Rostov on Don – I anticipated that this city was an English “Ross on Wye” – how wrong could I be!
Note to self : Take the train if it is after 9am. The Moscow roads were gridlocked. I got to the airport with minutes to spare. Thankfully I had checked in and chosen my seat on the excellent Aeroflot app.
I took an Uber car at 11.00 after a nice sleep in my hotel bed. I must do it again sometime!
Then the daily routine of sitting on an aeroplane happened, sit in my window seat, head against the window, ear phones in and the next thing I knew was that we were about 30 seconds from landing at our destination. I am grateful that I can sleep on aeroplanes
The airport was in the middle of nowhere. There were fields for as far as the eye could see.
The airport was full of fans from Brazil waiting for their luggage. With me only carrying my equipment as hand luggage, I just walked straight through the baggage area and to the exit. Unlike in other airports, it was very calm. No cowboy taxi drivers trying to rape you for hugely inflated travel prices.
The airport looked as thought it had opened yesterday. Spotless and sparkling.
I was greeted by one of the helpful FIFA 2018 Russia World Cup volunteers.
Good news – there was a shuttle bus to the stadium.
Bad news, it did not leave for another hour and a half.
I looked over my shoulder and saw a German photographer that I know. A sly nod was all it took and we wondered over to the taxi rank together, but then I thought of something and ran back to see the volunteer. I got the information that I needed. Taxis were about 1700 Rubles. (£20)
Taxi man wanted 3000 Rubles, we got him down to 1500. Job done.
Then the next bit of stress. After driving for what seemed like an age, well it was 17 KM to be precise, the Russian Police were in the middle of the road. There was a 5KM roadblock around the stadium, we would have to walk.
But then my day got better as the German photographer gots out of the car to attend to his bag in the boot and produced a car park pass! Wunderbar! This saved a 5KM walk.
We got out of the taxi when we got as close as we could. We had a decision to make, left or right. We both choose left. WRONG! It should have been right. So instead we had a nice tour of the stadium before finding the entrance for the media, but a 20 minute stroll to stretch our legs was far better than a 5km journey on foot.
It was now 4pm.
More security checks. I had not had any for about 6 hours and then I had finally reached the stadium unscathed.
We went to the photo desk in the huge media centre and got out tickets which validated us to queue up again in three hours time where we would choose our seats. Those who arrive before others get priority in the priority queue. As a result, for some games, some photographers arrive at 5am to get the first ticket.
The three hours passed quickly. First I ate pasta and turkey, then a slice of pizza with chicken, then about a litre of orange juice and then my daily dose of a Berocca in some water. This was during spending another near $1000 on more flights for the Quarter Finals. Our schedule however is nearly complete.
When it was time to go and collect our passes those issuing the passes did not understand me when I put on my best Glaswegian accent. I am still”Scottish” for the time being and because Scotland are not competing in the FIFA World Cup thus I am in group three – but thankfully again the Moscow Camera Club were not in force and there were only a total of about 30-40 photographers at this game, so with ease I got seat 11 right next to the goal. Apparently the Germany v Mexico game was full with over 100 on the waiting list.
This was my best game to date by a long way.
Firstly the stadium was beautiful. Superb lights.
Then unlike yesterday my cameras were working wonderfully, no heat haze to ruin my hard work today!
Although both goals were at the other end, the fact that Brazil failed to win was the story so all being well, my images of Brazil players reacting to missing wasted chances will be published around the world tomorrow. It was exciting, eventful and you know when you are having fun when the referee blows the whistle for half time and you do not want it to end.
I spotted Neymar of Brazil with holes in his socks. At the time of writing this has already been used a few times on some global websites that I frequent.
It finished Brazil 1-1 Switzerland. After some more pasta and turkey, saying goodbyes to fellow colleagues off to other cities, I was camped out in the media room until 3am as my flight did not depart until 5am!
Just to clarify I am in Rostov on Don. Tomorrow Sochi. 560 KM away. 8 hours to drive. But the only way to get there is back north via Moscow. A bad idea? No! I now have two flights to sleep on!