Tsaritsyno: gingerbread palace, fairytale chateau.

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

Grand Palace Towers Tsaritsyno Moscow

And a whole bunch of royal outbuildings.

Palace buildings at Tsarityno Moscow

Tarted up some bridges and the like.

Bridge Tsaritsyno Moscow

And replumbed a cascading water fountain.

Fountain cascade Tsaritsyno Moscow

Which was all a bit of a shock.

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

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

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

Gateway Tsaritsyno Moscow

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

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

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

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

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

Grand Palace Tsaritsyno Moscow

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

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

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

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

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

Ballroom Tsaritsyno Moscow

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

Except the chandeliers which are always fabulous.

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

Parquet Floor Tsaritsyno Moscow

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

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

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

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

Lobster Crstal Bowl Tsaritsyno Moscow

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

Ceramics Tsaritsyno Moscow

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

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

Costumes Tsaritsyno Moscow

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

Cut Outs Tsaritsyno Moscow

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

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

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

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

Ceramic Bird Tsaritsyno Moscow

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

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

Chess Tsaritsyno Moscow

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

More Information

The park’s website (in English).

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

Address: 1 Dolskaya St., Moscow 115569

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

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

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

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

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

Extraordinary Chaos
Wander Mum

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

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

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

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

Wilderness in Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

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

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

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

Church of the Ascension White Column Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

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

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

Wooden building Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

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

Tulips and stone gateway Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

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

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

Alexei Mikhailovich Palace Kolomenskoye Moscow

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

Horse and carriage ride Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

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

Apple Orchard Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

…and look at people photographing the apple blossoms.

Photographing Apple Blossoms Kolemskoye Park Moscow in Spring

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

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

Photoshoot Kolomenskoye Park Moscow in Spring

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

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

More information

The park’s website (in English).

The Time and Epochs webesite (in English).

More about the Golosov Ravine.

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

Address: 39 Andropova Avenue,Moscow

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

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

Travel Loving Family
Wander Mum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sort of thing.

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

One of those is VDNH.

The Soviet exhibtion complex VDNH VDNKh Moscow

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

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

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

Armenian pavilion VDNH VDNKh Moscow

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

meat production pavilion VDNH VDNKh Moscow

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

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

Told you it’s representative.

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

Pavilion at VDNH Moscow

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

Belarus pavilion vdnh vdnkh Moscow

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

Architectural detail at VDNH VDNKh Moscow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ice skating vdnh moscow

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

horses at the equestrian centre vdnh moscow

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

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

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

Restoration at VDNH Moscow

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

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

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

Friendship of Nations Fountain VDNH VDNKh Moscow

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

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

Soviet detailing VDNH Moscow

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

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

Rocket space shuttle and playground at VDNH Moscow

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

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

More information

The park’s website (in English).

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

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

Admission to the territory is free.

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

By car: Car parks exist.

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

MummyTravels
Untold Morsels

The Zoological Museum of Moscow University

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

Lizards in a Jat Moscow Zoological Museum

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

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

Toucan at the Moscow Zoological Museum

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

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

Zoological Museum and the Kremlin

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

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

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

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

A ferocious seal at the Moscow Zoological Museum

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

Otter with a fish Zoological Museum Moscow

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

Tigers at the Moscow Zoological Museum

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

Bison Zoological Museum Moscow

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

Russian Imperial eagle made out of bugs Moscow Zoological Museum

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

Skeletons at the Moscow Zoological Museum

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

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

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

More information.

The museum’s website (in English).

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

Address: 6 Bolshaya Nikitskaya, Moscow, 125009

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

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

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

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

MummyTravels
Flying With A Baby

State Historical Museum, Moscow

Mama firmly believes it wasn’t the State Historical Museum in Moscow’s fault that the time we went there ended with my Imaginative Big Brother declaring it the WORST DAY OUT EVAH!

After all, it’s bang in the centre of Moscow, housed at the north end of Red Square in one of the most entertainingly decorated buildings of a city full of entertainingly decorated buildings. How could anticipation not be high when you spot what you are gamboling towards?

State Historical Museum Moscow
How cool is this?

Similarly, when the interior is also so worthy of the fact that you have schlepped both your and your little sister’s cameras along in your very own backpack, and when the museum assistants are so impressed and appreciative about your choice of soft toy companion for the visit, what’s not to like?

Ceiling State Historical Museum Moscow
Look up!

Plus, we may not be wildly enthusiastic about every last thing in a museum, but we can usually be persuaded to take at least a tepid interest in, I dunno, animal themed knick knacks, random fire extinguishers, or anything which is absolutely not supposed to be touched even if it is within touching distance, as long as Mama doesn’t insist on this happening for too long.

So what went wrong?

Mama, the trained historian with a passing interest in the pitfalls of teaching the subject to children, has a quiet determination (*cough* a bee in her bonnet) about making sure that we do not end up seeing history as a long story of inexorable progress towards the current pinnacle of civilization that exists today. Or rather, because Mama is now over 40 the pinnacle of civilization that existed about fifteen years in the past.

