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.

Putin says pants to painting: Artist flees Russia as portrait of President in women's underwear confiscated from art gallery

A picture of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev in women's underwear has been confiscated from an art gallery in St Petersburg ahead of the G20 summit.

Edward Snowden (AFP/Getty)

Edward Snowden 'contacted' Russians two days before arrival in Moscow

Russian newspaper reports Snowden discussed his flight plans with consulate in Hong Kong prior to departure, despite Putin claims his arrival was 'complete surprise'

Prison Break actor and Stoker screenwriter Wentworth Miller has attacked Russia over its new anti-gay laws

'As a gay man, I must decline' - Prison Break actor Wentworth Miller refuses invitation to Russia over their anti-gay laws

Prison Break star Wentworth Miller has published a strongly worded letter declining an invitation to attend a Russian film festival in light of the country’s new anti-gay laws.

Do the kindly Brontosaurus: The prehistoric pose that can get you what you want

Writer Jessica Winter has set the internet abuzz with her suggestion that a prehistoric pose is the ultimate persuasive power. Here, she explains her case – while body language expert Dr Lillian Glass reveals that the humility of the pose makes people receptive

Vitaly Milonov was speaking after Mr Fry called for a boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics because of homophobic prejudice in Russia

Russian politician Vitaly Milonov brands Stephen Fry ‘sick’ during anti-gay rant

Vitaly Milonov also likened homosexuality to bestiality on BBC Radio 5 live

La Bayadère, Corps de Ballet

Dance review: La Bayadère - The Bolshoi's Olga Smirnova is precise and otherworldly

The Bolshoi Ballet’s Olga Smirnova dances with a moonlit glow. In the “Kingdom of the Shades” scene of La Bayadère, she gives the ghostly heroine a hypnotic beauty. Her bursts of dazzling speed don’t break the smooth flow of her dancing: she’s both precise and otherworldly.

US senator calls Russian president Vladimir Putin a 'schoolyard bully' for refusing to hand over NSA leaker Edward Snowden

A US senator has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of behaving like a "schoolyard bully" over his decision to ignore extradition requests from the US government over NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Twin city calls for gay rights: Manchester uses links with St Petersburg to put pressure on Russia over its new anti-gay laws

Manchester City Council is using its “twinned” status with St Petersburg to pressure Russia  into reconsidering its new anti-gay laws.

Putin’s libertarian benevolence in this case has turned a chilly relationship with US ice-cold

Russia’s granting of asylum to Edward Snowden may have ended nearly six weeks in airport limbo for the man who leaked some of America’s most sensitive intelligence gathering programmes. But it has further poisoned the already severely strained relations between Moscow and Washington.

'Gay propaganda' becomes illegal in Russia

“Gay propaganda” is now illegal in Russia after President Vladimir Putin signed a controversial bill into law today.

Russian police arrest gay rights activists at St. Petersburg rally

Russian police have arrested several gay rights activists and anti-gay rights demonstrators who confronted them at a rally in St. Petersburg.

Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin come to blows over disputed artworks

Premiers cancel joint opening of exhibition displaying 600 pieces of looted German Bronze Age art

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied accusations that he has stolen a $25,000 (£16,000) diamond-encrusted Super Bowl ring

Russian President Vladimir Putin denies stealing £16,000 diamond-encrusted Super Bowl ring

Ring was one of many given to the New England Patriots team after they won Super Bowl in February 2005

Crash course: The G8 summit

This year’s meeting of the Group of Eight – or the G8 – begins in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, on Monday. The summit draws the world’s most powerful leaders – as well as protests and disruption.

Gerrit van Honthorst masterpiece seized by Nazis sells for record $3.4m

A 17th century Dutch masterpiece that graced the collections of Catherine the Great's art adviser and Russia's Hermitage Museum before being seized by the Nazis sold for nearly $3.4 million (£2.18 million) at auction, a record for the artist Gerrit van Honthorst.

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Independent Travel
Pompeii, Capri & the Bay of Naples
Seven Cities of Italy
Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence
Prague, Budapest and Vienna
Lake Garda
Minoan Crete and Santorini
Prices correct as of 15 May 2015
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?