How to celebrate New Year in Russia with Ded Moroz and Snegurochka

Some kids at school, I told Mama recently, don’t believe in Ded Moroz! They said he’s our parents!

Oh? Mama responded, non-committally.

I can’t believe how stupid they are. Not believing in Ded Moroz. The very idea!

Pffft. Said Mama, clearly agreeing with me.

In fact, I not only believe in Ded Moroz, but also in Father Christmas, who Mama says is probably a cousin, or possibly a brother. It’s confusing otherwise. That they come on different days and in different ways.

Ded Moroz, you see, is the Russian winter festival magical being who brings presents.

Ded Moroz, arms outstretched, stands in front of a decorated tree. He has a long embroidered blue fur trimmed robe, a blue hat, felt books and holds a large white staff. He has a white beard.

But not at Christmas, at New Year.

And there are some other differences.

As we all know, in the west Santa was invented by Coca Cola, but in Russia, Ded Moroz was invented by Stalin.

Well, sort of. Ded Moroz existed before that.

Originally he was a pre-Christian winter smith god called Morozko. And not entirely tame. There is talk of him kidnapping children so that their parents would give him presents.

By the 19th century he was a fairy tale character.

We went to see a play about him, in fact. It turned out that he lived in a chilly underground world you could reach by falling into a well in the middle of winter (as you do).

If you were nice to him and to the other inhabitants of this strange land, Ded Moroz would deck you out in beautiful (and expensive) jewels and warm furs that you could take home to your unpleasant stepmother and step-sister. If you were a spoilt brat, trying to reproduce this feat while utterly missing the point, those jewels would turn out to be quick to melt ice shards when you got them home.

A stage with a winter scene including the character Morozko

(Mama thinks this retelling has itself been cleaned up. There was no mention of the stepmother getting her husband to leave his daughter in the forest in inadequate clothing in the middle of the winter to die of exposure, or that Ded Moroz froze the step-daughter to death for insolence, for example. Can’t think why not).

In the 20th century, Ded Moroz was supressed.

But having cancelled folklore and Christmas along with religion, the Soviets discovered that this was quite unpopular.

And so a careful rebranding of New Year eventually took place. And who better to take over from baby Jesus the important job of cheering everyone up in the middle of a seven month snow-fest than a crochety wizard?

Obviously we couldn’t have him look too much like a plagiarised Santa, though.

So he is (usually) dressed in blue. His robes are long, and decorated with rich embroidery (and fur, obviously. It’s damn cold in Russia in winter). And he has a staff (with or without a knob on the end). He rides about in a troika, a sled pulled by three horses. He even wears Russian felt boots, called valenki.

Russian winter felt books called valenki, which have been decorated with sparkles and sequins and similar

This ethnic branding has been emphatically reconfirmed in more modern times with the increasing emphasis on Slavic traditions in any relevant celebration. Like Maslenitsa.

There is also no sneaking down chimneys. He is quite happy to turn up at your door at midnight or thereabouts on the 31st with a sack of presents and his granddaughter, Snegurochka the snow maiden. Who is borrowed from another fairy tale where blah blah blah, and then she melted to death.

A woman dressed as Snegurochka the snow maiden stands in the dark, all lit up

Ded Moroz still expects kids to earn their reward though. Children need to recite a poem or sing a song in exchange for a present.

Mama, who is not Russian, came to an arrangement with Ded Moroz a while ago that this was not going to happen in her house, so the gifts arrive under the tree in what she considers to be the correct mysterious manner. Albeit on New Year’s Eve. So when we wake up to eat a giant meal at around midnight after a bit of a pre-celebration disco nap, there they are! Miraculous!

Of course, we also get presents from Father Christmas on British Christmas Eve. But he limits himself to a reasonably sized whatever can be stuffed into a reasonably-sized sock.

Mama says she and Papa have spent quite a lot of effort, usually, on tracking down interesting things for us for not one, not two, but three gift-giving holidays (Russian Christmas is on the 7th January), and she is absolutely buggered if some old geezer with a beard is going to steal all their thunder.

Inflatable Ded Moroz, in red, and Snegurochka, in blue.

Anyway.

Apparently you can visit Ded Moroz at his home, which is astonishingly conveniently situated a couple of hours outside of Moscow in the town, Veliky Ustyug. As discovered by Moscow Mayor Yuri Lushkov in the 90s.

But there’s no real need if you are in Russia over the holiday period. He and Snegurochka will be absolutely everywhere, and under the tree to boot. Putting carved wooden representations of Ded Moroz there is a tradition.

A carved wooden figure of Ded Moroz the Russian Santa

Or, in Soviet times (or now, because nostalgia), papier mache ones.

Papier mache Ded Moroz figures from Soviet Russia

(Top Russian souvenir tip there by the way).

You can go to a Yolka, a special festive performance for children. There will be a play, but there will also be games, dancing and audience participation*.

We went to a very big one at Crocus City Hall, one of the bigger modern theatre and performance spaces in Moscow, which had a full sized indoor fun fair in what Mama is going to call the foyer, but is actually seven hundred large halls of activities. This made it a bit more worth the trek out of the centre to get to it.

A large indoor fun fair, with decorations and rides
Seats in a theatre auditorium raked down towards a stage which a large decorated tree and festive characters including Ded Moroz

They also have a Yolka performance at the Kremlin each year (there’s publicly accessible theatre inside the Kremlin, didn’t you know? Also good for ballet).

But frankly every single theatre, museum, park, New Year/ Christmas market, shopping mall and similar will have some kind of yolka-esque event going on, and some will even be free. There isn’t really a tradition of grottos. There’s just a really big party instead.

A man dressed as Ded Moroz stands in front of a large real decorated tree

Or you can go to a gala ice skating performance at places like the Luzhniki sports stadium. Ded Moroz is bound to show up.

Or enter a kindergarten. Definite Ded Moroz appearances there.

I mean, I can’t promise these people are all the real Ded Moroz and Snegurochka. 2000 actors just turned up in Ryzan for the annual fake Ded Moroz and Snegurochka parade, for example. These impostors are what get the rumours about non-existence started if you ask me.

The face of a woman dressed as Snegurochka the snow maiden. She is looking down and concentrating on something out of the photo.

But I recommend being polite, and getting your best poem dusted off just in case.

*Do NOT confuse this with a pantomime. It’s a lot… purer. Says Mama, who is not planning to explain the jokes we don’t get if we ever go to a proper British one again.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the influence of fly agaric on the iconography of Father Christmas.

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Maslenitsa, the why, how and where of pancake week in Moscow, Russia

So here we are again at the end of Maslenitsa, or (variously) Shrovetide, Butterweek, Pancake Week, or Cheesefare Week, depending on who is trying to explain/ translate the phenomenon.

Making blini pancakes for Maslenitsa

And YES, I KNOW that the west is probably making their pancakes on a different date, only for one day, and that Lent starts straight after on a Wednesday. Not only is there a difference between the Orthodox church’s calendar and everybody else’s to account for when Easter falls, but there is also a difference in the way it counts Lent.

Now Mama has, over the years, gotten used to the idea that she is going to be making or eating pancakes, or rather Russian pancakes called blini, for a whole week rather than just the one evening.