But in her quest to convince us that just because modern human beings have Apple watches it does not mean that we are inherently better than our ancestors, she may have overdone the emphasis on how utterly brilliant, how terribly skilled, how marvelously clever it was that people MORE THAN A MILLION YEARS AGO were already able to invent technology and improve on it in much the same way this generation has done with the humble digital watch, as exemplified by the vast collection of stone age tools and suchlike that kicks off the exhibition.

Flint tools State Historical Museum Moscow
Much much more impressive than a mere Apple watch

At which point, my Imaginative Big Brother demonstrated his admirably increasing awareness of deep time and got the collywobbles. MORE THAN A MILLION YEARS AGO being a lot of grandfathers back, and, and this is the point, representing a lot of dead and gone grandfathers.

An existential crisis not really helped by the fact that when we came to the intriguing stone cave-room painstakingly re-constructed in the halls of the State Historical Museum, Mama enthusiastically told us how many dead people had been found inside (700) and that really history, especially the history of very long ago, is mostly driven by finding caches like this and is therefore based on the stuff that was buried with the dead people.

Well, that and ancient rubbish tips, but by then it was too late for this kind of qualification. Too much information, Mama. We may never be happy about setting foot in a museum again, and certainly took the rest of this one at a fair clip while clutching Mama’s arms and blanching at the thought of ghosts and suchlike all the way round.

Not even the really cool shiny gold and silver items room could entirely placate us although Mama insisted on pausing for long enough to take a photo of the cup made by one of the Tsars himself. With his own two hands. The wooden bit now nearly obscured by layers of overwrought bling anyway.

Wooden and gold cup State Historical Museum Moscow
Someone should probably do this to the deformed clay pots and similar I bring home to Mama

This is the kind of thing the Historical Museum is good at. It’s not just a place which houses props to illustrate an age. Many of the items have historical significance, or at least historical curiosity value, in and of themselves. Non Russian readers may need to pick up the audio-guide to properly appreciate this, although the fact that Mama knows about the cup shows that English language labeling does certainly exist.

That said, some of the props are pretty cool. Mama thinks. The old fashioned carriage which has skis where the wheels should be was almost as entertaining to her as the pushchairs in the shops which have come up with the same engineering solution to the large amount of snow Moscow ought to be able to expect each winter.

Carriage sleigh State Historical Museum Moscow
Jingle bells, jingle bells..

Not that she has seen anyone out and about with one here yet, to her frustration and Instagram’s loss. Global warming has a lot to answer for.

Did such fabulous exoticism lifted us out of our doldrums though? No, of course not.

Neither did gawping the splendid collection of swords. Swords are for KILLING PEOPLE to make graves, to provide cannon fodder for GHOULS like Mama – it is possible that Mama should not have suggested that we look at the design of each one and consider how it might have been wielded.

swords State Historical Museum Moscow
When historical instruction goes wrong

In fact, the only thing that cheered my Imaginative Big Brother up in any way, was the hall of fashions and interiors, and that was only because one of the items on display was a hat with an actual dead bird splayed out in a jaunty manner on top. Actual dead birds, unlike hypothetically dead people, he is absolutely fine with. I was too far gone to even vaguely appreciate this, or the very princessy nature of the outfits. Which is unlike me.

Bird hat State Historical Museum Moscow
This dead bird hat is clearly the best thing in the State Historical Museum

But that’s because nothing in the State Historical Museum was really the reason why the day out so traumatized my Imaginative Big Brother. Even if you are having a determined sulk in front of the displays, there are still free doughnuts being handed out on the street, the richest cup of hot chocolate you have ever tasted round the corner, random architectural features to be climbed in the pedestrianised centre, and even pigeons to chase.

No, the reason why he was unhappy was that I hadn’t recovered as much as Mama thought after my epic two week ‘we’ve-moved-countries-and-bathed-in-foreign-germs-from two-different-schools’ virus extravaganza, and we overdid it in the afternoon by visiting the giant toy shop just up the road.

As a result I ended up screaming all the way home. Twenty minutes on the Metro with an inconsolable child. Another fifteen minutes of further transport hell. It would scar anyone.

So. Providing you do not make Mama’s parenting mistakes, the State Historical Museum is definitely worth a ramble around when you are in the vicinity of Red Square sometime. Stay away from the topics of generations of dead people, ensure your children are essentially snot-free and remember the crowd-pleasing designer taxidermy is just round the corner and you’ll be golden.

More Information

The museum’s website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Henderson Island and the prehistoric economy of feathers.

Address: 1 Red Square, Moscow,

Opening: Wednesday – Monday (CLOSED on Tuesdays) 10am to 6pm, with later opening on Friday and Saturday.

Admission: Adults: 350 roubles (3.5 GBP), children under 16: free.

By public transport: The connected Metro stations of Oxhotny Ryad (red line), Teatralnaya (green line) and Ploshad Revolutsii (dark blue line) all pop you out next to or nearby the State Historical Museum.

By other means: You’re joking, right?

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Packing my Suitcase

Trolleybus Parade 2015, Moscow

There is something splendidly foreign about trams and trolleybuses.

Yes, alright, Mama is aware that London, Manchester and Edinburgh (at least) have their own versions, but let’s face it they are at best curiosities and at worst the local council’s expensive vanity project. It’s not like having the whole town crisscrossed by overhead wiring.

