THE Guide to Moscow for First Time Visitors

Coming to Moscow and not sure what there is to see and do beyond the famous onion domes of Red Square? I am a Brit but I’ve lived in Moscow for well over ten years off and on since 1996. Currently I’m bringing up two Anglo-Russki kids in the capital of Russia, and I’m married to a native Muscovite. This is my guide to the most essential sights for first time visitors to Moscow, as well as other cool, interesting and unusual things you might want to look out for if you have a bit more time to look around.

You can’t miss Red Square and St Basil’s Cathedral

Obviously you are going to have to visit Red Square with St Basil’s Cathedral the iconic image of Russia as its focal point, and you can even go round the church, built in the 16th Century by Ivan the Terrible. St Basil’s is colourfully painted throughout, with tiny winding staircases leading to a succession of dimly lit, atmospheric chapels, all richly highlighted in gold leaf. Sometimes there are also singers.

Red Square Moscow

If that experience is not spooky enough you can also visit the mummified body of Lenin, still in his stylish boxy tomb next door to the cathedral. Shuffle past Lenin, ignore the smell, and don’t try to talk or pause or the guards will… frown at you. Then you can go and see the graves of other famous revolutionaries (and Stalin) in the walls of the Kremlin outside.

Want to see what high-end shopping looks like in Moscow? Nip into GUM, the former Soviet state department store, now thoroughly revamped. Its pre revolutionary roof is a work of art, as are its ice creams. Eating one is a Russian tradition, one of the things you must do in Moscow whatever time of year you visit.

GUM Moscow

Red Square is freely accessible most of the time, except when Lenin is receiving visitors or there is a public holiday which requires celebrating with a parade. The opening hours for St Basil’s are 11am to 6pm in summer and for Lenin’s mausoleum, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday 10am to 1pm. Read more about what to see and what (not) to do on Red Square here.

The Kremlin vs St Basil’s

Of course, one thing you may have discovered while visiting Red Square is that St Basil’s is not, in fact, the Kremlin, and the dead centre of Russian political power is also somewhere you can’t miss on a visit to Moscow.

Inside you can admire cathedrals with Tsarist connections, neo-classical government buildings, a cracked bell, some formal gardens, lots of cannons, a really hideous Soviet-era concert hall, and the Russian president’s helipad.

Kremlin helipad Moscow

On Saturdays from April to October you can also watch an elaborate changing of the guard ceremony, although there is also a more modest version every hour or so outside the Kremlin walls at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Lots of high kicking marching and saluting.

If you pay a bit extra you can go to the Armoury and look at national crown jewels type treasure. You might be thinking the communists would have got rid of it, but you will be wrong. There will be a lot of bling. Some Faberge eggs. It will all be exceeding shiny.

The Kremlin is open every day except Thursday. The Armoury costs extra for entrance at two-hour intervals. You need to book your visit on the day, but you can do this via the internet as well as in person.

Experience ‘wild urbanism’ at Zaryadye Park

Prefer some fresh air? If you wander down to the river you can check out Moscow’s newest public open space, Zaryadye Park. It is definitely one of THE spots to go and get your Instagram on – in particular you should head for the bridge that sweeps out into the middle of the river for an uninterrupted shot back up towards Red Square and the Kremlin.

Kremlin from New Zaryadye Park Moscow

Designed by the same people who are responsible for the High Line in New York, it also contains an open air amphitheatre, an underground glacier and a multimedia experience showcasing Russia’s manifold beauties. And the park itself is designed in zones to represent the different climates and flora of the very large territory Russia currently encompasses.

This post covers what happened just after it was opened, and why it lived up to its tagline of ‘wild urbanism’.

Cruise down the Moscow River and see it all

Just up from the park in the summer season you can catch cruise boats which will allow you to drift comfortably down the Moscow River taking photographs of many of Moscow’s top attractions as you go. Sail past Zaryadye Park again, the Kremlin (the best views are from the river), the reconstructed Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (see below), the former Red October chocolate factory (it’s very red, you can’t miss it), the GIANT statue of Peter the Great (there are no words), and get off at Gorky Park, although you can choose to go on for longer too, and admire one of the main stadiums for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, some of the tallest skyscrapers in Europe, as well as a lot of trees.

Read more about cruising down the Moscow river, including what to look out for and why, here. Cruises also run during the winter too, but those only start and finish in Gorky Park.

The old meets the new in Gorky Park and Muzeon

Gorky Park is a much bigger space than Zaryadye Park and in the last few years has been completely renovated. It now has a large number of (variously) cafes and food stalls, flowerbeds, artfully scattered lounging cushions, boating lakes, open air theatres and cinemas, playgrounds, free yoga and dance classes, fountains, sports facilities, random hip happenings, places you can hire bikes, and a huge outdoor ice rink (in winter).

Gorky Park Moscow Fountain

You can also nip back towards Peter I (you can’t miss him) and check out the park, Muzeon, directly opposite Gorky Park. This started out as the dumping ground for defaced Soviet busts, figurines and towering 3D representations of people like Felix Dzerzhinsky, the first head of the KGB, which were torn down at the end of the Soviet period. But it has mutated into something a bit less bitter over the years and now has all sorts of other sculptures for you to wander around and wonder about. Still, if you want to get a selfie with Lenin, this is the place to come.

Lenin Bust Muzeon Park Moscow

Both Gorky Park and Muzeon are free to enter. Opening hours are roughly equivalent to daylight hours, and more about the origins of Muzeon can be read here.

Want to find out more about how the statue of Peter the Great came to be imposed on the Moscow skyline? Read this.

A tour of Soviet Moscow

Travelling around Moscow, you will have already noticed that the fact that there is a park to deposed Soviet statues does not mean that there aren’t any hammer and sickles on display elsewhere around the city. If you are looking for traces of Moscow’s communist history, it’s easy to find them.

Leave Red Square, for example, along Nikolskaya Ulitsa at the far end of Red Square from St Basil’s, and at the top of this attractive pedestrianised street you will find a giant mustard-coloured building. This is Lubyanka, the former headquarters of the KGB and now the actual headquarters of the FSB. No, you cannot visit. But you can look at the monument to the many people who died in the Gulags off to the right, on the spot where the statue of Dzerzhinsky used to be.

KGB Headquarters Moscow

Look out over the Moscow rooftops at Detsky Mir

More cheerfully, to the left (yes, right next door) is the Central Children’s Department Store on Lubyanka, which back in the USSR was much more snappily named Detsky Mir, or Children’s World. Even if you don’t have kids along, you might want to pop inside because you can go outside on a viewing platform at the very top of the building, giving you an excellent view over Lubyanka, and the rooftops back towards the Kremlin and Red Square.

Rooftop View of Moscow

The fact that you can indulge your inner child on the way up with one of the bigger Hamley’s stores, a 2018 FIFA World Cup merchandise shop, and all sorts of interactive games in the corridors is surely just a bonus.

The Central Children’s Department Store on Lubyanka is open from ten am every day and closes at ten pm. Read this post if you want to find out more about this venue.

Explore VDNKh, the Soviet theme park

If you want a real USSR experience, though, you should head out of the centre to VDNKh. Begun as an exhibition space to show off all of communism’s finest achievements from the small (breeding a lot of pigs) to the large (first man in space), this very enormous park is dotted with all sorts of pavilions to things such as Armenia, honey and electromagnetic engineering, which are both very Soviet in design and extremely attractive.

Pavillion VDNKh Moscow

It’s fun to wander around and admire the architecture, but nowadays the pavilions also contain a number of very visit-able attractions, including an aquarium, an interactive science museum, an illusion factory, an urban farm, art and history exhibitions, and a space shuttle you can go inside.

In addition (but do you need an addition?), right next door to VDNKh is a whole museum devoted to space exploitation, which is an absolute must-see for anyone with any kind of interest in space rockets, space dogs, space chess sets and space ice cream and has the added bonus of having the most fabulous roof-top sculpture of any museum on the planet.

The rocket sculpture above the Memorial Space Museum of Cosmonautics in #Moscow

And! In winter they build one of the largest outdoor ice skating rinks in the world so you can skate past the pavilions of VDNKh, and then whizz down a tubing run that winds round an actual space rocket.

VDNKh is found a fifteen minute journey from the centre of Moscow half way up the orange metro line, and is open all day. For more about the history of this remarkable space as well as what you can do there, read this post.

Don’t visit the Museum of Contemporary History

Of course there is always the actual museum to the revolution, including its build up and its consequences right up to the present day, although now it bills itself as a Museum of Contemporary History rather than out-and-out devoting itself to the formation of the USSR.

Unfortunately, it is currently undergoing a renovation, so the main halls containing really interesting artifacts relating to the period, significant moments, and famous and more obscure heroes and villains are closed. There are temporary exhibitions for the real enthusiast. But it is cheap and central, being on the main drag down to Red Square Tverskaya Street, just up from Tverskaya/ Pushkinskaya/ Chekovskaya metro stations. And since it is housed in the former English Club, a gentlemen’s hang out for expat Brits and Anglophiles in Tsarist Russia, it’s in a really nice-looking building.

