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Gorky Park Archives - Kidding Herself

Gorky Park in Moscow is not what you think (probably)

Mama was recently startled to find that despite her best efforts on Instagram, at least two of her UK-specific friends seem to have a very Soviet view of the centre of Moscow. Don’t they know that the monumentally ugly Rossiya hotel was pulled down and is now the most hipster of hipstery parks IN THE WORLD?

For example.

We now have trees and specially widened pavements on what used to be an unrelievedly grim multi-lane highway, Tverskaya Street, barreling down to Red Square.

The massive pedestrianisation project of the rest of Central Moscow is almost complete.

Cafe culture, albeit strictly in the spring and summer months, is a thing (in the winter it’s all outdoor skating rinks, light shows and street parties).

Not only this, but you can hire not only bikes but, god love us all, scooters, the better to idly tool your way round the leafy, flower-infested boulevards, past the restored facades of pre-twentieth century mansion houses, factory buildings and churches, or around the ponds. As well as gasp at the monumental Soviet architectural doorway architecture, constructivist balconies and such like.

At night, it’s all lit up!

And at any given moment you are very likely to find the whole of central Moscow putting on some kind of festival. New Year, spring, jam, history, fish, teachers, singing, war – we celebrate them all.

I’ll grant you that some of the residential tower blocks in the suburbs are a bit grim. But if the Moscow Mayor gets his way, many of these are not long for this world either. Of course, this demolition project has prompted the Guardian to publish a series of articles explaining how these are not monstrous carbuncles with inconveniently small kitchens, out of date wiring, inadequate sewage systems and nowhere to put a washing machine, but charmingly well thought out residencies and one of the pinnacles of communist social and engineering achievements, which all the former Soviet states were lucky to benefit from. Why oh why would anyone think of pulling them down? And rehousing the inhabitants!

Although they are right about the fact that the replacement of the generously sized leafy courtyards and five floor blocks with 24-story high rises and concrete forecourts is less than ideal. And that this has proved a lot less popular with Muscovites than perhaps Sobyanin was expecting. Possibly because in addition to the loss of pleasant surroundings, the developers and city hall have also found a clever dodge so that the city government does not have to keep its infrastructure provision in line with the proposed quadrupling of residents.

However.

As a result, Mama is of the mind that perhaps y’all have entirely the wrong picture of Gorky Park, Moscow’s most famous outdoor space in your heads. Which is a shame.

In the foreground on the left are some spiky palm leaves. On the right some formal flowerbeds made from low clipped bushes and some deep red flowers. In the background is a rectangular white stone structure. Two pillars and six pairs of columns hold up a roof of the gateway to Gorky Park in Moscow. It is a bright sunny day and the sky is blue.

So what is Gorky Park like?

In summer, you can lounge around on the free cushions, benches and other seating admiring the flowers.

Selection of white, pink, yellow and red flowers in close up
A circular flowerbed with a swirly pattern made of different coloured flowers, especially red. In the middle an urn made of a clipped bush rather than stone rises up, with spiky leaves growing out of the top. The flowerbed is surrounded by trees and benches, and there are people sitting or walking around it.

Or you can hire all sorts of modes of personal transport: bikes, scooters, tandems and so on and enjoy a lengthy run along the Moscow River embankment.

A white structure holds bikes for hire. Hanging from the ceiling are some skateboards and scooters. On some shelves to the left are roller skates. Two people are talking to the assistant in the centre. They are dressed mostly in white and the assistant has a yellow T short on. In the background are trees. The sky is blue.

Or get a pedalo and drift around the lakes (there are two).

A pond surrounded by some reeds with some pedalos drifting around it. There is a small arched bridge and trees in the background, as well as a sculpture of white boxes stood on one another in a 3x3 grid

You can take part in other sports too, with a beach volleyball area, and plenty of free outdoor yoga classes and the like.

A group of men are bunched under a basket ball hoop, looking up. Another man to the left in green shorts has shot, and the ball is about to go though the hoop. Other players are distributed around the court. A spectator watches from the side. In the background there are people playing beach volleyball in swimming costumes on an artificial beach in Gorky Park.
To the left there is a red stage with Reebock written over it. On stage people in exercise gear demonstrate moves. In front of the stage, some people in aerobics gear are copying them, while others watch. They all have their back to the camera. It is a rainy day, and everyone is dressed for that weather.

There are children’s play areas, which are pretty cool no matter what the weather.

In the Gorky Park playground there is a large wooden blue cruise liner style ship, slighly heeling to one side as if sinking. There are handholds so children can climb the sides and lots of small round portholes because you can climb inside and look out. At the back is a large white sphere, which you can also climb inside and a round red pipe. In the foreground are some wooden steps in the form of waves to climb over or sit on. In the background there are trees without any leaves on.
Behind some bushes there is an area with swings set in a circle suspended from white metal frames. Some of the swings are traditional, some are less so. You can see adults, teenagers and kids in the swinging equipment. In the foreground are some bushes and in the background a concrete building with lots of windows.