She has, at various times, found herself planning whole feasts involving just the one basic dish and as many things to put into them as Pinterest can imagine, competing in competitive blini making with actual Slavs, trying to fend off her mother in law when she pops round with approximately 42 000 blini that need to be eaten now so she can make 84 000 fresh tomorrow, trying to get the Russians around her to appreciate a squirt of lemon and a sprinkling of sugar as a filling despite the fact that for some reason this is the ONE thing Russians don’t seem to add to pancakes, and standing in windy London park in the drizzle with her Mother in Law, having a pancake themed picnic, the widest possible variety of fillings (including sweetened citrus), whist engaging in blini oneupmanship.

Games with pancakes in Russia

But she was nevertheless a bit taken aback when she returned to Moscow after ten years of living away, to find that Maslenitsa has now also achieved the status of determinedly celebrated revived folk festival. There is bunting. And everything.

Maslenitsa street theatre in Moscow Russia

Of course, Mama is obviously no stranger to bonkers traditional practices.

She has to explain Guy Fawkes Night to foreigners every year after all, a conversation that goes something like this: yes, we do burn a puppet of a man, seemingly alive, to celebrate the time we dragged him through the streets behind a well fed horse, hanged him to almost dead, cut his genitals off, disemboweled his living body, and then cut him into four pieces and sent him to different part of the country as a warning to others. You can make your own guy! Well, children used to anyway. And then they went round the streets begging for money with it! We also set off fireworks. It’s a family holiday! You should definitely go to one of the displays. There’s a village in the south of England that chucks politicians and celebrities on the fire! It’s very cool, they even have burning crosses and everything. Why? Oh, well it was essentially an anti Catholic holiday, so probably that. But we’ve stopped burning effigies of the pope now even though they still have banners saying Down with Popery, so you should be OK.

And it’s not like living through a Russian winter doesn’t beg for a bit of celebration when it is coming to an end.

Bring back the sun to Russia

Or rather the beginning of the end of winter because anyone sending Mama photos of snowdrops, crocuses, green grass and themselves enjoying the fresh smells of spring in a light anorak on Shrove Tuesday will get short shift as she marches through the likely blizzard. Actual spring is a good month off yet. Possibly two, depending on when Maslensitsa is this year

Maslenitsa sun arch VDNKh Moscow

I, for one, am all for the aggressive dismissal of the snow after a number of winter seasons. Scientific reason may have made us more certain that there is summer and 35 degrees centigrade round the corner, and admittedly this sort of thing is usually done by actual non-Christian participants a bit closer to the event at the spring equinox, but it’s not like there isn’t precedent for mucking about with religious rites according to the whims and obsessions of the age.

Especially as, who knows, in a short time, all this may be less certain, what with global warming and all. Perhaps pacifying the old gods is not such a silly idea after all.

Pagan costumes for Maslenitsa Russia

Thus the round, slightly golden and glistening blinis become sun symbols, just as the were, apparently, at sun encouragement festivals of the past. The effigy constructed at the beginning of the week and burnt at the end to remove bad things from the world, is said to represent Lady Maslenitsa, or the death/ rebirth wintertime goddess Marena, depending on just how pagan you want to get. In central Europe she is drowned (or burned and then drowned, which all sounds a bit 17th century to Mama), but the similarities are there.

Lady Maslenitsa near Red Square Moscow

Of course, some people will tell you that pancakes are all about using up food before the Christian Lenten fast. This was something that confused small Mama a lot on 1970s Britain. I mean, yes, fasting, but quite what was so fabulous about eggs, flour and butter she was not sure. As compared to, I dunno, meat, biscuits and apples.

But the Eastern Orthodox fast, unlike the modern day Anglican one, is strict and effectively turns observers vegan. But not at once. In preparation for the full fast, the week of Maslenitsa is supposed to be meat free. But eggs, butter and oil can still be eaten. See? Pancakes now make sense!

Interestingly, along with dubiously resurrected pre-Christian rituals, the other thing that has made a resurgence in post-Soviet Russia is the observance of Lent. It’s a very dry January sort of impulse, as far as Mama can tell, and not particularly related to how religious a person actually is but following the fierce dietary requirements of the fast is definitely a thing. So coming to Russia in this period if you are vegan is something to seriously consider as restaurants have special alternate Lenten menus at this time which should cater to your every need.

Goast costume for Maslenitsa

Of course, Mama, as a professional manipulator of people, admires the fasting system as a means not only of purifying your soul, but as a way of getting a population of freedom deficient serfs through times of scarcity and harsh climate conditions.

Which brings us to the final point of Maslenitsa, and that is social engineering.

Fasting in the Eastern Orthodox church is not just for Lent, but a pretty year round thing. It is noticeable that there is a continual waxing and waning of quite how extreme you are supposed to go. Mama is particularly impressed by the very careful leavening of the longest 40 day fast by the occasional allowance of the odd bit of butter every second Sunday (or something), which she considers a particularly masterful understanding of human nature’s inability to keep up a hair shirt mentality for too long.

Goat costumes for Maslenitsa Russia

Or perhaps that a society built along rigidly prescriptive lines with no let up is not such a desirable thing.

It does mean that Eastern Orthodox Lent has to be longer to meet the 40 days requirement. Which is why even when Maslenitsa falls the same time as Pancake Day, Easter does not. Yes, despite knowing the reason for this, it does make Mama’s head hurt at times.

The week of Maslenitsa itself, in fact, was itself an exercise in society-approved letting off steam, celebration and general joie de vivre. Just as Christmas, Easter and other random holidays were and, frankly, are today.

Russian folk music

So each day had its own brand of ritualised bonding opportunities for people stuck living together in small right knit rural communities. Or ritualised anti-neighbour aggression in the case of the bare knuckle fighting (300 dead on one historically memorable year in Moscow. Puts the argument over who borrowed whose lawnmower firmly into perspective). Much is made of the need for mothers in law to entertain sons in law to blini and vice versa. And sisters in law also have to spend time together and attempt to get along. And there is a whole Sunday of asking for forgiveness.

There is also the day when young men are allowed to kiss any girl they fancy, so let’s just take a moment to disapprove of that and feel superior to our neanderthal forebears.

Russian folk costume

However, the idea behind it is clearly to have a socially approved relaxation of the normal rules of fratinisation (don’t) in order to facilitate moves towards marriage as soon as Lent and Easter are over (obviously one does not get married in Lent. What would one eat?).

Mama applauds, in fact, the idea that there is some kind of need to actually gain the female half of the partnership’s acceptance of your decision to wed her and some time period for her to think it over. And also notes that the narrative of men being instigators and women passive accepters of passion is not a thought process which has moved on as much as you might expect in the last 500 years or so.

Not that she thinks it’s an appropriate tradition to resurrect today. And to be fair, nobody seems to be suggesting it, or the fist fighting, or live bear-related festive theatre. Or importing Granny so Papa can stuff her with pancakes.

Although there is this.

Maslenitsa games in Moscow Russia

And this.

Tug of war

Moscow city government sponsored fun, big and small, therefore is definitely well within the spirit of the holiday, even if it generally starts the weekend before Maslenitsa proper and reaches a culmination in the final Saturday and Sunday, to fit with a more modern working life pattern.

Fairly reliable places to find things happening will be Tverskaya Street and Manedzh Square, just off Red Square. Or VDNH, the Soviet and now Post-Soviet exhibition space. Kolomonskoye Park in the south will have something on, as might Gorky Park, and the Slavic theme park of the Ismailovo Kremlin.