Trolleybus parade 2015 Moscow

Of course, many people feel the same way about double-decker buses. Actually, I feel that way about double-decker buses. Nothing like riding on the top floor! At the front! Especially, and you have no idea how much is galls Mama to admit this, the revamped old style Routemasters which the um flamboyant? Let’s go with flamboyant. The flamboyant mayor of London, Boris Johnson, spent a lot of money bringing back on the more touristy routes in London. No, really, if you are there I insist you wander down to the bottom of Hyde Park and pick up a number 9 going towards the centre of town. You get to climb up w a windy staircase at the back! Even the seats are retro styling! Never gets old.

Mind you, Mama quite liked the controversial bendy buses which the um flamboyant? Let’s go with flamboyant. The flamboyant mayor of London, Boris Johnson, got rid of. Luckily we have a lot of them here in Moscow out in the suburbs. There is no danger of them squashing cyclists because nobody cycles. Mama is still twitching as she crosses roads in anticipation of being mown down by a phalanx of manically determined two wheelers attacking her out of nowhere in rush hour but in about five more years she may stop obsessively checking for this oncoming menace before she steps out. PTSD I say.

Bicycle and trolleybus at the trolleybus parade 2015

Mama is a bit of a transport geek, isn’t she? You might be wondering if she has a little notebook full of train serial numbers.

No.

It’s just that a) if she is on a bus in London, she is not trying to drive across it and b) there’s really nothing like everyday transport solutions to produce a delightful frisson of otherness when you are somewhere unfamiliar. Mama really believes that when it comes to abroad, obviously there’s something in the showstopper sights, the must-visit museums, the never to be repeated experiences, the explosive taste sensations and whatnot. But the most interesting thing about it for Mama is the oddly flavoured chocolate bars, the infinitesimal look of horror people give as she absent-mindedly tries to shake their hand and the weird-ass programmes they show on TV.

It’s why this is not a proper travel blog. Mama actively dislikes travel if you must know. She thinks that on her budget it sounds uncomfortable, and she also likes to be very sure of where her next coffee is coming from. This goes double now she has children.

Living in another country, on the other hand, now that’s cool.

It’s unlikely, for example, that if you were just a casual visitor to Moscow this last weekend you would have bothered turning out for the increasingly annual trolleybus parade (now in its third year) to celebrate the 82nd anniversary of trolleybuses in the capital of Russia. Not least because Mama had to venture on to the Russian Internet to find out exactly what roads they were going to be trundling along at what time.

Red and white trolleybus at the trolleybus parade 2015

In which she failed, to be honest. Mama considers the actual parade scheduling information provided by the various websites she ineptly skimmed to be insufficient for the purposes of pitching up somewhere along the route with two easily bored children.

Luckily, they were also planning to have a static display of the trolleybuses in question down by the river, opposite Gorky Park. So we went to that, aiming to arrive around oneish so as to give the trolleybuses time to parade there on the off-chance that the widely quoted 12 noon start was referring to the parade and not to the time they would available for climbing all over.

Because, let’s face it, there is nothing as exciting as getting on, walking through and climbing off a trolleybus which looks almost, but not entirely, like the ones we get on and off on a regular basis every day here in Moscow.

Modern trolleybus at the trolleybus parade 2015

Nicely painted on the outside, though. And there were people inside who were there to answer any and all transport questions that might occur to you as you saunter through the carriage. So of course, my Brilliant Big Brother asked one of them about the giraffe picture on one of the posters inside one of the cars. I am happy to report that trolleybus experts also know their animal factology too, or at least that this representation wasn’t a giraffe as such but a fantasy animal on a book cover connected to the person the trolleybus was dedicated to. Good to get that cleared up.

Yellow trolleybus at the trolleybus parade 2015

However, Mama recommends that if you should visit around this time next year you start at the other end of the line of trolleybuses because by the time we got to the older, more interesting models we children were a bit trolleybused out, and really really long queues were starting to develop for the pleasure of nosing around inside them. Mama managed to drag us onto the one with the extra-large windows but after that we rebelled and insisted on exploring the child friendly activities.

Trolleybus with big windows at the trolleybus parade 2015

Which mostly consist of painting opportunities.

Cardboard painted trolleybus at the trolleybus parade 2015

Regular readers are probably familiar with Mama’s view of the British insistence on including water play in all playgrounds or play areas, which, if you are an irregular visitor here, mostly consists of heartfelt swearing. When we moved to Moscow, Mama was smug in that she was pretty sure that Russians would never ever spring that on her except in the height of summer. Keeping your children warm is a concept people take very seriously here. Water play in anything less than 30 degrees centigrade is almost as bad as draughts.

But Mama was complacent too soon as what she has discovered is that in Moscow, the menace of unexpected dampness has been replaced by the Russian insistence on providing kids with things to paint at every public celebration.

Why? Whhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyy? Whyohwhyohwhy? Says Mama.

Woohoo! Say I. And emerge from inside the cardboard trolleybus model twenty minutes later with a new colour of hat and an interesting new pattern on my coat.

3D cardboard painted trolleybus at the trolleybus parade 2015

And that’s despite the fact that they’d pretty much run out of paints by the time we got there.

