You don't have to have your own dacha to enjoy days out in the country. Just on the other side of the MKAD are miles of peaceful forest and lakes for swimming. The Bakovsky forest park is full of flowers with carpets of wild strawberries just beginning to ripen. This week's trip involves a train journey out of town, a hike through the strawberry woods and a dip in the Meshersky Pond, one of the cleanest lakes in the Moscow area, followed by a stroll through the dachas of Meshersk Village. Unlike neighboring Peredelkino, Meshersk had no famous literary inhabitants, which means that happily you can still enjoy the sound of birdsong rather than the noise of construction. The actual process of getting into and through the wild Bakovsky Forest can be quite challenging, so be prepared to take your time. Also, although the manic mosquito activity of the June breeding season has calmed down a little bit, the lush ferns and marshy undergrowth that make these woods so beautiful are a magnet for the little biters, so long trousers and a squirt of insect repellent is advisable. If you have one, a compass can also be useful, so that if in doubt, you can always head north until you reach the more definite track and then east along it toward Meshersk village.
Coming out of the metro at Kievskaya, follow signs to the prigorodni ("local") trains. Walking between the imposing station building and the even bigger Evropeisky Mall, head toward the flower market and away from the river. Opposite a cafe with a red-and-white striped awning, and just after a currency exchange sign, go left up the steps into an airy hall with a fantastic ceiling. This is the ticket hall for long distance trains. The local ticket counters are in the room to the right. Get a ticket to Solnechnaya from the counter on the left, and look at the boards to see when the next train leaves. Red lights indicate stations where the train is NOT stopping. Platforms 6, 7 and 8 are straight ahead through the barriers, but to get to the others, you need to go toward these platforms, then left and downstairs, then right and up the stairs again.
When you arrive at Solnechnaya Station, head toward the front of the train and up the steps, turn right along the walkway, down the steps at the end and then right again along a path between a field of vetch and clover and concrete fence. Cross over the railway siding, and take the path leading through a lorry park, heading toward an orange tower. Coming out onto a road, turn left past a barrier, and walk along the road about 100 meters until you are halfway between the orange tower and a red and white factory chimney. A small, seemingly un promising path leads right into the forest between nettles.
Follow this until you have nearly reached an apartment block ahead, then turn sharply to the right along a broader path leading back into the woods. Each time the path forks, take the less overgrown, right-hand option, leading into a clearing with a picnic site in the middle. Walking through the picnic place, the path gets a bit indistinct, but you soon pick up a better path leading through glades of dog roses, spreading bellflowers and ragged robin. Beyond a steep bank covered in wild strawberries, go left around the edge of an overgrown pond with an island and then turn right away from the pond through pine trees. After a clearing on the left, take another right fork through the woods following a path that leads north through ferns and campions to emerge onto a track.
Follow the track right into a large clearing and go straight and slightly right along the track through a wide break in the forest. About 100 meters after a blue sign, turn left along a path marked by bricks in the mud near the start of the trees. Follow the edge of a marshy area, ignoring a right fork and an overgrown fire-break, until you come to a definite mud path to the right. Follow this for 700 meters over one crossroads, and turn left at the second, following an avenue northeast until you reach a track. Turn right along this track to reach a gate leading to the quiet road that runs round the Meshersky Pond.
Turn left to reach the grassy area surrounding a pleasant sandy beach. This bathing place is deservedly popular on hot days as one of only eleven officially-sanctioned beaches in the Moscow area. To say that the water quality is a bit better than at many places in Moscow is not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it is appealing enough and not too cold, with soft sand underfoot and a beachside cafe. Going on along the edge of the water beyond the police hut, turn right along the embankment at the end of the lake.
The road straight ahead leads directly toward the station, a kilometer and a half away at the far end of the village. If you are in a hurry, you can even catch the marshrutka. If you have time, however, it is more enjoyable to walk through some of the quieter side streets, where you can see some older dachas that are not all obscured by high fences. Going on round the lake to the right, turn left (not sharp left) along the 4th Dachno-Meshersky Proezd. There are all kinds of architectural styles among the follies and mansions lining the lakeside, and they continue along this road, interspersed with wooden cabins and gardens full of flowers and fruit trees.
At the T-junction, turn left, right and finally left again along Varvarinskaya Ulitsa to reach the original road. From here you can flag down the 500M Marshrutka, which will take you back to Kievskaya Metro. This comfortable, modern minibus service runs very regularly, costs 25 rubles and takes you (eventually) down scenic Kutozovsky Prospekt, passing Victory Park, The Triumphal Arch, the Cat Theater and several war memorials. The disadvantage is that in heavy traffic it can take an hour or so. If you prefer, you can walk on down the road and left to Vos trya kovo Station.
With small children, you might opt to head straight for the lake by Marshrutka 500M from Kievskaya near the new Moo Moo cafe. After about 40 minutes, it drops you by the lake on the far side from the beach. From here, you can stroll along the bank to play in the colorful old-fashioned playground and buy ice cream. There is even a weedy fenced-off area for very small children to paddle in.