You can also go outside Moscow, and Mama thinks Maslenitsa tourism might be a growing thing. Everyone loves a good bonfire, amirite?

Bonfire for Maslenitsa Russia

Expect street theatre, and lots of people dressed up in traditional outfits, something faintly pagan, or with folk overtones.

Street theatre for Maslenitsa in Moscow

There will almost certainly be live music. And games. Also hands on activities with villager overtones for the urbanites to dabble in. Mama never thought she’d be standing in a queue to wait to have a go at sawing wood, but then it happened.

Wood sawing competition

Masterclasses will involve paint, with a reckless disregard for the messiness I am fully capable of bringing to such activities. Increasingly, a Marena, Lady Maslenitsa building competition may be happening.

Lady Maslenitsa Russia

And of course, you will be able to get blini. This year my Intrepid Big Brother tried pine cone jam in his, which he recommends, although Mama notes that anything smelling strongly of pine is mostly reminiscent of the stuff you use to clear the bathroom with.

Pine cone jam Siberian pancakes with pine nuts

And on the Sunday, or possibly Saturday, because never let tradition get in the way of a well scheduled event, we watch the winterwoman go in in flames. Well, you can. Mama thinks that the One True Bonfire is that lit on 5th November and has not got up the enthusiasm to track that part of the festivities down yet.

But if you are lucky, you might catch some other fire related show. This, says Mama, is what we should contemplate doing as our Saturday job in a few years. She just shelved books in a library and pulled pints in a haunted pub. We are less keen currently, but it was a pretty thrilling end to our Maslenitsa weekend.

Fire show in Moscow Russia

Happy blini hunting, and a safe and purified journey into Easter.

More information

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (and Mama) has to say about making blini (and tvorog) without mucking about with yeast or whisking egg whites.

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Why Russians eat pancakes for a whole week at Maslenitsa in the run up to Lent, what else they do, and where in Moscow they do it

The Moscow New Year Street Party on Tverskaya

‘What, again?’ said my Jaded Big Brother when Mama suggested going into the centre of Moscow to see what was occurring at the Moscow New Year street party at the beginning of January.

By this time we had already thoroughly investigated the winter sports theme on Tverskoi Boulevard. We had wandered down the Arbat, and across Manedzh and Red Square to admire the lights.

We had seen the fairytale arches outside the Bolshoi and walked up Nikolskaya Street to the particularly fabulous set of trees on Lubyanka. We had even been inside Detskiy Mir and GUM, and eaten the obligatory ice cream in each.

What was left?

Well, New Year being the biggest holiday of the year in Russia, a three-day street festival, starting on 31st December and ending on 2nd January. Tverskaya Street, the road leading down to Red Square, was closed off. Stages and other decorative items were erected. Interactive opportunities were dreamed up.

Kremlin and Tverskaya Street for the Moscow New Year Street Party

Which of course was alongside all the existing stalls and festive lights which were part of the ongoing New Year (and Christmas) celebrations in Moscow.

Mama caught some of the preparations. This tree, and there were a number of them up and down the street, took all day to decorate. Much to Mama’s amusement, the whole operation was enacted by men, but organised by a woman shouting at them through a megaphone. She felt that this was an art installation of unsurpassed satirical accuracy.

Tverskaya Street for the Moscow New Year Street Festival

And it was all free.

We arrived towards evening, as Mama feels that enjoying winter festivals and their light shows should be done in the dark, if possible.

Of course, in Russia, in winter, that means about starting at about 4pm.

Things you can expect to find at the Moscow New Year street festival?

People wandering around on stilts. Which makes a lot of sense as you can see them above the crowds.

Stilt walkers Tverskaya Street for the Moscow New Year Street Party

Groups of costumed dancers. You may or may not wish to join in with them. We saw angels. Or possibly snowflakes.

Dancing angels on Tverskaya Street for the Moscow New Year Street Party

Candy canes (not a Russian tradition as such, but hey). Plus band.

Band on Tverskaya Street for the Moscow New Year Street Party

And Mama’s personal favourite, cosmonauts (definitely something Russians get as much mileage out of as possible).

Dancing cosmonauts on Tverskaya Street for the Moscow New Year Street Festival

There were some chill out zones and covered pop up cafes.

Grotto on Tverskaya Street for the Moscow Journey into Christmas Festival
Warming up on Tverskaya Street for the Moscow New Year Street Festival

And stages. Not sure if early evening on the last day meant that the programming had run through all the obvious candidates already, but it turns out that Russian rockabilly is a thing. Mama enjoyed this band, Fire Granny, immensely, and insisted on bopping along.

Incidentally, it was snowing so hard you might actually be able to see it in the photos. This winter has been particularly good value for snowfall, and there is definitely something very fabulous about doing anything at New Year and Christmas accompanied by large fluffy snowflakes.

This did not make things easier for the tightrope walkers operating high above the street about half way down. Genuinely awesome, and they had even worked out how to make falling off part of the act. Luckily.

Tightrope walker on Tverskaya Street for the Moscow Journey into Christmas Festival

We also got a chance to try out tightrope walking for ourselves. Ably assisted by assistants to keep us on the ropes.

Tightrope walking on Tverskaya Street for the Moscow New Year Street Party

And thus we carried on our way, until we got to the real life hockey game at the bottom, and the people swaying gently back and forth on long sticks.

Ice Hockey on Tverskaya Street for the Moscow New Year Street Party
Acrobats on Tverskaya Street for the Moscow New Year Festival

Hugely entertaining way to spend a few hours during the New Year holidays, and just goes to show why, if you want to spend New Year outside of your own country, you should definitely consider Moscow.

And for your convenience the whole festival is actually called ‘the Journey into Christmas’ because Christmas in Russia comes at the end of the winter holiday break on 7th January rather than the beginning. It’s good marketing for non-Russians, at least for those who arrive before December 25th, especially as many of the things Russians do for New Year, other countries do for Christmas.

Unicorn and Tverskaya Street for the Moscow New Year Street Party

As for the Moscow New Year street party, Mama recommends starting at the top end, near Pushkinskaya Square. No particular reason, except that it’s downhill, and you can finish up at the fair on Red Square that way. Or go ice skating.

Either way, it’s definitely something we recommend if you are in town at the right time.

More information

This is the Moscow city government’s festival page (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about constructing the perfect playlist for a party.

Getting there: Pushkinskaya (purple line), Chekovskaya (grey line) or Tverskaya (green line) stations will drop you at the top of Tverskaya Street, and Okhotniy Ryad (red line), Ploshard Revolutsiy (dark blue line) and Teatralnaya (green line) stations will see you at the bottom.

Opening: The street party generally runs from 31st December to 2nd January, and the Journey into Christmas festival starts mid December and goes on until the second week in January.

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29 Reasons to Spend New Year in Moscow, Russia

Do you experience a flat sensation as soon as 25th December is over? Find yourself locked in a post-Christmas stupor of purposeless chocolate eating and soup making? Looking forward to going back to work on the 2nd January?

The solution to these problems is simple – spend New Year in Moscow.

Light tunnel New Year street decoration in Moscow

The Soviets banned Christmas along with religion, and repurposed certain Christmas traditions for 31st December. They also changed the calender, and that meant that New Year falls before Orthodox Christmas. As a result, New Year is the biggest celebration of the year in Russia.

