01 02 03 Setting Sail with the Fitzys: Getting Around 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Getting Around

As mentioned in a previous post, we have spread our wings slowly around the neighbourhood, progressively working further and further away from sight of our apartment as we become familiar with the landmarks around us and can be confident of actually returning home at the end of an excursion.   Basically if we couldn't find our way home on foot, we didn't know enough Russian to explain to a cab driver where we wanted to go, and we only had a cell phone contact of 1 person in Moscow who may have been able to help us find our way back, but that would have been dependent on them recognising any landmarks I would have had to describe to them, so if we got lost we were pretty much screwed.


A common sight on Moscow's Roads and highways
So you can understand what the roads are like here, firstly Moscow's roading system eminates in a spoke like system out from the centre of the city, with 4 ring roads which circle the city and most other roads feeding onto these spoke like roads at either end, consequently as you get closer to the centre there is more and more traffic trying to cram onto the main roads.   There is so much traffic on the roads, sitting there idling for the most part that on any given day you will see someone who has broken down in one lane or another and has caused a bottle neck of traffic trying to get around them and can be guaranteed to see a crash.   There are horns honking everywhere as drivers try to squeeze into a gap, or where a car has started to cross the line of traffic and become stuck itself blocking 2 lanes till it can find a space to move to.   All warnings we received about Moscow drivers were that they have complete disregard for the traffic signals so be careful crossing the roads, well so far they haven't been as bad as their reputation, but still when you use an uncontrolled crossing you still have that feeling of playing Russian Roulette as you are relying on 4 or more lanes of traffic all stopping for you on a road where they seem to travel at close to 80 kph.  Even today Jimmy was about 2 steps away from being skittled by the first driver we have experienced who shot the red light at the controlled crossing.


At bus stop on first day of commuting
On day one we found our local shopping centre and park, then on day two Angela got called up by her boss to go to a meeting at his office, she was taken over there by another teacher who knew her way around and spoke Russian.  Here was our introduction to commuting in Moscow.   The trip to the office involved catching a bus at the stop just down the road, then after about 15 - 20 mins getting off and catching a smaller mini bus service for another 15 - 20 mins.   (incidentally the total cost of this trip per person is the equivalent of $NZ 2, so commuting over here is relatively inexpensive, and kids don't have to pay fares on some services...).   She left home at 2:00pm and was still waiting at the interchange stop at about 4:00pm, finally getting to the office around 5:00pm.   As it was so late when they came home her boss gave here a ride as he lives not far away from us, on the way he showed her the site where the day before a drunk driver travelling at 200 kph, wiped out a bus stop on our bus route killing 7 people, great confidence booster the day before you start travelling this route on a daily basis.

Commuting here is one hell of an experience where we have learned you have to be on your toes and know when to give up and walk and when you have to run, and even disregard any respect you have for personal safety as you cram yourself into an overloaded minivan and venture out onto a roading system bursting to the seams and full of maniac drivers.

Day 3 saw us heading into Angela's bosses office to work, so had to catch same buses as Angela caught the day before, well relying on the travel directions of someone who struggles to find her way around Blenheim saw us miss our stop and end up at the end of the line with a Russian bus driver trying to tell us there was nowhere else to go (or something to that effect).  So we had to give Stefi a call and work out where we were and where we needed to be.  Luckily we were only a 10 minute walk from where we needed to be, so headed there.  Angela said right this is the stop where we have to wait so we waited, and waited, and waited for the other girls to turn up, finally receiving a phone call asking where we were, we said "we are here at the stop" they said "no you're not", so after some discussion I worked out where we needed to head, and found our stop just around the corner.   The next bus was a mini bus, about a 19 seater, so we all jumped in there with about 22 others and took off to the office.   Most days when we catch this bus it is generally so crowded that I end up jammed up the front, collecting fares and passing them to the driver, telling him how many passengers its all for and passing the change back, very interesting when you don't understand a word anyone says to you....

Our first week of commuting went reasonably smoothly, catching the right buses, getting off at the right stops, and getting to the office in reasonable time.  Well that all changed on week 2 when they closed a section of the main avenue we travel on just past where we get off our first bus.   What was generally a 15 - 20 minute ride took over an hour (and our whole commute over 2 hours) as traffic jams set in, then to make matters worse we had been informed by the other girls that the second bus was no longer stopping in the same spot it usually stopped due to the road closures, so we would have to work out where to find it....  Well luckily it nearly ran us over just after we got off bus 1, so we were able to stop it and jump aboard, the next day we worked out where it was stopping now so waited there only to find that on that day it stopped at the old stop, so had to do a dash across the road to catch it.  On the next day we guessed that they must have resumed their normal stops, so waited there again, but no not in Moscow, today they decided they would stop at the stop we waited at yesterday, so another dash across the road to catch it.   We have also mastered picking the route now and can judge how far away  from our stop we are, so if the traffic is too bad we can jump off the bus and walk to the next stop.   It is now a much less stressful affair getting from A to B by bus.


Molly & Jim on the Metro
Blibliotecha im Lenina Station (Lenin Library)
By our first weekend, we had ventured as far as our local Metro Station so knew how to get to and from that, so decided that we would try the Metro into the city for some sightseeing in Red Square.   Well Moscow may have one of the most efficient metro systems in the world and its stations may be considered works of art, but what a dirty, grimmy, experience it is (especially after having experienced Dubai's Metro the week before).   Right from the moment you enter the station, the whole place seems to have had nothing done to it since the day they opened it 50 odd years ago.  Not a single door to any station we have been to yet seems to open or close properly, when you go through the gates to enter they don't seem to work in the normal manner and once you are on the platform the signage is all solely in Russian, although now I am starting to understand some of it and can find my way to previously unknown stations.   The trains themselves are probably the same ones ordered by Lenin when he build the system....   Admittedly the stations themselves are works of art (classical style) and well worth a visit.   We did try some cross line commuting the other day which resulted in us having to descend over 60m down one of the longest escalators I have ever ridden to one of the deepest subway lines in Moscow.
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