Sunday, July 01, 2018

My trip to Russia

I had the fortune to go to Russia with a great friend for six days during this World Cup. The fortune was mainly due to visiting a beautiful and friendly country with a great friend. The football was so and so...
Of course, due to the impossibility of getting tickets for the best matches, we took tickets to whatever we could get: Croatia-Iceland in Rostov-on-Don. I have to mention that when Argentina did not win their group, and Denmark were to face Croatia, Argentineans in every street corner of Moscow were offering tickets for the Denmark-Croatia match, as many had bought tickets thinking they would be group winners. Seems strange that I could have bought a ticket off the street from almost any Argentine, while at FIFAs website it was all but impossible...
The World Cup in Russia is well-organised: the FAN-ID system worked fine and there were volunteers to help fans all over the country. Getting to Rostov-on-Don we took Russian-Trains, 19 hours from Moscow in a sleeping wagon.
It was a splendid trip going South, with a nice albeit slow train with eating wagon and very friendly Russians throughout. Perhaps the greatest of the Western myths about Russia and its people is that they are not friendly, but this was quite the contrary throughout, and I am sure that this World Cup is by far friendlier than any pervious or future tournament in Europe or North America, especially from what we will see in the so-called "World Cup" of 2026.
Rostov-on-Don is a nice city in southern Russia that probably does not see that many foreign visitors. One local told me that the city had been thoroughly renewed (among others a new airport that is one of the nicest airport I have ever seen) and that the city seemed in perpetual holiday atmosphere with the World Cup. And indeed the atmosphere was great.
The stadium, Rostov Arena, is beautifully situated next to the Don River and on match day it was a lovely walk across the river to get to the stadium.
Croatia-Iceland was an ok match. Croatia, who did not seem to stretch themselves, were clearly a better team. Iceland, who clearly had more support among locals and neutral alike, fought bravely but were eliminated from their first ever World Cup. Besides the atmosphere, experiencing the famous Icelandic "Hu" Cheer was quite amazing in the stadium.
Fans are the best thing about the World Cup, because the vast majority are nice people out to have fun in the guise of "eleven-guys-kicking-a-ball-who-happen-to-share-your-passport". Petty nationalism is the worst of this (and any) World Cup, but it remains rather in the background as fans meet and have a pint and a laugh. We greatly enjoyed hanging with fans from Iceland, Croatia, Russia and Mexico (Mexicans were numerous everywhere). But here one must mention the so-called Fan Zones: The one in Rostov was frankly, -and excuse my expression-, shit. The Fan Zones are a highly protected corporate propaganda area with watered down beer and large screens. But do not be fooled that it is for football fans! We went to the Rostov Fan Zone when Portugal-Iran and Spain-Morocco were playing, but turns out they only show one match among their 50+ large screens!! It was Portugal-Iran, but there were a huge number of disappointed Spain and Morocco fans unable to watch their teams...
Frankly, that is a disgrace, such as the whole FIFA Fan Zone concept.
Instead, the best thing was to hang out in the many bars and pubs of any of the host cities: in Rostov-on-Don we watched France-Denmark and Peru-Australia simultaneously in a pub before heading to Rostov Arena, and in Moscow enjoyed Colombia-Senegal in a pub with plenty of beer and fans (mostly supporting Colombia).
Moscow is a lovely city and the atmosphere was also great, with an even greater variety of fans than in Rostov-on-Don (on the Red Square saw fans from every place, but particularly the Latin Americans were numerous). We had no tickets for any matches there, but did see England-Belgium in the Fan Zone. As any Fan Zone it was shit, but it was certainly worth the visit because it is the beautifully situated at the foot of Moscow Univeristy. Of course, we had the annoyance with the volunteers after the match, who sent us on a one hour walk to reach a pub, instead of advising us better. That was the biggest annoyance of the trip (I lost my phone on the second day, but being disconnected during the entire trip was in fact fantastic!), but should mention that besides those idiotic volunteers the rest were friendly, smiling and very helpful, just as the vast majority of Russians.
In the end, football should only be a meager excuse to see Moscow (or all of Russia for that sake). A gorgeous city with a rich history, it is worth a visit any time, and that is something I certainly take with me from this short visit: the wish to visit again! And whatever all the petty nationalism, FIFA, as well as poor and unfair football, this World Cup will be remembered for being a great one because it was in Russia!

The Red Square


Pia said...

so how do we get back in touch?

Anonymous said...

English media, including the BBC, misjudged Russia before the tournament