The 2018 World Cup has kicked off with a bang and it promises to be a month of excitement and drama on the field and off it. Demola Ojo offers tips on how best to enjoy tournament in Russia
The planet’s biggest single-sports event is an opportunity for Russia to show its fun side with tourists from around the world, Nigeria inclusive, eager to experience what this vast and powerful European country with rich history has in store.
Russia boasts of an expanse of majestic snow-capped mountains, deep lakes and thousands of rivers that pass through villages and scenic national parks. It is also home to some incredible works of art, overwhelming palaces and grandiose cities whose charm has inspired writers and poets for centuries.
After this World Cup, any perceptions of Russia being cold should give way to that of warmth.
With a tumultuous history, some fabulous art and culture, and the world’s largest community of billionaires, Moscow has always been regarded as a city of superlatives and dramatic contrasts, a hub of creative and intellectual energy. Nowadays, the intriguing and sophisticated capital of Russia is an expensive, almost intimidating mega metropolis bursting with world-class art galleries, top-notch restaurants and shopping, old and invigorated culture, and thrilling nightlife.
Among the most iconic landmarks of Russia’s political, financial, and cultural centre are the grandiose Red Square and the mighty Kremlin, with its red-brick towers, beautiful churches, impressive museums, and remarkable historic sites. Nightlife, shopping, and dining are all first-class in Moscow, the city boasting an impressive variety of bars, clubs, restaurants, and fashion stores.
The Luzhniki Stadium is Russia’s prime arena, though at 80,000 the capacity is down from over 100,000 during the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Formerly known as the Central Lenin Stadium, which opened in 1956, it was built in a surge of national pride after the Soviet Union won a haul of 71 medals in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Seven matches will be played here, including the opening game, one semi-final on 11 July and the final on 15 July.
Often regarded as Russia’s most European and forward-looking city, St. Petersburg makes for a wonderful travel destination, especially for history and culture lovers. St Petersburg is known as the “Window on the West” created three centuries ago by Peter the Great is rated the most beautiful city in Russia. The city which will host Nigeria’s last group match against Argentina was formerly known as Leningrad. St Petersburg is entwined with Russian history: the storming of the czar’s residence, the Winter Palace, in October 1917, was the event which brought Lenin to power.
Russia’s former capital has a living work of art in the shape of the Metro: St Petersburg’s underground railway is second only to Moscow’s in its scale and grandeur. The 69 stations include the deepest in the world, Admiralteiskaya, which is 282 feet (85 metres) below the surface. St Petersburg is also home to the northernmost stadium in the World Cup, and the most spectacular. The Japanese architect Kisho Kurosawa was invited to create an arena like no other; it looks like a spaceship which has landed on Krestovsky Island in St Petersburg. It will host seven matches (joint highest with the Luzhniki in Moscow), including one match of the Round of 16, a semi-final and the third-place final.
Sochi is where the Brazil national team will set up base and it’s probably the best fit for the South American country known for samba. Because Sochi is a seaside resort at the heart of the Russian Riviera, fans can spend most of their time enjoying the sunshine, on some of the most popular beaches in Russia. This summer seaside retreat attracts foreign and domestic tourists alike with its alluring mix of sunny beaches, luxury hotels, world-class restaurants, vibrant nightlife, and countless cultural and natural attractions. Extravagant Soviet-era architecture is still very much present in Sochi, but due to the city’s latest developments and its international popularity, the atmosphere is starting to change.
Nigeria will play its second group game against Iceland in Volgograd. Formerly known as Stalingrad, it was the venue for the bloodiest battle in the history of warfare. The German Sixth Army was destroyed and one million Soviet lives were lost over the course of almost six months of hand-to-hand fighting in what the Germans called the Rattenkrieg (“Rat War”). Most of the city was destroyed, too.
According to FIFA, “The stadium’s facade takes the form of an inverted, truncated cone with an open lattice structure, lending the entire building a monumental solidity,” says Fifa, adding “The design for the façade supports and the windbreaks embody aspects of a Victory Day firework display.”