Closed Mondays. Do not ever try to go museum visiting in Moscow on a Monday. This is almost always the day they have off. The Kremlin is the exception. The last Friday in every month is also often not a good idea, as this is also usually another closed day. On the upside, if you are in town, on the third Sunday each month and some public holidays, a large number of museums are free. There will be queues for the more popular ones, however.

Go underground and visit Bunker 42 and the Gulag Archipelago

Top of the list of more off-the-beaten-track Soviet-related locations to visit is Bunker 42, where you can relive the Cold War. Be prepared to walk down many many stairs, and go deep deep underground to find out where the Soviet leadership intended to ride out any attack the West could throw at them. To visit you have to be part of a tour, and it’s pricey compared to many of the other museums and experiences in Moscow at over 2000 roubles per person for the English language excursion. It may nevertheless still be worth it. To fortify you for the slog back up the stairs, there is also an underground cafe down there.

Another museum which aims to look at the less palatable aspects of the Soviet Union is the Gulag Museum, about the extensive network of labour camps for political (and other) prisoners. Open every day (except Monday) from midday, it is between Dostoyevskaya and Tsvetnoi Boulevar metro stations.

Tanks, planes and guns

If you want to look at really big guns, then the Central Armed Forces Museum is for you. It covers the whole history of the Red Army, although the Second World War dominates. Called the Great Patriotic War in Russia, this might give you some understanding of how brutal it was on the Eastern Front.

But as well as some very sobering dioramas of the horror that was Stalingrad, triumphal collections of captured Nazi flags and other such aide-memoires, you should be able to find all the uniforms, tanks, planes, armoured vehicles, and weapons big and small you could possibly want, and the actual American U2 spy plane shot down by the USSR in 1960 to boot.

U2 Spy Plane Powers Moscow

There isn’t much English language support, but its appeal is very visual even if you don’t know your AK47s from your AK74s. There are handling opportunities too, although not going so far as to let you actually fire the things on display.

The Central Armed Forces Museum is to the north of central Moscow near metro station Dostoyevskaya or Prospect Mira and open every day except Monday and Tuesday.

Victory Park and the Napoleonic Wars

Somewhat further out from the centre is Victory Park and another museum which is closed on Monday. This time it is exclusively about the Second World War. In case you weren’t sufficiently convinced by the Central Armed Forces Museum about just what a big deal it was to the Soviet Union, Russia, and the allied victory.

In fact, although it celebrates the end of World War Two with a giant monument designed by the same person who did the humongous Peter the Great statue you will not have missed on the Moscow River, the park was actually only completed in the 90s. But there are even more tanks round the side of the museum as a reward for coming out here as well as the deepest metro station in Moscow, Park Pobedy. Enjoy the ride up the escalator!

The park also hosts various events during the year, many of them entirely unwarlike, such as the Ice Sculpture Festival in the New Year holidays.

If you want to find out more about the other disastrous land war in Eurasia, then right next to Red Square is a museum devoted to the incautious invasion of Russia by Napoleon Bonaparte. It’s not actually the blood-red gothically detailed State Historical Museum which dominates the other end of Red Square to St Basil’s, but a subdivision next door.

The State Historical Museum is itself interesting for those who want to look into pre-twentieth century Russian history. Right back to prehistoric times. For non-Russian speakers it is essential to get the English language guide, as most of the objects in the museum have been selected because they have an interesting story attached rather than being merely representative. You will want to hear about them. This museum is, wonder of wonders, NOT closed on Monday or any other day.

Historical Museum Red Square

Read this post for more about what you can see at the Historical Museum, and why you shouldn’t tell your children that most things from deep history are found in graves.

Travel round and round the Moscow Metro

It’s not often that affordable, everyday and extremely practical means of travelling around are recommended in a guide to the top things to do in any given city, but there is a reason why it keeps coming up for the Moscow Metro, and that is the outstanding station design. You don’t need an interest in trains to appreciate the ceiling shapes, the light fittings, the many and varied artworks, the marble, the statues, the door details, and the columns.

Lightfittings Moscow Metro

The project began with the intention of building a series of people’s palaces (and to glorify the Revolution through the medium of public transport) and you have to say that it was a success, although they throttled right back after the first wave of construction. What this means is that most of the really spectacular stations are along the circular brown line, so it is simplicity itself to tour them.

Other notable stops are Ploshard Revolutsy, the nearest stop to Red Square on the dark blue line (Soviet superpeople and animal statues, rub dogs or chickens for luck), Mayakovskaya on the green line (look up), and most of the stations on the dark blue line going East, which conveniently takes you to Vernissage souvenir market (see below).

Metro sculpture in #Moscow hero farmer and chicken

However, the Moscow Metro is still under construction, and some of the newer stations in the south have also been decorated with an eye to making a functional space delightful once again. To compare the old and the new, the southernmost stations of the red line might be worth a journey, plus you’ll get to go through the station which is actually on a bridge of the Moscow River!!! And also right next to the 2018 FIFA World Cup stadium.

The modern, the traditional and the trendy art galleries

If you are interested in seeing the Soviet Union through the eyes of its artists, you can visit the large rectangular box like building you will not have failed to notice while you were visiting the fallen statues of Muzeon. This bit of uninspiring architecture houses the New Tretyakov Gallery, a museum to the Soviet avant guarde and what followed it. Really worth a look if you have any interest in Kandinsky, Malevich and enormous canvases of Stalin twinkling avuncularly down at you.

The New Tretyakov Gallery at Krymsy Val

If you prefer your art more contemporary, just inside Gorky Park the Garage art gallery is one of the most likely spaces in Moscow to find out what Russian artists are up to now although it also has a lot of exhibitions by international names. It’s not very big, so easy to pop in and out of, and there is a pleasant sort of cafe, if none of the ones in the rest of the park appeal.

There is also the relatively new Moscow Museum of Modern Art, which has five locations all over the city and a wide variety of exhibitions, as well as the Moscow Multimedia Museum, which has Lego stations in the foyer.

Their websites will tell you if there is anything on which you feel particularly drawn to, but for a flavour of what you can see at any of them, click on the links in the text above, which also give more information about the locations, costs and the fact that they are closed on Monday.

And if you want to see just how hipster Moscow’s trendy art and design scene can get, check out the former Red October factory just down from the Kremlin and next to Muzeon, although this is rather better for hanging out in cafes and bars. So also go to Winzavod or the ARTPLAY complex in the east, down from Kurskaya/ Chkalovskaya metro, or Flacon in the north near Dmitrovskaya metro.

That said, when it comes to art, as a tourist, you’ll usually get directed to the Old Tretyakov Gallery which is back up the river a ways, on the south bank not that far from Red Square. Its building is much more attractive than the New Treatyakov Gallery’s, and its art is pre revolutionary.

Old Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow

You are unlikely have heard of any of the artists, but if you get hold of one of the many-languaged audio guides, by the time you come out, you will have a decent working knowledge of the whole of the history of Russian art, and a serious bear and birch trees addiction.

Or you could go to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, which is full of the paintings the Soviets acquired in the Second World War, among other things. Lots of Impressionists and Picasso and so on. Also, many life sized plastercasts of great works of art from around the world for the edification of Soviet citizens who were unlikely to be able to see them in person.

The Old Tretyakov Gallery is at Tretyakovskaya/ Novokusnetskaya metro stations, and for an overview of what you can see there and why it is interesting, read this post.

The Pushkin Museum of Fine Art is near the Christ the Saviour cathedral (see below) at Kropotkinskaya metro station.

Both of them are closed on Mondays. Of course.

Admire Moscow’s pre-revolutionary architecture

As well as visiting the gallery, you might also want to have a wander around the area surrounding the Old Tretyakov Gallery, the south bank . This being one of the places you can see what Moscow looked like before the revolution, full of low-lying pastel-plastered mansion houses, sometimes even still wooden or partially wooden. There are also 19th century factory buildings, as well as a whole bunch of churches. Walking away from the Kremlin down either Novokuznetskaya or Bakhrushin Streets towards the metro station Paveletskaya will give you an overview.

Moscow mansion house

Prefer a more art nouveaux vibe? Then the back streets near the Old Arbat street are where you should attempt to get lost. Maxim Gorky’s house is a particularly famous building, having been designed by the architect Fyodor Shekhtel for businessman Stepan Ryabushinsky in the early 1900s before it was handed over to the writer by Stalin himself. You can go round it, and if you do, be prepared to be particularly impressed by the staircase.

Peep into the lives of famous Muscovites

In fact, there are quite a lot of flat, house and country estate museums dedicated to the writers, artists and performers who lived in them, so if you have a favorite look them up and see if you can go and see where they ate, slept and worked. One of the most enthusiastically celebrated is Mikhail Bulgagov, of Master and Margarita fame, as there is not one but two quirky house museums to his life and works in his former apartment block. One of them is the place where Bulgakov located the Devil’s abode in Moscow. Graffiti covered stairs, art installations, theatrical performances and a bus tour of the area are also available. Read about our visit here.