And includes decorated trees.

Christmas and New Year trees in Moscow

Lots and lots of decorated trees.

Decorated trees in GUM Moscow for New Year

It  combines not only the same private family eatathon and present giving binge every Christmas-celebrating family will recognise, but also a very public festival, which sees the Moscow streets decorated to the max.

Christmas and New Year market on Red Square Moscow

And very little of it has anything to do with enticing you into the shops to spend all of your money.

GUM and Central Childrens Store Detskiy Mir at New Year in Moscow

Well, maybe some of it.

Either way, instead of everyone lying around wondering what day it is and when the bins will be collected, the week before New Year is when peak anticipation, preparation and goodwill to all men is happening in Moscow. You know that happy feeling you get in the run up to 25th? Totally kicking off for anyone in Moscow for New Year just as you are wondering if it was all worth it.

New Year Decorations Moscow

Even if you do not get invited to someone’s house to consume more salad and champagne than you thought possible in the middle of the night on New Year’s Eve, there is always the option of getting outside and enjoying the fireworks. Firework displays take place not just next to the Kremlin or Red Square, but (this year) in over twenty parks around the capital of Russia.

Giant bauble New Year in Moscow

They stagger it too. Some displays start at 12 midnight on the nose, and some allow you to watch the president’s address on TV, finish your dinner, bundle the kids into a whole bunch of clothes and saunter outside to catch the booms bang whee wizzzes at 1am. If you think Hogmanay is a big deal, you haven’t been in Moscow on New Year’s Eve.

Nikolskaya Ulitsa for New Year in Moscow

And the 1st to the 7th January, when Orthodox Christmas takes place, is a state sponsored holiday. This year, for example, there’s a three-day street party of even more decorations, performances, food stalls and closed streets to add to the already extensive pedestrianisation of the city centre.

Pushkin Cafe at New Year in Moscow

There’s an ice festival; many of Moscow’s museums and art galleries will be free; you can see New Year children’s shows, called yolkas after the traditional New Year tree; meet up with the Russian Santa, Ded Moroz and his granddaughter Snegurochka; go to the Bolshoi or similar for New Year ballets such as the Nutcracker; and boggle at New Year ice skating extravaganzas in Moscow’s stadiums, featuring ice skating stars as well as outragous costumes.

Street performers at New Year in Moscow

You can go ice skating yourself as well – some of Moscow’s most fabulous public spaces have outdoor skating rinks set up. Including Red Square and Gorky Park.

And on Red Square there is also a Christmas/ New Year market.

Christmas and New Year market on Red Square Moscow

There may even be snow, although sadly this is the one thing you can’t put your money on any more. It’s well above zero at the moment this year and the snow has melted.

On the upside, this means you can get some great shots for Instagram of the Moscow’s fabulous decorative New Year lights gleaming their reflections in the puddles.

Plus, you know that debate about whether to wish people a Happy Christmas or Happy Holidays? Totally a non-issue for this inclusive secular holiday. C Noviim Godom works for everyone.

Spending New Year in Moscow. You know it makes sense. Get planning.

And if you want more ideas about what to do, here is THE guide to Moscow for first time visitors.

More information

Moscow city’s official site. In English.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about celebratory meals in Russia (which Mama wrote!).

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29 reasons to spend New Year in Moscow. In pictures.

Nice ice baby at the Moscow Ice Festival

You might be expecting that living in Moscow you get bored with the snow, the snow machines, the cold, the snow machines, the ice rinks, the snow machines, the snowmen and the snow.

And if you ask my Jaded Big Brother, you might be right. He is a bit over layering up to go out. At least until he and Mama have a snowball fight or we go sledging. Again. Plus, he’s just realised he gets to do skiing as part of his PE classes at school soon. Coooooooooool.

I, on the other hand, really like winter in Russia. Apart from the possibility of seeing snow machines there are outings like the time we went to see the Moscow Ice Festival out in Victory Park on Poklonnaya Hill.

Ice horses at the Ice Festival Poklonnaya Hill Moscow

Icy Moscow is a collection of ice sculptures specially carved from large blocks of ice brought in from some of the lakes around Russia.

Ice mammoth sculpture at the Ice Festival Poklonnaya Hill Moscow

Baikal is particularly famous for the quality of its ice, for example.

Ice bear sculpture at the Ice Festival Poklonnaya Hill Moscow

You can even sit on some of them!

Ice sleigh sculpture at the Ice Festival Poklonnaya Hill Moscow

But not just sculptures! When we arrived, we found there were also ice slides to go whooshing down, with large padded crash zones at the bottom in case you got really wizzy. Which we didn’t, initially, as we were motoring by the seat of our overtrousers alone. But then Mama gave in and bought us another plastic toboggan tray for extra slipperyness. Totally worth it, and highly recommended.

Ice slide sculpture at the Ice Festival Poklonnaya Hill Moscow

Ice slide sculpture at the Ice Festival Poklonnaya Hill Moscow

There’s an even more impressive sliding experience somewhere off to the back but, say it with me, we had to pay extra, so we didn’t. We did, however, find a sculpture carved in the shape of a barrel that you could get inside and slide around in, in defiance of any kind of health and safety caution.

If you get hungry or a bit chilly there are plenty of little stalls about selling warming hot drinks and food.

And at night they light it all up!

Ice sculpture at the Ice Festival Poklonnaya Hill Moscow

So when is it? Well, even in Moscow, the sort of weather you can maintain large ice sculptures in is not the something you can guarantee will last and last, so they time the Moscow Ice Festival to coincide with the New Year holidays. Which means December 29th to January 9th.

Ice crow at the Ice Festival Poklonnaya Hill Moscow

And of course, 2018 being the year of the FIFA World Cup in Russia, this year the Ice Festival will see ice sculptures representing the different countries attending, and not just reproducing the capital of Russia and various animals in transparent cold melty glass.

Are you ready to see the Eiffel Tower (if not the leaning Tower of Pisa) carved entirely out of ice? Doubtless we will be going, so watch this space.

More Information

The website of the Moscow Ice Festival, aka Ледовая Москва (in Russian).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about some cold, hard facts about ice.

Address: Poklonnaya Hill, Victory Park, Moscow

Admission: 300 roubles, or thereabouts. More if you forget your sledge. Even more if you want to go on the big hill.

Getting there: The nearest metro station, which is really right next door, is Park Pobedy on the dark blue line.

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If you are in Moscow during the winter holidays, check out the Moscow Ice Festival, Icy Moscow. Ice slides and sculptures.

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Translating the Russian Disney film, the Last Warrior

Mama is not sure that Disney should have allowed their Russian language film project to be called Posledniy Bogatyr (Последний Богатырь).

This is because it is difficult to translate.

The choices in the English language speaking world seem to be between the Last Warrior, which sounds inappropriately militaristic, The Last Knight, which is better in terms of thematic relevance and all but conjures up all the wrong visual images, and the Last Hero, which has already been taken.

I mean, you wouldn’t call samurai anything else, would you? And a Russian bogatyr is a Russian bogatyr is a Russian bogatyr, and particularly so in this film, which is a romp though some of Russia’s best loved fairy tales.

Of course, Disney might not be planning an English language release. I mean, they’d have to dub it or something! Still.

