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A day in the park: Tsaritsyno

Not just palaces

What do you do when you come to a park in the morning and plan to stay there until dusk? Where do you go to escape from the heat, and what do you look for in the souvenir shop? Find out what exhibitions are available in Tsaritsyno, where to find carts with the famous Tsaritsyno ice cream and so much more.

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Morning

Tsaritsyno park opens at 6 am. Too early for a run-of-the-mill walk? Perhaps, but it's a great time for a bird watching tour or a Nordic walk. Tsaritsyno park is home to dozens of species of birds, some of which are rarely found in other parts of the city. The greenfinch, nuthatch, blue tit, great spotted woodpecker and linnet are especially active early in the morning.

Bird watching can be easily combined with a walk along the Tsaritsyn Terrenkur, a specially-designed 2.2 kilometre walk with vertical decline of no more than 15–20 degrees. The route starts at the Park gate (entrance no. 8) next to Orekhovo metro station and essentially criss-crosses the whole of the park's territory. It passes the Vyatichi burial ground (ancient burial mounds that archaeologists first took an interest in in the late 19th century), the Nerastankino and Milovida park pavilions, which were built in Tsaritsyno in the 19th century.

The most "challenging" part of the route is a 100–150 metre-long, gentle upward slope followed by an equally gentle downward slope that passes over the Grotesque bridges. It is impossible to get lost on the track; there are information boards everywhere telling you where to go next. The walk along the Tsaritsyno terrain path will take you at least five thousand steps. And as a bonus, you're bound to see all the different sites of the museum preserve in one go.

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The park really comes to life at 10 am. That's when the palaces open along with all the exhibitions and the souvenir shop, the boating stations, sports equipment rental shops, street kiosks with cafes and sandwiches and when ice cream carts start to appear on the park walkways. At this point, the glade in front of the Grand Palace doesn't have too many people, so you can get the best spot in the centre under the shadow of the hundred year-old pine tree for an ideal picnic on the grass. It's a great spot for so many reasons: you're right next to the museum, the park has plenty of shade, there are great places to play sports like volleyball or badminton and you can find a coffee kiosk and several spots selling the trademark Tsaritsyno ice cream.

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Day

Tsaritsyno was built by the outstanding architects Vasily Bazhenov and Matvey Kazakov. Their architectural vision ensures that observing the palace from the outside is no less interesting than what you see from within. What do you need to see it? All you need to do is hire a boat or a catamaran on the upper or middle segment of the Tsaritsyno pond and take towards the centre.

There is a third boating station on the shore of the lower pond, but you can't see the palaces from there (however, this pond is a great place to see water lilies and some really rare species of waterfowl, such as grebe and river terns). You can rent a boat and row for yourself (3-, 5-, and 7-seater boats are available for hire), or you can rent a motorboat. In this latter case, a professional motorboat operator will steer the boat while an audio-guide will enumerate the sites around you.

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When it gets really hot in the afternoon, it's best to head for some shade. For instance, you can go to the Jumanji rope course by the Pokrovskie gate (entrance No. 3 from Tsaritsyno metro station). Right next to it, there are six more sporting areas, including a mini-football pitch and a court for beach sports.

The rope course takes up over 500 square metres; it is 10 metres high and has three levels with a total of 75 rope bridges. And while the first level route can be completed even by a pre-schooler (the age limitation is 3 to 8 years of age, and height limit is up to 150 cm), the upper levels are intended for the strongest and bravest among us.

The rope course meets all modern safety requirements. There are safety harnesses attached to continuous rails and rock climbing equipment. Moreover, at each level, you can choose one of three routes to make sure you feel comfortable even when you're up high. In any case, if you have questions, you can always talk to the instructors on duty in the park.

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Another way to cool down is by getting a ticket to a museum. The booking offices are located in an air conditioned, underground entry hall along with cloak rooms, storage units and a souvenir shop. Each exhibition hall has air conditioning and contact-less hand sanitisers. In the souvenir shop, you can purchase (or simply leaf through) books on the park's history and architecture, buy a souvenir, postcard or a Tsaritsyno guide book for kids (there is an especially entertaining book about how Tsaritsyno came to be, the different types of birds and animals there and what makes Tsaritsyno fountain so famous).

