A great trip to cheer up a gloomy weekend or celebrate a sunny one, is a journey by monorail to the incredible All-Russia Exhibition Center (VVTs), packed with colourful Soviet-era pavilions to explore, followed by a brisk walk through the Botanical Gardens beyond. You can also start from the VDNKh Metro Station, of course, which commemorates the park's old acronym, "The Exhibition of Economic Achievements." The Exhibition grounds first opened in 1939, but evolved over decades and the decoration of many of today's pavilions shows the unmistakable stamp of the ornate Stalin period; fans of socialist realist art and sculpture will also have a field day. It is a fascinating place to wander around and discover, and the route outlined below is only one of almost infinite possibilities. Orientation is complicated by the fact that many of the pavilions have had two different names and numbers, but it doesn't matter much as there are interesting things to see in every corner. The monorail terminus is just next to Timiryazevskaya Metro station. Trains are more frequent and cheaper than they used to be, running every few minutes with a single journey costing 19 rubles. The scenery around the elevated railway is initially unspectacular, but from the second station, Teletsentr, there is a close-up of the 540-meter high TV tower (1), the tallest freestanding structure in Europe. To the left, there is a great view across the pond to the pink and white Ostankino Palace and the baroque Church of the Trinity.
As the monorail swings left to the fourth station, Vistavochny Tsentr, where you get off for the VVTs, the curving hotel Cosmos appears on the right and, in front of it, the Space Obelisk (2) with its rocket taking off on a huge sweep of titanium. Opposite, are the triumphal gates to the complex, topped by gold statues of a machine worker and farm girl, holding a sheaf of wheat. Go through the arch and head straight towards the Central Pavilion (3), a tiered building with a spike on top and a statue of Lenin out front.
Inside, as in many of the pavilions, there are fascinating period details crumbling above and around the jumble of present-day kiosks: murals, columns, chandeliers and mosaics hint at the original glory of these faded structures. You can eat at the modest cafe on the balcony, surrounded by wreaths of plaster fruit and flowers, but there might be more tempting possibilities further on.
Immediately behind the Central Pavilion or "House of the Peoples of Russia" is the fountain of the "Friendship of Peoples" where sixteen gold statues of women, representing the former Soviet republics, face outwards around a huge sheaf of wheat (a recurring decorative element throughout the park).
Inside Pavilion 71 to the right, formerly representing the Atomic Industry, is a colorful Ice Age Museum where skeletons and reconstructions of mammoths, cave lions and bears are brought to life with imitation northern lights and roaring sound effects. Next door, in the Armenian Pavilion with statues on the roof, the grand original interior has been somewhat renovated and integrated into the design of a relatively up-market café-bar, serving a selection of Armenian cognacs in huge balloon glasses. Beyond that, the ornate wooden Karelian Pavilion houses a furnishings shop while the lovely "Culture Pavilion" (number 66) with the star-shaped pagoda outside hosts a series of expos aimed at the present-buying market. The "World of Mens' Hobbies" targeting shoppers in February has been replaced this week by "Business Lady. Creative work and life" to capture the March 8th trade. It is worth going in to admire the details of the original design with its distinctly Asian influences.
In the middle of this avenue is the mosaic "Stone Flower Fountain" while opposite is a row of unadorned post-Stalinist pavilions. The 1930s Ukrainian Pavilion, at the end of the square, has a crown and spike on the roof, glazed ceramic panels and a huge garland around the stained glass door.
Behind this is Industry Square, dominated by a suspended Vostok rocket and two Aeroflot planes. Along the right hand side is a modern building where trade fairs are held - this week's is the "World of Ice Cream and Cold." There is also an electricity sub-station, left over from the days when this park was proudly used to display industrial achievements. At the end is the domed Cosmos Pavilion (4), designed in 1939 as the Mechanization Pavilion, later used to house post-Gagarin space exhibits and now just more shopping opportunities. Going round this huge building to the right and then straight on you pass the former meat products pavilion, with a huge statue of a man and bull on top, now the park's administrative headquarters.
Keeping on in the same direction, you cross between two ornamental lakes with a gold mosaic-covered fountain to your left. Go straight on between the poultry pavilion, topped by a metal rooster, and a final white building decorated with yet more wheatsheaf designs. Just past this building you will see a small gate (5) in the metal fence ahead. Go through this and you find yourself suddenly in the botanical gardens of the Russian Academy of Sciences. A little way ahead is another fence; going through it, turn right along the track and then left at the gazebo onto a broad straight path leading directly to the main entrance. A more circuitous and scenic route soon turns off to the right, passing trees full of over-wintering nuthatches, to rejoin the larger path near an ornamental pond (6).
Walk round the pond past a huge neo-classical greenhouse, near which, if you are lucky, you might see the first snowdrops. Just beyond this, take the path to the right and follow it to another gap in the fence, leading out onto Susokolovskoe Shosse where you can turn right again to reach Vladykino Metro station. This is one of two stations serving the gardens, the other (Botanichesky Sad) being conveniently located for a later trip to see the cherry blossom in the Japanese garden or the sixteen thousand varieties of rose. N
Family friendly Features:
This has to be about as good as it gets: spectacular settings, fairground rides, a circus, a trip by monorail...
The Ice Age Museum is a big hit with most kids. It costs 250 rubles for adults and 150 for kids, which is a lot for three rooms, but probably worth it.
In Pavilion 64 you can sit in a Chinese summer house and sample different teas and chocolates.