Monoglot Movie Club: Gogol. Bored? Hello!

Just try looking at that statue without making a loud 'whoosh' noise with your mouth. I dare you.Now, you see, at the start of this year it didn't seem like such a big deal. "Fancy working for a week in Moscow?" they asked me in January. "It won't be for a couple of months yet, we'll need to sort out visas and everything." It'd be my first time visiting Russia, so how could I possibly turn down that opportunity?

It took nearly three months to complete all the paperwork, by which time we'd had that whole awkward business where the Russians allegedly tried to whack a couple of their own people in the Salisbury branch of Zizzi. Diplomatic relations between Britain and Russia were at a post-Cold War low. Arsenal had just beaten CSKA Moscow 4-1 in the first leg of the Europa League quarter-final. And I was going to be in Moscow the same week that the city was hosting the second leg.

Spoiler alert: I got out alive. Arsenal, meanwhile, won 6-3 on aggregate, only to bottle it in the semis.

So, while we're on the subject of football... If any of you are going to be in Russia for the World Cup over the next month - hey, look, an actual excuse for publishing this two months after the fact - here are some travel tips for you, along with two of my inevitable reviews of unsubtitled local films I didn't have a hope in hell of understanding.

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BrewDogging #52: Tallinn (Nordic Expedition II part 4)

Two of the most prominent features of BrewDog Tallinn are a merchandise wall and a Stargate.[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, DED Angel, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku, Helsinki, Gray's Inn Road, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton, Berlin, Warsaw, Leeds North Street, York, Hong Kong, Oxford, Seven Dials, Reading, Malmo]

March 30th - April 2nd 2018

Having started in Denmark, trekked through Sweden and made our way across the water to Finland, there's one more country to go before this Nordic Expedition is complete. To be honest, up until recently my mental image of Estonia has been shaped by two things: the old Film Unlimited trope of the Estonian Butler Movie as the archetype of esoteric cinema, and the former sumo wrestler Baruto. (A couple of years ago, I managed to combine the two for an April Fool's gag.) But last time we were in Finland, we heard that the city of Tallinn had become a new hub for craft beer brewing: there were even Finnish brewers who'd moved over there for the tax breaks.

That isn't as dramatic a move as it sounds, as Tallinn is ridiculously close to Helsinki: just half an hour by plane, or two hours by boat. We take the latter option to travel to Estonia, using the Tallink Megastar ferry. It's Good Friday morning, so the West Harbour Terminal in Helsinki is full of Finns making the same journey for the Easter weekend, all being addressed over the PA as ‘dear darling passengers’. Our window seat on the Megastar turns out to be a good choice, despite the fantastically rude kids who barge in front of us every so often for a look: the voyage isn't as spectacular as our one into Finland, but approaching Tallinn through a layer of ice is still pretty impressive.

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Riding The Viking Line (Nordic Expedition II part 3)

Slussen, in Stockholm. It'll be nice when it's finished. (Around 2026, apparently.)March 27th-30th 2018

If Nordic Expedition II is a song, then this bit is the middle eight.

So far this week (as in the last week of March 2018), we've been to Copenhagen and Malmo, visited a new BrewDog bar and done several other fun things. Without wanting to give the game away too early, by the end of the week our journey will climax in a country that's entirely new to us. But in order to get there, we need to revisit some of the highlights from Nordic Expedition I: Stockholm, Helsinki, and a ferry journey between Sweden and Finland. The challenge is therefore to find new angles that we didn't already cover two years ago.

Let's see how we do, shall we? (Bearing in mind that all that 'new angles' shit is probably going to go straight out the window as soon as we get near a BrewDog bar.)

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BrewDogging #51: Malmo (Nordic Expedition II part 2)

It's the lightbox that confuses me, I think. Perfectly acceptable when it's behind the bar advertising the tap list, less so when it's outside the building.[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, DED Angel, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku, Helsinki, Gray's Inn Road, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton, Berlin, Warsaw, Leeds North Street, York, Hong Kong, Oxford, Seven Dials, Reading]

March 25th-27th 2018

These multi-city journeys require some planning, you know. Over the last decade or so, we've taken plenty of inspiration from The Man In Seat 61 when it comes to potential methods of getting around. But ultimately, you have to fire up multiple browser tabs for plane, train and boat websites to co-ordinate all the bookings, and that's before you even get to the hotels. Still, it all somehow comes together, and you even have a paper trail at the end of it. In the case of the original Nordic Expedition in June 2016, I can now look through my mail inbox and see that we had our route through Norway, Sweden and Finland booked and locked down by April 16th.

So imagine our delight when BrewDog Malmo opened just over a fortnight later, in an entirely different bit of Sweden. It was too late to change our route by then, and even if we'd wanted to it would have taken us massively out of our way. We always suspected we'd be coming back eventually to tie up that loose end. And two years later, here we are.

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The Copenhagen Introduction (Nordic Expedition II part 1)

March 24th-25th 2018

2016 was the year when The Belated Birthday Girl and I went on our Nordic Expedition: a two-week trek around Oslo, Gothenburg, Stockholm, Turku and Helsinki. The inspiration behind that route, as you may already know, was that each of those five cities had a new BrewDog bar we could visit. But as I noted in the Oslo section of the report, we already knew we'd have to come back at some point: "in between our making the bookings and going on the holiday, the buggers opened a sixth bar in an awkwardly-located bit of Sweden. We're saving that one for another time."

Easter 2018 was that other time. So over the next four posts, join us on Nordic Expedition II. It's shorter than the first one, but it somehow covers four countries rather than three, including one neither of us have been to before. There are more BrewDog bars, plus most of our usual distractions like food, music, movies, art and lots more. Plus, rather like our holidays in both 2016 and 2017, they're introduced on this site with a video of something on fire. Unlike those years, though, I won't keep you in suspense over where the fire was - it was in Copenhagen, the first stop on NEII.

