Body Jumping in Russia

“The most blood I’ve ever seen was in Russia.” Connor Lyons, age 14.

“The most scared I’ve ever been in my life is on our family vacations.” Meghan Lyons, age 14.

My children were very young when I realized that, when traveling, I needed to appreciate the journey as much as the destination. My husband fought this insight for a while but after a few more family trips, he finally found the benefit of this view. The inopportune bathroom breaks and unplanned shopping trips due to forgotten or lost items became part of the adventure rather than an exercise in frustration. The sudden transformations from good health to severe infections that required a visit to a non-English speaking doctor who kept repeating “Mal, mal’ while shaking his head for emphasis became part of our trip’s lore as were forgotten items such as shoes on a camping trip and winter coats on a ski trip. There was the mysterious disappearance of a sweatshirt during the long walk from the parking lot of France’s Mont St Michel, the coconut used as a projectile of frustration that almost resulted in facial stitches in the Belizean countryside, and consumption boycotts leading to substantial weight loss due to the refusal to eat unfamiliar foreign foods.

Memorable, exciting travel might not always result from organized, flawlessly executed travel plans. This is especially true when traveling as a family. The trick of appreciating family travel is to bring a reservoir of patience and to find humor in the absurd.

The girl appeared to be 12 years old, 4 feet high, with an overly large head for her slim figure. Her brown hair was tightly pulled into a ponytail and accented with a red headband. A boy, maybe 5 years old, quietly shadowed the girl. He was dressed like a poor character from a Dickens novel, page boy cap and well-worn tweed blazer. The girl pressed a journal-like book into my midsection, the pages open, covered with Cyrillic writing. She murmured unintelligible words to me, eyes downcast, and submissive. She looked up once and I was shocked to see dull eyes, sunken into darkened, hallowed out sockets. Her face was pale, lined with fatigue, seeming to belong to a much older woman. I walked away, turned, pivoted, but she was persistent, the journal pushed at my stomach.

It was our third day in Moscow and we were touring the metro. My husband, Pat, myself and our 14 year old twins, Connor and Meghan, were spending our 2009 Spring break far from Florida where most of their friends were. Instead, we were bundled up against the cold in Russia.

Moscow’s underground metro is efficient, clean, well lit and, with some assistance, navigable for non-Russian speaking travelers. Our timing for a tour of the more spectacular metro stations was unfortunate. It was six o’clock and the platforms and cars were busy with commuters. Within minutes, this young girl with an old woman’s demeanor appeared, shoving her book into my waist and murmuring insistently. It wasn’t until our train came that I got away from her and her boy partner. That’s also when I realized my purse, which was slung across my chest and under my buttoned coat, was unzipped. She had nearly gotten my wallet and passport. The encounter disturbed all of us but it would soon seem a minor event as we had worse to come.

That night we were taking the overnight train from Moscow to St. Petersburg. At 10:45 pm we left our hotel with our backpacks and roller bags. Leningradske train station was two metro stops away. Hotel staff had written, in Cyrillic, the name of the train station on a small square of paper. I felt confident, thinking that someone could at least read my paper and point us in the right direction.

The escalators in Moscow’s metro are extremely long, steep and fast. After a few stops, we got off for the transfer to the second metro line which was accessed on a different level. Pat and Connor, and their luggage, shared a metal grated step on the escalator. Meghan and I followed four steps later. A middle aged man, overweight and bent with fatigue, rode up about six steps ahead of us. The station was eerie in its quiet elegance, the lights dim. Nearing the top of the ride I heard a loud, sharp noise. Through my husband’s legs I saw the pale face of the man, eyes open, vacant. He was lying upside down, feet stuck at the top of the escalator, his head banging on each step as the escalator continued upwards. I stared in shock as his eyes rose and fell, his head making a sickening “thump” sound as the metal grated stairs continued to rise and fall under his head.

Read more scary travel stories from travelers.

“Pick up your bag and jump,” my husband yelled to Connor as their escalator step approached the man’s prone body. The steps carried Meghan and I closer to the man’s large frame. With few steps left, I grabbed my bag, ran up, and jumped over the body. I put my bag down and turned to see Meghan, her round, pale face filled with horror.
“Hand me your bag as you jump,” I yelled. Disbelief clouded her blue eyes, but she had little choice. She did as I said, barely missing the man’s body.

Our pleas of ‘Help’ were ignored by the few people going down the opposite escalator. One man even came up our escalator, jumped the body, and quickly continued on. I couldn’t leave the man even though we had a train to catch. After some prodding, Pat grabbed the man’s hands, pulling him onto the slate floor. As his body twisted off the escalator his knee bent at an unnatural angle, catching under the moving rubber handrail of the escalator. The rubber caught and twisted his leg with a sickening, grinding sound. The force of his leg eventually jammed the mechanism and the escalator stopped. A large pool of blood grew on the slate floor under his head.

The man slowly began waking up, his eyes rolling in his head. He tried to get up, lifting his head and dropping it hard onto the stone, again and again. The blood spread slowly now, growing thicker and darker. Two young men ultimately helped him and we ran off to catch our train, traumatized and sad.