That is, frankly, the expat experience in a nutshell. You really like bits of your home country and (hopefully) your host country, but some things from both places are intensely irritating. What you want is a third pick and mix option where children can be entertained in a dry and mess free manner. Says Mama. I’d go for hot and cold running kolbassa and unlimited access to flavoured rice cakes myself.

At the trolleybus parade there were also food vans, a stage pumping out dancing and loud music, presumably trolleybus related although Mama did not really pay much attention to this, some giant rabbits organising children’s games, lots of balloons and people wandering around in period clothing for you to pose with. All good clean fun.

Costumes at the trolleybus parade 2015

We hung about for about an hour all told and then, as it started to get very busy indeed, bailed over the bridge to Gorky Park, which has some lovely autumnal avenues to gallop around, children with remote-controlled cars to play with and hot chocolate. Mama recommends that should you decide to attend the trolleybus parade next year, you turn up earlier rather than later. Or bring a book.

queue at the trolleybus parade 2015

And fortuitously, as we were waiting for the regular trolleybus to take us home, we caught the trolleybus parade after all as the celebration wound up and the trolleybuses made their way past us back to wherever they live when not on display in the centre of Moscow. All part of the plan! Mama said. Unconvincingly.

More information

One of the pages Mama read when trying to figure out where to pick up the trolleybus parade.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the Ebbelwei-Express, an unusual tram in Frankfurt am Main.

Location: This year, the static part of the festival was down by the river on Frunzenskaya Embankment, next to the Krymskiy Bridge.

Allegedly, the trolleybus parade started at Filivskiovo bus/ trolleybus station, although whether that was at 12 or an earlier time in order to reach the river by 12 Mama couldn’t tell you. She has put it on her list of things to find out (things Papa will find out) by next year.

Admission: Free

Metro: The nearest station is Park Kultury on the red and brown lines. You could also use Oktyabrskaya on the orange and brown lines if you don’t mind a bit of a walk over the bridge down to the other side of the river, or another red line station, Frunzenskaya (head over the road and down from the large square building you pop up out of the Metro from) if you want to wander left along the embankment of the Moscow river past the imposing government building first.

By trolleybus: Of course, you probably should arrive (or leave) by trolleybus. The circular B and BK routes stop right by the river (and outside Gorky Park) and then take you right round the centre of Moscow, hitting a number of Metro stations on the way.

Joining up with #WeekendWanderlust

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The Experimentanium, Moscow

The rules of the Experimentanium in Moscow explicitly forbid you to bring your double bass along. A bit big, they seem to think. Mama, the former double bass player, was duly outraged.

On the upside, they are quite keen on you touching the exhibits.

This is because the Experimentanium is less of a museum and more of all the good bits of the Science Museum in London, that is to say the play areas, installed in a large open plan building, with a healthy dose of the sort of crowd-pleasing interactive weirdness favoured by Edinburgh’s House of Illusions to spice it up further.

No wading though incomprehensible installations of machinery you aren’t allowed to climb on, just three floors of push button fun.

Electromagneticism at the Experimentanium Museum

There are explanatory placards though. And horrifyingly, many of them are in English. Mama insisted on reading some them out to us, especially when she couldn’t figure out what we were supposed to be doing. From which I gather that I may think mucking around with water is pure entertainment but actually the Bermuda Triangle sinks balls of methane because of ships’ density. Or something. Lots of learning to be done, clearly, as you make your way round the play stations *cough* experimental lab benches.

To underline its educational credentials, the Experimentanium divides its experiments up into zones of like-minded activities.

Handkerchiefs at the Experiementanium Museum

There are mechanical objects to manipulate and puzzles to solve. Mama was delighted to be able to demonstrate her superior intellect by smugly completing the one with the goat, the wolf, the vegetation and the boat in double quick time. I am suspicious. Mama is very old. I think she might have heard about it before.

There’s a electricity and electromagnetic area, where things stick together inexplicably and you can build yourself all sorts of strangely shaped metal towers out of iron filings.

There’s a windzone which has a fully sittable-on FLYING CARPET (I shit you not, says Mama, which I think is supposed to be high praise) and the real life mini tornado, which had Mama transfixed for a number of minutes. Mama clearly does not come from a place where tornadoes are a menace rather than a curiosity. I apologise to large sections of America.

There’s the optical illusions bit, where we all got delightfully frustrated trying to pick up a holographic sweetie, where we scrambled round a tilted house until Mama decided the cognitive dissonance was triggering her latent travel sickness, and where we got to muck around in a mirror maze (Dunk dunk dunk dunk dunk. My Super Big Brother has not got any better at picking his way though these). We also tried to navigate our way round a room in pitch blackness with only the shouts of family members watching on the infrared camera to guide us from the outside. We did that THREE TIMES!

Holographic sweet at the Experimentanium Museum

There is the waterzone, which has one of those tables you are supposed to navigate your boat down with only the ability to open and close various lock gates and direct the odd current (but where everybody under the age of ten just gets sodden up to the the elbows happily driving their ships around manually). Mama thought the water was looking a tad grubby in some of the surrounding tanks while we were there and got very busy with the wetwipes afterwards, which is unlike her. But she also had a lot of fun balancing the ping-pong balls on the jets of water herself, so I reckon she didn’t care that much.

