Friday, 15 June 2018

Russia World Cup Trip

World Cup 2018 RUSSIA

Friday 15th June
London to Istanbul

So today my 6th World Cup venture started with England.  My first was back in 1990 and England amazingly got to the World Cup semi final, a long distant memory and not something that was expected of this current squad.

Links to previous world cup trips can be found at  Italia 90 , France 98   , Japan 2002Germany 2006, South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014.

I have to say that we were all slightly apprehensive with all the negative press around what we faced in Russia and the FACT that this team would not be competitive on the pitch!  We headed up to London Stansted and the flight to Istanbul was the last flight of Friday night.  We had received our FAN ID upfront as had the group ticket matches secured through the English FA.

 Saturday 16th June
Istanbul to Moscow

We opted to stay in the airport and soon found a bar open and the hours whizzed past.  There were a few Polish lads heading this route, one reason we had gone this way was with Turkey having not qualified it meant some cheaper flights available.

We had soon landed into Moscow and caught the fast train towards the city centre.  We headed out and soon found somewhere to settle down and watch Argentina v Nigeria.  We had planned to meet our mate Coventry Sara who was already in Moscow as was working on the tournament for ITV.

We finally met up with Sara and settled down for the evening game alongside some more food and drink.  The bar was massive and was so well organised so that many people could see the game on big screens, lots of beanbags arranged outside.  Inside there were also many screens so everyone could eat, drink and watch football.  Our train was to Volgograd was not until 4am , so Sara headed back to her hotel as working the next day, we carried on keeping the bar staff busy. 

 Sunday 17th June
Moscow to Volgograd

We headed to the station about 2.30am and were delighted to fine a small bar on the station open.  I have to say my memory was not a bit hazy and I don't really remember a great deal until I woke up about 6 hours into the train journey!

We were on the train for a very long time.  No just 24 hours, 24 hours and 5 minutes.  The train was pretty much bang on time everywhere we stopped.  The timetable below shows that various longer stops built into the itinerary so that you could get off and restock food and drink.  The train itself had limited stock, but this worked really well.  

 Monday 18th June
Still on the train
Match Day England v Tunisia

So as 4am approached we started to see the outskirts of Volgograd.  The time pulled in bang on time and we headed off into the City.  My first impression after seeing Mother Russia and the stadium from the ground was FLIES and BUGS!  The place was awash with them.  As soon as you stepped off the train they were all over you!  YUK.  We headed into a little cafĂ© to get a coffee, work out where out Motel was and get away from the flies.....a temporary respite it turned out!

We headed off mid morning to our hotel.  It was a bit of a mission as the location map was a bit inaccurate. We went to where the map showed us and there was nothing.  Eeeeek. In the end the taxi driver phoned them and about 30 minutes later miles away from where we were, we arrived at our motel.  It was a bit on the outskirts but this turned out to be a good thing as not nearly as many flies.  Also once we had worked things out the 30 minute taxi ride cost about £3.

We headed back into the city as it was actually match day.  We started off in the fanzone and then headed to a bar to meet some mates for a pre match drink or two. There were very few England about, heavily outnumber by the Tunisians.  We bumped into many familiar faces but saw virtually no other England fans, it was a bit surreal to be honest.It was great to meet up With Sal and Jason, Jason's first World Cup trip.  Sally is an old hand at this, joining us in every WC since Japan.

Time was moving on and we headed to the ground early, to check out how long the ticket checks and security would take.  We set off about 2 hours before kick off. It was a short tram ride and walk away and we would soon be heading into the ground for the first England game of the tournament.

I am NOT saying Fiona was drunk, but well, well actually I am.  Kevin and I walked a little behind her!

We eventually won the game 2-1 with Kane netting both goals, the winner deep into injury time. What a relief to finally win an opening game and lift the pressure a little.  The Tunisians at the back defended and acted more like rugby players or wrestlers, but thankfully Kane secured the 3 points. 

Tuesday 19th June

Today was a day to relax.  We decided to explore the local area to our hotel.  It was a very chilled day and we ended up in a cracking little restaurant to watch the next Russia match.

The restaurant just up from our hotel was superb.  They had the football on , they had many many local beers and excellent food.  I think between us we tried just about every beer!  It was a great night. They had the Russia game on and they went on to win easily and qualify for the knock out stages!  So we had another beer to celebrate with them!

