August 18 - Transportation in St. Petersburg

Getting around in Russia has been an exciting, sometimes frightening, and difficult adventure. Traveling, especially in St. Petersburg, has been like nothing we've ever experienced before. We have used several means of transportation, such as subways, taxi vans, trains, and buses. We have also seen motorcycles and bikes on the streets, and small boats on the canals running through the city. Subways, and cars are the two main types of public transportation in Russia.

The Metro in St. Petersburg is very confusing, loud, and amazing. When you first walk into a station, you must get a token. No one speaks any English, so you just tell the cashier "four," but they don't even understand that. You stick up four fingers, hand them money, and walk to the trains. The most spectacular part of the subways is how deep they are. When you're at the top, all you see is a long line of lights and people, but no bottom. We timed how long it took on the escalator to get to the trains, which came out to be two minutes and forty seconds (even going twice as fast as any escalator in the States). The ride down the escalator is a big staring contest. The Russians always have straight faces and never show any emotion. You stare at each person going back up, trying to act like normal Russians. When you finally get down to the trains, you have to pick which train you need to get on. The Russian alphabet isn't the same as ours, so it's extremely hard to read the signs. Dad just tells us the first two letters of the station we are headed toward, and we then scavenge for it on the signs. Sometimes, if we're not having a good day, two stations will start with the same two symbols, and we end up taking the wrong train! Once we finally find the right train, we have other things to worry about like pickpockets. There is usually at least one pickpocket on each car! They also sometimes work in a group, which means trouble. Getting seats are extremely rare, and the cars are usually jam packed. The subway stops are very long, sometimes lasting up to five minutes. Everyone inside the train wears dark clothes, and because of this we stick out like a sore thumb. All the people stare at us like we were from another planet. Occasionally venders get on the trains, and sell anything from newspapers to CD's with the phone numbers of every citizen in St. Petersburg. One guy was even selling a huge punching balloon that barely fit in the subway. Beggars, bands, and war veterans also get on the trains asking for money.

Another form of main transportation is cars. Big vans, taxis, and ordinary cars are always roaming the streets. When we need to get somewhere we don't take the official taxis because they are very expensive. Our guide flags down an ordinary car on the street, and asks them to give us a ride for one to two dollars. Anything higher than that and he slams the door and flags down another. The cars he flags down are just ordinary Russian guys with old rundown cars. The driver's usually smoke, there are no seat belts, and they go really fast. We got really scared one night at about midnight when we found a couple of empty beer bottles in the car and lots of cigarettes. He drove in the middle of the road, on the tram tracks! The drivers don't speak any English, and we just hope that he understood our guide's directions. There are also big caravans roaming the streets looking for people to pick up. They usually cost forty cents per person, and we sometimes ride them for fifteen minutes. It's a good deal! We always look forward to seeing what kind of old car our guide brings us each morning to get to the Metro station.

Other types of transportation include trains (above ground), buses, motorcycles, and bikes. There are also taxi bicycles and horse drawn carriages. We are planning on taking a night train to Moscow at midnight from St. Petersburg.