5 Ways to Celebrate Spring in Moscow, Russia

Spring, it turns out, is a big deal in Russia.

I dunno. I quite enjoyed the snow. But perhaps when you have endured many more winters than one rather mild one, you do get quite excited when the earth finally heats up enough to sustain actual grass, leaves and tulips.

So perhaps it is not surprising that when this happens, which is the beginning of May in Moscow, Russians decide to celebrate All The Things! At Once! With Decorations! And Days Off! And (in Mama and Papa’s case) digging at my school for the ‘subbotnik’, when Russians get out there and tidy up their public spaces after the snow melts and everybody realises how much rubbish and how little grass is left behind.

Lenin kicked off this spring tradition by carrying a log across the Kremlin once. Papa says the log has increased in size over the years as more and more people claim to have been involved. Cool, huh? That Lenin had some tricks, huh?

It probably helped that that this year Orthodox Easter fell on May 1st too, which is already a public holiday. So Moscow was covered in painted eggs, chicks and other traditional Easter accessories, such as famous model churches from around the world.

Orthodox Easter Eggs Moscow

Yes, I know you in the Catholic/Protestant block celebrated more than a month before that, but given that I get two Christmases and two New Years out of a weird calendar quirk, the only surprise is that I don’t get two birthdays as well.

Props to the person who decided to place the recreation of Jerusalem in sand, plastercast figures and a real donkey opposite the statue of Karl Marx though. Because the public holiday on May 1st is not officially about spring but actually for the seriously Communist one of Labour Day, just like it is in what I imagine must be that other bastion of Socialist values, the USA. Albeit on a different date.

Mama particularly enjoyed sitting next to the Bolshoi Theatre in the shadow of faux middle eastern palm trees listening to some old guard pensioners sing Soviet songs while drinking vodka and talking earnestly about politics.

Orthodox Easter and Labour Day in Moscow

Even Lenin in his mausoleum got dressed up for the occasion.

Lenin Mausoleum on Labour Day

But for the non-partisan amongst us there were just lots and lots of artificial flowers, old shoes and springtime wildlife.

Spring Festival Moscow

And arts, crafts and music.

Spring Festival Moscow

And also, the three bogatyrs, the three legendary heroes, who battle dragons, rescue princesses and overcome other obstacles.

Three Bogatyrs at the Spring Festival Moscow

Not quite sure what they have to do with spring, but I Do! Not! Care! Because as well as displays of fighting, they offered a challenge to all comers and my Enthusiastic Big Brother and I got to whack away at large mail covered men with lightly padded giant sticks!

Bogatyrs at the Spring Festival Moscow

The ancient warriors might have been softening us up for the 9th of May.

It’s quite a big kuffuffle is Victory Day in Russia, although to be fair if you can’t celebrate the end of a war that left millions dead what can you celebrate?

There is a parade of such extravagance that it requires weeks of practice and many road closures. If you are Mama, you will stroll by all unsuspecting and be confronted with soldiers standing in little knots planning out their tank positions on one day and with the tanks themselves just a few days later. Goodness only knows what she missed the rest of the time.

Victory Day Rehearsal Moscow

We did not actually watch the parade itself, mind you. We went to Gorky Park instead. This is because, traditionally, this is where veterans of the Great Patriotic War meet up in their former units and celebrate, generally just by commandeering some plastic chairs and a table and taking over some pathways for their picnics. While they do this, passers by, especially children, give them flowers. It’s nice.

But not quite as much fun as climbing on the tanks down by the river.

Victory Day at Gorky Park

We were so exhausted when we got home that we went to bed early. This was a mistake as at 11pm, the whole of Moscow erupted with firework displays and shouts of ‘oorah!’ from the impromptu street parties outside.

Russians make pretty good neighbours, Mama finds, but when they do cut loose, they do it in style. On which note, I give you, the tank car.

Tank Car on Victory Day Moscow

Thankyewverymuch and goodnight.

More Information

This link will take you to whatever festival Moscow is currently celebrating. At the moment it is fish.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about how May Day became a workers’ holiday.

Labour Day is May 1st, which is a public holiday. It will be the holiday regardless of which day of the week it falls. If it is a weekend, a weekday will usually be given off in lieu. If it is in the middle of the week, Russians often find themselves working weekends, so they can get a block of days off instead.

Orthodox Easter is not a public holiday and shifts around just like the other Easter does. But because the Orthodox church uses the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian one it may (or may not) fall on the same day as the Catholic/ Protestant one. Fun, huh?

