Category Archives: Sightseeing

The Toddler’s Guide to… Paradise Wildlife Park

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The Toddler’s Guide is written by Solnushka’s eighteen-month-old daughter, who is generally accompanied on her travels by her Mama, her Papa and her Big Brother, who is four and a half. She wishes everyone to know that the spelling is Mama’s.

Has Mama mentioned that my Brilliant Big Brother is quite keen on animals? She has? Then it should surprise nobody that when Mama discovered an opportunity to visit somewhere for FREE (Mama does like the free) with a promotion from a MoneySupermarket Days Out Discounts (whatever that is), she chose a zoo. The Paradise Wildlife Park, specifically.

A white tigerIt’s an interesting name, that. It suggests a certain… commercial approach to zookeeping. To Mama. And she did experience grave misgivings when as we went in we were greeted by the ‘put a pound in this ride… and this one…. and that one…. and look, there are five more over here too’ area. Mama also thinks that the rabbit enclosure plastered with advertising as the first animal attraction you see isn’t ideal. She wondered if she was going to have to pay extra for everything, and be fobbed off with orange dyed, stripily painted pet cats in lieu of your actual tigers. Although I don’t know what’s wrong with that. Cats! Woohoo!

In fact, nearly everything else, and there is a lot else, is included in the entrance price. And the animals are, Mama thinks, a very carefully chosen mix between, small and manageable, large and impressive, familiar crowd-pleasers and the full on exotic. And reassuringly well looked after. What a relief it must be to be released from the terms of your latest scientific grant meaning you need to try to convince the punters that forty-two species of slugs hiding in the leafmold are interesting. My Brilliant Big Brother really liked ALL THE ANIMALS. And the snakes. Papa thought the tapirs were pretty cool. Mama enjoyed all the big cats, especially when they roared, which they did quite often. She was also thrilled to find the roosting, squeaking bats were oddly unnerving, even as she resisted the temptation to clutch at her hair.

Tapirs

Me? I liked the stairs. There are stairs because there are a lot of viewing platforms and walkways that take you right over where the animals are hanging out. This is fabulous, especially for someone my height. I also loved the ostriches. This was because an advantage of the evils of capitalism approach is that Paradise Wildlife Park lets you feed some of the animals. Cabbage, mostly, which I don’t like, to Mama’s everlasting relief. There are signs telling Mama which animals you can throw bits of limp veggies at, and it definitely increases you chances of getting up close to those animals, but the ostriches will peck the food right out of the bags. Oh, how I shrieked with delight!

Feeding the tigersAnother highlight was watching some visitors feeding the tigers. Not only was there the remote but thrilling possibility that someone might get their fingers bitten off, but the Keeper who was supervising imparted quite a lot of interesting (to Mama) information about the care of tigers in captivity. Plus, the tiger stretched up really high, right on his hind legs. Coooooooooooooooool.

But enough about the animals! They also have a (free) bouncy castle! I’d have paid to get in just for that. And a variety of slides with (yes!) more steps to climb to get to them. And an actual fire engine! And an actual steam engine!! Both of which you can climb all over to your heart’s content. Papa had been so softened up by the quality of what had come before that he put a whole 20p in a slot and the steam engine roared and whistled and puffed for hours. There was a pirate ship, and an assault course, and some go carts to pedal around, and a (pay for) miniature railway, and a (pay for) crazy golf course as well as a full on (free) soft play area/ café that much to my disappointment we didn’t get to go in because we’d spent so long on all the other things.

It really is a full day out, and then some. Start early.

Train

A couple of other things Mama seems to think are important. There are plenty of places to eat, both for those who have taken a packed lunch and for those who wish to buy something in site, hot or cold. For sheer coolness value, Mama recommends the snack bar overlooking the tiger enclosure.

The zoo, Mama says, is easy to find. This is good as she had to drive us across London to get there. Nice clear signposting and only a short ride from that big M25 road we seem to spend our lives whizzing around is just the sort of thing calculated to keep her calm and happy under these difficult circumstances.

