This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the first human space flight. Yuri Gagarin first orbited the earth in April 1961 and famously said: “Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!” This seems like a good excuse to revisit the town of Korolyov, home of the space programme, and take a new route from there through Russia’s first National Park, the Losiny Ostrov, translated as “Moose Island” or “Elk Island”. This time of year offers the best chance of seeing the elusive moose (or “elk” as the same animals are generally known in Europe) since lack of food makes them bolder and the bare trees offer fewer hiding places. Take the train from Yaroslavsky Vokzal to Podlipki Dachni (49 roubles). The forests of the Losiny Ostrov are visible from the train window almost at once, followed by the dacha village of Perlovka (founded by Perlov, the tea merchant whose chinese-style shop adorns Moscow’s Myasnitskaya Ulitsa). The name of the station, Podlipki Dachni, about half an hour out of town on the branchline to Monino, recalls a time when the industrial town of Korolyov was characterised more by lime-tree-shaded dachas than rocket-producing factories. Walk south from the railway station along Ulitsa Kalinina until you reach an open square with a colourful mosaic backed by pine trees, the palace of culture and the interesting town museum (1). Open since 2005, Wed.-Sun. 10 am-6 pm (50 roubles) it charts the town’s history from dacha settlement through the arrival of armaments factories in the 1930s, when it acquired its Soviet-era name, Kaliningrad, to the space age and beyond.
Space research was first based in this town in the 1940s and it is still the centre of the current space exploration programme and the production of spacecraft. The rocket engineer, Sergei Korolyov, after whom the town was renamed in 1996, was in charge of the new institute until his death in 1966. You can either turn left around the museum along Ulitsa Tereshkovoi (named after the first woman in space) or detour along Ulitsa Oktyabrskaya, past a white statue of Lenin to look at the Energia factory (2), with a Vostok rocket behind it. You can find out more from their website at http://www.energia.ru/english/. Returning to the statue of Lenin, walk diagonally right along Ulitsa Kirova, past a children’s library decorated with mosaics, until you reach the “Exprompto” pizza café (recommended, especially since there are no more refreshments until the shopping centre at the end) and a couple of space-related monuments (3). Cross over Pionerskaya Ulitsa and go straight on.The utilitarian, brick buildings on the left are “Tsinimash”, including the Institute of Rocket Making. Far more excitingly, the building ahead on the right with flags outside is “Central Mission Control” (4), as gold plaques in Russian and English tells you. Keep straight ahead into the wooded park, staying parallel with the buildings on your right. From the far right corner follow the track between walls and then the path leading diagonally right around the end of the wall, through small woodland clearings and the snow-covered pines and birches of the wintry Losiny Ostrov. Continue in this south westerly direction until you reach another wall and emerge into a small hamlet of log houses and orchards. Turn right along the lane in front of the cottages until you reach the side of the “Chaepitiye v Mytishchakh” wooden visitors’ centre (5) with benches and a map in front. You can book events, excursions and even overnight stays here. More details are available on the website www.elkisland.ru Otherwise, if you see smoke coming out of the chimney, you can ask to come in, warm up and admire their small collection of samovars, but the building’s days as a properly-staffed visitors’ centre seem – sadly – to be over. Follow the lane to the out of the village, past another cottage, until you find a small, but definite path leading left through the woods to a gate into another collection of dachas. Follow the track ahead until you come to some larger pinkish buildings where you can detour left to admire some of the older wooden cottages set around little courtyards (6). There is a little shop on the far side of the village. Turn right out of the houses and then left along the little road that runs around the edge. This Mytischinsky dacha settlement is surrounded by the National Park and you might well see woodpeckers and even deer among the trees and houses. The ornate brick building in the corner of the village is the 19th century Mytishinsky water pumping station (7). Built to supply water from 73 springs to the capital, it still works, although Moscow now gets most of its water from reservoirs to the west. Go through the little gate beyond the pumping station, turn left along the edge of the fence and then right after the brick tower. Cross the damn (8) ahead, on a track across the “Mytischinskiye Plavni”, a watery expanse surrounding the Yauza River. Stretching out left to the horizon, are nearly 400 hectares of wildlife-rich swamp and forest. To the right is an extraordinarily contrasting view of industrial Mytischi with the old metro-carriage factory and the turquoise church of the Vladimir Icon of the Virgin on the near edge just behind the Yaroslavsky Chaussee. Simply follow the track ahead straight through the woods, past villages and factories until you emerge onto a road that leads to the XL shopping centre complex with the Kva Kva aqua park (9). The 333 minibus runs regularly to VDNKh metro and costs 30 roubles. Look out for the Rostokinsky Aqueduct (10) to the left just before you arrive. The bus stops near the soaring monument to the Conquerors of Space and the Avenue of Cosmonauts. Landmark of the Week – Rostokinsky Aqueduct (10), Yaroslavskaya Ulitsa . Catherine the Great commissioned the engineer, Friedrich Bauer, to build this white stone bridge, part of Moscow's first municipal water system. Stone from the recently-demolished walls of the "White City" (where the Boulevard Ring is now) was recycled into the twenty-one arches of the aqueduct. The final cost was an incredible two million roubles, earning the structure the nickname "Millionny Most".