I had the chance this year to take part in my second FIFA World Cup, this time in Russia in June and July 2018. After having participated in the World cup in 2010 in South Africa with a couple friends from Brazil, I decided to buy a ticket for one game and enjoy a few weeks of football celebration with fans of the world in a country that I only ask to spend more time to visit. And this was a great occasion to get a 2 months Visa to visit areas I had wanted to visit for a while.
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My Travel Plan in Russia 2018
Actually, there was a plan around all this, and it wasn’t about football. Being Canadian, there is only one sport that I can have passion for: hockey. So as much as I want to like football, it won’t happen by just inventing passion. Also not having a team (Canada only participated once in any world cup, not winning even one game), I am always left to cheer for someone’s else’s country, which again, you can’t invent passion for another country as much as your native one. But the whole plan was to be able to spend more time in Russia and take advantage of the Easy Visa process, as well as the “double entry visa” which would help me visit part of the world that requires this type of visa. My plan was to get the Visa and visit two countries that are only recognized by Russia and can only be entered, and left, from Russia. These two are South Ossetia and Abkhasia. While the plan was great, it didn’t work out for South Ossetia, still fresh out of a bloody war in 2008… But it worked for Abkasia.
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I actually saw the opening Ceremony from Abkhasia, and while it is not part of Russia, it definitely felt like it, judging by the overwhelming crowd cheering from Russia. I then crossed back to Sochi the next day where there was the game Spain-Portugal. I did not have tickets for this event, but just by spending the whole day around the Olympic stadium and breathing the atmosphere of the world cup was worthwhile for me! Thousands of fans from both football-crazy countries where parading and chanting their way around the Stadium.
The organization had prepared a fan fest in every host city around the country, a great place to interact with the other tourists and fans coming from all over the world. After a few days, I made it up to Rostov-on-don where I had my game between Uruguay and Saudi Arabia. The city was just a big party, with thousands of Uruguay fans having traveled across the globe to support their team. This is the second game I assist of Uruguay in a World cup after the game of the third position in 2010 world cup. Their fans are known as some of the most supportive of any nation. Overall, again, the atmosphere around the city was to me much more interesting than the game itself, which was, well, just football…
I then decided to use the rest of my visa in Siberia to visit a part of the country that I always wanted to explore in details, after my trans-Siberian train experience in 2014, which was weirdly during the FIFA world cup in Brasil. There were no games there, and that was precisely part of the reason I wanted to go; to avoid the crowds of drunk fans for too long, one week and a half being enough. One month Siberia was actually a great place to assist the rest of the world cup even though they didn’t have any host city, where people would fill pubs and parks to see the great performance of their national team. Every Russia victory would result in a night of party in the streets of Novosibirsk, Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk and honking the whole night away with hundreds of cars parading!
After the world cup finished, I had planned to crown my journey with a visit to one city I had on my list for a long time: Kaliningrad in the Baltics. And for the occasion, I had planned to arrive after the world cup as Kaliningrad was a host city of the world cup.
My impressions of this world cup
The whole world cup was a massive success, following my own experience and those of almost everybody I met on the way. Not counting the impressive performance of their home team, Russia as a nation has turned out undoubtedly the winner of this edition of the World Cup. And this for several reasons. First, the organization of the world cup was outstanding, compared to the edition I took part in South Africa. Everything seemed to have been planned meticulously, from security to logistics around a massive country as well as city commute and access in and out of the stadiums. Security was taken seriously with the participation of several levels of their security force, from normal police to Cossack police, all the way to thousands of military soldiers. Thousands of volunteers were also present all over the country to “high five” every fan here and there, and make sure everyone felt welcomed and enjoyed their world cup. What was impressive for me was the ability for Russian cities to transform into fun host cities for international tourist. Russian cities are in general not very tourist oriented (exception made for a few like St-Petersburgh and Moscow), focused mainly on industrial practicality. A city like Rostov-on-don for example which still has an ongoing war with Ukraine on its borders did an amazing job to transform into a friendly city ready to receive thousands of fans!
But the most amazing part of what Russia has achieved with the world cup goes to the friendliness of their people and how they have countered bad international press that has been going out against them since the Cold War, portraying them as mad unfriendly and aggressive people. Having been three times in Russia in the past and knowing many Russians I am well positioned to say this cant be further from the truth. And with this world cup, they have shown to the world how friendly and welcoming they are as a nation. I was impressed by how every tourist I met were talking about how friendly the Russians were with them! So again, congratulations to Russia for organizing a great event, which will stay engraved in people mind forever.
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