Meghan cried all the way to the next metro station. None of us could help her, as we were disturbed ourselves. Another passenger, a young man, blond, shaggy haired with an open, caring face, handed her a pink tulip he pulled from a bunch. “Girl don’t cry,” he said in a thick accent.

We made our train. We didn’t sleep much even though we had a private sleeper car.

The second bloodied man we saw was lying in a St. Petersburg street, cars swerving in the darkness, inches from his head. A passerby eventually dragged this man to the sidewalk and threw him against a building, his legs splayed out on the sidewalk in front of us. He looked dazed, blood spotting his forehead and matting his hair. We crossed the street, in the dark, with no crosswalk, just so we wouldn’t have to jump over his legs.

If you asked for tips on traveling to Russia the advice would vary depending on who in our family you asked. Patrick and I would suggest immersing yourself in the culture and the Russian environment in order to best experience Russian life. Meghan would suggest using your hotels for your transportation needs rather than navigating the unfamiliar metro and trains yourself. Connor would not change our Russian adventure but he has two pieces of advice for the family traveling to Russia. He suggests you sample the Russian chocolate and, maybe most importantly, always be ready to jump.
Moscow’s metro started running in 1935. It is one of the busiest underground transit systems in the world. Even so, the stations and trains are beautifully maintained and highly efficient. Stations, designed to be like palaces, have marble, intricate tile work, bronze statues, and stained glass. The ceilings are high and well lit. A tour of the more elaborately designed stations is worth the time.

Moscow’s metro is also the deepest in the world and legend has it that there is a second, secret metro system even deeper. This metro was supposedly built for Stalin. One of the lines links the Kremlin to the Lubyanka, home of the KGB.

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16 Comments

  1. Mikel March 20, 2012 Reply

    Foreign travel always leaves one with the greatest stories; this could be no more true in this adventure.

  2. Gary Benoit March 21, 2012 Reply

    Makes me want to go to Russia, enter the exact cavernous metro stop in the wee hours, and listen for the captured sounds of body jumping dread. Another wonderful story that reveals the philosophy that the devil is indeed in the details that lay in the path to his complement. Having roamed my fair share of this earth, I concur that the best part of travelling is what happens along the serendipitous way; all that begins after the curtain of the garage door goes down, to your feet planted before a gilded dome… the in-between wrong turns that turn out just right, last for life. The gilded domes’ thin overlay will fade. Great bit Susan!

  3. Molly March 21, 2012 Reply

    Love this article!

  4. Georgine Lyons March 21, 2012 Reply

    I enjoyed this article so much. It made me feel that I was there witnessing all they had experienced. I also got a good understanding of the transit system.

  5. Phyllis March 21, 2012 Reply

    I couldn’t imagine a boring Lyons vacation anywhere! I agree being open to a detour ( ie shopping for missing/forgotten clothes) is part of the adventure.

  6. rashmi March 24, 2012 Reply

    That is the real adventure. I never thought of Russia that way. Now I know about body jumping in Russia if I ever visit the place.
    rashmi recently posted…5 Free Things to Do in BerlinMy Profile

  7. Elise Walsh March 25, 2012 Reply

    This is a wonderfully written story.I really enjoyed reading about your experience. Body jumping, who knew.
    Elise Walsh recently posted…5 Free Things to Do in BerlinMy Profile

  8. Kelly Fister March 26, 2012 Reply

    Wow. I really felt like i was there. The subway must be marvelous. Extremely well-written! Thank you.

  9. Lauren Magill March 28, 2012 Reply

    If the last “on a junket” vacation submission wasn’t frightening enough, I look forward to the next Lyon vacation adventure!

  10. JAMES BONICA March 30, 2012 Reply

    What a narrative! Susan’s writing boldly brings the shocking narrative to the reader. We’re headed to Moscow in the fall. Will look for adventure away from the subway escalators.

  11. Patricia April 6, 2012 Reply

    Another exciting adventure to read. I look forward to more. Please keep traveling and sharing your experiences

  12. Karen April 15, 2012 Reply

    Love the title and the story! Great job Susan

  13. Jonathon Engels May 3, 2012 Reply

    I’m living in Moscow at the moment, and I’ve really enjoyed linking this piece to my blogs and such. I, too, have noticed what an insanely injured and bloody place this seems to be. Though your experience was but a glimpse, it feels like a fairly accurate one. Still, the Metro is fantastic. My blog deals with living as an expat in Russia and being an EFL teacher (in general). Check it out for Russia from more odd angles: http://jonathonengels.weebly.com/blog.html

  14. Author
    Susan Lyons May 3, 2012 Reply

    Jonathon, your adventures in Moscow, as retold in your blog, sound very familiar. I hope you do get to travel a bit. The country is fascinating. Check out “Angering Ekahau” my essay on our trip to Belize. Another great place to visit in spite of the souvenier I brought home!

  15. Valeria March 16, 2013 Reply

    It is very interesting to discover our motherland from point of view foreign tourists. Life in small towns of Russia more tranquil and people more sensitive to others person problems. Good luck in your travelings!

  16. unnamed October 18, 2014 Reply

    wow! super!

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