One of the most challenging things about traveling in Russia has been the language. It has several sounds we don’t have in English as well as a different alphabet – Cyrillic. And its similarities with English makes it even harder – P’s are R’s, C’s are S’s, B’s are V’s and H’s are N’s – just to name a few. At first we were totally hopeless. But over the past couple weeks we have started to be able to translate Cyrillic in to Roman characters in real time. We do take shortcuts when we have to act quickly – like in which direction and how many stops to take a Metro train. In those instances we usually just come up with words that look like the Cyrillic words – like we’ll take the train towards ‘YMCA’ and get off in four stops at ‘GARBAGE CAN’.
The biggest reason we have done so well is that the numbers are the same. And I know this might be obvious to more observant people, but I’d never really thought about how much we rely on numbers to function as a society. Train lines, prices, buses, addresses, times – pretty much all numbers. This, however, makes me a bit nervous for Asia where the numbers are just as different as the letters. I just found out that Lonely Planet has their Mandarin Language Guide as a free download for iPhones – even comes with audio of 600 phrases. Hopefully soon all guidebooks will be available to download to your iPhone. Sure would be better then lugging a bunch of books around.