of the background Mama has for them given that there is very little support from the British Museum itself on why she should care about the headless wonders. I mean, yes, thousands of years old, but lots of things in the British Museum are thousands of years old, and some of those statues, notably the ones in the Middle East section, are far more impressive as objects d’art.

If you want to admire historical stuff as stuff, the V&A is much better at it, because the stuff they have picked is stuff which is inherently pretty. No further explanation necessary. If a museum (looking at you, the British Museum) wants Mama to walk though rooms and rooms of reddy black pots, Mama needs a bit of help to understand why they are all on display.

The State History Museum in Moscow and the National Army Museum in London have a lot of initially rather disappointingly unremarkable historical items, but really outdo themselves in elaborating on them well to personalise each item on display. Who did it belong to, what did they have to do with the life and times we are interested in, how is it an interesting example of whatever it is, why, in short, should Mama care?

And, if we are deviating from history for a moment and talking about museum design in particular, the more visual you can make this, and the less reliant in lengthy FUCKING explanatory placards (expletives Mama’s) written in a dense expository style the better.

For example, the Horniman Museum’s natural history section and the Darwin Museum in Moscow make the points they want to get across about classification of animals, the ways animals have adapted to their environment, and the nature of evolutionary change by artful grouping, and to lift the whole thing further off the page, in the Darwin Museum you also have subtle but well chosen video clips of the animals in their natural habitat, and a whole range of fairly vivid and varied paintings to really ram the point home.

But you can do this with history too! In the Museum of London, for example, they have walk through sections where the sights and sounds of some of the periods they display have been brought to life. Mama’s favourite is the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, which has little playletts projected onto screens around you to complement the props that are scattered about to make the whole thing more 4D.

In Hampton Court you can attempt to get your head around 16th century boardgames while sitting in an ante chamber and waiting for an audience with royalty. Which you may well get, as gorgeously dressed men and women will wander by regularly and engage you in conversation, convincing children like my Gullible Big Brother (when he was much younger) that they have just met the queen.

And, of course, there are places like the outdoor re-enactments at Beamish Open Air Museum, Ironbridge Gorge, and the Ulster American Folk Park, where that sort of immersive experience is taken to a new level, where visitors are invited to take part, alongside the actors, in the experience of recreating life in a particular place, at a particular time. Whole towns have been rebuilt! There are working candle makers! A printers! Steam trains! A foundry! Pit ponies (plus attached pit)! A sweet shop! And a fairground!

Even commercially-driven enterprises like the London Dungeons have something to recommend them in that, while Mama would say that while they are going for the wow factor than having any true educational value, they certainly do fire up enthusiasm for the dry and dusty subject that wrong-headed people make history out to be. Or in the case of the Dungeons, as it does things like splash warm ‘blood’ in your face in the French Revolution room just as the guillotine goes down, impress with the ghoulish yuck factor.

It’s this, not the popularism, that means that Mama will not be taking us there, or to Lenin’s Mausoleum, any time soon. Spoilsport.

All of which brings us to the new Russia My History pavilion in VDNH. All you really need to know about it is that it has been billed as a multimedia history park, and that the building it is in is huge, as well as the fact that, all the gods be praised, they have a hefty pre-twentieth century focus, and you can imagine Mama’s excitement when she heard about it.

Would she sail the Baltic Sea with Peter I? Would she sit in on pelmeni making on a traditional clay oven? Would she see Ivan the Terrible slaughter his son? Would she get caught up in the duel of Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin? Would she drink tea from a samovar in a merchant’s middle class house? Would she meet Catherine the Great walking her dog in the grounds of a palace? Would she take part in a village zemstvo council meeting? She didn’t know but she’s been really looking forward to finding out.

Even so, it was only this last weekend, when the weather took a turn for the worse (no, worse than that there was SNOW on the ground. In May! Yes, I know!), that we actually went. We even took both Papa AND Babushka, it was going to be that good.

