Explore the cultural history of alcohol in Moscow Start: Baumanskaya Metro Station End: Kurskaya Metro Statio Distance: about 6km
As winter begins to catch the city in its lingering embrace, it’s easy to understand the long-standing appeal of vodka to put a little fire in your veins. This urban hike traces some of the city’s more memorable encounters with alcohol, from Peter the Great’s old haunts in Lefortovo to the Kristall Vodka factory and beyond.
Stepping out of Baumanskaya metro, you can see a mosaic on the wall, depicting the area as it was, when foreigners first settled in what became known as the ‘German Quarter’. Peter the Great fell in love with the area for its wine, women and song.
Walk straight ahead through the kiosks to the left of the mosaic until you emerge onto Ladozhskaya Ulitsa, with its weekend market. Turn left and take the right fork at Macdonalds. If you need refreshments, the “Pyany Dyatel” (“drunken woodpecker”) bar (1) might be a suitable place to begin. This pedestrianised road has a number of studenty cafes. Take the first right and turn right again at the end into Starokirochny Pereulok, to have a look at the house at number five. It once belonged to Peter the Great’s mistress, Anna Mons (2). Mons was the daughter of a Westphalian wine merchant. Alexei Tolstoy’s historical novel about Peter the Great describes how her “whirling petticoats” and low cut dress were part of the potent mix, together with “the pleasant aroma of pipe tobacco and beer” that drew the young Peter to the foreigners’ quarter.
The palace (3) with the yellow and white archway, portico and pilasters, hidden in the trees almost opposite belonged to Francis Lefort, Peter’s Swiss friend and diplomatic chief. Lefort was responsible for introducing Peter to the area’s delights and the palace was a venue for nightly carousing and drinking games. Contemporary accounts mention “debauchery and drunkenness so great it was impossible to describe it.” The palace now contains the Ministry of Defence archives and is firmly off-limits to casual visitors.
Go back along Malaya Pochtavaya Ulitsa, to the right of the garage, passing the ‘Best’ bar. Turn right into Gospitalnaya Ulitsa, sloping down past the towering Bauman Technical Institute buildings to cross the Yauza River. To explore more of the Lefortovo area including Peter’s military hospital, the Peter and Paul Church and the ‘German’ cemetery, you could go on up the hill on the far side, but today’s route turns right instead through a small gate almost immediately after the river.
Walk past the tennis courts of the ‘Versailles’ fitness club and head gradually left along avenues that lead to a bust of Peter the Great under a pagoda. The pink and orange bridge or grotto (4) nearby is one of the few reminders of this garden’s 18th century heyday. The architect, Bartolomeo Rastrelli, designed this piece of Italianate whimsy before constructing some of St Petersburg’s finest palaces. Go on over the top of the grotto, heading out of the park past ponds reflecting the last autumn leaves and the vestiges of Lefortovo’s grandeur.
Exit through the wrought iron gates and cross the road, following a lane straight ahead to a ring of tramlines. Head for the domes of the Trinity Church (5), which you can see intermittently ahead and to the right. It is probably better to walk round the edge of the tram circle to the far corner, using the crossings, rather than attempt to cross diagonally over the grassy area in the middle. Follow Slobodskoi Pereulok through the apartments, turning right into Samokatnaya Ulitsa to reach the churches. The red brick Kristall Vodka factory (6) across the road has two shops. The first is next door to the museum (currently closed for renovations) and the second is in a courtyard at the end of the road. They both sell numerous kinds of Kristall vodka at rock bottom prices. There are taster sets, shot glasses for 10 roubles and you can even buy a white and gold porcelain bust of Peter the Great, filled with vodka. Looking up to the left before you enter the second shop, you catch a tantalizing glimpse of silver pipes and distilling chambers through the windows above the factory gates.
Go back to the museum, opposite the church, and turn right along the factory wall. Follow the wall all the way round, as closely as you can, crossing a mysterious industrial railway track, until you reach an unexpected eighteenth century mansion in a grove of trees.
This elegant neoclassical building, with its portico, columns and steps, is the Stroganov family’s “Dacha on the Yauza” (7). It evokes a time when this area was beyond the city limits and today’s scrubby woods and busy roads were manicured lawns rolling down to the river.
Walk on along the top of the cliff above the Yauza until you come to a flight of metal steps leading down to a humpbacked footbridge. Once you have successfully negotiated the embankment highways (look left from the bridge for a glimpse of the Spaso-Androkinkov monastery), walk straight ahead away from the river along the quieter Nizhnaya Syromyatnicheskaya Ulitsa. This industrial area is gradually changing its character. At the end of the road, just before the tunnel under the railway, turn left into the lane with the “Artplay na Yauze” banner to find a funky complex (8) of bars, antique shops and offices in the abandoned factories.
Turn right in front of the tunnel and left at the end of the road to reach Winzavod Art Centre (9). Kurskaya Metro (through the tunnel beyond Winzavod and right) is an appropriate end to the walk. The buffet in the old Kursky station (10), which has been beautifully restored including its famous heavy chandelier, is the starting point for the ultimate postmodern prose poem. The drunken Soviet intellectual, Vendict Erofeev, who died 20 years ago, began his Joycean odyssey, “Moscow-Petushki” (or “Moscow to the End of the Line”), from there.
Landmark of the week – Winzavod, 4, 4th Syromyatichesky Pereulok. This delightful old red brick wine factory has been converted into around thirty galleries, shops and cafes.