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Getting Around Moscow While Learning How to Speak Russian

So, you’ve decided to go to Moscow. Even as a tourist, it is next to impossible to get around without learning how to speak Russian — at least a little!

Subway Station Prospekt Mira

Subway Station Prospekt Mira

Public transportation is very accessible, with many options, but sometimes station names will be written only in Cyrillic and announcements are usually not made in English. However, once you learn to recognize some station names, you will find they are easy to remember. Most are named after important people or places, like the station Biblioteka imeni Lenina, named for the Russian State Library nearby (which used to be named after Lenin), or events, like Oktabrskaya, named after the October revolution. In fact, once you learn to navigate the Moscow Metro (English site is available), you may even find yourself spending a day just riding around to all the stations!

That isn’t as unlikely an idea as it may sound. The Moscow subway, constructed under Stalin, is famous for its stunning Soviet architecture and design. Each station is distinct and represents Soviet values, ideals, and triumphs. Gold-embossed frames around mosaics of important people, rich marble pillars, intricate tilework, candelabras, statues: everything is made on a grand scale, with intent to impress. Stations in otherwise unremarkable places become tourist attractions in and of themselves.

How to navigate the Moscow metro system (even if you don’t know how to speak Russian)

It is relatively easy to navigate inside the stations.  Maps are easy to find and read. Arrows and color-coding will ensure that you are walking towards the correct track in the correct direction—some stations can wind around seemingly endlessly, with numerous staircases and hallways. A common sight along the hallways is old beggar women who stand silently, heads wrapped in scarves and bowed in supplication, holding out containers for spare change. Why are they always old women? This, I never figured out.

The layout of the Moscow subway is logical, with 10 color-coded, numbered lines connected by a ring line. The lines all have names, but it is much easier to refer to them by color or number—even for someone who knows how to speak Russian, ‘Sokolnicheskya Line’ is harder to remember than ‘Number 1’ or ‘Red Line’.

Other public transportation options in Moscow

There are also above-ground streetcar, tram, and bus lines. The most noteworthy of these are the marshrutki, which are small vans that run along a predetermined route. There is usually a sign in the window that gives the route number and some vague stops, but they will stop anywhere you ask them to along the way. There are no tickets, you just pay the driver when you get in. Marshrutki are trickier than other forms of transit; if you don’t know the area or how to ask the driver to stop, you may find yourself lost. But they are certainly a fun and authentic way to get around the city.

Of course, if it is late or if you are too tired to navigate public transit, there is always a ‘taksi.’ Say it out loud … Yes! Taxi. While the word is similar to ours, the system is different. When you’re wandering the streets of Moscow at night, especially if you’re in a group of college-aged girls, you will be constantly assaulted with calls of “Taksi? Taksi?” People who aren’t even near a car will ask you if you need a taxi if you look like you’re going somewhere. Should you accept, you’ll literally just be jumping into some random guy’s car. As an American, this scenario screams “stranger danger” and seems like the beginning of a bad crime thriller. But, in Moscow, it’s a perfectly legitimate way of getting around that is cheaper, faster, and less likely to rip you off than the licensed taxis you can call. Just be sure to negotiate your fare before you get in. Since the subways stop running at midnight and don’t start again until 5AM, you may find yourself making use of this method—unless, of course, you plan to take an example from hip young Russians and party until dawn and the first train.

Learn Russian Culture: Cold & Flu Cures

Wintertime is the season of sickness, when colds and the flu run rampant through the population (the perfect time to learn Russian tucked under the covers!).  With their bitterly cold, endless winters, the Russians know this better than anyone, and have perfected an assortment of effective treatments to ward off sneezing, coughing, fevers, and sore throats without resorting to a doctor or pharmacy visit.  If you are going to learn Russian, knowing some classic home remedies will surely impress any native speaker.