Wednesday 20th June

So today it was a day of tourism.  Volgograd, known as Stalingrad during the war saw some of the bloodiest battles in 1942-43.  I don’t think they will ever know how many people died but the estimate is over, the figure of 2m people killed or injured is the best estimate.  The Motherland Statue (and eternal flame) is a poignant place to visit, very humbling and a reminder about the cost of war.

Nice and warm so obviously a good day to run and try and sweat out some of last nights beer!

The changing of the guard happens every hour

It was a very humbling place, we decided to walk back along by the football ground and then on to the next museum.

The Flour Mill , one of the few buildings to survive WW2

I think this little flag just about sums it up.  Volgograd had been a brilliant host city. The people friendly and welcomed us with open arms.  We headed out to the other side of the city to take in some different beer and watch another game of football.  Football heaven.

Thursday 21st June
So next day and another run.  I decided that after way too much food and drink I need to get another run in, It was very warm but nearly 6 miles clocked up.  Today we decided on a boat trip down the Volga river.

It was a shame the trip did not go as far as the Volga dams, but we could see them in the distance.  We got yet another view of the ground, mother Russia and the steel factory.  This factory had been closed down by Putin to keep the pollution down.  It meant the workers went unpaid for the duration of the WC.  Shocking way to treat people, and highlights the more brutal side of Russia we didn't really come across.

As we passed under the road bridge there was a massive thud on the boat roof.  The crew all came out and we carried on.  As we docked the captain climbed up and came back with a carton of tomato juice which had been thrown or fallen from the bridge.  Our theory of a body had us all going for a while.  It was lucky the carton hadn't split and the juice run down the roof of the boat!

Friday 22nd June

Today it was time to move on , so rather than another long train journey we flew to Nizhny Novgorod via Moscow. They had some excellent tat on sale at the airport, why do we not have these T-shirts for Theresa May.........

We arrived early evening, caught a taxi into the city centre, the only problem being it was minus our luggage!  Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!  We queued up along with quite a few others and filled in various forms and left "hopeful" we would be reunited with our bags at some point.  We popped over to a local supermarlet to but some deodorant, toothpaste and a toothbrush as emergency measures but then headed into the city.  We found some excellent bars and some very tasty local beer.

Saturday 23rd June
Nizhny Novgorod

We headed back into the city and decided to walk down to the Kremlin and be a tourist again for the day.  It was yet again very warm so we had to occasionally stop for refreshments.  We bumped into another of the lads who has also lost his bag on the flight and his had been delivered to his hotel, so we lived in hope.

This stunning picture is made up of hundreds of tiny pictures of soldiers, amazing, very very clever. 

Woo Hoo, our bags had arrived, well done Aeroflot!  So we now had clothes, we got showered and changed and headed back out.  We came across yet another excellent bar that brewed its own beer.  It was incredibly hot so we only had a couple before heading off.

We met up with Albion Director Derek Chapman and settled down for a few quiet beers.  Another excellent peaceful evening in Russia.  No hooligans, no being ripped off and apart from some pesky flies which seam to love the Volga river. 

Sunday 24th June
Nizhny Novgorod
Match Day England v Panama

 As it was a lunch time KO, we KO probably a bit too early on the beers, well we had beer with breakfast.  We soon met up with Scott who had appeared from somewhere, I am not sure he knew where, but he soon tucked into a Russian sausage breakfast.  We met up with Pocket Rocket and Boothy as well, oh boy this was going to be a messy day. We also finally found Dean, Ciaran, Lewes and Mark, woooo hooo, the beer was soon flowing way too quickly!

6-1 , yes 6-1, yes against a poor team but England scored 6 in the WC and 5 of them in the first half.  So we decided it was time to go out and celebrate.

The evenings memories faded as the Vodka flowed.  As the vodka flowed all sense of reality was lot.  I can only remember some of the bars from the photos, Russia is brilliant, Russian Vodka is EVIL! No it is worse than evil, it should not be tried at any cost!

Monday 25th June
So now it was time to head to Saint Petersburg for a bit of sightseeing.  No England game, but Argentina were due to play Nigeria during our stay. I felt rough, no I felt double rough.  How I was not sick getting to the airport, on the plane and getting off I will never know.  I had to have an alcohol free day today as I needed some recovery time.