Water table at the Experimentanium Museum

And then there’s the acoustics zone. Mama recommends you do not enter this if you are in any way of a nervous disposition. Let’s just say that the full-sized drum kit you could whack away at to your heart’s content was one of the quieter things, shall we, and tiptoe away while our eardrums are still intact. But not until you have had a jolly good go on everything, of course. BOOM CRASH BANG WHALLOP SCREECH SCREEEEEEECH PLINKETY PLINKETY PLONK.

Mama particularly enjoyed the machine where you could test your hearing of different frequencies. Her latent competitive nature insisted on turning the knob ALL THE WAY ROUND. Luckily, being a former bass player and thus sitting next to the brass section throughout her teenage years means that she has already very little hearing left anyway. Of course you are not supposed to be able to hear it, but the point where it gets impossibly squeaky is a sensation of its own.

Frequency at the Experimentanium Museum

But best of all is the bubble room. Mama and I have now been to many many of the Science Museum’s bubble shows, and while I still highly recommend them, the Experimentanium has upped the ante by providing us with all the equipment we need to DO IT ALL OURSELVES. Yes, we too have now wafted around the giant bubble wand to make bubble snakes, and we have personally stood inside the giant bubble ring and operated the pulley to enfold ourselves inside a person-sized bubble. In your FACE, the Science Museum (although with grateful thanks as our superior technique was much informed by your examples)!

Bubble machine at the Experimentanium Museum

If you are thinking that this sounds damp and not a little sticky you would be correct. But the room has clearly been specially prepped with, among other things, special non slip flooring and a sink to wash your hands afterwards. There are toilets are pretty close by too, which is helpful. Either way even Mama agreed that it was well worth it. WELL WORTH IT.

The Experimentanium has shows of its own, mind. No idea what they are like as we didn’t go. Mama considers the basic experience sufficient considering you have to pay extra. She may, of course, change her mind when we are in the middle of February and really really fed up of snow. Luckily, the Experimentanium looks as though it can soak up a fair number of visitors. On the day we went it was wet and busy without ever approaching the levels of being rammed full which make visiting such venues unpleasant. She is hopeful that this will hold true in the depths of winter too.

The Experimentanium also boasts a surprisingly modest shop, given the size of the place, and a very reasonably priced café. Mama would have preferred it if the café followed the usual Russian café tradition of being entirely chips and chicken nuggets free, but we wouldn’t. At least it wasn’t closed, and shows no sign of ever shutting its doors arbitrarily. And we all approved of the toys you could bring to your table and play around with while you ate. We also admired the lavishly supplied birthday party table set up next to us. If the Experimentanium only had animals, I reckon my Super Big Brother would be well up for coming here for his come the summer.

So the Experimentanium Museum is definitely somewhere that you should have on your list of places to hang out with children in Moscow, and let’s face it, places you can go and amuse yourselves if you don’t have kids too. It’s large, well-organised, interesting and educational to boot. And would stand up to repeated visits as there are so many things to play with, you’ll almost certainly find yourself fascinated by something different each time you go.

Plus, there is a trampoline park in a building next door, so if you feel like making a really long indoor day out of it, you can. I am pretty sure Mama really wants to go and jump around madly, and I am sure that we will be doing so in the not so distant future. But that will be a story for another time.

Photo Credits

Mama’s camera was being difficult on our visit, but luckily the nice people at the Experimentanium let her use some of their photos. Our visit was our own idea and at our own expense, however.

More information

The Experimentanium Museum’s website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Brainiac – Science Abuse! the TV programme.

Address: Leningradskii Prospekt d.80, k.11, Moscow, 127015

Opening: 9.30am to 7pm seven days a week.

Admission: Adults – between 450 to 650 roubles (£4.50 – £6.50). It’s cheapest on Mondays and most expensive on weekends. Children over 3 – between 350 to 550 roubles (£3.50 – £5.50). Family tickets and discounts for those with more than three children are also available.

By Metro: The nearest station is Sokol on the darker green line.

The steps up to the exit are in the centre of the platform. You need to follow the signs for Baltiiskaya Street and go right up the massive highway as you exit the station building. When you have completed the short walk to the junction for Baltiiskaya Street, turn right along it and walk for a minute or so until you see an archway entrance to a courtyard on the opposite side of the street with a large Experimentanium sign in orange letters above it. This is where you cross the street, using the pedestrian crossing. It’s important to come back the same way because there isn’t a crossing at the top of the street. Go through the archway, and the Experimentanium is the building on your right. You can’t miss it because it is covered in actually pretty cool murals.

By other means: Buses and trolley buses exist. There also seems to be some car parking in the courtyard, but it could be reserved for other buildings. Whatever. Go by Metro is Mama’s advice.

Packing my Suitcase
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Eff It, I'm On Holiday

Moscow Zoo / Московский Зоопарк

The most memorable thing about Moscow Zoo, according to Mama, is its location, which just goes to show that she has probably now been to too many animal attractions. At this stage in her career as a parent of a hopeful zoo keeper, Mama’s ability to take interested in yet another round of zebras, toucans and orangutans is decidedly tepid. You’ve seen one spectacled bear, she is starting to think, and you have seen them all.

