People in Moscow are always asking Mama for directions and she has a theory about this.
Of course it could be because sometimes she forgets to change her streetside face from the British perpetual half-smile to the less welcoming Russian deadpan stare. But in reality Mama reckons that when you are in a place where asking for directions requires the effort and concentration of talking in a language you aren’t completely comfortable in, you tend to be a lot more conscientious about looking up where you are going, what it will look like when you get there, how much it costs, where the cafe is and so on and so forth than you do when you can amble vaguely in what you assume is the right direction and hail people casually for help if your destination isn’t where you think it ought to be or, indeed, open.
You tend to look confident as you stride purposefully along the streets, annotated map in pocket, and this means that other less well-prepared passers-by assume you are the person to stop and dither at.
They used to bother Papa rather than Mama in London too, for example. Although that might just be because Papa gives off experienced urbanite vibes wherever he happens to be, born and bred capital city dweller that he is.
That said, Mama’s particular downfall when going places in Russia is not so much in inability to get people to tell her stuff but read signage accurately, as demonstrated by our trip to the wooden palace of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich in Kolomenskoye Park this winter holiday.
Alexei Mikhailovich was the father of Peter the Great, and this palace, or rather the original as this is a reconstruction, was where he spent most of his time growing up. It was really supposed to be a summer hangout, but Tsar Alexei liked Kolomenskoye so much he had this giant wooden 250 room construction built, which people told him at the time was the eighth wonder of the world.
As you do, when your Tsar is really really into something.
This seems to have been the sum of Alexei Mikhailovich’s achievements, aside from marrying two women whose families really did not get on, and dying a bit too early. He sounds somewhat wet, in fact, although just progressive enough that you can see from where Peter the Great got his compulsive need to shave off beards and build an entire city on a marsh in the middle of nowhere so he could get to Europe a bit more quickly.
As a spur of the moment trip out suggested by Papa and a place we had already noted as interesting when we came across it one spring, Mama didn’t do any further research other than remind herself of which Metro stop to get off at. She had even had a chat to the woman in the ticket booth last time out about what there was to see inside and everything! Nothing further to worry about!
Unfortunately, it turned out that there was more than one thing to see inside, and all of them needed separate tickets. This was complicated by the discovery that Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich’s palace was one of the museum buildings offering free tickets during the winter holidays. To some, but crucially not all, of what was on display.
So Mama enrolled the services of Bilingual Big Brother to figure out what we should ask to go and see.
The problem with Bilingual Big Brother is that he is nine and even with Mama’s determined efforts to cram us full of heritage and culture, he probably only had a vague idea of what Mama was after. Translation can only take you so far when you can’t quite conceive of what ‘nice old (replica) furniture and furnishings’ might consist of.
And the problem with the ticket booth that Mama chose to stand in front of this time was that it was only selling tickets for the exhibitions at this end of the complex.
Mama did not realise this, probably because she only bothered to read the first line of the sign that told her about the other ticket booth.
So we ended up touring two (2) exhibitions, neither of which included fancy recreated interiors, before Mama overheard one of the docents telling another visitor that to actually get into the palace proper, they needed the other cashier round the other side of the building.
Which, when Mama studied it properly, did look a lot more impressive.
Mama thinks they should have built the palace of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich the other way round, given that it is in a different part of the park from the original, so they could have quite easily erected it so that the entrance to Kolomenskoye Park is right next to the front rather than the back.
Although this, of course, is why they put up signs.
Hey ho. We got to see a collection of various typical folk art and crafts such as hinges, enamelled tiles, painted wooden trimmings and icon frames.
Big up for the icon frames from me! They have cartoon-like pictures telling a story round the edges. I was fascinated to realise that the tales are frequently of how the main character is dismembered in different ways. Something I insisted on double checking at length with Mama.
She wonders if my lack of freaked-outedness means it is time to pay much more attention to what I am watching on YouTube.
We also got to see modern artists’ recreations of traditional folk art and crafts in a more 3D format. This consisted of bit less focus on the bloody bible stories and a few more animal carvings, but it was also quite pretty, and largely deserted.
But I was not up for any more. I had already done my bit culture-wise. I had taken an interest. And now I was hungry.
Mama, on the other hand was determined.
I have developed a way to cope with Mama determined, unlike my Bilingual Big Brother who is easy to bribe. I am capable of keeping up a not-quite-subvocal-enough repetitive whine regardless of what Mama promises or threats for literally hours. The scowling is pretty impressive too. She gets her own way, but she doesn’t enjoy it and I live in hope that one day she will just learn that it’s better to cave quickly.
What it meant on this occasion is that we had to take the interiors at something of a brisk trot. Or as much of a trot as we could given that the free entrance meant that there were quite a lot of people inside.
If I had been more in the mood I am sure I would have been delighted by a number of aspects of the fancy-pants wooden palace.
Obviously one of them is that it is indeed wooden. Both inside and out.
Mama, however, was particularly taken by the medieval central heating system, in the form of the beautifully tiled enclosed stoves.
She was also delighted to find that Alexei Mikhailovich had much the same taste in wallpaper as her.
My Bilingual Big Brother was pleased with the lions in the throne room, which roar. These days it’s all done with electricity, but back then there was a much more mechanical way to impress visitors.
The dressed up guides were pretty fabulous, and we got to see a lot of them as the palace was so busy. But obviously not listen to then because I couldn’t be having with that in my state of mind.
What Mama particularly coveted (aside from the wallpaper) was the Royal bathroom/ sauna.
I just wanted the swan in the dressed feasting chamber. Although, as I repeatedly told Mama, it’s not actually real. Neither is the tower and wall cake, Mama says sadly.
Still, all in all worth tracking down. Just make sure you go round to the front of the palace for admission to the reconstructed interiors first or your six-year-old will not appreciate it properly and you’ll have to take her to MacDonald’s after all.
Although admittedly that meant we had to trek right through Kolomenskoye Park first. Which, funnily enough, is a lot less attractive in early January when there is unaccountably no snow, than it was in spring.
Want more ideas about what to do in Moscow? We have a comprehensive guide to the capital of Russia here.
Address: Andropova Ave, Moscow, 115487, Russia
Opening: Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm. Closed Mondays.
Admission: 400 roubles for adults for the palace. Kids under 7 are free. Other exhibitions need separate tickets and cost extra.
Getting there: Metro station Kashirskaya (green line) is right next to the entrance to Kolomenskoye Park which is right next to the (back of) the palace. Kolomenskoye metro station (also green line) puts you at the other end of the park, which is a considerable walk away from the palace.
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