How and why to get lost at the Russian Forest Museum

Mama once got lost in a forest in Russia (as well as Kolomna).

It was a decidedly worrying thirty minutes, until she and Papa were able to follow the sounds of dacha land back to civilization, popping out of the trees some considerable distance to where they went in to pick a few mushrooms.

This experience was rendered not less freaky by the story their neighbour then told of getting turned around on a similar mission and being stuck in the trees for three days.

Which just goes to show you that Muscovites may know how to fix the central heating system with a bent paperclip and a hammer, but are not at all wilderness ready.

This is a problem because the Russian forest is a wilderness. And huge. And largely left to its own devices.

So Mama was very surprised that the Russian Forest Museum in Moscow is one of the Russian captial’s best kept secrets, which she only stumbled upon by accident.

It’s a bonus that it turned out to be something of a find, and is now one of our favourite museums in Moscow.

Some of this is because of fabulous detailing of the interior, like this traditional wooden window carving.

Undoubtedly more of it is because of the room full off stuffed animals, mimicking a forest glade. Complete with the pleasant sounds of soft bird calls and running water.

The bird calls are recorded, but the water music is because of the actual stream flowing through the diorama. It is CHARMING. We were all CHARMED.

Plus, they have an excellent natural stone floor.

It’s called the Temple of the Forest. Quite right too.

The rest of the Russian Forest Museum is a bit less quirky but no less interesting to poke around, managing to impart all sorts of facts about trees and the other plants and wildlife that you can find among them.

Forest management.

Some tools and other items representing forestry in the Russian Forest Museum Moscow

Fruits of the forest.

Leaves.

Also, Baba Yaga.

The docents in charge of the Russian Forest Museum have also been particularly welcoming and very happy to cater to my and my Sylvan Big Brother’s enthusiasm when ever we pitch up.

They also told us that the Yolka, the children’s show at New Year, is particularly fabulous.

Even the cave where the coats are kept is cool. Noticing the owl is a sign of being a child at heart, the cloakroom attendant explained, because all the kids do, but none of the adults. By and large.

So quite why it is not heaving with interested visitors is a complete mystery to Mama. Although her accompanying Russian friend did point out that if, in fact, Russians want to commune with the silver birches, the ceder trees and the many varieties of fir and wotnot, all they have to do is walk about 200 yards outside of any given town. Even right next to Moscow is a nature reserve which is home to elk and wild boars. Elk! and wild boars!

So, vast expanses of (nature filled) trees, continually on your doorstep. Not as thoroughly exotic as they are to Mama.

Anyway.

It may have been our visit to the Russian Forest Museum which gave Mama the chutzpah to go back into the woods some fifteen years after her first disastrous visit.

Or it may have been the fact that every other tree on the trail to the local swimming hole was marked. Mama’s fellow urbanites may be Russian, but have clearly learned to take no chances.

Since the walk takes about 40 minutes and one tree does start to look much the same as another after a while, at some point the locals have gotten creative, and added signage. There’s only so much excitement to be had from the soft sunlight streaming though the leafy canopy onto the floor of moss and blueberries, the crack of a tree falling over 50 metres away, the smell of damp earth and greenery, and wondering if you will tread on a snake while realising it is more likely to be a frog.

This one says ‘mosquitoes’ and is accurate.

Others hint at the delights of the swimming area ahead.

Swimming costume nailed to a tree

There’s a waterproof visitors book.

And other witty remarks such as ‘sun this way’.

Or, for the way back, ‘your dinner’s getting cold’.

It was fun. But so is the Russian Forest Museum in Moscow. Well worth adding to a walk around the attractively buildinged area immediately south of the Moscow River down from the Kremlin. Which is clearly the subject of a post for another day.

More information

The Russian Forest Museum’s website (in Russian).

Address: Building 4, 5th Monetchikovsky Pereulok, Moscow, 115054

Opening: In summer, Monday – Friday (closed weekends) 10am to 6pm. At other times, the museum is closed Monday and Tuesdays, but open on weekends.

Admission: 150 roubles for adults, 100 roubles for children over seven (under sevens are free).

Getting there: It’s close to Paveletskaya Metro station, on the green and brown lines. You can also walk down from Teatralnaya/ Novokuznetskaya (green, yellow and orange lines) which will take you past a lot of interesting buildings in this older district.

Pin for later?

Noss Head Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage in Scotland

The Internet is a wonderful thing.

You may have noticed the limited range of places we write about. Moscow. The centre of Moscow. The edges of Moscow. The very occasional journey outside of Moscow. A number of articles about Mama’s hometown, Stevenage. The backlog of posts about where we used to live, London. The centre of London, the edges of London, the… OK, you get the idea.

Mama, in fact, is a travel blogger who doesn’t actually like travelling much. Well, it’s a niche.

But thanks to the World Wide Web, she can armchair travel as much as she wants. Mama enjoys other people’s trips to far flung places quite a lot.

Plus, it allows her to keep in contact with all sorts of people in all sorts of places, to share a laugh, to see what they think is happening in the world, to peer into the tiny details of lives and living situations very different from hers. Even, in some ways, to participate.

Which is what happened when her friends bought Noss Head Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage, in the North East of Scotland, close to Wick and Inverness and their airports and train connections, and twenty minutes from the very top of mainland Britain, John o’Groats itself.

Noss Head Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage

Now Mama had not previously given much thought to the existence of Scottish lighthouses, or lighthouses in general. She might be the product of a proud island nation and the daughter of an enthusiastic amateur sailor, but she’s never lived within sight of the sea, the boat she is most familiar with is a Mirror dinghy, and her sailing has all been done on lakes. Very small lakes, mainly.

So previously she did not know that Scottish lighthouses were frequently built by one or another member of a family of engineering-minded Stevensons. With the exception of Robert Louis Stevenson, who benefited from lighthouse building being quite a lucrative business on the rocky north coast of Scotland and became a writer. Yes, that Robert Louis Stevenson.

‘I dreams of cheese! Toasted mostly! Oooh arrr Jimlad! Shiver me timbers! Pieces of eight!’ says Mama, helpfully.

This is what Robert said about the Stevenson Scottish lighthouses:

‘There is scarce a deep sea light from the Isle of Man to North Berwick, but one of my blood designed it. The Bell Rock stands monument for my grandfather; the Skerry Vhor for my uncle Alan; and when the lights come out along the shores of Scotland, I am proud to think that they burn more brightly for the genius of my father’.

Winter on the NC500 in Scotland

Alan Stevenson, the uncle, was the one who oversaw the construction of Noss Head Lighthouse and surrounding buildings, and Noss Head has some interesting features. The diamond-shaped windows in the lantern room were a new design, subsequently employed in future lighthouses. He also went a bit overboard with the architectural detailing on the cottages and outhouses, which means that some of them, although not the Noss Head Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage itself, are grade A listed.

The Noss Head Lighthouse is still in operation, but has long been automatised, which is why you get to stay in the keeper’s cottage rather than the keeper. Cool, huh?

Noss Head Lighthouse by Alan Stevenson

Mama has a somewhat proprietorial feel for the place, despite living very much at the other end of Europe, as she is part of a brainstorming group her friends use to make sure that their meticulous holiday cottage planning is on point.

The discussion about the type of biscuits to include in the welcome pack was a particular highlight, not least because Mama discovered there is such a thing as Blue Stilton and Walnut Shortbread.

In fact, when you walk into the cottage, contemplate Mama being quite proud to have contributed (a very very small part) to choosing the best colour of curtains to create a warm and inviting atmosphere; deciding what kind of saucepan would suit visitors best; searching for interesting books about lighthouses to add to the sitting room bookshelves; stress testing the cottage’s website and the information provided for guests; and working out how to make the cottage child friendly without compromising the aesthetic for adult guests.

Currently debate is buzzing about Noss Head Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage fridge magnets. You are very welcome.

Kitchen at the Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage

Overall, Mama’s friends richly deserve the enthusiastic comments about the attention to detail in the visitors’ book.

Bedroom at the Lighthouse Cottage

Now, obviously you want to be comfortable and have a cool place to stay on holiday, and with this holiday cottage you are clearly sorted. But presumably you also want to get out and about and see a bit of Scotland while you are there. Luckily there is certainly plenty to do, in terms of taking in spectacular coastal views and rockpooling along beaches around Noss Head Lighthouse, and also in the surrounding area.

The beach near Noss Head Lighthouse in Scotland

Caithness is plentifully supplied with castles, including a ruined one you can see from Noss Head Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage itself. As well as the views, there are opportunities to see all sorts of wildlife and birdlife from puffins, through hairy cows to seals. There is ancient history in the form of prehistoric stone towers called brochs. And this being Scotland, there is a whisky distillery. More than one, in fact. And a gin distillery. And a vodka distillery. And also a brewery.

