The Zoological Museum of Moscow University

The power a Zoological Museum has over children is a source of never-ending surprise for Mama, who proposed a trip to the one in Moscow without very high expectations given that we have trekked past what seems to her to be an endless number of stuffed animals so far in our short lives. Surely by now the fascination would have worn off?

Lizards in a Jat Moscow Zoological Museum

She had even lower expectations after I whinged all the way there. Well, really, Mama. If you will take us to Burger King first only to discover they had run out of the plastic tat we went there to claim AGAIN. And then double down on the disappointment by dragging us away from the soft play area after a mere half an hour in order to embark on a lengthy overheated Metro journey when we were dressed for Siberia.

But! She had definitely underestimated the restorative powers of dead animals and birds.

Toucan at the Moscow Zoological Museum

I cheered right up almost as soon as we stepped through the front doors of the Moscow Zoological Museum. It may have helped that we got to take off the padded over trousers, the heavy coat, the hat, the scarf, the gloves, and the extra jumper and put them into the ever-present cloakroom. Although Mama thinks that the giant mammoth mural in the entrance hall also helped.

You see, the Zoological Museum is in an old building. It’s actually not just any old Zoological Museum, but the original one attached to the original Moscow University, housed in the even more impressively classical mansion building next door. The actual work of educating the next generation is now in one of the Stalin skyscrapers on top of a hill overlooking the Moscow River far away. But they still retain their former premises, which are right next to Red Square and opposite the Kremlin.

Zoological Museum and the Kremlin

(That’s the Zoological Museum on the left, and the orangey building at the bottom of the street is the Kremlin. No, it’s not supposed to have onion domes).

Did I hear the sound of travellers with children everywhere sitting up and paying attention? Yes, there is indeed a guaranteed child-pleasing attraction within a very very short walk of the must-see sights of Russia’s capital city. And better yet, it’s good, but it’s not that extensive, so would make the perfect pit stop to refresh a small person’s soul before pushing on to more historically significant places. Assuming said small person’s interest in such heritage-heavy destinations has temporarily waned.

Of course, there’s always the giant child-themed department store up the road. But this more educational. And cheaper.

The most essential room is the one with the mammals and the birds. Mama, who is starting to consider herself a bit of a taxidermy connoisseur, was particularly delighted by the mammals. She thinks that there is a certain quirkiness in the stuffing. Take, for example, this seal.

A ferocious seal at the Moscow Zoological Museum

Not, Mama would suggest, the usual presentation of this beloved furry creature, albeit one which from a penguin’s point of view is probably quite accurate. Mama thinks that the ensuing cognitive dissonance might be good for kids, who are generally encouraged to anthropomorphise the natural world to an unhealthy degree.

Otter with a fish Zoological Museum Moscow

Of course, the stuffed birds will also be popular – it’s the colours of the plumage and the variety of beaks – but what’s even more guaranteed to please in the Moscow Zoological Museum is that the room has a high number of the larger and more impressive animals people usually go to zoos for. Mama has written before about weighing up the ethics of zoological museums like this one versus live animal experiences, and the fact that these were collected not for someone’s trophy cabinet but to educate generations at a time when you couldn’t just go out and make a high-resolution film of the creatures, well, she thinks that has some value.

Tigers at the Moscow Zoological Museum

Basically, if you want to study the natural world, it helps to know what it looks like, and if anyone is any doubt, they should go off to the Grant Museum in London and ask to see the sketches of kangaroos made by people who were relying purely on descriptions to make them. The Zoological Museum of Moscow University celebrated its 225th anniversary last year. You can see why someone thought it necessary to bring back all the big cats, and a polar bear, not to mention the bison, the bears, and the weird antelopes with the big noses, although Mama suspects that the really scientifically interesting collections are probably not actually out on display, and probably consist of seventy-two examples of the same species of dull brown rat. For, y’know, the purposes of comparison.

Bison Zoological Museum Moscow

That said, there is almost certainly no scientific justification for making the imperial double-headed eagle out of dead bugs. This just goes to show that Russians might not strictly speaking have been Victorian, but that people 150+ years ago were pretty much the same all over.