If you’re in Volgograd, take time to check out one of the tallest sculptures in the world. The towering figure – all 85 metres of it – depicts a woman stepping forward with a raised sword in the sky and a defiant look on her face and was unveiled in 1967. There are 200 steps to climb in order to reach the top of the hill, each step representing a day of the Battle of Stalingrad. Once you reach the top, you can also get an impressive view of the Volga River as well as their new stadium.
Russia is a fascinating country and the World Cup should prove a welcome window into the biggest nation on earth. However, they do things differently (at least compared to Western Europe) and every fan should arrive with some legal and cultural awareness.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of six months after the expiry date of your visa or Fan-ID – the special permit available to holders of World Cup tickets. Your Fan-ID will act as a multi-entry and exit visa to and from Russia. You may enter Russia using your Fan-ID from 4 June until 15 July. You must leave by 25 July. On entering Russia, you must sign a migration card, which is produced electronically at passport control. The card is in two identical parts. One part will be retained by the immigration officer on arrival. You should keep the other part with your passport as you’ll need this when you leave Russia.
It is advised to carry your passport with you at all times since Russian police have the authority to stop people and request identity and travel documents at any time. Travellers should also note that Russian border officials can demand to inspect any electronic device (including installed software) on departure. If your medicines contain barbiturate, codeine, sibutramine, anabolic steroids, androgens and other sex hormones, analgesic (tramadol), psychostimulants or other restricted substances, you must present a doctor’s letter confirming the need for each medication to authorities when you arrive in Russia.
According to travel advice from the US, you can be arrested for attempting to leave the country with antiques, even if they were legally purchased from licensed vendors. Items like artwork, icons, samovars, rugs, military medals and antiques, must have certificates indicating they do not have historical or cultural value. You may obtain certificates from the Russian Ministry of Culture. Only change money at banks, hotels and recognised exchange kiosks. You will need to show your passport and visa to change money. It is an offence to change money from street traders.
Tickets bought through any unofficial means may not be valid. Furthermore, tickets in themselves aren’t sufficient to enter a stadium. A Fan-ID will be linked to the each ticket. In order to access any of the stadiums during the World Cup, you’ll need to have a valid match ticket, Fan-ID, and your passport. You should take steps to keep all of these documents safe. If your Fan-ID is lost or stolen, you can get a duplicate from one of the Fan-ID distribution centres.
It is considered extremely impolite to leave your gloves on while greeting someone with a handshake in Russia. (Hopefully you won’t be needing gloves since it is summer but still…) Also, never shake hands over an edge as Russians see this as bad luck. When dining out, the host is expected to pay the entire bill, as going “Dutch” is considered rude. Also, the tradition of a man covering all expenses when with a female companion is definitely still upheld in Russia as in Nigeria.
Like a few other cultures. Russians believe that giving a gift of an empty wallet or purse is bad luck. They see it as wishing financial hardship or poverty on the receiver of the gift. So, make sure you put a little something special inside if you’re giving a friend a new money holder.
In Russia, distinct gender roles still exist. Men are expected to act chivalrously – offering a hand to woman getting off of a bus, opening car doors, assisting with heavy lifting. But it has nothing to do with a lack of feminism in the country. Their women are strong, but most Russian men just believe that lending a hand is a simple act of politeness. Russians reserve smiling for their friends and family members, so don’t randomly smile at strangers while you’re riding on public transportation or shopping in Moscow. Russians have a saying, “To smile with no reason, is a sign of a fool.”
If you’re invited over to someone’s house for a dinner or a visit, it is considered very rude to show up empty handed. Bring a small gift – a bottle of wine, flowers, dessert or small toy for the children. Russians take pride in preparing elaborate meals for their guests and showing up without a small token of appreciation is a sign that you don’t care. Whenever entering a Russian home, it is proper custom to remove your shoes. Many homes are decorated with expensive Persian rugs that are difficult to clean. Some hosts may offer tapochki (slippers) for you to put on. At nice parties, some women may bring an extra pair of heels or shoes for inside use.
It is true that many Russians can drink, but not all Russians are heavy drinkers. Most keep one bottle of vodka in their homes at all times for celebrations and random visitors. If you’re offered a shot of vodka don’t refuse it, because sharing a drink is considered a sign of hospitality. Russians don’t see one shot as a big deal, so to them a refusal comes off as untrusting or turning down friendship.