When we arrived, we found the parking is also ample, another thing Mama seems to rate highly, even if it was a chilly January holidays day and therefore highly unlikely to be an issue. That the zoo works as a venue in winter is another of its plus points, of course. In fact, given that there are distinct signs that the place may be rammed to overflowing in summer, Mama rather thinks off-peak is the time to go, even if that means you sacrifice a few live shows or something. We always seem to miss them anyway. Too distracted by the camels.

And finally, they play you music in the toilets. Result!

LemurAnyway. The Paradise Wildlife Park was thoroughly enjoyed by a family who are quite the connoisseurs of wildlife experiences. In fact, it’s so good that Mama suggested we return sometime soon and play actual folding paper to get in. And Papa didn’t say no.

You really don’t get much more highly recommended than that.

Previous Toddler’s Guides:

London SEALIFE Aquarium

RAF Museum, Hendon

RichmondPark

Hyde Park

On damage limitation.

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About six months ago you bought a car. Your first car, which is quite an achievement for a thirty <cough> year old and shows just how much of your adult life has now been spent living in cities.

You bought the car for two reasons really. Firstly, to make the weekly shop less of a huge logistical performance. And secondly, to make it easier to get out of London sometimes.

You certainly didn’t buy the car to drive in London, which is a good thing as the times when you have thrown caution to the winds and attempted to have been marked by a lot of sitting in traffic, a complete lack of anywhere to park, and on one occasion, a congestion charge fine after being stuck in traffic and then not finding any parking resulting in an aborted, but ultimately very expensive, trip to the Imperial War Museum.

However, the problem with using the car to get out of London is that first you have to get out of London. And so you have developed a definite fondness for the A3, a route which does indeed whisk you away from the big smoke with the minimum of fuss and breathing other people’s petrol fumes.

So you are now looking forward to many years of visiting any and all tourist attractions within easy reach of your getaway route.

This inevitably means you are going to be spending a lot of time at RHS Wisley Gardens, where you went with the Star on Wednesday.

Or not, because you and the Star will have made such an impression on the long-suffering staff on this first visit, that thy may well pull up the drawbridge at the mere suspicion of your silver spanner pulling into the car park.

Which was surprisingly full. Although you later realised that because it isn’t in London, and because there is parking, it makes it a prime target for both the elderly and the very young. Particularly as under sixes get in for free.

The trip started well. It was the first in the series of glorious sunny days here in Southern Britain and the drive down only took a monumental forty minutes or so. The Star had had a nap in the car and was all fresh and happy, and soon the Gardens rang with the warning, “This one is for smelling, sweets, not for picking. Remember, not for picking.”

Surprisingly this actually works, and the sight of the Star solemnly bending over and sniffing in the general direction of a bloom reminds you irresistably of the grave demeanour of wine connoisseurs tasting the first sip of a new glass of vino. This makes you laugh quite a lot.

But the Star was more appreciative of the bugs the flowers attract. He followed the progress of bees from nectar source to nectar source, chased butterflies across grass, flowerbeds and picnicking mothers and children, and lay on the ground to study ants. Until, that is, you found a fish pond, with large numbers of huge hungry carp, who saw the shadow of a toddler looming over them and fought each other for the best position should the toddler’s Mama have thought to bring some bread. The Star thereafter refused to budge from the fish for a good twenty minutes, which was fine by you as you were in the shade, with a stout fence between the Star and the water and a nice post to lean against while he gawped.

When he had torn himself away from that, there was still a glasshouse full of interesting ferns and orchids and such to run round, and finally, a dedicated play area, which had considerably fewer brightly coloured metal and plastic swings and slides sets and considerably more strategically placed tree trunks and wigwams.

The Star loved the wigwams. He’s just discovered the concept of playing house and spent a happy few hours when your brother was around last, sitting in his little den of clothes horses and sheets opposite Uncle Urk’s den of clothes horse and sheets, performing domestic duties such as making the bed (out of a cushion and a blanket), insisting on synchronised sipping of water and indulging in the occasional visit between the two houses (“Knock knock!” “Who’s there!” “The Star!” He can keep this up for hours).

So the idea of frames covered by portable sticks just aching to be rearranged, into which and out of which you can carry wooden bricks* in self-important bustle directed by a bossy young lady of four who calls you ‘boy’, and where you can sit and indulge in a satisfying toddler gossip with some other two year olds, well, it almost topped the fish.