Plus, many small craftspeople crafting away and prepared to sell their unique items of knitwear, pottery, ironmongery and so on. A number of the paintings in the cottage are by local artists, to give you an idea of what is out there.

If you are really lucky, the northern lights might come out to play. If you aren’t lucky, the chances of a cloudless night are good, giving you the opportunity to stargaze away from the light pollution of most towns, cities or villages.

Moon and stars at Noss Head Lighthouse

More than this, the North Coast 500 road trip route goes right past the Noss Head Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage.

Even though Mama blanches at the thought of travel, she does have a sort of fascination with road trips and similar. She quite enjoys the thought of packing up a car, an RV, a canal boat or even the Trans Siberian Express, and being gently wafted from place to place, waking up somewhere new every few days, yes, but with somewhere convenient to stash all the extra changes of socks, snacks, extra camera batteries, two tablets and a kindle, five more pairs of pants than the number of days we are staying away for, my bedtime cuddly toy, a couple of books, the wellies, the flip flops, the swimming things, the umbrella, the thermos, and the crafting activities so she doesn’t have to lug them all around with her.

Or worse, leave them at home.

So when Mama finally decides it’s time to go, the journey will be EPIC, and driving round the top of Scotland on the NC500 sounds pretty perfect, with moorlands, lochs, Highland glens, white sand beaches, hamlets, fishing villages and oodles of Scottish wilderness to explore.

Aside from the breathtaking scenery, after years of city living she actually rather enjoys the infrequent occasions she gets to fling a car round country roads. The fact that Papa is generally closing his eyes and gripping the edges of his seat in fear is revenge, Mama thinks, for years of her putting up with Muscovites and their overly breezy attitude to lane changing at speed.

Even the idea of trying to shift Papa’s opinion that whisky tastes a lot like moonshine vodka sounds quite appealing. And you get to stand at the very top of a country, at John o’Groats and contemplate taking off and seeing how long it might take to get down to the bottom and Lands End, just for the fun of saying you did it. Mama wants to go to Vladivostock, for much the same reason. End to end, baby. It’s a (very long term, and probably hypothetical) goal. Especially as her fitness levels are not going to see her climbing any serious mountains any time soon.

Although there are a few of those Northern Scotland too. Bagging one of the Munros is a thing, and there are 37 of them on the NC500 for you to choose from.

Noss Head Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage in Scotland

So, if you want a quirky holiday cottage in the Highlands of Scotland, a quirky holiday cottage on the NC500, a quirky holiday cottage near John o’Groats, or just a really comfortable (and quirky) holiday cottage somewhere scenic, you really should consider the Noss Head Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage.

Like we are.

Just to be clear, we have not received any financial or other incentive for writing this post. We just like our friends and think their lighthouse cottage is way cool.

More information

Noss Head Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage website.

The cottage is 2.5 hours drive and 100 miles from Inverness.

It takes five or six hours to drive from Edinburgh or Glasgow. Buses and trains take longer. You can fly into Wick airport, next door to the cottage from Edinburgh or Glasgow.

If you are coming from England there’s a sleeper train from London to Inverness, or you can fly into Inverness airport. Then hire a car.

Pin for later?

The Noss Head Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage is a comfortable, quirky holiday cottage on Scotland's NC500 coastal route, only 20 minutes from John o'Groats.

Pet fish at the Moscow Sea Aquarium at Chistye Prudy

Sometimes Mama wonders why she pays large amounts of money to get into dedicated animal experience venues when we can be endlessly amused by the hamsters and goldfish at the local pet shop. Not to mention the bearded dragons.

This is presumably the thinking behind the Moscow Sea Aquarium at Chistye Prudy, which is, basically, a largish pet fish shop. With extra tanks round the back you can pay to go and see separately.

Tropical fish Moscow Sea Aquarium Chistye Prudy

As a result, the fish viewing area is not particularly styled. The tanks are simply tanks. They have not been turned into a replica of the Amazon made from fibreglass and low lighting. They are no floor to ceiling underwater experiences, which surround you with water and marine wildlife. They also do not play you soothing music as you trundle round.

There are no giant killer whales or seals or anything which requires a large amount of space and the willingness to ignore people who suggest that perhaps keeping killer whales in captivity is a bit un 21st century.

