"When I came to Moscow, I felt I had come home," wrote the artist Victor Vasnetsov. Many of the artists and writers who have lived in Moscow are commemorated in shrine-like "House-museums" where period furniture and manuscripts are reverently assembled in the hallowed space. Interesting havens in which to escape the cold for a while. Two of the best and most unusual are the picturesque wooden house that Vasnetsov designed and lived in, and the spiralling constructivist installation that is the Mayakovsky museum. The latter breaks away from the traditions of the dom muzei: while the tiny bedroom of the futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky is preserved, the rest of the building has been turned into a surreal walk-through exploration of his life and ideas. Connecting these contrasting experiences, is a walk and bus ride through some of Moscow's architectural highlights.
Coming out of Tsvetnoi Bulvar Metro Station (1), turn left away from the circus and head towards the Garden Ring. Just before you get there, on the left, is a delightfully unpretentious Bakery/Cafeteria where you can get fresh pastries (the spring onion filling is particularly recommended) and tea from an antique silver samovar. Cross over to the opposite corner of the horrible junction (it is probably best to cross Tsvetnoi Bulvar itself first and then the Garden Ring).
On the other side of Olimpisky Prospect, a park leads to Durov's animal theatre, a cross between a bunker and a gothic palace adorned with stylised metal animals, worth making a detour to if you want to get tickets to see mice on a train or monkeys reading. Otherwise, go up the bank ahead of you and take the first turning right into Troitskaya Ulitsa, past two intricately-carved wooden houses and then left up a lane towards a whitewashed brick archway. In front of the archway, turn right again and, continue in this direction, through winding lanes with views of the gold-domed pink Trinity church and patriarchal residence (excellent church shop) onto Pereulok Vasnetsova which leads left to the artist's fairy-tale home, incongruously rural among the tower blocks. Go in through the green gate and the turquoise doors beyond.
The Dom Muzei V.M Vasnetsova (2) was built by the artist in 1894 and houses some beautiful wooden furniture and tiled stoves downstairs as well as several of Vasnetsov's paintings of fairy tale characters like Sleeping Beauty and Baba Yaga in the studio upstairs. Unlike many house-museums, where the furniture has been brought in to approximate the requisite era, every thing here is original and you can sit on nineteenth century benches to admire the huge canvases in the wooden attic. Vasnetsov's pictures here are at least as good as the ones in the Tretyakov Gallery, whose facade he designed.
"A true work of art" he believed expresses everything about a people... "It conveys the past, the present and perhaps the future."
Stepping out of the museum turn left and keep going in this direction, wiggling a little bit right at the second junction to pick up a path running through the courtyards behind number 18, Ulitsa Shepkina to come out eventually on the main road by the bus stop (3). From here catch the 9 or 48 Trolleybus; if you have to wait (there are buses every fifteen minutes) you can admire the neo-classical houses on the opposite side of Prospect Mira. As the bus turns onto the Garden Ring, you pass the impressive semi-circular collonade of the old Sheremetev Hospital. The gleaming tinted-plate-glass structure is the International Banking Center while the red brick block on the left is the Agricultural Ministry (Narkomzem). Designed by the architect Shchusev who also designed Lenin's tomb, this was one of Moscow's last constructivist buildings before the style (flat walls, strip windows and - here - a circular bay on the south corner) was abandoned in favour of Stalin's monumental arches and skyscrapers, examples of which are visible nearby.
The bus now travels down Myas nitskaya Ulitsa ("Butchers' Street"), the highway from the Kremlin to the old "German Quarter," with one of the highest concentrations of interesting buildings in Moscow. If you are a fan of modern architecture, don't miss the brutal constructivist Corbusier House at Number 39; if you aren't, then look left instead at the eighteenth century palace, Dom Barbishnikova. At the next stop, just after crossing the Boulevard Ring (4), you might want to get off and walk down the rest of Myasnitskaya Ulitsa.
The house at number 21 was the Academy of Painting and Sculpture, where the first exhibition of the Peredvizhniki ("Wanderers") movement was held in 1872. On the corner, is a plaque commemorating the artist Savrosov in front of his famous painting "The Rooks Have Returned," which became Pavel Tretyakov's favourite picture and a symbol of the new rural realism he favoured. Next door is the elaborate Perlov Tea House; the outside is covered with Chinese-style decorations and golden dragons while the inside smells of a rich mixture of tea, coffee and chocolate. Frequent free tastings provide another good reason to step into the warm for a minute. Further on, the lion sculpture marks one of Kuznetsov's apartment blocks, while on the other side of the road, the rotunda-topped Post Office is followed by a series of houses in the Russian Style Moderne or art nouveau; the houses at numbers 24 and 8 were both designed by the architect Schektel with glazed tiles used for decoration. The bright blue palace on the corner opposite Moo Moo is the city estate of A. D Chertkov, a great collector of books and whose library attracted Pushkin, Tolstoy and Gogol.
Just beyond the Biblio Globus bookshop, but before the entrance to Lubyanka Metro Station (5) is the Mayakovsky House Museum. This ra dical exhibition brings alive metaphors from Mayakovsky's life and revolutionary poetry in a series of futurist displays, taking the visitor from his birthplace in Georgia through his teenage activism in Moscow, up to the highpoint of revolution and then down through travel and theatrical satire to despair. It is incredible to think that it was only four years after the death of Vasnetsov that Mayakovsky killed himself here in the attic bedroom, leaving lines from a poem about "love's boat smashed against existence" which concludes: "...to those who remain - I wish happiness." N
Family friendly features
This is a great trip for children. Vasnetsov's fairy tale cottage with paintings of monsters and flying carpets are visited by a stream of school groups on week days who listen raptly to the knowledgeable attendants.
But the anarchic displays and unusual layout of the Mayakovsky Museum are also appealing and kids get free or very cheap entry to both museums.