To Russia with love: Why World Cup adventure was the trip of our lifetime

Karina and Russell pictured outside the Luzhniki Stadium ahead of the Denmark v France tie.
Karina and Russell pictured outside the Luzhniki Stadium ahead of the Denmark v France tie.

Although the mass exodus of local football fans to the World Cup did not happen this summer, I was lucky enough to travel to Russia and experience the sights and sounds.

Along with my wife, Karina, I travelled to Eastern Europe to see what the greatest show on earth had to offer.

Russell pictured outside the Samara Arena.

Russell pictured outside the Samara Arena.

With tickets for two of Denmark’s group games purchased, we set off on the trip of a lifetime, which saw us pass through various time zones and fly between Moscow, Samara and St Petersburg.

Ahead of our first flight of five, I couldn’t help but think what might have been as Michael O’Neill’s men had come so close, but yet so far.

This feeling quickly subsided as we joined the ranks of excited Mexico, Poland and England fans at Dublin Airport.

As we touched down in Russia, the carnival atmosphere was in full swing as Brazil supporters entertained with samba music while waiting for a connecting flight to their tie with Switzerland.

The first three nights of our two-week long trip were spent in St Petersburg, a beautiful city with friendly natives who were only too happy to showcase the region to the thousands of tourists.

The Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace are must-see attractions, while St Isaac’s Cathedral offered an oasis of tranquillity as fans from various countries including Egypt, Peru and Morocco converged on the city.

Our next stop saw us take in five nights in Samara, a city to the south-west of the country.

With temperatures exceeding 30 degrees each day, coupled with the beautiful scenery surrounding the Volga river and a match between Denmark and Australia, our time there didn’t disappoint.

Having gone with the intention of backing the Danes in the competition, we switched allegiances after a memorable bus journey to the Samara Arena with a group of eager Aussie fans who sang the Men At Work classic, Down Under, and provided a small taste of what the tournament would have had if local fans had been there in their thousands.

Wearing a Northern Ireland shirt to the stadium, it did not take long for a group of France fans who were taking in the game to sing ‘Will Grigg’s On Fire’ in appreciation of the GAWA who had enjoyed French hospitality two summers previously.

As the teams entered the playing surface, the noise levels were raised by a number of decibels and our first World Cup game was about to start.

We did not have to wait long to witness our first goal, with Denmark danger man, Christian Eriksen, scoring inside the first 10 minutes.

Surrounded by fans in green and gold and waving inflatable kangaroos above their heads, we joined the Australian fans in hoping their team could find a response.

Their prayers were answered shortly before half-time, with Mile Jedinak dispatching a penalty after it was awarded following consultation with the VAR team.

Both sides created chances in the second half, but neither could find a breakthrough and the match finished all-square.

During the last stage of our holiday, we spent five nights in Moscow.

Along with the tourist hot spots of Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral, the zoo and the Kremlin, we attended a tie between Denmark and star-studded France at the Luzhniki Stadium.

Although it finished 0-0, we saw what the tournament means to people from across the globe, as almost 80,000 football fans enjoyed the spectacle together.

Now back home, the memories of our trip will stay with us for a long time. Thank you Russia.