The hero of the Last Warrior is Ivan (of course he is), a modern Muscovite who is a magician and a con man who gets unexpectedly dumped in a magical fantasyland version of Russia, and finds himself responsible for saving the day (of course he does).

As the Last Knight goes about establishing his backstory, there are all sorts of pleasing Moscow references  such as him living in what looks like a swish apartment in the high-rise complex of Moscow city (an extremely good choice for his character, given that the reputation of the development is mostly built on smoke and mirrors, and everyone in Moscow knows it). He’s the star of a reality TV show. He has encounters with difficult babushkas and his salt-of-the-earth middle-aged housekeeper. He also gets into trouble with VIP Russians and their bouncers, and ends up being chased around a shopping mall with a giant water slide complex inside. And look out for the gratuitous Putin reference.

Mama thinks somebody had a lot of fun with this section. The Last Hero may have been backed by Disney, but it is really driven by a Russian production company, Yellow, Black and White, who are responsible for a number of hit TV sit coms in Russia. Programmes which have also provided both the lead hero, played by Viktor Khorinyak, and the lead villain, played by Ekaterina Vilkova. The local knowledge really shows.

Not that this means that only Russians or people very familiar with Russian culture can enjoy the Last Bogatyr. Yes, if you know your Slavic folklore you will be happily anticipating certain entrances and appreciate the way that Russian fairy tale tropes are dealt with, including the way that this provides a plot twist that Mama, at least, did not see coming. But Slav fairy tales are not that dissimilar to folklore the world over, and the Last Warrior makes no real assumptions about its audience’s familiarity with the stories; each character is introduced carefully, and the plot itself is wholly new. Or at least as new as it can be given the genre.

The Last Warrior Disney Russian film selfie

So was it any good?

Well, the landscape that the heroes spend their time trekking through is lovely. High altitude meadows filled with wildflowers, oak trees and pine forests all around, babbling streams and frosty mountains looming in the distance. Mama was even moved to look up where the Last Knight was shot, and apparently it was actually filmed on Russian territory, down by Sochi and a bit further across in the Caucuses. She can only assume that this bit was sponsored by the Southern Russia Domestic Tourism Board.

Also, Mama and I are both agreed that it is pretty cool that the three most competent people in the film are women. The youngest of these, Vasilysa, (Mila Sivatskaya) is, in fact, the muscle for the band of heroes. She gets to attack people expertly with swords and wear reasonably sensible clothes for a fighting woman in fantasy land (looking not dissimilar to a certain Rey of Star Wars fame to be honest). Sivatskaya also managed the difficult job of allowing Vasilysa’s more vulnerable side to give a bit of verisimilitude to her inevitable attraction to Ivan.

There’s a couple of really good fight scenes and horse chases of the sort that if you enjoy those scenes in the Pirates of the Caribbean, you will almost certainly appreciate the ones in the Last Hero. It is certainly the sort of thing that Mama goes to the cinema for. The problem she had here was that the camerawork in these moments favoured close up jerky movements cutting swiftly between different angles and all the characters involved, which detracted from her appreciation of the action a bit in places. As in, she couldn’t actually see it.

Possibly it was part of the obvious strategy of making the movie as family friendly as possible. Blood and gore was decidedly not in evidence, and the fights were inventive in demonstrating the ways to overcome your enemy without actually dismembering them. Or, in fact, killing them even a little bit. I liked this. I’d been a bit dubious about going to see a film about Baba Yaga. In Mama’s old book of fairy takes from around the world the story of Vasilysa and Russia’s archetypal witch is among the most hair-raising. This, in a book written in the seventies, when Granny was irretrievably eaten by the wolf, and the other wolf boiled alive by the pigs. Sort of thing.

And Baba Yaga doesn’t really improve when you get in amongst the Russians and hear more.

Nothing of that sort here. In fact Papa grumbled a bit that Koschei the Immortal (Konstantin Lavronenko), usually Baba Yaga’s equal in undying menace, was a bit lacking in both manic evil cackling or fighting prowess. Mama, on the other hand, rather liked the calm world-weariness he projected in what is otherwise quite a melodramatic movie, and my Excitable Big Brother thought he was The Best.

Mama liked Baba Yaga best, played by Elena Yakovleva, despite her seven-year old misgivings. Of course she did. Mama is… getting… older…  and rather appreciated the fact that two of the more important characters are not, let’s just say, in their first blush of youth. Baba Yaga is extremely grumpy, wants to eat Ivan, and is a master of magic potions and magic creature seduction.

Fabulous, and the latter scenes a relatively neat way to reference the apparent preference of fairy tales around the world to make everything about sex with nubile young women, without, actually, making it about sex with nubile young women. Especially when the Last Bogatyr turned the whole stereotype on its head. Although Mama would probably have cut that plotline out altogether. She suspects some of the scriptwriters of taking their research into folk tales and clear determination to reference nearly all of them too seriously.

Still, at least it wasn’t scary.

As for the rest of the cast, Khorinyak as Ivan manages the journey from being a bit of a cad to a true big-hearted bogatyr hero well, and is also able to handle the physical humour of the role. As for Vilkova, as the evil queen she was suitably implacable and menacing, a dab hand with a bow and arrow, had great hair and turned into a giant white badass owl. What more could you want? In your FACE Harry Potter.

There were actual laugh out loud moments, which doesn’t happen as often as you might think in things that are billed as comedies. And there was at least one joke which the adults found funnier than the kids, which was nice for them. But we all thought the business with Koschei and the rock was hysterical.

But most impressive as a recommendation is that Papa, who is extraordinarily fussy about films, liked it, his quibble about a toothless Koschei notwithstanding. I’ll be honest, this is as rare as an extremely rare thing, and it makes no difference usually whether the movie is Russian, English, French or Japanese.

Of course, he was running a fever.

Anyway, let’s hope that the broad hint that a sequel could be forthcoming pays off. The Last Warrior seems to have done decent business at the box office and been reasonably well received by the critics, so it may well. That’ll give you, what, a year or so to learn Russian so you can enjoy it all too. Although if you are in Germany, it comes out on 19th November. Go for it.

If you want to read another of our Russian language film reviews, click here.

And in case you can’t access it any other way, here is a trailer. Enjoy!

More information

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Samurai society.

Photocredit: Mama has shamelessly used a couple of interesting pictures she found lying around on the internet to promote this Disney film, a service for which she is not receiving any form of compensation whatsoever. However, if she should not be using these pictures, she is very willing to take them down.

Welcome our new robot overlords at Robostansiya, VDNH, Moscow

There is this assumption that children will take new technology in their stride, unlike Mama, who still remembers when digital watches were considered cool and has not recovered at all from living in the future where she carries the world around in her pocket.

However, when we found ourselves in the first section of Robostansiya at VDNH, an attraction that celebrates all things robotic, I was a little freaked out to discover that modern robots do not always look like boxes stacked on more boxes and move by lurching around with the sort of walk a zombie would be proud of. No, instead many of them look like deconstructed people, and even the ones that don’t have animated faces. They look at you. They talk to you. And then they glide towards you, frequently with an ominously pleasant enquiry as to whether or not you would like a cup of tea or something.

Talking robot at Robostansiya VDNH Moscow

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!

It’s unnatural, I tell you. Something the ken of which mankind is not supposed to. Sort of thing.

