Saurabh and I munched on many Korovka - Milk (Russian Chocolates), while he narrated his fascinating tales about his Russian Summer to me. He was planning this trip for months, hence, he had acquired a great insight into planning a thorough Food & Travel Guide for a week long trip to Russia.
So read on about a Great Russian Summer and plan your own trip. Over to Saurabh:
When did you go to Russia and to which cities?
My friends and I were there from 10th-23rd June 2018, and stayed in Moscow for six days, Sochi two days and Saint Petersburg five days.
Our trip was right in the middle of Russian Summer and it was not a regular summer in the world’s largest (area-wise) and one of the coldest nations. It was the ‘Summer of 2018’, the FIFA World Cup summer. The country hosted the biggest sports event of the world, for the first time ever.
Russia had opened its arms to the World. How could we say no?
In fact, we reached there even before the World Cup had kicked off. Believe me; it was, as expected, nothing short of a 'Memory of a Lifetime' experience.
It all began with the World Cup opener featuring home side Russia, taking on Saudi Arabia. We went to FIFA Fan Fest, located beside the Black Sea in Sochi, to watch the game. And boy, Russians came to party in style with a 5-0 win and the local supporters went berserk. There were high fives all around but when the fifth one went in, one of the big boys from a group beside us gave me a, what I'd call, almost-bearhug.
Then came the grand clash between Portugal and Spain live at Fisht Stadium in Sochi. We got to see a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick in a World Cup match - where else would you be on that particular night! I thank my stars, for I was there and how surreal it was. And, not just that, we got to witness one of the greatest midfield playmakers of modern football, the Spanish legend, Andres Iniesta!
The very next day, we were off to Moscow to see Argentina play Iceland. To our disbelief, we witnessed, none other than, Lionel Messi miss a penalty. Argentina supporters were relentless in cheering their heroes even in the dying minutes of 1-1 draw but Viking clap by the Icelandic fans stole the show. Best part was, I saw fans from both nations embracing the outcome with a handshake and "good game!" as they walked back from the stadium.
On our third consecutive day of live World Cup football, we saw the then reigning champions Germany crashing to a 1-0 defeat to Mexico in Moscow. The Sombreros and Mexicans songs/chants were the flavor of the day at Luzhniki Stadium that evening.
Lastly, in Saint Petersburg, we got to see the five time World Champions - the Samba Boys taking on Costa Rica. Obviously, with Brazilian fans around, the atmosphere was going to be cracking and we were not disappointed. The party had started 500 meters away from the entry gates, two hours before kick-off. On our final match day, we saw Neymar Jr. score for Brazil. I would call a fitting finish to our magical FIFA World Cup tour.
How friendly are the people and how was your experience at your hostel/AirBnB?
We did not just get to meet the locals; we got to meet so many people from numerous nationalities.
Uruguayans, Brazilians, Argentines, Iranis, Aussies, Mexicans, Costa Ricans, Peruvians, Colombians, Egyptians, Icelandic, Spanish, Portuguese and of course, the locals – everyone was mingling at the Red Square, where there was a countdown clock set up in Moscow. Football fans brought along their chants, musical instruments, songs, colorful and cultural costumes of their respective nations and Russians joined in the celebrations too. Everyone was welcoming and super excited to get photographed with all the visiting fans. Even though our National Football team is yet to earn a spot at the prestigious World Cup Finals, there were quite a few Indians too.
We stayed at an Airbnb in Moscow. We could not get to meet our host Ilgam but he was always in touch and answered all our queries patiently. He even helped us get registered at the local authority offices, which is mandatory (in case your stay is over seven business days) when you visit Russia.
Randhouse Sennaya BnB in Saint Petersburg was the coziest of all the places we stayed at. Most certainly, it was the hospitality of the sweet lady caretaker, Taya. Alina, the owner, was always in touch on phone and offered tips and helpful information to go about things in Piter (as the Russians called it).
Your top 5 'must eat' dishes in Russia? How much do they cost and where do you get them?