Well I don´t even know where to being with this series of blogs I want to write after a whirlwind tour though Eastern Europe. It is definitely a reason why I am taking so long to write about the trip. The best I can think of to start is Russia as it was my last stop on the trip and nearly the last added to the itinerary.
This whole trip was actually not because of Russia or the World Cup but actually I went to Eastern Europe for the usual, to run, this time my 7th marathon. World Cup was actually added after because well I was gonna be nearby around the same dates and well it was World Cup, I had never been!
I know I only stayed 5 days, crazy because Russia and everything about Russia is massive and really, really needs soooo much more time to see. I decided on the short time because my trip was already going to be long as I arrived June 1 to Europe, my marathon was the 10th, thus I had in total 2.5 weeks and a chunk of the trip done before I even would arrive to Russia. My plan was to try to see a game of Colombia (where I live) or Panama (where I used to live and their historic appearance in WC) but these games were later and farther away (remember Russia is HUGE – people would spend days on the free trains to get to some games). In the end I decided I wanted to experience a game and it´s energy but I wasn´t particular as to which team just dates, cities and availability (until I went to a game and felt I really missed that Latin game -so much time living in Latin America and the gringa doesn´t gooo? – , but oh well…next time!). Additional reasoning was that I enjoy Football (Soccer) lots as I used to play but it is not my favorite sport…and no Running is not my favorite sport, actually it is Volleyball.
I ended up purchasing a game for the 15th of June, a game with 2 countries I have never even been to, Iran v. Morroco! This purchase started the whole crazy energy leading up to my trip; the marathon, well it took a step back from the excitement (as I will explain later in another separate entry). Besides the purchasing process for tickets, where you have to log in on certain days to get them which is a stress but also an amazing feeling of anxiety to get a ticket (also similar to online Olympic ticket purchasing – Lottery system is also an option but I entered in later phases.), once you have a ticket you were redirected to create a FAN ID which was needed to enter the games, use game day transport and well for many it was the visa to enter Russia. The FAN ID although restrictive, for example if your team make the final and you needed a visa to enter Russia it was nearly impossible to go last minute, was also awesome because now I, as US citizen, could enter visa free to Russia. This alone surprised and delighted me soooo much because I know the process is nothing easy or fun (you have to have a host in country and they track your every move pretty much in country). Seriously just with news alone the whole trip was worth it, like forget the game, I was going to Russia!!!
The energy really never stopped from there, as the time to go got closer, more bits of information for Russia came up. Like my FAN ID never went through and 2 weeks prior to departure I had to reapply because the photo didn´t upload correct (so many intents for the damn photo, seriously). Then I decided to fly to Moscow too (originally I was just headed to St. Petersburg for the game) because it felt weird to go all the way and not see the capital, and well Moscow is Moscow! Going to Moscow was gonna be quick though, 36 hours or so….and then an free overnight train to St. Petersburg (free with FAN ID :D).
First stop, Moscow, 36 hours!
Arrival to Airport was quick with no problems. Straight to train into the city where a coworkers cousin was going to pick me up and show me around. Problem was, I didn´t get local sim card and wouldn´t for a 5 day trip so free wifi I couldn´t log into (SO I recommend the sim card! hum) so I had to find somwhere to connect and let my friend know I in town. It wasn´t too bad, waited like 30 minutes and he showed up with his friend and a flower. Feliz with the flower as in many cities on this trip I saw flower markets and wanted to buy one so now there was no need to purchase.
Moscow is literally a huge city and as usual when with locals I prefer to just go with the flow so that is what I did for 36 hours. I did add in a run, which he joined me on, and I did go see a monument without him but the rest was whatever. I had the Red Square (Kremlin) as the only touristy thing I wanted to see and lucky me it turns out it was closed off for opening WC concert and Independence day, the 2 days I was there of course! So Moscow I will see you again…
Yes I was around for the opening of the World Cup and no I didn´t go, I know, again dumb. If I tell you I decided to go to Fan Fest (area where you can watch games with fans for free and they have food/drinks and entertainment available) instead you would just slap me knowing the whole story…lol.
To get to Fan Fest I got off at the Stadium where the game was (not where I needed to be) and quickly left without even asking how much or checking to see if tickets were available….add to this that fact that Fan Fest was super full when I got there because EVERYONE wanted to go and I arrived late (many people in same situation…) and far as F*** away. Yeah, so I never went to either and I later asked a friend who did go and he said it was easy and cheap to get tickets…so epic fail but instead I got to go see a cool park I learned about when I arrived which is related to space and everything else before having to leave town. This I did alone because my friend had to go home as I think I made his wife jealous because he was hanging out with me…oops..and I understand.
In the end this friend (Roman) I think got more out of the trip than me because he was doing things he normally doesn´t do often, touristy stuff, running, enjoying the crowds for WC, etc. Roman is half Colombian, half Russian, born in Russia, speaks English but little Spanish and was excited to have a visitor. He proudly wore every day a Colombian hat he purchased on his first and only trip a few years back to the other homeland and now I am sure he wears the Colombian National Football Jersey daily that his cousin gifted him he he. Every time we ran into a Colombian on the street he said Hola! and quickly went to shake their hand and welcome them to Russia. It was awesome, his Latin happiness and energy was definitely easy to recognize!
When Roman first came to get me he wanted to show me everything right away but I really wanted to drop off the bags and change clothes. He won and I am grateful as first we had to stop at a few beautiful subway stops and walk alongside Red Square before he would even attempt to figure out where my hostel was…lol. From there my experience was to his favorite restaurant, an Old Believers restaurant, he choose this after he saw that I visited some Old Believer Villages in Estonia, which was great because when I did visit, it was rainy, cold and everything was closed. The experience of driving in Russia with his out of town friend who was definitely lost but it was well worth it, Russians are just as crazy driving as my Colombian fellows…lol. Who knows what happened next because well I don´t understand Russian and the friend only spoke that but we got dropped of on the side of the road and just walked a quarter of the way across the city to get back. I didn´t mind since everything was new and interesting, even if my feet said otherwise as by this point in the trip after walking 25,000-40,000 (10-20 miles) steps daily my body was a tad tired…if I recall correctly I walked barefoot for a bit because it felt better (cool ground, not sandals)…but that sunset by the Moskva River was well worth the walking. This same River we ran along the following morning. To contextualize Roman hung out with me until the last train he could catch simply absorbing everything surrounding him at the moment…the last bit was at the hostel with people from around the world (and them the same – a Russian presence who spoke English was hard to come by) this is why I say he got the most out of my travel.
I know I will be back because there is just so much to absorb and see and not even 5 days nor 36 hours in this city is enough, it is just what I had to work with. I said goodbye to Moscow with Roman sending me off at the train station. It was an 8 hour overnight train where I shared a cabin with a Russian family/group headed to the same game as myself. When I first boarded the attendants came to our room and asked if I wanted to switch rooms and be with foreigners like myself and I was like no thank you, right here I am with foreigners, the ones from here, exactly where I should be…ha ha. Besides we were already bonding with the challenge that only one of them spoke any English and those who didn´t were curious to talk with me so nothing stopped our communication at all. They planned on partying the night away, I joined in the beginning as I was free of competition and celebrating, but then I realized the quantity of alcohol they had on them and there was no way a post marathoner racer was gonna hang…lol. I stayed until 2 am when the security busted the party we had all created in another room…but they kept on going in the restaurant dancing the night away with the Iranians..ha ha love it!
With that I concluded Moscow and arrived in St. Petersburg the next morning at 5 AM (8 hour train, btw there are faster trains).