Temporary and permanent expositions are shown in its five buildings. The state halls of the Grand Palace (Yekaterininsky and Tavrichesky) are of course beyond comparison. Every day, tens of thousands of selfies are taken here as people make their own mementos of the grandiose, 18th century-style palatial interiors.

The main museum exposition is the "Tsaritsyno of Catherine the Great". Even kids won't be bored by this exhibition: the halls offer a slew of multimedia exhibits (among them, a 20 minute animated movie featuring actress Julia Aug as Catherine the Great and Pavel Derevyanko as Vasily Bazhenov), as well as a 180-degree panoramic movie depicting how Tsaritsyno changed over 245 years.

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The second floor of the Grand Palace houses two large exhibitions. The Catherine's Monplaisir building exposition. The exhibition about the trip from Peterhof to Tsaritsyno is devoted to Alexander I, and the art of that period is presented through furniture and artistic decorations that are characteristic of the first quarter of the 19th century. After all, it was during the reign of Alexander I that the interiors of the small Rastrelli palace underwent their latest changes and were finalised in the imperial style. However, the building's name retained the memory of not the emperor, not even Elizaveta Petrovna, who commissioned it, but rather Catherine the Great, who lived in the Stone Building for 15 years and set out for Saint Petersburg from here in 1762 to lead a coup against her husband and return as empress.

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The second exhibition is titled "Art of the Grand Style", and it tells a completely different story that is not at all royal. Its exhibits comprise of works by Russian artists from the 1960s–1990s donated to Tsaritsyno when it housed the museum of decorative and applied arts of the peoples of the USSR.

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The opera house exhibition "Palace in the Palace" consists of 126 sculptures from the collection of count Nikolai Sheremetyev, including several authentic antique pieces (Hygeia, Goat, and Aphrodite's head), copies of ancient sculptures made in the 18th century by French and Italian sculptors (E. Falcone, G. Pigalemi and others), as well as works by 19th century artists. The bulk of this collection never left the walls of the Ostankino palace.

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There are two more exhibitions in the Bread House: one is for children, while the other is for connoisseurs of 300-year-vintage porcelain. The "Why Would a Child Need a Bear?" exposition consists of hundreds of clay toys (the oldest is over 400 years old) and a real bear cave (a special space where kids can play and learn while adults relax).

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The Third Cavalry Building houses a permanent exposition entitled Summerhouse Tsaritsyno, which offers detailed information about the summerhouse period of the late 19th century when the territory of the modern day museum preserve hosted a large settlement of summerhouses (as many as 1000 houses) in which writers, artists, musicians and politicians lived.

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Evening

The sunset in Tsaritsyno is yet another exhibition for you to take in on any day, one that is always available. The best spot to observe the sunset is the Palace Square, and you especially want to see it through the Figure Gate.

The second most beautiful sunset view can be found from the steps of the Milovida pavilion. Both landscapes are considered integral parts of the architectural ensemble. As far back as the late 18th century, when Catherine the Great started developing her plan for a grandiose royal residence outside of Moscow, a park in the then-fashionable English style was set up here even as construction started on the palaces. 1784 saw the arrival in Russia of the famous British gardener Francis Reid, who outlined the shores of the ponds and identified locations with the best views for the future Tsaritsyno park, all of which survive to this day.

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Immediately after sunset, the lighting of the fountain turns on and different coloured jets of water stretch up to 15 metres high, lit up by more than 3000 underwater lamps.

The park closes to visitors at midnight.

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Tsaritsyno, Moscow’s largest palace and park ensemble, is a state museum of historical, architectural, artistic and landscape significance. Its majestic 18th-century palace, created as the summer residence for Catherine the Great, is its main attraction. .

tsaritsyno-museum.ru

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