Sunday, 18 March 2012


This was three weeks ago, but I’ve only just managed to borrow a cable to transfer my photos from my camera to my computer. Maslenitsa is a week long religious and folk festival before the start of Orthodox lent. It may have originally been a festival to celebrate the Sun and the end of winter. Nowadays it is the last week in which Christians are allowed to eat milk, cheese and other dairy products before Lent, so people make pancakes all week long.

I went with my roommate to Suzdal, a town on the Golden Ring. Suzdal is the Russian version of Lacock, in that it has been protected from development and hence is used in all period dramas, with the locals often roped in as extras.

We got there on the Friday night, after an epic journey from Moscow bus station that took us 6 hours and involved passing three car crashes, all to cover the same distance as from London to Nottingham. I suppose this is why the oligarchs have helicopters. On the Saturday morning though, the horrendous journey seemed worth it. Suzdal was covered in snow, and not the way Moscow is where it looks like someone has spray painted the snow deep brown, but snow like in movies, which somehow never gets dirty or slushy.

Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral

Believe it or not there a river in this picture

We traipsed down to the open air architecture museum, where the day began with a parade that involved some people in traditional costume and other people dressed as geese, followed by Round 1 in the Goose Fighting competition. Unfortunately, these geese were lovers not fighters, so it took a lot of coaxing from their keepers before they started biting each other. As I understand it, technically it is supposed to go to First Blood, but the audience got bored way before that and started yelling, so the organisers ended the fight and determined the winner based on points (I have no idea how that works). 

Next came climbing up a pole to grab a prize stuck at the top. Presumably for reasons of increased grip, most participants seemed to think this was best done wearing as few clothes as possible. I should note that it was pretty cold, probably twelve below zero or something, with a biting wind, and it snowed pretty much non-stop. If you made it to the top, apart from the adoration of the crowd, you got a roast goose. 

How to get hypothermia in pursuit of a goose
Throughout the day there was traditional music and dancing, sledging, rides in horse-drawn sleighs, a game which involved hitting your opponent with a pillow until they fell off a log, and a never-ending tug-of-war. There were no teams, passers by just piled in on whichever side looked like losing, and then left when they had had enough, to be replaced immediately by others. And whenever it all got too cold, you could buy hot pancakes and tea, spiced wine or sbiten, a honey-based drink. Alternatively you could go and sit in the wooden church, which was warm (this option was very popular).

Trying to knock your friend off a log with a pillow

Jingle bells

Not sure why there was a sword fight but hey...

Massive snowball fight which resulted in the total destruction of the snowhouse (this was the aim)

The following day was pretty much the same but in a different location, and ended at around 4pm with the burning of the baba, a figure of a woman who personifies winter.  After that, everyone rapidly disappeared, and we were left with another mammoth journey back to Moscow, during which we left one person behind after stopping for a toilet break in the middle of nowhere.  Travelling in Russia is not without risk.

Goodbye, Winter!

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