Bear at Moscow Zoo

Zoos are really starting to have to have a unique selling point beyond the animals for her to really sit up and pay attention.

This could be why the Moscow Zoo’s entrance is fashioned as a dramatic, if mostly plastic (or possibly fibreglass), mountain.

Moscow Zoo entrance
We’re going to the zoo!

But it has to be said that after the promise of this once you get inside, the first thing you will see is a giant pond.

Full of ducks.

Duck Filled Pond at Moscow Zoo
Ducks! Hurrah!

A bold choice for an opener, Mama thinks, even if they aren’t mallards, but that’s before she spotted the flamingos in the far corner. And indeed once you have schlepped round the perimeter of the water for a few hours, you will find on the other side the usual array of big and small wild cats, bears, giraffes, odd looking cows, more birds ranging from tiny colourful flitty parrots though haughty storking cranes, paddling wading birds to giant hulking vultures, elephants, bats, wolves and penguins.

White tiger at Moscow Zoo
Big cat!
Shaggy cow at Moscow Zoo
Funny looking cow!

Mama is bemused by the penguins to be honest. Moscow Zoo, being as it is in Russia, a country that gets pretty damn chilly in the winter, has special indoor habitats as well as the outdoor spaces for a number of its most popular animals from warmer climes. But its penguins are not outdoors because the zoo seems to have acquired the ones which live in warm places.

Mama thinks this is pure contrariness.

On the other hand, she admires the business sense of having the dolphinarium in a strategically central location, surrounded by the walrus and sea lion enclosures. Going to see the show costs extra (but not much extra), and the nice thing about it being in Russian is that Mama feels she is exempt from having to listen to the usual spiel where trainers explain that really, the nature of these particular captive animals is that they are so intelligent that have to be kept entertained somehow and getting them to toss balls back and forth is the best way to do it.

Dolphin at Moscow Zoo
Splosh!

Other entertainments appear to be feeding the flamingos and doing the mouse spotting trail. Mama disapproves of the practice of flinging the flamingos the crusts from your sandwiches, which appears to be something of a Muscovite tradition, but what, precisely, the difference between poisoning the exotic pink birds, who at least get proper nutritional supplements from their keepers, and poisoning the common old ducks and seagulls, who in London almost certainly survive mainly on toddler thrown bread, she cannot actually pinpoint.

Flamingos at Moscow Zoo
Apparently ‘do not feed’ means something else in Russian.

The mouse spotting game is much less controversial. The zoo appears to have released any number of small largely white rodents throughout its enclosures, who will pop out at random moments next to this meercat, that lynx or the other mountain goat to surprise and delight any visitors who might be thinking that seeing a gibbon lick its private parts is not thrilling enough. I suspect there might be a prize for the family who see the highest number. You should have a go! It’s great!

Mice at Moscow Zoo
Release the mice!

By now you will have completed a full circle of the lake, and are thinking about where to go once you leave. This would be a mistake, because you have only, in fact, done half Moscow Zoo, so you’d be better off having something to eat.

The Moscow Zoo has been undergoing renovations in the last few years and these are still not quite finished, so the odd corner here and there will undoubtedly be closed when you go. But one of the things they have finished upgrading is the food outlets, and there are now cafés dotted around at very regular intervals, although none of these seem to be of the indoor type, which could be interesting in the depths of winter. Of course, there are any number of eateries on the way in or the way out and plenty of places for you to sit and eat sandwiches if you’d rather do that.

To get to the other half, you climb another fibreglass (or possibly plastic) mountain, take the bridge across the road and descend to another duck filled pond past the giant sloth enclosure. And then it’s otters, goats, pelicans, lions, reptiles, monkeys, gibbons, orangutans, chimps, gorillas, zebras and polar bears all the way to the exit.

Reptile House at Moscow Zoo
Cleverly placed metal walkway for small children!

Mama particularly enjoys the polar bears, mainly because there is an artificial snow making machine in their habitat, which is amusing because Russia, and because they always seem to have a cub on the go, which Mama always finds reassuring in a zoo.

Polar Bear at Moscow Zoo
Artificial snow! Because in Moscow, you can never have too much snow!

Just before the exit there is the petting zoo. Chickens, mostly. But also goats, sheep and a couple of cows in the corner. The Moscow Zoo has also wisely anticipated the rise of the selfie and provided a whole bunch of mosaic animal sculptures for visitors to pose on and around on their way out. Very cool. We have about a thousand of these snaps by now.

mosaic bear at Moscow Zoo
Selfie bear is waiting!

Anyway. Back to the location. Did you spot its fabulousness?

What Mama finds absolutely fascinating about the Moscow Zoo, and what keeps her happy about going back and back is the way that there you are, admiring the zebra in its semblance of an African Savannah, and you look up and see the apartment blocks dotted all around. It is frankly not a little freaky. Juxtapositioning and other such impressive sounding words. Plus, imagine having a flat up there, Mama likes to think, although not out loud in case my Animaltastic Big Brother overhears her.

Zebra giraffe ostrich at Moscow zoo
Check out that real estate!

All in all, the Moscow Zoo is one of the most popular destinations for those with children in the capital, not least because of its extremely reasonably priced entrance tickets. Children under the age of seventeen are FREE!

