Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Kiev Metro

From Kiev, Ukraine
At various camouflaged locations all over Kiev there are metro stations. The entrances to these are tucked away amongst various shops and stores. To find one, just look for the "M" hovering above the entrance. It's a bit like finding Waldo, minus the fun.

Once you locate the entrance to the metro, you descend some stairs into an underground shopping mall. The mall is a good place to observe beggars, entrepreneurial babushkas, and groups of teenagers sipping from open containers of alcohol.

More menacing than drunken teenagers are the police officers walking in groups of two, three, or more as they patrol the area. They are there to serve and protect. And to hassle you. Do not. Under any circumstances. Make eye contact with the police officers.

Once in the underground mall you spend still more frustrating minutes trying to locate the entrance to the metro itself. Sometimes there is a sign directing you to that entrance, and sometimes there isn't.

Eventually you find it. You buy your tokens from a woman at a window near the entrance, place a plastic blue coin into the turnstyle slot, and away you go.

In some metro stations at some times of day the crowds are terrifying. People flow towards the escalator in a waddling mass, bodies crushed against one another. Your ears are bludgeoned by a cacophony of shuffling and stomping and shoving.

You are made especially aware of that noise when you are jostled onto the escalator, for then a sharply-contrasting quiet falls. You have entered the eye of the hurricane. Everyone stands still, their once-shuffling feet now silenced, as they rush downward into the bowels of the city. The machinery moving the escalator makes a menacing throbbing sound. Occasionally a coin rolls by, released by some kid above you who is curious about how far it can go before it bounces off of something.

While the escalator itself moves swiftly, the journey is long. (And some metro stations require two long escalator rides.) People going up survey those coming down (and vice versa) with impassive stares. Advertisements glow in light boxes along the way to tempt the captive audience. Lauren tells me that many of them are advertisements for the advertising spaces they occupy.

Your ears detect the coming roar of the crowd. You exit the eye and reenter the storm. The sounds of shuffling and stomping and shoving fills the air once again as the crowd peels off into opposite directions towards their subway cars.

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