AN ODE TO THE MOSCOW METRO

Follow the M

The M beckons.

Muscovites and New Yorkers have quite a few things in common, and one of them is heavy reliance on public transportation, particularly the rapid underground transit.

My home stop, Chekhovskaya, named after the famed Russian writer.

My home stop, Chekhovskaya, named after the famed Russian writer.

In my 7 years in New York City I did everything I could to avoid taking the subway. This included, but was not limited to, skipping lunch to afford the morning cab to work and riding a bus that took 3 times as long to go the same distance. I love so, so many things about New York, but the subway – with its piles of litter, bizarre weekend schedule, tendency to crash after the first spring shower or winter snow, general aura of ‘unsafe’ on certain lines at certain hours, and hordes of fuzzy creatures frolicking in broad daylight – is not one of them.

You’d think that having been scarred by my New York experience I’d stay away from the local underground. On the contrary, in Moscow, the Metro is my favorite mode of transportation.

Now, the Metro is just as fast as every rail service should be, and very crowded, especially in rush hour, as all public transport is. But these two basic functionalities aside, the Moscow Metro could not be more different from its New York counterpart.

Clockwise from top left: Metro sign and entrance; Moscow Metro became the first metro system in Europe to fully implement plastic smart cards for ticketing at turnstiles; the escalator leading down to 276 feet underground; one of Moscow's 188 stations, with a helpful diagram of the line and all other lines you can transfer to.

Clockwise from top left: Metro sign and entrance; Moscow Metro became the first metro system in Europe to fully implement plastic smart cards for ticketing at turnstiles; the escalator leading 276 feet underground; one of Moscow’s 188 stations, with a helpful diagram of the line and all other lines you can transfer to.

Here are some of the reasons why I think that the Moscow Metro is hands-down awesome and superior to most other underground transit I have had the pleasure or necessity of using over the years*:

  • It is really clean. Not just the platforms, but the train tracks as well. Practically no garbage of any kind  and definitely no ROUS’s**;
  • It’s prompt. The usual wait time for the train is between 1 and 3 minutes,and even minor service interruptions or delays are extremely rare;
  • It’s safe.  There are guards at nearly all the stations, and OMON (special security units) polices the platforms. I have taken the metro at all ungodly hours of day and night (it operates from 5:30 am to roughly 2 am***), downtown and on the outskirts of the city, and always felt secure; 
Different stations

Nothing can harm you under the watchful gaze of Lenin (t-l) or the Partisans (b-r).

  • It runs rain or shine. With most stations and tunnels so deep underground (the ‘lowest’ station is some 90 yards below street level), there are no weather-related service disruptions;
  • It’s cheap. A single ride costs less than $1, which is a bargain compared to New York and London, especially keeping in mind that everything else in Moscow is at least as expensive as in those two cities;
  • The stations have great names. They are so much more than geographic coordinates! The names are laden with national history: Revolution Square. Pushkin Station (the writer). Mendeleev Station (the chemist). Partisan Station. Barricades, Red Guard, Komsomol, Proletariat. May Day Station. Automotive Plant and Electric Plant Stations. The zenith of the Soviet prowess is long in the past, yet millions of Muscovites brush past its legacy every day;
One of the most famous stations in Moscow: Revolution Square. The platform is lined with massive bronze sculpture depicting the Soviet revolutionaries of 1917 - young and old, men and women, industrial workers and peasants. You'll notice that the hound on the right - a revolutionary itself, of course - has a shiny nose. It's considered good luck to rub it when you pass it; in fact, three people did just that while I was trying to take a picture.

One of the most famous stations: Revolution Square. The platform is lined with massive bronze sculptures depicting Soviet revolutionaries of 1917  young and old, men and women, workers and peasants. You’ll notice that the hound on the right – a revolutionary itself, of course – has a shiny nose. It’s considered good luck to rub it when you pass by; in fact, three people did just that while I was taking the photo.

Partisan Station honors the volunteer fighters - women, elderly, children - of The Great Patriotic War (WWII).

Partisan Station honors the volunteer fighters – women, elderly, children – of The Great Patriotic War (WWII).

  • It’s people-oriented. Moscow government has recently launched a campaign to make the underground commute into a more pleasant experience. During the off-peak hours the transit authority runs cars that have art reproductions instead of seats along one of the interior sides, and train exteriors are brightened up with landscapes and flowers. While riding the escalator, which can take up to 5 minutes, one can enjoy lively classical musical or upbeat tunes from old Soviet films. It never fails to put me in a good mood;
Art in the car

Metro the Educator: the art used in this recent campaign is by classical Russian painters and depicts scenes from Russian history or from famous Russian literary works such as War and Peace.

  • It is just so gorgeous!
Some of the metro stations in central Moscow.

Some of the metro stations in central Moscow.

The beauty of the Moscow Metro – dubbed the People’s Palace – is renowned worldwide and is a particular source of pride for the Muscovites.

This metro car advert for stress-relief medication reads: "Crowded and hot? But at least we've got the most beautiful metro in the world."

This metro car advert for stress-relief medication reads: “Hot and crowded? But at least we’ve got the most beautiful metro in the world.” Spot-on.

There are several distinct features of this grandeur: marble or granite walls and columns, ornate moldings, massive chandeliers, mosaics and murals paying tribute to Russian cultural heritage, and lots and lots of Soviet symbolics. 

Tributes to the glories of the Red Army, the Revolutionaries and the Proletariat.

Mini-monuments to the glories of the Red Army, Revolutionaries and Proletariat.

Moscow Metro construction began in the 1930’s and most of the stations were completed during the Soviet era, depicting its greatest achievements and marking historical milestones in the process.

Scenes from the Soviet life

Soviet peasants, workers, warriors: history.

Many stations highlight Russia’s diverse artistic, literary and architectural legacy.

Clockwise from top left: modernist photo collage of Moscow streets; folk crafts influence; a bust of Russia's greatest writer; stained glass panel of Russia's ancient towns.

Clockwise from top left: modernist photo collage of Moscow streets; folk crafts influence; a bust of Russia’s greatest writer; stained glass panel of Russia’s ancient towns.

Even though the themes repeat themselves, immense variety of mediums and stylistic approaches make sure that no two stations are the same.

Trip around Russia

Moscow: where your daily commute is also an art and history tour.

So whether you’re visiting Moscow or living here, are in rush or want to kill some time, look for a large, glowing “M” sign, enter this majestic underground lair and hop on board. I promise you will enjoy the ride.

fvdfx

*Limited to North America and Europe.

**For the uninitiated: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjuZiVrrJZ4

***Yeah, yeah, so the Moscow Metro does not run 24 hours a day like in New York. It’s the only NYC subway advantage I am willing to concede.

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7 thoughts on “AN ODE TO THE MOSCOW METRO

  1. Pingback: MOSCOW METRO part 2: THE SOUND AND THE FURY | Home & Away

  2. Pingback: MOSCOW METRO part 3 – POETRY SLAM | Home & Away

  3. Pingback: MOSCOW METRO part 4: UNDERGROUND LOVE | Home & Away

  4. Pingback: MY MOSCOW: 5 ACTIVITIES | Home & Away

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