Moscow Metro – Mastering Cyrillic on the Metro

Моско́вский метрополите́н – Moskovsky metropoliten – Moscow Metro

I cannot read Cyrillic. Nor can my sister who was traveling with me. But we still stood in the underground Moscow Metro station with a color coded transit map in hand, and thought that if at least we couldn’t read, we could at least decipher the red, blue and green train lines.

Originally concerned with unscrupulous taxi drivers and potentially ridiculous traffic jams, we had been content to explore Moscow by simply pounding the pavement. However, Russia’s worst ever heat wave was unrelenting, and we were ready for  improved efficiency as well as a new adventure. So we stepped down the urine stained concrete steps under Mokhovaya ulista (ulista = street), and walked up to what looked like a ticket window.

Buying a Ticket

The large, gray-haired grumpy Russian “lady” sat on her tall chair with her arms folded across her heavy bosom and belly. I had known she was alive because I could see her eyes shifting as she watched us approach. We stood at her window, dumb, trying to decipher the pricing information on the wall behind her. She blinked. I managed to sort through the 84 Russian coins in my pocket to come up with exact ruble amount needed to buy one of the items listed on the sign. She scraped my coins off the battered counter top and slid me a piece of paper which turned out to be the right train pass that I needed. Success! Sharon repeated the process and we were set….until we realized there didn’t really seem to be access to the green line from this station.

We stood for several minutes and were curious when an old man, dressed in his tired work uniform and sitting on his wooden stool, waved us over. With hand gestures pointing to the green line on the map, and to the sign with the blue line on the wall, we ultimately understood we would have to follow signs to the blue line in order to get to the hidden green line. Ahh, color coding at its best.


Moscow Metro sign - written in Cyrillic
Cyrillic written sign in Moscow Metro train station

Excited to find the green line in the massive underground Moscow Metro station, we realized once again we were unfortunately stuck. We could not read the signs, naturally written in Cyrillic. Working together, I studied the geography of the dozens of train routes and connections, and Sharon studied one Cyrillic letter after another. We mutilated the words with our barbaric pronunciations, but we managed to utter own version of Russian gibberish.

I can read! Mastering Cyrillic on the Metro

Eventually we realized we were spouting off several metro names, one after the other, as if we were locals and knew what we were talking about. Well, at least we could understand each other. Izmaylovskya? Check. Tret’yakovskya? Check. Arbatskya? Check.   My grown-up sister sounded like a four-year old when she exclaimed, “I can read!”

We ultimately rode on the trains for days, sometimes exploring Muscovite sites and neighborhoods above ground, and sometimes simply exploring the beautiful underground Moscow Metro stations. 

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