Of course, if you are a tourist in Moscow you should almost certainly take a walk down the Arbat street itself – it’s that kind of place.

Why is the Old Arbat famous?

Well, it is one of the oldest streets in Moscow, and one of the major routes in and out of the city for friend and foe alike. Originally lined with artisan’s workshops, eventually all the aristocrats had their palaces here. Later it developed more of a middle class medical and legal vibe before the artists, writers and poets moved in to make it the bohemian quarter.

More recently, in the 1980s this is where you could go to help kick start Moscow’s headlong jump into the wild waters of capitalism by getting involved with the black marketers exchanging jeans and foreign CDs for Soviet memorobillia. It was, therefore, a cool, edgy hangout, and the posibility of having a run in with the police, high.

Scruffy teens still to this day occasionally persist in turning up and trying to look cool by playing rock songs on their guitars. But they are fighting what is probably a losing battle with the pleasant cafes, souvenir shops and stalls, and professional street entertainers of the type you might find in Covent Garden in London or along the Royal Mile of Edinburgh.

You might want to check out the Kino wall, though, a much graffitied monument to Russia’s most famous underground rock star, who died unfortunately young. If it is still there. What with clashing with the new genteel vibe and all, there are rumours it is about to be painted over. Catch it while you can.

Victor Tsoi Wall Arbat Moscow

To get to the Old Arbat, you can either get off the metro at Smolenskaya and walk down the street towards the Arbat metro station (another one of the pretty ones). Or do the trip the other way. This experience is equally as fun in the evening as during the day.

To find out more about Soviet underground rock, read this post.

Shop for souvenirs at Vernissage in Ismailovo

Another great place to shop for your matryoshka doll is Vernissage at Ismailovsky Market. This sprawling outdoor complex combines a large number of arts and crafts vendors, souvenir emporium, fine arts gallery and a flea market, and is housed in a colourful fairy tale wooden kremlin recreated from the 17th Century. The main buildings are popular as a wedding venue, but there are also little museums to vodka, bread, folk art and child delinquency if you have had your fill of admiring the attractive wooden stalls and their contents, and there will also be outdoor entertainments such as live action blacksmithing for you to enjoy.

Kremlin in Ismailovo Moscow

Vernissage is open from 10am all week, but for souvenirs and shopping you really want to go there at the weekend as during the week the number of stallholders is much reduced. This post tells you a lot more about how very very fabulous Vernissage is, and what else you can buy there.

What more can Moscow’s parks offer?

Vernissage is right next to one of Moscow’s many excellent and very extensive parks, in this case Ismailovskiy Park, although this particular urban wilderness is probably of more subtle interest to the casual visitor than others with more obvious tourist attractions.

Such as Tsaritsyno in the south, which has a full sized replica of the original 18th century royal chateaux built for Catherine the Great, striking orange and white outbuildings, and a dancing fountain.

Bridge Tsaritsyno Moscow

There is also Kolomenskoye, which has one of the oldest churches in Moscow, Peter the Great’s modest cabin and a full sized replica of the original 250-room wooden royal palace of Peter the Great’s father to go round, as well as horse drawn carriage or sleigh rides (depending on the season).

Horse and carriage ride Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

These parks are situated quite close to each other in the south of Moscow along the green line, but that doesn’t really mean you should attempt both on the same day. You’ll want Tsaritsyno metro station for the gingerbread gothika, and Kashirskaya or Kolomenskoye stations for the 8th wonder of the Medieval world.

Read more about each location in this post for Tsaritsyno, this one for Kolomenskoye, and this one for the palace.

Be observant of Russian Orthodox churches

Moscow’s architecture is very much bound up in its churches. Moscow was once known as the city of 500 000 000 cupolas (at least), especially in comparison with its more secular and classically inspired neighbour, St Petersburg. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the Orthodox church took back many of its buildings from their communist occupation by libraries, cinemas, museums, housing, communal gyms, public toilets, factories, storage facilities and other community projects returning them to the gorgeously decorated places of worship they are again today.

The biggest restoration project in Moscow of this kind is the Christ the Saviour Cathedral on the Moscow River, just downstream from the Kremlin.

The cathedral was demolished by Stalin to make way for a giant revolutionary monument and Soviet palace, which was to be the biggest such structure in the world.

Unfortunately, the soggy banks of the Moscow River proved unsuitable for building something so large and so the foundations were turned into an outdoor swimming pool. Today, it is once again a huge, gleaming, white marble-cladded gold-topped cathedral, built to the original specifications. You can visit it and admire the frescoes and icons inside. As well as the religious space, there is also an art gallery in the basement.

Christ the Saviour cathedral Moscow

The cathedral is open 9am to 7pm throughout the week, services willing. As with many religious establishments, they prefer tourists to dress modestly. It is traditional for women to cover their hair, and if you plan to be looking around a lot of churches, a head scarf might be a useful thing to have in your bag, should you be of the female persuasion. Men should remove headgear, and no-one should hold hands. It’s bad luck, apparently.

Further along the river, near the 2018 Fifa World Cup football stadium, is Novodevichy Convent, which as well as remaining one of a number of working Orthodox christian monastic orders in Moscow, is notable for its cemetery, which contains the great, the good and the extremely notorious, as well as very striking headstones all round. Krushchev, Chekov, Gogol, Eisenstein, Bulgakov, Molotov, Mayakovsky, Shostakovich, Ilushin, Yeltsin and many more are buried here. You can buy a map of the graveyard at the entrance.

Moscow City, Skyscrapers and TV Towers

You will not have missed, while looking round Novodevichy, the towering glass buildings of Moscow City, or the International Business Centre as it is supposed to be called, as these are right next door. There are some genuinely striking bits of modern architecture here, but the real area of interest is that this complex houses the second tallest, the third tallest, the fourth tallest and the sixth and seventh tallest buildings in Europe (the tallest is now in St Petersburg, and the fifth tallest is in London). And you can go up the skyscrapers and look down over Moscow from unfeasibly high up, if you should so wish.

City of Capitals Moscow City

Decide if you want to spend the money, and read about our experience on one the tours to the Moscow City viewing platforms here.

However, the classic place to go if you want to stare at Moscow from above is the Ostankino TV Tower, still the tallest structure in Europe, even if it has been eclipsed by buildings with proper floors in lists of such things. As a bonus, it is lit up at night, and has a revolving restaurant, as well as a glass floor in the 360 degree observation deck.

Find Ostankino Tower close by to VDNKh, where it is virtually unmissable if a bit of a walk from te metro. Bring your passport as they won’t let you in without it and check the weather before you go – clouds may well obscure the top of the tower.

Enjoy expert performances of ballet, music, opera or the circus

Russia is deservedly famous for its ballets, and there can be no better location to see one than the Bolshoi Theatre just off Red Square. The historic stage is the one for the full on gold leaf, red velvet, boxes and balconies experience, but other venues under the same company’s umbrella are available, if less prestigious and lacking in really sumptuous architectural detailing. Booking is now possible online, and in advance.

Bolshoi Theatre Moscow

If you want the thrill of walking into the Kremlin as more than just a tourist, try getting tickets to the Kremlin Ballet, which is housed inside the Kremlin itself. The only downside is that it is held in a considerably less visually attractive building than the Bolshoi.

Performances in either the Bolshoi or the Kremlin are unlikely to be radically innovative, but there will be virtuoso spinning and jumping, which is what you want really unless you are really into your dancing. Both of these also do opera for those who prefer singers to dancers.

If classical concerts are more your thing, the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall and the venue attached to the Conservatory are also both lovely spaces, central and chock full of performances, also on the more traditional end of the spectrum.

Less highbrow but equally as essential in order to experience the full range of traditional Russian entertainment options is a trip to the circus. In Moscow these have permanent, specially constructed buildings, such is the seriousness with which this art form is taken. The Nikulin Circus on Tsvetnoi Bulvar is bang in the centre, and the Great Moscow State Circus on Vernadskogo is rather bigger but further out in the south west, near the University.

Both have all the acts that you might expect, traditional and less so, visually spectacular, breathtakingly nerve-wracking and laugh out loud funny, with no need to understand Russian to enjoy them. But be warned; those have opinions about performing animals should steer clear.

To be honest, there are so many venues big and small all over Moscow for all sorts of shows, that if none of the above appeals but you want a dose of the performing arts then there will be something out there for you, even in summer when traditionally the big companies go on tour abroad. You want ice dancing? Indie bands? Puppet theatre? A musical version of Anna Karenina? A-tonal string quartets? Elton John? Depending on the season and day of the week it will be there.

