And now - let's go away from densely populated areas - no matter, villages or dachas. What Moscow area has to offer to one who is ready to drive off the beaten highways described in any tourist guide? The answer is, of course, "A lot!" We will not go more than 100 km from Moscow city border and still will see many wonders.
Of course we start with the water, with small rivers and large reservoirs which offer cooler breeze amidst this furnace of summer. Boats of all sorts are really popular this summer - but if you prefer to simply relax on a bank - or do some fishing - welcome! There is enough space for everyone - Moscow is surrounded by a few large reservoirs, canals, rivers - so the length of their banks is impressive. And most people are lazy enough to get there anyway.
Those those who love motor sport, dirt, loud engines and the smell of gas, Moscow this summer offered a lot to watch (or participate, if you care and dare). For the first time ever, Motocross World Cup was supposed to happen in Moscow. The event itself successfully occurred in September, but all summer local motocross fans and sportsmen were enjoying the new track built for the international event.
Those who ride these off-road motorbikes and those who watch them are somewhat alike - lovers of beer, rock music and speed. This community - like many others - is only emerging in Russia, but the mere fact that extreme parks, boat clubs, and even man-made downhill skiing slopes are growing fast shows: we are getting more and more interested in outdoor recreation, sports, fun.
However, if you prefer quiet old-fashioned and cozy little towns with ancient churches and monasteries - instead of roar of motors inside a huge mad pit - you will also find quite a few locations and destinations around Moscow, and fairly close it. There are cities of a famous "Golden ring " - all far away from Moscow and described in any tourist guide of Russia. We're not going to visit them now. Let's stay closer to the city, there is enough to visit and enjoy within 2-hours drive from Moscow.
For many decades during the Soviet time these monasteries were either public museum (that had nothing to do with religion) - or simply warehouses or factories. Over the last decade they are slowly but surely becoming seats of the Orthodox Church power and the centers of local religious life.
I do not care much about their spiritual mission - but the presence of monks and rules of the territory that is at the same time a museum, a monastery, and a local place of choice for hanging out make the monasteries an interesting place to observe.
Look at the right-most photo in the row above. This funny skirt on a young mother dressed in jeans is not a part of her usual costume. But in some monasteries there are strict rules for visitors and tourists, and they usually include specific dress code, protecting peace of mind of celibate monks. No short skirts or jeans/trousers are allowed on female visitors - and to help those who came unaware of the restrictions, ladies can get decent skirts to cover ankles or jeans at the gate. Looks interesting when a large group of lightly dressed girls and women put on similar shapeless skirts.
On the other hands, visiting a monastery becomes a tradition for newly wedded - like a tour to Vorobievy Heights or Unknown Soldier Grave in Moscow. This often has nothing to do with a religious feeling of the couple or their parents - it's just reflects the fact that outside of larger cities there are very few attractions and landmarks, and any monastery offer a nice memorial place for the first pages of a family photo-album.