Built back in the 1930’s and 1940’s as part of Stalin’s first Five-Year Plan, the Moscow Metro system is not as spiffy and modern as Hong Kong or Shanghai, but more than makes up for it with a Flintstone-like character. Next to Tokyo, it the most used subway system in the world.
With twelve lines and 185 stations, efficiently scheduled trains arrive every three minutes. An inner ring connects the twelve lines, like spokes on a wheel. The spokes lead off into the suburbs, though the interesting stations are either on the ring or contained within the ring. It is easy to figure out where you going – just head in one direction – hop off and check out each stop – then get back on in the same direction.
Lacking self-service ticketing kiosks, you have the rare pleasure of queuing in line to purchase tickets from a frumpy woman, who grumpily dispenses your tokens with nary a smile or acknowledgement, casting blame in your direction for her misfortune of being there, and not at home, boiling cabbage and potatoes, and watching state run TV.
The Metro is clunky yet durable in the lovable style of the Soviets, with grinding industrial strength escalators transporting people hundreds of feet underground to the platforms. A rattletrap of heavy gauge metal bolted together during the regime of Stalin in the 1930’s, it is remarkable these subways are still in service.
Careening down the tracks at haphazard speeds, the entire carriage swaying and rocking on 75 year tracks, it is raucous, timeless, and next to impossible to talk to the person next to you because of the substantial decibel levels. Hang on, because the acceleration is uneven and immediate, and the deceleration sudden and unexpected. Bouncing around on this relic is the most fun we have had on public transportation since the buses in Indonesia.
Step back in time when you arrive at each Metro platform, the doors creaking open to new surprises at every stop.
Mayakovskaya (built in 1938), has vaulted marble ceilings, with thirty-five circular cutouts spaced evenly above the patterned brown and white marbled floor. Inside the cutouts, lights highlight brilliant patriotic mosaics portraying the future of Russia – its strengths as an industrial nation, overflowing agricultural riches, and so on. One-hundred feet underground, it also served as an air-raid shelter during World War II.
Komsomolskaya (built in 1935, expanded in 1952), is also highlighted with mosaics. Eight large ceiling displays are themed along Russia’s historic battles through the centuries. Crystal chandeliers, elegantly hung, seem out of place in a subway station, while smaller, stylized sconces, are hidden among the marble columns – with everything hued in a lovely shade of yellow.
Ploshchad Revolyutsii or Revolution Square was built in 1938. Marbled vaults are fronted by seventy-six bronze almost life-size statues portraying ordinary people of Russia – farmers, soldiers, workers, and athletes. At one end of the platform is a huge statue of Lenin.
My favorite, Novoslobodskaya, was built in 1952. Thirty-two stained-glass panels are mounted in the station’s pylons and lit from behind – as if they were opened to the outdoors. Each panel, edged in brass, is a remarkable work of art.
Elektrozavodskaya, finished in 1944, features bas-reliefs of pioneers in the electricity field – including Benjamin Franklin.
For about 75 cents, you can ride the Metro all day – once you enter the system, you can transfer from station to station, as long you do not exit.
So hop on for a couple of hours and visit the more unusual and artistic Art Deco/Baroque underground stations.