Outside the hotel the drive up was laid out with what may have once been nice landscaping, but the beds and medians were just dirt at this point. The Hotel itself had an entire wing left incomplete since the place opened in 1980. The rest of the neighborhood was commercial/industrial, with literally nothing around but the stadium. It seemed an odd location for a hotel, until you remembered that it was built for the Olympics, and proximity to the stadium was paramount.
For business travelers like us we were way out of the center. So to the Metro we went. Fortunately it was just across the street. Unfortunately the “street” was four lanes in each direction with trolley tracks in the median, with no lights or crosswalk as far as the eye could see. Drivers didn’t even glance in the direction of our corner, so we were left with the option of playing the world’s biggest game of “Frogger” with our lives in the balance. Cars didn’t even slow down as we were stuck between lanes. I was completely convinced that if we got hit, the only thought that the driver would have is where to find the nearest car wash.
Our lives intact, we got to the Metro entrance. It was a small columned building at the top of a short flight of stairs up from the sidewalk. On the sidewalk itself were set in a row of small kiosks, all closed except for one that had a sign out front that read “Obmen Valuti” in Russian. My Russian was still terrible, but I knew that phrase from my business guide. This was a Money Exchange. Rates for buying and selling Roubles were in the window, and it was about 1200 Roubles to the Dollar. I had no idea what 1200 Roubles was worth, so I exchanged forty bucks. Bob and Paul did the same and we stood there on the sidewalk for a bit. Counting our bounty of Roubles and splitting them across various pockets we had, since they were a bit bulky.
Up the stairs and into the entrance we went. Roubles and all. The small columned building, once we got to it, was actually pretty damn big. It had full Corinthian columns, with massive, oversized doors. Ornate decorations and brickwork covered the outside. The perspective against the stadium and other architecture fooled our eyes, and inside was a new puzzle for us to solve. How to get on the Metro.
The interior of the well decorated building was surprisingly simple. Opposite our entrance doors were exit doors, to our left were the turnstiles that appeared to have no actual turnstiles in them, and to the right were the token windows. We watched the locals for a bit to try to figure out what was going on. People were buying tokens at the token windows. Check. People went in the Vkhod (in) door and out the Vyikhod (out) door. Check. But the turnstiles were giving us pause.
People were going though quickly, dropping their tokens into the slots on top, but there were not actually turnstiles. And on the end, there was a little old lady wearing some security hat, watching as other people walked straight past her, not dropping tokens anywhere. Was this whole thing on the honor system? We had no clue. Meanwhile, ass I was trying to get a read on the old lady, Bob went over and successfully purchased a handful of tokens for some of our newly acquired Roubles. We divied them up, and decided to try the turnstiles, and Grandma was giving me the creeps.
Bob went first. He took a token in his left hand, casually walked up to the turnstile that wasn’t there, dropped his token in, and went through. Or at least he tried to, because halfway through two scissor gates slammed closed at lightning speed, pounding Bob clean in the nuts.
Man down. MAN DOWN!
Bob staggered backwards, supporting himself on the turnstile that, in fact, was not empty but had BRUTAL TESTICLE SMASHING GATES hidden in the sides. The old woman was on her feet screaming at us, everyone was looking and what the hell just happened, while a Russian guy, walked through the gate that Bob actually paid for, smiled back at us, and said, “Na Prava!”, showing us a token in his right hand. “on the Right” indeed. Bob dropped his token on the left and got a robotic cockpunch. Paul and I quickly took tokens in our right hands, waved them and the nice old lady who we were sure was calling the KGB at this point, gave her our best “why yes, we know we are idiots, thank you for pointing that out” smiles, dropped our tokens in to the RIGHT, and walked through, testicles intact. Bob did the same and hobbled through after us.
Once we were through, the old lady figured out that we were just stupid tourists and not hooligans trying to sneak through, she left us alone with a wave of disgust.
Thinking we were through the worst of our escapade, we tried to relax, and slowly walked over towards the escalators. Everyone around us was briskly walking past and around us, in some non-descript rush that we couldn’t identify. I stepped onto the escalator and Whoosh! Had my feet yanked out from under me. Clinging to the handrail for dear life I tried to stand and staggered forward, this goddamned escalator was moving at least twice the normal rate, people weren’t in a rush, they were just trying to build up enough speed to safely get on without falling. Once I was standing again I looked ahead and HOLY FUCK this thing has no bottom. This damn escalator went down two stories or more and we were going at a hundred miles an hour. We were on our way to hell. I knew it.
As my panic and vertigo subsided, we regrouped on the escalator to figure out what to do next. We weren’t standing for more than a few seconds when someone came barreling down the stairs and shoved us to the side. “Na Prava!”, the man yelled, and he was followed by about ten more people, all moving down the escalator at an insane pace. I figured they would be shoving people all the way down, but everyone below us was already out of the way. Looking back, everyone was out of the way as well, and more people were coming down. Na Prava, to the right. On the escalator you stand to the right, because everyone in a hurry runs down on the left. I was becoming very anxious about whatever new lesson would be taught to me in this subway.
We were approaching the bottom very quickly. Everyone seemed to have the “step briskly off the escalator and walk away without falling on your ass,” thing well practiced, but I was getting ready, we hit bottom and I staggered off in a sort of stumbling run, but since I didn’t fall or smash into anyone, I called it a success. The room that the escalators led us into had one archway going in, and one out. We could hear the platforms ahead of us with rushing trains moving through, and we just followed the crowd at this point.