Finish your day with people watching, cafe culture and nightlife

There is also a thriving nightlife in Moscow with cafes, bars and clubs to suit every taste too. When the weather is nice in the summer months you can just stroll around the pedestrianised centre, starting at, say, Tverskaya Street just behind Red Square, immediately making a sharp right along Kamergerskiy Pereulok, and then you just keep wandering along from there, investigating any side streets that look interesting. The evening will be awash with venues that have spilled out onto the broad and accommodating pavements so just take your pick. There will be buskers of all kinds and all sorts of people watching opportunities.

Moscow street musicians

In winter, well in winter just get indoors.

And finally

Hopefully, this has given you ideas about what you can do to fill your time in the capital of Russia both if you are visiting Moscow for the first time or if you have been here before and want to find something a bit different.

Of course, it is not an exhaustive list of things to do in Moscow.

I haven’t even mentioned the Darwin Museum of Evolution, the theatre of performing cats, the zoo, the train yard with full sized locomotives to climb over, the many many escape rooms (some in English), or the fact that whenever you turn up there is highly likely to be a festival of some kind in the centre with extensive decorations, stalls, games, craft workshops and street performers. For example.

Nikolskaya Ulitsa Easter 2018 Moscow

But you’ll need to go home eventually, so it might be better to just plan to come back to Moscow another time.

Any questions, comments, or suggestions for about what I should have included in my list of top Moscow attractions but didn’t?

And if you need some ideas of where to eat traditional Russian food at an affordable price, try here.

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Tin Box Traveller

400,000 stuffed animals at the State Darwin Museum, Moscow

A good three years back Mama visited the State Darwin Museum in Moscow for the first time and fell in love. We returned recently to find that not only is it just as good as it was the first time were were there, in all the ways described below, but that they have actually managed to up the level of fabulousness even more. There is now an impressive surround sound surround video experience to greet you in the first exhibition hall, and a new touchy feely area full of interactive educational games off the foyer, in addition to all the ones still in existence in the second building. 

It is fair to say that there is probably nowhere else in the world that has so many stuffed animals on display as the State Darwin Museum in Moscow.

Big Cats Darwin Museum MoscowThree large floors of them, plus more in the building next door. You’ve got dioramas of animals in their native habitats; groups of endangered or extinct animals; scenes of animals being torn apart by other animals, and other… educational… interactions; displays of a bewildering number of different types of squirrel; cases showing a large selection of dog breeds in order of size and likely ferociousness, from wolves down to those little yippy ones you keep in handbags; expositions on the topic of genetics punctuated by the stuffed remains of generations of guinea pigs; collections of all the birds who have the hooked meat-ripping beaks, the pointy fish-spearing beaks, the bijou seed-winkling beaks, the big round night eyes, the really bright feathers, and so on and so forth.

Wolves and Moose Darwin Museum Moscow

Basically, all the possible combinations of stuffed animals you could imagine, the State Darwin Museum in Moscow has ‘em, and a few more to boot. Including a walrus that must be giving the one at the Horniman a run for its money.Walrus Darwin Museum MoscowWhich should make it both one of the creepier and, after the first room or so, one of the more boring museums in the world, but it isn’t. In fact The State Darwin Museum in Moscow is now Mama’s new favourite museum, both on a personal level and on the basis of somewhere good to take us kids.

And we’re pretty keen on it too. Here’s why.

Firstly, it’s entirely devoted to explaining the theory of evolution. This is both interesting and, in Mama’s opinion, important. Interesting because Mama is the sort of person who likes an in depth look at things, and that’s not something that many museums have the luxury of giving. Important because she sends Stupendous Big Brother to not one but two church schools in not one but two different languages. She feels the need to nip any odd notions about the development of life on earth firmly in the bud that he might pick up, because, say, to take an example not at all at random, his (British) teacher has told him everything springing fully formed from the head of a god within a seven day time period is what he believes.

Hitherto Mama has been using the children’s non-fiction books aimed at explaining such things, assisted only by the odd half a room display in the London NHM or the Horniman. This makes it uphill work because, well, the biblical tale is just a better story than one which really requires you to grasp the concept of deep time and generations upon generations of living organisms first. We have difficulty understanding that Mama had a life before we appeared, so it’s not an idea that just takes a few minutes to sink in.

But now she can (repeatedly) take us to a museum which exhaustively covers all the main points in a memorably visual manner. So well done is it, in fact, that Mama, whose Russian is not up to long scientific explanatory placards and who is a wishy washy humanities graduate to boot, had no difficulty working out what the point of each section is. This, she thinks, bodes well for getting it across to kids. She and my Stupendous Big Brother certainly had a number of what looked like spirited and interested discussions while looking at the exhibits.

Guinea Pigs and Evolution Darwin Museum Moscow

If the stuffed animals aren’t enough, there’s also a vast collection of animal paintings on display. Mama is dubious about the artistic value of these, but my Stupendous Big Brother was very taken with them indeed.

Dogs Darwin Museum Moscow

I simply basked in the fact that most of them were entirely visible to someone of my height, nobody told me off for leaning on the glass and that there was plenty of room to gambol around looking for the horses.

It’s not that there’s no English, mind. Each room has a paragraph or two in that to get you oriented, should you feel the need.

Another thing Mama thought was particularly well done about the State Darwin Museum were the interactive touches that have been added to the basic glass cases, and I have to say that I heartily concur. They seem to have made a real effort to do things which bring the displays to life, and really add to what you are seeing, rather than distract or, worse, detract from them.

Mama thought, for example, that the little video screens showing clips of the animals in action in the section all about animals and their native habitats was inspired, and not just because they had put them at kids’ eye height. I liked the buttons you could press throughout the galleries to hear the sounds that different animals make. And the animal jigsaws, especially the ones where the aim was to focus on the massive differences in feet, mouths or limbs between different types of animals. And! The fact that all of these things had boxes next to them to make them easy for me to reach if they weren’t at my height already. My Stupendous Big Brother liked the computer games. Name that animal! Match the animal to their tracks! Match the animal to their habitat!

Computer Game Darwin Museum Moscow

There’s also a children’s play area for the under 7s. It has nothing whatsoever to do with animals, Darwin or evolution – it’s based on those big soft shapes you can move around, stack, build a fort out of and throw at each other, but that in itself provides a nice break and refreshes you for a final push round the museum.

The two interactive show stoppers, though, are on the top floor. The first is the case containing the roaring, mooing, stomping and flapping animated dinosaurs, which are switched on on the hour every hour. Otherwise, the dinosaur section is not extensive (and, surprisingly, the models seem to be made of some kind of plastic rather than stuffed), but this is pretty jolly cool to make up for it.

By far the most exciting thing we have EVER come across in a museum, however, is the giant TV screen on the wall.

At first you just stand on the designated spot and admire your filmed self staring up at a giant TV screen on the wall in the midst of a bunch of glass cases full of stuffed animals. And then, suddenly, one of those animals COMES TO LIFE. And! Meanders over to where your screen self is and if you keep staring upwards, while reaching out, you can see yourself touching and interacting with the animals on the screen. It is FABULOUS. We played with lemurs, a huge tortoise, a deer, a lion, an alpaca, the lemurs again, and yet more lemurs (we liked the lemurs). Cannot recommend it highly enough. The only way it could have been better was if we’d had the actual animals with us instead.

Also on this floor is the section devoted to human evolution. Mama, once again, would like to congratulate the curators for their sheer genius in the placement of this. Nothing like making people walk through the crushing evidence in the two floors below before you hit them with the ‘difficult’ monkey man aspect.

Hell with that, I say. It’s the evolution of horses bit you should be checking out. Radical!

Evolution of horses Darwin Museum Moscow

Anyway, you might be thinking that it is time to go about now, but that would mean you miss all the stuff in the other building, which is connected to this one via a tunnel in the basement. They’ve got a whole bunch of experiences there – a planetarium, various 3D, 4D and, I dunno, 5D booths, and some kind of dinosaur labyrinth discovery trail which looked very exciting, all of which Mama declined to pay extra for on this occasion, although she hasn’t ruled it out for subsequent trips as it wasn’t, she says, outrageously expensive.

But for us it was still worth trekking over for the live insects, including giant cockroaches, grasshoppers, colourful beetles, butterflies, and for the variety huge hairy spiders.

Live insects Darwin Museum Moscow

I don’t know how it is, but when Stupendous Big Brother is faced with a zooful of animals, he insists on charging round at top speed, never spending too long in front of one cage. I think he is worried about missing out on something. But give him an attraction with a more limited number of creatures and he will spend hours in front of each one, especially if they fly. Luckily, I was also quite interested, and when I wasn’t they had a particularly nifty touch screen picture puzzle thing, which only needed Mama to commandeered a chair to be fully accessible.

We also skipped through the rooms on the history of natural history briskly through sheer lack of time.Dragon Darwin Museum Moscow

We didn’t miss out on refreshments though. The State Darwin Museum has not one but two cafes, both of which were open. The first is more the sort of place you can buy a hot lunch, although Mama was also delighted that they let, nay, dragged us in and offered us a spare table when they saw us eating in the (perfectly comfortable actually) seating area outside instead. The second is more of a cakes and coffee affair, and dedicated to that famous naturalist, Janis Joplin. Mmmmmmm, cake, say I. Mmmmmmmm, coffee, says Mama. If, for some reason, you are not up for the ones in the museum, there are plenty of other cafes on the walk back to the metro.