But after forty five minutes of relaxing in the shade on a bench you decided it would be a good idea to have some refreshment, particularly as the Star had just attracted the attention of two stick wielding older kids, and was showing signs of fighting back (note to self, teach the Star that if a child chases you waving a stick** menacingly, pick up a bigger stick to defend yourself with, not a twig).

So you set off towards the nearby cafe.

And this was where disaster struck, because somehow the Star fell over, probably twisting to take a better look at a passing worm, and as you were holding his hand at the time, you overbalanced and went down with him.

You managed not to land on the Star.

You also managed not to land on the Comet’s bump.

Unfortunately, in avoiding landing on your Firstborn or your Unborn, you managed to come down very awkwardly on your left leg, and within a few minutes of a concerned elderly lady picking you up, helping you to a nearby bench, rounding up the Star and sending her husband to the cafe for help, you realised you had a problem.

How were you going to get home? Your initial idea of getting one of the gardening vehicles to give you a lift back to the car and taking it from there receded into fantasy as your ankle started to really throb.

This was soon replaced by the more urgent concern of you feeling faint.

Being seven months pregnant and feeling faint after a fall is not a relaxing state to be in. It’s not a relaxing state for other people to be in either, which is why more staff were summoned, you were removed to the first aid room and an ambulance was called.

Of course, by the time the ambulance arrived, you were feeling better and while they checked you out thoroughly, it was soon clear they were not going to be recommending that you be rushed to hospital. The foot was merely badly sprained, and the dizziness was temporary. The Comet was kicking and all your vital signs were normal.

So you returned to the logistical problem of getting yourself, the Star and, preferably, the car, back to London.

It was at this point that you were forced to admit that you do not carry a mobile.

You made it sound like a temporary inconvenience. In fact, the Star nibbled the buttons off yours more than six months ago. You had been using your MiL’s, but she took hers back to Russia. In January.

So you borrowed the Operations Manager’s, he who was supervising your care. And who subsequently had to wheel you, the Star and the Comet the length of the Gardens in a wheelchair, load you all into the car, drive you to the nearest train station, and wait for his boss to come and pick him up.

By this time, it was well after closing time.

The Star, meanwhile, had been having a whale of a time. He had had a whole staff member assigned to him. She read him stories, gave him apple juice in a carton to drink, fed him an apple, the chocolate cake she had unwisely brought with her when summoned from her break, a banana and some cheese. She let him run up and down in the corridor outside and took him out to see the ambulance. She didn’t complain that she had to do this while enduring the powerful smell which he was letting off, having taken the opportunity of his Mama’s attention being elsewhere to poo his pants.

Luckily, you had a change of clothes with you. In the car.

Still, all’s well that ends well, and to cut what is now a very long story short, B was able to come out on the next train to drive you home. He collected your brother along the way, which was helpful as you were unable to move independently for two days, and are only now able to hobble slowly without having to hang on to bits of furniture or your husband. The hurt has subsided too. It’s more a dull ache than a blinding pain now.

Particularly when the Star decided he found it amusing to jump on your leg at regular intervals, being apparently skeptical at the negative response he got when he asked ‘Mama fixed?’ every five minutes.

Luckily, it’s for situations like these that Grandparents were invented. He’s had a lovely time this weekend.

Anyway, you can highly recommend RHS Wisley Gardens for all accident prone visitors, and to those who are able to remain on their feet also.

And in the meantime: send ice.

*The bricks are the only weak point of the play area. They are made of solid wood and quite heavy. The Star does not always distinguish well between square heavy bricks and balls, particularly when older children are slinging them round with abandon, albeit rather less dangerously aimed abandon than the Star does when he copies them. Still, the time out he got for that allowed you to get some water into him, and the baby did not appear to be permanently damaged, so that’s all right then.

** Actually, sticks the perfect size for picking up and playing swords with are also, on reflection, not such a good idea either.

On jumping out of the fire.