Friendly robot Robostation vDNH Moscow

This suspicion saw me mostly hiding behind Mama, which greatly interfered with her desire to read the bilingual placards and find out a) whether the robot in question would do her dusting for her and b) how to interact with it.

Engineers at Robostansitya Robostation VDNH Moscow

Mostly by making very slow deliberate hand movement or arranging the furniture in a very specific pattern and never moving it a millimetre. Which reassured me somewhat that the AIs of Robostation are not imminently going to take over the world.

Robostation space dog VDNH Moscow

Even so, it was a bit of a relief when we got round the corner of Robot Station to the bits with the virtual reality. The biggest hit for me was the one with the little cartoon robots which you can only see with the special goggles. Hours of fun shaking them around the TV they were living in, firing them out into the real world, and collecting them back up again with the high-powered laser transporter beam button. Wheeee!

Mama does not quite see why invisible robots are better than ones you can keep your eye on at all times, but what I say is that if there’s one thing the modern child has got the hang of very quickly and that is that what happens inside the computer stays inside the computer. If you are wearing the special goggles, you are safe.

My Sanguine Big Brother, who does not share my aversion to our inevitable slavery by our robot overlords as long as they do his maths homework and handwriting practice for him first, liked the robot table football. Well, who wouldn’t, especially if it means you can be part of an excited group of under tens cheering each other on.

 

Then the Robostansiya robot show started.

First there were small dancing robots, which I think Mama enjoyed even more than me.

But much better was the mad scientist who followed that up.

You know all those chemistry lessons they probably aren’t allowed to do in school any more where the teacher mixes the blue powder with the green powder and something explodes? The science show at Robot Station was like that only with bigger bangs, more singed eyebrows, and balloons. Fabulous stuff. Make sure you are down the front and you will get a chance to pop stuff yourself.

Science robot show at Robostansiya VDNH Moscow

I even fell off my chair with excitement at one point, it was that good.

But not as good as what Mama realised is the real draw for kids at the Robostation, which is to make yourself a giant robot head mask thing to take home.

And the way you do this, right, is you get a cardboard box, and you wrap different coloured duct tape round and round it until you have achieved the effect you want, and then you get the Robostansiya workers to cut out the eyehole design of your choice with a crafting knife.

Robot Heads at Robostation Robostansiya Robot Station VDNH Moscow

Cooooooooooooool. Especially when you get Mama to do most of the sticking.

So what with that and the fact that we probably spent longer playing in the board game area than with any of the other attractions, Mama does rather wonder why she paid a significant sum of money to go out and do the sort of wet weather activities we do at home.

Robot Heads at Robot Station VDNH Moscow

We kids thoroughly enjoyed ourselves though (once we got out of the dystopian nightmare future area). Plus the Robostation face painter was much much better than Mama.

And! They can register marriages! Can’t say fairer than that.

More information

The page on VDNH’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the songs of Marvin the Paranoid Android.

Address: Pavilion #2, VDNH, 119, Prospect Mira, Moscow, 129223.

Opening: 11am to 8pm, every day.

Admission: Adults 650 roubles, kids 490 roubles at weekends. During the week it’s a bit cheaper.

Getting there:  The VDNKh (VDNH) station is on the orange line and you will go in through the rather splendid front gates of VDNH if you use this. You can also come in the back by getting off at Botanichisky Sad (the orange line, and also the new Moscow Central Circle Line) and there’s a shuttle minibus that takes you from this station into the very heart of VDNH too. There are also numerous tram, trolleybus and bus routes going past the park. Robostansiya/ Robostation/ Robot Station is next to the very shiny gold Fountain of Friendship.

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Welcome our new robot overlords at the interactive robot exhibtion and show Robostansiya Robostation at VDNH Moscow

Wander Mum

Puttering away at Mr Mulligan’s Lost World Golf Stevenage, Herts, UK

Mama had never actually been round a themed mini golf course before she went to one at the Stevenage Leisure Park. Or indeed any golf course, barring a foray or two into a very basic pitch and putt back in the 70s. Possibly because she has no natural ball control skills and doesn’t aspire to be president of any given country. Or maybe because she actually likes walking in the countryside, and doesn’t require any further excuse. But I think it is because she spent some of her yoof working as a waitress at a golf club, which turned out to be a lot less interesting than you might expect.

However, this mini golf experience is called Mr Mulligan’s Lost World Golf, which sounds positively thrilling, and it was recommended to Mama as coming quite high up on the list of things to do in Stevenage with children that they actively enjoy, so she decided to give it a whirl.

It was probably raining, after all.

But beyond being a wet weather indoor venue, it is indeed really cooooooool!

There are two courses, which is sensible given that you want everybody in car driving distance of Stevenage to visit more than once a year. One involved dinosaurs and one was a deep sea experience. We chose the fishy one. And away we went.

Shipwreck Mr Mulligan’s Lost World Golf Stevenage

We were very very bad at it. Mama swiftly abandoned any thought of marking our scores on the handy card they had given us with our equipment. Being bad at it, however, did not dampen our enthusiasm in any way.

The course, in fact, is carefully designed to get a balance between pleasing the people who have developed a bit of skill in this sort of game and so require a measure of golfing challenge in the form of slightly tilted greens or oddly placed bumps, and pleasing Mama, who is going to take thirty-five shots just to get the ball anywhere near to the hole no matter how flat it is and therefore requires a bit of non-putting related diversion to keep her interested.

mini golf course Mr Mulligan’s Lost World Golf Stevenage

This meant some holes saw Mama surreptitiously nudging the ball into a good position on the edge of the sunken cup with her foot so that we could just. Get. Past. It.

Others we lingered over because there were piratical props to exclaim arrr at, constructions which first swallowed and then spat our ball out in an impressively random but brisk manner no matter how weakly we hit them in there, or because they were liberally splattered with luminous paint and lit with ultra violet light. Mama abandoned the game entirely for a bit in favour of photographing us cuddling a bright pink octopus at that point.

Octopus Mr Mulligan’s Lost World Golf Stevenage

That said, if Mama is really honest, she felt that the people who enjoy golf had won the design fight over the people who want to see an anamatronic shark try to savage their ball before it disappears into an endlessly opening and closing whale mouth while a robot Captain Sparrow rolls ineptly past, all clattering braids and fluttering hands. Sort of thing.

I think she has probably watched too many American movies which involve people taking part in crazy golf games where the sets are designed to look good rather than be actually playable. If she were really forced to try to get her ball past the rotating sails of a windmill, for example, we would almost certainly still be there.

Shark Mr Mulligan’s Lost World Golf Stevenage

You can book a slot for your round online, or turn up and take a chance that every other family with children hasn’t decided to choose this way of entertaining the children on a damp Sunday afternoon. We went at a decidedly off peak time, so we had no issues with waiting either when we arrived or because we were faster than people doing the course in front of us.

As it was, we whiled away a very pleasant mini golf afternoon at Mr Mulligan’s Lost World Golf and then at the end there was a cafe where we had ice cream, and which serves beer and all sorts if you are a bit older. Personally I am good with the whole experience and will be taking Mama back again whenever we visit Stevenage next.

I wonder if any of us will have improved in the meantime?

More information

Stevenage’s page on the website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the ‘Golf Sale’ placard phenomenon. 

