urban transport ►THE METRO
St. Petersburg and Moscow have really great metro systems. It is funny, but in Russia, where most things really don't seem to work efficiently, the metro works wonderfully. Trains run every 3 minutes or so and the metro's coverage is quite good.
Don't let the metro intimidate you, it really is no big deal using it and you will be surprised at the beauty of many of the stations - they are really quite fantastic. To find the metro look for signs with a big "M". Remember that in the metro most signs are written in Cyrillic, so best bring a map with you and study the words and letters carefully. The St. Petersburg metro is quite interesting in that it is extremely deep because the city was built on a swamp. So, you end up riding virtually endless escalators down, down, down into the depths of the system. In fact, St. Petersburg is the deepest metro system in the world. Rides cost 12 roubles (about 45 cents). During rush hour, the cars can be quite crowded but during off hours you can usually find a seat. As in most countries, remember, it is always polite to give your seat to an elderly person, middle aged woman or parent with children.
To buy tokens or metro cards, go into the metro station, you will usually see 1 to 3 ticket windows open with short or long lines in front of them depending on the time of day. Stand in line, determine how many rides you will need over the next few days and when it gets to be your turn, ask the lady (in Russian) for a ticket for the amount of rides needed or, if you are in St. Petersburg, tokens that look like coins (called zhetoni - you can also buy tickets but this tends to be more complicated). She will take your money and hand you your change and the ticket. Then, proceed to the turnstiles, insert your ticket, arrow end first in the appropriate place, it goes through the system and pops up at top. When this happens, you can walk through the turnstile. Next, go down the escalator and into the magical world of the Russian metro.
Signs for the stations are written on placards in the center of the hall and along the walls by the track. To understand which direction you need quickly, it is good to know the last stop of the train so you can quickly identify it at the bottom or end of a list (except for the Ring line in Moscow!). Also, if you are in a station that has multiple lines, each line is typically color coded, so if you are looking for the red line, follow the signs written in red.
Trains usually come quite often (every 2-3 minutes) and can be very crowded depending on the time of day. After you enter and the doors close, you can look around at all the other happy people riding the train! A recording announces what the next stop will be. It is a good idea to also count your stops if you don't understand Russian.
When it is your turn to get out, exit the train and walk towards the exit of the metro. Remember that if the train is overcrowded, you will find yourself somewhere in the middle of the car but if you want to get out you should ask people around if they are planning to get out at the same station as you. This way, people will know that you want to get off the train and will let you get through. If you are standing in the overcrowded car and don't say anything, you might miss your stop. To learn more about all of this, see the public transportation dance. Frequently, the stations will have more than 1 exit. To find the one that you will need, follow the placards in the hall which have arrows pointing to orientation points for each exit (such as street name or name of shopping center, etc.). Get on that escalator, ride up towards the surface and guess what? You have accomplished what, surprisingly, many foreigners are afraid of - riding the metro.
The metro opens around 6am. In Moscow most stations close around 1am. In St. Petersburg they close at 12.