There are some (modestly sized) sharks though! And rays under the glass floor. That’s pretty cool.

Sharks Moscow Sea Aquarium Chistye Prudy

The Moscow Sea Aquarium also has a pretty decent selection of brightly coloured tropical fish, seahorses, a few jellyfish, and some rather astonishing snakey eely things. Also piranhas.

And crabs.

Crab Moscow Sea Aquarium Chistye Prudy

And this rather excellent turtle. It’s an alligator snapping turtle, in case you didn’t know, and actually the reason why I got to go to this aquarium. Animal Mad Big Brother was watching another of his many endless wildlife programmes about this, and remembered that they have one here.

Snapping Alligator Turtle Moscow Sea Aquarium Chistye Prudy

And although I was a bit taken aback by the relatively small size of the place, in truth, I can get a bit bored in the bigger aquariums. The Moscow Sea Aquarium had the perfect number of aquatic displays for me to be pleased by the variety without testing my patience. Despite being a bit disappointed there were no real crocodiles.

Plus, it is warm and moist and tropical inside and Mama’s glasses steamed up and everything, which reassures you that it isn’t just your average pet shop. Luckily they have a makeshift cloakroom in a broom cupboard next to the water filters, so we did not have to swelter our way around the tanks in our winter weather grade layers.

At the end there are some drawing stations with fish-themed pictures to colour in. Always welcome, are colouring in opportunities. We did five. Each. Mama does occasionally also wonder why she takes us out at all when we end up being most enthusiastic about doing all the things we could quite happily get on with at home while she puts her feet up and noodles around on the Internet.

All in all, if you want to kill an hour or so in a child-friendly way on a walk round the Garden Ring pedestrian boulevard that encircles the centre of Moscow, this isn’t a bad way to do it. Plenty of little coffee shops, skating opportunities, cat cafes and other minor items of interest to occupy you nearby too.

It’s also cheaper than dragging the kids out to the back of VDNH to the expensive if considerably more glamorous and extensive Mosqvarium. But the Moscow Sea Aquarium at Chistye Prudy is a strictly amateur affair, as aquariums go, so manage your expectations accordingly, and be warned that the price is perhaps a little on the high side for what it is. A hangover from the days when it was the only fish game in town, perhaps.

Gotta feed the underwater animals though! And obviously if you are actually shopping for pet fish, this place is presumably a cut above you average pet shop in that department. Not that Mama would know. We have had fish and if Mama is honest she was quite pleased to abandon them in the UK (to a good home) because fish require a lot of cleaning out, she found. So she is not in the market for any more.

Mama is not a good parent to a budding naturalist really. We do have a budgie though. Which Animal Mad Big Brother mucks out.

More information

The Moscow Sea Aquarium’s website (in Russian).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about freshwater aquarium equipment.

Address: Chistye Prudy Bulvar, 14/3, 101000

Opening: Every day 10am to 8pm.

Admission: Adults: 400 roubles in the week, 500 roubles at weekends; kids 3 – 12 years old: 250 roubles in the week, 300 roubles at the weekend. There are is a tour you can sign up to (and pay for) too, and you can also pay extra to see them feed the sharks.

Getting there: The nearest Metro stations are Chistye Prudy/ Turgenevskaya/ Sretensky Bulvar (red line/ orange line/ light green line), or Kitai Gorod (orange line/purple line). It’s a good ten minute walk from either, but a very pleasant one.

Pin for later?

The Moscow Sea Aquarium at Chistye Prudy is a small family friendly fish filled attraction in the centre of Moscow

MummyTravels

Nice ice baby at the Moscow Ice Festival

You might be expecting that living in Moscow you get bored with the snow, the snow machines, the cold, the snow machines, the ice rinks, the snow machines, the snowmen and the snow.

And if you ask my Jaded Big Brother, you might be right. He is a bit over layering up to go out. At least until he and Mama have a snowball fight or we go sledging. Again. Plus, he’s just realised he gets to do skiing as part of his PE classes at school soon. Coooooooooool.

I, on the other hand, really like winter in Russia. Apart from the possibility of seeing snow machines there are outings like the time we went to see the Moscow Ice Festival out in Victory Park on Poklonnaya Hill.

Ice horses at the Ice Festival Poklonnaya Hill Moscow

Icy Moscow is a collection of ice sculptures specially carved from large blocks of ice brought in from some of the lakes around Russia.

