How To Survive a Russian Bus Ride and Other Tales

Surviving a Russian Bus Ride
  1. Become adept at boarding and exiting a moving vehicle. The doors on the bus will open before the bus has stopped moving  and won’t close until after the bus has departed from the station. If you are first in line to exit or last to board, the bus is generally moving while you are performing these tasks. In the Moscow subway, the doors open before the train has stopped moving and people start get on and off.
  2. When you get on, hold on! A large section of the bus is a big open space (sometimes stuffed with people), do not attempt to ride without holding on to a bar or a seat. You will fall down. Drivers slam both the brakes and the gas.
  3. In summer, bring a Chinese-style fan and/or a handkerchief. You will sweat. Profusely.
  4. Have your money ready beforehand if possible. It can be tricky to maneuver your wallet and hold on while the bus driver jerks you around.
  5. Get near an exit at least one stop before the one you need. This is especially important when the bus is very crowded, otherwise you might not get off the bus at all. Also, buses don’t necessarily stop at every bus stop along their route.
  6. Buses sometimes sit at one station or another for any amount of time so it’s preferable if you’re not in too much of a hurry.

A few other things you will notice while traveling on Russian busses:

  1. Everyone offers their seat to seniors and those with children.
  2. If the bus is crowded and there are no more seats and a person is carrying a lot of items, a person with a seat may offer to hold their items so it is easier for the person to ride.
  3. There is a general sense of camaraderie when riding the bus- it is something you all survive together.
This Morning’s Russian Lesson

My Russian textbook, written first during Soviet times, has an exercise where you write sentences asking about objects on a table. An example from today’s lesson was this:

Are these your cigarettes?
Are these his cigarettes?
Whose cigarettes are these?
Whose cigarettes are lying on the table?

Notes From the Banya

The Russian banya is an ancient ritual of steam bathing. Modern banyas generally wooden structures built in the backyard that house the sauna and 1-2 other rooms for dressing and lounging. You undress, step into the sauna, throw some water on the wood-burning stove and let the steaming commence. What follows is a mix of relaxation and torture. Part of the ritual involves lying face down on a bench and having another person beat you with dried birch leaves. Gets out the toxins! Once your skin has turned a beautiful shade of red, they douse you with pan full of freezing cold water. Beat, rinse and repeat. When you need to take a break from the intense heat, you can slip in to the lounge area where there is usually a bed or benches to lie on. Once the beatings have concluded you can start the bathing process. Lather up a scrubber, which has the texture of medium-grade sandpaper, and set about removing your epidermis. Scour, rinse and repeat. When all is said and done, you dress, go back to the house and celebrate your detoxified and de-fleeced state with a hot cup of tea.

As much as I love the banya ritual, after a long day of walking and sweating in 95-degree heat, it is almost impossible to imagine going for a steam. But the secret to enjoying the banya in the summer, as I was told, is to think about how great it will be once your banya is over and you step out into the yard where it’s cool. It’s the experience of cooling off in the night air that makes the suffering of the sweat and steam worth it. It’s a rather Buddhist concept- you can’t know one without knowing the other. I used to say that the only redeeming quality of winter was coming in from the freezing cold and warming up; that the process of getting warm was so enjoyable that it almost made up for the pain of being cold. And it’s true; coming out of the banya into to cool air is euphoric.

Yes, banya can be done at any time. In the summer? Well, ok. In the winter? Yes please. During a wedding? Huh? During Elza and Iskander’s wedding we had a brief intermission between events where we all were back at Iskander’s family’s house. It was a sweltering hot day. As soon as we get to the house, Zilya grabs me and says “Banya!” But wait, what? Banya? Now? I’m ok, thanks. She insists. She hurries me into the banya and soon some aunts or cousins join us (all female of course). The next thing I know there’s six of us in the banya in the midst of a wedding celebration. Banya: anytime, anywhere.


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