So we had a good time. Mama’s favourite bit? The fact that in the whole museum there is not one mention of creationism. No pandering to the existence of this anti-science nonsense whatsoever. It’s great. She says. I think what edged it for my Stupendous Big Brother and I though was that the shop has a decent selection of reasonably priced plastic animal toys, and Mama was so delighted by our day that she let loose with the roubles and bought us some.

The only downside Mama can possibly think of is that you might feel squeamish about the sheer numbers of animals that have, at some point, been killed to furnish the displays. Mama offers up the opinion that, well, what’s done is done, and at least the museum is making use of the taxidermy it has inherited in a positive and educational manner. It is probably a more ethical day out that some of the live animal entertainments she has seen in Moscow and the UK, especially the ones that are run for profit. No matter how well looked after the captive beasts on display are.

Orangutan Darwin Museum MoscowBut as ever, that is a decision you will have to make for yourself.

All in all, this is clearly a museum that has its eye firmly on the patronage of the under 7s, as well as being extremely appealing to the over 40s. There is even a nappy changing table in the toilets. As a result it was busyish, but still not rammed in the way that such a place would be in, say, London in the summer holidays. Things might be different in winter, of course, when it’s less attractive to be outside, and people have not packed their young off to the datcha with the grandparents for the duration.

Update: It is busier in the winter, but not unpleasantly so, and we still got to play with all the buttons and so on as much as we wanted.

Mama thinks you should go to the Darwin Museum if you are ever in town, if not for the evolutionary science, then for the shining example of how to lift a museum out of the ordinary.

She thinks, in fact, that all school children everywhere should be flown in specially whenever they get to the relevant section of the science curriculum. Best. Field trip. Evah.

Especially as, rumour has it, they let you handle the cockroaches on school trips. How cool is that?

More Information

The State Darwin Museum website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say (at great length) about evolution and creationism.

Address: 117292, Moscow, 57/1 Vavilova Ulitsa

Opening: Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm. Closed Monday and the last Friday of every month.

Price: 400 roubles for adults for main set of exhibition halls. Kids over 7 are 150 roubles. You pay extra for various other aspects of your visit, including the interactive play area.

By Metro: Akedemichiskaya (orange line). Be on the front of the train if you are heading out from the centre and leave by that exit. Turn right. Go up the right hand stairs. There should be a large sign directing you (in English as well as Russian) to take the first left. Walk up that street for about ten minutes and the museum is on your left.

By Bus/ Tram: You can get the 119 bus from Akedemichiskaya or the 14 and 39 trams from Univesitet (red line) to the stop Ulista Dimitriova Ulyanova.

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The Darwin Museum of evolution in Moscow is an excellent museum not just because it contains 400 000 stuffed animals. Its interactive enhancements are both well thought out and fun.

 

Discovering the wooden palace of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich at Kolomenskoye in Moscow

People in Moscow are always asking Mama for directions and she has a theory about this.

Of course it could be because sometimes she forgets to change her streetside face from the British perpetual half-smile to the less welcoming Russian deadpan stare. But in reality Mama reckons that when you are in a place where asking for directions requires the effort and concentration of talking in a language you aren’t completely comfortable in, you tend to be a lot more conscientious about looking up where you are going, what it will look like when you get there, how much it costs, where the cafe is and so on and so forth than you do when you can amble vaguely in what you assume is the right direction and hail people casually for help if your destination isn’t where you think it ought to be or, indeed, open.

You tend to look confident as you stride purposefully along the streets, annotated map in pocket, and this means that other less well-prepared passers-by assume you are the person to stop and dither at.

They used to bother Papa rather than Mama in London too, for example. Although that might just be because Papa gives off experienced urbanite vibes wherever he happens to be, born and bred capital city dweller that he is.

That said, Mama’s particular downfall when going places in Russia is not so much in inability to get people to tell her stuff but read signage accurately, as demonstrated by our trip to the wooden palace of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich in Kolomenskoye Park this winter holiday. 

Room at Palace of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich Kolomenskoye Moscow

Alexei Mikhailovich was the father of Peter the Great, and this palace, or rather the original as this is a reconstruction, was where he spent most of his time growing up. It was really supposed to be a summer hangout, but Tsar Alexei liked Kolomenskoye so much he had this giant wooden 250 room construction built, which people told him at the time was the eighth wonder of the world.

As you do, when your Tsar is really really into something.

Side of Palace of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich in Summer Kolomenskoye Moscow

This seems to have been the sum of Alexei Mikhailovich’s achievements, aside from marrying two women whose families really did not get on, and dying a bit too early. He sounds somewhat wet, in fact, although just progressive enough that you can see from where Peter the Great got his compulsive need to shave off beards and build an entire city on a marsh in the middle of nowhere so he could get to Europe a bit more quickly.

As a spur of the moment trip out suggested by Papa and a place we had already noted as interesting when we came across it one spring, Mama didn’t do any further research other than remind herself of which Metro stop to get off at. She had even had a chat to the woman in the ticket booth last time out about what there was to see inside and everything! Nothing further to worry about!

Unfortunately, it turned out that there was more than one thing to see inside, and all of them needed separate tickets. This was complicated by the discovery that Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich’s palace was one of the museum buildings offering free tickets during the winter holidays. To some, but crucially not all, of what was on display.

So Mama enrolled the services of Bilingual Big Brother to figure out what we should ask to go and see.

The problem with Bilingual Big Brother is that he is nine and even with Mama’s determined efforts to cram us full of heritage and culture, he probably only had a vague idea of what Mama was after. Translation can only take you so far when you can’t quite conceive of what ‘nice old (replica) furniture and furnishings’ might consist of.

And the problem with the ticket booth that Mama chose to stand in front of this time was that it was only selling tickets for the exhibitions at this end of the complex.

Mama did not realise this, probably because she only bothered to read the first line of the sign that told her about the other ticket booth.

So we ended up touring two (2) exhibitions, neither of which included fancy recreated interiors, before Mama overheard one of the docents telling another visitor that to actually get into the palace proper, they needed the other cashier round the other side of the building.

Which, when Mama studied it properly, did look a lot more impressive.

Palace of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich in Winter Kolomenskoye Moscow

Mama thinks they should have built the palace of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich the other way round, given that it is in a different part of the park from the original, so they could have quite easily erected it so that the entrance to Kolomenskoye Park is right next to the front rather than the back.

Although this, of course, is why they put up signs.

Hey ho. We got to see a collection of various typical folk art and crafts such as hinges, enamelled tiles, painted wooden trimmings and icon frames.

Russian folk art

Big up for the icon frames from me! They have cartoon-like pictures telling a story round the edges. I was fascinated to realise that the tales are frequently of how the main character is dismembered in different ways. Something I insisted on double checking at length with Mama.

She wonders if my lack of freaked-outedness means it is time to pay much more attention to what I am watching on YouTube.

We also got to see modern artists’ recreations of traditional folk art and crafts in a more 3D format. This consisted of bit less focus on the bloody bible stories and a few more animal carvings, but it was also quite pretty, and largely deserted.

St George and the Dragon

But I was not up for any more. I had already done my bit culture-wise. I had taken an interest. And now I was hungry.

Mama, on the other hand was determined.

I have developed a way to cope with Mama determined, unlike my Bilingual Big Brother who is easy to bribe. I am capable of keeping up a not-quite-subvocal-enough repetitive whine regardless of what Mama promises or threats for literally hours. The scowling is pretty impressive too. She gets her own way, but she doesn’t enjoy it and I live in hope that one day she will just learn that it’s better to cave quickly.

What it meant on this occasion is that we had to take the interiors at something of a brisk trot. Or as much of a trot as we could given that the free entrance meant that there were quite a lot of people inside.

If I had been more in the mood I am sure I would have been delighted by a number of aspects of the fancy-pants wooden palace.

Obviously one of them is that it is indeed wooden. Both inside and out.

Mama, however, was particularly taken by the medieval central heating system, in the form of the beautifully tiled enclosed stoves.

Stoves at Palace of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich Kolomenskoye Moscow

She was also delighted to find that Alexei Mikhailovich had much the same taste in wallpaper as her.

Wallpaper at Palace of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich Kolomenskoye Moscow

My Bilingual Big Brother was pleased with the lions in the throne room, which roar. These days it’s all done with electricity, but back then there was a much more mechanical way to impress visitors.

Throne at Palace of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich Kolomenskoye Moscow

The dressed up guides were pretty fabulous, and we got to see a lot of them as the palace was so busy. But obviously not listen to then because I couldn’t be having with that in my state of mind.

Guide at Palace of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich Kolomenskoye Moscow

Guide Palace of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich Kolomenskoye Moscow

What Mama particularly coveted (aside from the wallpaper) was the Royal bathroom/ sauna.

