Friday, October 07, 2005

Small pleasures

One of the things I like to do in a new city is to work out how to get around. Above ground I find that pretty easy - for whatever reason I am pretty good at working out where I am and how to get to where I want to go on foot. I have the kind of mind/learning style that lends itself to mental cartography or something. Really, I'm much better at it than almost anyone I know. It's not an especially proud boast, but it is, I suppose, a boast. So sue me.

But one of my favourite things in a new city is to use the metro system, and work my way around underground. Last night I did just that with my first free evening. The metro station is fairly close to where I'm staying, so I wandered over to the big green "M" that I had seen hovering up a large pole. There were food stalls, bus stops, kiosks, tons of people, but nothing that I was looking for (viz: a large hole in the ground with steps leading down). I wandered for a while, following groups of red herrings disguised as people, until finally I realised that the biggest crowds were entering and exiting a nearby office building. This, as you may have guessed, turned out to be the station.

There was a huge queue for the ticket office, so I joined it. It was all very orderly and nobody pushed in at all (although a cute girl sidled up to a boy of roughly her age near the front and sweetly asked if he'd buy her token for him, which of course he did). I was a bit concerned that they would get sniffy at my large notes - the smallest one I had was a 50 hrivna note (approx $10) which I suspected would be a lot for a metro ticket - but when I got to the front I held up five fingers and gave her the note, and she took it. For some reason she actually sold me 10 tokens, rather than 5. Maybe she thought I wanted five return journeys or possibly standard Ukrainian hand gesture interpretation calls for doubling all figures thus indicated. Still, the price of these 10 tokens was only 5 hrivnas, or approximately one US dollar. Which is pretty cheap for metro tickets, in my opinion. You can't even enter the station in London for that kind of money.

The next task was to get the train. This sounds easy, but of course it's easy when you can read the map and follow the directions, but less so when you are doing it in the strange encoded world of cyrillic. So, I went down the ridiculously long escalator (it must be hell when it breaks down) for what seemed like half an hour, but was probably something like 3 minutes, and came to the signs indicating which platforms served which stations. I had previosuly looked at my map and knew I wanted to go to the main street which I knew began in Ukrainian with a Җ, so i just looked for that and then went on to the platform. Spot on, and another notch on my belt of metro travelling excitement. Trains were packed (even when i came back at around 11), but since there are always a lot of scary looking skinheaded young men in Slavic countries (as a general rule) I was not unhappy with that fact. Much better to share a carriage with tons of sweaty people than with two that you are a tad scared of.

I may just spend the weekend riding up and down the city popping out at random stations just to see what's there. After all, I still have 8 more tokens to use up.

(By the way, does getting a small thrill off using underground trains make me a metrosexual?)

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