Ice mammoth sculpture at the Ice Festival Poklonnaya Hill Moscow

Baikal is particularly famous for the quality of its ice, for example.

Ice bear sculpture at the Ice Festival Poklonnaya Hill Moscow

You can even sit on some of them!

Ice sleigh sculpture at the Ice Festival Poklonnaya Hill Moscow

But not just sculptures! When we arrived, we found there were also ice slides to go whooshing down, with large padded crash zones at the bottom in case you got really wizzy. Which we didn’t, initially, as we were motoring by the seat of our overtrousers alone. But then Mama gave in and bought us another plastic toboggan tray for extra slipperyness. Totally worth it, and highly recommended.

Ice slide sculpture at the Ice Festival Poklonnaya Hill Moscow

Ice slide sculpture at the Ice Festival Poklonnaya Hill Moscow

There’s an even more impressive sliding experience somewhere off to the back but, say it with me, we had to pay extra, so we didn’t. We did, however, find a sculpture carved in the shape of a barrel that you could get inside and slide around in, in defiance of any kind of health and safety caution.

If you get hungry or a bit chilly there are plenty of little stalls about selling warming hot drinks and food.

And at night they light it all up!

Ice sculpture at the Ice Festival Poklonnaya Hill Moscow

So when is it? Well, even in Moscow, the sort of weather you can maintain large ice sculptures in is not the something you can guarantee will last and last, so they time the Moscow Ice Festival to coincide with the New Year holidays. Which means December 29th to January 9th.

Ice crow at the Ice Festival Poklonnaya Hill Moscow

And of course, 2018 being the year of the FIFA World Cup in Russia, this year the Ice Festival will see ice sculptures representing the different countries attending, and not just reproducing the capital of Russia and various animals in transparent cold melty glass.

Are you ready to see the Eiffel Tower (if not the leaning Tower of Pisa) carved entirely out of ice? Doubtless we will be going, so watch this space.

More Information

The website of the Moscow Ice Festival, aka Ледовая Москва (in Russian).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about some cold, hard facts about ice.

Address: Poklonnaya Hill, Victory Park, Moscow

Admission: 300 roubles, or thereabouts. More if you forget your sledge. Even more if you want to go on the big hill.

Getting there: The nearest metro station, which is really right next door, is Park Pobedy on the dark blue line.

Pin for later?

If you are in Moscow during the winter holidays, check out the Moscow Ice Festival, Icy Moscow. Ice slides and sculptures.

MummyTravels

VDNH, Moscow: the biggest open air ice skating rink in the WORLD

Not last winter but the winter before, we had our first ice skating experience on the open air ice rinks in Moscow, and we picked what Mama is certain is the very best, the one at VDNH. This weekend we set foot on the ice for the first time since then. VDNH was great but it turns out that falling awkwardly when you are an adult can be a lot more damaging than you might think.

Still, all better now, and Mama has decided that this is the year we will all find out ice legs properly. We are starting less ambitiously this time on one of the small local rinks. Mama managed to stay upright for a whole hour! Mainly because she shouted ‘don’t touch me!’ every time we got close. My Optimistic Big Brother fell over a lot, but remained undaunted! I insisted on a penguin, and so I got on the best of all of them. Me and my cold friend were whizzing all over the ice by the end. But if you continue reading you can find out how this differed the first time round, and why we still totally recommend this ice rink.

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

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

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

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

This, however, is nonsense.

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

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

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

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

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

Ice skating at VDNH Moscow

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

UPDATE: Still the biggest, two years later, apparently. Come on Canada, surely you can take the Russians?

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

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

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

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

Frozen fountain at VDNH Moscow

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

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

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

Ice skating cafe at VDNH

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

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

Friendship of Nations Fountain in Winter at VDNH Moscow

At which point she fell over, naturally.

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

Ow.

Luckily it only took a week (actually, it was a year in the end) for her to be able to lift her arm above her head again, so it does not seem to have put her off (it totally put her off. For, you know, a bit).

Lovers Lane ice skating at VDNH

The open air ice skating at VDNH has just reopened for the 2017/2018 season, and ignoring the somewhat dull weather in these photos, Mama guarantees it will be fabulous as long as you do NOT try to hold your children’s hands once they have reached a certain age and weight category until they are actually able to skate reasonably competently. Or you are.

More Information

VDNH’s website (in English).

