My day began at around 6:25 in the morning, when I stumbled out of bed and stumbled to the shower. I ate a quick breakfast of meat and noodle soup, pilaf, cucumbers, wafers, and tea and then walked to the bus stop, where I waited for a few minutes before catching the bus to Rechnoi Port. The bus ride took a shade under an hour, but I arrived at the port with time to spare.
We boarded our boat,”Meteor-240,” which sorta resembled the ship from Star Trek. A 2.5 hour boat ride took us to Bolghar, the ancient capital of the Volga Bulgars and later, a major city of the Golden Horde. I’ll admit that it was a little underwhelming. All that remains is a church, a minaret, and a few mausoleums. The church has been converted into an archeological museum, which had some cool artifacts, like 800 year old scissors. The minaret was probably the coolest part of the whole site. It’s about 36 meters tall (almost 120 feet) and it’s got a staircase inside so we could all climb up and check out the view from the top, which was really nice – panoramic view of the Volga and the plains surrounding Bolghar. The mausoleums were in pretty bad shape.
It was also hot – one of the hottest recorded days they’ve ever had here in Tatarstan. According to local weather reports, it hit about 43 degrees Celsius – 109 degrees Fahrenheit. Some breezes off the Volga helped make the heat a little more bearable but taking a few degrees off of 109 still means you’re left with just obnoxiously hot weather. I broke out in a sweat walking to the bus stop – a 10 minute walk – at 7 in the morning. On the boat ride back to Kazan I slept pretty much the whole way and was welcomed, upon waking up, with huge sweat stains on my back and my chest as well. Just by sitting there. It was ridiculous.
After Bolghar, I went to Koltzo, the “mall” in the center of Kazan, to bide my time until leaving to go to the soccer game. I bought nothing there (and hadn’t intended to) but just relished in the luxury of air conditioning.
After that, I went on the Metro to meet the group near the Kremlin, from where we would walk to the stadium to buy our tickets. The excitement around the stadium was tangible – and visible. Thousands of Kazan-ites adorned in maroon and red, some in jerseys, t-shirts, flags, or scarves (like myself).
A small, but still sizable, group of Dynamo Moscow fans, dressed head-to-toe in blue, bravely made their way through the crowd chanting something that might translate into English as “I had sexual intercourse with your mother, I love Dynamo.” It sounds better when it rhymes in Russian.
We got our tickets and proceeded to the entry gates. A policeman pats each person down, and my policeman was very suspicious of me. This is probably because I am a) American, b) dark skinned enough to look like I could be from the Caucus region, and c) carrying a bag with some interesting contents. He made me take my phone and wallet out of my pockets. Then he asked me what I was in my little money pouch/man-satch. I told him a camera. He asked what else. I said my documents. He asked what else again, still feeling the bag. He pulled out some medicine my host mom had given me for my cold and said “what’s this?” I said “medicine,” and he backed off. But it was definitely a little bit unnerving.
We went to our seats and I finally got to see the inside of the stadium. It was pretty nice – not World Cup-quality (if Russia wins the 2018 or 2022 World Cup, as they are trying to do, they’d have to upgrade for sure). What made it amazing was the fact that just beyond the stadium I could see the Kremlin – Kol Sharif, the Leaning Tower of Kazan, everything. It was really beautiful.
To our right was what our resident director calls “the hooligan section.” It was full of Russian youths, all decked out in Rubin gear and also possessing a few enormous flags. As if in anticipation of something, the fence between the hooligan section and the field was lined with policeman – literally shoulder-to-shoulder along 60 or 70 feet of fence. And to be honest, they were a little crazy. At one point a mosh pit broke out in the middle of their section, which has (like all other sections) really hard chairs very close together and a cement floor. They were also responsible, however, for awesome chanting, cheering, and the such. Their energy literally never went down from the first minute to the last.
They were especially awesome when Rubin’s Alan Kasaev scored two goals within the first twenty minutes of the second half! The first goal was a rocket from only a few meters out that instantly sent the entire crowd into a shouting, singing, clapping, volcanic frenzy. I, along with a few other Americans and the entirety of the “hooligan section” twirled our scarves around in the air and belted out the melody of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” It was awesome. The second goal was also great – a shot from the top of the box that ricocheted off the right post into the back of the net. Other highlights of the game were mostly provided by the Rubin goalie, who made a few outstanding saves (including one diving deflection with his fist off a corner kick). So, Rubin fans went home happy after a 2-0 defeat of their rivals from Moskva. The atmosphere was awesome and I’m really excited to go to the next home game (August 8th versus some provincial town from Siberia).
After the game, I went home in a gypsy cab with my host brother, who had come to the game with us. A gypsy cab is basically a rogue taxi – a car that isn’t registered as cab but more than happily picks up passengers for a flat rate (150 rubles in our case – paying $5 to go as far as we did would be such a bargain in New York!). Going in a gypsy cab is not something I would ever do on my own, but I was with my host brother so it was fine. We got home safely and quickly by midnight!
And such was my day. Long. Hot. But also really fun and exciting, easily one of the, if not the most, fun days I’ve had here in Russia.