We got there – VDNH is less fabulous than normal in the driving sleet, but luckily the new minibus service from Botanicheskiy Sad metro/ central circle line station takes you practically to the back door of Russia My History – acquired our tickets, put our coats in the cloakroom, went to the loo, paused to take our photos with the cardboard cut out medieval bogatyr knights, and gamboled happily into to the first room of the Romanov’s section.

Which consisted of text heavy explanatory FUCKING placards (expletives Mama’s) projected onto the walls, illustrated by a few pictures and flickering flames (we had entered during a war) and…

… nothing else. Except some touchscreens.

Russia My History Red Room

With more expository text. On every panel. With a few pictures to illustrate. Some of those spun slowly round and round, admittedly. But that was it. Except…

… the noise of flames.

Papa frowned a bit and disappeared round the corner to see what happened next, while we idly played with stabbing at the computer screens to see if they got more interesting (no).

A few minutes later he was back, with a somewhat horrified look on his face. ‘It’s all like this,’ he said.

And so it was. Rooms and rooms of it, although there were some videos you could watch too. Three minute loops of auditory explanatory FUCKING placards (expletives Mama’s), accompanying a slide show. The voice was very dramatic. The content…

… wasn’t.

But it was all very well-lit.

Russia My History Green Room

We carried on round, and eventually made it into the early 20th century expo.

Where the pictures on the explanatory FUCKING placards (expletives Mama’s) were now joined by the occasional film clip of, I dunno, marching soldiers or people waving banners. But the format otherwise remained unchanged.

Although there were a lot of flickering candles to represent people who died. The early 20th Century seems to have been a difficult time for a lot of people.

Russia My History Imperial Family

Although I noticed that Mama had a very raised eyebrow over the fact that an awful lot of them apart from this family seemed to be priests.

It says something when the most thrilling thing about the place were the beanbags in the room with the endless parade of heads of famous Russians of the Soviet period…

Russia My History Beanbags

…and the discovery of an actual game on one of the touchscreens. You had to drag bits of a tank onto the outline of a tank to make a tank!

Yes, that was the entirety of the whole thing, except that you could also do it with planes, guns and other bits of military hardware.

Now obviously, from Mama’s point of view, it really didn’t help that everything was in Russian. But quite who though that this is what a multimedia history park should consist of she does not know. Especially a multimedia history park which has been extensively advertised and which, being called Russia My History, promises to at the very least get you all fired up and excited about your national story.

Although the advertising hasn’t been quite so extensive recently, Mama notes. Not now that actual people have been inside and seen what’s there. She should have realised when it was sleeting outside on a major national holiday and the place was still largely empty that it was not really going to be as much fun as she had through it would be.

Or any fun at all.

For her or Papa and Babushka. Who, y’know, do read Russian.

I say you make your own fun, and the place was large, the opportunities for dancing around a large space with dramatic colour themed glows and mildly amusing sound effects out of the bad weather endless (eeeeendddleessss says Mama). Plus, I am easily pleased by touchscreens. Stab, stab, stab, stab, on to the next one, stab, stab, stab, stab, stab, on to the next one, stab, stab, stab stab, on to the next one, stab, stab, stab, stab. Never gets old. My Gullible Big Brother is less gullible in this way, but then he does like TV a lot, and so managed to hit every of the many many video clips as we went round, although his enthusiasm did wane as it became clear none of them were going to be about animals.

Russia My History Blue Room

Still, I don’t know. Mama eventually gave in and read some of the text, and she found the ones about when new things were introduced to the country, like tomatoes, tea and peonies mildly interesting.

And there were Putin themed tea bags in the shop.

And TV in the cafe. Which apparently qualifies it to be called a Media Cafe.

