From June to August each year, the "Little Moscow Railway" runs from the town of Otdykh ("relaxation") to a picturesque lake in the village of Kratovo. The railway is one of the numerous "children's railways" scattered across the former Soviet Union. The engineers, signal operators, conductors and guards are all schoolchildren between the ages of eleven and fifteen and take their duties quite seriously, often committing to a four-year course of theoretical and practical training alongside their school work. Otdykh and Kratovo both lie along the line to Ryazan, which extends from Moscow's Kazansky Vokzal (near metro Komsomolskaya, on the brown line). In many ways it is easier, though, to catch the train from Vykhino Station, at the metro station by the same name on the southeast end of the purple line. The railway station is right next door to the metro, the queues are shorter, there are fewer platforms, and you can also visit the brilliant Vykhino Rinok. This lively market is also next to the metro station and would be a good place to pick up picnic ingredients. Good cafes are one thing that is missing on this trip, but the lake at the end makes a perfect picnic site. The market has a lot of fresh fruit and veggies at prices that are a fraction of what you would pay in town, with the last of the season's cherries and peaches still heaped on the tables or in baskets brought straight from the orchard. Even if you don't want to buy anything, it is worth strolling through the stalls to admire the leafy heaps of red currants and yellow chanterelle mushrooms.
A return ticket to Kratovo will cost 72 rubles; trains leave fairly regularly and take about 40 minutes. You pass through a number of other dacha villages on route, including the mystical village of Kosino with its lakes and famous icon and Bykovo with its grand mansion and Vladimir Church. Get off at Otdykh Station, which is the next stop after Ilynskaya, and walk toward the buildings and then left along the road by the railway to find the little Yunost ("youth") Platform (1). The railway first opened in 1937 and was called "The Little Lenin Railway." There is still a statue of Lenin outside this relatively new station building.
A ticket to Pionerskaya Station at the other end will cost 30 rubles for an adult or 20 rubles for a child. If the ticket office is shut, you can always get a ticket when you get off. Trains leave every 55 minutes, starting at 10:25 a.m from Yunost and take fifteen minutes to cover their five-kilometer track. The trains are beautifully clean and tidy, thanks to fresh funding and their young workforce. The white net curtains and smart blue upholstery are far classier than the average elektrichka ("surburban train"). The route through the woods is also delightful, stopping at Shkolnaya Station (2) near a restaurant and bowling center. The influence of the little railway on local children is reflected in the fact that every kindergarten playground along the route has a model train, and all the children run waving up to the fence to greet the trains that pass.
The little train crosses the main road (3),where you can see a pioneer conscientiously holding up a flag at the junction, and enters the village of Kratovo. The village was begun in 1912 as a garden city for railway workers by the Ryazan railroad owner, Nikolai von Meck, the son of Tchaikovsky's patroness Nadezhda von Meck. It was Nadezhda who originally persuaded her engineer husband Karl to invest in the Russian railways which grew from 200 km to 25,000 km in twenty years, partly thanks to him. Karl von Meck, and later his son Nikolai, were responsible for the highly profitable Ryazan line with its monopoly on grain transport from central Russia. Nikolai married Tchaikovsky's niece, Anna Davidova, in 1883 and later employed leading architects such as Alexei Shchusev (who built the Kazansky Station at the Moscow end of the line) to design his village.
Although the buildings were never finished as planned, Kratovo continued to be an exclusive dacha colony during the Soviet era. The composer Prokofiev and the film director Eisenstein both had dachas in the village. On the shore of a lake, which must always have contribued to the area's appeal, the train reaches Pionerskaya Station (4) at the end of the end of the line. It was the Young Pioneers who first built the railway in the 1930s, inspired by their comrades in Tbilisi. At the time, there was also a miniature railway in Gorky Park and beautiful plans were drawn up for a railway round the woods at Izmailovsky, but the only surviving Little Moscow Railway is this one at Kratovo. The railway celebrated its 70th anniversary last year, and the large building near the platform houses a commemorative exhibition of photographs.
Walking past this building and out onto the road, then through the gates into the park and past a slide, you reach a sandy beach (5) on the shores of the lake, which would make an excellent place to picnic, play, sunbathe or swim. After this it is possible to walk right along the shore, over the ornate stone bridge and left along the far side of the lake to reach the road and turn right toward Kratovo Railway Station (6). If you are in a hurry, the quickest way to the station is actually left from the little railway platform, past goats grazing under the pine trees, and then right over the road bridge. There is a typical midday gap on working days in the trains back to Moscow, but the lake is close enough to serve as a waiting room, or there are a summer beer tent and some useful shops and produce stalls near the main railway line.
Family friendly Features
The whole trip is ideally suited to children, and there is a playground near the lake at the end.