Travel Passengers dine in the restaurant car of the Red Arrow to St Petersburg

For 150 years the railway line between Moscow and St Petersburg ran as straight as an arrow for 403 miles. Straight, but for one big bend near Novgorod. The story goes that Tsar Nicholas was so fed up of officials dithering over the route that he plonked a ruler on the map and drew a straight line between the two cities, accidentally drawing around his finger in the process. Too terrified to point out his error, the builders constructed the railway with the Tsar's bump in place.

Travel challenge: A short break in St Petersburg

Every week we invite competing holiday companies to give us their best deal for a specified holiday. Today: a long weekend in St Petersburg in late November. Prices are per person, based on two travelling together.

Russia reminds itself how far it has come

Notebook

Valentina Matviyenko: Meet Russia's Thatcher, the chemist who could end up in the Kremlim

Russia's next presidential election is not until 2012, but speculation is already rife about whether Dmitry Medvedev will try for a second term or whether his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, will want to reclaim his old job. The one thing almost everyone can agree on is that they will not stand against each other. But there might just be a third way, and that third way could give Russia its very own Margaret Thatcher or Angela Merkel.

Girl, 14, killed as ultra-right thugs attack rock concert crowds

Scores of bare-chested skinheads have attacked a crowd of about 3,000 people at a rock concert in central Russia, beating them with clubs, according to local media reports.

Trail of the unexpected: Tampere

From Miro to the Moomins, the Finnish city of Tampere is full of surprises, says Chris Leadbeater

Portraits of a Lost Russia

By the banks of a trickling stream in what is now western Georgia, a man dressed in a sharp black suit and hat perches on a stone and stares into the distance.

Parasailing donkey stunt shocks Russian beachgoers

Cruel? Yes. Funny? Yes. Here’s what’s tickling the newsroom today

Mikhailovsky Ballet, Coliseum, London<br/>The Rude Mechanicals, Little Horsted School Field, east Sussex

The Russians are coming &ndash; time to take to the wing

Divers find oldest champagne in Baltic wreck

A group of divers exploring a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea have found bottles containing what is thought to be the oldest drinkable champagne in the world, made in the late 18th century. "I picked up one champagne bottle just so we could find the age of the wreck, because we didn't find any name or any details that would have told us the name of the ship," diver Christian Ekstrom from Aland told Reuters today.

The Bolshoi is back: How the world's greatest dance company reinvented itself

The Bolshoi Ballet is back in the UK, bringing its dazzling young virtuosos and a clutch of ballets that mine the company's rich Soviet and pre-Soviet past. Zo&#235; Anderson looks forward to a season of delights

World's biggest collection of berries and fruits faces axe

The world's largest collection of fruits and berries may be bulldozed this year to make way for a Russian housing development, it emerged yesterday.

Elena Shvarts: Poet whose work explored themes of marginality, poverty and authenticity

Elena Shvarts is acknowledged by many as one of the most important and interesting poets of her generation. Many fellow poets, including Bella Akhmadulina and Olga Sedakova, dedicated poems to her. Shvarts continued the tradition of Khlebnikov, Kuzmin, Tsvetaeva and Zabolotsky, although none of them could be called her teacher: her imagination and style were entirely individual. The loss of Shvarts for Russian poetry is comparable only to the death of Joseph Brodsky in 1996.

Marina Semyonova: Dancer who dominated Soviet ballet in the 1930s and became an inspirational teacher

Marina Semyonova was a virtuoso ballerina of great warmth and clarity; majestically graceful, she was able to colour her movement with a rare harmony of strength and lyricism. Unlike the ballerinas of her time she was tall, which gave her an authority and a breadth of line and dramatic beauty. She was the pride and joy of Soviet ballet during the 1930s.

Putin's 'democracy' is wrapped in an iron fist

Moscow police ruthlessly crushed one of the largest opposition protests of recent years yesterday evening, just two days after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had said that similar rallies should be allowed to take place.

The Betrayal, By Helen Dunmore

Helen Dunmore's 2001 novel, The Siege, ended with a long-shot of Anna, her lover, Andrei, and little Kolya, Anna's brother, walking in spring sunshine in a Leningrad still traumatised by the recent German blockade. They look like an ordinary family of parents and child, the narrator observes, "but, of course, they are not". These, the novel's unsettling last words, point towards the most important theme of its sequel, The Betrayal. For Anna and Andrei, their "family unit" is a precious, sanity-saving defence against public tyranny. But it is not, of course, unassailable.

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Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

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