A walk through the magnificent triumvirate of parks north of Moscow, which includes the "All-Russia Exhibition Center," Botanical Gardens and the Ostankino Palace, is an incredible experience. After all, where else can you see Sponge Bob and Lenin together? Where else can you find Vostok rockets and Japanese pagodas, Aztec sculpture and ornate palaces all within a couple hours' stroll? (Although it will probably take you a lot longer, as there are distractions round every corner). If you aim to finish at the palace between 4 and 6pm, you can walk round the stately rooms and gardens on your own, rather than having to join a tour (Note: the palace is closed on Monday, Tuesday, and when it's raining or humid. Also, since the structure is constructed of wood under the pink and white plaster, the palace is unheated and only open in summer, so you need to visit before September). Surreal surprises greet visitors at the metro. Exiting near the front of the train, the huge curving sweep of the hotel Cosmos is visible to your right and the shining titanium Cosmo nautics monument on your left. Between these, a big wheel rises over the trees. Head for this and you will soon see the monumental gates of VVTs, topped by a golden couple with a sheaf of wheat. The hundred-odd elaborately decorated Soviet-era pavilions spread over 200 hectares are still frequently known by the old acronym, VDNKh (which stands for "exhibition of people's economic achievements," as it was originally conceived in the 1930s), and include a bewildering spectrum of styles and purposes that would take weeks to explore fully.
Straight ahead stands Lenin in front of the grand central pavilion, often surrounded by Shrek, Mickey Mouse, and other cartoon characters. The juxtaposition is typical of the park's bizarre concessions with the modern world. If you go into the pavilions, you will usually find remnants of the stucco work, murals, and chandeliers that graced the original interiors, but half-hidden behind tiny, crowded kiosks selling imported kitsch. This first pavilion specializes in electronic equipment and has become a veritable underworld of lava lamps and plasma balls.
However many times you come back to VVTs, you will always find something new, and there are hundreds of routes through the grounds. If you have never been here before, you might want to walk straight up the central avenue lined with the most awe-inspiring pavilions and fountains (more details at www.vvcentre.ru/eng/about_us/excursion/). But if you have seen these before, here is a back route through some less well-known sights. Turning left just before the central spike-topped building, walk diagonally left through a garden with stork sculptures towards Pavilion 2. Keep left of this and you will reach a grassy garden. Across from this spot are the domes and pillars of Pavilion 8, containing the Dom Skazok, ("House of Fairy Tales"). Inside, a crumbling conservatory houses palm small village of wooden huts provides a setting for plays for children.
Turn right in front of this and left past Pavilion 9, offering "4-D Cinema," along a road with a useful grocer and several cafes. At the giant glass Pavilion 20, turn right toward the Aeroflot planes, rocket, and domed Cosmos Pavilion. Turn left along the far side of Pavilion 26, and walk between a crazy golf garden with giant animal statues and the ornate geology and microbiology buildings. Go on between an orchard with a statue to Soviet botanist Michurin and a small gold-domed chapel, and then turn right past the derelict pink and yellow honey pavilion toward the lake. Walk right along the water passing a cafe (watch the prices if you eat here) and then left along the causeway, past the giant gold fountain that is shaped like a wheat stalk.
Continue straight past dilapidated buildings to a gate lets you into the Botanical Gardens. Skirt round the little hill, and then take the path straight on through another fence and over a bridge onto a tarmac track. Turn right past a green summer house and left to reach the Japanese garden on the far side of a pond with frogs and irises. The garden is open sporadically from noon to Stroll (for a fee) among its water lilies, peonies, and pagodas.
Walking on around the pond, you can cut diagonally left across the grass to come out on the broad tarmac path that leads to the main gate. Turn left at the junction with a map, back through flower beds to the lakes again. Turn right as far as another causeway where the path skirts round a fence. On the far side of the water, turn right again through a gate, and go on along the lake until you reach a sculpture garden near Botanicheskaya Ulitsa. Turn left through the statues and exit through the outdoor stage, colonnade, and gate at the far end.
Follow the path along the fence around Ostankino palace, passing figures carved from dead trees to reach a lake surrounded by fairground rides. Cafe Lav on the near corner of the lake fits perfectly into a day of surreal phantasmagoria. The wooden terrace built around a tall lilac tree has stalactites and a waterfall. On weekdays there is a four course-plus-drink business lunch for 190 rubles. Walking along the edge of the lake, turn right along the fence of the palace, past the war memorial, and out through the gate next to the ticket house.
A ticket to walk round the grounds is only 5 rubles, but it is worth the 80 rubles (150 if you arrive before 4 p.m.) to look inside. The rooms and galleries are colorfully decorated with an eighteenth-century taste for exotic ornament. The highlight is the Theater, where the serf opera singer, Praskovia, who married Count Sheremetev, sang many of her greatest roles. At 7 p.m. on Thursdays and 5 p.m. on Saturdays, there are still concerts here for much of the summer. When you have finished wandering round the palace and the garden with its lime tree pergolas and summer houses, you can visit the multi-domed Trinity Church next door to see the towering baroque iconostasis before catching the tram from the corner of the pond back to VDNKh.
Family friendly features
There are huge numbers of fairground rides and attractions at VDNKh.
You can find out more about the House of Fairy Tales at http://www.domskazok.ru/