9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever

Tripoto
24th Jun 2018
Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta

What comes to your mind when you hear about the country Russia?Large, immense, cold, crazy,once-friendly,vodka? Well in 2018, a new adjective has joined these stereotypes - football. Thanks to the recently concluded FIFA World Cup 2018 which was hosted by Russia, Russian cities are witnessing an increase in foreign tourists both during the tournament and beyond it. Here is my story of 10 days in the Great Bear during the FIFA World Cup.

Me and 2 of my old friends after a lot of planning and preparation since past 8 months, finally boarded the Aeroflot flight from Delhi to Moscow during wee hours of 24th June. It is a 6 hour flight, which will fly over one of the most remote places on earth- Kazakhstan. I have flown part of this route before and wanted to catch the scenes when barren Central Asia opens up.

The rocky unforgiving landscape of Hindukush mountains near Kabul

Photo of Kabul, Afghanistan by Sounak Sengupta

Approaching Moscow-SVO airport

Photo of Khimki, Moscow Oblast, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

It was a pretty uneventful flight. Aeroflot has really upped their service from their shoddy Soviet Union days. The food was great and infotainment system had enough movies and games to keep you busy. Soon after 4 hours we were flying over Penza and the vast green Russian countryside welcomed me below. Russia has a population of 145 million but they are mostly concentrated in the main cities. Rest of the country is miles and miles of nothingness. We landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International airport, which is one of the 3 airports. The other 2 are Domodedovo and Vnukovo. The passport control formalities were a breeze given we were here for the world cup. Thanks to Russian governments official de facto visa the FAN ID, all match ticket holders were exempted from visas . This FAN ID was used to gain entry to stadiums, use metros free on match days and also avail discounts in many bars. So were wore it 24/7 around our neck

FAN ID. Please excuse my retro look

Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta

We took the Aeroexpress which is the airport metro link much like Delhi's orange line which takes you from airport to city centre.

The metro stations in Moscow are a museum in its own right. Chandeliers, murals and glass paintings everywhere. And the platforms are pretty deep. See how deep it goes underground. Built during 1930s this is very much a Cold war thing by the Soviet Union

Photo of Aeroexpress, Tverskaya Zastava Square, Moscow, Russia by Sounak Sengupta
Photo of Komsomol'skaya, Moscow, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

It was with Soviet help that India's first metro the Kolkata metro was buiit. Hence some uncanny similarities

Photo of Komsomol'skaya, Moscow, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

We quickly checked into our hotel which was in the eastern suburbs , freshened up and headed to the historic Red Square. This Square is adorned with Stalinist and Tsarist buildings. It has seen the October Revolution, the fall of Communism and recent anti-Putin protests. So we were very excited to spend and soak in the atmosphere. Fifa had set up fan fests which are live screenings with lots of other activities.

The State history museum. The Kremlin wall and Alexander Garden to the right

Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta
Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta
Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta

Troitskaya tower

Photo of Red Square, Moscow, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

Stalinist building

Photo of Red Square, Moscow, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

The evening was spent clicking photos with a sea of international fans. It was like mini United Nations there . It has plenty of bars and cafes where you can spend time.

Day 2. 25th June

We had the full day to ourselves. Our match was on 26th June. Denmark vs France. Hence we explored Moscow utilizing its splendid network of public transportation

The famous Izamilovo Kremlin

Photo of Kremlin de Izmaylovo, Измайловское шоссе, Moscow, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

Head to Ismailovsky flea market inside and outside the Ismailovo Kremlin for the best street shopping experience. Kremlin basically means castle and administrative division. Russia has many kremlins. But the Moscow Kremlin at red square remains the present seat of government. Other Kremlins are either tourist places or govt buildings

We then headed to Moscow tower complex. Also known as Moscow's Manhattan. It is a collection of 7 70+ storied skyscrapers which symbolizes the new Moscow. Name any company it has its office there. We went atop the Federation tower, the tallest tower in Europe which has an observation deck atop known as Panorama 360. Enjoyed the bird's eye view of Moscow city , the Luzhniki stadium (our match venue) and the Moskva river

Twisted Evolution tower. Next to it is Federation tower, and on extreme right the Eurasia tower

