But that came out back in 2017 and Mama had almost lost hope when an idle google came across the info it would be out within the year.
[Pause for the global pandemic]
After one failed attempt to get into a screening with a much reduced cinema capacity, Mama and the somewhat less enthusiastic rest of the family (there’s also a cartoon about a horse out) settled down in a darkened room OUTSIDE OF OUR OWN FOUR WALLS and watched the Last Bogatyr 2 (slash Knight, slash Hero, slash Warrior), Root of Evil.
Ivan (Viktor Khorinyak), the reluctant hero from the real world, returns, and has somewhat uneasily settled down to fairytale living, only sneaking back to the civilization of Moscow, ooooh, once a day for a hot bath and some proper coffee, a practice which surely many Russians with a datcha can relate.
In fact, almost every single character from the first film is squeezed into this one. Given that the film makers have also added new arrivals on top of that, this means that some people are rather pushed for meaningful screen time, or any real point to their being there at all aside from a name check and perhaps one good moment each. Vasilysa (Mila Sivatskaya), for example, who was one of Ivan’s main travelling companions and the muscle for the group for the first film really doesn’t have much to do apart from continue to be Ivan’s love interest this time, despite her presence on the inevitable quest.
Koshchei (Konstantin Lavronenko), who of course returns, he’s Deathless, and Baba Yaga (Elena Yakovleva) are rather upstaged in the grumpy comic side kick role by Kolabok (Garik Kharlamov), a hooligan bread roll (yes really), whose back story Mama once actually learned off by heart in Russian the better to torture our early years with (‘…and then the fox ate him’). Not easily done.
There’s also not one, not two, but three villains this time round, although they have managed to fit a bit of moral tension into this situation, plotwise, which means Mama will allow it. That said, annoyingly, this time Mama did guess the plot twist related to Galina (Elena Valyushkina) and her excellently coiffed daughter (Ekaterina Vilkova). The ROOT of EVIL, geddit? Well, you will.
Aside from the minor issues of overstuffing the cast list, there are plenty of jokes; Ivan is both endearingly caddish and what he lacks in true heroic ability, he makes up for in what is surely a very timely reminder of the value of acceptance of the full range of the weird and wonderful in Belogorie; the fight scenes are fast and furious; there are some genuine pang-inducing moments of sadness at opportunities lost; the scene with the riddle is just perfect; and the writers have continued to be inventive about how they adapt what we know (or in Mama’s case, mostly don’t know) about Russian folklore, children’s stories and fairytales.
And at least the sheer number of people on screen includes plenty of women, some of whom are still not young.
Which makes up (a bit) for the mess the story makes of trying to square the fact that all the most effective characters are women with the fact that only men seem eligible for heroic status and that only a pissing contest with the splendidly irritating Finist the Falcon (Kirill Zaitsev) can spur Ivan to get off the metaphorical oven and prove himself.
Not that that goes very well for Ivan, mark you. Ah well, perhaps that’s the point.
On the upside, there’s a bonus whale.
Plus this time the Last Bogatyr 2 (slash Knight, slash Hero, slash Warrior), Root of Evil was sponsored not by the Southern Russia Tourism Board, but the Northern one. Who does not like lovingly-filmed shots of snow-covered landscape?
So all in all, if you were in any way entertained by (the idea of) The Last Bogatyr (slash Knight, slash Hero, slash Warrior) you should definitely entertain the thought of seeing The Last Bogatyr Root of Evil.
And luckily for Mama’s impatience levels, they seem to have cracked straight on this time with the next instalment, which intriguingly seems to be set in real life Moscow itself.
Stay tuned. And in the meantime, watch the trailer for the Last Bogatyr 2, Root of Evil (with English subtitles).
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.
Quite why I wanted to voluntarily spend a day working at KidZania Moscow rather escaped Mama.
KidZania, as the
corporate website puts it, is a kid-sized indoor city using
interactive roleplay to fuel a global learning and entertainment
brand and develop financial literacy in children.
Or, as Mama puts it, it is a brutal introduction to the fact that at some point we will experience the joys of choosing between getting a fun job which doesn’t pay much or a boring job that doesn’t pay much. Or fighting with 700 people to get a chance to do something that looks interesting but turns out not to be. Or failing to get the job of our dreams. All while being chased around by our parents, who keep trying to give us advice about why we shouldn’t just follow our whimsy. Or why we should.
Plus, other aspects of adult life such as trying to decide whether to spend the resulting pennies on pizza, rock climbing or a new car, and then realising that you either haven’t enough time or haven’t enough savings to do any of those.
However, in the spirit of proving that Mama does not always spend our free time dragging us round such culturally improving spots as house museums of unsuitable role models, we did, in the fullness of me nagging about it for ages, go to KidZania.
And it was GLORIOUS.
Says Mama, who found the adult zone, where they do not let the kids in at all, very relaxing.
Look how adult it
is! Supremely tasteful decoration. Mama particularly appreciated the
attention to detail involved in the very adult giant coffee table art
Oh, and my Industrious Big Brother and I enjoyed ourselves a lot too.
This is not an accident. KidZania Moscow (and almost certainly everywhere) really does put the effort in to help us achieve that.
When you arrive, for
example, they have amped up the impression of going on a journey to a
different world by making the area where you book in and pay very
much like an airport departure lounge, a theming which is carried on
as you go through the portal into the town itself.
And it is a town.
There are streets. There are buildings. There are different levels. There is a race track. A construction site. A parked aeroplane. And everything. There is even the Bolshoi theatre. In KidZania Moscow anyway.