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So you are recently back from an extended visit to Moscow. July in a scorched, smog smothered city. You have almost got rid of feeling as though you have smoked a truly unwise number of cigarettes recently. In addition, the Star’s rash has almost faded, your knee only twinges when the Star jumps on it, and you are hoping to get a new pushchair any day now.

On the upside, the house is full of Russian delicacies so your husband is almost reconciled to life in Britain, at least as long as the jelly sweets last out. And the cold, windy, rainy weather you’ve been treated to this week is looking really good right now.

More things to look forward to are the entries you wrote while you were there, illustrated by the five hundred photographs you took. These will be appearing in a series of flashbacks over the next few weeks. If your ancient history lecturer could subject you to slides of his holiday snaps in the name of education (“… and here is an excellent example of a shrine to Apollo. We had to crawl through the grass under the noses of Greek border guards for half an hour to get that one my wife and I. How we laughed about it later over a glass or two of retsina in this little taverna surrounded by olive trees. But that was nothing to the time when…”) then you feel confident in inflicting a what I did on my holidays series on the blog.

On your holiday.

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So you and B went on holiday.

You haven’t the energy for much description right now – in the last two weeks you have spent five days locked in a room with thirty three 8 year olds who have been fed a bowl of sugar for breakfast each and 30 minutes writing down the story of Britain from 1000 (AD) to 2000 (AD). This covered four pages, you are pleased to say, even if you didn’t mention any names or dates between 1066 and Henry VIII.

You have realised that as a practsing teacher you really did spend a lot of time on your feet, pacing about, but discovered that as a student teacher you are required to sit in one place for hours at a time.

This is surprisingly difficult.

You have also spent more time than you really feel comfortable with smiling politely and getting to know new people, and you have established that you are seemingly the only one on your course who graduated more than ten years ago.

Hell, you are the only one on your course who graduated more than six years ago, and until you spoke up that person had been feeling quite uncomfortable.

Luckily there are at least a few people over thirty, which is one reason for not having strong hysterics. The other is that you haven’t finished later than 3.30pm for two weeks, although the stack of books on the to be read pile is now reading alarming proportions.

 For this reason, no one should be too surprised if this is your last post for a while.

And this one will consist of mostly pictures.

You were thrilled that a trip round Aunts and Grandfathers on the Welsh borders meant you could look at some castles.

The Ludlow one is most impressive:

Ludlow Castle

In contrast, this is about it for Bridgenorth:

Bridgenorth Castle

This is more of a fortified mannor house:

A fortified mannor house

And here is Aberystwyth’s:

Aberystwyth Castle

Note the war memorial in the background. No, really, do. Round the other side there’s an even bigger sculpture than the angel you can see on the top there. Of an exceptionally scantily clad woman. And you can really only describe the pose as ‘writhing’. Shame the picture didn’t come out, but you are sure everyone can usefully put their imaginations to work.

Andway, statues of near nacked suggestively posed women? In Aberystwyth? In the heartlands of Methodist protestantism? What were they thinking?

Still, they also have a stone circle, so perhaps years of repression were really a cover for wild pagan roots. Here’s a bit of it:

Aberystwyth, from the castle

And some more photos of scenes ffrom Aber:

From Aberystwyth castle

Aberystwyth, from the ‘mountain’ railway

The Welsh Coast

As is your wont while sightseeing, you had an exciting time viewing churches. B was particularly thrilled by this one in Ludlow, until you realised that it was merely Catholic, rather than evidence of Orthodoxy:

Ludlow RC Church

You prefered this Anglo Saxon one, although you seem to have taken a picture of the Norman tower rather than the walls you were particularly excited by:

An Anglo Saxon Church

And then there was Hereford Cathedral, which you are not sure the nine hour detour really justified, especially as when you got there, you didn’t go in as they were having some kind of flower festival.

Hereford Cathedral

Hereford Catchdral from the front

You did a bit of disaster tourism too. The floods have effectively closed down the Severn Valley Railway, which has had an unfortunate effect on Bridgenorth in particular, but did mean you go to see plenty of steam trains sitting about:

The Severn Valley Railway

A Severn Valley Railway Loco

And you are undecided if sophisticated London could come up with an installation more poinant than this, caused by the collapse of the bridge in Ludlow:

The effects of the flood in Ludlow

You are also undecided if it was the Shropshire towns or the copurtyside which provided the biggest contrast to life in the city though.