But even that and the fact that they had both a free virtual reality experience and a handle the military equipment table in the foyer on the day we went (the national holiday was celebrating the end of World War Two. This isn’t normal), Mama is basically recommending that you go to the Russia My History multimedia history park only if you have been to all of the other museums, art galleries, science experiences, exhibitions, zoos, and aquariums in Moscow. So many times that you can’t face going to any of them again.

Russia My History weapons handling table

And if there is nothing on at the cinema. Or any of Moscow’s many theatres.

And the weather is really really bad, so the park is out, a walk in the forest is out, and you don’t want to go on a day trip to Sergeyev Possard. Or to the dacha.

All your friends are out of town.

You have some kind of aversion to hanging out in a restaurant for the afternoon.

And you don’t fancy using a shopping mall as the way to get out of the house for some exercise.

And even then, she’d probably just recommend seeing what’s on the telly instead.

Because there is overview history focusing on the great and the good, the wars, the turning points and the high culture, and then there is really really really boring.

So, no, she will not be going again to see the expositions she did not get to see because her ticket only gave her access to two of them at a time.

Unless someone tells her they have installed a giant anamatronic Lenin fighting Rurik for Tolstoy’s last pirogi or something. In which case she might reconsider.

More information

The history park’s website (if you must).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about history as a form of knowledge.

Address: Really? Are you sure?

Opening: Tuesday through Sunday 10 – 20.45. Closed Monday. Go on a Monday.

Admission: 300 roubles for one exhibition, and 500 roubles for two exhibitions. This, Mama would like to point out, is a steep entrance price for a museum in Moscow and isn’t letting you look at the whole thing. It’s a bit cheaper for OAPs and school kids, and free for the under 7s. You can get unlimited access for 1250 roubles. Don’t buy that one.

Getting there: Get off at VDNH metro (orange line) and walk up through VDNH to the bit near the back with the full sized rocket. Or get off at Botonicheskiy Sad (orange line and the central circle line and take the 33 minibus route to the Russia My History stop (or walk it). Veer straight past the building and go to one of the other things you can do and see in VDNH instead.

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How does Russia My History multimedia historical park compare to every other museum we have ever visited?

MummyTravels
CulturedKids
Oregon Girl Around the World

Don’t forget your camera when you visit Kolomenskoye Park in Moscow

One of the main attractions of Kolomenskoye Park in the South of Moscow is that while it has more manicured sections, there’s a fair amount of wilderness you can wander around in too.

We went in late May last year, which is just when the greenery has finally recovered from winter and before it all gets shrivelled by the hot summer sun, and you can spend many happy hours strolling through sunlit glades along largely unfrequented paths if you pick your weather right.

Plus, bits of it overlook the Moscow River, and so you can sit, eat your sandwiches and hunt for ants with a pretty good view.

Wilderness in Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

The hilliness you might be able to detect is also a plus. We might have been able to go for a really excellent scramble up and down some epically steep paths if Mama hadn’t been wearing the wrong shoes. She declined to try attempt it without really grippy trainers and someone else there to help catch us when we took a header off the slope.

Apparently it’s even got a rift in the time and space continuum down there too, the Golosov Ravine, which might explain why they’ve tried to make it so hard to get to. Legend has it that people go into the gully and then don’t come out for years and years. Coooooooool. And one way to survive the immediate future with sanity relatively intact perhaps.

At either end of the park there is more organised fun. If you arrive at the Kolomenskoye metro station end, you will soon come across a particularly unique bit of ecclesiastical architecture, even more venerable than places like St Basil’s on Red Square.

Church of the Ascension White Column Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

The Church of the Ascension, otherwise known as the White Column possibly because it is constructed in such a way that it doesn’t need any supporting pillars to supplement its toweryness, was built in 1532 and commemorates the birth of Ivan the Eventually Terrible. Yes, I know there aren’t any onion domes or gaudy external painting. Orthodox Christianity does the history of church decoration backwards from a Protestant outlook, and this one is supposedly based on more traditional wooden structures, as well as having an Italian influence.

