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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Barbados Is Only Metro Stops Away

You know the feeling. The sky is blue. The ice is melting. The birds are singing. But, after the rigors of the Russian winter, you want MORE.


You want heat. You want greenery. You want the dirty snow to go at last and summer to arrive.


If you are a foreigner or a New Russian, you can hop on a plane to an exotic location. The travel agencies on Kuznetsky Most are offering package holidays to Thailand -- shopping in Bangkok, 10 days on the beach and a visit to a crocodile farm all for $1,450.


But not all foreigners can afford this, and as for the mass of the Russian population, an escape to the tropics is just not an option.


Try this instead. Take the gray line to Vladykino and a trolleybus two stops to the Ostankino Hotel. On the other side of the road is one of the lesser-known joys of Moscow -- a complex of hot houses attached to the Academy of Sciences. A morning there is as good as a trip to Barbados (almost).


You cannot just walk in off the street. The botanists are friendly, but they have suffered in the past from members of the public stealing their plants. Also, some of the trees are poisonous. So for your safety and theirs, they prefer you to ring up and make an arrangement with a guide.


I was hoping to make contact with Vadim Sheleikovsky, the keeper of the "African pond." I interviewed him three years ago and will never forget him, standing in his swimming trunks, tending his purple Zanzibar water lilies, as a February snow storm swirled outside. Vadim has a dream job, you might think.


But it has its drawbacks. Standing all day up to one's waist in warm water is not good for the blood vessels. And constantly moving from tropical to freezing temperatures is a health risk too. On the day of my visit, Vadim is off sick with the symptoms of flu. I am met instead by Olga Chimakova, a student who works as his assistant.


"Come and look at the azaleas and rhododendrons first," she says. "They are all out in bloom. Unfortunately, I am not an expert so I can't tell you all their names."


Actually, Olga knows a lot for her 20 years and has the deep love of plants that will make her an excellent botanist. But I am glad she spares me information as I marvel at the riot of pink, red, orange and white.


In the next hall, the citrus department, I am hit not by color but by smell. The lemons, oranges and mandarins are flowering and the scent is heady. "We get to eat the fruit," says Olga shyly. It seems a reasonable perk for qualified specialists who earn only 530,000 rubles (just over $100) a month. As an assistant, Olga makes 200,000 rubles a month.


Olga is most at home by the "African pond," the heat from which makes my spectacles steam up as we go in. "I visited the hot houses two years ago," she says, "and when Vadim Lvovich showed me his section, I was entranced. I begged him to let me work for him." Three types of lilies float on the water and round the edge are fly trap plants and orchids. "These smell like lipstick," says Olga.


I carry the strange smell with me out into the fresh March air. Patches of brown grass are showing through the snow. Strengthened by my visit to the tropics, I can now wait patiently for the Russian grass to turn green.


Hot line to the hot house: 219-5338.