01/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Flight School: Star City Personal Logistics

How to get around Star City - and outside of it? It's actually quite a large place, and I haven't seen most of it. There is one main gate, as far as I know, that sits about 200 meters from the "elektrickhka," an electric suburban train that goes into Moscow. You can also catch a marche-routka, a yellow van from a service that operates all around Moscow and connects many parts of Moscow to the metro and to one another. You wouldn't believe it based on the traffic, but most Muscovites don't have cars. The marche-routka ends at the Shcholkovskoye metro station, which is at the end of the line - which in turn means you can usually get a seat on the metro. For me, it's especially convenient, because that line goes through Moscow directly to the Kievskaya station, which is near the Radisson hotel where I like to hang out on weekends (for the pool, mostly, though Star City's own pool is great, it turns out - more on that later. But it's closed on weekends).

The first time I took the marche-routka, it was a Saturday morning, around 8 am. I had just discovered the cafeteria was closed on weekends, so I was heading into Moscow for breakfast and a swim. The parked marche-routka was empty, so I looked around for a driver and spotted someone. "Are you the driver?" I asked politely.

The guy shrugged and said (loose translation): "Lady, look at me! I'm standing here, drinking a beer. Do I look like the driver?" Well, no, I hadn't actually noticed the beer, and in Russia that doesn't seem to be much of a disqualification anyway.

(But perhaps it is. On my very first trip to Russia, back in 1989, I took a private taxi and struck up a conversation with the driver. Professional taxis at the time were quite rare; mostly, people just hitch-hiked and negotiated fares one on one. But this guy drove professionally and shared his car with a colleague: "One day he drinks and I drive," the driver told me. "And the next day it's other way around.")

Whatever, the marche-routka is not bad; the challenge is the kilometer-plus from the Prophy (where I live) to the gate. (It's probably not smart to leave a bike there over two nights.) So this past weekend I lived a life of luxury - taking a car-and-driver (thanks, Space Adventures!) into the city after class on Friday to go to a party for TerraLink, a software company I'm an investor in. I stayed overnight at the Radisson (thanks, Visa!) and rolled out of bed in the morning right into the pool. No overcoat and boots and gloves with liners; no bike ride in the dark; no fuss at all. But also no fir trees in the snow; no sight of the church that is taking shape behind the Prophy; no friendly greeting from the ladies who clean the "fizkultura" building in Star City. And no lane to myself.

Now I'm back in Star City, and appreciating the clean white snow after Moscow's slush. When I first got here in October, I walked or ran everywhere. That got a little tiresome: It's a bit more than a kilometer to the complex where the classes, cafeteria and gym are. Then I discovered - or Richard Garriott told me about - Richard's left-behind bike. In November, I thought, Cool! I'll keep riding this until the snow comes. When the snow came in December, I thought about tromping through it...and grabbed the bike. I fell off the first day, but suffered little damage beyond a painful bump on my knee. The folks at the gym tell me I can start cross-country skiing when the "real" snow comes, but so far I've been getting better at biking and haven't fallen off again. So far...

[cross-posted from my Flight School blog, approved by Space Adventures]