Russian Imperial eagle made out of bugs Moscow Zoological Museum

The other rooms consisted of things preserved in formaldehyde in glass jars, mostly anything you can’t really stuff, and the Skeleton Room, which for some reason really freaked me out. Possibly because it wasn’t bones of mythical dinosaurs but real creatures which might, y’know, rattle to life and come chasing me down the corridor. The dim lighting didn’t help either. I imagine this sort of thrill might actually be a draw for some people though. My Ghoulish Big Brother was certainly a fan.

Skeletons at the Moscow Zoological Museum

So my lack of enthusiasm brought the visit to a close, although not before Mama had bought herself a mug as a reward for discovering the place. I scored a rubber snake. My Ghoulish Big Brother got a magnet and a book about fish, which, much to Mama’s shock, he read steadily on the journey back and at home until it was finished. As a result, she’d have happily popped in and got the rest of the series too, if the shop (actually a small table – Mama does worry about the commercial arm of some of these Russian museums) wasn’t behind the ticket barrier. The Zoological Museum of Moscow University is reasonably priced, but not that cheap.

Oh dear, what a pity. We’ll have to go back in the not to distant future…

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The Zoological Museum of Moscow University is full of stuffed animals and birds large and small and things pickled in glass jars

 

More information.

The museum’s website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Hoover, the talking seal.

Address: 6 Bolshaya Nikitskaya, Moscow, 125009

Opening: Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm with late night opening on Thursday to 9pm. CLOSED every Monday and the last Tuesday in every month.

Admission: 400 roubles for adults, 100 for kids over seven (the English version of the website is wrong on their pricing – it’s gone up a bit).

By public transport: The Zoological Museum is a short walk from either of the two red line stations of Okhotniy Ryad and Biblioteka Imeni Lenina and their connecting stations of Tverskaya (green line), Ploshad Revolutsii (dark blue line), Boroviskaya (grey line) and Arbatskaya (dark blue line).

By other means: If you live here and are looking for somewhere to amuse your offspring in the centre, I assume you already know where to park. Cos I don’t.

MummyTravels
Flying With A Baby

Tring Natural History Museum, Hertfordshire

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

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

Interesting Mammals at Tring Natural History Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At small child eye level.

Taxidermy Video at Tring Natural History Museum

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

It was FABULOUS.

And surprisingly nobody had nightmares, not even Mama.

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

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

Fake rhino horn at Tring Natural History Museum

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

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

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

Antelope with a big nose at Tring Natural History Museum

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

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

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

Polar Bear at Tring Natural Hisotry Museum

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

Vampire Deer at Tring Natural History Museum

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

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

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

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

Rams at Tring Natural History Museum

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

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

More Information

The museum’s website.

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

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

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

Admission: Free

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

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

ANIMALTALES

Battersea Park Children’s Zoo, London

Did you know that in the middle of that large, varied, leafy, dog-infested urban oasis, Battersea Park, there is a zoo, and not just any old zoo, but one aimed fairly and squarely at children?

We certainly do.

Lemur at Battersea Park Children's ZooIn fact, Mama is usually careful to stay at the other end of the park so as not to be inundated with requests to go visit Battersea Park Children’s Zoo. This does not work very successfully as my Tremendous Big Brother has no trouble whatsoever remembering things connected to animals, and so pesters her anyway no matter what part we are in. Or even if we are not in the park at all.

And sometimes we do indeed visit. Which rather undermines Mama’s position.

So what makes Battersea Park Children’s Zoo a children’s zoo, given that all zoos are places that most children are particularly fond of?

Is it the choice of animals?

Rooster at Battersea Park Children's ZooWell, perhaps adults are not likely to be impressed by a selection criteria which Mama suspects to be ‘small and manageable’. Adults, jaded thrill seekers that they are, clearly need the more exotic or dangerous or large or colourful species such as lions or gorillas or elephants or giraffes in order to get their gawking at captive creatures kicks. Mama also has a theory that the most thrilling animals for half Russians of a certain age are the ones all the stories are about. Rhinos don’t feature much in Russian fairytales but chickens do! Basically, I thumb my nose at your exoticism! Give me a good donkey and pig any day!

