Buckle up - we're taking the Moscow Metro

>> Thursday, 4 February 2010

Oh, it's non-stop glamour here in Moscow, let me tell you. Where to start? I could relate the incident this morning when my older son, in the room whilst I got dressed, watched me critically before telling me I had 'nice brows' (you work it out. And no; I haven't been getting busy with the tweezers). Or I could touch on the task waiting for me this evening, that of shortening a ready-made Ikea curtain to finally - FINALLY - give us complete privacy in our bedroom. But that would probably bore you almost as much as the prospect does me. In fact, I find it so mind-numbing that I'm playing hooky. Instead, I thought I would take you on a journey with me.

I've already written about the weather, and the central heating systems of Moscow. To continue this racy, high-flying, cutting edge series of posts about the city that we've moved to, I thought I would take you to a new low - literally. Yes, today we're going to travel on the Metro.

Tell a person that you're moving to Moscow and if they know anything at all about the city their response often includes '... and I hear the tube is amazing!' Well, yes, it is - and of course, it isn't. Wikipedia is a mine (boom boom!) of information if you're interested in that type of thing; there you will learn it wasn't built until 1935, that it carries an average of 7 million passengers a day, and that it is the second busiest metro system in the world after Tokyo.

Rather than blinding you with stats though, I thought I would take you on an average journey as experienced by the Potty Family.

And before I start, I must warn you - this is a long one...

We reach the station. Invariably we're later than planned due to the excessive amount of time it's taken us to get out of the house with our suited and booted children, so we're already a little frazzled. Husband pats his pockets, frantically hunting for the metro ticket he bought recently, put in a safe place, and is now unable to locate. (Note: the Boys will travel for free, but Husband and I can travel on the same ticket since it's just the number of the journeys that count, rather than who paid for them). Obviously, he doesn't find the ticket, so we buy a new one...

We enter the station, heaving our way through the heavy swing doors and trying not to end up with a decapitated small boy in the process, to be blasted by the enormous air conditioning units situated just inside which keep the temperature in the metro system positively balmy compared to the deep freeze outside. Negotiating either the slippery slush brought in from outside or the mops of the cleaners who are there to try and control it, we make our way to the turnstiles where the Boys smile sweetly at the invariably rather square lady manning the gates, who lets them through. Meanwhile, Husband and I do the two step with our shared smart card as he waves it over the beam, steams through the turnstile and neatly back-hands it to me. (I frequently fumble the catch and drop it.)

We make our way to the escalators. Think you know long escalators? Think again. Moscow's really deep Metro line escalators will give the unfortunate vertigo, and most first time users pause for thought. Husband and I station ourselves one in front of each of the Boys, and I spend the next couple of minutes counting fur coats (normally between 20 - 30 on each side of the escalator), and trying to persuade Boy #2 not to run his glove along the wall. Usually I fail at the latter and he comes off at the bottom with about 2 inches of silt on the palm because unfortunately, the one thing the Moscow Metro is not, is spotless. It's not dirty in terms of litter etc, but there is a layer of grime over practically everything which the gallant teams of cleaners working 24/7 fight a losing battle against. Must make a terrible mess of all that fur...

We step off the bottom of the escalator, hurrying the Boys along against their natural inclination to stop and dawdle as, given how busy the tube system is and how fast the stairs come down, there is potential for disaster if they do. (Most of the longer escalators, by the way. are controlled by an individual who sits at the bottom in a little cabin, and who has responsibility for speeding things up or slowing them down depending on the weight of traffic. It can make for quite a hairy ride if you're not used to getting on and off at high speed...)

Once the Potty Family is safely disembarked from the escalator, we make our way to the platform. Luckily, Husband knows his way around the metro system, so we don't have too many incidents of ending up on the wrong part of the station (the interchange system can mean that whilst on the map it looks like two lines cross, in reality there's a 5 - 10 minute walk between them).

The halls and platforms are often beautifully decorated in art deco / nouveau / soviet style. At Revolution Squaure, for example, the walls are lined with bronze statues of heroes of the Great Patriotic War (that's WWII to you and I). In true egalitarian style, it's not just human heroes who are represented; the Boys are always enthralled to see statues of some of the dogs who served up there as well. So too it seems are many Russians; the dogs' noses are always shinier than the rest of them as the custom here is to stroke them for good luck.

