Note From Jon


Friday, May 9, 2008

Russia Recap: Day 5

Wednesday April 23rd

On Wednesday I explored outside of the city. Well at least on the outskirts of the city. The metro came above ground to cross the Moskva River, and I passed soviet-era cookie-cutter apartment complexes. I’d originally hoped to work in a day trip to a Golden Ring town during my time in Moscow, but settled for my friend Dana’s recommendation to visit the 4-acre Kolomenskoe Reserve overlooking the river.

The novel I’m rereading, Edward Rutherfurd’s Russka, refers to it in one of its stories:

…Cossacks rode out to look at the tsar’s country residence at nearby Kolomenskoye. Sited by the Moskva River, it was a curious jumble of buildings—some wooden, others of brick covered with white stucco. Its tent roofs, onion domes, and towers flanked by ascending pyramids of kokoshniki suggested a silent, powerful peacefulness like an Indian temple. They returned to the city feeling refreshed.

I’d say refreshing is a good description. It helped that I didn’t have an agenda of things to see there and simply wandered the park for a few hours. Apparently it is frequently used as fairgrounds and I could see some of that infrastructure (including some quaint carnival rides). With no festival underway, most visitors (on a Wednesday afternoon at least) were women with strollers. Strollers, pigeons, and construction. Have I mentioned Russia tends to get renovated in April in preparation for May tourists :-p This time I didn’t care because I’d planned to enjoy the admission-free park, river views, and finally lovely weather and to only admire the buildings from the outside. Construction was no problem for any of that… so long as I avoided the benches with the “wet paint” (I assume) sign on them. I returned to meet conference-completed Kristin “feeling refreshed”.

On the way back to the hotel I made a detour to the Okhotny Ryad mall. It’s an underground mall near the Kremlin which Lonely Planet describes as “catering to all income levels”. In my international travels I try to collect foreign language copies of the French comic series Asterix the Gaul. I was excited to get one in Russian and having not walked by a single large book store I decided a mall was a likely spot to find one. I was wrong. I don’t know about the variety of the prices in the stores, but one thing Okhotny Ryad does not have is a variety of merchandise. The entire mall consists of three kinds of stores: clothing, shoes and fashion accessories. Aside from a food court there is literally nothing else. Nothing. Not that it’s small. Okhotny Ryad is three stories… of nothing but clothes, shoes and accessories. Okhotny Ryad nearly sapped the refreshment I’d soaked up at Kolomenskoye.

The one last thing Kristin wanted to be sure she did in Moscow was to tour the metro stations. That may seem strange in some cities (actually every city that I can think of)—some metros are worth riding once for the experience, but none that I know of are worthy of a station by station tour. Moscow is the exception. Absorbing Ivanov’s masterwork in the Tretyakov Gallery was my favorite moment of the trip, but the Moscow metro was my favorite thing about Russia.

The photos tell the story of the individual stations better than I can. Even beyond the aesthetics the metro system is impressive and I compiled some notes as well as a 10 top ten list of what I liked about it:

First, my few gripes:

  • They do not let people walk stationary escalators as we do in DC (they are just closed off—and they got pretty upset at one guy who jumped the barrier and walked up).
  • Unlike DC trains, they have no ceiling bar to hang on to in the area by the doors (where you are most likely to wind up standing when you get on a packed train). Hope you’ve got good balance.
  • Escalator breakdowns are a serious issue. Chaos ensues. The remaining working escalators can get so backed up that entire rooms and hallways quickly fill with people. The force of the crowd pushing for the escalator can be terrifying, as well would learn…

And some random recollections:

  • Each platform services only one line. That means lots of walking between platforms but less confusion.
  • We saw workers with scrapers riding the escalators to remove advertising stickers that had been slapped on (we also saw a guy riding the escalators slapping them on).
  • We ordered fare cards by going to the Kacca and holding up fingers for the desired number of rides.

And finally my top ten favorite (non-aesthetic) things about the Moscow Metro system:

10) Their lines have both a color and a number associated with them. They may not be friendly to those in wheel chairs (tons of stairs and escalators) but they take pity on the color blind.

