Texts and Photographs by Fk Morshed 

Everyone has dreams they’d like to see fulfilled. To bring those dreams to fruition, one requires advanced planning and patience. My dream has always been to attend the biggest sporting event the world has to offer: the FIFA World Cup. This year, my dream came true.
I received my Fan ID in April, the document which guarantees you a visa on arrival to Russia. In the meantime, my brother Shehab got selected as a volunteer too. Two of my friends, Anol and Niaz, were going to be coming with me. One of the best parts of a trip is actually the planning because of the anticipation and excitement it incites. Over the next few weeks, we met several times to plan out what will definitely be one of the most exciting trips of my life.

Alekseevsky Palace

On June 26, I reached Domodedovo International Airport, Moscow. Russian people turned out to be very friendly. Though many Russians struggle to speak English, they tried their best to help you. I made quite a few Russian friends on this trip. The moment I came out of the airport area, I was amazed by the views I saw: an expanse of green land, few old style wooden homes and windmills. The summer temperature in Moscow was pleasant, ranging between 20 to 25 degrees.

KAZAN
My first destination was Kazan, the capital of the region Tatarstan, also known as the sports capital of Russia. I was going there to watch the Germany vs. South Korea game. I always prefer train journeys because I get to meet new people and see a lot more of a country than I would otherwise. I booked myself onto a train from Kazan to Moscow. Russian trains have dining cars where one can eat meals and enjoy the beautiful landscape at the same time. I met three nice people on the train: Mustafa from Moscow, Chu from Korea and Alina from Kazan. Luckily all of them could speak decent English, so we had good conversation.

Kazan Stadium

The match was due to start two hours after I reached Kazan. I rushed to my hotel, left my luggage where Niaz and Anol were waiting for me then headed towards the stadium. We had to walk two km to the stadium because of the hundreds of people that were heading the same way, wearing jerseys, flags, colourful hats and painted faces. I felt the World Cup hype unlike ever before.

Kazan Stadium

When I entered the stadium, I became speechless. From a young age, I’ve been watching World Cup matches on TV and at that moment I was standing in the middle of it. The excitement of the field can never be felt on a TV screen. Supporters were cheering on their teams by shouting, singing and playing drums. Germany ended up losing that match, but I am a huge Brazil fan so I was eagerly awaiting the Brazil vs Serbia match on the same day.

Fan Fests are large complexes with big displays broadcasting live World Cup matches for those who couldn’t get in to the stadium but they were equally buzzing. We headed towards the Fan Fest next to the Kazanka River, which had amazing music.
Next day, we went to visit Kazan Kremlin, which was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000. This was built by Ivan the Terrible on the ruins of the former castle of the Kazan Khans. We spent the whole day there seeing the Transfiguration tower, the Taynitskaya tower, Spasskaya Tower, the northern housing of the Artillery Court, the Soyembika tower and Qol Sarif mosque. To me, the most beautiful was Spasskaya Tower and the Qol Sarif mosque. There is a view point near the Annunciation Cathedral which is simply breath-taking!

Qol Sarif Mosque, Kazan

SAINT PETERSBURG
Our next destination was Saint Petersburg. This time we got a FIFA Fan train till Moscow, which was free for the spectators who applied before. From Moscow, we caught a bullet train (Sapsan Train) to Saint Petersburg. We were all separated into different berths but our roommates were very friendly people. Mine were a British couple, three Russian girls and a Yemeni man. During our journey, we talked and ate together. The Russians we met in the dining car said they had met so many people from different countries before. They took this opportunity to show the world how hospitable they are. At one point everyone started singing songs from their country. When our turn came we sang “Melay Jai re” and everyone joined us. It was a happy moment for us.

The next morning, we reached Moscow. There was a six-hour long break till the next train to St Petersburg. We ran into our friend Alina (our room mate) and her friends who suggested we visit some places in Moscow city to kill time. We agreed and headed out to some interesting tourist spots. We also wanted to take a boat ride but it was not available at that time. We were hungry, so they took us to a nearby restaurant. Right after ordering food, we realised that our train was going to leave in 30 minutes but our food was not ready yet. After waiting for 10 minutes, we decided to go towards the train. Alexandra (one of Alina’s friends) came with us to help us with finding the station because the bullet train was in a different one. We boarded the train just three minutes before it departed. When we were saying bye to Alexandra, we saw Alina running to us with the pizza we had ordered and handed it over to us just before the doors were locked. They did so much for us, and gave us amazing company. It took about four hours to reach Saint Petersburg. Saint Petersburg was cold compared to Moscow and Kazan. We were very tired, we didn’t sleep very well during the last few nights. So, we stayed in our apartment and had a good night’s sleep. The next afternoon my brother Aneek and his volunteer friends Sebastian, Aya and Olesya came to Saint Petersburg from Volgograd.

Saint Isaac’s Cathedral Gate

Summer in Saint Petersburg is very famous for a natural phenomenon called White Night. From late May to early July, nights are rather bright there. St Petersburg is located at 59 degrees 57′ North. Due to such a high latitude, the sun does not go under the horizon deep enough for the sky to get dark.

On July 1st we went to St Petersburg Fan Fest to watch the Spain vs Russia match of the knockout phases. The authorities had to close entry because it was getting over-crowded. We had to search for 30 long minutes before we could find a restaurant. Russia won that game on penalty shootout. The whole city went crazy after the win. We went out on the street. People were celebrating, playing music, dancing, shouting and drinking. We also went crazy with the crowd.

MOSCOW
Moscow is the 869-year-old capital of Russia. It’s famous for its spectacular architecture, museums and cultural landmarks. In any season, at any hour of the day, Moscow thrills visitors with its artistry, history and majesty.
Whenever anyone visualises Russia, the first thing that comes to mind is St Basil’s Cathedral, situated in the Red Square. The cathedral, the Red Square and the Kremlin lie at the heart of Moscow and the Kremlin is the centre of Russian political power. We also visited the Zaryadye Park, which is a very scenic park near St Basil’s Cathedral that many tourists are not aware of. It was pretty spectacular.

St Basil’s Cathedral

We mostly travelled Moscow by metro, which was very cheap with a Troika card. Moscow metro is the seventh longest in the world and every metro station is like a mini museum. The many paintings and statues inside the metro stations give you a real feel of their rich history. I met so many people throughout my journey and carried a suitcase of good memories back with me. I thought that only we were missing Russia after returning but I heard Russians also said they missed the World Cup crowd. It seemed like they interacted with people from different countries before and felt so strongly connected to them. That is the magic of the World Cup and it was my extreme good fortune to have been able to witness it.