In the early hours of the morning on Thursday 14th June we flew to Riga the capital of Latvia from Manchester Airport. As we waited at the gate to get on our plane another passenger was loudly talking about how English hooligans shouldn’t have their passport taken of them and as punishment should go out to Russia. Cheers mate, just what we wanted to hear.
I can highly recommend Riga as a holiday destination during the summer months with just a short flight of just under 2 hours from the UK. As a result of it being further north then Manchester during June the nights are very short with still an inky dark blue sky at 11pm. We were based in a youth hostel in the Old Town district of the city which is a honey spot for tourist. Clearly the summer months climate is warmer then here in the UK due to the amount of outdoor seating that every bar and restaurant had which included in some cases a blanket to keep you warm during the evening.
When we arrived in Riga we had to get a bus which turned out to be a minibus from the airport to the city centre. As a result of the bus being so busy we had to stand in the middle meaning all we could see out of the window was the pavement curbs and various car wheels. Admittedly no city looks good from just its gutters so we were pleasantly surprised when we got off the bus to find ourselves in the middle of what looked like southern Italy. Our walk from the bus stop to the hostel meant walking through the city centre whilst the Latvian Independence Day march was taking place by a very impressive monument.
Our time in Riga was fairly uneventful with a relaxing evening in a picturesque cobbled square watching the memorable Spain vs Portugal match which finished 3-3. The hostel manager’s customer service skills had plenty to be desired as her response to any questions was to almost literally throw tourist information maps of the city at you, even if the question was where are the toilets? In the mixed dormitories to our surprise were some fairly elderly women who had travelled from South-East Asia to see the Dalai Lama who was in Riga the day after we would leave. As us nor them could speak each other’s languages conversation ran dry pretty quickly, but there was an amusing moment after they said Dalai Lama in Riga we repeated it in shock which lead to them think we were here for the same reason.
Having spent two nights there and eaten are way through the very nice Japanese restaurant’s menu it was time to move onto the main event. So on the second morning we got the bus back to the airport and spent the morning playing the card game of choice for the trip Strip Jack Naked outside check-in.
The plane journey to Moscow was the first time we really accounted any football fans travelling to Russia for the World Cup. We were sat next to a German lad who seemed surprised to see any English fans at all but were still confident of Germany out performing England in Russia.
Thankfully we were given the extra leg room of being sat by the emergency exit but this did come with been given a pre flight health and safety talk. Whilst on the flight a lesson I learnt about travelling was always apply the milk yourself for a cup of tea as the flight attendant produced a 50-50 distribution between milk and hot water in mine. Of course being British I didn’t complain and just left it to go cold.
In our minds we had built up the Russian customs to be difficult especially as it took us nearly an hour of queuing to get into Latvia. There was however very little waiting around as the bus ride from the plane to the terminal actually took longer than getting through the passport and visa checks. A clear sign straight away that Russia was prepared for this World Cup and was ready.
Our flat was on the outskirts of Moscow in a village called Rumyantsevo which was on the end of the red line of the Moscow subway system. The tube station was in the car park of what looked like some very ugly office blocks by the side of a major duel carriageway/motorway. It was a late sunny afternoon and because essentially Rumyantsevo is still being built the address for the flat wasn’t very clear and took some finding. Parts of it looked incredibly wealthy with impressive looking houses being built and other areas were run down and without proper paved roads. Are flat of course was the latter. When we got to the building we phoned Arthur the owner who as it turned out didn’t speak any English and explained we had arrived. Eventually through using Google Translate we managed to discover he didn’t live nearby but was sending his friend who was a bloke called something like Kareen but Arthur spelt the name three different ways in three different emails.
Kareen eventually turned up on his bike and explained that the flat was in another block a few minutes away. His English was very minimal as well so we ended up following him but not too sure where or how far. The road was still hot and burned the soles of our feet because it had just been relayed, the Russians have a slightly different approach to health and safety to us.
Eventually we reached our room which was one bed and a sofa acting as the other bed. It was incredibly bare but probably worth the price that we paid for it, after unpacking James wanted a nap and I said I would go out and look for some shops. I wasn’t at all sure where to go as between the flat and the subway we hadn’t seen anything like a shop, just a Burger King by the tower blocks and a sort of news agent kiosk. I thought my best bet would be to ask a local where the nearest shop would be so whilst getting a drink at the random kiosk in the middle of nowhere I used Google Translate to ask where the nearest shop was, the women pointed back towards the office blocks by the subway.
From the outside you really couldn’t tell what was inside these blocks but with very few people around I decided to go in for a look. Suddenly from the middle of the wilderness I was transported to the Trafford Centre, a very empty one. There were shinny floored shops selling everything from doors to sofas, clearly the owner of our flat hadn’t been here. As I walked round in amazement at finding myself in a shopping centre that from the inside wouldn’t have been out of place in central London I went past bars and restaurants and eventually found the supermarket. When I got back I couldn’t wait to tell James what I had discovered especially the four cans of Carlsberg for £2.20.
After months of preparation and waiting and thinking what Russia would be like and how we would be treated we were here. In a little dirty flat on the outskirts of Moscow we were finally here. We had to get an early night because we were tired because of all the travelling we had done and in the morning we would be off to catch a 24 hour sleeper train to Volgograd.