Food and drink stalls, cafes and restaurants abound.

There are five food stalls. The signs are all in Cyrillic. The nearest has tea urns with bread snacks a bit like pretzels handing. Stallholders are busy preparing food or standing looking out. One customer is leaning on the stall and chatting to the stallholders. It has been raining and the customers are wearing warm coats, hats and boots.

And! There is a dancing fountain!

In the foreground are spikey blue and white flowers and in the background, out of focus, a fountain arcs water straight up, left and right. A man is looking at it with his back to the camera.

In winter the whole place turns into a giant outdoor ice rink. It’s not quite as big as the one out at VDNKh usually is, but it’s just as cool.

You can also climb on top of the entrance gates to a viewing platform. And visit Gorky Park’s very own museum (it’s on our list. Obviously).

The Gorky Park gateway from underneath. You can se white stone columns on either side and sandy coloured stone above, with large round indentations cur into the stone. The sky is a strong blue colour to either side.

There is even a highly regarded modern art gallery, Garage, to look round.

Delicate blue, purple and white flowers with on tall thin stems with frothy frondy leaves in the foreground. In the background are some trees and grass surrounded by paths, and behind that a silver rectangular building that is Garage art gallery.

And an observatory.

Partially hidden by trees is a small cylindrical red and white building with a shiny silver metal dome that the sunlight is bouncing off. In the foreground there is long grass and a plant with bushy broad leaves. There are some white globe lamps dotted around, close to the ground.

Gorky Park always gets in on any of the big city wide celebrations happening in Moscow, so it’s a definite place to consider going if you want to join in.

Two men and a woman stand around a small forge next to the Moscow River in Gorky Park. The woman is looking down, with her hood up and her hands in the pocket of her coat and operating bellows with her foot. A man opposite her is smiling and holding a long metal rod in the fire. He has on a beanie hat and a cagoule and some gloves. The other man stands between them with his hands in the pockets of his trousers, looking at the fire. He is wearing a hoody and a bodywarmer.
There are a whole bunch of people climbing over tanks parked on the embankment of the Moscow river in Gorky Park
Two large men have picked up a large tractor tire and are carrying them in parallel in a rage. Straw bales mark the area they are racing in. Other people are standing and watching them. It is a wet day.

But you also probably don’t realise how big it is.

Neskuchny Gardens are not boring

The bit with the organised fun, the bit actually called Gorky Park, is really only the start of it.

If you amble further along you get to Neskuchny Gardens, which literally translates to ‘Not Boring Gardens’. These are the remains of the formal gardens belonging to the mansion houses of aristocrats, which after the revolution were commandeered to form the backbone of the new proletarian leisure facility.

This isn’t a mansion house though. It is a library.

A classical looking yellow and white  building with a columned frontage sits on top of a steep hill covered in brown autumn leaves. The trunk of a willow tree leans in from the left, and dangles its thin branches down from the top of the picture.

There are also grottos, statues, pleasant grassy knolls and a continuation of the embankment to continue to stroll along. Somewhere there is also a round pavilion where What? Where? When? is filmed. A quirky and very beloved TV show, it is something like what would happen if you crossed University Challenge and QI, let the participants wear evening dress and had members of the public setting the questions.

And! Mama and Papa came here for their very first date. Which seems to have worked out quite well all told.

Sparrow Hills are quite hilly and might have some sparrows

If you keep going, you will find yourself in the midst of the wooded Sparrow Hills. Through which you can walk and walk and walk, and take in this fabulous building.

It’s the Russian Federation’s Science Academy. Isn’t the architecture just perfect for an academy of sciences? And if you nip across the bridge here you can go to the Moscow Art Deco Museum.

However!

You are still not done and can continue walking though woods, next to the river, past the urban beach, which Mama does not really recommend you swim from, right round to the Luzhniki football stadium, Novodovichiy convent and Moscow City. Although you’ll have to cross the Moscow River to get to them.

Luckily, a brand new method of doing this has just started up – taking a cable car. Which doubles, in winter, as a means of getting to the inner city downhill ski run.

So, Gorky Park. Well worth a visit, especially if you are in Moscow for any length of time, in summer or winter. Not much to get back to the USSR with (you want Muzeon, just over the road, for that) but a lot of other things to see and do.

And for more information about the man behind the name, see this post.

More information

The park has its own website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Terry Pratchett, author.

Address: Krymsky Val, 9, Moscow, 119049

Admission to the park is free.

Opening: 24 hours. Allegedly.

Getting there: For the main entrance, you want either Oktyabrskaya metro station (orange and brown lines) or Park Kultury (red line). But there are a number of other entrance points, notably Vorobyovy Gory (red line), which will give you a walk through the Sparrow Hills wooded area, through Neskuchny Sad/ Not Boring Gardens and on to Gorky Park.

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5 Ways to Celebrate Spring in Moscow, Russia

Spring, it turns out, is a big deal in Russia.

