[I’ve been hard at work in archives and libraries over the course of the last two weeks. Although I’ve manage to accomplish a great deal on my multiple research projects, I have been less than assiduous in issuing dispatches from Moscow. In an effort to rectify my delinquency, I’m going to treat Avia-Corner visitors to something that’s been in short supply around here lately: honest-to-goodness Russian aviation-related content.]
Specifically, I am going to provide detailed information relating to the Russian Federation’s most important aviation museum: the Central Museum of the Military Air Forces (Центральный музей военно-воздушных сил or, transliterated, Tsentral’nyi muzei voenno-vozdushnykh sil). If you’re a Russian aviation enthusiast, odds are you already know that the VVS Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of Russian military aircraft and that it is, for all intent and purposes, the Russian Federation’s equivalent of the United States Air Force Museum located at the Wright-Patterson Airbase in Dayton, OH.
However, unless you read Russian you may not know much more than that. Accurate and detailed information regarding the Russian Air Force Museum, its history, contents, and operations is rather hard to come by for English-only speakers. The VVS Museum’s official web site contains quite a bit of useful material, but all of it is in Russian. Moreover, it is dated. (The website appears not to have been revised since it went on line in 2001.) In a similar fashion, the smattering of unofficial personal websites that turn up when one Googles “Monino Russian aviation museum” aren’t much more helpful. All contain pictures of planes. Few say much about the Museum itself. Nearly all are grossly out of date (some by more than a decade).
I took the day off from researching yesterday to travel to the VVS Museum. It is located in the Moscow suburb of Monino (about 25 miles due east of the capital). What follows in this and one (if not two) subsequent post(s) is an effort to provide non-Russian speakers with an idea of what it’s like to visit the Museum. The posts are part travelogue, part informational service, part commentary. My purpose is to put together an up-to-date “field guide” that will acquaint non-Russian speaking aviation enthusiasts with what is, by any measure, one of the world’s greatest collections of military aircraft.
If you are considering visiting the Russian Air Force Museum, I hope that what follows will help prepare you for your trip. If you do not have the opportunity to travel there, consider this a “virtual tour” of sorts.
(A Field Guide for Non-Russian Speakers)
Although there are a number of ways to reach the Museum, the most interesting is via the suburban train service (электричка, or “elek-TREECH-ka”) which departs from Yaroslavskii Station (Ярославский вокзал, “yaro-SLAV-skee vahk-ZAHL”) in the NE sector of the capital. Conveniently, Yaroslavskii Station is located on the Moscow Metro’s “Ring Line” at the Komsomolskaya stop (Комсомольская станция, “kom-sah-MOLE-sky-ya stAHN-see-ya”).
If you’re traveling “clockwise” along the Ring Line toward Komsomolskaya station, the exit will be to your left as you leave the train. If you’re traveling “counter-clockwise,” exit to your right. Alternatively, as you exit the Metro car into the station, you can make use of the illuminated signs (located above) that provide information on how to get out of the underground. You are looking for an arrow accompanied the following Cyrillic text:
Walk in the direction that the arrow points.
At the end of the hall you will find a short flight of stairs. Ascend the stairs. Continue walking through a broad tunnel until you reach the bottom of a set of escalators. Take the escalators up and leave the station.
As soon as you emerge from the bowels of the Metro to the fresh (ahem) air of Moscow, turn immediately to your right. There, you will see the entrance to Yaroslavskii Train Station. It looks like this:
Above the doors, you will find a number of signs. These indicate the time and track numbers of the suburban trains set to depart the station in the next thirty minutes or so. You want an “elektrichka” heading to Monino (Монино).
Enter the doors below the signs and walk into the ticketing office. To your right, built into the wall, you will see a series of glass booths occupied by middle-age women distinguished only by the various hues of their badly dyed-hair and their relative degrees of surliness. Find a woman-in-a-glass box marked “Пригородная касса” (“PrEE-guh-rode-nigh-ya kAH-sa”). [They’re the ones numbered 20-28] After you have located one, get in line. You will wait a long time or a short time. Once you are first in line, approach the woman-in-the-glass box, hold up your index finger, and say, “МOE-nee-na ee a-BRAHT-na.”
She will glare at you and bark something in a hostile tone because you have just asked her, “How much for a good time?”
You actually told her “To Monino and back.”
The current (June 2007) cost of a round-trip ticket from Moscow to Monino is 126 rubles. Place 200 rubles on the counter. Alternatively, if you want to be certain that you’ve covered the cost, just plop down the biggest Russian bill you have (500, 1,000, etc.) Be aware, however, that this will result in yet another guttural utterance from the woman-in-the-glass box (she is now demanding to know if you have smaller bills). Should this happen, shrug your shoulders, shake your head left and right, and look helpless. Inevitably, she will give you a wad of smaller bills (which, trust me, you want anyway) along with a white receipt that looks like this:
Hang on to this, it’s your ticket.