Learn Russian Remedies & Cures

Learn Russian Culture : Cold & Flu Cures

Learn Russian Culture : Cold & Flu Cures

The first thing that everyone thinks of when “home remedies” and “Russians” are mentioned in the same sentence is, of course, vodka—and there is some truth to that.  If you are feeling the beginning of a cold, a shot of vodka with pepper or garlic will help kill the germs. Garlic, with its powerful antibacterial and immune system-boosting effects, is widely used for homeopathic purposes in Russia, helping with everything from colds to toothaches to open wounds. If the thought of straight vodka and raw garlic doesn’t appeal to you, the vodka can also be taken in hot tea with honey before bed. Before you fall asleep, for extra warmth, make sure to wrap yourself in a few extra blankets, sprinkle some mustard powder in your socks, and learn this Russian saying:  derzhi golovu v holode, zhivot v golode, a nogi- v teple.  (Keep your head cool, your stomach empty, and your feet warm.)
If you wake up the next morning feeling crummy despite these preventative measures, it’s time to break out the big guns.  Congested?  Hacking cough?  Get ready for the most tried and true of Russian decongestants: mustard plasters.  Made of a mixture of dry mustard, flour, and water, then spread on a cloth and applied over the chest or back, these help draw out all the gunk in your system, and reinvigorate your circulation.  They do tend to get uncomfortably hot after a while (think blistering), so don’t plan to leave them for more than half an hour.  Fortunately, half an hour is just enough time for you to boil a big pot of potatoes.  Remove them from the heat, throw a towel over your head, and breathe the steam for a while.  Potato steam is better than plain boiled water steam because it gets and stays hotter, plus you have potatoes to eat later on (if you can avoid coughing on them).  After your steam and plaster treatment, be sure to continue to consume vast quantities of tea with honey and lemon.  To mix it up, you can also try hot orange juice- never cold!

With any luck, the cold will have vanished—or at least been scared into submission by these most uncompromising home remedies.  So next time you feel the sniffles coming on, reach for the potatoes and garlic instead of the Dayquil, and heal yourself the old Russian way.

Go For Gold: Learn to Speak Russian and Conquer the Winter Olympics

It comes once every four years. Athletes from every corner of the globe descend upon a chosen nation to exhibit their talents in the ceremonial competition known as the Winter Olympics. This year, the 2014 Winter Olympics travels to Sochi, Russia. Thousands of athletes from around the world will descend upon Sochi come February. If you are one of those lucky enough to travel to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, then taking the time to learn to speak Russian will ensure that your investment will be just as personally historic as the games themselves are for the rest of the world.

The Surprising Choice for the Winter Games

Russia is the largest country on the planet, spanning the continents of Europe and Asia. The city of Sochi is located on the coast of the Black Sea, near the border between Georgia/Abkhazia and Russia. A resort city in the summer, Sochi is a surprising choice for winter sports, as its gorgeous coastline and mild winter days are unlike the common arctic conditions across the country. This city is extremely attractive for Olympic tourists who are looking for winter scenery with a less harsh environment.

Putting forth the effort to learn to speak Russian will also provide Olympic travelers with unique cultural opportunities. The city of Sochi is gorgeous and well-maintained, providing travelers with the opportunity of experiences beyond the Olympic festivities. The Sochi Hall of Organ and Chamber Music, as well as the Festival Concert Hall are world renowned for their performance of both classical and traditional Russian music. Learn to Speak Russian for the Sochi Winter Olympics by PimsleurUnderstanding the language will help the traveler enjoy these performances and appreciate the content and meaning. The Winter Theater is also an impressive venue, housing plays and theatrical performances many of which are Russian classics. Many of these plays are not often performed in the United States and seeing them might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Learn To Speak Russian To Simplify Local Travel

With the temporary population increase that will be taking Sochi by storm, and the dislocation it can cause, it will be of great benefit to learn to speak Russian. Local businesses, such as restaurants, shops, and hotels will be bustling weeks before and especially during the games. Being able to speak Russian will help travelers communicate and complete transactions with ease and security. Checking into a hotel may seem like a painless endeavor; however, with a surge of spectators, press, and dignitaries flocking to the coastal city of Sochi this winter, there are bound to be double bookings or lost reservations. When unfortunate events befall travelers, it would be to their benefit to be able to speak Russian and resolve the issues with as little stress as possible.

Traveling local roads and highways isn’t easy in foreign nations. The Russian alphabet is intricate and consists of thirty-three characters, seven more than that of the English alphabet. This vastly different letter system makes street signs and directions extremely difficult for those not familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet. Taking the time to learn to speak and read Russian will help get travelers to their desired destination.

Being able to experience the Olympic Games in person will likely be the experience of one’s dreams. But thrilling competition and incredible ceremonies are only part of this epic journey. Put in the time to learn to speak Russian before you get on that plane to be a part of athletic history. The effort will surely open up the city of Sochi and give the adventure of a lifetime.