Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Metro

My primary means of getting around Kiev is the Metro.  I prefer walking, but with the snow, slush, and the recently extreme temperatures, the cleaner, faster, warmer option is the metro.  The metro stations here are a vast, spacious, expansive, beautiful network of underground structures with escalators like none I've ever seen!  I feel like the majority of my time in the metro system is spent on an escalator.  The stations are so clean, and so efficient.  I am constantly shocked at how many people I see every day in the stations and on the trains.  But, it is an amazingly cheap and fast way to travel around the town.

  The following are some observations I've made while using Kiev's amazing transportation.  Please keep in mind that public transport of any sort is really a novelty for me.

It is important to remember not to talk to anyone on the metro, unless you're going to scold them for something, like losing balance when the train starts.  Don't smile.  If you smile, you're weird.  To get the most out of the metro, you should try to walk faster than everyone else and squeeze onto the train, push if you have to, even when there is clearly no more room.  If you are a man walking with a woman, you should hug her and kiss her every moment that you are stopped... If you are waiting for a train, on the train, on the escalator... It's not ok to smile at people you don't know, but public displays of affection are ok.  Don't ask me.

The escalators... Oh my, the escalators.  The first day, when my host took me along the metro route I needed to get to school, I got serious vertigo on the escalator.  I held onto the hand rail, but as usual, the hand rail moved faster than the steps.  I've never been in such a long angled tunnel before... The tunnel is designed specifically for the escalator.  After the first, there was a second, taking commuters the rest of the way to the surface.  Somehow, I found a location in town where you can switch from one station to another somewhere beneath the earth at the bottom of a hill and exit the station on the surface at the top of the hill. Unbelievably the two escalators there were double the length of the two in my station!  How is it possible?!
Also, unlike you're typical department store escalators, the metro stairs move fast.  Not too fast, but definitely fast enough that if you're not paying attention when you step on, you will find yourself wanting to fall backwards.  I've found that I must be ready to launch myself into a rather brisk stride when my step hits the top. If not, I will get pushed out of the way by those behind me who are ready to walk fast. The best advice I can give for metro escalator adventuring is Go with Confidence. Just look that escalator right in the eyes (eyes?) and tackle it with all you've got.  Also, don't wear heels.  I don't care if you are in Kiev... better to be unfashionable than break an ankle.

Another hurdle I've encountered is figuring out where the heck I am when I get off the metro.  Almost all of the stations are underground, so you must first find the stairs leading down to the station, usually located at street corners or in plazas.  Once underground, there are large networks of tunnels containing vendors, food courts, and even some rather large shopping malls.  A person must navigate through the flowers, pizza, souvenirs, and lingerie to find the doors of the metro station.  If you take a wrong turn, you'll end up at another set of stairs which will lead to the surface on the street corner opposite of where you entered (if you're lucky!)   It usually happens that I exit the metro and walk to the wrong end of the station, ending up a few blocks from my desired destination.  When I do make it to the correct end, I usually choose the wrong stairs and end up on the wrong side of the road.  I go through this process of playing prairie-dog almost every time I try to go somewhere... Popping my head up somewhere, looking around to get my bearings, then popping back down to the underground to try a different hole somewhere else.

On the plus side, I can now read the metro signs and I understand where the trains go.  That means that anytime I'm lost in town (which is often), all I have to do is find a metro station to get to some place familiar.

Next topic of discussion...  The people.

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