Immediately behind you (as you are facing the woman-in-the-glass box) is the exit that will lead you to your train. Once you have your ticket and change in hand, turn around. Walk forward and exit through the doors.
Before you, you will see a long row of doors/gates under a green roof. The doors lead to the platform area from which the suburban trains depart. They are accompanied by signs. The one you want will look something like this:
After entering the door, you will see a row of turnstiles. Insert the end of the ticket stub that looks like a UPC bar code print-side up into the slot at the front of the turnstile. The gate will open allowing you to pass into the platform area.
Do not lose your ticket. You will need it for the return trip. You may also need it to prove you paid your fare in the event that you encounter a conductor while en route.
[BTW, If you happen to miss the train that you had hoped to board, don’t worry. There’s another one coming along in a few minutes. Monino is a destination frequently served by the suburban train system and your ticket is good for any of the trains departing for Monino on the day of purchase.]
Find the appropriate track and board your train.
If you happen to be lucky (or if you’re thinking strategically) you’ll end up sitting across from a hot Russian dyev (they are everywhere). However, if you’re not so lucky, you’ll end up alongside a wandering schizophrenic (they are also everywhere) who reeks of stale onions and urine. You will ride a long time (in the latter case) or a short time (in the former). Whichever fate befalls you, the trip from Moscow to Monino takes approximately 1h 15m, so plan accordingly. Bring a book to read, a friend to talk to, or an iPod loaded up with your favorite airplane tunes.
During the train ride out to Monino persons of various ages, genders, and personal grooming habits will enter the coach you’re in and begin addressing the passengers. These people fall into four general categories. Each wants something:
1) Budding Russian “capitalists”: distinguished by the broad and eclectic quantity of cheap consumer products that they are trying to hawk (everything from ball point pens and notebooks to mosquito repellant, plastic bags, Russian romance novels, and panty hose.) Odds are very good they have nothing you need.
2) Beggars: among the varieties you may encounter are invalids, impoverished pensioners, disabled Afghan war veterans, young children, and gypsies of all ages (to name but a few)…
3) “Performers”: including senior citizens singing off-key Russian “classics;” young gypsy children armed with accordions; and Russian teenagers performing stand-up comedy, original “poetry,” and/or appalling bad rap songs. All of these people are, in fact, beggars in disguise.
4) Ice cream vendors: clearly identified by the large, insulated containers that they carry in their hands (or wear around their neck.)
Ignore everyone except the ice cream vendors.
Along with quality vodka, Baltika beer, and gob-smackingly beautiful women, ice cream is a Russian product that should be enjoyed at every opportunity. Alert the vendor of your intent to make a purchase. Hold up one or more fingers indicating the quantity you desire and pass him a 100 ruble note. [Note: A typical Russian-made стаканчик (“sta-KAHN-chik”) currently runs about 25 rubles ($1) when bought from a train or street vendor].
After the “elektrichka” arrives at the Monino platform, you still have to make your way to the Museum proper. (It’s a bit of a haul, but then again getting there on your own is half the fun.)
Exit the train. You will see a set of stairs descending into the area beneath the platform. Take the stairs downward. If, when you began your descent, you were facing the rear of the train on which you arrived, turn left at the bottom of the stairs. If you were facing the front of the train, turn right.
Follow the underground passage to the end. Turn right and ascend up the stairs. On your left hand side you will see a long building containing a series of small shops and kiosks [it’s the grey one visible in the picture to the left]. To your right you will now see the platform area from which trains leave the Monino station. Walk forward, parallel to the shops and kiosks on your left and the train platforms on your right.
When you reach the end of the building, you will come to a blue metal gate and vehicle check-point manned by military personnel.
Walk through the pedestrian passage to the left of the checkpoint and proceed forward, parallel with the road, along the tree-lined sidewalk immediately adjacent to the street.
After 15 minutes or so you will reach the main entrance of the Russian Military Air Academy [Военно-воздушная академия, Voenno-vozdushnaya akademiia].
Turn left. Continue walking alongside the brick and wrought-iron fence that surrounds the academy grounds until you have circled half-way around the academy and reached an entrance directly opposite the “Main Entrance” that you initially encountered.
Turn left at this second (“rear”) entrance and walk down the road (with the academy directly behind you). A dirt path will veer off to the right in front of a red and blue marker decorated with two airplanes:
Follow the path until you reach the large blue sign [“Музей ВВС”] marking the entrance to the Museum:
Continue on until you see (on the left) a sign which reads “Касса музея.” Turn left. Make another left at the gate marked “Касса.” The entrance to the museum is located in the small shanty immediately on your left after you have entered through the gate.
Congratulations, you made it!
Next up, the Museum and its grounds…
[ For the next installment in this series of posts, click here: 2]