Victory Day is 9th May and is a public holiday. See above for the complicated dance this may involve. But basically, you can guarantee that from the 1st to the 9th May in Moscow, there will be lots going on.

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Spring is a big deal in Russia and in Moscow they go all out to celebrate in the spring festival

MummyTravels

The Museum of Moscow

Mama spent rather more of her first visit to the Museum of Moscow wondering if it is housed in a former garage than she was expecting to when she saw the outside.

For Mama wondered this not because the building resembles some brutal constructivist concrete box, which in any case Mama, coming from Stevenage and never quite escaping her upbringing, is resigned to finding increasingly attractive as she gets older. No, the Museum of Moscow’s shell is 19th Century and classically inspired all the way.

Museum of Moscow Provision Warehouses

She wondered this because to get from one exposed painted brickwork and exposed air-conditioning ducts themed floor to another, you travel up and round the sort of concrete ramps you usually only find in multi-story car parks.

Museum of Moscow ramps

Was it really a place to park cars? Or a design statement? Or possibly a nod towards accessibility for all, despite the fact the incline is pretty steep? Mama found it distracting in a space which is not supposed to house modern art.

So it was nice to find out through the power of Google, that in fact the answer is…

…the building was actually used as a military garage for many years. Nice to get that cleared up then.

Particularly as the Museum of Moscow’s permanent galleries are mostly about the capital’s origin story, and so stuck in the middle ages. It is chiefly memorable for the intricate table top models of Moscow in various stages of being built up. They’re great. I was extremely disgruntled to discover I would not be allowed to play with them.

Museum of Moscow medieval gallery

Of course, it’s tricky to find your niche when you are the museum of the capital of a country which has many many museums in the same city dedicated to exhaustively documenting most of the other highlights of Russia’s history. Especially when they cover Moscow’s place prominently in each of them.

Instead, the Museum of Moscow has decided to rock its relatively small size and less established status by using the rest of its space to have regular quirky little exhibitions devoted to other eras or other aspects of the city. We’ve been to three of these now and they seem to be characterised by a desire not to be comprehensive, and possibly not even representative, but to spotlight the everyday rather than the epic.

They do this through really attractive, interesting or iconic objects, the use of historical film footage you might actually want to watch rather than suffer through in an attempt to be informed, genuinely interesting photography, challenging installations set so that you walk through them or skirt closely around them, with the odd touching opportunity thrown in.

The Forgotten Factory

First there was the series of photographs taken in and around the abandoned factory of the legendary former Soviet automobile producer, ZiL.

Museum of Moscow ZiL factory automobiles

Fascinating not just for fans of lovingly photographed urban decay, but also because a lot of the machinery was still in situ and was similarly gorgeously spotlit.

Museum of Moscow ZiL factory equipment

Mmmmmmmmmm, authentic industrial chic, says Mama.

But it was the human touches that made it memorable – the factory comes across as being abandoned much like the Marie Celeste, with the workers just downing tools one day and leaving their half drawn designs on the drawing board, their half drunk mugs of coffee scattered around the building and their half smoked packets of cigarettes stuck to the wall. Oddly compelling. Says Mama.

Museum of Moscow ZiL factory personal effects

Everyday War

Then we saw the Museum of Moscow’s World War Two displays, which focused mostly on the people living though the war in the capital. As a Brit, Mama’s war story involving everyday people tends to revolve around London, air raids, evacuations, the mild inconveniences of rationing, Dad’s Army and bringing women into the workforce in both rural and urban areas.

Much of the Former Soviet Union has a more… dramatic version ( Mama prevaricates), but Moscow, unlike Stalingrad, say, was never actually invaded and raised to the ground by the fierce fighting from both sides to hold it, and unlike St Petersburg was not besieged for 872 days, causing mass starvation and football fields full of unmarked graves, so the exhibition was not quite as… traumatic as it might have been. But it was a shock to see the preparations the inhabitants had made for either of those possibilities, the very real part that children took in them.

Museum of Moscow World War Two defence

Mama also thought the way the Museum of Moscow exhibition kicked off, with a table of glasses and bread to symbolise the tradition of setting places for fallen comrades when the news of their deaths came though was an appropriately sobering opening, and a statement that this was not primarily an exhibition about the glory aspect of the war (WE WON!!!!!!!!! LOOK AT OUR COOL TANKS!!!!!!!!!!).

Museum of Moscow World War Two memorial

People did carry on living during this time, however, and Mama and Papa both had a good nose at the typical living room reconstructed with keys as to why Muscovites were expected to have this or that bit of kit hanging about. Papa felt that the electronic equipment, billed as a radio for listening to the latest war announcements, was of a high enough quality to get you arrested for being a spy rather than being standard issue, mind.