We spotted a Mexican restaurant near our hotel.  I badly needed food and we had an excellent meal and the water was delightful.  I even managed a second bottle.  I was starting to feel half human again.  The hotel booked was tucked away but close to all the sights and the rooms very comfy.  Night all x

Tuesday 26th June

So today was full on tourist mode.  We had to see as much as possible. We walked bloody miles but it was well worth it.  St Petersburg is stunning, I would love to go back and spend more time there. We did as much as we could and decided against trying for tickets for the game that night as there were thousands of Argentinian fans about.

Ohhhh is that some rather amazing old Russian floodlights I commented.  45 minutes later we were at the Old St Petersburg ground and yes the floodlights were amazing! The rumour is that sadly this ground will soon be knocked down.  

When you see a pub called O'Holligans you have to pop in and have a look!  It was full of football scarves from around the world and yes we did find a Brighton one!

Wednesday 27th June

Sadly today we had to say goodbye to St Petersburg and fly to Kaliningrad .  We didn't fly until the afternoon so we had time to fit in some local sightseeing.

The local market was worth exploring.  The meat delivery arrived whist we were waiting and soon complete cows heads were being thrown about!  Eeeek!  The fruit and veg looked much better.

By the time we had found our Airbnb apartment it was quite late so we moved to the local bar for food and drink.  It was an amazing find and again had its own beer brewed on the premises.  The food was also excellent.  

28th June

Match Day England v Belgium

Today was our mate Dean's 60th Birthday.  I was going to stay with them after the game as I was sadly heading back to the UK unlike Kev and Fi who were out for the duration.  They were staying just down the road from us so we walked to met them and then caught the tram into the city and start celebrating Deans birthday.

Happy Birthday Dean

We found the bar of the trip in Kaliningrad.  When they mentioned they had a mortar bomb behind the bar and 8 vodkas cost a £, then you know you have hit gold.  We settled down for a beer or two before going to see some of the sights of the city

We lost but had already qualified.  Kaliningrad was like a party town, it felt like the whole city was out to party.  We joined in despite having a very early bus booked to Gdansk, what the hell. Some people would pay for it more than others eh Scott!

Friday 29th June

Today it was a coach from Kaliningrad to Gdansk.  It was a struggle to get up but eventually we were all aboard.  The Russian boarded check was painful and we say on a warm coach for about 2 hours with shocking hangovers.  We then moved forward about 100 yards then had to do the same on the Polish boarder, but they allowed us off the coach.

So we finally arrive into Gdansk and decide to have a look around.  It is a stunning place and well worth taking a look.  We had some food and a couple managed beer.  It was then soon to head to the airport.  The others we were on a flight that evening , I was on the flight the next morning.  I waved them a cheery farewell and I checked into my hotel at the airport.

Dean, Stuart, Scott, Lewis and Ciaran were heading home Friday night back to London, I had opted for a one night stop in Gdansk.  I had book the hotel at the airport so made use of the fitness room , I needed to run off some of the recent excess of food and drink!

Saturday 30th June

So today it was Gdansk to Warsaw to London Heathrow.  There were very few people waiting for my flight and I soon new why, it was a tiny propeller plane!  You could feel every bump on the runway and it was quite a bump flight. 

So the first part of my WC trip was over.  It had been absolutely brilliant and I was sad to be home.  I would be returning IF we made the Semi Finals, so sadly for now it was back to reality!

Tuesday 3rd July
Brighton - The Caxton Pub
Match Day England v Columbia

Wednesday 4th July
I decided I needed to keep myself occupied whilst not out in Russia, so Wednesday evening I headed up to Clapham Common for the Chase the Sun 10k Run.  It was incredibly hot and muggy but an excellent event arranged by runthrough, not my fastest time but pleased to get another medal!

Saturday 7th July
West Hoathly
Match Day England v Sweden

It is just not teh same watching games at home!  I watched this is my local as I planned to book a return trip IF we won!  So I headed down to the Fox and boy what a result!  I thought we controlled the game from start to finish but still needed 3 or 4 brilliant saves from Pickford to see us heading into the SEMI FINALS of THE WORLD CUP!  YaaaaaaYYYYYYYY!

