Just as the spreadsheet dictated, I was up at 5AM, and in an Uber cab by 5.20AM. Time is controlling my life during these five weeks.
Today was my first experience of the Russian airline S7. Using their app, I checked in and before going through security put my phone next to a scanner and within seconds a printed boarding pass was in my hands. Happy Days.
Why are people in the UK so concerned of me being “safe” and worrying about travel? I’ll most probably be mugged tomorrow after writing this, but it is a total joy traveling here compared to dealing with the idiots at Manchester Airport. Yes I’m an utter travel snob, Heathrow every time for me, but flying in Russia is bliss.
There are no silly rules here in Russia that the rest of the world seems to fall back on to rape you of your money. You have cameras? Take them on board. Simple. No, how can we screw you for more money and suggest your bags are overweight. Common sense over rules designed to be money making tools.
Lovely wide comfy leather seats throughout the aircraft, air stewardesses who look like models, punctual with flight times, S7 can not be faulted.
I arrived in Nizhny Novgorod just before 9am.
A free shuttle bus took me and many traveling Argentinians to the metro stop about 1km from the airport. The metro only had two lines, it was impossible to get lost. Upon arriving at 10Am for a 9PM kick off, I used the media centre lockers to leave my equipment in. I was so tired but decided to explore this city that I would never have visited otherwise.
And I am glad I did. I walked over the River Olga and saw many amazing cathedrals, buildings and again it was so refreshing to see such a clean city.
Once more, I wanted many of my friends in England to know why “we” will never get a World Cup! The whole of the Nizhny Novgorod city centre was sealed off and made into one big fan zone and party block. The local men were in their best jumpers, the ladies in velvet tracksuits, leather skirts or their posh frocks. I bet the amount of NIMBY folk complaining that their sad daily lives were adjusted because of the change was zero. Russia has clearly embraced this World Cup. The World Cup is not just about football in a stadium, it is about how a city is capable of holding tens of thousands of visitors and creating a circus for the sponsors, visitors and locals to enjoy the football festival on the streets. The towns and cities of England do not have underground train lines, or fantastic transport links to nearby airports.
Cultural differences have not been as what I had expected, at least not with the Russians. I always expect the Brazilians to push in at every possible moment and for the Argentinians and Japanese to be polite and respectful for example. But now I have been here over a week, I understand how Russians think and act once again.
My biggest surprise was how nice the guys from Saudi Arabia are! When I arrive back at my hotel at 3-4am they are always smoking outside the hotel and are always up for a chat.
The humour of the Russians may be different but they are truly hospitable and very welcoming, even if they do it without a smile.
Housewives doing their shopping, slowly got their confidence levels up and had their pictures taken with shoulder length haired latin men from Argentina wearing sky blue and white striped Adidas shirts. Croat skin-heads, who would most certainly be at the front line should there be another civil war, stopping their stroll around the city being magnetised by pre-teen local girls dressed in traditional costumes dancing in the street whilst old men plucked away unknown anthems and tunes on some very old acoustic guitars.
The stars of the show were two Russians in their 20s. Having a 400 strong latin audience dancing and cheering as they did a wonderful instrumental rendition of the latin hit, “despacio”.
I could of course spent the whole day recuperating and sleeping in the media centre. But I can sleep for the rest of their life. My philosophy is to embrace where I am sometimes. Moscow is Moscow, but how many people get to goto Nizhny Novgorod? Today I walked 15 miles! Taking pictures of signage around the city, fans mixing with locals and other things that caught my attention. Eventually I fell asleep on a park bench for an hour before heading back to the stadium where I chatted about random things with Japanese photographers and photographers from home to keep me awake.
It comes to something when you are sitting pitch-side with your equipment in its prime, with Lionel Messi on the pitch in front of you, but only dreaming about putting your head against the window of the next aeroplane when you can sleep!
