How to not get lost in Saint Petersburg

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Nevsky Prospect –St.Petersburg’s main boulevard

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The view of St. Isaac’s Cathedral

At first sight, St. Petersburg, a city embraced by mist and mystery, surprises with its vastness, speeding cars, marshrutkas stopping all over, the cables blocking the skies and… the wide choice of types of public transport.

Obviously, it is worth seeing the city by foot, if the temperature doesn’t drop under minus 10 degrees and your nose doesn’t start to fall apart. But I can assure you that using the public transport (and not only public) can turn out to be a great adventure itself.

So, below let me describe some of the most popular ways to reach your destination in the Venice of the North.

The subway

Nearly every metro station resembles a work of art and is a show of a designer’s unhampered creativity. Getting off at the station Dostoevskaya (Достоевская) is like moving into the Crime and Punishment story. The station Gostiny Dvor (Гостиный двор) appears to be time-travelling to the Russian Empire. When you see the station named after Alexander Nevsky (Площадь Александра Невского) the gold times of knights in shining armours will come to mind first. At times, musicians rush into a train and give a short concert, very often delightful and enjoyable.

I should mention that before you decide to take the subway it‘s inevitable that you check carefully where you should get off. Otherwise, you’ll be forced to walk a few kilometers that separate two neighbouring stations. What is more, people visiting St Petersburg find it quite funny that a ride on stairs to the metro can last unbelievably long, and laugh that you could easily read the whole of Macbeth or take a nap for a couple of long minutes. Locals seem not to pay much attention to it, indolently glancing at multiple ads or posters with Russian poetry (that is true, there is poetry in the metro).

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The Alexander Nevsky Station

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Escalators to the metro

Trolleybuses and buses

Busrides are relatively comfortable. And long. Very long. Because of the traffic jam, because electricity fails, because a car jams a road again. Or simply because a trolleybus derails again. The advantage is that this type of public transport is a useful Russian lesson. Insults and shouts are heard there on daily basis. And if you try to push in even though the bus cannot accommodate more people, and your one hand gets stuck somewhere between a seat and someone’s suitcase while the other is trying to reach for loose change to pay for a ticket, you want to shout too. The controllers, though, have a magical ability to get through the impatient and squeezed crowd to reach every single commuter. And they don’t notice that it is just physically impossible for you to pay at the moment. I must mention the fact that you cannot buy a single ticket anywhere else than in a bus. So a few rubles in your pocket never go amiss.

Marshrutkas

Russia would not be real Russia without marshrutkas. We call it private collective taxicabs. Usually they are much faster than buses but before they bring you to a place, you will be thoroughly shaken out, suffering from nausea and also stressed because you have to shout out the name of the stop if you want the driver to pull over.

Night transport…

Does not exist. Officially.

Although, unofficially, it is enough to approach any car or to wave on a passing car. Most of the time, a driver will stop and take you where you need for a small amount of money. Certainly, sometimes they try to charge you more and then you have to bargain but usually they do not ask for any money or accept a cookie that you just found in your bag. Once they even let seven desperate students get in a tiny car to make it in time before the last metro left at midnight.

Because when the clock strikes twelve…

… and the last metro leaves, the bridges, connecting all of the islands which the city is located on, are drawn for the whole night. And if you missed a chance to get through the Neva beforehand then you are left with two possibilities: first, you can swim across the river, second, wait out till the morning, to the first metro. And let the adventure start again.

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A drawn bridge.

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