Bathroom at Palace of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich Kolomenskoye Moscow

I just wanted the swan in the dressed feasting chamber. Although, as I repeatedly told Mama, it’s not actually real. Neither is the tower and wall cake, Mama says sadly.

Banqueting Room at Palace of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich Kolomenskoye Moscow

Still, all in all worth tracking down. Just make sure you go round to the front of the palace for admission to the reconstructed interiors first or your six-year-old will not appreciate it properly and you’ll have to take her to MacDonald’s after all.

Although admittedly that meant we had to trek right through Kolomenskoye Park first. Which, funnily enough, is a lot less attractive in early January when there is unaccountably no snow, than it was in spring.

More information

The palace’s page on Kolomenskoye Park’s website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about children’s treehouses.

Address: Andropova Ave, Moscow, 115487, Russia

Opening: Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm. Closed Mondays.

Admission: 400 roubles for adults for the palace. Kids under 7 are free. Other exhibitions need separate tickets and cost extra.

Getting there: Metro station Kashirskaya (green line) is right next to the entrance to Kolomenskoye Park which is right next to the (back of) the palace. Kolomenskoye metro station (also green line) puts you at the other end of the park, which is a considerable walk away from the palace.

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Find out why the Palace of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich was once described as the eighth wonder of the world

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What (not) to do on Red Square in Moscow

Red Square. Is quite red.

Historical Museum Red Square
Red!

There are the soaring brick-red walls sloping high up one side, protecting the Kremlin. These are cornered by the thin round (red) towers, topped with big ruby-red stars. In front of that there’s the squat blocky browny-red building you aren’t allowed to get to close to because the mummy called Lenin is inside, and the long lines of stone steps fanning out either side. At the back end is the Gothic blood-red splendour of the State Historical Museum. Next to that there’s a small coral church, and then all down the other side is a surprisingly unred beige affair, also fairly burdened with busy architectural detailing, inside which you can find the former State Department Store GUM.

GUM, Red Square, Moscow
It’s not red!

And best of all, at the front, there is the riot of colour, thankfully with red to the fore, that is St Basil’s cathedral.

St Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow
This is not the Kremlin.

Actually, Mama says that St Basil’s isn’t even called St Basil’s, technically speaking. But then she also claims that Red Square is so named because ‘red’ and ‘beautiful’ have the same root in Russian, rather than because of the scarlet nature of its surroundings. I say it’s only a matter of time before someone overrules her and paints GUM a soothing shade of pink. Mama counters with the information that they already did this when they switched the previously whitewashed Kremlin walls to painted red.

She leaves out the fact that the walls are, underneath the paint, red brick.

Of course, at night, they light GUM up… yellow.

GUM on Red Square at Night
Still not red!

But on my first visit, it was midday in August. And after what felt like three thousand hours, we were only just in the centre, and wilting in the blazing sunlight.

Red Square is huge, very open, and covered in extraordinarily hard-to-walk-on cobbles. Which also have mysterious straight lines in different colours painted all over them.

Red Square from St Basil's
Biiiiig.

Mama reckons they are either for organising parades or to guide the erection of stages for some concert or other, which are the two things that Red Square is for when it isn’t covered by people in what pass for wide smiles in Russia (or, for the foreigners, fur hats with ear flaps) standing around mugging for the cameras in front of the stuff round the edges.

It’s so hot and so exposed that the only time Mama has ever found Red Square a nice place to hang out in the height of summer was on her wedding day, when she indulged in the Russian custom of taking her big white dress and her wedding party out for a stroll around all the most photogenic spots in town. Yes, Mama, too, clearly has hankerings after princessdom, for all her eyebrow-raising at my insistence on wearing my poufy pink tutu skirt to the playground, and her wedding photos therefore include shots of her daintily swigging champagne in front of brightly coloured onion domes in a large Disneyesque ballgown. Cool.

Not that the cobbles are any easier to walk on in the middle of a blizzard. Or when they are slick with rain. It’s a bit of a slog in almost any weather. Although they do have a skating rink and a New Year/ Christmas market to liven things up in winter.

Christmas Market on Red Square
Check out St Basil’s (still not the Kremlin) in the background!

I dunno, I made Papa pick me up around now and did the rest of the walk in comfort.

After a brief break while we did our own photography shoot, we resumed our hike towards St Basil’s. Mama thought we might enjoy scrambling around it.

St Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow
Onion domes! Which are not the Kremlin.

She was wrong. In my then four-year-old case.

St Basil’s is an odd kind of structure. It started when a tsar, promisingly called Ivan the Terrible, started tacking churches onto an existing structure every time he won a battle in a spat he was having with a neighbour. Having sealed Moscow’s supremacy over increasingly large parts of Russia, he decided to set the thing in stone. The architect he commissioned did not just slavishly replace the original wooden buildings, but the best that most people can say about the end result is that it is ‘unique’. There is a story that the same architect had his eyes put out by the apparently very aptly-named tsar so he could not build anything similar again. I think this is going a bit far. It’s not THAT bad.

St Basil's Red Square Moscow
My eyes, my eyes. Are not seeing the Kremlin.

I can’t blame the gaudiness on the bad taste of the builders though. Apparently that came about when Russians discovered new pigments a couple of hundred years later. The original was much more inclined towards just showing off this exciting new building material called (red) ‘brick’, which, incidentally, is how the Kremlin came to be surrounded by the stuff. The whitewash was to disguise this fact. Because traditionally, kremlins in Russia are white stone.

And the older a church is in Russia, the plainer it is, by and large. In direct contrast to how it is in the UK. History is strange.

Anyway, later restorations have stuck to the more vibrant colourscheme, with just a few areas and a model on the inside to show how it might have looked before they emptied the paintbox all over it. Mama, who is clearly a very lapsed protestant, approves of the murals inside no matter how modern. It’s like, she says, someone took the illuminations from the margins of medieval manuscripts and extended them all over the walls and ceilings. Nice.

And even I have to say that the outside is certainly a cheerful sight. Mama says it’s easy to speculate that such brightness is needed in the winter to perk people up through the gloom. But then, she adds, you get to the depths of February, and the skies are a bright blue, the sun is shining down and bouncing off the plentiful white snow, and St Basil’s then moves from being merely loud to almost unbearably dazzling.

But it isn’t my artistic sensibilities which made our visit a trial. No, it’s the nature of the inside. There are Orthodox churches which have wide open spaces inside, but St Basil’s is more of the style of a collection of intimate chapels spread across several levels, with small connecting passageways and even more claustrophobic twisting staircases. And it’s very dark, with few windows and dim artificial lighting. Oddly enough, this only makes the gold leaf richness of the iconostases stand out even more. All this gave me the willies. Mama did not help by following us up the stairs making ghost noises. Nor did the male voice choirette, whose traditional chanting from an indeterminate location added yet another layer of spook.

I spent the visit clutching anxiously at Papa’s trouser legs.

After the terror of St Basil’s, I congratulate Mama on her decision to leave visiting Lenin’s mausoleum for another few years. I reckon there’s a definite judgement call to be made in deciding when your children will happily celebrate the ghoulishness of going to look at an actual dead body in an almost blacked-out room surrounded by fully armed guards who will be abrupt if you pause to try to take a better look, or, heaven forbid, talk, or whether they will have nightmares for six months as a result. The smell is something too. Mama says. This does mean that you don’t get to see all the other graves built into the walls of the Kremlin, but Mama feels that sightseeing can be a bit full of looking at the headstones of dead people as it is. And the chances of my having any idea of who they might be are slim, so I am good with missing out.

Lenin's Mausoleum, Red Square, Moscow
Lenin has not left the building.

Instead, both Mama and I recommend a visit to GUM. It is, these days, a luxury mall, not quite as out there in terms of outrageous conspicuous consumption as its sister round the corner TsUM, but nevertheless not somewhere you are going to want to go and shop at unless you actually like spending more on a Hermes tie than you would back home. But it’s a lovely space. Built well before this Revolution everybody keeps talking about, it is something of an engineering marvel, with it’s impressive curved glass roof topped with even more impressive glass domes, which have withstood not only time but also huge amounts of snow being dropped on them every year. Mama says you should spend a lot of time both looking up and going up, because the galleries and bridges overlooking the central spaces, and the way they interact are also rather attractive.

Inside GUM, Red Square, Moscow
Roof!

Mama also thinks the cafes on the overhangs on the top floor look rather fun, not least because in summer they mist the air around the tables with a fine spray of water in order to try to counterbalance the lack of air conditioning. Seems to work. We did not find the atmosphere inside oppressive, despite the glass roof and the excessive heat outside. If you don’t fancy that, there is at least one excellent ice cream kiosk near the main southern entrance, which will allow you to indulge in a Muscovite tradition. Especially if you have one in winter. Mama likes the pistachio or melon flavoured cones. I’d go for the strawberry ones myself.

