Why you'll never regret going to a Russian World Cup

by Sebastian Hassett on Apr 20, 2018

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If you’re an Australian football fan looking for excuses to avoid going to Russia, look away now. This isn’t the column for you. You might just change your mind.

If you’re Australian football fan who is planning on going to Russia, read on and get ready.

First, a declaration. I’m a long-serving Russophile, from the words of Dostoyevsky to the sounds of Tchaikovsky (...and the tribulations of Khodorkovsky), Russia has enraptured me in a way few other places have. And I’m certainly not alone.

However, I got impatient. I couldn’t wait for this World Cup to visit. So in 2013, I ventured over, rolling solo. Being a football fanatic, I timed my run to take in two Moscow derbies in one weekend: Dynamo vs Spartak and Lokomotiv vs CSKA.

These people are football crazy, but not for one moment did I feel even the slightest bit unsafe. In fact, it was a positively wonderful experience.

Arranging a visa wasn’t painful so much as time-consuming; but you won’t have that problem this time around. Your Fan ID will serve as a visa for 10 days before and after the World Cup, which is incredibly helpful – trust me!

Let’s cut to the facts: if you’ve never been to Russia, you might be scared given all you read and heard in the media.

But the scariest thing about Russia is that if you don’t go, you’ll miss out on one of the world’s most extraordinary places hosting the world’s most extraordinary event.

What is most thrilling is how similar yet different Russia is to the world as we know it. Their culture and way of life, so misunderstood for so long, is well worth opening your mind to.

I don’t know where the perception of Russia being “unsafe” came from. I think it is an unfortunate derivative of the 1950s Reds-under-the-bed mentality. Truly, what an outdated stereotype that is.

Look, Russians may not give you the kind of over-the-top smile you might get from an American, but within a few minutes, they’ll rapidly open up – and pepper you with questions. They’re curious, worldly and love to practice their English.

You haven’t lived until you’ve spent a day travelling on the Moscow Metro; not only the world’s most effective public transport system but its most beautiful, with jaw-dropping stations filled with exquisite architecture and priceless artwork.

St Petersburg, if you haven’t been, is Paris, Vienna and Venice rolled into one. Its reputation does not need my embellishment. Just find a way to get there, either before or after Australia’s matches.

As for the cities the Socceroos will visit, hand on heart: we’re in for a treat, especially if you're looking something beyond the regular tourist trail.

The expression "melting pot" is thrown around far too much but Kazan absolutely deserves it. At the confluence of two stunning rivers, where Europe meets Asia, and Russian Orthodox meets Islam – in a remarkably peaceful coexistence – Kazan is a picture-perfect location, swollen with a youthful spirit and modern ideas.

I’m positively curious to get a look at a smaller Russian city in Samara and another way of life in this incredible country. Besides, we’ll be there with the Danish “Roligans”, the friendliest football fans in the world (I’ll write about them in the next blog).

If you’ve watched one too many James Bond films, you might think Russia exists in some sort of Siberian permafrost. That’s because they never told you about Sochi, where Russia’s fun-loving crowd come to play in the summer – and where we will get to take on Peru. If we make through, take it from me: Sochi will be a seriously great place to celebrate.

No, I didn’t mention vodka (yes, of course it’s good), but there’s way more reasons to venture than distilled alcohol. Besides, I’ll save my gluttony for the lashings of borsch and pelmini (trust me on that one).

I wish I could tell you I was getting paid extra by the Russia’s tourist authority for this blog, but I’m not. I just love the place. By the end of June, I’m tipping you’ll feel the same.