Today I got to ride in a Marshrutka!  The school gave me the location of the Sovetskiy office, a picture of where I needed to get off, and the Russian name of the stop so I could tell the driver, and 4 suggestions of numbers of Marshrutka to catch.

I was practicing saying the destination when the first batch of minibuses turned up, among them a 260.  I wasn’t sure if I was ready, just as I decided to get on and try my luck the door closed and it drove off without me!  You have to be quick in this town!

Fortunately for me a number 10 appeared in the next batch, and I got on.  I don’t know if the driver caught the name of the destination correctly but it all went fine, I gave him the money as I got on (I gave him 20 roubles but 5 were passed back to me).  I took a seat in the middle of the minibus – I counted 14 seats in total, not counting the 2 next to the driver.  None of the seats had seatbelts.

The vehicle made its way in the expected direction and I realised I might have problems spotting my stop as I couldn’t see out of any of the windows – most were covered by the backs of seats.  But I was well prepared, my tablet was giving me a real time location map and I had pre-loaded my destination so I could see when to get ready to hop off.

People sporadically called out what I can only assume was the Russian version of “could you stop at the next stop please” – I contemplated how a bell system might be useful.

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I was momentarily concerned when the Marshrutka took a right turn and started heading away from the river – my destination was south, along the river, but this was just a temporary detour as it made its way to the inner main road (what I call the KFC road!).  Once it was there it was pretty much a straight line to Sovetskiy.  I used both the limited visual information I could obtain through the gaps in the seats and my tablet to measure my move accurately, and fortunately someone else was also alighting at the same stop, so I did not have to further reveal my ignorance.

It was definitely the right stop – the photo I had been given of the office building I needed was obviously an old one, as the lettering stating the name of the building, prominent on the photograph, was gone.  But everything else was identical, and once I was inside I saw the school’s familiar logo on the floor plan.

I had 4 students across 3 lessons, and the office had prepared some plans and materials for me – fortunately in one case as the text book I had (and the lesson I had prepared) was at the wrong grade.  They were short 45 minute lessons and the kids seemed to get something out of them, and it seems this will be a regular schedule for me now.

After I finished my last lesson everyone except the non-English speaking manager had left, so I was not able to get any assistance planning my journey home.  Never mind, how hard can it be, I foolishly thought.  Just get the same Marshrutka on the other side of the road.

I wasn’t totally sure what my destination was.  I know where I live, but I don’t know how to describe it in one word.  When the Marshrutka arrived (another number 10) I tried saying the name of the tram stop “Pionyerskaya” – but the driver had no idea what I had said.  I started babbling.  “Er… Lenin.  Tram.  Top of…” before realising that saying anything in English was utterly pointless.  No-one else on the bus was leaping forward to my aid.  In the end I just mumbled “fifteen” and gave him 15 roubles and went and sat down.  This seemed to satisfy the driver, and off we went again!  In retrospect, I should have just used the easily understandable word “Tsentr” – centre!

I felt a tap on my shoulder and the man behind me was handing me 200 roubles.  Although my first instinct was to say “thank you very much” I paused a moment, considered the context, and realised he wanted me to pass it forward towards the driver.  There was another seat between me and the driver, occupied by two older women, so I passed the money to one of them.  She looked round, and said something questioningly in Russian, I felt this situation was in danger of escalating, but fortunately the guy behind was keeping a close eye on his money and leaned between the seats to say to the woman (I presume) “for the driver.”

A few seconds later, some more money came back and I carefully handed it back behind me, taking care not to let any roubles drop on the floor.  There was a lot of this going on, money going backwards and forward towards the driver.  Russians are clearly a very trustworthy bunch.  There was one incident where a guy got on, made no effort to pay, and the Marshrutka just didn’t move at all until he either paid or got off – I can’t remember which.  But most people got on, grabbed a seat as quickly as possible, then payment took place as and when.

As the bus headed towards the centre, it got more full.  We reached the familiar territory of Voroshilevskiy and there were no more seats.  Knowing my stop was imminent, and with the guy next to me getting up to let someone sit down, I thought I’d better make my move now.  With a heavy bag and limited space I’m sure it wasn’t the most dignified of manoeuvers, but I found myself standing in the aisle of an erratically-moving vehicle stuck in a rush-hour traffic jam, now too high up to be able to see out of the windows.

I debated whether to try and indicate to the driver I wanted to get off (basically this would be in Frantic English), or cross my fingers and hope someone else would be getting off at the same stop as me.  20 people on the bus, surely one of them was in my neighbourhood?  But no, the bus zoomed past my stop and kept going, and kept going and kept going.  Being British, I kept all my panicking on the inside, as the bus passed yet another stop full of people waiting for a slightly less full bus.

Eventually it came to a halt and the door slid open, and two people near the door got out.  I had picked up my bag and started to squeeze past the next guy, but too slowly, as the bus started up again.  I finally broke and let out a “whoa whoah whoah” – fortunately the guy I was squeezing past also said something abrupt to the driver, and the bus stopped.  It turned out the only way to get past the other guy was for him to get off first, and for a moment I thought the bus would leave again without him – but he made it back on board, and I looked around to work out where exactly I was.

It wasn’t too bad, about half the distance to the central office, a 10 minute walk.   I’ve probably just spent the same length of time editing all the times I typed “matrushka” instead of “Marshrutka!”  This will be a regular Tuesday routine for me now, so I’d better learn the Russian word for “Stop!”  Perhaps I will now be emboldened to explore further afield on the Marshrutka?

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