Air con in GUM, Red Square, Moscow
Misty!

Other than that, there’s usually something to look at in GUM, like the window displays of idealised life from back when this was the biggest and most well-stocked Soviet department store, or the carpet of flowers down the left hand aisle. Aside from all the things in the shops.

Flower carpt in GUM, Red Square, Moscow
Flowers!

Basically, this is the space I enjoyed roaming out of the three available on Red Square. Although if you there is now Zaryadye Park to hang out in next door, which is almost as good.

Still. You can keep your historical monuments, your mummies and your unshaded urban courtyards. Shopping malls. That’s where it’s at. Most people seem to disagree with me on this one though.

More Information

St Basil’s website (English).

Lenin’s Mausoleum website (English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the mystery of the Egyptian Pharaoh at Niagara Falls.

Opening: Red Square is closed when Lenin’s Mausoleum is open, which is Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday 10am to 1pm. Red Square is also closed for selected public holidays depending on whether it is being used for some kind of display. You can usually get a view of square from the corners even if it is closed.

St Basil’s is open daily 11am to 6pm in summer and 11am to 5pm in winter.

Price: Red Square is free. Lenin’s Mausoleum is free and St Basil’s is 350 roubles for adults and 60 roubles for children over 7. 150 roubles for a photography pass.

Getting there: The nearest metro station is Okhotny Ryad (red line, with connecting stations on the green and dark blue lines called Tverskaya and Ploshad Revolutsii respectively), which, if you get the exit right, brings you up just behind the square on the other side of the State Historical Museum. Head for the (restored) gates with the small chapel set into them.

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If you visit Russia, then you have to go to Moscow. If you visit Moscow, you have to go to Red Square. But what should you do on Red Square?

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Bone Music and Bootleggers at Garage Art Gallery, Moscow

So one day British musician and music producer Stephen Coates was walking through a flea market in St Petersburg, Russia (as you do) when he spotted something which looked a lot like this.

Rib record Bone Music X-ray audio Garage Moscow

Intrigued, he stopped and asked the seller about it, but didn’t get a very satisfactory answer. Coates bought the thin plastic disk anyway, discovered it did in fact play music, and then set about trying to discover more.

This was, apparently, a bit difficult at first.

Of course, had Coates asked Mama, he could quickly have found out what he had acquired. This is because Mama long ago read Back in the USSR: the true story of rock in Russia, about the underground rock scene in Russia and the former Soviet Union.

We went on about it here, you might remember.

This book, published in the very late 80s, was written by Atemy Troitsky. Who was very much in the thick of it all as a producer, musician, critic and organiser of some of the Soviet Union’s first rock festivals.

Troitsky is mostly concerned with the scene in the late 70s and 80s, but he includes as a sort of prequel a whole chapter on the clandestine music lovers who came before. These were the stilyagi, or hipsters, who went to extraordinary lengths to simulate the Western lifestyle of rock and roll fans in the late 40s and 50s, up to and including listening to bootleg records made out of old X-rays.

Rock and roll posters Bone Music Garage Moscow

One of which, of course, is what Stephen Coates had got his hands on.

Mama is smug that she knew about this before it was cool. But then on the other hand, Mama did not start a whole organisation called X-Ray Audio dedicated to preserving the records and researching the phenomenon by meeting and interviewing some of the participants like Stephen Coates did. And now there is a whole exhibition, Bone Music, at the contemporary art gallery, Garage, dedicated to these fabulous objects.

Bone Music Garage Moscow

Mind you, not that the ryebra, or ribs, were just about passing round Western rock and roll or jazz music, acceptable during the war, summarily banned afterwards. Also frowned upon by the post-war censors was music by Russian emigrees, 50s gangsta rap-esque prison ballads, and songs by any individuals who had pissed off the Communist party or one of its more influential members.

Roentgenizdat Bone Music X-Ray Audio Garage Moscow

Why X-rays, you might be wondering. Well, they were reasonably easily obtainable – hospitals had to get rid of them after a certain amount of time because of the fire risk they represented – and took the grooves cut by improvised recording equipment well enough, if not particularly well, to be able to hear the desired tunes. Alongside a lot of hissing and crackling.

So the Bone Music exhibition is not just celebrating the roentgenizdat, but the people who made them and the machines they built to do it. People who were arrested, sent to the gulags, came out, and settled down to do it all over again.

And you never thought Rock around the Clock was all that.

But also on display at Bone Music was the way that people who might want to listen to such things were portrayed in the press, or even in films. Negatively, as I am sure you can imagine.

Quote about stilyagi Bone Music Garage Moscow

Yes, much of the text in the exhibition is in English as well as Russian. But then the Garage art gallery is very hip.

Very apt.

Our favourite bit of the whole Bone Music exhibition was the room set up to simulate a bootlegger’s lair. The reason? Everything in the room was touchable. All those little drawers had bits and pieces in. Tattered ID documents, valves, more valves, bits of string, technical drawings, some wire, valves, stamps, a tin of old kopecks, and valves. We opened the tea caddy and smelled the leaves inside. We handled the freshly produced X-ray records. We looked though the old exercise books of carefully handwritten catalogues. Hours of fun.

Bootlegger room Bone Music Garage Moscow

Bone Music is on at Garage until 14th October, but if you don’t catch it before then, the X-Ray Audio project goes on tour internationally quite often. See if you can check it out when it comes to you, because the sheer ingenuity of people generally, and the indomitable spirit of those suppressed should be celebrated.

And then there’s music. You should definitely remember the days it didn’t die.

To help you, here is Stephen Coates doing a TED talk about Bone Music and his X-Ray Audio project.

More information

The exhibition’s page on Garage’s website (in English).

X-Ray Audio’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the Beat generation.

Address: 9/32 Krymsky Val, 119049, Moscow, Russia (inside Gorky Park).

Opening: 11am to 10pm all week to 14th October 2017. Other exhibitions at Garage also exist.

Admission: 300 roubles for adults, free for children under 11.

Getting there: The two nearest metro stations to Gorky Park are Oktyabrskaya (orange line) and Park Kultury (red line).

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The Bone Music exibition about X-ray records and bootleggers at Garage art gallery in Moscow Russia

Suitcases and Sandcastles
MummyTravels

Welcome our new robot overlords at Robostansiya, VDNH, Moscow

There is this assumption that children will take new technology in their stride, unlike Mama, who still remembers when digital watches were considered cool and has not recovered at all from living in the future where she carries the world around in her pocket.

However, when we found ourselves in the first section of Robostansiya at VDNH, an attraction that celebrates all things robotic, I was a little freaked out to discover that modern robots do not always look like boxes stacked on more boxes and move by lurching around with the sort of walk a zombie would be proud of. No, instead many of them look like deconstructed people, and even the ones that don’t have animated faces. They look at you. They talk to you. And then they glide towards you, frequently with an ominously pleasant enquiry as to whether or not you would like a cup of tea or something.

Talking robot at Robostansiya VDNH Moscow

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!

It’s unnatural, I tell you. Something the ken of which mankind is not supposed to. Sort of thing.

Friendly robot Robostation vDNH Moscow

This suspicion saw me mostly hiding behind Mama, which greatly interfered with her desire to read the bilingual placards and find out a) whether the robot in question would do her dusting for her and b) how to interact with it.

Engineers at Robostansitya Robostation VDNH Moscow

Mostly by making very slow deliberate hand movement or arranging the furniture in a very specific pattern and never moving it a millimetre. Which reassured me somewhat that the AIs of Robostation are not imminently going to take over the world.

Robostation space dog VDNH Moscow

Even so, it was a bit of a relief when we got round the corner of Robot Station to the bits with the virtual reality. The biggest hit for me was the one with the little cartoon robots which you can only see with the special goggles. Hours of fun shaking them around the TV they were living in, firing them out into the real world, and collecting them back up again with the high-powered laser transporter beam button. Wheeee!

Mama does not quite see why invisible robots are better than ones you can keep your eye on at all times, but what I say is that if there’s one thing the modern child has got the hang of very quickly and that is that what happens inside the computer stays inside the computer. If you are wearing the special goggles, you are safe.

My Sanguine Big Brother, who does not share my aversion to our inevitable slavery by our robot overlords as long as they do his maths homework and handwriting practice for him first, liked the robot table football. Well, who wouldn’t, especially if it means you can be part of an excited group of under tens cheering each other on.

 

Then the Robostansiya robot show started.

First there were small dancing robots, which I think Mama enjoyed even more than me.

But much better was the mad scientist who followed that up.

You know all those chemistry lessons they probably aren’t allowed to do in school any more where the teacher mixes the blue powder with the green powder and something explodes? The science show at Robot Station was like that only with bigger bangs, more singed eyebrows, and balloons. Fabulous stuff. Make sure you are down the front and you will get a chance to pop stuff yourself.

Science robot show at Robostansiya VDNH Moscow

I even fell off my chair with excitement at one point, it was that good.

