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Outdoors weekends

Part 1. The Moose Island

Now: A green island in the sea of brick and concrete.

Now: A forest that starts only 5 kilometers from Kremlin walls.

In XVI century: A favorite place for hunting of Ivan The Terrible.

Since 1983: A national park, the first in then Soviet Union.

For us: A dark stripe visible on a clear day from the balcony of our apartment in the center of Moscow. Sometimes a city smog hides it from us, but we still know that it exits - and that helps to breathe. It is called The Moose Island and has been known under that name for more than two centuries.

Fat chance that you will see this narrow stripe on a small inline GIF. With some luck, after close examination, you maybe will discover it on a bigger JPRG picture, a narrow, one-pixel-wide line on the horizon...
Surprisingly few Moscovites know about the place, still fewer have ever been there. Oh, they miss a lot! On the other hand, environmentalists and enthusiasts of wild life protection do a lot to keep the place clean.

April is the season of Earth Day and this activity is as well known in Russia as in any other country. This poster (Russian text says "Earth Day") made by kids greets us from the walls of a ranger station in Moose Island.
We do not belong to either activists or ignorant majority. We just like to visit the place, particularly in the spring when the new leaves are barely visible and the forest seems to be covered with green haze.

And that's what you see when look above...
Of course this is by no means a standard way to spend a weekend in late April when a dacha garden calls for your attention... or a political rally... or a party with friends. Still, that's how we spend at least a few spring Saturdays or Sundays. And we promised to tell you about the life of our family that not necessarily always follows the most standard ways.

That's how you enter The Moose Island, on feet or on wheels.
Only half an hour bike ride from our apartment located on one of the noisiest streets of Moscow, Garden Ring, and we come to the place where nothing is heard but the songs of birds and we can for a few hours feel like on our summer wilderness trip.

Only a few new blades of grass, only tiny leaves - but already a chance for the first sunbaths.
The Moose Island is a small park by the standards of national parks. Here are no magnificent views one sees at Yosemite or Yellowstone. But it's a huge forest by the standards of densely populated major urban area of Russia. The only real forest within Moscow city limits. The area of The Moose Island is 120 square kilometers (46 sq. miles). Less than third of this territory is inside Moscow - a nice green wedge penetrating grayness of city streets from north-east.

There are asphalt lanes running through the forest, very popular among people of all ages who come here to slowly walk, or to jog, or to ride a bike. If you want, you can relax on the bare earth, you are allowed to leave trails in this park.

And some clearings in the forest are well kept as recreational grounds. You can buy here some drinks or snacks and to relax on makeshift log benches.
A few hours spent in Moose Island of course are less exciting than a real camping trip. But a visit to this park takes only a few hours, so it can be easily squeezed into a tight schedule of a regular weekend... between shopping, doing laundry and watching TV.

On the way home let's stop by this feeder for birds carved of a big log and leave a few grains there for the forest singers to enjoy...

Part 2. Polya river

However, on a long springtime weekend it makes sense to spend a few days rather than a few hours outdoors. We always have two long weekends in May. May 1 and 2 are two days off, before they were called the Days of International Solidarity. Now they are simply the Days of Labor and Spring. And there is another holiday, Victory Day, May 9. Many people spend these days at the dachas. Early May is the right time for planting many vegetables. But many others take the trains to visit wilder nature than a dacha garden.

The water is still high after floods of early spring and small rivers seem larger when water covers all the low meadows and marshes around.
There are several small rivers only 100 to 200 miles away from Moscow that run through the forests far enough from big villages or any towns.

Sometimes you can guess the presence of a village in the forest by these fishing constructions on the banks. At the time of high spring water they are below the surface and fishermen place net baskets at the "gates". It's an old and efficient method.
These rivers on May holidays become densely populated by campers.

And traffic on a waterway may sometimes be real heavy...
Boats and rafts of all sorts with people of all ages in them merrily move downstream every few minutes. There are no tourist agencies to organize all that, people just come on their own. There are not many serious rapids on the rivers of Russian planes, so one should not necessarily be a great sportsman to make 100 miles in three or four holiday days. Many travel with kids (and we, too).

Breakfast on a holiday morning must include special dishes... This time we're going to enjoy pancakes.

And a camping trip is not a camping trip without good songs near the campfire in the evening...
This year the early spring prepared a nice gift for these happy campers. The forest that often looks bare on May 1 this year demonstrates all shades of green. Almost as rich in foliage as in summer, but all the leaves are new and fresh, without a trace of dust or dirt which will come later.

Beauty of the banks
Polya, a small river, runs almost straight north 100 miles east of Moscow. Ancient forests on the banks show very beautiful variety of trees, oaks and birches, elms and maples, pines and firs, bird cherry and hazel-nut... Endless carpets of lily of the valley...

White fragrant foam of bird cherry flowers
Of course it's not as exciting as a trip far north, a real wilderness trip is quite a different story.... a summer story (like a trip to Urals we did last summer). But it's only spring and we just open our outdoors season.

There is a strange cozyness of a tent camp, the feeling you never get in a city - or even at the dacha, for that matter. Thin nylon walls and pillars of tall pine-trees are very special pieces of architecture.
Tents and boats, bikes and trains - after a long winter spent in the city all these words mean fresh air, sun and winds, ever changing beauty of wild nature.

When you are on such a river you want it never end...
Andrey and Masha

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