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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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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