So irushed back from the pub and booked up my return flight to Moscow via Prague for the Monday evening!  Work were expecting another holiday request!

 Sunday 8th July
I need a long strecth of the legs so today I decided on an early morning  15 mile run around Ardingly Reservoir.  I am glad I started early as once again it was way way too hot once the sun was up for long runs!  I was glad to get this done, including stopping in the Ardingly newsagent to restock on cold water!

Monday 9th July

So the second part of my WC started today.  I was on a late flight from London to Prague and met up with another mate "Geezer" heading back out the same way.  Bring it on!  We had a few hours to while away at the airport, we had a right result as there was a delayed flight back to the UK and all our beer was on EasyJet as the people delayed had endless vouchers.  I discovered Budvar strong beer, it helped me sleep that night.

Tuesday 10th July
Thank god it was time to board our flight from Prague to Moscow.  We met up with some mates who had flown into Moscow the same day from Samara.  We shared a taxi into the city and I was soon sightseeing in Red Square.  Boy was I happy to be back!  England in a WC SF, first time since 1990 and my first WC trip.  Everyone was so happy and up for it.  Regardless of the result the team had done us proud.

We bumped in Martin Keown and had a quick chat about his days at Brighton.  We had a great meal and some more excellent beer in this little back street bar.

So we head back out into Moscow to meet Ciaran and Everton Tim in a fine craft pub.  Again the choice of Russian beer was outstanding.

We ended up doing a mini pub crawl before catching the last metro home.  Our first proper night in Moscow and it had been brilliant, so different to last time.

Wednesday 11th July
England v Croatia

Today was up there with my best ever days watching football.  Being with all your mates in excellent pubs watching a team playing with pride and passion thousands of miles from home.  We met up with Sara again and then Dean and Richie, plus John and Mark and other mates.  Absolutely brilliant. 

So time to head to the ground for the WORLD CUP SEMI FINAL match!

We all know the result.  1 up for a long time and so so so SO close to winning, PROUD of the lads on and off the pitch.

Thursday 12th July
Moscow to Riga

It was a very subdued apartment on Thursday morning, I did two Radio calls with Radio Sussex and Radio Surrey and they both said they could feel the disappointment in my voice.  everyone was so proud of the team but to get so close...................yes I keep repeating that but that's how we all felt.

 Our flights were not til late so we walked over to the local market to get some lunch.  It was an amazing place and the choice of food incredible!  Kev and Fi had Lamb and Rice I ended up with two chicken dishes by mistake, so I paid a whole £6 for two very tasty meals.  With the help of the others we polished it all off.

So we all headed back to SVO airport.  I was on the 20.40 to Riga, the others on the 20.15 to Antalya in Turkey (another country for Fiona to tick off - yay!).  My first hick up was that passport control would not accept phone boarding cards, so person after person being turned away!  Eventually help turned up and they had a printer that allowed bar codes to be scanned and then printed!  Luckily I had lots of time to my flight, others not so much!  I was finally through to wait for an hour or so in a sauna of a terminal.  At 20.40 we had not even boarded the plane, we eventually left about an hour or so late.  I had decided to book a hotel in Riga as I need to be in work Friday.  When we landed at Riga it coincided with several other flights and in therefore took nearly an hour to get through passport control.  I finally got into bed at midnight and had an alarm call booked for 5.30am.

Friday 13th July
Riga to London

I shared a taxi with another England fan to the airport at 6am.  We arrived about 6.15 and had time for breakfast before our 7.40am flight.  A bit like the day before at 7.40 we had not even boarded.  This time more worryingly the captain confirmed a mechanical issue, I was sitting over the wing so could see bemused Engineers looking at the engine.  We finally took off about 1 hour 20 minutes late.

So what a fantastic trip.  We did a mile to two in fact I did 9,600 miles !!!

1,553 London to Istanbul
1,091 Istanbul to Moscow
566    Moscow to Volgograd (24.05 by train)
566    Volgograd to Moscow 
250    Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod
250    Nizhny Novgorod to Moscow
394    Moscow to Saint Petersburg
513    Saint Petersburg to Kaliningrad
100    Kaliningrad to Gdansk (Coach)
175    Gdansk to Warsaw
900    Warsaw to London

641    London to Prague
1,036 Prague to Moscow
523    Moscow to Riga
1,042 Riga to London