This Saturday is "Cosmonautics' Day," which celebrates the anniversary of Gagarin's orbit of the earth. Founded in Russia in 1962, the special day is now celebrated internationally as "Yuri's Night." Space buffs can mark this event by visiting the Museum of Aviation and Cosmo nautics, hidden in the north west of the city near several other interesting sights, and combine it with a stroll through the nearby woods. Gagarin commented after his pioneering voyage on Vostok 1: "Circling the earth in the orbital spaceship, I marveled at the beauty of our planet." At the Voykovskaya Metro station, turn left off the train, left again in the perekhod and then right up the steps at the end. Once on the street you will find a bus stop for the 57 trolley. Tickets are available from the little grey kiosk nearby, or simply give 25 rubles to the driver. Just after the bus swings left under the Most Pobedi ("Victory Bridge") with its heroic statues, you will see a memorial to Vladislav Volkov (1) who was a member of a crew that met a tragic ending during a space fight: a vent was accidentally left open in the capsule during re-entry. Ulitsa Kosmonauta Volkova is named after this space hero; at the end of this street, the bus turns left again onto Bolshaya Akade micheskaya Ulitsa where you need to exit at the third stop, "Teleatelye," just before the supermarket.
Walk back fifty meters from the bus stop and turn left along a little lane between a blue and white school building and house number 20. When this lane bends right, turn left past the end of block 20b to find a gated entrance (2) into the forest park belonging to the Timiryazev Academy. Go through the gate and walk straight ahead, away from the tower blocks. Keep going in the same easterly direction, crossing several smaller paths until you reach a large junction with a gate onto a road ahead.
To the left you will see a small colorful playground (3) and, behind it, the embankment around the ornamental canals and lake that formed part of the old Petrovsko-Razumovsky estate; this is worth exploring if you have more time. Otherwise, turn right along a broad track with a wire fence next to it, bordered by silver birches, oaks, pines and hazels decked with catkins. The next few weeks are one of the best times to be in the woods as greenery conquers the last of the ice, and yellow and purple wood anenomes cover the forest floor. Benches and even rubbish bins have been recently installed, along with information boards and marker posts around an area which is particularly rich in wildlife. Even a casual observer has a good chance of seeing squirrels and woodpeckers, while the home-made bird feeders attract a number of smaller songbirds.
At the end of this track turn left, parallel to the concrete perimeter fence with several unofficial doorways in it, until you reach the corner where a further fence blocks the path ahead. At this point, turn right through the gates, left onto a little road and right again onto the larger road at the end which takes you to a wooden crossing over the railway and into Petrovsko-Razumovsky Proezd. Walking straight ahead, you pass between a large playground and a brick church. (4) This 19th century church, like so many in Moscow, has an interesting history and a beautiful interior: one of its priests, father Vladimir, was arrested and executed in 1937; photos just inside the door show him in his vestments and in prison. The building became part of an aircraft factory and then fell into disrepair until its restoration in the 1990s. At the next junction, turn right in to Stary Petrovsko-Razumovsky Proezd, at the end of which cross over, next to the tulip-covered traffic island with a small horseback monument, into Ulitsa Seregina.
On the corner of the next road, Kras noarmeiskaya Ulitsa ("Red Army Street"), is a striking art nouveau building (5). Turn right opposite this to find the "Central House Museum of Aviation and Cosmonautics" at number 4 (closed Monday; entrance 60/120 rubles for Russians/foreigners). The main rooms in this building chronicle the history of aviation, including numerous model planes, and a diorama of an 18th century balloon flight. Don't miss the collection of rocket engines in a shed in the yard at the back, next to the Vostok capsule. Even better, are the "Zali Kosmonavtiki," around the corner on Ulitsa Pilota Nesterova, where a plaster cast of the space-dog, Belka, is shown alongside the actual container in which she made the trip. In a second room decorated with pinprick stars on a black arched ceiling, are all kinds of space memorabilia including the astronauts' food in tubes.
Returning to the junction by the art nouveau house, cross straight over to pass between another lovely church and the pink "House of Children." To the right is the striking Petrovsky Palace (6), founded by Catherine the Great as a rest house for travelling royalty. The architect, Kazakov, later built the unfinished palace at Tsaratsino, whose gothic intricacies this building prefigures. Napoleon sheltered here during the 1812 fire; it later became the Zhukovsky Air Academy, whose alumni included Gagarin, and is currently being converted into a luxury hotel. Walk round to the front of the palace near the main road for a better view and to find monuments on either side of the entrance to Zhukovsky and Tsiolkovsky, founding fathers of human flight and space travel. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who was self taught and spent most of his life in a log cabin near Kaluga, famously said: "The earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever".
Turn left through the roadside park to reach Dinamo Metro station. Before you go, however, it is worth a look at the Dinamo stadium, home to Russia's oldest football club. Like the station, the stadium is decorated with 1950s reliefs on a sporting theme and round the back, near Gate 10, is a Georgian Restaurant which could make a great place to end the trip.
Family friendly features
This walk could be split into two parts, exploring either the woods or Dinamo, depending on weather and interests. The Academy park has numerous playgrounds and nature trail-like sections. The small space museum is also recommended, bearing in mind that this is not a modern science museum style hands-on experience, but an old-fashioned look-don't-touch exhibition. The Savelovsky Park, opposite the brick church, also features fairground rides (in season), a pool hall and several cafés.