Now that spring is definitely on the way, it's time to tackle one of Moscow's great parks again. Sokoliniki Park is a perfect choice for changeable spring weather since the wilder areas, once part of a huge territory of the Tsar's "sokolniki" (falconers), are interspersed with tarmac paths, cafés and fairground rides. These 600 hectares (four times the size of London's Hyde park) contain remnants of many centuries of history and a lot of wildlife which strays in from the woods beyond the northern boundary. In 1931, the park opened as Moscow's second best outdoor getaway. The historic metro station (1) is not as spectacular as some of those that were built later, but there are several interesting buildings around it that date from the early 20th century. A pedestrian walkway stretches towards the ferris wheel arching over the trees in the park. Behind you, next to McDonald's, is the 1930-era fire station with a tower that looks like a lighthouse. Ahead, on the left, is the modernist Church of the Resurrection (1909), well worth a detour for the potent atmosphere, with clouds of incense hanging in the sunbeams and a revered early copy of the "Miracle-working Icon of the Iverskoi Mother of God," first brought to Russia from Greece by Patriarch Nikkon.
On entering the park, head right around the central fountain past the Sokolnaya Okhota ("falcon hunt") restaurant, turn right just before the restaurant with an owl in a cage (2) and strike out across country until you come to a pond. Bear left here, parallel to the road, passing one of the park's many outdoor stages until, crossing at a junction, you see a wooden church ahead of you (3). The first church on the site of this restored 19th century "Church of St. Tikhon Zadonsky on Shiryaevo Field" was allegedly founded by Ivan the Terrible's falconer, who recovered a lost falcon of the Tsar through prayer as he was about to be executed. He had the church built in gratitude. Despite its derelict air, the church is beautiful inside.
Coming out behind the church, turn left around the edge of the sports' field and then right along a lime tree avenue. This leads to the park fence and to the semi-circular transverse road that cuts across the eight radial tracks that fan out from the entrance. Cross this road and carry on along the Sixth Radial, passing a flower farm, the Sokolniki Sanatorium, and finally, a white and turquoise mansion that's now a school. At the end of the road, you can see the busy Rostokinsky Proezd, beyond which lies the Losiny Ostrov (Elk Island) National Park, where elk still wander freely and which will be explored on future walks.
Immediately after the wooden building at number 21 (4), turn left along a little track, following the fence and stepping over a low barrier. Very soon after a second (broken) barrier, take a little path leading right into the woods, away from the brick ruin behind the mansion. This leads onto a wider path and then to a junction. Turn left along a broader track and keep going in this direction through the woods until you emerge onto the Fifth Radial next to a ruined "Dom Molodyozhi" (House of Youth) at number 14 with ornate 1950's plaster work on its crumbing walls. Crossing over the road and following the path ahead brings you to a chain of ornamental lakes (5) - originally 18th century fishponds, but recently re-landscaped and still rather raw. When the seasons have had a chance to soften the gravel banks and turn the paths green, it should be a lovely place.
One of the ponds has a Domik Morzhi ("Walrus Hut"), steps and seasonal ice hole for dedicated swimmers. Turn left along the bank until you reach the Fourth Radial. Turn left along the road and almost immediately diagonally right along a path through the woods, which leads to a winding tarmac track. Turn right along this, passing one of the area's many woodland hospitals, until you reach the Third Radial. Turn left here and follow this road back over the crossroads and through the park gates again. Once inside the park, take the path leading diagonally right through the trees and follow it all the way to a junction of several tracks near the huge geometrically laid out rose garden (6), already being planted out for spring and emerging from its winter cover of snow and pine branches. Along the lane to the left are the exhibition pavilions, in one of which Khrushchev and Nixon had a famous debate.
Walk through the rose garden to the far corner and turn left onto the First Radial, a tarmac avenue of birch trees, which leads you past a fairground and a lot of cafés, which serve the standard shashlik combos with beer. There are also a number of cafés back at the metro station (right past the fairgrounds, through the gates and back along the walkway). N
Family friendly features
Kids will love the parts of this park that the walk attempts to avoid! Among the rides, they can ride through an apple on a giant green caterpillar, or fly on the bungee trampolines. If you can drag them away from all this, there are also several ordinary playgrounds and the lakes are an appealing feature, studded with duck-houses and ornamental bridges. Woodpeckers and other birds are fairly easy to spot in the still-leafless trees.