(Mama is allowing y’all a few minutes to boggle at that).

(Boggled out yet?)

Of course, in summer this means it gets very busy indeed, especially at weekends. Papa recommends that you go off season. Mama recommends that you sort out an also very attractively-priced season ticket. I insist you find the horses and my Animaltastic Big Brother doesn’t care what you do as long as you don’t stop him from going again and again and again any time soon.

More information

The Moscow Zoo’s website (in English).

The Dolphinarium’s website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about keeping mice as pets.

Address: Bolshaya Gruzinskaya Ulitsa, 1, Moscow, Russia, 123242

Opening: Moscow Zoo is open 10 am to 6pm Tuesday to Sunday. The zoo is closed on Mondays.

Admission: Adults – 400 roubles (£4) on weekdays and 500 roubles (£5) at weekends. Children under the age of seventeen are FREE. I’ll just repeat that. A major zoo in a capital city allows children under the age of seventeen (and also pensioners and students) in for FREE.

By metro: Barrikadnaya (purple line) or Krasnopesnenskaya (brown circle line) are very close to the main entrance (and connected to each other).

By other means: Just take the tube, yeah?

Gorodskaya Ferma / Городская Ферма at VDNH, Moscow

So you think that summer holidays in the UK are looooooooong, do you? Well, if you are my age you probably don’t actually, but I gather the odd Mama here and there does. Anyway. Spare a thought for all those Russian parents out there. They start the long haul at the beginning of JUNE, people, and don’t stop until the 1st September.

There are many strategies Muscovites have for dealing with this. A popular one is packing the kids off to the datcha with the grandparents for the duration. But not everybody has a glorified allotment with a larger than usual shed on it and so Moscow is a particularly ripe spot for child-friendly profit-driven attractions.

One of these is the new(ish) Gorodskaya Ferma, or City Farm, at the exhibition complex VDNH, which is fast becoming the place in Moscow to house such things. The Polytechnic Museum has its temporary exhibition here, and Europe’s biggest aquarium has likewise just opened its doors.  And since the words ‘farm’ and ‘animals’ go together like ‘pelmeni’ and ‘smetana’, we inevitably found our way there within a short time of arriving in Russia’s capital.

Campfire at Gorodskaya Ferma VDNH

What we found is that Gorodskaya Ferma is more of a boutique farmette that your actual sprawling acres of muddy husbandry. Which is fine, especially as what immediately caught our attention when we stepped inside was the well designed play area. It was, in fact, quite some time before we prised ourselves away from the hammocks, the climbing nets, the slides and the sandpit and went in search of the live entertainment.

Play area at Gorodskaya Ferma VDNH

And there we found rabbits. Who seemed bent on escaping their enclosure. Some disinterested sheep. A handful of decidedly interested goats.

Goats at Gorodskaya Ferma VDNH

Two cows. DONKEYS (I liked the DONKEYS – they are practically HORSES). And geese and chickens. Who have rather fabulous houses.

Chicken house at Gorodskaya Ferma VDNH

And ducks. Who have  rather splendid pom pom feather headdresses.

And all of this was very fine as such things always are.

But what Mama and my Terrific Big Brother really liked was the barn full of straw bales. Which you can climb all over.

I, on the other hand, did not like the barn full of straw bales.

In fact, I stood outside holding my nose and complaining. An unreconstructed urbanite, said Mama, from her perch on the top of the fragrant if slightly prickly tower.

Barn at Gorodskaya Ferma VDNH

Straw does have its uses though. We got to take a handful back to the cows, for example. And then there was the straw modelling workshop which saw Mama, whose crafting abilities resemble that of the ten-year-olds the activity was probably pitched at, attack the activity of wrapping handfuls of the stuff into the shape of animals with admirable gusto. I think we were supposed to be making a fox. What we got was a giraffe and a goose. In case you were wondering.

Straw animals at Gorodskaya Ferma VDNH

More my Terrific Big Brother’s thing was the autumn collages, involving the gathering and arrangement of leaves, twigs, straw, sand and anything else that took the group’s fancy into concentric circles. More and more concentric circles. Just another one Mama. Oooooh, how about a ring of sand to finish… hey, we could do some more leaves and… look, I’ve found a feather! That patch of grass over there had some excellent sticks let’s go back there and… Mama had to be firm in the end. It was time to go. It was PAST time to go. No, really, now. I pretty much had to throw a tantrum to get us out of there. The things I do for my family.

Leaf art at Gorodskaya Ferma VDNH

Another thing Mama would like to note about Gorodskaya Ferma is that they are fully English-enabled. Mama knows this because when she made a total hash of enquiring how, exactly, one went about purchasing food to feed the animals, the cashier was utterly delighted to be able to wave over his English-speaking colleague to deal with her. In fact, this happened every time anyone realised we were talking in English, and as they were extremely crestfallen to discover that Mama’s Russian is not as bad as all that in any case she has her own personal translator in my Terrific Big Brother, Mama feels that it is necessary for all the non-Russian speaking peoples of Moscow to go down to the farm and make the very enthusiastic staff’s day.