I dunno. I quite enjoyed the snow. But perhaps when you have endured many more winters than one rather mild one, you do get quite excited when the earth finally heats up enough to sustain actual grass, leaves and tulips.

So perhaps it is not surprising that when this happens, which is the beginning of May in Moscow, Russians decide to celebrate All The Things! At Once! With Decorations! And Days Off! And (in Mama and Papa’s case) digging at my school for the ‘subbotnik’, when Russians get out there and tidy up their public spaces after the snow melts and everybody realises how much rubbish and how little grass is left behind.

Lenin kicked off this spring tradition by carrying a log across the Kremlin once. Papa says the log has increased in size over the years as more and more people claim to have been involved. Cool, huh? That Lenin had some tricks, huh?

It probably helped that that this year Orthodox Easter fell on May 1st too, which is already a public holiday. So Moscow was covered in painted eggs, chicks and other traditional Easter accessories, such as famous model churches from around the world.

Orthodox Easter Eggs decorate the city in #Moscow

Yes, I know you in the Catholic/Protestant block celebrated more than a month before that, but given that I get two Christmases and two New Years out of a weird calendar quirk, the only surprise is that I don’t get two birthdays as well.

Props to the person who decided to place the recreation of Jerusalem in sand, plastercast figures and a real donkey opposite the statue of Karl Marx though. Because the public holiday on May 1st is not officially about spring but actually for the seriously Communist one of Labour Day, just like it is in what I imagine must be that other bastion of Socialist values, the USA. Albeit on a different date.

Mama particularly enjoyed sitting next to the Bolshoi Theatre in the shadow of faux middle eastern palm trees listening to some old guard pensioners sing Soviet songs while drinking vodka and talking earnestly about politics.

Orthodox Easter and Labour Day in Moscow

Even Lenin in his mausoleum got dressed up for the occasion.

Lenin Mausoleum on Labour Day

But for the non-partisan amongst us there were just lots and lots of artificial flowers, old shoes and springtime wildlife.

Spring Festival street decorations in #Moscow

And arts, crafts and music.

Spring Festival arts and crafts and street performers in #Moscow

And also, the three bogatyrs, the three legendary heroes, who battle dragons, rescue princesses and overcome other obstacles.

Three Bogatyrs at the Spring Festival Moscow

Not quite sure what they have to do with spring, but I Do! Not! Care! Because as well as displays of fighting, they offered a challenge to all comers and my Enthusiastic Big Brother and I got to whack away at large mail covered men with lightly padded giant sticks!

Bogatyrs at the Spring Festival Moscow

The ancient warriors might have been softening us up for the 9th of May.

It’s quite a big kuffuffle is Victory Day in Russia, although to be fair if you can’t celebrate the end of a war that left millions dead what can you celebrate?

There is a parade of such extravagance that it requires weeks of practice and many road closures. If you are Mama, you will stroll by all unsuspecting and be confronted with soldiers standing in little knots planning out their tank positions on one day and with the tanks themselves just a few days later. Goodness only knows what she missed the rest of the time.

Victory Day Rehearsal Moscow

We did not actually watch the parade itself, mind you. We went to Gorky Park instead. This is because, traditionally, this is where veterans of the Great Patriotic War meet up in their former units and celebrate, generally just by commandeering some plastic chairs and a table and taking over some pathways for their picnics. While they do this, passers by, especially children, give them flowers. It’s nice.

But not quite as much fun as climbing on the tanks down by the river.

Victory Day at Gorky Park

We were so exhausted when we got home that we went to bed early. This was a mistake as at 11pm, the whole of Moscow erupted with firework displays and shouts of ‘oorah!’ from the impromptu street parties outside.

Russians make pretty good neighbours, Mama finds, but when they do cut loose, they do it in style. On which note, I give you, the tank car.

Tank Car on Victory Day Moscow

Thankyewverymuch and goodnight.

Not that any of this comes close to the strangest traditions and festivals around the rest of the world…. Probably.

If you want to know more about what to do in Moscow all year round, here is THE guide to Moscow, as written by Mama.

More Information

This link will take you to whatever festival Moscow is currently celebrating. At the moment it is fish.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about how May Day became a workers’ holiday.

Labour Day is May 1st, which is a public holiday. It will be the holiday regardless of which day of the week it falls. If it is a weekend, a weekday will usually be given off in lieu. If it is in the middle of the week, Russians often find themselves working weekends, so they can get a block of days off instead.

Orthodox Easter is not a public holiday and shifts around just like the other Easter does. But because the Orthodox church uses the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian one it may (or may not) fall on the same day as the Catholic/ Protestant one. Fun, huh?

Victory Day is 9th May and is a public holiday. See above for the complicated dance this may involve. But basically, you can guarantee that from the 1st to the 9th May in Moscow, there will be lots going on.

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Spring is a big deal in #Russia and in #Moscow they go all out to celebrate in the #spring festival

 
Five ways to celebrate spring in Moscow Russia
How to celebrate spring in Moscow Russia

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