But not as good as what Mama realised is the real draw for kids at the Robostation, which is to make yourself a giant robot head mask thing to take home.

And the way you do this, right, is you get a cardboard box, and you wrap different coloured duct tape round and round it until you have achieved the effect you want, and then you get the Robostansiya workers to cut out the eyehole design of your choice with a crafting knife.

Robot Heads at Robostation Robostansiya Robot Station VDNH Moscow

Cooooooooooooool. Especially when you get Mama to do most of the sticking.

So what with that and the fact that we probably spent longer playing in the board game area than with any of the other attractions, Mama does rather wonder why she paid a significant sum of money to go out and do the sort of wet weather activities we do at home.

Robot Heads at Robot Station VDNH Moscow

We kids thoroughly enjoyed ourselves though (once we got out of the dystopian nightmare future area). Plus the Robostation face painter was much much better than Mama.

And! They can register marriages! Can’t say fairer than that.

More information

The page on VDNH’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the songs of Marvin the Paranoid Android.

Address: Pavilion #2, VDNH, 119, Prospect Mira, Moscow, 129223.

Opening: 11am to 8pm, every day.

Admission: Adults 650 roubles, kids 490 roubles at weekends. During the week it’s a bit cheaper.

Getting there:  The VDNKh (VDNH) station is on the orange line and you will go in through the rather splendid front gates of VDNH if you use this. 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 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. Robostansiya/ Robostation/ Robot Station is next to the very shiny gold Fountain of Friendship.

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Welcome our new robot overlords at the interactive robot exhibtion and show Robostansiya Robostation at VDNH Moscow

Wander Mum

Going wild at Zaryadye Park near Red Square in Moscow

Zaryadye Park, subtitled ‘wild urbanism’ by its designers, is a wholly new park just off Red Square in Moscow, the first new park in the capital of Russia for fifty years.

There are, apparently, four different zones, to represent the different terrains of Russia, all with their own different microclimates and appropriately chosen plants, geological features, trees and so on to match.

Birch Trees New Zaryadye Park Moscow

There are also new performance spaces, one indoor built into a hill and one outdoor on top of the hill and all covered up with a fancy dome so you can sit out there even if it is raining. Not sure what they will do about the snow and the sub-zero temperatures, but I daresay you can bring your own cocoa.

Philharmonic Hall Amphitheatre New Zaryadye Park Moscow

There is going to be an underground ice cave, an underground museum of all the archaeological whatsists they found while digging the park, and an underground media centre showing wall to wall films, with surround sound, surround wind machines and surround, I dunno, smellovision about just how awesome Russia is. Although this isn’t quite ready yet.

There is a lovely view onto the back of one of the oldest streets in Moscow, Vavarka Ulitsa, which is lined with churches, the house of the Romanov family back before it became a royal dynasty, and the Old English Court.

Old English Court Church of the Martyr Vavara New Zaryadye Park Moscow

Znamensky Monastery New Zaryadye Park Moscow

There are also a number of vistas across Red Square and the Kremlin, the most impressive of which is from the floating bridge, which sweeps dramatically out over the Moscow River, and then sweeps right back round again, with no visible support (or, you know, actual transportational point).

Floating Bridge New Zaryadye Park Moscow

What there isn’t in Zaryadye Park, though, is a playground. I was not amused.

It has been constructed on the site of the old Rossiya Hotel, a gigantic guesthouse which was legendarily ugly. Ten years ago it was knocked down, and the area spent a long time looking like the abandoned lot it was.

Rossiya Hotel Knocked Down Zaryadye Park Moscow

But for the last five years they have been turning it into the ambitiously fabulous public space you now see before you.

Kremlin Floating Bridge New Zaryadye Park Moscow

This will go nicely with the ambitiously fabulous public space that the mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, has been busy turning the whole of central Moscow into in recent years. Mainly, on the surface, by softening the multi-lane highways that used to bulldoze their way through the centre – widening the pavements, planting lots of trees, bushes and benches, renovating squares, rerouting traffic on an impressively ruthless scale, and pedestrianising large numbers of streets altogether.

Of course, this sort of thing costs. And Zaryadye Park itself has cost an absolutely eye-watering amount. But central Moscow is now a really very pleasant place to go wandering around. A very very pleasant place. Mama rather enjoys this, and is somewhat defiant about it.

Which makes it no surprise at all that Mama decided one week after Zaryadye Park had opened would be the perfect time for me and her to go and see it.

So did much of the rest of Moscow.

Entrance New Zaryadye Park Moscow

In fact, it is already in desperate need of replanting, that many visitors have wandered along its paths, wandered off its paths, and trampled willy nilly over the foliage in the seven days since it opened.

Replanting New Zaryadye Park Moscow

And that’s before you take into consideration the fact that some people have allegedly been seen digging up some of the rarer plant specimens and making off with them.

So if you look carefully at the picture down below you can see orange suited workers already trying to make up for some of the damage. Including some standing on the top of the dome of the amphitheatre, as within hours of Zaryadye Park being opened, someone had managed to lob something up there which broke a number of the solar panels.

New Zaryadye Park Moscow

In fact, while Mama was taking this photo, she was standing next to two policemen, presumably there to protect the last remaining Altai heather orchid or something, who had simply given up trying to stop the mass of humanity from dashing hither and thither across what was left of the rest of the greenery, muttering to each other about how ‘Keep off the grass’ clearly had a meaning they weren’t previously aware of then. Unless someone was doing a bit of particularly blatant plant dancing, in which case they said it a bit louder.

A colleague further on had not yet given up hope but was looking somewhat frazzled as yet another babushka sailed straight past his ineffectual gesticulating with a cheerful, ‘Whoops, sorry, didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to step there.’

Wild urbanism indeed.

Mama, I’m sorry to say, found this quite funny, not least because she gets to say ‘wild urbanism indeed’. But although I was keen to get in on the flora squashing act too (‘EVERYBODY ELSE is walking there, Mama! Why do WE have to stay on the path?’), she only let me stand on some strategically placed rocks right next to the walkway and have my photo taken. Spoil sport.

Anyway. Mama recommends that if you wait about six months everyone might have calmed the fuck down and the park will be the place of marvel and wonder it was conceived to be by the same people who designed the High Line park in New York. Possibly. They might have even added a playground. In the meantime, tread lightly and remember the bridge is only designed to take 4,000 people at once.

More information

The park’s official website (in Russian).

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

Address: Varvarka Street, Moscow, 109012

Opening: Wednesday to Monday 10am to 10pm. On Tuesday it opens at 2pm.

Admission: Entrance to the park is free, but the coming attractions such as the ice cave will cost 600 roubles for adults.

Getting there: The nearest metro station is Kitai Gorod (orange and purple lines). The park is a bout ten minutes down towards the Moscow River from there. Or you can nip across Red Square from Okhotny Ryad/ Teatralnaya/ Ploshard Revolutsi (red, green and dark blue lines). Parking, what parking? How can they fit parking in with all the newly pedestrianised streets to accommodate?

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Newly opened near Red Square Moscow Zaryadye Park features a variety of terrains, a floating bridge, an ice cave and an all weather outdoor amphitheatre.

MummyTravels
Untold Morsels

What to order in an Italian restaurant in Moscow, Russia

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

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

Which brings me to a restaurant called La Gatta.

La Gatta Italian Restaurant Moscow

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

Cats at La Gatta restaurant Moscow

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

Pizza at La Gatta restaurant Moscow

Mind you, La Gatta also serves sushi.

Sushi and Pizza at La Gatta Restaurant in Moscow

Because we are in Moscow.

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

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

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

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

Sushi at La Gatta Restaurant Moscow

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

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

German Sausage Platter at La Gatta Restaurant Moscow

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

Beer at La Gatta restaurant Moscow

Sorted.

More information

The restaurant’s website.

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

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

Opening: As you would expect for a restaurant.

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

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

MummyTravels

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joint Institute for Nuclear Research Dubna Russia

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

Volga Dubna Russia

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

New apartment blocks Dubna Russia

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

Bridge Volga Dubna Russia

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

Volga River Dubna Russia

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

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

Beach Volga Dubna Russia

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

Boats Volga Dubna Russia

Cargo boat Volga Dubna Russia

Fast Boats Volga Dubna Russia

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

This was our top favourite.

House Dubna Russia

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

Apartment block Dubna Russia

And how about this one?

Wooden Apartment Block Dubna Russia

Less enticing Soviet apartments.

Soviet apartment block Dubna Russia

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

Hipster Bar Dubna Russia

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

Flowers Dubna Russia

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

Bread factory Dubna Russia

This public building didn’t smell at all.

Public Building Dubna Russia

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

Physicist Statue Dubna Russia

Here is the war memorial.

War Memorial Dubna Russia

And some random pictures of urban decay to finish with.

Grafitti Dubna Russia

Teapot Dubna Russia

Street Art Dubna Russia

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

More information

The town’s website (in Russian).

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

Address: Dubna, Moscow Oblast, Russia

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

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

Untold Morsels

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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