9) If it isn’t so crowded that the escalator is packed two-abreast, they follow the (non-tourist) DC convention of stand right, walk left.

8) They do a fairly good job of crowd control by splitting walkways into two “lanes” either with separate hallways or temporary fencing. This works as long as the escalators are all functioning.

7) The metros have public trash cans. Well none on the platforms, but they have small ones right after the turnstile to deposit spent metro cards. They were the only public trash cans I saw in the city!

6) Many trains had an electronic station meter that would fill up as you passed each stop and blink to mark the upcoming station.

5) All the fare cards work like Smart Trip cards, just tap it on a pad by the turnstile to enter (and a handy display lights up with the remaining number of rides on the card).

4) The price is right. If you buy a 10-ride pass, each ride costs 17 rubles (about 70 cents) and all trips cost exactly the same, no matter where you go.

3) The escalators move fast. I’d say twice as fast as DC. Since the majority of their escalators are long enough to make Rosslyn’s seem ordinary, that speed is a good thing (just be careful getting on and off!). According to the Wikipedia, Park Pobedy has the longest single escalators in the world so we made a special tour detour to ride it.

2) Trains move fast too and we never once had to wait in the tunnel while a train ahead of us cleared the platform or because they were single-tracking.

1) Most impressive to me (rivaling even the aesthetics) was the frequency of the trains. Each track has a clock at one end of the platform with the current time and elapsed time since the last train left. During rush hour the average time between trains seemed to be 45 seconds. 45 seconds! At almost all other times it was between 1 and 2 minutes. The longest time by a considerable margin was one 5 minute wait on a Sunday night.

I ♥ Moscow Metro

Dinner at CafĂ© 44 was decent (but credit-card unfriendly—despite the sign in the window!), and after a fruitless search for Asterix in a huge bookstore that Kristin found near our Polyanka metro, we set off to test how well I had done buying our train tickets to St. Petersburg. We managed to navigate the rush hour metro with all of our luggage by utilizing the relatively emptier first or last metro cars, and got to Leningradsky Vokzal about a half hour before our train left. Well a half hour before we thought our train left. We found our train number on the wall-size electronic board, and with some improvised translating we decided the time was still 9:30, but we couldn’t identify a platform number. One other thing troubled me. There was one column we couldn’t identify. In that column was a single word after each train. I assumed these words meant things like “On-time”, “Delayed”, “Boarding”. Our train had a word that wasn’t on any other train on the board. Well it was in one other place: Next to our same train over on the arrivals side. I’m usually optimistic, but one terrifying likely translation popped into my head: “Cancelled”. That’s not good. Kristin turned to the information counter for an answer while I turned to the Lonely Planet. At about the same time we found out that unknown category was Frequency, and the words were “Daily”, “Odd-numbered Days”, “Even-numbered Days”, and yes “Cancelled”. But our train was chyotnye (Even-numbered days) not otmenyon (Cancelled). Phew. Before my mind could dwell much on the fact that our tickets were for Odd-numbered days… I got the thumbs up from Kristin who had been so friendly with the information lady that she actually led us all the way to the platform and our train (which had a different number than we thought, and this one did run on Odd-numbered days). This was typical of the trip where we’d stay true to our gender stereotypes: when in doubt I looked to the book/map and Kristin asked for directions.

Aside from not being able to translate our tickets well enough to know which car we were in (and therefore having to stop and check at every single car down the length of the train), our tickets and passports passed inspection and we found our cabin just fine. Joe had the same problem translating his ticket and actually ended up in the wrong cabin initially—where he made friends and was given a beer. When someone showed up to claim that seat, Joe found his real seat and as I’d hoped, Kristin, Joe and I were “vamistya” in the same cabin (and it seemed the fourth bunk was unused). I decided I liked the top bunk where both my luggage and my person were up and out of the way. As the train rolled out of the station we settled in and headed straight to bed to cram in as much sleep as we possibly could before our scheduled arrival in St. Petersburg… at 5:28 am.

<-- Day 3 and 4 ---- Day 6 -->

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