Bridgenorth

A nice building in Ludlow

A nice house

Isn’t this one yellow?

Shropshire

Although you had rather had your fill after spending the afternoon lost in the Welsh borderlands:

Wales

Wales

Wales

Wales

Wales

Wales

Wales

And then there was the car you hired for the trip:

The Car

Well, ‘hired’ is the wrong word. You actually booked the far more sensible Ford Focus. When you turned up, however, they offered you the Beetle and….

People kept looking at you as you drove along. It was most disconcerting. You and B are quietly in agreement that you are both far to untrendy to really carry such a machine off for any length of time.

But still…

On being in Oz, Toto.

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So there you and B are, sitting on a bench eating grapes and a pork pie, admiring the view of large tombstones which populate the square you are in, and basking in the unexpected sunshine.

Suddenly you become aware that the young lady next to you has not only come prepared with cutlery and a china plate to help her consume her Philadelphia spread crackers, but is in the process of squeezing a wedge of lemon over them and has got out the small travelling salt and pepper set and is about to carefully grind fresh pepper and what one can only assume is not just salt, but hand gathered, snow white, raw, unprocessed Maldon sea-salt over the food.

While you are watching this in a state of mildly horrified fascination, at that moment somebody’s chinchilla dashes, squeaking, into view and, really, it’s at time like this that you really appreciate you are in Chelsea. King’s Road to be precise.

Anyway, at the end of the street there’s a big department store, and at the top of the department store there is, as there usually is, a cafe. And the thing about this cafe is that it has a stonking view over the rooftops of London, which you heartily recommend if anyone is ever in the area and doesn’t mind fighting for a table next to the window.

Chelsea Rooftops

You sat and gazed at the Royal Albert Hall. There is it. The flatish dome behind the pointy dome in the background.

Royal Albert Hall

Because, of course, you weren’t actually supposed to be in Chelsea at all. You were supposed to be at the Proms.

And you set off in good time, but the combination of getting distracted by an icon in a charity shop, missing two busses and the traffic jam that attends trying to hurl yourself desperately across a narrow bridge from darkest South London into the bright lights of North London meant that you were impressively late so you decided to go for a mooch instead.

On being a tree hugger.

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                           The Temperate Temparate House

Going for a ramble round Kew Botanical Gardens last weekend brought your maternal Grandma powerfully to mind.

Now everybody in your family likes gardening and gardens and so she was by no means the only family member you have done gardens with. Although your paternal Granny’s agoraphobia tended to make this a trip to the local garden centre rather than a trek to somewhere more impressive.

Of course, your being considerably more interested in history than plants meant that on such visits you were concentrating on the inevitable stately home attached to the garden rather than the maze, the formal French layout, the ha-ha and the cunning use of Confusingum Latinus Nameus along with Moreum Unintelligibleus Latinium in the walled English garden .

But Grandma was blind and so this turned trips round gardens from a sort of vaugue saunter punctuated by the occassional appreciative Ah into a family competition to see who could do the best descriptions, find the most interestingly furry plants or catch the waft of the best and smelliest perfume.

You discovered on Saturday that you miss this, and her, quite a lot.

You also reminded yourself that, entirely surprisingly, you like Kew Gardens.

It’s surprising because Kew isn’t about gardens as such. And in an absence of much interest in and knowledge about plants, it’s the layouts, the colour combinations and the statues of naked men and women that really make garden experiences work for you normally.

Kew, on the other hand, is a collection. And many many (many many many) trips to museums over the years has taught you if there’s one thing that bores you absolutely rigid it’s row upon row of pots, Spitfires, faded documents, firearms, poppets or flint heads,  neatly labeled and gathering dust.

Although the pots at least did become mildly more entertaining after you did the Appreciation of Pots module at Uni (otherwise known as Studying Ancient History). Until you forgot what the precise significance of a pale orange colour over a deep orange colour was, or why someone facing left rather than right marked the change over from Historically Important Factor One to Historically Important Factor Two.

