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.

Can Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium become Britain's first cat café?

A bid to crowd-fund an eaterie where people can enjoy tea and cuddles with cats is gathering momentum

The Olympic opening ceremony

Review of 2012: Dance

Anna Karenina brushed aside by a streetcar

On the right track: visitors take in the sights of Oslo visit Norway

My life in travel: Kate Mosse

‘I love the relaxed attitude in Norway’

Boris Strugatsky: 'Unfortunately I am a pessimist: I don’t believe anything good comes from a large mass of people'

Boris Strugatsky: Acclaimed writer of science fiction

Boris Strugatsky and his older brother Arkady, who died in 1991, were the Soviet Union's best-known science-fiction writers and, from the early 1970s, gained an international reputation as their work was regularly translated into English. Their Noon Universe is the setting for 10 novels and various offshoot works, written over a quarter of a century, while other stories were adapted for the cinema, most notably Tarkovsky's Stalker.

A 3D cinema version of Swan Lake will be aired live

London Symphony Orchestra director takes sides with Putin against Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot’s Moscow church protest, which resulted in a two-year prison sentence for members of the punk group, was motivated by a desire to create controversy to boost their careers, Russia’s leading conductor has suggested.

Zenit have been the only top club in Russia to have never signed an African player while the northern city of St Petersburg is known to have a strong right-wing nationalist influence

'We're not racists': Zenit St Petersburg fan group against black and gay players joining Russian champions

The largest fan group of Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg have demanded the club refrain from buying black and gay players following turmoil surrounding the acquisition of Brazil striker Hulk.

Russian prosecutors launch investigation into whether Jake and Dinos Chapman exhibition breached extremism laws

Russian prosecutors have launched an investigation into whether an installation by the British artists, Jake and Dinos Chapman, exhibited at St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum is in breach of the country’s extremism laws.

Striker Hulk

Hulk threatens to quit Zenit St Petersburg after spat with coach during victory over AC Milan

Zenit St Petersburg's record signing Hulk has threatened to quit the Russian club following a heated exchange with coach Luciano Spalletti during Tuesday's Champions League win at AC Milan.

Four UK cities make Europe's top 10 destinations list

Four UK cities are among Europe's top 10 fastest-growing tourist destinations.

Shell out: fresh seafood is on the menu in Positano

My life in travel: Fern Britton

'Cornwall is the land of legends, sea mists, sand dunes and surf'

Uzbek dictator’s daughter lines up Depardieu for starring film role

The French actor Gérard Depardieu is to star in a drama penned by the daughter of Uzbekistan’s brutal dictator, according to reports.

I’ll happily wager Russians will have a new capital by mid-century

Moscow's time is running out - St Petersburg's renovation has brought the city a renewed sense of dignity and civic pride

Boy discovers 30,000-year-old mammoth

An 11 year-old Russian boy made one of the discoveries of the century when he stumbled across the remains of a 30,000-year-old woolly mammoth, the New Scientist reports.

Madonna sued by Russian activists over gay support

A group of Russian activists has sued Madonna for millions of pounds, claiming they were offended by her support for gay rights during a recent concert in St Petersburg.

Jewels in the crown: ‘Catherine II in Her Coronation Robes’ (c1762)
by Vigilius Eriksen

The empress strikes back

A new exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland relives the glory of the reign of Catherine the Great of Russia. It's a splendid show with some breathtaking pieces, says Adrian Hamilton

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Independent Travel
Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – Five-star MS Swiss Corona 7 nights from £999pp
Lake Como St Moritz & the Bernina Express 7 nights from £809pp
Vietnam
Lake Maggiore, Orta & the Matterhorn 7 nights from £939pp
South Africa
Spain
Prices correct as of 19 December 2014
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there