This post is copied from the journal I kept while traveling in Russia with the intention of being able to look back at it years later and be able to remember small, long-since forgotten memories of my first international trip and dream come true.
It is raw and unedited with the exception of changing my husband’s name. Some posts in this series may be very short, some may be too detailed and some may be flat out unentertaining. I may interchange past and present tenses, have run-on sentences, have strange wording and just generally not meet my usual writing standards.
The experiences and thoughts I share are those of a sheltered, small-town southern girl, and what I mean to relay by this statement is that my observations while traveling to, in and from Russia may not be specific to the cities, countries, cultures and/or people I mention.
The FIFA World Cup is the largest sporting event in the world and therefore brings together people of different races, nationalities, cultures and backgrounds. I may reference these races, nationalities and cultures when talking about people and situations I witnessed and do not intend to stereotype or offend anyone.
Boarding the plane in Toronto was such an unorganized ordeal.
It was the largest plane I have ever been on, and the first one with an actual first class and business class. I never thought it would be worth paying for any of that until staying all night on that plane.
It was as nice as it could be, with large touchscreen tablets on the back of every chair where we could choose what movies or shows we wanted to watch and could see where we were in the sky, as well as a camera in front and below the plane.
Our phones didn’t work and we were unsure of the local time when we landed in Istanbul, not having paid attention to it on the plane, but I thought we had a long layover so we went to the bathroom and took our time walking. There were no clocks anywhere.
We had to go through security again, which took forever, and a woman in front of us got into a huge argument with the Turkish guards, slamming her fists on the post beside her while they rushed over and yelled back at her. It was a pretty nervewracking moment. Looking around while in line, we were two of maybe five white people. We were surrounded by people with different color passports and clothing that we don’t see at home. It was a little intimidating.
After finally getting through security, we came to the bottom of an escalator that had the first screen we had come across above it. It was switching in between Turkish and English so it took us a minute to be able to find our flight, but it ended up being listed first with a red word flashing beside it. I didn’t have my contacts in, so I asked Ron if it had been canceled, but he said it was showing “last call.”
We went up the narrow escalator as fast as we could amid all the other travelers and luggage and ran with our huge backpacks on our backs to our gate. We were the very last ones to board the plane to Moscow.
The food on the flights was okay. We were served dinner on the way to Istanbul – some Italian dish and a breadless hamburger for Ron – and breakfast. The dinner on the way to Moscow was chicken, eggplant and rice, and I enjoyed drinking red wine with it as I watched the very first FIFA World Cup game. Russia beat Saudi Arabia 5-0.
The airport in Moscow was very underwhelming. We stood in an extremely long line behind Peruvians to go through customs until one of them asked if we could go through the line for Russian citizens instead.
This was where I first started noticing that Russian girls wear a lot of makeup and very high heels even when working on their feet. They’d be even more beautiful if they smiled every once in a while.
We saw a girl following one of them trying to ask her for help, and the woman just ignored her the whole way out the door. The people here are not helpful in the least.
Once we both finally got through customs, we walked into the packed luggage pickup area and just looked around not knowing what to do. Thankfully, a FIFA volunteer saw us and asked in English how he can help, leading us to where we could buy a SIM card from a company called Билайн (Beeline). Ron gave her ₽400, we talked some more, then when we were done she told us it would be ₽400. We told her we already paid, and she didn’t seem to believe us, but we just walked away.
We walked out of the airport after our phone had service and downloaded the Uber app, which did not take either of our credit cards. We scheduled a ride anyway and chose to pay with cash since we didn’t know what else to do at that point. We had to put in our phone number, and we had no idea what it was now, so I called my dad who was excited to hear from me and ready to talk all about Russia until I told him sorry but we were standing outside the airport in Moscow in the cold, and I really just needed him to send me a screenshot of my new phone number.
The driver called us but didn’t speak a word of English, and it was extremely difficult finding him, as neither of us could explain to each other where we were. He finally parked in the middle of the road across from the airport and honked his horn like crazy. We got in, and he took off – VERY fast.
It was a little scary riding with a stranger we couldn’t communicate with thousands of miles away from home, and when he turned off the main road onto a dirt road, Ron and I just kind of looked at each other. I just knew that we were about to be abducted or robbed and killed, but he was, in fact, just taking us to our hotel.
There were gates on either side of the dirt road and a mangy dog standing in the road. We weren’t quite sure what to do after being dropped off (and after being cornered into a large tip since the driver didn’t have enough to break our bills) until a man came up behind us and showed us to just pull the gate.
We walked into the lobby and were pleasantly surprised when the ladies at the desk spoke English. After finding our reservation, scanning our Fan IDs and passports and giving us our room key, we walked up three flights of stairs carrying our backpacks to our room – only to find our room key didn’t work. I went back downstairs and one of the Russian women brought a different card up to open it for us without a word.
We couldn’t figure out how to turn the lights on until we saw that there was a place on the wall for us to put our room key. The room was tiny, with a very low, basic bed with two flat pillows. The bathroom was bright with orange and white tile and a rain shower head. It was all spotlessly clean.
We laid down as soon as we walked in and ate the rest of the beef jerky and chewy granola bars we had brought. We had no water left, so I used one of the small cups supplied with the room to pour and drink a little of the tap water even though I wasn’t supposed to.
We turned on the sports channel which is replaying the game we started on the plane.