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.
We stayed up all night last night talking to that couple, and we somehow never made introductions. The girl told a story and mentioned “Dan” while seemingly referencing her boyfriend/husband, so we’re assuming that was his name, but we never learned hers and they never learned ours. Which is unfortunate, because I wish we could have stayed in touch.
They told us a lot about the way things are in New Zealand, Australia and England, and we told them a lot about the southern US. Food was a big topic considering how hungry we all were, and I rose up in disbelief when after mentioning Reese’s cups, they had a short conversation in which he told her he thinks they’ve tried a Reese’s cup before.
We discussed holidays and how much time we get off work for them, which isn’t near as much as they apparently do. We had a long conversation about guns and how we don’t go anywhere at home without one, which surprised them. I was jealous to learn that they had quit their jobs and were taking what they called a “gap year,” where they were traveling and living off their savings.
At one point, they went to the bathroom, and the guy was barefoot. I had a feeling that wasn’t going to fly with the conductors, as Russians seem to be really weird about bare feet. A minute later he came back in and started putting on his shoes. I asked if he got yelled at, and he said, “Yeah, she chewed me out pretty good.”
We arrived in Samara this morning and got off the train after doing our quick morning routines and taking a quick glance around the compartment to make sure we weren’t forgetting anything.
We walked with the large crowd down the stairs and reached the bottom when Ron freaked out and told me to wait before darting back up the stairs on the side with rails for luggage. He came back down after a few minutes and said he had left his Fan ID hanging by the door of the compartment and that they had already thrown all the sheets from the beds into the hall in those couple of minutes.
We started walking down the street in the general direction of the Airbnb that we were to check into at 12:00. We came to a mall and went in to eat. The mall had a glass top, as do a lot of buildings over here, and was laid out more like a mall at home. We went up the extremely fast escalator to the food court and, not having a lot of time, we went to the Burger King since it’s so familiar at this point, but this one didn’t accept Apple Pay and our credit cards didn’t work. So, we walked down the McDonalds instead. There weren’t many workers, and they didn’t seem to have a good process down. We returned the extra food they gave us and sat down to eat, moving our trays as a lady came and started cleaning our table.
We walked out and arranged a ride through Yandex Taxi and struggled to find the driver. He finally found us, and we hopped in his white car and zipped off. I looked out the window at all of the Soviet-style apartment buildings we passed, either brand new in appearance or completely unmaintained. As we got closer to our Airbnb, the area began to look poorer and poorer. One of the roads we turned on was dirt and had huge ruts. It’s the only time we’ve ridden slowly over here.
The apartment complex our Airbnb is in is huge. It has a playground out front, a supermarket on the first floor of one side and a sushi restaurant on the other. Our taxi driver pulled up and speaking English, asked if we wanted him to call our Airbnb host. Ron handed him his phone, and we listened for a couple minutes as they spoke to each other in rapid Russian. He hung up and told us the color and model of the car that our host would be in, and said he would be here at 11:00. We thanked him profusely and tipped as large as the app would let us.
We got out of the car and sat on a bench by the playground, throwing our bags off of us. The host pulled up and got out of his car, telling us it would be 20 minutes, and rushed into the complex.
We waited and took selfies and pictures of our surroundings. I glanced up to see the couple we roomed with last night walking by in a hurry. Ron asked me, “Did you say his name was Dan?” to which I replied, “I think so!” He yelled, “DAN!” but they never looked back. I told Ron that even if that is his name, he probably never expected to hear it in reference to him while in Russia. We were a little bummed, as it would have been nice to hang out after the game or something.
Our host rushed out and waved for us to follow him in. He led us to the metal elevators. We stepped inside and rode up to the 22nd floor, got out and followed him to the last door down the hall. We stepped in, and I was absolutely blown away by the view from the closed balcony. I rushed over to it and looked out at the river while he and Ron discussed the details – keys, checkout time, etc.
I opened my bags, laid out my clothes for the game, grabbed my shower roll and rushed to the bathroom, excited for my first shower since St. Petersburg. The shower head was really low and I had to do some Matrix moves to wash and rinse my hair. I reached out for one of the super thin towels and hollered for Ron to hold me steady as I stepped down from the tub.
I got ready and rushed to curl my hair, and we arranged another Yandex Taxi as we walked out of the complex. The guy was a little weird and didn’t say a word as he drove us to the stadium. We hit traffic for the first time in Russia, of course since we were in a hurry to get to the game. We came up to a sign that showed a picture of the stadium and had an arrow pointing left, but the road to the left was blocked off by cops. The driver swooped to the left and yelled at them in Russian while pointing back at us, and one of the cops yelled back and pointed forwards. The driver sped off back onto the road, finally pulling a U-turn and dropping us off on the sidewalk where a huge crowd was walking.
