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.

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Career Services

Day In a Page

Independent Travel
Lake Garda, Venice & Verona from £629pp
Dubrovnik
Vietnam
Bruges
South Africa
Spain
Prices correct as of 12 December 2014
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum