First, some rare genius. You know how I got my visa to Russia the first time? I went to the Russian embassy in Rangoon, Burma. In the 1990s, no one was going to Burma, which is exactly why I went by on a lark. The consul was smoking on the front steps of the embassy, he was so bored. He was bemused that I wanted a visa, and he let me have one without all the usual paperwork. I had no intention of going to Russia until I had the visa in my hand, but this once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity couldn’t be passed up.
How about the majesty that is the Moscow metro stations? Some of them are very beautiful, as you can see. They try to preserve its timelessness as there is no advertising in the stations and maybe one sticker inside the trains for a mobile phone company, but that’s it. However, there is free wifi throughout the metro and often you can get a phone signal even though the interminable descent on most metro escalators feels like a journey to the center of the earth, it’s so deep.
The system is very comprehensive, a la Paris, but Moscow is many times bigger than Paris. (In St. Petersburg the distance between stations is nothing short of incredible. I am always afraid I am going to fall asleep and wake up in Finland.)
The signage is awful. If you are on a train and can’t understand or hear the announcements, you are screwed. Even then, though, I love the innovation of a male voice announcing the stops on trains coming into town from the suburbs and a female voice for trains going to the suburbs, ostensibly for the blind.
The passengers are all very quiet. You’ve never been on a metro where so many people are reading hardcover books, no doubt thinking deep thoughts.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION (US$1 = 66 rubles)
There are no tourist offices in Moscow. Zero! There used to be one off Red Square, but it’s closed and they only say there is a phone number you can call. Bush league! There are at least ten dotted around St. Petersburg. At least there are the fantastic In Your Pocket guides, easily the best thing around for anywhere in Eastern Europe.
It’s 31 rubles for a metro token in St. Petersburg and 50 rubles for a stored value single ticket in Moscow, though in Moscow the price comes down quickly if you buy a 5, 11 or 20-ride stored value card.
The practical information is kind of weak this time. To beg your forgiveness, I will send a postcard from Russia to the first person who comments below.
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