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Your Moscow

Green Parks: Eastern Delights
Text and photos by Ross Hunter

Moscow lies slightly nearer to the Arctic circle than the Med, so the summer nights are endless. For the last six months we have been touring the city’s green spaces, clockwise. It was easy to start at Kolomenskaya, a glorious place for a leisurely cultural and alfresco day off, and then go wilder and wilder (in the botanical sense). But we have saved the best for last. The eastern parks are close, varied and attractive. Wildscape, culture, adventure and bargains await. Let’s go.

Ismailova and Terlestksy Parks

Ismailova Park the C17 cathedral

Ismailova! One of the first words the newcomer to Moscow learns—or ought to. What does the word mean to you? The wonderfully eclectic, exotic, kaleidoscopic flea market, I am sure. If you haven’t been there, clear the diary for this weekend, and either go, or read PASSPORT’s back numbers where it is immortalized in ink. Bargain, tat, brica-brac, wow, grot, buzzing, Christmassouvenirs-sorted ... choose your word. But there is much more than that.

Escape the entertaining, commercialized NW corner, and get exploring what is claimed to be Europe’s largest urban park (not sure about this: any competing claims?). After seeing the fascinating sports stadium, with its WW2 bunker concealed beneath, agreeably close by is the moated island, full of fishing, bathing and sporting opportunities, culminating in the expansive monastery in the centre. This is well worth the trip alone, with its glorious 17th-century cathedral. The trees have matured, so photography is not easy: good luck!

The park itself is huge, rambling and agreeably random. However often you walk, ride, cycle or otherwise perambulate, you will not follow the same route twice. The vast lake off ers a focal point, as well as endless sites for badminton, bronzing, barbequing, bathing and breathing.

On the opposite side of Shosse Entusiastov lies Terlestksy Park. Compact, pleasant, and handy from Novogireevo Metro, Terlestksy offers an agreeable hour of fresh air and exercise, only a few minutes from Moscow centre. As with all Moscow’s urban parks, including the many we have not covered, there are lawns, lakes and leafy lanes. And ice cream at the edges.

Kuskovo Park

And so to Kuskovo. A fine and fitting finale. “Moscow’s Versailles”, say the guide books. Yes and no. The house, gardens and Orangery are certainly redolent of French formal built- and landscape-architecture at their finest. The then opulent Sheremetyov family aimed to best their neighbours, and match their counterparts in France in the few decades before the Revolution tore them apart. But at a more compact scale. This is all to the good. The formal parts of Kuskovo are eminently strollable, indoors and out. Entrance is free to the park and all the buildings. The large house/small palace is glorious. It deserves an article to itself, so we’ll stick to the gardens for now. Surrounded by wild, rambling forest, the formal garden, with intricate geometrical lawns, flower beds and gravel paths is an exquisite demonstration of managing nature. They soothe the mind and add wonder to the soul. Welcome to one of very few places that make me walk slowly.

Kuskovo Park the Grotto

Kuskovo formal gardens

These gardens are discreetly surrounded by buildings, dispersed among the trees. Clockwise from the house and lake to the south are a Swiss chalet, the orangery, an aviary, a grotto and servants cottages. Each and all are worth visiting. The orangery now has no indoor plants, but instead a splendid ceramic collection, with special sections for Egyptian-style ornaments and Soviet tea services. Sadly, photography is not allowed, so you have to go in person. However, ideally with children, the absolute “must-see” is the grotto. From the outside, a routine classically-styled temple or some such, nicely mirrored in a fish-filled pond. But the inside is a gloriously absurd homage to the sea, packed with ridiculous statues coated in shells, sculptures of mother-of-pearl, collections of nautical pot-pourri and eerily illuminated fishy tableaux. A manmonkey punting a coracle and clad in shiny scales greets you. The Styx itself could not be more extraordinary. It is the perfect folly. I defy you not to be still smiling and chuckling as you amble gracefully back out of the estate, between palace and lake, feeling like you own the world.

Enjoy this, and all the many other splendid small, large, formal, wild, busy and peaceful parks that Moscow freely offers. Happy exploring!

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