Friday, April 16, 2010

Flashback Friday: Memories of the Moscow Metro

The Moscow Metro system is the second most heavily used subway system in the world (Tokyo's is the first). It deals with more than 7 million passengers per day, on weekdays. When we lived in Moscow, Jeremy and I were two of those seven million.

I already told you what my very first ride on the metro was like. I ended up getting to be quite the pro at using the metro simply because I did it so often, far more often than Jeremy did. He was stuck in an office in the embassy all day every day, while my jobs required me to travel all over the city. So I got to know the metro system very well. You might even say I knew it as well as the back of my hand (really). It got to the point where I could plot the fastest route with the minimum amount of the most convenient transfers without even looking at a map.

Then, within the station itself, I could often predict which car on the train we'd need to be in to be deposited near the right exit/transfer hall at our destination station. This was especially true for routes I traveled often. And of course I wasn't the only one. It seemed to be a routine for many of the metro passengers. You'd see a group of people huddled at one seemingly random spot on the platform, and then realize they knew which car would get them to where they needed to go the fastest. It was just common sense.

Buskers in a metro station transfer hall beneath Red Square.
More buskers in the tunnel leading to Ulitsa 1905 Goda station.
Any time saved using the lull between trains to get a better position on the platform could be put toward the insanely long escalator ride to the surface at the end of it. Real die-hards (or people who were late) would walk up the escalators but it was always a long, claustrophobic trip even if you just stood there. Long, despite the fact that in my experience, the escalators in the Moscow metro did not care to move at a safe, slow speed. They were high-efficiency machines designed to move people quickly, so you really had to watch out.

The trains themselves would come screeching into the station with a huge gust of stale underground tunnel air every few minutes. It was so nice to never have to wait long for a ride. During busy times, it was sometimes a struggle to fit in the car. Even though the crowds were uncomfortable, I confess it was nice not to have to worry about holding on to the bars for balance while standing during the ride. During rush hour, the mass of people kept you upright no matter what. When it wasn't so busy, it was a show of macho to ride the train, standing, while not holding on to anything. I got pretty good at it by the end of our time there, but there were always those awkward unexpected lurches and stops that could send you flying across the car and ruin any macho cred you had built up with your fellow passengers. (Also, I think I learned the most Russian swear words from that situation, because a lot of people would curse as they fell. Especially the old ladies. Who other kindhearted passengers would sometimes make a move to catch.)

If you were lucky enough to get a seat, and you had brought some reading material along with you (and of course you did, because this is Russia and that's just what you do), you could be sure that the people sitting next to you and possibly standing in front of you would read over your shoulder. That's why I took to reading only Russian-language material on the metro (my favorites were Itogi magazine - like Newsweek - and the Russian version of Reader's Digest) so I didn't mark myself as an obvious and clueless foreigner.

Besides being convenient, efficient, and ubiquitous, the Moscow Metro was also cheap. A single ride purchased as such cost a mere five rubles (about 15 cents). If you bought more rides at a time, the price went down to about three rubles (about 10 cents). Jeremy and I usually bought what was called Yediniy Billyet - monthly passes for all forms of public transportation (pictured above). Would you believe me if I told you it only cost ten dollars? I could hardly believe it myself. But the transportation ministry got wise eventually and raised the price to a startling 500 rubles in October 2002. There was much griping about that but I guess it had to be done.
Outside the Krasnopresnenskaya Metro with a friend. Note the impromptu carnival behind us.
Everyone has heard how ornate and fabulous the metro stations are inside, underground. I don't have any pictures of that because there were strict rules against it, and said rules were actually enforced by surly, mustachioed old women wearing orange vests and armed with brooms. But outside the stations, impromptu markets and fairs would pop up. I often bought a little snack called sukhari to much on on my way to work. I absolutely never bought the drink kvas, sold from a tank for five rubles a (communal) glass and dispensed by still more mustachioed old women wearing vests. My main damage with kvas was that its full name is khlebniy kvas. Khlebniy means "bready," and it is my personal philosophy never to drink a beverage that can be described as being "bready."

Don't you think that's wise?


Steve said...

I used to like the kvas they sold out of yellow tanks. Sometimes in Volgograd you could get a plastic cup, which made it ok. The worst was homemade Kvas. Sometimes it got very bitter.

Liz Johnson said...

Huh. I have not yet formed an opinion on whether I drink "bready" drinks. I lean towards "no," though.

You're very smart to only read Russian lit on the subway. I admit that I had never even thought of that.

Jennifer said...

Fun! I love subway systems--so much that I got this book as a gift and love it:

When I was in London, we'd do the same thing--figuring out which car to get on to end up in the best place at our destination.

Jeremy Palmer said...

Bridget really did know the metro much better than I. The metro was great. When Bridget and I wore darker clothing we could actually fit in. In fact, Bridget and I were once looking at some bikes near a metro stop on sale when a surly Russian woman asked Bridget about the price. I explained that she didn't work there to which she responded 'a kak ne rabotaet?' - What do you mean she doesn't work here!? Hee hee.

rtfgvb767 said...

IS VERY GOOD..............................

Suzanne Bubnash said...

You didn't mention an unpleasant part of the metro, and that is the turnstile. If you tried to sneak in, or if your token or pass didn't go in just right, it locked you up in the middle. On one occasion this happened to me and in the few seconds I was stuck hundreds of snickering Russians passed by through adjacent turnstiles. I wanted to yell out that I wasn't a cheater. Portland should adopt this system for MAX to justly punish the freeloaders!

Craig said...

During our visit I took a surreptious video of the metro in St. Petersburg. I took another of a station in Moscow and one of those ladies got angry at me, so I had to play the dumb, innocent tourist. :-)

But you are right. Most of them were so ornate, it was amazing!

Ashley said...

Sounds like the subways in Budapest, expect that sometimes the escalators would stop out of no where! I was on the opposite one, and watched it happen. Luckily the one that stopped was going up. People just started climbing, it seemed like a normal occurrence.


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