Photo of Vystavochnaya, Moscow, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

Moscow State University

Photo of Vystavochnaya, Moscow, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

Met Bumblebee

Photo of Vystavochnaya, Moscow, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

After a long session of photos and gracing the beauty of Moscow from top we headed to the Cosmonaut museum to witness the glory of the Soviet Space program. Sadly it was closed on a Monday so could see only from outside. Badly wanted to see a glimpse of the Vostok and Yuri Gagarin's spacesuit. Nevertheless here are some photos

The icon of Space Race. the monument dedicated to the Soviet superiority in space. The museum was sadly closed! :(

Photo of VDNKh, Moscow, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

The most beautiful twilight at 10pm :P

Photo of VDNKh, Moscow, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

Moscow tram. One smartcard called the Troika card and you can use it on all 3 modes- metro, tram and bus

Photo of VDNKh, Moscow, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

Day 3 26th June

Its matchday. Denmark vs France. Its why we are here. we quickly headed to Red Square and all the Danes and French fans were singing, frolicking. It was a sea of red with the loud Danes making their presence felt. Eventual champions France and their fans were quiet and humble though. We saw the GUM mall , the Kremlin and the Saint Basil's cathedral all in Red Square before heading to the stadium. It was again a sea of international fans. Each with their flags. All wanted to get a snap with us and our Indian flag

Aman ki Asha

Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta

Shalom!!

Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta

GUM mall. Extremely high end shops . Easily one of World's best malls

Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta
Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta

Tsarist Crown and crown jewels

Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta

Here we are at the Luzhniki Stadium. The historic stadium where United beat Chelsea in a dramatic penalty shootout in 2008. Denmark vs France match was pretty pedestrian. With both teams already qualified they had no impetus to risk and injury so they played their second team. France rested Paul Pogba and Hugo Lloris. Not the best games. Ended 0-0. Kylian Mbappe did come close to scoring

Dreams do come true

Photo of Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia by Sounak Sengupta
Photo of Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia by Sounak Sengupta
Photo of Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

Day 4 27th July

Time to fly to the old capital of Russia. Saint Petersburg. Also known as Leningrad or Petrograd. It housed the Romanov dynasty for several millenium. It is close to the Arctic circle and is the most European part of Russia. Some call it Venice of the north or Amsterdam of the North due to its canal cruises, regal buildings.

To me it is the most beautiful city I have seen

Our hotel on the right on Vasiileovsky embankment. Pretty nice hotel we got

Photo of Vasilyevsky Island, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

We visited the Moika palace or the Yusupov palace. The Yusupovs were a Tatar tribe who migrated to Saint Pete and were close to the royal family especially Tsar Nicholas. They were monumentally weatlhy. Even considered to be the wealthiest family on earth at that time. They were also the murderers of Rasputin, the infamous Siberian godman who got so close to the Russian royal family that he started pulling strings of country politics. Many say he had healing powers, many say he was a charlatan. He was murdered at the basement of this house on early hours of 16th December, 1918

St Issacs Cathedral

Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta
Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta
Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta
Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta
Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta

If you are in Saint Pete do check out the Hard Rock Cafe. It has opened recently and is the largest HRC i have seen

Photo of Hard Rock Cafe, Sadovaya Street, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

Day5 28th June

The main attraction of Saint Pete. The state Hermitage museum and the Winter Palace of the Romanov dynasty. It is debatable whether it is the largest museum of the world or not. But with over 2 million artefacts it will take you a month or so to cover it. We spent 4 hours roughly in this magnificent building.

Photo of State Hermitage Museum, Palace Square, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

Mummy casket of Imonhotep

Photo of State Hermitage Museum, Palace Square, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Sounak Sengupta
Photo of State Hermitage Museum, Palace Square, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

Winter Palace of the Tsars

Photo of State Hermitage Museum, Palace Square, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

I think this blog has gone too long now. Hang on with me. The places are so magnificent that I cant help but cover them in this

Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta

Chandelier at the Lombard hall

Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta

Neva River which flows into the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea.

Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta
Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta

Since we didnt have any match tickets at Saint Pete we decided to watch England vs Belgium at the Fanfest in Saint Pete opposite Church of Saviour on Spilled blood. It was a meaningless match. Belgium won 1-0 courtesy a Adnan Januzaj goal. Both teams had qualified and wanted to lose! so that they can avoid the tougher part of R16. However Belgium won.

Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta
Photo of Metro Fan Fest, Nevsky avenue, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

Magnificent murals on CoSaSP as its abbreviated. Tsar Alexander II was assassinated here by a Don Cossack. Don Cossacks derive their name from Rostov-on-Don. They are a Don river tribe

Photo of Church of the Savior on Spilt Blood, Griboyedov channel embankment, Saint Petersburg, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

We ended the our day in St. Petersburg with the famous canal cruise. The night cruise on Neva river which brought us to the Palace bridge in front of the Hermitage which opens up exactly at 110am. There is perpetual daylight even at 1am. Being closer to the poles the sun sets very very late in these parts. Hence its always twilight after 10pm and the sun rises at 330am!! This phenomenon is called White Night

Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta
Photo of Neva River, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

Day6 29th June

This day was a rest day as we returned back to Moscow from Saint Petersburg.

Day7 30th June

A new day a new city. Flew to Volgograd which is in Southern Russia. This will be my 3rd and last city in Russia before returning to Moscow to watch Spain vs Russia .My 2nd match .

Volgograd is steeped in history. It was called Tsaritsyn during Tsarist era, Stalingrad during WWII. This city saw the bloodiest battle in the history of mankind. The siege of Stalingrad where the Red Army soldiers sieged back the city from Nazi Germany.

The main sights of this city were the Mamayev Kurgan- or the Motherland calls monument. She is the personification of Mother Russia as an angry woman calling her sons to rise and fight. The statue is so majestic and colossal that your heart stops and you are awestruck

Vast steppes of Southern Russia where the war was fought and won. This statue is a symbol of victory. She was made taller than statue of liberty purposely under orders of Nikita Khrushchev

Photo of Mamayev Kurgan, Prospekt Imeni V.i. Lenina, Volgograd, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

The Volga river. The movie Enemy at the Gates shows the German bombers bombing the Red Army soldiers crossing it by boat from the other side. This site gave me goosebumps

Photo of Mamayev Kurgan, Prospekt Imeni V.i. Lenina, Volgograd, Russia by Sounak Sengupta
Photo of Mamayev Kurgan, Prospekt Imeni V.i. Lenina, Volgograd, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

If you have played Call of Duty, this was a mission. The Pavlov house. Comrade Pavlov and his men defended against Nazi Germany attacks in this house.

Photo of Dom Pavlova, Ulitsa Sovetskaya, Volgograd, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

Armour-ed vehicles that won the Allies the war

Photo of Dom Pavlova, Ulitsa Sovetskaya, Volgograd, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

Day 8th 1st July

Its Matchday again!!! This time a knockout R16 match between hosts Russia and Spain at the Luzhniki Stadium

What a match it was. 1-1 till the end and the most thrilling penalty shootout saw hosts knockout heavyweights Spain out of the tournament.

The entire nation went into a frenzy. Fans were cheering in the stadium, pubs, metros and screaming the Mother Rossiya anthem

Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta

The odds are high,

Photo of 9 Days in Russia for the World Cup . My First Blog Ever by Sounak Sengupta

And with that my Russian sojourn ends. As i was spending my last evening in Russia gorging on the tastiest beef Stroganoff and washing it down with Siberian corona beer,I couldn't help but feel sad. It was a whirlwind,these 9 days. Simply unforgettable

Typical Russian meal

Photo of Gorky Park Pier, Moscow, Russia by Sounak Sengupta

Day9 2nd July

Spaciba Russia!!

What more can I say. All good things must come to an end as they say. But don't be sad its over. Smile coz it happened.

As I leave with everlasting memories here is a big Spaciba to this magnificent country and its warm citizens who treated me so so well in the last 9 days. To the taxi drivers, to that pretty girl on the subway, to my host in Volgograd, to the hotel receptionist, to the guy who sold beer and spoke little English, to the passerby who showed me the way. To all of you SPACIBA!!

DASVIDANIYA!!!

Photo of Sheremetyevo Airport, Terminal E, Moscow, Moscow Oblast, Russia by Sounak Sengupta
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