Kew is mostly about row upon row of trees, plunked down with no attempt to group them interestingly by colour or even spell out the Lord of the Manner’s name in maple. Instead they are grouped by type.  An oak tree. An oak tree with slightly darker leaves. An oak tree with spikier leaves. An oak tree with slightly darker and spikier leaves. An oak tree with slightly darker leaves and slightly lighter bark. A purple flowering oak tree, with oval waxy leaves and triangular acorns. Sort of thing.

Somehow, this is not boring. You even voluntarily looked at some of the labels. And took pictures.

A tree

Another Tree

And Another Tree

This Is More Of A Palm

Another Palm

Of course, there were also some crowd pleasing showy flowers at this time of year. Although given the blazing heat, it felt entirely wrong for there to be bluebells. So no pictures of them.

These Are Lilacs

This Is Not A Lilac

The Reason Why Rhododendrons Exist

More Rhododendrons

Azaleas Are Very Bright

Still Bright

More Tulips

There was wildlife.

 A Cormorant

And then there are the glass houses, with actual exotic plants.

The Hot and Humid Palm House

The Hot House Again

The Temperate Temperate House Again

And From The Inside

And From The Roof

And Looking Out

Anyway. You are rather irritated by your seeming inability to get things in focus, straight or simply in the picture without having ends or tops cut off.

But you will claim that you were having far too good a time and the company was far too entertaining to pay much attention to composition, if anybody asks.

On being lost in translation.

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Having discovered that you had slightly misinterpreted the setting of the book by a Spanish author – with large chunks of it set in Spain simply because Spain is the centre of the universe, as opposed to somewhere suitably Continentally decedent for odd Art to take place – it got you thinking about the other series you are reading at the moment, where the action mostly takes place in Moscow.

This is The Night Watch and The Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko. It’s a trilogy. The third one is coming out (in translation) soon.

                      The Night Watch  The Day Watch

Good books. The whole premise, that supernatural forces are among us and in constant battle, is made interesting by the fact that this fight is now extremely hedged about by bureaucratic bylaws and policed rigidly for any overstepping of the agreed boundaries. Which is amusing and quite inventive.

The books are structured as three almost separate stories, but which nevertheless link together and resolve themselves into a whole in the end. There are multiple points of view too, as each story is mainly told by a different character. Both Light and Dark characters get a look in, which adds dimension to the world the author has created.

It’s not without it’s flaws though. You found yourself wondering if it wasn’t cheating a bit to have a first person narrative when you are also dropping in on the thoughts of other characters occationally, for example. And the author can be a bit heavy handed with his explanations. But overall it’s clever, if not very profound, and you’ve ever been a sucker for that.

However, somewhere in the middle of the first book, you realised that had the author been British (or Spanish, or from anywhere else), Moscow wouldn’t have been the first choice of location.

Modern British authors only send their heroes to the Russian capital if they are writing some kind of thriller. That’s it.

It’s important that while they are there they stay in a cockroach infested Soviet style hotel – in the Jasper Fforde universe Muscovites must keep a few rooms intact just for such visitors - where the mod cons are hot and cold running prostitutes and little else. The hero will take up with a sad eyed, chain smoking member of the world’s oldest profession, partly because there are, apparently, no other women in the city other than prostitutes, partly so that she can glower and look miserable and save the author time on further description by standing for all the other Russians around who we are to presume are constantly glowering and looking miserable, and partly because  her father will turn out to be a former colonel in the KGB.

Just so that we can have a nod to modernity, they also have to ritually go to the nightclub where the mafia runs its extensive business empire from. There will be pumping techno music and every man will be wearing bad shirts. Which is a good fifteen years out of date as an image, but then that’s probably the least of our problems at this stage. Everyone will be drinking vodka. Without any food in sight.

And to get there, there will be a drive through a forest of ugly concrete tower blocks, more tower blocks and nothing but tower blocks (with more prostitutes signalling wildly from the side of the road all the way). The hero may remark on the lack of vegetation in the way of trees, grass or flowerbeds. Although it’s more likely to be winter and therefore the city will be covered with (grimy) snow and temperatures will be at least minus 25.

