Letter from abroad: Yaroslavl

Emma Helm praises public transport in the Russian city of Yaroslavl

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Image: Wikipedia

Stop the bus: a Brit is about to not just praise, but celebrate public transport. Maybe it’s different in the North, not just because we wash in gravy as I once heard a Southerner describe, but our public transport, specifically our buses, aren’t great. Got somewhere to be? Give it an extra hour. And pay more and more for this wonderful service.

I have been in Yaroslavl, Russia for a month. Over that time, I’ve spent some time getting my bearings, and although (on the face of it) it’s not the most exciting topic, I am going to give a special mention to my friend the trolley bus.

Trolley bus number one: you arrive every 5-12 minutes from 5.30 am until past 11pm; cost 20 roubles per ride, or 400 for a monthly student ticket (for some reason, the pound keeps fluctuating, but call that around 25p/£5); you get me from A to B smoothly-ish. You are probably the most stable aspect in the life of someone who recently confused the vocabulary “clean showers” for “honest souls”. You’re a dinted, off-white, mud stained to about half-way up, rusty tin on wheels, fused with a tram. Plenty of space, somewhere passable to sit and clean enough; your simplicity is everything I need right now. The “next stop” recording tells me, a respected passenger, to mind the closing doors. Me; respected. Me, who has had doors close on me, leaving one arm dangling out until the next stop.

Then, the warmth. Imagine your Nan’s warm, cosy, living room lit by the fire (I realise it’s 2016 but just imagine it). Your Nan’s living room is my trolley bus, which I realised about a week ago. After waiting for three minutes—also the temperature at that point—I hopped on, and sank into the flickering golden haze from the broken lights, glowing against the half-light of outside. Against the traffic lights, the shops of which there are many, on many floors, glowing.

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Yaroslavl has a population of over 600,000 (Oxford just under 160,000). That’s thousands of different preoccupations, jobs to get to, families to feed, poems to learn by heart for tomorrow, riding with me. Maybe that’s why the woman across, laden with shopping bags, does not grin back like they do up North. I really missed that when I moved to the South. For some reason, I forgive, understand, even quite like, this here. Space and time to take in the people, the precision of this woman’s lip-liner, the language, today’s lessons, that vocabulary I actually remember. Whilst I do wish you’d smile back at me, lady with the shopping bags, just a little, I’m liking beginning to meditate on nothing.

It seems my 400 roubles is taking me on more journeys than I expected; I’m even happy about those that weren’t timetabled for once. And before I get off at this “gap yah finding my-self on a year abroad” stop, for your brilliance, simplicity and the ride you’re taking me on, you deserve this special mention my friend.