Museum of Moscow World War Two living room

The mock up of the very modest dining room from which the Soviet entry to the war was announced was also, to Mama, fascinating.

Cars! And Dresses!

The last exhibition we attended was one about cars and dresses. An interesting juxtaposition, particularly as Papa was very vocal in his pre visit estimation that ordinary Soviet people in the sixties, the era the exhibition was billed as focusing on most, had neither in any interesting quantities. As it turned out, it was more about the first half of the 20th century in its totality. Or rather the first half of the 20th Century with the Revolution, its aftermath and the World Wars left out, which Mama felt was quite some feat.

Museum of Moscow dresses

Probably this explained both the seeming juxtaposition of the first and last decades of the period and the limitation to personal transportation and clothing.

Museum of Moscow white dress

Unless the point was supposed to be about periods of relative prosperity.

It was difficult to tell and Mama never did decide whether this exhibition was a case of style over substance, or just ingenuity born of the determination to give every item in the Museum of Moscow’s storage its day in the sun. But she liked the cars on display, coveted some of the dresses, and again thought that the collection of photographs or people enjoying their leisure time around the capital in all weathers and over a number of decades were particularly interesting, all lacking in the usual Soviet symbols to tell you that this was the USSR instead of, for example, the USA.

Not everything has to be about ideology, Mama thinks.

Museum of Moscow car and film

Some things are about voyeurism.

That and the film clips. Silent movies in Russian being about her speed, linguistically speaking. We were less impressed, once we had realised that the oddly jerky on screen action notwithstanding, it was not going to turn into a cartoon. But we did enjoy giving Mama a heart attack when she rounded a corner having lingered in front of the silver screen and found us with our heads stuck deep inside an antique car after we had wrenched the door open for a better look inside.

Museum of Moscow moskvich

Until we informed her that this was what everybody else had been doing before we tried it.

Look for the lack of the little rope barrier, I advise you. Quite why something made out of thin cheerfully coloured material at shin level provokes such fear in adults that they cannot cross it I am not sure, but if an object is in the middle of the floor and it doesn’t have a little rope barrier at the very least in Moscow, it means touching is ON! Mama thinks that there are a number of museums and art galleries in London that should take note of this useful signal for visitors.

Bargain Hunting

However, the main reason we originally went to the Museum of Moscow wasn’t actually historical appreciation of the capital at all.

We were there for the Museum of Moscow’s occasional flea markets. We are big fans of car boot sales and somewhat disappointed that Russians have not, by and large, embraced this particular method of getting shot of the cuddly animal toys they no longer want but we can buy for 20p to take home and add to our alarmingly large collection.

As it turned out, this flea market had more of an antique flavour, which was disappointing for us if not for Papa given that there had been a pretty big queue to get inside.

Museum of Moscow flea market

Not that we were bothered as we got to mess around in the giant piles of snow next to the plaster of Paris replica sights of Moscow in the courtyard of the Museum of Moscow while we waited. Mama would have preferred to hang out in the onsite café, but someone had to stand in line.

Museum of Moscow Courtyard

Mind you, there was a children’s section, which saw kids taking tables and selling some of their well loved tat. Of course, we were horrified at the idea that Mama might suggest we join in and part with some of our most beloved possessions ourselves and couldn’t even be bothered to haggle.

There was also entertainment laid on. I particularly enjoyed the lindy hop amateur dancing display.

Museum of Moscow lindy hop

Mama was more interested in the refreshments. Retro soft drinks, soups and ice cream. Very hipster.

So all in all a fun atmosphere if you happen to like shiny old objects, but not really one for those looking for second-hand bits and bobs for your everyday life.

Basically, the Museum of Moscow is one for the locals, who would like something reasonably distracting to look round every now and again when they are in the vicinity of Gorky Park. The Cars and Dresses exhibition is on until 10th May and then the next upcoming one is Moskvovedy, which apparently celebrates the establishment of the history of Moscow as an actual thing. No, Mama doesn’t understand that either. But she has already decided to go anyway.

The Museum of Moscow also, unique among museums and galleries in Moscow so far in Mama’s experience, has a decent shop. Surely a direction that should be encouraged. So go.

Just be sure not to try to park your car on top of the interesting objects d’histoire.

More Information

The museum’s website (in Russian because the English bit is minimal. Google translate exists, people).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about challenging a parking ticket issued in the UK.