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

Address: 119, Prospect Mira, Moscow, 129223

Opening: From December to Mid March.

Price: 450 roubles to 650 roubles for adults and 200 roubles to 400 roubles for kids in 2017/2018.

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

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

Pin for later?
VDNH Moscow has the biggest outdoor open air ice skating rink in the world and it is fabulous.

Hever Castle and Gardens: knights, jousting, action

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

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

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

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

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

Hever Castle Gatehouse Kent

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

Hever Castle Tudor Manor Kent

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

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

Hever Castle Interior Kent

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

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

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

Hever Castle Gardens Kent

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

Hever Castle Gardens Flowers Kent

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

Hever Castle Grapes Kent

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hever Castle Weaving Kent

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

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

Hever Castle Jousting Knights Kent

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

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

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

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

Hever Castle Knight Jousting Kent

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

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

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

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

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

Goldfish. Says Mama.

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

Goldfish. Says Mama.

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

Hever Castle Rose Gardens Kent

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

More information

The castle’s website.

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

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

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

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

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

Pin for later?

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

Suitcases and Sandcastles

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

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

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

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

“Biskits!”

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

Eventually we got tickets, and some animal food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

heads of ayr farm park pillows

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

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

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

Heads of Ayr Farm Park Camel

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

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

Heads of Ayr Farm Park Pirate ship

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

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

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

More information

The farm park’s website.

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

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

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

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

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

Pin for later?

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

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.

Pin for later?

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

Flying With A Baby

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.

Pin for later?

 

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

Plutonium Sox

Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art or Not.

It is Mama’s firm belief that modern art is the medium to go for if you want childish appreciation of visual virtuosity. Classical paintings are very flat. Contemporary… whatjmacallits tend to be a lot more pace roundable, climb upable, crawl alongable, duck underable and even, occasionally, touchable.

The current exhibition at the Garage art gallery in Moscow, the Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art, has items on display which allow you to do all of these things, and put on headphones to listen to the soundtrack that accompanies them as well.

The Way of an Object Makhacheva Garage Triennial

Of course, so far we have only been to one exhibition where you were invited to handle everything, and the Garage Triennial wasn’t it.

Figuring out which items you are supposed to manipulate and which to contemplate from a safe distance by carefully observing the appropriate behaviour of more clued up others is both a profoundly moving representation of an essential aspect of the human condition and also a very good opportunity for children to practice this vital social skill.

Faces Garage Triennial of Russian Cintemporary Art

To limit the potential damage this might cause, the very practical Garage gallery had stationed a large number of young docents at every possible corner on the lookout for people doing it wrong, so generally the art was safe from everyone except Mama, who absent-mindedly walked into the dangling skier model. We simply can’t take her anywhere.

Female Male Red Khasanov Garage Triennial

Adding to the child-friendliness, in the Garage Triennial, when the art is flat, it tends to be on TV. Can we recognise the difference qualitative difference between Spongebob Squarepants and a woman being sloooooowly covered with large smooth stones on a beach? Mama has no idea, but she does know that my Predictable Big Brother will be entranced as long as there are moving images.

Mama wouldn’t say that the Garage Triennial is simply uncomplicated fun for the more youthful element of society though. So she experienced trepidation every time I put on the headphones, and even insisted on sampling the soundtracks first if she could get there ahead of me. But since I retained my sunny delight in trying on every single one of them for the whole of the exhibition, Mama concludes that it was fairly innocuous after all. And the set that also included virtual reality goggles was simply FABULOUS. Floor to ceiling dancing babushkas. ‘Nuff said.

The Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art is organised into a number of themed sections. Its overall aim is, for the first time ever, to showcase the current state of the modern art scene for the whole of the Russian Federation, and to this end curators spread out all over the very very big country in order to discover what is going on out there. Way way out there in some cases.

They seem to have decided that artists are working on being famous (‘Master Figure’), describing themselves (‘Personal Mythologies’), describing their location (‘Fidelity to Place’), describing what’s wrong with that (‘Art in Action’), describing art (‘Common Language’) and scribbling on walls (‘Street Morphology’).

Prussian Winter Matveev Garage Triennial

And actually Mama, who can sometimes find herself in a modern art gallery staring a large, random, piece of burnt wood and wondering if it would make sense the other way up, felt that either the Russian artists had been unusually successful in getting a point across or that the groupings were particularly well thought out. In pondering the connections between pieces or between the piece and the topic, she made a lot more sense of what was going on than that time when she was interviewed by a psychic guru in the catacombs of the Tate Modern.