Address: 3q, Stevenage Leisure Park, Gunnels Wood Rd, Stevenage, Hertfordshire, SG1 2UA

Opening: It varies a bit but either 10/11am to 10pm or midnight.

Admission: For one round of mini golf it’s adults 8.25 GBP and kids under twelve 5.25 GBP, or 2 GBP for the under 3s. There’s a discount if you book two games, and you can also get a family ticket.

Getting there: The Stevenage Leisure Park in has ample parking (some might say it;s a giant car park, with attractions and eateries dotted about), and this is free. Stevenage is situated on the A1(M) motorway out of London.

Stevenage railway station is about five minutes away oer a little bridge, and that takes you into Kings Cross London, or all the way up to Edinburgh.

Luton and Stanstead airports aren’t that far, and there’s a helipad via the Novotel on the outskirts of town.

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Mr Mulligan''s Lost World Golf in Stevenage Herts UK

Flying With A Baby

Running the City of Moscow with the Begushiy Gorod Urban Orienteering Event

So there we were at 9.45 this Saturday morning, half way down a metro line, staring at Papa, who was trying to work out how to get to the starting point of the Begushiy Gorod event.

Which wasn’t very encouraging, given that the whole idea of Begushiy Gorod, or Running the City, is to take the addresses the organisers give you, work out the best route between them, and visit them all in one day.

Begushiy Gorod Running City Moscow
Where shall we go next?

To make things even more interesting (or to ensure you can’t cheat), as well as ticking off the places you also have to answer a question which is essentially unGoogleable and which will involve careful observation of your surroundings. What is the fifth letter of the fifth word on the sign on the corner of the house? How many stripes are there on the mosaic tiles on the right of the door? What is the seventh monkey from the left holding in his hands? Sort of thing.

The list is divided up into stages, and after you have completed one set, you check in and get given your next five to ten sites to find. Partly so that you cannot just split your team up and knock off the locations in half the time, partly to make the route planning more achievable for the map reading challenged, and partly so that if you give up and go home before you finish the whole thing, you get some kind of sense of completion.

Where Running the City differs from regular urban orienteering (says Mama, who looked the phenomenon up on the ever helpful Internet and discovered that this generally means sprinting between compass points) is that the people behind Begushiy Gorod have made full use of the fact that it will be happening in a city and have divided up the possible routes into different categories according to the different modes of transport you are allowed to use. You can sign up for one of the walking ones, do it by bike, use public transport or get round any means possible.

Which in practice means that you’ll need to use a car at least some of the time, because, Mama is reliably informed by someone who found herself hiking through a forest in the middle of the night one year, they will put some of those stops in the middle of nowhere on the very edges of the city limits.

Running City Moscow Begushiy Gorod
Considerably more serious competitors than us.

There are also options according to whether you are going to be against the clock and competing directly against other teams, or take a more leisurely approach. Or you can choose to have (some of) your addresses given in the form of riddles that need to be solved before you can move on. One of the versions has everything in English!

Mama and Papa went for the least challenging one, the ‘Lion Mini’. Yes, they do have somewhat whimsical names. Also available are ‘Horseman’, ‘Spinx’, Angel’, and ‘Griffin’ and that is not the full set. The English one is called ‘the Lion and the Unicorn’. And you thought Russians don’t have a sense of humour.

But even so, after a good three hours on pounding the streets of Moscow, we only completed the first of the two stages. When the Begushiy Gorod team say it’s a full day’s event, they really mean it, and many of the more serious runs had people at it pretty much until the final checkpoint closed at midnight. And the day started for some at 8am!

We very much enjoyed our urban trek even if it wasn’t in full though, and at this moment Mama would like to say what a lot of really good thought had gone into the planning of this.

Checkpoint at Running City Moscow Begushiy Gorod
Check in to complete stage one here!

Mostly this was because the addresses we were trying to find were not just random houses, but places of interest in their own right. So in following the trail, we were participating in a giant off-the-beaten-track guided tour of this part of the city.

Some of the stops were historically significant. We went past the memorial to the 1993 barricades, which sought to protect Russia’s fledgling democracy from a military coup. Successfully, but Mama had not realised how many demonstrators lost their lives.

1993 Barricades Memorial Moscow Running City Begushiy Gorod

We were also taken to the house museum of Russia’s own Dr Johnson, Vladimir Dahl, who was responsible for a particularly comprehensive and influential dictionary of the Russian language, published in the second half of the 19th Century.

Vladimir Dahl's House in Moscow
This is what the house looks like on the outside.

Our attention was also drawn to architectural gems. While searching for the clue at Dahl’s house, for example, we discovered that the building was actually a wooden one, which had been plastered over to make it look much grander and more classical.

Vladimir Dahl's Wooden House in Moscow
And this is what it looks like on the inside.

And although we were not actually directed to pay attention to the Roman Catholic cathedral, you can’t really miss it when it is right opposite the building you are hunting for, can you? Mama was delighted to be able to tick this off her ‘things to take photographs of in Moscow’ list.

Roman Catholic Cathedral Moscow
Spikey!

Another clue had us looking carefully at this building, which would originally have been the house of some well off Muscovite but which is now part of the Biological Museum.

Traditional Old Building at the Biological Museum Moscow
All red brick and tiling.

In fact, we found the Biological Museum! My Obsessed Big Brother was saying just the other day that we need to go here, and now we know exactly where it is!

We also found the museum to the artist Tsereteli, a contemporary sculptor much beloved of the former mayor of Moscow, whose works therefore litter the capital. Mama had been wondering if it was worth a visit, and given quite how… eclectic the outside is, she is going for yes. Watch this space.

Tsereteli Museum Moscow
Do not go here if you are afraid of clowns!

And the beginning and end of the Begushiy Gorod hikes were all in an old, pre revolutionary factory district, and many of the buildings are still there, if turned into rather trendy bars and boutique shops these days.

Mama was particularly delighted the name of the street, ‘Rochdelskaya Ulitsa/ Rochdale Street’, which celebrates the fact that the town of Rochdale formed one of the earliest co-operative societies, and the one which became the model for later cooperatives.

Papa liked this [insert technical explanation here which Mama didn’t follow. Yes, it was in English], which was just lying around, waiting to be turned into some hipster design feature in the sushi restaurant nearby (or something).

Industrial transformer component Moscow
This is a… thingy. But a cool thingy.

But it wasn’t just the addresses that were well-chosen. Mama wondered if it were part of the plan to take us past so many public toilets. Perhaps it was a happy accident, but Mama, with two children in tow, appreciated it anyway.

Certainly the end of the stage check in came at exactly the moment we kids had reached the limits of our endurance, and really needed a lengthy sit down and a large amount of food to contemplate keeping going. And, low and behold, the place we were directed to had numerous cafes, restaurants and even a John Bull pub to choose from (for those on the English trail). It’s not actually their fault we fell into McDonald’s – there were definitely other eateries available.

This level of careful organisation, in fact, characterised the whole event, which went extremely smoothly from our point of view right from when we checked in to when we went to pick up our participant’s medals at the end. Which given that there were 2572 teams and 6857 players in total, was pretty impressive.

It wasn’t the organisers’ fault either that we gave up after eating, or even because of the fact that it started raining. Mostly it was the shattering cold Papa and my Obsessed Big Brother were suffering from, and that my five-year-old legs can only go so far (should have taken the scooter, Mama).