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Rising Monkey 2017: The Eighth One

Local flora of Tokyo city, courtesy of Yayoi KusamaYou know how this has worked in the past. Every four years – specifically 1993, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2013 – I’ve visited Hong Kong, with the last three of those trips being in the company of The Belated Birthday Girl. At the same time, as a result of her influence, we’ve also been travelling out to Japan every two years, in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014. As holiday schedules go, it doesn’t leave us much room for exploring other countries. (You can spot the gap years in that sequence where we’ve done what we can: 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015.)

We've decided to change things around a bit. So in 2016, we didn’t go anywhere near Japan, deciding instead to head off on a beer-inspired Nordic Expedition. And in May 2017, in order to force a hard reset on our Asian excursions, we went to Hong Kong and Japan back to back, spending one week in each. You already know about the Hong Kong leg of the trip: it’s when we failed completely to get into BrewDog Hong Kong, but managed to find enough things to keep us occupied regardless. Here’s what happened in Japan, taking in both the familiar sights of Tokyo and the less well-trodden environs of Kanazawa.

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BrewDogging #xx: Hong Kong†

I had to stand in the middle of a busy street to fit in that 'End' sign on the right hand side, so I hope you appreciate it.[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, DED Angel, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku, Helsinki, Gray's Inn Road, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton, Berlin, Warsaw, Leeds North Street, York]

Here's how the timeline goes.

February 4th 2016: BrewDog opens a new bar in Hong Kong. As regular visitors to the territory, The Belated Birthday Girl and I note this news with interest. Our next trip isn't going to be until 2017, but that shouldn't be a problem.

February 18th 2017: We start planning our visit to Hong Kong. We find a hotel close to where BrewDog Hong Kong is located, and book ourselves in for a few nights at the end of April. We're good to go.

March 8th 2017: With zero warning, BrewDog Hong Kong permanently shuts down. The first we hear about this is via reports on the bar's social media accounts describing the closing night party. A couple of days later, as is BrewDog's standard operating procedure, the Facebook and Twitter accounts of the bar are wiped from the internet, so that there's no way of finding out that it doesn't exist any more.

The review of BrewDog Hong Kong is going to be shorter than usual. This page won't be, though.

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MOSTLYFILM: The Secret Life Of Arabia

Kingdom Centre in Riyadh. Ironically, given its shape, there isn't a single bottle worth opening in the entire city. I imagine most of you have made some sort of wallchart to accompany the BrewDogging posts on here. You've listed all of the BrewDog bars currently open across the planet - maybe you've even plotted them out on a big map - and you've been marking them off one by one as we've been visiting them. You're probably eagerly anticipating the day when we can say we've had a drink in every single one.

Well, spoiler alert: that's probably not going to happen. The primary reason for that is the BrewDog bar in São Paulo. Yes, I was in the city back in 2012, two years before the bar opened, but that was for work. Even Brazilians will admit that São Paulo has nothing to offer the casual tourist, which is what we'd be if we were visiting it for BrewDogging purposes. We'd have to expend a lot of effort and money just so we could have a cheeky drink or two.

Saudi Arabia's the same, but without the cheeky drink or two. Riyadh is purely a business city, and there's no reason you'd go there as a tourist: there's no actual method of doing it either, given that they don't offer tourist visas anyway. So when I went there back in May this year - primarily for work, but also to research an amusingly futile Monoglot Movie Club piece for Mostly Film called The Secret Life Of Arabia - I did wonder if writing up my usual set of travel tips would work as backup material. It's quite possible they would be of no use to absolutely anyone else reading this.

Mind you, that's never stopped me before, so here goes.

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BrewDogging #47: York

It's a better look than the Soho bar's BEER PORN, it has to be said.[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, DED Angel, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku, Helsinki, Gray's Inn Road, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton, Berlin, Warsaw, Leeds North Street]

The thing you need to know about York is that everybody there is pissed all the time.

Okay, I’m prepared to accept that there might be statistical issues with my sample. It was Easter Sunday afternoon, and The Belated Birthday Girl and I were on a street with at least a dozen bars on it while the football was on telly. But it’s still the case that everyone we encountered during that period was out of it to some degree or other.

Including ourselves, it has to be said, as we’d just come out of a lunchtime session from one of those bars. So: how was it doing?

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BrewDogging #46: Leeds North Street

Jumping the shark[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, DED Angel, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku, Helsinki, Gray's Inn Road, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton, Berlin, Warsaw]

Just to get this out of the way up front: no, The Belated Birthday Girl and I are not fucking millionaires now, no matter what you've read in the papers.

People have been asking us this since BrewDog's AGM back in April, when James Watt told the massed shareholders that he'd just sold 22% of the company to a venture capital organisation, and that BrewDog was now worth one billion pounds on paper. In the short term, the shareholders could choose to either sell up to 15% of their previously unsellable shares at a new inflated rate, or keep all their shares in for the long haul and get a six pack of beer as a thankyou. (For what it's worth, we went for the beer.)

Despite all the fireworks of the big announcement, it's not really been that great a year for BrewDog. Since the start of 2017, they've closed down two of the bars I've previously reviewed here. Homerton has, to be honest, looked like a shaky proposition from literally the day it opened: but for me, the sadder of the two closures is Turku, which seemed to be doing okay on the event night we visited back in 2016. (There's also been a third bar closure, but that'll require a separate post on its own.)

With all this activity, and very few new bar openings on the horizon, it does colour your experience of visiting a BrewDog bar for the first time: you find yourself consciously looking for signs of ill health, in case it's going to be the next entry on the dead pool. With Leeds North Street, the obvious question to ask is this: does a change of name count as a sign of ill health?

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