Taming the Beast of the Moscow Metro
Along with being beautiful, the Moscow Metro is massive, beast-like even. The entire system is 397 km long, has 234 stations, 14 lines, transports 9 million people daily, and the only help we get is a few colors and some squiggly lines. But it doesn’t have to feel like you’re taming a firebird just to get from point A to point B. If you’re familiar with other big-city subway systems, like New York or Tokyo, Moscow’s is as easy to master as the Russian language itself. (Because, let’s face it, finding English in a Moscow metro station is like shaking hands with the undead Chekhov—possible, though highly unlikely.)
The first thing you have to do to be a знаток метро (znatok metro), is learn the Cyrillic alphabet. Once you learn Cyrillic—which you can do in an afternoon—and memorize a few words, like exit and city, you’ll already be infinitely further ahead than if you come to Moscow blind, and spend three hours looking for the light of day, because выход в город (vuikhod va gorod) looks like Klingon to you.
Price & Timing
So now you can read Russian, what’s next? If you’re planning on staying in Moscow for a month or more, I recommend getting a monthly travel card. It’s 2550 rubles (44 USD, or 41 EUR), and gives you unlimited access to the metro, which also includes buses, trams and trolleys. You’ll save a bunch of time and money simply by buying your travel in bulk, rather than scavenging for it piecemeal. Another thing, which seems obvious, though is something I personally overlooked when I came, is that Moscow is huge. If you’re coming to Moscow for the first time, I advise you to rent an apartment inside the inner circle (the brown line). Otherwise you’ll spend a lot needless time watching those mesmerizing black lines on the subway wall wave by. The average time it takes between metro stations is two and a half minutes. That’s enough time for you to shave, down a bowl of щи (shchi), gobble up a few пирожки (piroshki), read a page of “Братья Карамазовы” (brati karamazovi), listen to Tschaikovsky’s “Масленица: Февраль” (maclenitsa: fevral), and question your entire mode of life, wondering if you’ve made the right decision coming here. (Rest assured, you have.) Still, you should always plan to spend another 5-10 minutes getting in and out of the underground altogether. The time will add up. So book close to the city center, and keep your watch on you. Luckily, the time spent waiting for a train is very little. Trains come and go constantly, which is one of the positive sides of Moscow’s massive population.
Now what about subway etiquette? If you find a seat, take it, though certainly give it up to anyone who looks like he or she needs it more than you. And if you’re tall, beware of the metal bar hanging over your seat when you get up. That thing is merciless. Take it from me. And if you’re still confused, scared, tired, nervous or frail, just ask somebody for help. Throw in a little Здравствуйте (zdrastvooti) and Спасибо (spassiba), and you’ve just won yourself a private escort for the length of your stay.
In the end, the Moscow Metro is manageable. Just make sure you know your route, and get a metro map. Prepare for long escalator rides. Follow the signs. Notice the colored circles with numbers on the maps inside the trains, indicating connections. And after a few days, you’ll be zipping around town like a local.
This post was brought to you by Andrew, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz