Apologies about the tardiness, but I think now that I’ve had time to sit back and reflect, I’m able to truly write this post.
- The World Cup. Full stop.
- Seeing how enthusiastic people were for the World Cup was pretty awesome, and the locals for sure opened up to the influx of people!
- I liked how compact the city felt. Walking around the city center was very easy, especially since the restaurants and sights were mere minutes from each other, if not around the corner.
- The people were eager to help, which I felt was a bit different from Moscow. Sure, more people speak English in the capital, but at least the good citizens of Volgograd will take the time to try to work out a situation for you. This by no means is a knock on Moscow, but some of my students voiced their opinions that smaller cities have more time to spare for people.
- Since I was over an hour’s walk away from the nearest tram station, I relied on taxis to get me to/from the city. Thankfully they were really cheap (150 rubles for 20 minutes), which is a change from Moscow. And the trams? 25 rubles (=40 cents) a pop, which was welcome. But wait! With the Fan ID on match days, all public transport was free! So, I was blessed not to spend unnecessarily spend money.
- I guess it’s because not many people come to Volgograd, but everybody I met was really curious about why I was there. Obviously the World Cup played a big part in this, but I had quite a few interesting conversations with people-I don’t think I’d ever be privy to that back in Moscow. Plus, I found out that one of my taxi drivers’ brother lives in my very same district in Moscow!
- People were excited to welcome visitors! Case in point: the moment I left the airport, I was immediately greeted by a chorus of “Welcome to Volgograd!”, which never, ever would happen in Moscow.
- Small comment here, but I thought the architecture was rather different than most Russian cities. Not complaining at all-the change of aesthetics was much appreciated!
- The heat. Yeah yeah, I know that I can’t control what it’s like, but still, the weather really puts a cramp on your motivation to walk around. It even got up to 95F/35C, and I’m told that it’s even going to break triple digits this upcoming week.
- In hindsight, I shouldn’t be surprised by this, but my hostel left a lot more to be desired. As it was the only set of lodging that was reasonably (i.e. ~$140 for three nights; it normally is $23 for that same time frame) priced, I had to take it and its location of being 8 km away from the city center. Had I not paid in advance, I would’ve looked for another place to stay, cause it was a barracks in a past life. A renovated barracks, but with the dusty smell of its former life still lingering. Plus, the receptionists spoke zero English, which is a huge oversight considering a) hostels attract all kinds of people and b) tons of people came for the World Cup. Thank God I can speak some Russian, otherwise I don’t know what I would have done. Well, it didn’t help me when one of the receptionists decided to slam open the door at 2:30AM to introduce a new tenant to his bunk. Yeah, that summarizes the stay in a nutshell. Kinda hard to really enjoy your time in the city when it’s a pain in the ass to commute then knowing you’ll deal with more discomfort than you bargained for when you get back.
- Volgograd, while lovely, seemed a bit shallow once you got past the main sights. I’m sure I missed the local spots, but it’s never a good sign when you can finish off most of your itinerary in a day. Though as a friend told me, it’s just good for a weekend visit, which was my case.
- By this point, I’m done dealing with one of Russia’s largest banks, Sberbank. As I was getting ready to order a taxi to go to the airport, the receptionist called a taxi for me (after giving me grief for not telling her the previous night that I’d be checking out, despite not being around that night), but I had to tell her that I’d order via Yandex Taxi. She told me that no, she’d be calling, but I responded with the fact that I didn’t have cash on me, cause with the Yandex app, my card was synchronized to it. Once the taxi arrived outside, the receptionist informed the driver about this predicament. No worries, there were ATMs nearby, so we’d be able to quickly make a pit stop. The nearest one happened to be located in a Sberbank guarded by the ubiquitous Russian potholes. As I went in and put my card into the machine, all hell broke loose: the machine froze. Meaning, I couldn’t eject my card and cancel the transaction. While my panic levels started to rise, I tried the adjacent ATM with my American card, which worked. Back to the original issue, I tried enlisting the help of locals who were making an early morning trip to withdraw money. They quickly gave up, so by that point, I was starting to make peace with the fact that I’d lose my card and have to get a new one once I returned. However, after I told my driver, he came in and helped me out. On each of the ATMs, a toll free number is provided, and so I called that one; I was paranoid because I was out of credit, but mercifully I got through and they helped cancel the operation on the machine. The driver helped tell me what to press while calling, and subsequently I tipped him the rest of the money, which he calmly accepted. So, the moral of the story is not to trust ATMs from Sberbank. And the story does end with me getting the airport with plenty of time to spare, thankfully.