Green parts – south west”
Our second spring-time excursion into Moscow’s unexpectedly generous green lungs takes us to the playgrounds immediately south west of the city, along the river from Gorky Park to Sparrow Hills: all under 7km from the Kremlin walls. In a largely flat city, these offer some of the widest panoramas as well as a pleasant diversity of entertainments.
Text and photos by Ross Hunter
Nearest to the centre and beside the Garden Ring is Moscow’s most famous recreational honey-pot. The swarm at the entrance arches, the roar of the traffic behind you and the shrieks and squeals from the big dippers tell you that this is a place for lively fun not quiet contemplation. Bring plenty of money, as this beehive is commercially driven. Expect plenty of amiable company, and enjoy roller coasters, rides, slides, ice creams, hot snacks and cold glasses, skating and snowballing in season, indeed, all the fun of the fair. Free amusements include people-watching and the frisson of people screaming themselves witless on the harem-scarem rides. Listening to them is not for the faint hearted, never mind actually going on the things: after you, I insist! Moscow traffic may even seem tame afterwards.
Next, step beyond: ‘Neskuchny Sad’ means literally The Enjoyable Garden, and after the collective excitements of the man-made park, this is a complete contrast, an oasis of restful forest. It is free and you are free to make your own fun. Whether you are active on foot, bike or blades, or prefer idling, snoozing or picnicking on the grass, or enjoying the leafy views towards the river and nature, you have plenty of options for solitude, oneness with nature, or a friend. Surprisingly small swathes of forest feel remarkably expansive. There are wonderful bird watching opportunities, ornithologically speaking: see this month’s family quiz on p44. I’d promise to see you there, but there are more paths than people, so you are likely to be in luck.
There is more yet. The new edifice of the Russian Academy of Sciences is a remarkable sight. What looks like a lonely brutalist concrete block from afar suddenly turns sci-fi or spy-fi with a wig of gloriously incongruous collection of gold cubes, shielding what? Dr Who? Dr No? Dr Quatermass? (Younger readers quiz parents here.) It is absurdly curious, from below. Once within, it is a coherent if perplexing complex of modernist architecture. Not only that, you can plot world domination while Bonding (sorry) in the excellent 22nd floor Sky Lounge restaurant, surveying all the Moscow you command: everything including all the ‘seven sisters skyscrapers’ (beat that) to the Kremlin to the competing Swiss hotel tower; from the river via Shukov’s radio tower nearby to the distant Ostankino TV tower. Unbeatable without a balloon.
Carry on round the outside of the river’s expansive bend, walking leisurely or cycling in your own style, and you will soon be in Vorobyovy Gory, the Sparrow (formerly Lenin) Hills. All my Russian friends tell me that this is their favourite part of the city. With good reason. Or, use the handy Red-line Metro shortcut to the station of the same name, unique in that the platforms are on a glass-walled bridge over the river, affording a great snapshot of this month’s landscapes.
Sparrow Hills is a curious name. Hills they are not, more really the eroded meander scarp. Wildlife abounds and it forms the foundation for both Moscow’s most famous scenic viewpoint and most famous University. Before you amble up the steepish slopes, or cheat using the ski lift, enjoy the woodland idyll. There is plenty of wildlife within, avian and mammalian, though mostly quite shy and requiring some patience. The top arrives with pleasing suddenness, and the world changes in an instant. A car park festooned with souvenir sellers, not to mention the Olympic ski jumps, three road-rail bridges, newly-weds and their parties alighting here for the views, all let you know that this is a popular spot. Why? Turn around for the best natural view of the city. Pick a crisp, clear day, or the haze will frustrate you. The graceful ovals of the Luzhniki stadium dominate, followed immediately by the game of ‘spot your dom’, to the tune of the celebrations and entertainments all around you.
As if further evidence is needed, this is the spot chosen by Bulgakov for the eternal, ethereal climax of his definitive Moscow novel. After all their trials and frustrations and temptations, the eponymous Master & Margarita depart the city and the earthly life from here. It is their moment of revelation, of transience and eternity. It is the view of Moscow you will take with you.
How to get there.
Sparrow Hills: Metro to Vorbyovy Gory or Universitet (Red line), cycle along the river, or by car: park near the University.
Neskuchny Sad: walk from Sparrow Hills, Gorky Park or the Academy Of Sciences. Orange Metro Leninsky Prospect (by Gagarin). Enter at each end, or by the river.
Gorky Park: Brown Metro Park Kultury or Oktyabaskaya.
My thanks to Anna and Marina for their lifelong knowledge of these areas and help with research.