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.

Get me out of here: Madrid, St Petersburg, Reykjavik

Now... Departing on 6 August, there's a three-night city break to Madrid being offered by easyJet Holidays for £149 per person. The price includes flights from Gatwick and B&B at the smart, centrally-located Petit Palace Alcala Torre hotel, close to the lively cafés and upmarket shops of the Gran Vía. The Royal Palace and Almudena cathedral are within reach nearby. Holidays.easyjet.com

Catherine the Great's influence felt at new Edinburgh art show

Empress Catherine the Great demonstrates her powerful and enduring cultural influence over Russia in a new art exhibit at Scotland's National Museum that opened today.

The Queen of Spades, Grange Park, Hampshire
Così fan tutte, Holland Park, London

This impressive staging of Tchaikovsky's opera manages to be both playful, and deadly serious

Ksar Char Bargh, Marrakech: 'It was an oasis of elegance and tranquillity. The hammam was unforgettable'

Marina Salye: Distinguished geologist who became a vociferous opponent of Putin

Marina Salye was a geologist of considerable repute, locating mineral deposits in the furthest and least hospitable reaches of the Soviet Union and producing dozens of academic papers and six monographs. But she came to prominence as a pugnacious and eloquent leader of the perestroika-era democratic movement in Leningrad, and as a sharp critic of Vladimir Putin ever since she uncovered gross financial malpractice in his St Petersburg office in the early 1990s.

Gay rights activists protest in St Petersburg with banners reading 'Homophobia is a shame on the State'

St Petersburg: Gay communities living in fear

As Russia launches a new legal crackdown, homosexuality is becoming a love that dare not speak its name

St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra / Temirkanov, Barbican Hall, London

When you are arguably the greatest violinist in the world a four-year “time out” from the public arena can seem like an eternity.

Madonna at the Super Bowl

Madonna pledges to speak up for gay rights

Madonna faces a showdown with the Russian legal system after she promised yesterday to speak out against a new law prohibiting "homosexual propaganda" in St Petersburg.

Madonna vows to fight anti-gay laws in concert

Madonna faces a showdown with the Russian legal system after she promised today to violate a new law that prohibits "homosexual propaganda" in the city of St Petersburg.

Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has denied that he opposed the health reforms

Russia vote 'needs investigating' says William Hague

Foreign Secretary William Hague called today for allegations of irregularities in Russia's presidential elections to be "thoroughly investigated".

Leading article: Mr Putin must not stifle this chance for change

When a misty-eyed Vladimir Putin celebrated his election victory with supporters in Moscow on Sunday, he said: "We have won in an open and honest battle." That is not what the OSCE observers concluded. In their preliminary report, they said that while the actual voting was well organised and efficient, the campaign was "clearly skewed" in Mr Putin's favour, "and the process deteriorated during the count due to procedural irregularities". Golos, an independent Russian election watchdog, said the polls could not be considered "fair and open".

Thousands contest Vladimir Putin's victory at Moscow rally

Thousands of Russians gathered today for a massive rally to challenge Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's victory in Russia's presidential election, chanting "Shame!" and "Russia without Putin!"

Britain 'keen' to see Russian election reports

Britain is awaiting the reports of independent election observers “with interest” after Vladimir Putin claimed victory at the Russian polls.

Britain 'keen' to see Russian election reports

Britain is awaiting the reports of independent election observers “with interest” after Vladimir Putin claimed victory at the Russian polls.

Army of volunteer monitors is mobilised to help make vote-rigging a thing of the past

The calls came every few seconds yesterday to the headquarters of Citizen Monitor, where dozens of telephone operators sat in booths hired from a call centre for the weekend. The operators were all volunteers, as were the 4,000 or so monitors that the organisation had posted around Moscow to watch over the vote at various polling stations.

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Independent Travel
Pompeii, Capri & the Bay of Naples
Dubrovnik, the Dalmatian Coast & Montenegro
Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence
Lisbon, Oporto and the Douro Valley
Lake Garda, Venice & Verona
Spain
Prices correct as of 23 January 2015
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore