There are infrequent trains from Leningradsky Station to Podsolnechnaya Station in the town of Solnechnogorsk, 60 kilometres north-west of Moscow. The frequent No. 440 bus (95 roubles) from Voikovskaya metro station is more convenient if the roads are relatively clear, when it takes a little over an hour. From Solnechnogorsk, the elusive No. 24 bus runs a couple of times a day to the village of Tarakanovo, 18 kilometres further east and costs 41 roubles. Blok's estate is a further 2 1/2 half kilometres on foot. The road is quiet and surrounded by flowery meadows with cows. The buses to Tarakanovo run at 11:20 am and 1:35 pm. If these times don't turn out to be convenient, it can be simplest to ask one of the friendly local taxi drivers to undertake the whole round trip from Solnechnogorsk. Bring a picnic. Buses back leave at 2:20 pm and 4:42 pm.
The village of Tarakanovo is delightful, however you arrive: a cluster of cottages and one shop, set in gently rolling countryside. A sign near the bus stop directs you down a small lane to a museum by a pond and church (in scaffolding). You will need to pay up to 50 roubles to visit the "territory" and a further 60 for the museum. It's a lot for what's here, but it's hard to begrudge the money that is clearly needed for restoration and maintaining the beautiful gardens. The three rooms in the old "Land Captains' School" have collections of photographs, letters and pictures which introduce you to Blok's family and the neighbouring Mendeleevs who lived 7 kilometres away at Boblovo. Some of the most intriguing photos are of the local amateur dramatic performances in which Blok and his future wife took leading roles.
It was the famous chemist, Dmitri Mendeleev, inventor of the periodic table, who first encouraged Blok's grandfather, botanist Andrei Beketov, to settle in the area. Blok eventually married Dmitri's daughter, Lyubov Mendeleeva whom he met while he was out riding. Beyond the pond, with its white benches, is the scaffold-clad ruin of the Church of the Archangel Michael, where Blok married Lyubov. A bronze monument to the couple, in the vein of Moscow's statue of Pushkin and his wife, stands behind the church above a verdant valley.
Returning to the "main" road, turn left and, after the bus stop, turn left again following the blue sign towards Blok's Estate-Museum. Take the first (unsigned) turning on the right and follow this road for 2 kilometres until you reach another sign and turn right along the track up to the gates. From the first sight of the grey, wooden house on the crest of the hill, Blok's description rings true: he called the house, where he spent most of each year from 1881 until 1916, "a corner of paradise". The fields around are full of the flowers Blok loved. One of his most famous poems uses as symbols the "luxurious clover" and "innocent cornflower" in a landscape that is clearly Shakhmatovo. The views from the lane and the garden take in what Blok called "the many-verst Russian blue distance". The large rock on the way in marks the place where the poetry festival was held before the house and gardens were reconstructed.
The ticket office is a wooden cabin in the trees to the right of the gate. Next door, there is a diminutive kitchen. It costs 150 roubles for Moscow residents to enter the buildings. Although, like many similar house-museums in the Moscow area, this wooden house is actually a reconstruction (the real one burned down in 1921), it has been recreated with so much care that it is full of atmosphere and charm. There are always fresh flowers from the garden in vases on the windowsills. Much of the original furniture, which was removed when Blok and his family were evicted after the Revolution, has been painstakingly relocated and the details of each room have been made as authentic as possible. Blok's light-filled study, upstairs with views across the fields, is quite beautiful.
Hundreds of Blok's poems were written here and the place is integral to his work. "As if I'd never left," he wrote: "Grey house, and - in the mezzanine - A window: yellow, red and blue, As if it had to be that way..."
Behind the main house, a series of beautifully kept paths run through a forest, full of lilies, wild strawberries and columbine. While restoration continues on some of the outbuildings, the finished areas are almost perfect.
There are more photographs and drafts in an annexe. Nearby is the "grassy sofa" created by Blok and his wife. Before you walk back to Tarakanovo to catch the bus, you might like to visit the pond (7) and swing seat at the end of a concrete pathway just outside the main gate. The water is filled with frogs and pondweed, but this is clearly nothing new. Blok's grandmother, Yekaterina Beketova, herself a poet and translator, described this very place in 1878: a pond in the woods where the "water quietly sleeps under green thickness"...
Landmark of the week
Monument to Alexander Blok near 6 Ulitsa
This statue of the poet, with his long coat, is almost hidden in the trees near the house in Moscow where Blok stayed with his wife in 1904.