Once you’d pinpointed that, you realised that one of the reasons you are enjoying this book is that Moscow just happens to be the place where they are, where the author lives and where most of his audience will recognise. So his characters trot round the place interacting with the scenery doing things like opening fridges (to get out a bottle of human blood), riding up escalators on the metro (in a vampire induced trance) or going on a jaunt up the distinctive Ostankino TV tower (to attack the temporary HQ of the Dark Forces). You, of course, are sitting there happily exclaiming “I had a fridge like that” or “I know those escalators” or “So that’s what the restaurant up there looks like”

But while the events are (melo) dramatic, the scenery isn’t part of that, really. And that’s got to be the first novel set in modern Russia you’ve read that you can say that about. Which tells you just how many novels set in modern Russia you’ve read which were written by Russian authors.

You also wonder what will create the most sense of dislocation in a foreign reader who isn’t familiar with Russia. You suspect it would be the frequent references to legendary rock musicians and their works, whose music and lyrics the author has, quite neatly, worked into the plot and none of whom anyone in the West will ever have heard of.

On Sergiyev Posad.

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Sergiyev Posad is one of the Golden Ring towns. That is, it’s one of twelve towns floating around Moscow which are historically significant and are recommended as worth a visit if to anyone who is going to be in the region for any length of time.

You’ve actually been to two. The other one was Suzdal.

But you tended to go to Sergiyev Posad at least once a year to visit the Trinity Monastery of St Sergeius.

The Trinity Monastery of St Sergeius.

It was founded in about 1340 by St Sergeius of Radonezh, whose relics are entombed in one of the churches.  The monastery is the most important in Russia and is the spiritual centre of the Orthodox church. It also has the biggest seminary and is a pretty thriving religious community all round.

One of the interesting aspects of being there is seeing all the inhabitants hurrying to and fro, from bent and wizened old monks, through rotund and bustling priests to fresh faced young seminarians.

Last time you were there you ended up round the back of the public building, where you also stumbled on some women scrubbing our vast salt cucumber barrels, which you thought was pretty cool. And that’s before you add all the pilgrims, tourists and local wedding parties doing their tour of the local hotspots.

The whole place was looking rather spiffy too, after years of restoration work.

So in honour of Easter and the fact that you’ve just discovered how embarrassingly easy it is to upload images, here are a few more pictures:

The wall.

The Assumption Cathedral.

The Assumption Cathedral and Holy Water Spring.

Holy Water Spring.

The church of St Sergeius’ tomb.

St Sergeius’ tomb round the back.

The Bell Tower.

The Banquetting Hall.

The walls.

On Rochester.

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On your return from Margate you stopped off in Rochester. Which turned out to be a very literary visit.

Ever since you had sailed through it on your way to the seaside, the name had been rolling around in your head and bugging you. You couldn’t remember why the place was so familiar when the sight of a cathedral and castle looming towards you as you whizzed by on the train had come as quite a shock. It wasn’t until half way round the actual town itself that you realised this was because you were thinking of ‘Mr Rochester’. As in Jane Eyre. Nice to get that one cleared up, but a bit of a let down all told.

One of Rochester’s claims to fame is that it has the second largest cathedral in the UK. You were impressed by the school party who were getting to stand in a circle in black monks cowls and listen to chanting in the crypt.

 But really people go to Rochester because it’s Dickens country. He grew up in the (next) town.

Charles Dickens

This, of course, means that every shop in the quaint High Street – “You won’t find any big chains in our city”- is obliged to make some kind of reference to a character from one of Dickens’ books. With extra points if they can turn it into a punne (or play on words).

You also saw many houses which feature in the books themselves. Especially Great Expectations, which is set in the area, apparently. You would undoubtedly have been more excited about this if you had read more than one of the novels less than fifteen years ago.

You were quite amused to discover that Dickens’ hitherto inexplicable fondness for outlandish character names has suddenly been made splicable though.

While trundling round the local museum you discovered that one of the leading lights in local politics and community benefacting from the previous century was called Sir Cloudesley Shovell.

                                                      Cloudesley Shovell

And you suddenly realised that Dickens obviously spent his whole literary career trying to improve on perfection.

And failing.