Reticence Novikov Garage Triennial

Went a bit over our heads, mind you. My Predictable Big Brother stared particularly blankly at the large golden model of a priest and inquired with some disapproval as to why he was making a mildly rude gesture. Being moved to read the caption and finding out it is a self-portrait didn’t seem to help much.

Basically, both of us much preferred the shiny metal spiny sculptures, the giant pile of rubbish that changes into something much more attractive when the lights go down, the sand tray where you could use tweezers to move a few buttons, twigs, grains of sand, plastic baubles and fabric flowers around, and the giant multi leveled wendyhouse, with the extremely steep twisty stairs.

Metropolis Seleznyov Garage Triennial.

Most of all I liked the dolphin buried in a concrete brick. Look, I just like dolphins, alright? No need to overthink things.

Dolphin Tail Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art

I liked it so much, in fact, I drew it in the visitors book, full of sketches by other gallery goers too, after double checking to make sure it wasn’t just another piece of art.

Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art

Mama thinks that very much in evidence was the Russian surrealist sense of humour, impressive commitment to fixing anything as long as there is a bent paperclip or a large hammer to hand, and habit of flinging themselves wholeheartedly into their latest project.

But the Russian reputation for startling directness is also not unjustified and this was definitely on display at the Garage Triennial too.

Take this one, which Mama found one of the most powerful examples, given that it marries the very delicately pretty feminine art of watercolour painting with the ugly subject of domestic violence.

Bruise Potemkina Garage Triennial

Or this one, in which items from the personal and political history of the country have been embedded in amber, itself an iconic item from this part of the world. Can’t get more crushing that the implication that the symbols you held so dear are now fosilised remnants of a disconnected past.

Nasubullova Garage Triennial

Or this one. These are house numbers. Note the missing ones, intended to represent the losses suffered to wars and instability in the artist’s hometown.

Numbers Gaisumov Garage

Which is Grozny in Chechnya.

Let’s just take a moment to add a new layer of painful interpretation to that, shall we?

But the problem with message-driven art is that at some point that you do start to wonder if perhaps standing in a swish custom-built chrome-plated art gallery, thinking about the coffee you can have in the large, tastefully-appointed cafe downstairs, next to the extensive souvenir cum glossy art books shop is all a bit… too… comfortable.

Is there, in fact, a point to looking at this kind of thing if all you are going to do afterwards is play on the table football, and then wander downstairs to the elegant toilets, where there are sprays so you can detoxify the seats before parking your rump, as well as a mirrored area with a built in clever-clever hashtag for teenagers to primp in front of before their edgy Instagram session upstairs? And all this while listening to the deliberately amplified sound of flushing loos?

A question already addressed in the Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art, by the Monstration happening.

This is an event which takes place annually, and which at first glance seems to show a large street demonstration in action.

Monstration Loskutov Garage Triennial

But if you look a little closer (and you can read Russian), you will see that the placards are covered with pseudo slogans.

Because this is a pseudo protest.

Yes, the artist organizer may occassionally get arrested for planning it, and the onlookers heckling the participants may also be taking it seriously, but no, these people have turned out en mass and with considerable enthusiasm, having taken the time to paint up their own signs with absurd sayings to participate in an entirely content-free demonstration.

Mama simply cannot decide whether this is the most genius bit of biting sociological satire she has ever seen, the angriest political commentary or an egregious example of shocking frivolity given that it is 2017, the year after 2016. It’s been bothering her considerably.

Which, I suppose is the point of art, contemporary or otherwise. To get under your skin, to stay with you, to make you examine the world in a different way.

So go, if you can. It’s interesting, fun and worthwhile. And your kids will love it.

More information

The exhibition’s website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about bluffing your way round an art gallery.

Address: 9/32 Krymsky Val, 119049, Moscow

Opening: The Garage Triennial of Contemporary Russian Art is on until 14th May 2017. 11 am to 10pm daily.

Admission: 400 roubles for adults. Children under 11 are free. Children over 11 cost 100 roubles.

Public transport: The Garage gallery is in Gorky Park. The two nearest metro stations are Oktyabrskaya (orange line) and Park Kultury (red line).

Pin for later?

The Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art

MummyTravels
the Pigeon Pair and Me