Along the river from Podolsk to Dubrovitsy In historic Podolsk, you can visit the riverside dacha where Lenin stayed. There are memorials and cliff top mansions and, best of all, the magical Church of the Sign, towering over the end of this ramble like a strange baroque beacon. Podolsk was once famous for its quarries; limestone that built Moscow's Kremlin came from here. The arrival of the Singer sewing machine factory in 1904 precipitated the growth of today's industrial town, but modern Podolsk is still a good place for a stroll.
By train from Kursk Station, the town of Podolsk is just an hour away. A one-way ticket is 70 roubles. Heading diagonally right away from Podolsk Station, you cross a little square with a bronze statue of Catherine the Great, a memorial to her granting Podolsk's town status in 1781. Continue along Ulitsa Baramzinoi to the town's park with a monument to WWII hero, Viktor Talalikhin. Walk through the park and turn left down a track between the little Resurrection Church and the river (take care in wet or icy weather!). There are views across the Pakhra River to the old town and you can easily see how Podolsk got its name, which originally meant "along the valley" (po doline).
At the bottom of the hill, follow the track round and turn right across the bridge. Prospekt Lenina is quite busy, but the river views and old wooden houses make up for it. You soon reach a grassy area on your right with a sign, map and black and white sentry box.
The Podolye museum-reserve is a delightful collection of wooden cottages based around the dacha where the Ulyanov family (Lenin's relatives) lived in the late 19th century. It's worth a visit, even if you have no real interest in Vladimir Ilyich, for the period interiors and orchard setting on the riverbank. The cabin next door catalogues Lenin's travels for die-hard fans. There is also a new city historical museum with archaeological finds and exhibits about influential merchant families. The complex is free and open 10 am-6 pm, Wed.-Mon.
Walk back over the bridge and carry on up the hill, past some 19th century houses. The second right after MacDonald's leads to the attractively restored neo-classical Trinity Cathedral, built in the 1820s under the influence of Osip Bove (who designed the Bolshoi Theatre). Turn left behind the cathedral along Ulitsa Bolshaya Zelenovskaya, rejoining the main road again after half a kilometre through a square with a bust of Pushkin.
The city hospital is on your right as you walk along Ulitsa Kirova, taking the next right turn after a dip in the road. Follow this road until you see the woods ahead of you. In dry weather or if you're feeling adventurous, simply walk straight ahead into the woods, taking any convenient path until you reach the river and turn left along it as far as the yellow mansions of the Ivanovskoye Estate. Alternatively, you may prefer to follow the road round to the left, turning right and right again at the junctions.
The Ivanovskoye Estate is impressive, however you approach it. The current palace with its columned portico and hundred-plus rooms was built in the early 19th century by Count Fyodor Tolstoy (a relative of the writer). His beautiful daughter, Countess Agrafena (known as the "Bronze Venus") inspired some of Pushkin's poems and hosted lavish entertainments in Ivanovskoye's private theatre.
Alexei Bakhrushin, famous for his collections of theatrical memorabilia - which now form the basis of the Moscow Theatre Museum - owned the estate in the late 19th century. It now houses the Central Museum of Professional Education, open 10 am-4 pm, Tue.-Sun. The most interesting aspect is probably the photographic history of the house itself and a few restored interiors, but the rest of the museum is better than it sounds. For a 50-rouble entry ticket, the babushkas will open up a seemingly random and endless series of rooms, displaying everything from wood carving to silk dresses and mechanical models to puppets. If this hasn't totally exhausted you, you can also visit the folk museum in one wing, left of the entrance.
The riverside path goes on left from below the mansion all the way to Dubrovitsy (with the exception of one small detour inland round the football club). If you find the going too muddy or icy, you can cut back up the track and follow Ulitsa Belyayevskaya through the dachas instead. Fork right wherever you can to keep following the river until you finally reach a flight of steps up onto the bridge across the Pakhra. Either way, there are good views along the river to the Church of the Sign on a small, grassy hill. The spectacular baroque church is to your right with a viewpoint behind it, overlooking the confluence of the Desna River.
The Golitsyn family built the neighbouring palace and estate, overshadowed by the church. Grigory Potemkin, Catherine the Great's favourite, bought it in 1781. Catherine stayed there in 1787 and liked it so much she made him sell it to her new lover, Alexander Dmitriyev-Mamonov, whose family lived here for most of the 19th century, growing increasingly eccentric. Its current occupants include the Institute of Animal Husbandry. The Trapeznaya caf? (+7 (917) 591-4982) in the basement is a great place for lunch. Buses run from the stop just below the estate back into Podolsk, where you can catch a train or bus back to Moscow.
Landmark of the week
The Church of the Sign, Dubrovitsy
One of the most unusual architectural landmarks of the Moscow region, this elaborate church looks strikingly European. It was built in the late 17th century by Peter the Great's tutor, Boris Golitsyn, covered in sculptures of saints and topped with a crown. The inside is - if possible - even more ornate with plaster cherubs flying up the sky-blue tower, scrolls with Latin inscriptions and gold choir gallery.