World Cup 2018 was one for the books. The vibe in Moscow was absolutely electric. Never have I ever seen such a variety of ethnicities, smiles, and good cheer on the streets. The games brought people together like no other.
Back in 2016, I couldn’t believe my luck when I realized I had accepted a contract in the country which would host the next exhibition! My brother couldn’t resist joining in on the action and together we set out to explore Moscow and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
Prior to the Cup, Moscow undertook great preparations to make the city more visitor friendly. This meant added English signage and huge construction projects. From metro announcements to street signs, Russia laid out the red carpet. Super lucky for us ex-pats!
As is customary for the World Cup, Russia hosted matches in 11 different cities. After a 14-hour visit to Moscow, my brother and I flew to Kaliningrad to see Morocco take on Spain.
As you may have noticed, Kaliningrad is not attached to mainland Russia. This was news to me when I first moved here! Our Grade 7 students visit annually for their Discovery Week trip and teacher friends had given me a little heads up about the place.
With an airport as big as Burlington International (that is to say, not), Kaliningrad played host to four matches and loads of international visitors. Brett and I arrived the day before our match as flights in and out of the city are limited. This gave us a minute to look around and get used to Kaliningrad’s small-town flavor. The Amber Museum and delicious Georgian food at Borsch & Salo were both highlights.
As we approached the stadium, the excitement was palpable. While organization in downtown Kaliningrad was shaky at best, the event staff on site were super excited take on the crowds. High fives and smiles greeted visitors and added to the positive vibes.
We arrived early to take in the atmosphere and grabbed some food. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic Budweiser was being served, primarily for the comfort of the Moroccan visitors as the country boasts a whopping 95% of the population to be Sunni Muslim – wow! I had no idea.
Our seats found us on the front lines between the Spaniards seated above us and Moroccans below. Both sets of fans displayed great passion with Morocco taking the cake. Their extreme dislike of FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) was made extremely clear throughout the night. From the controversy surrounding the use of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) technology – officially used the first time in World Cup history – to accusing FIFA of bias against teams from Africa, the Moroccans had much to say. And did they ever!
The game flew by in the blink of an eye and before we knew it, Morocco had rallied to end the game with an official 2-2 tie. Well fought on both sides, we got to see one of the most exciting games of the group stage.
With flights in and out of Kaliningrad fairly rare, we had an extra day on our hands. Dodging rain, we explored the Old Town waterfront and the Konigsberg Cathedral.
A former Prussian settlement, the town boasts a Germanic look to its architecture. Charming and visitor accessible, the waterfront is lovely for a stroll or a stop at one of the many coffee shops that dot the canal.
Kaliningrad is surely a quaint town, known in particular for the famous amber found in the region.
We stopped by the fan zone to watch the Sweden match. It was still quite chilly in Kaliningrad, despite being mid-June, but considering it was still snowing in Moscow at this time last summer, we considered it a win.
From Kaliningrad, Brett and I boarded a flight to Berlin. I said goodbye to Russia for the meanwhile and turned my thoughts to what lay ahead. Having never been to Germany, I couldn’t wait to explore…