In fact, dotted around the territory are a whole bunch of other old buildings, because for many years now Kolomenskoye park has been a refuge for distressed, mainly wooden constructions, from all over Russia.

Wooden building Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

It is also a former royal estate, so some of the stone gateways and suchlike are survivors from their era.

Tulips and stone gateway Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

But there are also the remnants of a traditional Russian village, which existed for real until quite recently in the 1980s, allegedly populated by descendants of the peasants who were attached to the Tsars’ estates. Live action bee keeping still takes place there!

Most impressive is the recreation of a magnificent royal palace erected by Alexei Mikhailovich, the father of Peter the Great, which represents the pinnacle of what you could do with wooden architectural design in the 17th Century. You can go inside and examine the fully worked up interiors too, which Mama definitely intends to do sometime in the not too distant future. It’s right next to the metro station at the other end of the park from the great white Church of the Ascension, Kashirskaya. Convenient!

Alexei Mikhailovich Palace Kolomenskoye Moscow

And Kolomenskoye Park frequently holds some of the more interesting outdoor events in Moscow. Mama has her eye on the historical re-enactment festival Time and Epochs, which is scheduled for June. Admittedly this year, they are branching out all over the capital, but their biggest event will still be held in this park.

Horse and carriage ride Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

But when we visited on this particular occasion, what we mostly did is wander around the extensively replanted royal orchard area…

Apple Orchard Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

…and look at people photographing the apple blossoms.

Photographing Apple Blossoms Kolemskoye Park Moscow in Spring

Maybe there was some kind of event going on. But since Mama couldn’t find any information about it at the time, she prefers the theory that everybody with a camera just looked out of their window, saw the glorious sunshine, remembered that there hadn’t been any wind lately, and decided to make the most of it.

A number of people bought props and costumes. There were swings trailing white gauze dangling from the trees, people!

Photoshoot Kolomenskoye Park Moscow in Spring

We made do with our beautiful selves, as Mama was inspired and got quite enthusiastic about us posing with dreamy expressions while sniffing the dandelions. Hours of fun.

So Kolomenskoye Park is a perfect location for a day in the outdoors in Moscow. If the weather is good, grab a picnic and head out. And don’t forget your camera.

More information

The park’s website (in English).

The Time and Epochs webesite (in English).

More about the Golosov Ravine.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the mystery of the Franklin expedition to the Northwest Passage.

Address: 39 Andropova Avenue,Moscow

Getting there: The green metro line has two stops you can use for either end of Kolomenskoye Park, Kolomonskoye and Kashirskaya.

Find our why Muscovites are sure to take their cameras when they visit Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

Travel Loving Family
Wander Mum

Is VDNH, Moscow just a memorial to a Soviet never-never land?

Russia is one of those countries which every foreigner has an opinion about.

Of course, what people think about it changes. A bit. When Mama first came to Moscow, it was all food lines, bears on the streets and year round snow. Ten years later it was more about the super rich owning football clubs, bears on the streets and year round snow. Twenty years earlier, it was the stone-faced communists and their threat to the world, bears on the streets and year round snow. We are back now to super villain status – bare-chested, riding on a bear, in year round snow – but through all of this what people have seen as a handy symbol of whatever they think of the country is Red Square and the Kremlin.

They are where gold leaf is frowned on in favour of severe granite blocks and lots of marble, and then plastered back again twofold and with added malachite in the government buildings and state apartments.

Where churches are demolished to make way for the tanks, and then rebuilt with a super large statue of St Vladimir the bringer of Christianity to ancient Rus round the corner for good measure.

Where conspicuous consumption conspicuously isn’t in the State Department Store GUM, and then returns at conspicuously high prices, supplemented by advertising that takes the form of a giant Luis Vuitton suitcase slap bang in front of St Basil’s.

Where military parades now jostle for their place with extravagant firework displays, exclusive rock concerts and public skating in the winter.