Today I sat next to the every lovely Miki from Japan. I have shared may games sitting next to her doing Japanese Nadeshiko (women’s football) to big internationals in France, USA and now Russia, “It’s now only 6 hours until I can sleep!” I think my total sleep for the past 40 hours had been up until then, about 6 hours.
Keeping camera batteries and my telephone battery charged is of total paramount importance. Thankfully there are electric outlets all along the side of the LED boards that viewers can not see on TV. Pre-planning and charging my fone so I can use aeroplane apps, view travel spreadsheets and communicate with the rest of the world came before thinking about taking my first picture!
Messi messed up early on. A picture that got on the back page of The Times (of London). Getting pictures used and what they are sold for or who to kind of does not matter during a World Cup.
The rhythm of waking up, eating well, drinking well and striving to be alert for 90 minutes is the only way to be.
My motto is, DO NOT THINK, JUST DO.
I have been caught out mentally so many times when being down in the dumps for having a bad game only for the next to be the best day of your life. Similarly having the game of your life only for someone else to get better pictures or newspapers choosing a cheaper image than what you are selling it for. My way is to keep churning out useable material and only analyse things a month or two later. Worrying about what the Washington Post or Daily Telegraph have used or if a Japanese magazine will be using your material on the front page day by day is totally pointless.
The only people who were worrying today were the Argentinians.
They are all but out, surely. Just like doing Manchester United, it does not matter if West Bromwich Albion defeat them, the story is that Man U have lost! And so like today. Croatia were great, Modric was unbelievable – but that is not the story, the story is that the great and mighty Messi and his Argentina had lost 0-3.
Sharing the metro and shuttle bus back to the airport was a joy with graciously losing fans from the Argentine. “Lets not chat about Islas Malvinas <Falkland Islands>“, one of them said when he realised I came from the UK, instead he commented on how good Croatia actually were and where would the old Yugoslavia be at this World Cup if it was not for the civil war, “Croatia plus Serbia – Surely World Champions if together?”
Their knowledge of all things worldly made me happy, I doubt I’d meet an American in LA suggesting such things.
I still may witness WBA play Shrewsbury Town in the English Premier League but I doubt I will see Messi win a World Cup. Ronaldo seems to be having the time of his life at the moment, UEFA Champions League winner, and now leading scorer in the FIFA World Cup. Messi is the polar opposite at the moment.
More fun in the airport when I was sitting on the floor waiting at Gate 3 for my 2am flight back to Moscow, whilst looking at pictures in a Russian newspaper – with my legs out, an Argentinian fan kind of tripped up over me. It was a total accident. In England I would probably be having to protect myself in a fight but as soon as I said, “excuse me” in my apparent Colombian / Panamanian Latin accent, he burst out laughing. Pointing at me, he said “DAVID BECKHAM!!” and went into hysterics, then pointed at himself and said, “DIEGO SIMEONE” – for those totally clueless as to what I am saying, at France 98, Beckham lashed out at the Argentinian Simeone and got sent off.
“No Tarjeta Roja.. <No RED CARD>…” he said laughing to the gate, even though he side has been thumped 0-3.
I have another new Facebook friend. A chap from Osaka who I sat next to on the plane back home. A mad football fan. I hope I get to see him in Japan one day soon.
Again, the Moscow Domodedovo Airport totally rammed at 3am. People from Mexico, Peru, Panama, Japan, Argentina and Switzerland making the place oh so busy.
After the 6500 RUB taxi ride the last time, lesson well and truly learnt, I have now been educated on the merits of the taxi app, GET.
I so much prefer £20 taxi rides home better than ones costing £105!
And then to the hotel. One more security check before my bed, despite finding a passport on the floor outside, there was no emotion from the chap doing security, no thanks, no nothing, no go on your way after I have checked your papers.
It was now 4.15AM. 45 minutes and then I would have done a 24 hour day. I was anything but sleepy. I switched my telephone off. No alarm, no fone calls, no nothing. Tomorrow was a rest day. Not out of choice but totally impossible for me to get to another city and back again to do Belgium v Tunisia the next day.