Exactly seventy-five years ago, Moscow's first trolleybus rattled down the Volokolamskoe Shosse. This under-appreciated form of transport is still going strong and frequent trolleybuses still trundle reliably along Leningradsky Prospekt and Tverskaya all the way to Kitai Gorod, 15 kilometres away from the starting point near Sokol. On the way, they pass numerous architectural landmarks, as well as a plethora of restaurants and theatres, which could provide the perfect cold weather Christmas retreat. What was "Route number One" in 1933 is now the Number 12. Mos cow's desperate traffic problems have further slowed its always stately progress. But viewed as a cheap method of sightseeing where (unlike the metro) you can nearly always get a seat, an hour on the historic trolleybus becomes time well spent. An added bonus for these short winter days is that the route has several beautifully illuminated buildings, not to mention the christmas trees and decorations that are strung along the edge of the road and can also be enjoyed after dark.
If you are starting from Sokol Metro, follow signs to Ulitsa Alabyana to come out on the west side of Leningradsky Prospekt. The number 12 runs roughly every fifteen minutes, but if you plan to get off at the Sovietsky Hotel (at 6 below), you can also catch the 70 or the 82 (which takes an extra scenic detour via the Hippodrome, but ends up in the same place) and so triple the frequency. The first big landmark after leaving Sokol is the Triumph Palace, Europe's second highest building, which rises to a point above the Chapaevsky Parl on the right. This new big brother to Stalin's "Seven Sisters," the landmark skycrapers that punctuate the Moscow skyline, was completed in 2005 and contains 1000 luxury apartments. On the far side of the road are the pillars and pediments of the Moscow Techincal University. Next door, the elegant facade of Aeroport Metro is highlighted by the illuminated columns and archways. (The fact that the route runs parallel to the metro means you can always hop off if the traffic is just too slow).
The huge red and white Petrovsky Palace on the left was built in the late eighteenth century as a rest house for travelling royalty and mentioned by Pushkin in Eugene Onegin. Anyone who has visited the palace at Tsarytsino will recognise the work of the architect Matvei Kazakov. During the Soviet era, it was an aeronautical academy where Yuri Gagarin trained, among others. The statues flanking the entrance are of pioneers in this field. With cars now forced under a tunnel, the trolleybus enjoys a far better view of this newly restored castle which is about to reopen as a guest house for official visitors. By contrast, the constructivist 1920s football stadium at Dinamo is about to close for restoration. The classical frieze that decorates the metro station in front is floodlit at night.
Just beyond the third ring road, there is a cluster of interesting buildings. To explore them in more detail, get off at the bus stop and cross under the perekhod. The Sovietsky Hotel was built on Stalins's orders in 1952 and has since accomodated numerous famous guests, including Arnold Schwar zeneg ger and Mar garet That cher. The extravagant "Yar" Restaurant has a longer history, boasting Chekhov and Stanislavsky among its regulars. The menu still features traditional "nineteenth century" Russian dishes, but at distinctly twenty-first century prices. For an extra thousand rubles, you can watch the nightly moulin rouge style dance show in the theatre/dining room with the incredible ceiling. On the other hand, you could just have a drink in the bar, laugh at the non-stop video footage of the "Russian Ball" and then go next door - for a fraction of the price - to take in a show at the "Romen" Gypsy Theatre (www.teatr-romen.ru).
Crossing back under the road, spare a moment for the innovative 1930s Azhurny ("lace") apartment building with its ornate concrete lattice work. You might then be tempted by the smell of vanilla to check out the shop attached to the Bolshevik Cake Factory near the next bus stop. From here, you can catch any trolleybus on into town, passing between the eclectic Be lorusskaya Station and the gold-domed Nikolai Church. Going on along Tverskaya, the monumental Stalin era blocks give way more frequently to the elegant Style Moderne ("Art Nouveau") and the road is increasingly lined with shops and cafes. Passing Mayakovskaya Station, the 1950s Hotel Peking is lit up behind the heroic statue of the avant garde poet, Mayakovsky and another giant Christmas tree. The Pilsner restaurant nearby does great Czech food while the Tchaikovsky concert hall has programmes of Christmas music.
Just before Pushkin Square, the eighteenth century mansion that used to be the "English Club" houses the Museum of Contemporary History is beautifully lit at night, showing off the white plaster work against the red paint. Next door, the Stanislavsky theatre can make for a great night out with, its rocky-horror style adaptation of Bulgakov's "Master and Margarita." Through the archway into Maly Palashevsky Pe reulok, the expat hang-out Scan dinavia is still serving its seasonal Christmas buffet.
If you stay on the bus down the hill towards the Kremlin, you can enjoy the Christmas lights and shop window decorations before swinging left between the Bolshoi Theatre and the statue of Karl Marx. This might be a good place to get off and enjoy the Christmas market and fairground on Ploshad Revolutsii.
Kids often enjoy the bus more than the metro for some reason. Perhaps because, just like adults, they like to see where they're going. They might not be so interested in the variety of architecture (apart from the really big or ornate buildings), but they might enjoy the game of Christmas Tree Tallying. Our last count made it 150 (with the largest trees earning five bonus points) between Sokol and Tverskaya and I suspect that, if you were really alert, you could almost double that score. If the restaurants mentioned are a bit formal, you can always drop into TGI Fridays or the cheerful Moo Moo just off Tverskaya in Gnezdnikovsky Pereulok. Highchairs, potato wedges, balloons and free toffees usually make this a winning choice for families.