Leo Tolstoy, considered by some to be the greatest novelist who ever lived, died nearly a hundred years ago this week on November 20, 1910. To commemorate the anniversary of his death, here is a walk that links all three of the city's museums dedicated to the author of "War and Peace." On the way you will pass through several of the most picturesque areas of Moscow, visiting churches in Zamoskvarechye and mansions on Prechistenka. Best of all, the route passes dozens of inviting bars and cafes where you can drink a toast to Tolstoy or curl up by the samovar with a battered copy of "Anna Karenina." If you want to shorten the route, start at Kropotinskaya Metro, which will take you past some fine views, but none of the tour's museums. Coming out of Novokuznetskaya Metro station, turn right along Pyatnitskaya Ulitsa. Tolstoy rented a flat in the modest pink-painted town house at number 12 in the mid 1850s and worked on the novel "The Cossacks," and the short story "Three Deaths." The museum here is currently closed for renovation and scheduled to reopen in January. Just beyond it, on the corner with Chernigovsky Pereulok, is a newly-opened branch of The Pain Quotidien bakery-cafe chain. Their ‘healthy breakfast' (a fresh fruit-croissant-egg-toast-jam-and-coffee combo) is an expensive, but effective antidote to the winter blues.
Turn left immediately after the cafe and follow the winding lane past a series of churches and fine houses, including the historic building of the Slavic Institute with the Officers' Mess restaurant.
Cross over Bolshaya Ordinka and follow the 2nd Kadashevsky Pereulok on the far side, past the wonderful baroque Resurrection church. If you want to have a look inside the lovely upstairs chapel, the entrance is round the far side. Turning right along 1st Kadashevsky Pereulok, you soon come to the canal. Turn left along it, crossing five streets, until you reach the steps up to the pedestrian Patriarshy Bridge. This leads right across the island and the Moskva River to the enormous Christ the Saviour Cathedral.
Looking right you have great views of the Kremlin towers and domes; to the left you can see the Red October Chocolate Factory and Tsereteli's Disney-style statue of Peter the Great. Walk past the cathedral and Kropotinskaya Metro and take the second left into Ulitsa Prechistenka. This street is lined with beautiful old mansions and palaces. The house at number 12 houses the Pushkin Literary Museum, which currently has an exhaustive and slightly confusing exhibition on the Tolstoy Family, paralleling the family's history with the history of Russia. Entry is 80 rubles and the museum is open Tues-Sun, 10-6. There is a basement cafe serving an excellent 200 ruble business lunch with tea. Alternatives include the canteen in the lion-gated House of Scientists next door.
The Tolstoy Literary Museum, founded the year after his death, is across the road in an impressive empire style building, decorated with neo-classical friezes. The mansion once belonged to the aristocratic Lopukhin family and has a series of painted ceilings above the slightly contrived displays that document Tolstoy's life and work. There is plenty to look at, including a twenty minute film with incredible footage of the writer himself and his family at their country estate of Yasnaya Polyana. Entry is 50/150 rubles for Russians/foreigners and the museum is open 11-6, Tues-Sun.
Some episodes from "War and Peace" take place in this very area of town. The dilapidated church at the far end of Prechistensky Pereulok was the model for the church attended by Natasha Rostova. After leaving university, Tolstoy lived just 300 metres north of there on Sivtsev Vrazhek. For today, however, we head south to visit the much larger town house where he spent his final winters. Turn left just beyond the literary museum, along Lopu khinsky Pereulok, and then right onto Ulitsa Ostozhenka, also lined with empire style mansions. At number 32, you pass the appealing vine-covered balconies of Tiflis Georgian restaurant. Prices have rocketed in recent years, but the food and atmosphere are still good if you can afford it.
There is a perekhod to cross under the Garden Ring near the end of the road, passing Park Kultury Metro Station. On the far side, keep going in the same direction, parallel to Komsomolsky Prospekt until you reach the beautiful Church of St Nicholas of the Weavers. Inside this mid-seventeenth century parish church, painted in red, white and green, is an overwhelming quantity of baroque gilding and several very popular icons. The ‘Kha movniky' (weavers) area is still home to a silk factory and several other monuments to industrial history, like the brewery next door to Tolstoy's house.
Immediately behind the church on the right, Ulitsa Lva Tolstovo leads directly to the Tolstoy House-Museum. This attractive wooden mansion is open 10-6, Tues-Sun and costs 60/200 rubles
for Russians/foreigners. The rooms are labelled in Russian and English and conjure up an enchanting vision of family life, which may be at odds with the truth. From the dining room with its blue and white china and view of the garden, through to the bear-skin rug and bicycle, the house is crammed with authentic objects from the twenty years that Tolstoy spent here. The Tolstoy's children are present in their paintings, embroidery, school books and toys. His wife, Sofia, wrote in her diary "our life in Moscow would be quite delightful if only it didn't make Lyovochka so unhappy." Tolstoy found it difficult to reconcile the urban poverty he witnessed with their luxurious lives. As a result, much of the writing he produced in the gloomy upstairs study was political or philosphical.
A giant statue of the writer sits at the end of the road in Maiden's Field. This is where Pierre Bezhukov sees his French captors executing prisoners in "War and Peace." Turning left past the statue and through the park, parallel to the Armed Forces Academy with its tank on the roof, you reach the Prince Bagration Restaurant on Ulitsa Plyushikha. Turn right and then left around the South Korean Embassy and at the end of 3rd Truzhenikov Pereulok, turn right and immediately left again round the church. One more right turn up 7th Rostovsky Pereulok, brings you to the pedestrian bridge across to Kievskaya. Just before the bridge is a branch of the excellent patisserie kiosk, Bulochka Brioche. The view to the left from the bridge recalls the scene that Pierre sees one frosty Moscow morning: "the cupolas and crosses of the Novodevichy Convent... the Sparrow Hills, and the wooded banks above the winding river vanishing in the purple distance..."