Moscow: the Metro and the River



September 27, 2011 

My Dear Jan, 

I am so disappointed in you! 

Two weeks ago, I read in your initial letter from Moscow that you were reluctant to travel alone on the Moscow Metro.  Reluctant?! 

Yes, I know that there are no signs whatsoever in English.   But you were afraid?  And are you so lazy that you can't learn to read at least a few Cyrillic letters so that you can identify the Russian word for "entrance" and "exit”?   Reluctant?  Shameful! 

Then you said that you were terrified?  Terrified?  Shocking! 


Yes, it is true that at every hour of the day there are hordes of Muscovites riding the subway.  And I know that the stations are deep underground, requiring an escalator ride of at least two minutes.   And I know the stations themselves are enormous cathedral-like structures.   And I acknowledge that there are eleven different Metro lines crisscrossing this city of ten and a half million.   Masses of self-absorbed commuters hurry through a maze of tunnels.    

You should be embarrassed to call yourself a "Native New Yorker."  Haven't you been riding the NYC Subways alone since you are ten years old?  So what's the problem? 

Sure I know the direction signs in the New York City Transit System are in English and that everyone (well, almost everyone) speaks English, or at least Brooklynese, or Spanglish.  But aren't you forgetting how intimidated the tourists feel - from Iowa or Kansas - when confronted with the chaos of Times Square or Grand Central or Columbus Circle?  Somehow they manage to find their way to Chinatown or Macy’s or the Theater District or even Yankee Stadium! 

Well, my friend, we’re not in New York or Kansas anymore.  This is your return trip to Moscow, and if you want to see the sights, you'd better get a grip!

Near your hotel is the Partizanskya Metro station - statues of citizen-soldiers-partisans adorn the platforms.  And you remember that the one-way fare on the Metro is 27 Rubles.  So how hard can it be to count out 54 Rubles in coins, stand in the queue, hand the money to the lady in the booth and motion “go and come back” so she will give you two tokens? 

But where to go and how to get here? 

Take a deep breath, Jan, relax.  You’ve got a map and a guidebook, right? 

Find your present location at Partizanskaya and “map” your way to your destination – Kropotkinskaya Station.  

Boy Scouts!  You were a Boy Scout, yes?  You learned “map reading”? 

There is one complication!  You must change from the Blue Line to the Red Line at a major junction of four subway lines.  Yeah, yeah, I know the map indicates colors for the Metro lines, but in the stations themselves?  No colors!!   It’s a challenge! 

Don’t panic!  You are not bashful, so ask, and reconfirm and smile!   

Every station has security guards, usually “babushkas” monitoring the foot traffic.  So with your best Russian accent try Пожалуйста (please, pardon me), point to your destination on the map, and don’t forget to say спасибо (thank you). 

Actually, you should be proud of yourself.  You have learned the Russian words вправо andвлево (right and left) so you can follow directions more easily.

You were at Kropotkinskaya once before with Dasha and the Twins.  And behind the nearby Cathedral is that lovely pedestrian bridge that crosses the Moscow River.  On the opposite bank you will begin your walking tour along the river as you search for the “architectural gems.” 

It was worth all the aggravation, wasn’t it?  Along the river bank are several attractive buildings and churches and across the river is the splendid view of the Kremlin and Saint Basil’s Cathedral.  

With their cameras in hand, you meet other dazed and delighted tourists – a group of youngsters from Hong Kong, a family from Kiev, a young man from Tokyo, and a hulk of a man from Krasnoyarsk – obviously a Siberian lumberjack?  He’s as round and wide as the trees he fells. 

You still have an adventurous spirit, Jan?  So why not leave the comfort of the river route, take a right turn and stroll through a “neighborhood.”  Follow your nose to the church towers in the distance.  And don’t be afraid to get lost!  You know that getting lost is one of your favorite travel activities. 

Now this is a fashionable neighborhood!  Churches, always churches, of course.  Boutiques.  Specialty food shops.  Fast food joints.  Cafes and restaurants on the main streets and on the side streets.  A small park.  Architecturally creative pre-war apartment buildings.  Embassies.  Late-model automobiles. … What does this area remind you of?  It’s the Upper West Side of Manhattan!  

Dummy!   You forgot to take along your Wordless Travel Book with all the pictures of food items.  Menus are only in Russian in this neighborhood.  Servers speak only Russian.  So….here’s the handy phrase that is frequently posted at a restaurant entrance at mid-day: бизнес ланч.  Take a chance and order the business lunch:  soup, salad, and some chicken concoction or a cutlet, dessert.  Café Americano. 

Where are you now, Jan, and how in heaven’s name do you get back to Partizanskaya?  Ah ha! There’s a Metro station.  Map the way back.  Ask a security guard but this young guy’s directions are not convincing.   Ask a “babushka” and confirm an alternate route.  Only one change of trains….easy for you.  

But don’t get overconfident.  Check with that young man on the platform.  He indicates he has the same route so travel together with him.  And listen closely to the station announcements on the train.   Yes, they are only in Russian but you are starting to get the hang of this. 

Jan, my disappointment, shock and embarrassment have disappeared.  The Moscow Metro?     

нет проблем. 

You think of yourself, and rightly so, as a “traveler.”  See the sights.  Abandon your schedule.  Explore.  Stroll.  Wander.  Get a little lost. Try the native food.  Learn a few words.  Make new friends.  

And finally, here in Moscow, you have learned that the art of Transportation is more than riding expensive taxis around town.  Sometimes, the traveler is required to remember his roots.  Do you recall your early days as a competent, uncomplaining consumer of mass-transit?  A fearless, urban, Knickerbocker “straphanger.”     

Следующая остановка: Партизанская 


*When you “get lost,” you invariably find something extraordinary or an area that is absent from any guide book.  

Today you are “lost” in Zamoskvorechie – Moscow’s Historic District.  There are eleven old churches in the district and mansions converted to embassies.  Stroll along Bolshaya Ordyka Street.  Take a break on a park bench. 

Next to the Church of the Resurrection – Kadashi Church - is the Metro station Tret’yakovskaya. 

You must remember to ask Dasha about Yakovskaya.  Yakov? Jacob?

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