Once on the platform, we glance at the digital clock at either end. This doesn't tell you the time of day; it tells you how long it is since the last train left. And guess what? I've never seen it reach more than 2 minutes. Most of the time the next train pulls in approximately 1 minute and 30 seconds after the previous one departed. (London Underground eat your heart out).

The train rattles into the station at high speed, doors slamming open, and people throwing themselves off as fast as they can. We hustle on quickly, avoiding the fiercely sharp elbows of the babushkas, making sure the Boys either have a seat (which they often do, as small children are given priority and normally someone will stand up for them) or something to hold onto. The reason for this is that underground trains in Moscow are fast. Average speed between stations (according to Wikipedia) is 40km+ per hour... Boy #1, true to type, always wants to sit down, but given the choice Boy #2 will stand at the end of the carriage facing the door. We only recently worked out the reason for this; so that he can more properly pretend he is driving the train...

Depending on the length of our journey, the Boys slump down in their seats, over-heated in their hats, scarves, gloves, jackets and snow pants over trousers, and sometimes even nod off, despite the terrible noise as we rattle along. Whilst de-clothing them is a good idea, unless I've brought a beach-bag sized holdall to carry all their cold weather accessories, keeping them on is the only way to ensure we leave the carriage with everything we brought on.

Eventually, we bustle off the train at our destination, walk along yet another dimly-lit and splendidly decorated platform, climb through the vertiginous escalator system and stumble out onto the street in the slush.

And that, ladies and gents, is a trip on the Moscow Metro. I hope you enjoyed travelling with the Pottski Familiski... Next post? Skating in Red Square, and how I managed to avoid the certain disaster that would have ensued had I got on the ice...


Mwa 4 February 2010 at 20:25  

I can just about feel the sweaty mittens on my own hands. I wouldn't like to have to do that with two small boys.

planb 4 February 2010 at 20:40  

Oh! Nostalgia!! You forgot though to mention the fact that the cleaners (and the ladies in the little boxes) all wear their slippers and pop socks.... And please don't tell me they've gained some fashion sense, I'll be so disappointed!. Also, a fun game for the escalators - see if you can make someone coming the other way smile - it's surprisingly difficult.

Chris 5 February 2010 at 01:22  

well done PM Mum I felt as though I was there in person....do you thnk there is a MPM (Moscovite Potty Mum) at this moment describing the joys or not of the London Underground???

sharon 5 February 2010 at 02:45  

Bit like Journey to the Centre of the World then ;-)

Actually, reading that reminded me of the years I spent navigating the London underground with occasional IRA 'excitements' during my Office days. I can still smell it even after all these years. I don't like to think of the times navigating it with my small boys, one invariably whining and the other doing his best to escape!

nappy valley girl 5 February 2010 at 03:13  

Great description. (It actually sounds better than riding on the New York subway with two small boys - noisy, chaotic and hardly anyone offers them a seat, and getting a buggy through the unmanned turnstiles is a major haulage operation..)

Home Office Mum 5 February 2010 at 07:00  

Fab description. I would hate it for two reasons. 1. I hate overheating. So I would absolutely end up having to take all the layers off before putting them all back on and losing gloves in the process. 2. I suffer from vertigo. I find some of the London Underground escalators hairy. So those you describe would have me getting very curly toes.

Anonymous,  5 February 2010 at 07:34  

A very brave expedition!

It has taken me a while using the MRT in Singapore (tube) to work out that the recorded announcement instructing me to "be happy, happy!" every morning is actually warning me "berhati, hati!" [please mind the gap].

Still makes my day though!

London City Mum 5 February 2010 at 10:17  

Am so glad I am not the only one trying to stop young boys from 'cleaning' the walls/gates/doors/anything else in the public domain with their hands, gloves or not gloves.
Drives me insane!

But well done for braving the crowds and the journey. Knowing you it will be second nature by next month ;-)


Footballers Knees 5 February 2010 at 13:21  

Excellent post, PM. It's almost as if I was there with you. Thank God am not, as the part about fast moving escalators scares the hell out of me!

Lisa @ Boondock Ramblings 6 February 2010 at 15:51  

Ugh! An interesting tale, but I wouldn't want to do it with two small boys. God bless you as you have these new adventures though. It would be different if I was there, I'm sure. I'd have fun after I figured it all out as well, I think....

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