Rostov-on-Don train station. 5:30am. It’s bright daylight and it’s obvious now that we are in a host city; plenty of eager looking volunteers scurry around the station foyer offering advice and hi-fives to anyone who looks remotely like they’re here for the World Cup.
The plan is… There is no plan.
Option A is to stick around Rostov in hope of finding a ticket for Brazil Vs Switzerland. The only problem is that if we miss the overnight train we could end up arriving in Volgograd only a few hours before the England game. So we went for plan B – book a £40 flight to Volgograd. Rostov seemed nice enough, it’s a big city but didn’t seem to have the same level of history and options available in Volgograd so I think we made the right choice.
We spent some time on the river front and have a walk over the bridge that leads up to the stadium. The Swiss & Brazilian fans were buzzin – even at 10am you can sense the anticipation that you get before the first match. It starts to dawn home that England are up tomorrow.
We ordered a taxi to the airport via Uber. Uber operate in Russia but the journey is often fulfilled by Yandex or other local companies. Our driver arrived in a 15 year old Lada – I’m fairly sure that it wouldn’t make the grade as an Uber-X in the UK, but it would do us just fine.
The level of English in Russia is really very limited but our cabbie made every effort to talk with us about everything from politics, religion, sport and back. His name was Romanov, a good guy – he joked a lot, and, as with all cabbies – he had plenty of stories to share. The Brazilian girls that he picked up the previous night, the Iceland fans who gave him their flag and the time he drove the 1024km to Moscow in 18 hours straight.
Around 25mins into our journey he bought up the topic of Julia Securpol. In broken English he told me that the Russian people were not the same as their politicians, and that England fans traveling around Russia shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Real Russian people were just looking forward to the World Cup and welcoming fans from all over the world, including the English. I added my opinion that the media also play their part – generating a level of fear before a tournament which plays with the mindset of travelling fans.
The negative media stories can have an impact on you. This is despite us having witnessed the same pre-tournament scare stories before South Africa, Ukraine and Brazil, only to see a completely different picture on the ground.
We had been in the car for 35mins now. Prior to our trip I had Googled the location of the airport and I could have sworn it was only 8km from the city centre. Where was Roman taking us? Maybe he wasn’t such a good guy and was trying to rip-us off . I have to say I was a bit surprised that our Uber driver turned-up in a battered old Lada. Several thoughts flashed though my mind as we continued heading out of town. Was he going to drive us to Volgograd and then try to charge us? Did we actually get in the right Uber?! I clasped my pockets to make sure I still had my passport and match tickets. I was starting to get a bit nervous. Roman was a big guy. He did have a bit of a crazy look in his eye. And his driving was a bit all over the place.
He reached down and grabbed a bag from somewhere within the open facade of the Lada’s steering column. I could hear him jangling around with something metal. By now we were quite far out into the countryside. $h1t, now I actually was getting nervous – did he have a gun?
Whatever he was playing around with in the bag definitely sounded very much like a solid piece of metal. I was tempted to learn forward to get a better look, but thought better of it. DBR was sprawled across the backseat completely unaware of what was going on – you’re on your own here Ed.
Roman turned to look at me and reached into the bag… He passed me a small metal gift. It was a small but heavy metal plaque with some religions images and quotes inscribed on it.
Roman was Christian and he wanted to give me the give because I told him I was baptised Greek Othodox when I got married to Maria. Rostov-on-don had a new airport – I had Googled the old one. We were five mins away from the correct airport. Roman is a good guy after-all.
Even if the above thoughts happened in a split second, I felt guilty for not trusting our driver who had been nothing but friendly with us – even if his driving was a bit nuts. I felt bad that we were only charged 845 Roubles (about £10) for a 45 minute journey. Far from being ripped-off, our journey was an absolute bargain. Roman had told me had wanted to see some World Cup games but hadn’t bought tickets because they were too expensive.
It’s important to be careful whilst travelling but also to have confidence in your own ability to put your trust in people, without your judgement being impacted by other people’s preconceptions. Russia is good so far, we’re very safe and loving every moment.
I thanked Roman for his kind gift and we departed on our flight. Next stop Volgograd, The Statue of the Motherland and the England game.