It’s pretty big,
in fact. Apparently there are at least 150 different things to do
The first place you
go is the bank, so that us new citizens can get ourselves plugged
into the capitalist system and prepare to take our places as the new
cogs in the industrial machine.
And then off we went. Alone. Because adults are banned from entering the offices and factories and so on, let alone taking part.
The way KidZania
operates is that each workplace has a little plaque outside which
explains the work options offered, how long it will last, how often
you can sign up, and how much you will earn.
Now Mama’s main objection to theme parks is standing in line. But at KidZania Moscow she was pleasantly surprised that this was not a particularly big feature of the day (and it wasn’t as empty as it looks in the pictures by any means).
She did find it paid to do a bit of scouting around to see what was going on, where and at what time, especially for the options that took place less regularly, like hanging out in the TV studio. But it was relatively easy to bound from one experience to another, and the waiting turned out not to onerous. And there was seating!
She was also relieved that we got just as much, if not more, out of the easy to get into jobs as the ones that she, personally, was eyeing up with interest, such as the opportunity to parade around on stage in a play.
Particularly fun were the ones where we got to make something like yogurt or our very own teabag or trot around the city on a quest to deliver letters or put out a fire.
On top of the basic
options there are some additional extras you can pay for, more
extensive master classes involving things like making your own
burger. Mama doesn’t think your kids will feel as through they have
missed out if they don’t do them, but on the other hand, they get a
burger to eat out of it.
It is, in fact, just a rather elaborate way of taking care of lunch (for the kids).
If you don’t fancy that, the town has its very own cafe, where kids can take their lunch break, and the parents can join them for an update on the busy day so far. Which looks like GUM, just to spice things up a bit.
KidZania started in south America, specifically Mexico, and is expanding slowly across the world. There’s one in London in the Westfield Centre in West London, for example. And it’s coming to the US soon!
That said, you may find that copycat ventures have already arrived. In Moscow there are two very similar venues – Kidburg in the Central Children’s Department Store at Lubyanka, and Masterslavl in Moscow City. My Industrious Big Brother has been to Kidburg, and enjoyed it, but says KidZania was bigger and so better, for what it’s worth.
Also, KidZania is in the middle of one of the more fabulous of Moscow’s shopping malls, Aviapark. I mean, if you think it’s marginally weird that people in the middle east go on about their shopping malls, and you want to know why, then you can find out in Moscow (and for much the same reason – weather conditions make indoor play areas for adults as well as kids a very sensible proposition).
Aviapark is, in fact, the largest shopping mall in Europe, and has an Ikea as well as a Marks and Spencers, and room for 35 football pitches (there isn’t a football pitch inside, but there is a huge football stadium next door). Aviapark also has the tallest cylindrical fish aquarium (repeat after Mama) IN THE WORLD.
Parents will have ample time to wander around in a happy little shopping haze, or lounge around the (in places) upmarket food court area while their kids are occupied inside KidZania. If they don’t want to lounge in the adult zone, that is. We were in KidZania ALL DAY. And I reckon there’s still enough we didn’t do, or might want to do again for at least one more epic visit.
KidZania, then, is a
theme park that really lives up to the hype. It’s probably best for
kids between sixish and twelveish, and it probably helps if younger
ones have an older sibling on hand to boss them into shape. But there
were some teenagers bounding around when we were there too and Mama
found that she was quite jealous of having to sit outside and press
her little nose against the window to get an illusion of
And so she was entirely unsurprised that KidZania Moscow does the occasional adult only evening.
If you take your kids to KidZania, and you really should, to be honest, wherever you are, then you will be.
Mama is booking herself into the town’s museum experience, for starters.
Some kids at school, I told Mama recently, don’t believe in Ded Moroz! They said he’s our parents!
Oh? Mama responded,
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Or, in Soviet times (or now, because nostalgia), papier mache ones.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So here we are again at Maslenitsa, or (variously) Shrovetide, Butterweek, Pancake Week, or Cheesefare Week, depending on who is trying to explain/ translate the phenomenon.
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.
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.
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.
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
Admittedly this sort of festival is usually done by non-Christian observers a bit closer to 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.
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.
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 in 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.
The explanation is this: 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. Still, 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. Look for the phrase ‘postnoye menu’ (постное меню).
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
You can also go outside Moscow, and Mama thinks Maslenitsa tourism might be a growing thing. Everyone loves a good bonfire, amirite?
Expect street theatre, and lots of people dressed up in traditional outfits, something faintly pagan, or with folk overtones.
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.
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.
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 clean the bathroom with.
And on the Sunday, or possibly Saturday, because one should 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.
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.
Happy blini hunting, and a safe and purified journey into Easter.
‘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
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.
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.
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?
around on stilts. Which makes a lot of sense as you can see them
above the crowds.
Groups of costumed dancers. You may or may not wish to join in with them. We saw angels. Or possibly snowflakes.
Candy canes (not a Russian tradition as such, but hey). Plus band.
And Mama’s personal favourite, cosmonauts (definitely something Russians get as much mileage out of as possible).
There were some chill out zones and covered pop up cafes.
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.
We also got a chance to try out tightrope walking for ourselves. Ably assisted by assistants to keep us on the ropes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lots and lots of decorated trees.
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.
And very little of it has anything to do with enticing you into the shops to spend all of your money.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Icy Moscow is a collection of ice sculptures specially carved from large blocks of ice brought in from some of the lakes around Russia.
Baikal is particularly famous for the quality of its ice, for example.
You can even sit on some of them!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s unnatural, I tell you. Something the ken of which mankind is not supposed to. Sort of thing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.