Pig at Battersea Park Children's ZooOf course, the choice of smaller animals means that they need smaller cages, and smaller cages mean fewer places to hide, and fewer places to hide mean the opportunity to get much closer than to the tiger skulking in the bushes at the back of the enormous enclosure behind three fences and some reinforced triple-glazed glass. This is certainly family friendly!

And I don’t know if we are particularly lucky, but it might well be that the species chosen for Battersea Park Children’s Zoo are the more lively and gregarious ones. Snails, roosters and rabbits, that kind of thing. Very active animals, usually.

Of course, reliably behaving like a caffeinated chipmunk is why everybody likes meerkats.

Meerkats at Battersea Park Children's ZooDitto otters. Battersea Park Children’s Zoo therefore has both, and the chipmunks themselves (sans coffee). And as my Tremendous Big Brother has got older and the fairystories have become old hat, the monkeys, when obligingly busy, have taken on a new lease of life.

Chipmunk at Battersea Park Children's ZooMama likes the coatis. This is because when we were there once she was delighted to find them busily shampooing their tails. Not, the nearby keeper explained, to wash themselves, but because in the wild they like to massage smelly things into their tail fur. It’s one of the enrichment opportunities for the animals Battersea Park Children’s Zoo provides that reassure you it is a professionally run place.

Mind you, I think my favourite bit is the sandpit in the extensive and well stocked play area. They have slides, climbing frames, trampolines, swings, a REAL LIFE FIRE ENGINE to sit in, diggers, indoor chalk boards, and the more touchable of the animals round there too, and most of this does not cost extra. But the sandpit is the best because it also has WATER PLAY.

Play equipment at Battersea Park Children's Zoo(Please imagine Mama’s weary groans at this point. Luckily we have recently only been there in high summer).

You might be wondering, then, why, with all this on our doorstep, we go, on average, once a year maximum. Why not get a season pass?

The season tickets are expensive.

They are expensive even though the zoo has an option to buy a child’s ticket which allows any random (rather than named) adult to accompany them for free. Especially as we would need two. This is a shame, and Mama wonders if a trick is being missed here as while the zoo clearly has no need to drum up trade on a sunny Sunday in June, we would still be likely to be popping in when other people aren’t, such as the dead of winter. Despite the water play (because of the water play). Some kind of off peak ticket might entice families such as us to take the plunge.

But running a zoo is not cheap, and although Battersea is an area with money these days, everybody likes a bargain and probably thinks like us. This system neatly assures that the nannies have somewhere pretty exclusive to take their charges and the zoo gets a fair chunk of cold cash and a guaranteed clientèle for its cafe. The rest of us will have to make do with the excellent London Wetlands Centre’s ridiculously cheap annual pass (Mama thinks they might be missing a trick in underpricing themselves, but is keeping quiet about that one).

To be fair, a one off trip to Battersea Park Children’s Zoo is much more reasonable, so if you do not live near the park, you should not let price considerations put you off going occasionally. It’s not quite a full day out, perhaps, but it is a very generous half day, and Battersea Park itself is very capable of soaking up any remaining time you might have. Go! The kids will love it!

More information

Battersea Park Children’s Zoo website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Gerald Durrell, animal collector, conservationist and author.

Address: Battersea Park, Wandsworth, London, SW11 4NJ. The zoo is towards the river end of the park on the Chelsea Bridge side.

Opening: 10am – 5.30pm (4.30pm or dusk in winter).

Admission: Adults 8.95 GBP, kids over 2 6.95 GBP, family 29.00 GBP.

By bus: 19, 44, 49, 137, 156, 170, 239, 319, 344, 345, 452 all go by or near the park.

By tube: Sloane Square (District and Circle lines) is 1km away on the other side of the river is the nearest station. Take the 137 or 452 bus from there.

By train: Battersea Park Station and Queenstown Road station are within 300m of the park.

By car: Actually, Battersea Park has a couple of (smallish) pay and display car parks, and there are more pay and display spaces in the surrounding streets too, which are even free on a Sunday.