We followed the crowd, which consisted of more Danish people than the last game but was mostly Australian and Russian. We stood in the long line, going slowly left then right through the barricades as Russian fans occasionally broke out into chants of RUS-SI-A, RUS-SI-A, and Australian fans sang, cheered and chanted all the while. Ron and I were the only ones in the line at that gate wearing Denmark gear, and every time we found ourselves in front of the singing group of Australians, they would sing, “Your team is shit, but your birds are fit,” over and over.
A young Russian volunteer grabbed my Fan ID and scanned it before motioning for me to go through the door to security. I placed my purse on the conveyor belt and walked forward through the scanner as a guard waved over a female guard to pat me down. A male guard motioned for me to open my purse and pointed to the small, clear, travel-size bottle that held my lotion. I told him what it was as I rubbed my hands together as if I was applying it, and he nodded and pointed toward the door.
The stadium was gorgeous – sleek, modern and silver. Ron walked up to a volunteer to have her check our tickets to show us where to go, and I got in line at the concession stand. We got the same things as the last game – hot dogs and water – and when the young man started taking the lid off my water, I asked if I could keep it, but he apologized and said no.
Ron walked toward me as I gathered our purchase together, and as I turned to follow him an Australian came up to me and said, “Добрый день.” I kept walking as Ron laughed, and we walked on, excited that we were on level 2.
We approached an old man, showed him our tickets, and he pointed down at the very bottom of the stands. Confused, we walked down the stairs to the third row from the field and found our seats. I was blown away and kept saying, “How did we manage to get these seats?!” We fully expected that two people would come up to us in a few minutes and tell us we were sitting in their seats. Ron asked the Australians around us, and they pulled out their tickets showing him that theirs also said level 2.
We were stoked. I can’t believe our luck at getting those seats. We took pictures and I danced to Will Smith’s Live It Up as we waited for the game to start.
It was amazing. We could hear it every time the players kicked the ball, and it was so surreal being almost on their level. It made them seem like real people in a way that watching from a higher level or on TV just doesn’t do.
A young Australian guy was very vocal about people blocking his view of the field and yelled and cussed every time a spectator stood up and when beverage vendors would walk down the aisle. A loud, Spanish-speaking Australian fan sat directly in front of us and yelled in Spanish every time something happened that she didn’t like. Her husband sat quietly beside her. In front of us to my right was an Australian man who had a large flag that he would stand and hold until his Asian wife would tap his arm and shake her head.
Denmark and Australia tied, and the walk out of the stadium after the game was underwhelming since no one had much of a reason to celebrate. We walked for a while toward town, and trolleys full of fans passed us as the crowd around us thinned. We were behind a man who was middle eastern in appearance and carried a large American flag on his back. Russians rushed to him asking to take their picture with him.
We walked for a long time and finally stopped to eat at a restaurant called Dodo’s Pizza. Their pizza was the best we ever had. We asked for Oreo milkshakes after we finished eating and the cashier just shook her head, so we left.
Once we got down the stairs, a Russian man spotted us and came over to us pointing to his phone. We told him, “да,” and he took a selfie with us on his phone and we took one on Ron’s phone before arranging another Yandex Taxi to take us back to the apartment complex.
We got out and went to the supermarket on the first level. It’s bigger than it appeared from the outside, and I thought how convenient it would be to do your grocery shopping without having to leave home. We bought two bags of chocolate candies and two bottles of flavored water that disappointingly turned out to be fizzy. One of the bags of candy had raspberry jellies covered in chocolate, and the other bag was an assortment of orange, raspberry and strawberry chocolates. We caused a bit of a ruckus when we paid, as our bills were too large for the cashier to break, and she had to get the manager. We said “Спасибо,” and “Sorry” we walked out the door. I regretted not learning the Russian word for sorry and hoped she knew what I meant.
We rode the elevator to our floor and went to our room, loving the experience of staying in a real Russian apartment. We went straight to the closed balcony when we walked in. The sun was setting, and the sight was just ridiculously beautiful.
I took off my makeup and put on my t-shirt and leggings, and we sat on the bed while eating chocolates and watching VH1 Classic, guessing the release year of each video that came on.
As I write this, the sun has set and it’s dark outside, and the view is just so gorgeous. It’s crazy that we’re 14 hours from Moscow and eight hours ahead of home. This day was amazing, and I wish we could stay in Samara longer. We’re going to the space museum tomorrow, and I really hope we have time to go to the river too.