What is your town’s competitive distinction? What separates your locality from everywhere else on the planet and is an argument for tourists to come and slap down their hard-earned dollars?
Myshkin is a town in the Yaroslavl region, with a population of about 6000, beautifully situated on the high bank of the Volga River. But every year, more than 140,000 tourists come and visit. What draws them there? It’s a four hour drive from Moscow, and there are certainly plenty of other beautiful cities along the river.
Myshkin’s first draw is a quirky play on it’s name that roughly translated from Russian means “of the mouse”.
And in Myshkin, there are mouse museums, a mouse palace (we’ll get to that later), a restaurant “The Mouse Trap”… and much more. In all, I understand there are 29 museums in this small town.
With 10 and 12 year old boys getting some cabin fever as the summer continues (with their older siblings off at camp), I thought, why not make a weekend excursion up to Myshkin? Certainly, any town that has created an industry off of the mouse name has a sense of humor, and deserves the drive.
Upon arriving, we checked into the guest house that my wife had found and decided to go exploring. The Orthodox church in the center of town is being renovated, but you can climb up into the bell tower for a 10 ruble donation.
After dinner, we had a bit of a stroll. I was impressed- there were small signs on most of the houses downtown explaining the significance of the house. In most cases, it wasn’t information of national significance, but it created a good amount of interest. For example, one house was home to some wealthy merchants and had electricity even before the Communist revolution.
There were plenty of tourists, it seemed that most of them had recently arrived on a river cruise ship.
The next day, we started with a museum that celebrated the local history of linen production, and also had an outdoor museum dedicated to various machinery.
The cost of this whole museum was 70 rubles- just a bit over a dollar. And as we found out, it was our favorite museum.
We didn’t have a lot of time, but I understand that there were museums in town that would show the pottery process, and also the woodworking processes that Russia has perfected over the years.
The outdoor museum was a random collection of antique cars and other heavy equipment, some blacksmith’s work, and lots of woodwork.
We had certainly gotten more than our 70 rubles worth, and the boys were looking to head to the river, so that we did, where they ran around in the water, but mostly threw sand at each other.
For the grand finale of our trip, we decided to go to the Mouse Palace and splurged on 200 rubles per ticket (over $3!). We were greeted by the Mouse King and Mouse Queen:
I’m not sure what it was about that presentation, but our 12 year old said that he would “never be able to unsee that”.
Then we were taken to a room of the Mouse Palace where we learned about mouse rights and humane mouse traps. I swear that I’m not making this up. There was a bank of phones on the wall, and we were instructed to pick up the phones and listen. Sure enough, there were mice squeaking on the other end of the line, and it was being translated. It is with great pain and a no small amount of shame that I must tell you that I don’t remember their message to humanity. If properly decoded, I think the mice might have been trying to communicate that “even if you pay only 3 dollars, it will still all feel very gimmicky, and the historical parts of the town are a much better way to spend your time”.
After that, there was a trip to the basement where we viewed various types of mice in cages and were informed that Myshkin will be hosting a Major International Mouse Event in 2020. I’m totally going.
My recommendation: I think Myshkin is a great weekend getaway. Reasonable prices, and plenty to do for a couple of days. I would recommend it for families with children who live in Russia and speak at least a bit of Russian- we saw no foreigners while we were there nor any English-language signs. If you only have a week in Russia, you might want to focus on some other cities, but if you’ve already been to Moscow, St. Petersburg, etc., why not make a quirky getaway to Mouse Town, Russia.