Where Lenin still hasn’t been moved out of his mausoleum, but is can be covered by a jaunty awning if his presence is inconvenient, such as when Easter coincides with the 1st May.

Sort of thing.

So of course, you need to visit both. But there are other places which represent the changing face and fortunes of Russia in the 20th Century.

One of those is VDNH.

The Soviet exhibtion complex VDNH VDNKh Moscow

Or VDNKh, because the last sound doesn’t transliterate very well into English. Try doing the ‘ch’ in the Scottish ‘loch’ and you are close. Mama prefers the second spelling, but the Russians themselves seem to have given up.

VDNH (VDNKh) stands for ‘the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy’ (they tried to rename it ‘the All-Russian Exhibition Centre’ for a while. It didn’t stick). It began as the Soviet equivalent of the Great Exhibition in 19th Century London or the World Trade Fair in the US in the 50s and it is remarkable for the amazing set of buildings, or pavilions, each representing some achievement unlocked by the hero supermen and women of the Soviet Union.

Mama used to be particularly delighted by the fact that if you come in the front entrance of VDNH, the buildings start out being to really grand things like electromagnetic engineering! Armenia! And space!

Armenian pavilion VDNH VDNKh Moscow

And then work their way to the back with the more modest structures where it’s all pigs! Meat! And honey!

meat production pavilion VDNH VDNKh Moscow

She found out later that the agriculture section is where it all started, so it’s not surprising that it is curiously well represented if less epic in scope than later offerings.

A tad tasteless, too, given that this part was begun not long after a large number of people had starved to death due to the famine brought about at least in part by Soviet agricultural policies.

Told you it’s representative.

Today there are over 500 permanent buildings, 49 of which have been designated as listed buildings.

Pavilion at VDNH Moscow

What that means is that it has a very very big territory. Mama is itching to suggest that out of all the World Exhibition Great Fairs, Moscow’s is probably the biggest in some way, but she has no evidence to back this up. Wikipedia does say that the area is larger than the whole of the principality of Monaco though, so that’s something, right?

Belarus pavilion vdnh vdnkh Moscow

Anyway. Up until the dying days of the Soviet Union, VDNH (VDNKh), as the name suggests it ought to, did indeed host actual exhibitions, conferences and scientific meetings and so on. As well as being a pleasant spot for your average Muscovite to come and stroll around and have popular music piped to them over the outdoor loud hailer system, while eating ice cream and boggling at the architectural masterpieces.

Architectural detail at VDNH VDNKh Moscow

Then came the 90s, and the buildings were leased out to a random collection of ramshackle hawkers. The whole place became like a large, well-appointed and peculiarly eclectic pound shop. You could buy anything in the way of random tat here from one of the huge number of higgaldy piggaldy stalls crammed into every available corner in every possible building. Mama’s favourite find was a two dollar double bass bow. No it wasn’t a music specialist shop at all. They also sold plastic cutlery, cheap alarm clocks, tea and clothes.

So, in fact, also very representative, this time of the 90s in Russia. Rampant but basically ill-conceived capitalism.

They still piped out the latest hits around the park though, and if you weren’t to be lured inside by the thought of browsing for a new fridge, a pot plant and a bottle of not-best Crimean champagne, it was still worth going for the vast number of outdoor side shows and fairground attractions, as well as the large number of barbecued meat stalls.

And then all that changed. Since 2014, the governance of the area has been taken firmly back by the Moscow city authorities, who have evicted the kiosk holders and started a major overhaul of what were increasingly crumbling pavilions.

Today it is home to permanent spectacles you may even want to visit, such as the Moskvarium aquarium, the Polytechnic Museum’s not very temporary anymore exhibition, the Museum of Illusions, the Russia, My History multimedia extravaganza*, and the City Farm.

VDNH (VDNKh) puts on more and more performances, art exhibitions and the like every year, and there’s also space now for really large events such as comic conventions, travel shows, education fairs and lift exhibitions.

And, of course, it has a giant skating rink in winter, sports an urban beach in summer and is the backdrop for some of Moscow’s better firework displays on major holidays.

ice skating vdnh moscow

There is even a thriving equestrian centre. You can go on a tour of the stables, ride a horse or just hang around and watch people putting their steeds through their paces!

horses at the equestrian centre vdnh moscow

The next phase of renovations has just kicked in, and, once again, mirrors the re-beautification of all of Moscow under the current Mayor. This phase will see, among other things, the particularly large and fabulous Space pavilion totally revamped and, if Mama understands correctly, the collection from the current Cosmonautics Museum may well be moving there when it’s finished.

The current museum is too small, apparently. Mama is biting her tongue in an effort not to giggle, but not succeeding very well.

This does mean that an awful lot of things are swathed in scaffolding right now or being dug up, so if you visit this summer, the place will not be looking at its most impressive. But in a year or so’s time, wheeeee!

Restoration at VDNH Moscow

It’s hard, and it’s particularly hard for Mama, who loves the place, to think of any down side to this, aside from the ever-present tension between public spending on the cosmetic upkeep of a city versus pumping extra cash into the welfare and social support system. At least VDNH (VDNKh) is a space that can be enjoyed by all.

Even with the debate about the appropriacy of keeping public memorials to historical regimes or figures which now represent ideals or behaviours we condemn, the thing about the sort of Soviet propaganda which VDNH (Veh. Deh. eN. Kh) is a particularly large example of, is that it celebrates human achievements which are largely positive.

This fountain, for example, which is portraying the gold-covered harmony in which all Soviet peoples lived may not be terribly accurate, but it’s not as if it isn’t something that should be true.

Friendship of Nations Fountain VDNH VDNKh Moscow

There are undoubtedly some difficult corners – Mama finds the statues to the children who denounced their parents for unSoviet behaviour disturbing round what used to be the pavilion celebrating children and childhood – but broadly speaking it is good to have a vision of humanity to aspire to sometimes, as well as reminders of when we have failed to live up to that.

And if you just simply and purely want to see a bit of Soviet kitsch, which isn’t really that much in evidence in the Kremlin and Red Square, then this is the place to come.

Soviet detailing VDNH Moscow

Mama does rather mourn the disappearance of her favourite by the glass wine bar (bar snacks included blue cheese on sticks and olives. Mama is so seventies, yeah?). But luckily they still play you cheesy pop songs over the loudspeakers, which Mama thinks has probably always been the best bit.

Nonsense, Mama. It’s the actual rocket, the real life space shuttle and the cosmos themed playground that’s the best bit.

Rocket space shuttle and playground at VDNH Moscow

All in all VDNH (or VDNKh. Do have a go at the rasp) is not something to miss out if you are ever in Moscow, and if you live here there is plenty to keep you coming back and back.

*Actually, don’t go to Russia My History. No, really, you have been warned.

More information

The park’s website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the Millenium Dome, mediocrity on a colossal scale.

Address: VDNH Estate 119, Prospect Mira, Moscow, 129223.

Admission to the territory is free.

By public transport: The VDNKh (VDNH) station is on the orange line and you will go in through the rather splendid front gates. You can also come in the back by getting off at Botanichisky Sad (the orange line, and also the new Moscow Central Circle Line) and if you don’t want to walk, there’s a shuttle minibus that takes you from this station into the very heart of VDNH too. There are also numerous tram, trolleybus and bus routes going past the park.

By car: Car parks exist.

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VDNH in Moscow is a Soviet exhibtition space full of architectural masterpieces

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Untold Morsels

Running the City of Moscow with the Begushiy Gorod Urban Orienteering Event

So there we were at 9.45 this Saturday morning, half way down a metro line, staring at Papa, who was trying to work out how to get to the starting point of the Begushiy Gorod event.

