Cindy Lou-Dale takes a trip through five of the most vibrant cities in the country hosting the FIFA World Cup 2018
Standing in Moscow’s Red Square, I cannot help but feel the excitement surrounding the FIFA World Cup 2018. It spills out of the stadiums and on to the streets of Russia, the host country, with people donning jerseys of their favourite teams and cheering, even in the middle of a busy street! According to local media, this edition of the football extravaganza is unlike any other, and for good reason: never before in the history of this mega sporting event has it been held in a country that spans 11 time zones.
However, it would have been inconvenient for the teams to move across this vast nation for their matches, which is why most of the host cities are concentrated in the western part of the country. It has been my long-standing dream to explore parts of Russia and the idea of doing so during the World Cup was too tempting to resist. Hence, my discovery of Russia begins in Moscow, the nation’s federal capital.
What I love most about this city are its wide, tree-lined boulevards, sprawling parks, iconic theatres showcasing ballet and opera, modern skyscrapers and flea markets. All of these make Moscow the perfect location for the World Cup’s main events. I climb to the top floor of the Detsky Mir children’s department store for a stunning bird’s-eye view of the city and later, feast my eyes on the rich architecture at the central metro stations. Locally called the “palaces of the people”, these stations are filled with stunning mosaics, paintings and dazzling lights.
My next stop is Kazan, approximately 800 km from Moscow and home to some of the best football, basketball and hockey teams in the country. Believed to be almost 150 years older than Moscow, Kazan is one of Russia’s most ethnically diverse cities, where architectural and design influences from Europe and Asia curiously view each other from the top of church belfries and minarets. Kazan is where I learn about popular local delicacies. The Chak-Chak Museum, dedicated to traditional local cuisine, serves a mouth-watering sweet treat called chak chak, which is made from deep-fried dough drenched in a hot honey syrup.
I experience the sights and sounds of this city in a few of its cultural landmarks, such as the 16th-century Kazan Kremlin, which houses the sprawling Kul Sharif Mosque and the Old Tatar Quarter boasting an assemblage of historic timbered buildings dating back to the 17th century.
A port city along the Volga, Europe’s longest river, Samara (approximately 1,000 km from Moscow) is famous as the country’s aerospace hub. I enjoy Russian tea at the busy Square Aleksandra Pushkina and afterwards, visit the Kuibyshev Aviation Institute to see some of the world’s most promising advancements in aerospace. I also make a quick stop at Stalin’s Bunker, one of the deepest in the world and end my day by taking in the picturesque sight of the Samara Bend, a hairpin bend on the Volga river. You can also meet beavers, boars and elks at the nearby Samarskaya Luka National Park and the Sprygin Zhiguli Nature Reserve.
In Sochi (approximately 1,500 km from Moscow), I savour the red salmon, the way the Russians eat it – on buttered, dark soda-bread, with sour cream. With lively boardwalks and spectacular sunsets, Sochi is a gleaming pearl on the Russian Riviera’s Black Sea. I traverse some of the region’s numerous breathtaking waterfalls and gorgeous hiking trails, and capture memories at the magnificent Lenin mosaic.
Overshadowed by the famous Kremlin Wall is Russia’s take on Silicon Valley – Nizhny Novgorod. I visit Bolshoe Boldino first, as this was where writer Alexander Pushkin lived and worked for three years. Nizhny also marks the confluence of two great Russian rivers: the Oka and the Volga. Walking down the Bolshaya Pokrovskaya, the liveliest street in the area, I come across tourists moving about gift shops checking out Semyonovo stacking dolls, students taking a break at cafes and theatre lovers in a hurry not to miss a premiere! Here, do not miss Chkalov Staircase, an architectural marvel with over 560 steps. The forests surrounding the area remain untouched, making Nizhny one of the greenest of the World Cup host cities.
The author is a senior writer and the views expressed here are her own