And in case you are wondering, the answer to Mama’s query is that you pay fifty roubles for a token, which you pay into bubble gum-esque dispensing machines in return for a small handful of either diced carrots or dry bread. If you don’t remember to pick up your tokens at the entrance there are also machines near the food.  It has to be said, there’s nothing like having food whiffled out of your hand by a snortingly warm muzzle.

Speaking of which, Gorodskaya Ferma has a café, or at least a food dispensing kiosk and some accompanying under cover tables. The café staff seemed a tad harassed – Mama thinks their menu is a bit ambitious for a hut with a microwave and a fridge – and frankly I was outraged that they did not sell hot chocolate, but Mama seemed happy with her coffee and the free WiFi and let us wander off to see what was happening over in the small cultivated area opposite.

Because verily, Gorodskaya Ferma is not just about cowsnchickens. You can also have a go at grubbing around in the dirt and waving a small watering can in the general direction of some lettuce.

Or painting the apple trees, which was the activity which had caught our attention. By the time Mama ambled over we were covered in whitewash and she was not at all to be distracted by the various reasons why such beautification is done. Why, Mama would like to know, when all Russian children manage to paint a tree without spattering it all over themselves, do we end up with it patterning our trousers and even in our hair? Luckily, not actually being paint, it washed out and off without too much effort.

Apple trees at Gorodskaya Ferma VDNH

Of course, the summer holidays are over now and although we have been enjoying what Mama says is one of Moscow’s typically glorious Indian summers, now October is here it is getting nippy and at some point it’s going to snow. Russians are, of course, used to this and there are signs that the team at Gorodskaya Ferma have prepared for this with a number of the attractions being undercover affairs, but Mama has no idea what Gorodskaya Ferma’s plans are once the colder weather really sets in.

So you’d better get down there quick and enjoy the last of the good weather and the crafting opportunities while they last. They appear to be all about the pumpkins from their Instagram feed at present.

Say hi to the donkeys for me.

More information

Gorodskaya Ferma’s page on VDNH’s website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the chemistry of autumn colours.

Address: Next to the historic pavilion 44 (‘Rabbit breeding’), VDNH Estate 119, Prospect Mira, Moscow, 129223.

Opening: Every day except for Mondays from 10 a.m. till 8 p.m.

Admission: Adults and children over 3 years old, 200 roubles (£2) on weekdays and 300 roubles (£3) at weekends.

By Metro: The nearest metro is Botonichiskii Sad on the orange line, but the nearest exit from there is closed for renovation at the moment and so to get to Gorodskaya Ferma you have to go straight on down the road next to the railway tracks, cross left under the railway tracks, walk up the road a bit, cross the road into a path through a wood opposite the entrance to the actual Botonichiskii Sad (Botanical Gardens), amble through the wood, amble through a patch of rather attractive heathland, and cross another road to get to the back entrance of VDNH, whereupon the farm is directly on your right, though you have to head round to the entrance opposite the large pond. Mama thinks this may not be a trip for the fainthearted visitors out there, although all hail Google maps is what she suggests. That and heading in the general direction of Ostankino TV tower in the distance.

Ostankino tower at VDNH

However, your other option is to get off at VDNH (orange line) and then walk the length of the ex-Soviet exhibition space to the big pond at the back. Gorodskaya Ferma is at the end that doesn’t have the vaguely phallic fountain (Mama says). It’s a bloody long walk though (I say). Insist your big people take a scooter to tow you along and at the very least you must demand to go no further unless you are fed an ice cream every ten paces. On the upside, VDNH is always a fascinating venue to wander around.

By other means: No idea. Well, all right there are buses and trams and such which will get you a tad closer than the Metro, but unless you know about them already, Mama thinks you are better off with the hike. There may well be parking somewhere, but Mama is frankly uninterested in finding out where.

The State Darwin Museum, Moscow

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.

Stuffed animals at the State Darwin Museum Moscow
Now what do these have in common? Anyone? You at the back there?

Three 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.

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.

Stuffed dogs at the State Darwin Museum, Moscow
That’s a lot of stuffed dogs.

Which 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 that he might pick up, because, say, his (English) teacher has told him that that’s what he believes, firmly in the bud.

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 NHM. 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.

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.

Stuffed big cats at the State Darwin Museum, Moscow
Cats and their art.

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.

Horse evolution at the State Darwin Museum, Moscow
Horses through the ages!

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. Stupendous Big Brother liked the computer games. Name that animal! Match the animal to their tracks! Match the animal to their habitat!

Interactive exhibit at the State Darwin Museum, Moscow
“Who did this?”

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.

Dinosaurs at the State Darwin Museum, Moscow
Dinosaur rrrrooooaaaaarrrr!

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!

Early man at the State Darwin Museum, Moscow
That man is NAKED Mama!

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.

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 the rooms on the history of natural history through sheer lack of time.

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 and opposite a LIVE FISH TANK) 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 rubles 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. Arguably, too, it is 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. But 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.

We may well find out, because Mama plans to take us here pretty much whenever we visit Moscow from now onwards. She thinks you should go too if you are ever in town. 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.

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: 300 rubles (£5) for adults for the two buildings. 250 rubles (£4) if you just want the main exhibition area. Kids over 7 are 100 rubles (£1.50) for both buildings. A photography pass is 100 rubles.

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.