Yesterday I took the girls to Sparrow Hills (formerly Lenin Hills), the famous "park on a hill" in southwestern Moscow. It's across the river from the Luzhniki Olympic arena (where the opening and closing ceremonies for the 1980 Olympics were held) and in front of the imposing Moscow State University skyscraper. Once the weather warms up, this area is always filled with rollerbladers, joggers, caravans of those about to graduate from high school (posing for the obligatory pictures with the Moscow skyline as a backdrop), people going for a stroll. Pretty much all year long, you'll find buses of tourists and limos with newlyweds parked here, too (again, for the posed photos). We posed there last year when Katya graduated from kindergarten.
We started off our afternoon by riding scooters along the paths leading from the university to the promenade.
The shade under the trees must feel delicious once the summer heat sets in... I noticed that many of those trees, however, are poplars--the trees that come in male and female varieties. Stalin stupidly only planted the female kind, resulting in an allergic disaster every spring when the air is filled with floating white, unpollinated tufts. I'm sure I'll blog about pukh in detail in about a month--with pictures that make you think it's snowing. In any case, now I realize just why the air along the Moscow river is FILLED with the stuff--it floats right down from this forest above it on the hill!
The area between the university and the promenade at the top of the hill is filled with paved paths, fountains and flowerbeds. The promenade offers a variety of food kiosks and souvenir stands.
The view of the skyline is absolutely beautiful. You can scan the whole city, east to west, with the golden domes of cathedrals in the Kremlin gleaming in the north on clear days. The girls and I looked out and we saw so much of our life here stretching out before us; we could make out--or envision where we might see--our schools, church, home, Chris's office, favorite parks, places the girls have had various lessons, friends' homes. You take in that view and are struck by the realization of how much history has happened right before your eyes.
The girls loved riding their scooters along the paved paths! I then inherited the scooters while we began the descent into the forest... Those wooden stairs seem endless.
Throughout the park there are signs with ecological information--photos and description of plants and wildlife you can find there. We passed the pond and headed to the playground, a sweet little Russian gem tucked among the towering birch trees.
We then continued down the steps to the riverbank. The girls had fun watching all the ducks who playfully flew at the passersby; threating to land on them. (They discussed how Katya is going to be a scientist when she grows up, and Natalia is going to be a "gymnastics scientinz". Katya will discover new things, and Natalia will jump around and strike difficult poses while doing the same.)
We could see the Luzhniki Olympic arena across the water, and the new Moscow City office development in the distance. The girls are quite proud that their dad will be working there!
We then got ice cream and met two older couples from America who graciously shared some wet wipes with us (I'd forgotten mine!). Incidentally, we met two other families from New York on the playground. I told one of the moms about the Russian/English kindergarten Natalia will attend next year; how great it would be to have another good native-English reader in class!
We then started back up the hill... I still got to carry the scooters, water bottles, jackets, camera...
We stopped to play in the grass and among the trees. I think we'll go sledding here next winter--starting from a low point on the hill. (I can't believe we'd never taken the girls there before!!!! I had no idea how cool this place is. Even they had groaned and complained when I said I was taking them here instead of to one of their usual playgrounds; now they're begging to go back! It's great how blogging pushes me to try new places--new places, new fodder!)
The girls were quite impressed by the ski jump. It is STEEP.
They couldn't believe that Sam, the ring-bearer from our wedding, was actually a nationally-ranked ski-jumper until giving it up (um, after a scary injury--thank God he's ok). To look at this picture of him from 1996, and think that one day he would competing internationally, making friends who train on this jump, a structure quite familiar to us... At times like that, it's hard to grasp how to most other people in the world, Moscow is an unknown, larger-than-life foreign city that they'd never even dream of seeing. Here are Sam, Lily and Grace... The most wonderful kids... I loved babysitting them in college!
Here's Sam shaking a finger at Chris for seeing me--and, GASP--giving me a kiss --BEFORE the wedding:
Here's a better view of the ski jump, with the Moscow River and Academy of Sciences (the battery-shaped building) in the background:
The girls were not enthusiastic about leaving... I'm glad they don't know that I come here on my own some times to run! (I have about ten places that are special-treat destinations for outdoor exercise in the city). Here's one last panoramic view, and then the girls scootered off into the distance...
AARGH! Spacing isn't working on blogger and this post came out looking terrible--but after trying to make it work for way too long, here you go, as is.