Growing up a Bengali and amidst their amazing craze for football, my husband, Niladri like many other teenage boys, sometime during his long chat sessions, had dreamt of watching a football world cup together with his then best friends. With time, those plans are never spoken about again and it only starts to seem as one of those 'easier said than done' things in life.
Coming from a middle class financial background, visiting a country during the World Cup would probably be a very expensive plan. It only started to seem feasible when Niladri realized that Russia was probably one those very few places, which would not cost us a fortune. I thought he had made a reasonable point.
Being an enthusiast, I always love to explore the internet for information on traveling places. One day while I was randomly searching the web, I came across the website of 'Great Atlantic Travel and Tours' where I registered for the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 newsletters. This was in January 2016. We started receiving updates from them about the world cup venues, accommodations, tour packages etc starting January 2017. Gradually this whole thing seemed no longer impossible to us.
We then started to gather information from the FIFA official website and simultaneously followed the World Cup qualifiers. We also started saving from then. The ticket sales were divided in phases starting September 2017. We had to wait till November to plan our trip as we were dreaming to watch Messi play his possibly last World Cup and Argentina had qualified only by then. While Niladri is a Brazil fan, we both are fans of Messi. We got a chance to apply for match tickets in December and we applied for one Argentina and one Brazil match on the FIFA webiste. Since the application was not a confirmation of us getting tickets and could lead to a lucky draw in case of an overbooking in those categories, we decided to make a rough itinerary and reserve hotels from websites which would allow us to pay later. We found it very hard to find hotels in reasonable rates, already by then and had to look for hostels and mini hotels. We could not book flights until we got confirmed match tickets. We continued to read about Russian tourism and places to visit there in summer. We shortlisted Moscow and Saint Petersburg for our planned trip and took help from Tripadvisor to know about places to see and things to do there.
But then, only to our disappointment, we were informed in March 2018 by FIFA that we had been denied tickets to the World Cup and our application was rejected in the lucky draw. We were heart broken but hopeful about trying to book tickets in the next phase starting later that month and this time it would be an instant confirmation of the tickets. We need not wait with our fingers crossed for weeks.
We logged in to our FIFA accounts and sat in front of the computers from hours before the phase started. We had all combination of matches in mind which we would be trying to book that day. The demand was high and we had to wait for a good 5 to 6 hours in the digital queue for getting access to the ticketing page. Meanwhile we anticipated that we might not find any tickets left by the time we enter the website and thus started looking on the internet for third party websites who were selling tickets. When we finally did get a chance to enter FIFA website, it was again to our disappointment that we found no Argentina match tickets available anymore. There were few tickets left for one Brazil match but we couldn't imagine going to Russia and not seeing Messi play. We chose to let it go and thought whether we should try booking from other websites. The third party websites like Ticombo and Viagogo were expensive as well as seemed unreliable too. Although we had one final chance to book tickets in the final phase starting April but we were afraid to be much hopeful about it after all that we experienced in the past few months. With no prior experience of attending such a big event, it started to seem impossible to us again. Along with us, our families were also as disheartened as much they were excited to believe we were certainly making it to Russia.
We almost lost all hope, saving just enough of it to try booking tickets again in the next and final phase. It was 18th April, 2018. This time we logged in to our accounts from the previous night and even took a day off from work to dedicate our full concentration towards this. That day we could enter the FIFA website after waiting for only a couple of hours but again did not find any Argentina match tickets. Earlier that day, we decided that if no Argentina matches are available to book, then we would either go for both the semi finals or both the Round of 16 matches of the group D where Argentina belonged. That way we could see Messi play. But none of those tickets were available too. The ticket availability was refreshing every minute and matches were getting sold out in a blink.
We finally managed to add tickets to both of the above said Round of 16 matches in our cart and bought them successfully. We should have been happy but something felt wrong and we didn't know why we kept refreshing the webiste further. This time we saw tickets for Argentina vs Nigeria available. With no word uttered, we quickly booked them and took a sigh of relief. There was a glow in our faces.
As goes the saying that things happen to you when you least expect it; we not only got tickets to that Argentina match, but also a Brazil match and both at the same venue, Saint Petersburg. We could not be happier or more content than at that moment.
Now we had tickets for 4 matches, but having had limitations, we would have had to cancel the Round of 16 matches, since that long a leave and the budget would not have been possible for us. We then put the Round of 16 matches for reselling on the FIFA website and did not wait to celebrate. We finally were about to go to the World Cup and watch two of the greatest teams of all times play right in front of our eyes!
The very next day we booked our flights which did cost us a lot more than we estimated as we were booking only 2 months in advance. We booked Bangalore to Saint Petersburg round flights via New Delhi and Moscow. We also booked different hotels than what we had booked earlier, as the plan had now changed from before, according to the match dates and venue. We chose to plan a 3 day trip to Moscow from Saint Petersburg and back between the matches. We booked a bullet train from Saint Petersburg to Moscow and an overnight free train back to Moscow which was offered to fans visiting Russia for the World cup. We also applied for our Fan IDs which is a Visa for Russian tourists visiting during this event. We chose to collect our Fan IDs from the Bangalore VFS Global center and got them within 2 weeks.
We read further on Tripadvisor about must see places in Russia and planned a detailed itinerary for Moscow and Saint Petersburg. A Russia tour would be incomplete without the Russian Circus and Ballet performances, so we chose to watch both at Moscow and pre booked tickets for the shows. Our itinerary also included few famous museums, palaces, cathedrals and the Russian Vodka museum at Saint Petersburg. By then our tickets submitted for reselling were also resold and were pending for refund.
With confirmed flights, match tickets, accommodations and Fan IDs, we were almost prepared. The only thing pending was some shopping for this one big tour of our lives! Our families sent us Brazil and Argentina first copy jerseys all the way from our hometown. A pair of boots, summer coat, hat and sunglasses; checked. Now we are all set!
Ritu and Niladri
Bangalore, May 2018