Which wasn’t very encouraging, given that the whole idea of Begushiy Gorod, or Running the City, is to take the addresses the organisers give you, work out the best route between them, and visit them all in one day.

Begushiy Gorod Running City Moscow
Where shall we go next?

To make things even more interesting (or to ensure you can’t cheat), as well as ticking off the places you also have to answer a question which is essentially unGoogleable and which will involve careful observation of your surroundings. What is the fifth letter of the fifth word on the sign on the corner of the house? How many stripes are there on the mosaic tiles on the right of the door? What is the seventh monkey from the left holding in his hands? Sort of thing.

The list is divided up into stages, and after you have completed one set, you check in and get given your next five to ten sites to find. Partly so that you cannot just split your team up and knock off the locations in half the time, partly to make the route planning more achievable for the map reading challenged, and partly so that if you give up and go home before you finish the whole thing, you get some kind of sense of completion.

Where Running the City differs from regular urban orienteering (says Mama, who looked the phenomenon up on the ever helpful Internet and discovered that this generally means sprinting between compass points) is that the people behind Begushiy Gorod have made full use of the fact that it will be happening in a city and have divided up the possible routes into different categories according to the different modes of transport you are allowed to use. You can sign up for one of the walking ones, do it by bike, use public transport or get round any means possible.

Which in practice means that you’ll need to use a car at least some of the time, because, Mama is reliably informed by someone who found herself hiking through a forest in the middle of the night one year, they will put some of those stops in the middle of nowhere on the very edges of the city limits.

Running City Moscow Begushiy Gorod
Considerably more serious competitors than us.

There are also options according to whether you are going to be against the clock and competing directly against other teams, or take a more leisurely approach. Or you can choose to have (some of) your addresses given in the form of riddles that need to be solved before you can move on. One of the versions has everything in English!

Mama and Papa went for the least challenging one, the ‘Lion Mini’. Yes, they do have somewhat whimsical names. Also available are ‘Horseman’, ‘Spinx’, Angel’, and ‘Griffin’ and that is not the full set. The English one is called ‘the Lion and the Unicorn’. And you thought Russians don’t have a sense of humour.

But even so, after a good three hours on pounding the streets of Moscow, we only completed the first of the two stages. When the Begushiy Gorod team say it’s a full day’s event, they really mean it, and many of the more serious runs had people at it pretty much until the final checkpoint closed at midnight. And the day started for some at 8am!

We very much enjoyed our urban trek even if it wasn’t in full though, and at this moment Mama would like to say what a lot of really good thought had gone into the planning of this.

Checkpoint at Running City Moscow Begushiy Gorod
Check in to complete stage one here!

Mostly this was because the addresses we were trying to find were not just random houses, but places of interest in their own right. So in following the trail, we were participating in a giant off-the-beaten-track guided tour of this part of the city.

Some of the stops were historically significant. We went past the memorial to the 1993 barricades, which sought to protect Russia’s fledgling democracy from a military coup. Successfully, but Mama had not realised how many demonstrators lost their lives.

1993 Barricades Memorial Moscow Running City Begushiy Gorod

We were also taken to the house museum of Russia’s own Dr Johnson, Vladimir Dahl, who was responsible for a particularly comprehensive and influential dictionary of the Russian language, published in the second half of the 19th Century.

Vladimir Dahl's House in Moscow
This is what the house looks like on the outside.

Our attention was also drawn to architectural gems. While searching for the clue at Dahl’s house, for example, we discovered that the building was actually a wooden one, which had been plastered over to make it look much grander and more classical.

Vladimir Dahl's Wooden House in Moscow
And this is what it looks like on the inside.

And although we were not actually directed to pay attention to the Roman Catholic cathedral, you can’t really miss it when it is right opposite the building you are hunting for, can you? Mama was delighted to be able to tick this off her ‘things to take photographs of in Moscow’ list.