Address: 2 Zubovskiy Bulvar, Moscow

Opening: 10am – 8pm Tuesday to Sunday (except Thursday 11am – 9pm). Monday – CLOSED.

Admission: To access all the galleries and exhibitions – adults 400 roubles (£4), children over seven 200 roubles (£2). Individual exhibitions – adults 200 roubles, kids 100 roubles.

By public transport: The metro station Park Kultury (red line and brown circle line) is right opposite. The tolleybus б/ бк, which circles the centre of Moscow also stops right outside, as do other buses.

By car: The temptation might be too much for you…

Wander Mum
Ersatz Expat

Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s house, Kent

Winston Churchill is very famous. You can tell this because his house, Chartwell, belongs to the National Trust and as well as the usual stream of parents with young children and retirees milling about, it also sees whole busloads of actual tourists flocking in to visit it too.

Chartwell, Winston Churchill's house

Which is a shame as Chartwell is a very nice house. A really very nice house. A house so nice, in fact, that it is currently at the very top of places Mama would like to live in. Somehow, however, I do not think the National Trust will be giving it up any time soon.

Chartwell from the swings

Of course, what Winston Churchill is actually famous for, unless it is indeed his house, is a bit of a mystery to me.

Perhaps it is for being an artist. There are a lot of his paintings scattered about the house itself, and even more in a purpose built studio nearby. Yes, he must have been a famous artist. Although if I am honest, I am not at all sure that he was a very good one. Mama was inclined to be polite about them with the very approachable guides, who were full of little anecdotes about Winston’s life and habits at Chartwell. I suspect this is probably damming.

Apparently, he also liked to write. But although Chartwell has a vast number of books, unlike the paintings, very few of them seem to be by the great man himself. I expect this means that it was probably more of a hobby. Certainly his habit of marking the place a book had came from with a small stuffed animal, some of which are still in situ, shows a certain frivolousness of approach.

That said, Mama tells me he mostly went in for weighty historical tomes. I am not quite sure why, if this is the reason he is so revered, Churchill gets more visitors and a much nicer house than Thomas Carlyle, who was also famous for his exceptionally long history books. Unless it has something to do with the fact that Churchill was, I am told, considerably less popular with the unpleasant sounding Hitler than Carlyle.

I am also at a loss as to why people kept giving Churchill presents. There is a whole room at Chartwell devoted to them. I entertained the brief thought that the gift of antique Russian salad bowls from the ever popular Stalin was signalling that Winston Churchill’s area of expertise was, in fact, being a chef, but the kitchen was small and quite basic, so I suspect not.

Very nice conservatory style dining room though. And conveniently close to the food preparation area, unlike the majority of these National Trust historic houses we tour. Perhaps Churchill was a pioneering architect? A wall in the garden with an important looking plaque that says that Winston built it himself with his own two hands, suggests being big in the construction business in someway is a possibility.

He might have been an actor, mind. There’s another room in Chartwell for his collection of costumes, which oddly enough are mostly military in some way. A character actor, then. I’m afraid we lost interest a bit when we discovered we were not allowed to try them on ourselves so I didn’t pay that much attention. Of course, he might just have been a collector. Who seems to have bothered a lot of apparently well known people for signed photographs of themselves over the years. Statesmen mostly. I wonder if Churchill was an impressionist?

What I think is most likely, though, is that Winston Churchill was a naturalist. That’s definitely the angle the National Trust is working in its efforts to entertain us children. We picked up a bird trail from the entrance, although we clearly should have got the insect one too as Chartwell is positively bugtastic.

Bug in brambles at Chartwell

In fact, unlikely as it may seem as a path to international fame, Winston Churchill was clearly a celebrity entomologist, with a particular enthusiasm for butterflies. He even had his own butterfly house to hatch out new cabbage whites for the garden, which the National Trust dutifully keeps well stocked in his memory. We were thrilled to see an actual chrysalis or two while we were there.

Butterfly house at Chartwell

There are also a lot of nesting swallows flitting about the eaves of the roof. But we have those too without any effort whatsoever on Mama’s part, so I do not think that cultivating them was Churchill’s raison d’être, no matter how much we enjoyed watching them.

Plus, there is a much beloved and semi famous cat, Jock, at Chartwell (although NOT in the house itself one of the guides said firmly, when my Outstanding big Brother asked), and surely no serious ornithologist would stand for that, even if he is dead. We, on the other hand, were delighted to spot Jock. My Outstanding Big Brother has a blithe disregard for the available evidence that cats, unlike dogs, take less than kindly to small unknown children bounding up enthusiastically to pet them. Jock was thankfully used to this sort of behavior and tolerated it well.

