The next morning we were up early in order to get the subway back to the centre of Moscow so we could catch the train to Volgograd. On the way to the subway station we went via the supermarket I had discovered the night before to buy provisions for the journey ahead. Our diet on the trip mainly consisted of bread, meat and beer which as it turns out had the very helpful result of not producing much waste. We weren’t sure what we would be allowed to take on the train with us in terms of alcohol and food but we thought it best to try anyhow as it was such a long journey.
Having made our way into the centre of Moscow on the subway system and then found the train station we were departing from which turned out to be a typical Moscow transport building as it looked like a royal palace, we found ourselves having to go through yet more airport style security. As James put the plastic carrier bag with all our provisions through the scanner I felt sure we would have it taken of us but to my surprise we didn’t. Of course we then realised we should have brought as much beer as we possibly could on. The airport style scanners that had been put in place at every station for the duration of the World Cup was clearly proving troublesome for one local lady who we saw have a massive argument with the security staff about the need for them, must be said though she didn’t look like a football fan.
We thought this would be the first time in Russia that we would encounter England fans as this was one of about four trains going to Volgograd specifically for this match. As we waited in the station we couldn’t see any, just Tunisian fans and locals from Moscow. We started to think maybe all the England fans had been scared of from making the trip because of all the noise surrounding the tournament. Still we knew there weren’t going to be many of them before we set off so unperturbed by this we showed all our documentation including our passports and boarded the train.
The train was set out like one from a classic Agatha Christie novel with a corridor down one side of the train and four bed compartments down the other. As we were one of the first passengers on we had to sit in our compartment wondering who we would be sharing with for a little while. As we were waiting a local Russian fan from Moscow who was walking down the corridor heard our English accents stopped and excitedly walked in. What followed was the strangest ten minute conversation either of us will probably ever have.
The man dressed in an official World Cup 2018 top jumped into the middle of our conversation in our compartment shouting “English, English, you English”. Myself and James explained who we were and that we were going to Volgograd for the game. This made him so excited to the point where it looked like he was going to have a heart attack next to us. He repeatedly kept asking us what we thought of Moscow to which we told him we thought it was a good place to visit which to be fair was the truth. Once he had begun to calm down he told us his name was Dennis and we should expect the temperature to be above 30 degrees in Volgograd. Over the course of the conversation he kept excitingly reminding us that he was so happy to meet English people in Russia and what we thought of Moscow. To prove how good Moscow was he got a local fizzy drink that he wanted us to try, James wasn’t so keen so it was left to me. Rather disconcertedly the colour of the drink was bright green and it tasted very sweet and not particularly good for you. As we were talking to Dennis we realised that there were two Tunisian fans waiting outside wanting to come in but didn’t feel able to because of what was going on. Dennis’s levels of excitement became so overboard that he began to ring his colleague to say he had met some England fans. I then had a very awkward exchange on the phone as I didn’t speak any Russian and the person on the phone didn’t speak any English. Eventually Dennis left to go and fetch something from his compartment so we ushered the two Tunisian fans in and asked them to shut the door behind them so Dennis couldn’t get back in.
Having introduced ourselves and explained Dennis wasn’t with us we settled in for the long trip south in our small four man compartment. The two guys we were sharing with were called Mohammed and Ali which caused much amusement along the carriage. Once the train got going I told James I was going to go and explore what was on the train as we didn’t know what facilities there were.
The connecting parts in between the carriages (which I’m sure have a name) were fairly worrying as you could see the track beneath you whizzing by and they were incredibly loud but I had to cross it to get to the next carriage. At the end of this carriage the door was closed and then behind me came a World Cup volunteer with two massive Russian police officers. She asked me what I was doing and through Google translate I tried to explain that I was exploring the rest of the train. One thing I learnt from this experience is that “I’m just exploring the train” doesn’t translate well into Russian as I got three very confused faces staring back at me. I decided it was best to not pursue this anymore so I told them I was heading back to my compartment and quickly hurried off.
Throughout the rest of the 24 hour train ride I managed not to get myself surrounded by anymore police officers and it went by pretty smoothly. At one point the train stopped for a good 40 minutes and we were allowed to get some fresh air which turned into a good opportunity for a singsong for the Tunisian fans. They were great fun the Tunisian fans and at one point we ended up playing a game of Ludo with a few of them on someone’s Ipad. We also made friends with another English fan called Alex from Watford who had spent some quite a bit of time in Russia previously and claimed to know a bit of Russian, this turned out to be pretty much fluent. We met up with Alex at regular points through our time in Russia and we are still in contact with him a year later.
That night I got one of the best night sleeps I’ve ever had as we were gently rocked to sleep with faint train on track noises. The next morning James was the first one of us to open our compartment door and who should be stood directly outside but Dennis. Looking out the window the setting had changed considerably, the ground was incredibly brown and dusty compared to the fairly British looking countryside we had seen the previous day. The train took us deep into the heart of the city of Volgograd which meant going past the stadium where the match was being played.
The 24 hour train journey down was one of the highlights of the trip for both of us as we got to meet new people from wildly different cultures but yet sharing the same experience. Finally though we got off the train and found ourselves under clear blue skies and a baking hot sun in the middle of Volgograd.