“Macha look at that da, there are people swimming in that pond” Amar said as we passed in the cable car 80 m from the ground. “ macha, we are kandippa going for a swim”.
We got off at the station and were making our way to the nearest McDonalds. The burger(Whose name is in Russian) with the eggs was what was fast becoming our breakfast. I don’t remember having this as breakfast when I was working in McD back in Kochi.
There it was crowded af. Mostly with Swedes and South Koreans. There was a game in the Nizhni Novogord stadium that night where Sweden takes on Korea.
So we thought we would walk to the stadium. We were trying to find rental cycles, but Niznhi is like how Kochi is to Chennai . A thambi ( little brother)who has a lot of growing upto do. So in terms of infrastructure it wasn’t as epic as Moscow, but it had its own charm which you could feel. It felt more like a proper city in the USSR rather than a modern European metropolis like Moscow. We didn’t bring the tribans as it was our first time on board a train and we figured we wouldn’t have time to assemble and dismantle the cycles since we had to board the train directly after the match. So we were on our feet. We went to the stadium and it was one of those recently build for the world cup. It looked so beautiful from the outside. Then right next to it was what looked like the castle that comes in all Disney movies before it starts. I aint kidding you, take a look.
Then we decided to cross the bridge to the other side and we saw a steamy scene were two girls made love in plain sight under the hot sun. ( Okay, I am being a bit creepy right now) It was the confluence of the Rivers Olka and the Volga. It was the best lesbian scene I have seen in my life. It was heavenly and calm.
Then we moved on towards a set of stairs which goes to the upper part of the city. There is a distinct lower side which is near the river and everything else is on the top side. We saw what appeared to be Popoyes boat but with the hammer and sickle on it. Fascinating.
Soon we reached what looked like a super market to get some water. But this was no supermarket. This WAS HEAVEN.
After that on the map we found what it said was victory park. And one thing most people don’t know about me was that, before football. My obsession was war. I played literally every call of duty game till modern warfare 2. My favourite Channel was the history channel and I knew just about the names of all tanks there were. I know, its disturbing in retrospect. But when I went to the park and saw all the munitions. From mortars to rock launchers to my personal favourite- the MIG 27. I was mind fucked. These are the things which shaped the course of world history. The instruments of war which stopped a juggernaut army and then went for world domination. There is so much history in this soil that due to the football, I feel like I don’t appreciate it enough.
After victory park we went for a hike through the forests.
I have to say it has been the hottest day since we came to Russia. The sun was in full swing and guys were walking shirtless and you know what that means. Soon enough we saw it, but she must have been like 90. So we pretended we didn’t see it ,until we came across the cableway which took everyone to the next city. Can you believe it, there is a cable way which takes you to an another city. And it was cheap too. Only a 100 rubles.
And we got on that and we were like two kids in a candy store. Too much awesome things at the same time. That is when we saw people splashing down in ponds from the cable car.
So when we got to the other side, we decided to treat each other and have real food in days. Not something you pick off a counter. So we ordered pork ribs and pasta. ( I joked it was Angamali pork and my Angamali mates believed it :P)
After that it was a few meters down the trail and voila, we were there. The pond where everyone was swimming. Imagine finding a common space like that in India. It is almost impossible.
We stripped down to our undies( not the Malayalam ones) and we tip toed to the water body. It was cold, like Pamba at Sabarilmala on a cold morning cold. But we persisted, it was murky from the kids who were playing there previously, but we ventured forward until we were comfortable to dip our heads in it. It felt so good to have some cold water over our heads, like kids who were going crazy on a beach we went crazy. The old Russian’s who were chilling there watching us seeing what the fuck two brown guys almost naked were doing. It was like one women was almost waiting for one of us to drown. We had a great time swimming there. It was fucking insane.
We dried up and went for a walk down the trail. Thats when we saw barbie in real life. Like literally she was a barbie. Blonde hair, an almost perfect physique according to ideals Hollywood sells us and a bikini and swim suit which would make any man look twice. She was what I would call Aphrodite with a Russian accent and matching underwear. Pure bliss.
After our casual voyeurism ( that was a joke) we made our way to back to the cable cart. We needed to get back in time to watch the football games at the fan fest. After getting lost and being cheated by a bus driver and being helped by a very kind Russian who said the most quotable line I have heard since I got here. He said – “ No left, No right, straight straight”. Thats a life lesson right there. You gotta love these young Russians. They are the kindest people in the world.