Jock the cat at Chartwell

Although not, obviously, to the point of actually allowing himself to be stroked.

Still, the bird trail gave my Outstanding Big Brother an excuse to head straight for the ponds to check out the geese, and BLACK SWANS, the latter being particularly thrilling as they are allegedly very aggressive when approached, something which we were of course fully determined to test out as soon as we heard about it.

I dunno, maybe having kids has mellowed them, but they didn’t charge us, even though we got within a good fifty metres of them and their signets before Mama dragged us off to gaze longingly at the swimming pool.

A SWIMMING POOL? Was the man a fitness guru now too?

Either way, Mama coverts that swimming pool. What a view.

The view from the swimming pool at Chartwell

I covert the wendy house. Which also has amazing views. It belonged to one of Chruchill’s daughters originally; now it belongs to the visiting children. To be honest, Mama thinks the wooden fruit, veg and hot dogs in the play kitchen could do with a bit of a refresh as they were looking a bit battered and thin on the ground the last time we went. From this I gather that the one thing Winston Churchill definitely is not famous for was his domesticity, or having children, or having grandchildren.

Of course not, says Mama, who is inclined to add something sharp about the way in which praise of parenting skills is generally considered to be something of a compensation prize for women rather than serious grounds for admiration at this point.

Marycot at Chartwell

As long as my Outstanding Big Brother and I could continue to have a lot of fun coming up with increasingly bizarre culinary combinations for Mama to sample, we were good though. And it’s wonderful how we will enthusiastically participate in a good game of *pretend* to mop, sweep, tidy and clean up. Mama says.

Over the other side of the lake, there is a large field perfect for picnicking in, rolling down or combing through the grass for insects.

Bug in the grass at Chartwell

But the main attraction here are the giant swings hanging from a number of the trees. Suitable for people of all sizes, you can go on slow ones, romantic ones, fast ones, high ones and downright alarming ones, and all of them have more stunning views! Highly recommended.

Swing at Chartwell

There are also some natural play areas in the woods. One is a sort of camp, complete with very comfortable hammocks, and the other is called a Dormouse Den, for reasons which escape all of us, but where you can jump from one wooden mushroom to another. They are lovely cool places to escape the heat of the day if you so wish, or the rain if that is your problem. I am not sure they were actually around in Winston’s day, unlike the swings, but you can certainly discover some really excellent bugs there, which is clearly why they have been built.

Bug on wood at Chartwell

But just as you think you have got Churchill pegged, you realise that what with the swimming pool, the lake and the goldfish pond, Churchill clearly had as much of a thing about water as my Outstanding Big Brother and me. He was a big fan of the pond next to the formal walled gardens (great flowers, mainly the preserve of Churchill’s wife, so at least I was able to rule out plant guru from his list of accomplishments, dunno who was responsible for the orchard and the extensive kitchen garden, and even more wonderful ants, which were presumably Winston’s contribution). Landscape gardener?

Roses at Chartwell

We therefore rounded off our visit in an unusually contemplative manner, sitting and staring meditatively at the large orange bodies milling around just below us, in much the same way Winston Churchill is said to have done while thinking about beetles or somesuch. Could have been there for hours, but Mama declined to brave the rush hour traffic on the M25.

Goldfish pond at Chartwell

Chartwell, then, is clearly a must for all the bug enthusiasts out there looking to see a more personal side of a pioneer of the field, and there sure are a surprisingly large number of them. But Churchill, for all his butterfly prowess, seems to have been a man of many parts, and so practically anyone will find his house and him interesting. In addition, Chartwell is set in such lovely and varied surroundings that should you just want a nice outdoor location to roll around this is a wonderful place to spend time and explore. Definitely worth a visit.

More Information

Chartwell’s page on the National Trust’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the trick that fooled Churchill.

Address: Mapleton Road, Westerham, Kent, TN16 1PS

Opening: 11am to 5pm. You’ll need a timed ticket to visit the house, and on busy days your slot could be several hours after you arrive. The house is closed from November to March, but you can still visit the gardens and the studio.

Admission: Adult: £14.30, child: £7.15, family: £35.75. There are also cheaper tickets for the gardens and the studio only. National Trust members, of course, get in for free.

By car: There is ample parking, which is free for National Trust members. Chartwell is well signposted from the A25, which is off junctions 5 or 6 from the M25.

By public transport: The 246 London bus route runs from Bromley, including Bromley North and Bromley South Stations, to Chartwell. Local stations with trains out of London are at Edenbridge (4 miles away), Oxted and Sevenoaks (6 miles away each).