Russian Buses

Russian Buses

If you Google Saint Petersburg transport, one of the first webpages that comes up says that the buses are just too hard for visitors to use so you might as well use the Metro. Of course I accepted this challenge. For a transit geek like me, buses turned out to be easy for the most part. One big help these days is that Google maps plots travel directions using local public transport—not just in Russia but anyplace in the world that publishes their transit data. My cousin Maryellen and I did most of our sightseeing along the Nevsky Prospect, so we took the same routes over and over again during our seven-day stay, commuting from our airBnb apartment on Vasilevsky Island.

Buses are just fun to take in strange cities. I prefer them over metros for several reasons:

  • You can see more from a bus
  • Bus stops can get you closer to your destination
  • Metros involve a lot of walking and stairs
  • Metros are dark, noisy and crowded

Sometimes I get social on buses. For example, I had a “conversation” in Russian with one lady where we understood each other about 25% of the time, but we made contact. She didn’t seem to mind that I kept saying “Izvinite, ya ne ponimaiyu” (“sorry, I don’t understand” – Lots of people have this conversation habit—as long as you let them talk, they’re happy.) She had helped us find our bus stop, and then we talked during the trip.

Another interesting conversation I had in English was with a Chinese student who was studying Russian literature down the street on our island. On a hunch, I started speaking with her in English. She loaded that language right up into her brain and started communicating with me, after what had probably been a long day doing Russian and then  talking with her friends in Mandarin. I don’t think she appreciated how truly impressive her language skills were. (Later at a restaurant Maryellen and I sat next to a table of students doing a Russian / Mandarin language exchange.)

This is “Big Street” (prospekt Bolshoy) on Vasilevsky Island. We must of have looked pretty silly waiting for a bus on this street. (Photo by Maryellen Harrington)

Our attempt to get to the Hermitage on our very first morning in Russia was saved by a passer-by. We were waiting at a stop on Prospekt Bolshoy (“Big Street”) whose sign clearly indicated the buses we needed to get downtown. However, there was a strange dearth of traffic on that street (not to mention bulldozers and other construction equipment.) A woman came by and conveyed to us in Russian and with gestures that the buses weren’t running on this street. We sheepishly found our buses rerouted up to the next street up (Sredny Prospekt or “Medium Street”).

(In retrospect, the problems I had during the first few jetlagged, disoriented and culture-shocked days in Russian seem silly. That first day, my mind was obstinately insisting that of course there would be buses on Big Street.  It also took me a few days to figure out which direction to go on the #1 bus running outside our building, since I just couldn’t accept that the route initially took us in the opposite direction from our destination. I will watch out for this peculiar type of stubborn cognitive impairment the next time I travel!)

These tickets from the St. Petersburg bus conductors are prettier than the ones we used to get in Chișinau.

We had planned to get a “Podorozhnik” contactless travel card. These weren’t sold at our local metro, so we never got around to buying them. Bus fare was 40 rubles (about 80 cents) so we just paid cash for every trip.

We also never got around to taking one of the “shared taxis” (also called mini-buses or marshrutkas.) These are the same type of transport as the “rutieras” in Moldova, which I often relied upon for trips not covered by regular bus routes. The problem with them is that you have to call out to the driver (in Russian of course) when you want off, which means you have to know exactly where you are.

As for the rest of my trip: Amsterdam and Haarlem had plenty of transport but fares were confusing as they are moving to a cashless system, and the cost of buying electronic fare instruments seemed excessive (maybe even exploitative) for tourists. My sister and I used the trains, buses and trams for more major trips, usually visiting a ticket window with a real person in order to purchase a fare. At any rate, my airBnb host had a bicycle I could use!

As for Edinburgh I just bought four ₤4 day tickets and hopped on and off the buses all day: even made it out of town to Roslyn chapel on a city bus. For the single trip between train stations in London (on the Tube this time) I had money on my Oystercard from my last visit to England.

(Apologies here for boring photos. While on the street with my camera, I wasn’t thinking about specific images that might go into a blog posting like this.)

Bus stop signs were informative about times even if you have to figure out the Cyrillic.
Screenshot of #1’s route from an online route mapper.
We usually got a seat after the first few stops in the city center.
Technically this bus could take a wheelchair, but I didn’t see anyone using mobility devices on the buses (or on the streets for that matter.)

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