So, finally we reached the fan fest. We were a bit apprehensive that the security might snatch the pack of smokes we have with us. With wasn’t the case. And we are inside.
The first game was Sweden vs Korea. Nothing too fancy as the captain, Granquist slots in a pen to win the game. There was literally one Swede in the fan fest as everyone else was in the stadium. He was wearing a Zlatan kit and I stood next to him. So when they scored, Russian TV would have footage of me celebrating with him. Its insane. ( I am using this phrase too much, aint I, even Amar says the same.)
Then the next game came. Belgium vs Panama. This was coming of a playerstribunal article I read written by Lukaku. Il share the link at the end, do give it a read. It shows just how much hunger he and his brother have to be successful. So it was no surprise when he scored and then added another one to put the meso-Americans to bed. But that game was honestly really boring as we already knew who was winning.
LUKAKU’S ARTICLE- https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/romelu-lukaku-ive-got-some-things-to-say
Then came the big one.
ENGLAND VS TUNISIA
Now things changed. All the Swedes had come to the fan fest( Mostly drunk) and then there were the Russians who had been waiting for the sun to go down to come to the fan fest and with this the atmosphere changed. There was a certain spark again, we had recharged with a shawarma and were ready to make some noise. Then England score through Harry Kane. Some random dudes celebrates. I don’t know how to say this, but I been in Russia for 7 days and I haven’t met even one England fan. Not one, people who wear England kits are Russians. I don’t know if English people don’t openly wanna show they are English with concerns over their safety or are they just following the team in the cities where they are playing. I seriously expected a lot more English fans.
Then Tunisia started attacking, playing sleek football, one thing which I noticed over the course of this tournament is that small teams don’t fear the big names anymore. They go full monty and are willing to try new things. Iceland, Mexico and now Tunisia are making former champions look ordinary. Then Tunisia win a penalty, I see a few scarfs being swung around. Shit, there are Tunisia fans here. I go there and there are like 50 people from all over the Arab world. I could see flags of Egypt, Palestine, Tunisia, Morocco and Saudi. All cheering for Tunisia. This pan Arab feeling of brotherhood is something which I haven’t seen anywhere else.
And when the penalty went in, I started celebrating with them. It was such a happy feeling, the narrative of David vs Goliath is written into our psyche I think. It gives us hope that anything is possible and I changed my allegiances to Tunisia. ( Much to the displeasure of my English mate Juds). And then I saw her ( Or I saw her and started supporting the Tunisians). See if you’d seen her, sing and chant for Tunisia, you would have fallen in love with her too. But I knew, this was the most beautiful women I had seen so far in Russia. I need to say hai, I got more than a hi from Yesmine. I got a picture too. ( It got more hits than my blog, I should use that to my advantage next time).
The Arabs know how to get a party going, they start singing songs which are oddly familiar to us and they start playing football and it was the best thing to happen that day. The Swedes joined in on the party and we were killing it. We formed a human train and were running circles. It was the most fun I had in Nizni. But then tragedy struck in the form of a Hurricane in the 89th minute, when Harry Kane scored a header. Arab dreams broken, silenced. It wasn’t the first time the English left the middle east in tatters( JK) and the Arabs slowly left the scene. Poor Yesmine.
Then the Russians took over and after the game the fan fest brought in a DJ and brought the house down. We were dancing till 12.
It was better than sunburn. ( Not just cause the beer is cheaper and the girls hotter, but cause it celebrated joy, happiness) the DJ dedicated a song to Tunisia too. Pure class. And he finished it off with a tribute to Aviici to the appreciation of a 1000 Swedes who had flood the streets of Nizhni.
And after that, we were out. Without a place to sleep. But it didn’t matter, who needed sleep when the entire city is partying. Every pub, cafe and toilet were filled with chants of “ Alaamo, alaamo”. The Swedes were killing it.
The Russian joined I singing “ Russia, Russia” and the Mexicans who were just looking for an excuse to make some noise did too.
It was the sort of culture which draws me out to these adventures. We had a little bit of pizza and we watched the sun come up like 2 hours later. No really, the sunrises at 3 am here.
We go for one last walk on the river and I had to catch my train in the morning. I had to leave early to work on the blog and Amar was kind enough to let me leave early. He found a hostel and when I went to the metro it wasn’t open yet. But there were a group of fan playing football.
Beautiful isn’t it.
And I boarded the metro.
To be continued…