Still, there’s always next year! Except Mama and Papa are already plotting how to get rid of us so they can do Running the City properly in 2018. How very dare they! We enjoyed it too!

Lest you are worried that you too will have to wait until next year to take part, the Begushiy Gorod team run this event throughout the year in St Petersburg and a number of other cities throughout Russia, including Vladimir, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan and Yekaterinaburg, all of which have events still to come.

Running City Moscow start Begushiy Gorod
Get set, ready, go!

And you can now also have a go at Running the City in New York on 28th October.

And! London! On 7th May 2017! You’ve just about got time to sign up! The categories are not as extensive as the Moscow event (just walking vs biking vs public transport) but Mama reckons it’ll be great. Do it! And come back and tell us what you saw!

Highly highly recommended.

More information

The BG website (in English).

The London event page.

The New York event page.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about orienteering – the sport of a lifetime.

Participating: You need to register your team before the event and book a start time slot. Go to the website, choose your category, fill in your details, pay your entry fee and away you go. Teams can consist of up to four people. Entry fees vary, and the prices are given in roubles. The London one costs either 2000 and 2500 roubles (depending on your category), or 25 to 35 pounds per team. You’ll need to pay by PayPal if you don’t have a Russian bank account.

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Running the City of Moscow with Begushiy Gorod is an urban orienteering event, with a twist! Highly recommended and suitable for a wide range of participants. Even English speakers!

Mini Travellers
Wander Mum

Get your Instagram on at the Museum of Illusions, Moscow

My Enthusiastic Big Brother has recently discovered the word ‘selfie’.

What it’s for, apparently, is shouting out while grabbing your friends and relations in a headlock, making triumphant horn shapes with your fingers and mugging madly in the direction of… what?

No, I don’t know either.

Mama says he might be missing a vital element to the concept there, but is oddly reluctant to tell us what it is.

She does hint though. One of her clues is that this is relevant because the Museum of Illusions in Moscow’s VDNH complex offers you the opportunity to have your picture taken in a variety of unlikely poses.

Now, Mama wouldn’t say that the Museum of Illusions, which houses a number of different attractions under this umbrella name, really warrants the title ‘museum’. Because it has no educational value whatsoever. Says Mama. Because it is designed to be fun! Say us kids. And so we immediately chose as our first stopping off point, the Butterfly Garden.

Butterfly Moscow Museum of Illusions

Well, small room, actually, with a number of rather battered looking butterflies determinedly clinging to the walls. But also, tiny song birds flitting about, tarantulas and other creepy crawlies to shiver over, a somewhat angry cockatoo and giant lizards you could hold.

Tarantula Moscow Museum of Illusions

Mama thought we were well in at this point, as one of my favourite things in the whole world in the UK was going to the pet shops to stare at the bearded dragons, but because it was a Thursday, the sky was blue, Mama was wearing jeans and I’d had pancakes for breakfast (or something – I forget), I took right agin’ the whole Butterfly Garden experience. Thus I followed Mama and my Enthusiastic Big Brother about loudly complaining as he proudly displayed his new reptilian accessories and gave impromptu animal fact lectures to any visitor who stood still long enough.

Which they were quite obliging about, because mostly what they were doing was staring smolderingly into a camera lens while trying not to get their ear bitten off by the cockatoo on their shoulder.

Cockatoo Moscow Museum of Illusions

Eventually, my persistence won out and we decided to go and see what the Museum of Illusions section was all about.

More photography, apparently. Not an explanatory placard in sight. See? Mama told you.

Basically, there are a lot of out of shape pictures painted at odd angles on the walls. You are supposed to go and stand in front of them while somebody takes your picture.

It was weird and, frankly, VERY BORING.

I mean, I like having my picture taken as much as the next five year old, but there is a limit, when almost none of the scenarios feature horses, princesses, or pink and there isn’t any dressing up involved.

Particularly as most of the illusions weren’t, Mama discovered quickly, designed with people my or even my Increasingly Less Enthusiastic Big Brother’s size in mind. So instead of sitting on the dragon, we’d be perched in the middle of her tummy. Or snatching wildly at the wand hovering a foot above our heads.

Harry Potter Moscow Museum of Illusions

Or failing miserably to be nearly crushed by the advancing robots. Or make it onto the giant’s dinnerplate entirely.

Mind you, this briefly cheered up my By Now A Bit Less Enthusiastic Big Brother as he got to wield the expensive camera while Mama cavorted about happily. But none of that helps you, dear reader, when she isn’t going to put any of them on the Internet.

And then we tried the town which had been stood on its head. Now Mama would have said that we felt much the same way about this area as we did about the Museum of Illusions section. This is because there were a lot of posing opportunities for tall people which were probably hysterical when they downloaded their memory stick, but not much to actually do if you are my height aside from look at things inexplicably stuck to the ceiling.

Moscow Museum of Illusions

Except the open bank vault. Lots of little bits of green paper there to throw about. Unfortunately, given the existence of a number of other families intent on getting their quota of happy snaps in, Mama let us spend less time there that we would have liked.

However, the reason this review is getting written some considerable time after I wandered around the whole entertainment complex whining about how much I wanted to leave and go and do something more interesting, is that only the other day I reminded Mama how funny that Upside Down Town was, and begged her to take us back.

Why this caused her to become speechless and stare at me like a constipated fish I do not know. If you can’t be capricious when you are five, when can you be?

Possibly what we had needed was a snack break. Unfortunately, there isn’t a cafe on site. But since this is VDNH there will at least be retro ice cream, boiled sweetcorn and soft drink carts within ten metres of the entrance.

As it was, Mama headed for the exit immediately after enduring my apparently fake display of crossness around this exhibit. She didn’t even attempt the plate smashing area, the maze of mirrors, the exploration of the human body or the house of horror. She did keep the tickets though, so clearly it is time to dig them out again. Because you can pay for each of the areas separately, or you can buy an inclusive ticket for a reasonable discount which allows you to pick five of the twelve available. You will want to do this. Some of the experiences are more substantial than others, but most of them are not going to occupy you for all that long. If you do find yourself sucked into an extended photography session, then you can bring your ticket back any time to knock off the other areas.

Basically if you are in the mood, and if you are of a sensible height, and if you feel your Instagram feed has gotten a little dull lately, the Museum of Illusions is for you. And in case you should find yourself well away from the fabulousness of VDNH and closer to the centre, there’s a whole set of similar experiences there on the Arbat! And in Ekaterinaburg! And St Petersburg! And Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Chelyabinsk and Barcelona!

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Go upside down and take ALL the photos at the Museum of Illusions in Moscow

More Informaiton

The ‘museum’ website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the ‘trombone’ shot in filmmaking.

Address: VDNH, Prospekt Mira 119, Pavilion No. 55.

Opening: 10am to 7pm weekdays and 10am to 8pm weekends and holidays.

Admission: 350 roubles (less than you think, more than before Brexit) for one attraction, 1000 roubles (very reasonable indeed, but a shame about that dropping pound, eh?) for five. No limit on when you can come back and use your tickets, so no need to rush round.

By public transport:  Get off at VDNH (orange line) and then walk the length of the ex-Soviet exhibition space to the giant space rocket towards the back. The Museum is next to the all new History Museum and opposite the Polytechnic Museum and round the corner from Moskvarium.

By car: I don’t care.

MummyTravels