Roman Catholic Cathedral Moscow
Spikey!

Another clue had us looking carefully at this building, which would originally have been the house of some well off Muscovite but which is now part of the Biological Museum.

Traditional Old Building at the Biological Museum Moscow
All red brick and tiling.

In fact, we found the Biological Museum! My Obsessed Big Brother was saying just the other day that we need to go here, and now we know exactly where it is!

We also found the museum to the artist Tsereteli, a contemporary sculptor much beloved of the former mayor of Moscow, whose works therefore litter the capital. Mama had been wondering if it was worth a visit, and given quite how… eclectic the outside is, she is going for yes. Watch this space.

Tsereteli Museum Moscow
Do not go here if you are afraid of clowns!

And the beginning and end of the Begushiy Gorod hikes were all in an old, pre revolutionary factory district, and many of the buildings are still there, if turned into rather trendy bars and boutique shops these days.

Mama was particularly delighted the name of the street, ‘Rochdelskaya Ulitsa/ Rochdale Street’, which celebrates the fact that the town of Rochdale formed one of the earliest co-operative societies, and the one which became the model for later cooperatives.

Papa liked this [insert technical explanation here which Mama didn’t follow. Yes, it was in English], which was just lying around, waiting to be turned into some hipster design feature in the sushi restaurant nearby (or something).

Industrial transformer component Moscow
This is a… thingy. But a cool thingy.

But it wasn’t just the addresses that were well-chosen. Mama wondered if it were part of the plan to take us past so many public toilets. Perhaps it was a happy accident, but Mama, with two children in tow, appreciated it anyway.

Certainly the end of the stage check in came at exactly the moment we kids had reached the limits of our endurance, and really needed a lengthy sit down and a large amount of food to contemplate keeping going. And, low and behold, the place we were directed to had numerous cafes, restaurants and even a John Bull pub to choose from (for those on the English trail). It’s not actually their fault we fell into McDonald’s – there were definitely other eateries available.

This level of careful organisation, in fact, characterised the whole event, which went extremely smoothly from our point of view right from when we checked in to when we went to pick up our participant’s medals at the end. Which given that there were 2572 teams and 6857 players in total, was pretty impressive.

It wasn’t the organisers’ fault either that we gave up after eating, or even because of the fact that it started raining. Mostly it was the shattering cold Papa and my Obsessed Big Brother were suffering from, and that my five-year-old legs can only go so far (should have taken the scooter, Mama).

Still, there’s always next year! Except Mama and Papa are already plotting how to get rid of us so they can do Running the City properly in 2018. How very dare they! We enjoyed it too!

Lest you are worried that you too will have to wait until next year to take part, the Begushiy Gorod team run this event throughout the year in St Petersburg and a number of other cities throughout Russia, including Vladimir, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan and Yekaterinaburg, all of which have events still to come.

Running City Moscow start Begushiy Gorod
Get set, ready, go!

And you can now also have a go at Running the City in New York on 28th October.

And! London! On 7th May 2017! You’ve just about got time to sign up! The categories are not as extensive as the Moscow event (just walking vs biking vs public transport) but Mama reckons it’ll be great. Do it! And come back and tell us what you saw!

Highly highly recommended.

More information

The BG website (in English).

The London event page.

The New York event page.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about orienteering – the sport of a lifetime.

Participating: You need to register your team before the event and book a start time slot. Go to the website, choose your category, fill in your details, pay your entry fee and away you go. Teams can consist of up to four people. Entry fees vary, and the prices are given in roubles. The London one costs either 2000 and 2500 roubles (depending on your category), or 25 to 35 pounds per team. You’ll need to pay by PayPal if you don’t have a Russian bank account.

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Running the City of Moscow with Begushiy Gorod is an urban orienteering event, with a twist! Highly recommended and suitable for a wide range of participants. Even English speakers!

Mini Travellers
Wander Mum