As my flight touched down in Kazan daylight at 1.50am, I wasn’t sure if I had missed the sunrise… or the sunset was still to come.
It’s not quite the land of the midnight sun – but sunshine at 2am reminds you, Kazan’s a long way from Kansas (or Cammeray).Australia’s host city for the 2018 World Cup is stunning though. I can’t put it simpler. It’s a beautiful, beautiful city. There’s none of the brutalist concrete bleakness normally associated with Soviet Russia ( well, there is, inevitably, but it’s out in the suburbs where no-one will see it except football magazine editors who like to walk a lot…)
Instead, mix Edinburgh’s city centre castle on the hill and its Old and New Town vibe with Barcelona’s showpiece cathedral and low-key gentility, throw in a shot of Melbourne cool and even Brisbane riverside, run it through a Russian blender, add some Islamic splendour and Orthodox Christian charm, and top it off with a twist of ancient Tatar and you get Kazan.
There are minarets, domes and towers in glittering shades of gold and turquoise everywhere. Pre-and post-revolutionary Russian architecture looks out over north European styling, broken up by elements of more modern buildings like Kazan Arena, where the Socceroos will play France next week.
It should be a mish-mash but it all gels wonderfully – and there is so much of it to see. Every time you think you’ve probably seen the best, you’ll turn a corner and find something else that has you reaching for your camera.
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Throughout the city, final preparations are being put in place for the World Cup party. A week out from the first kick off, and it’s fair to say the party has yet to start. There is no buzz yet. I feel like the bloke who turned up early and is sitting awkwardly on the couch eating all the olives and dip while the hosts are still getting dressed. (NB I did turn up early but there are no olives or dip.)
There are a few flags on lampposts, the FanFest site is ready to rock and the stadium has its World Cup colours on – and I’ve seen one solitary bus with a WC colour scheme.
But that’s about it. One building in the city has a giant mural of… a volleyball player for Zenit Kazan. By contrast, there is a bus shelter ad for Messi selling crisps…
One of my cab drivers wasn’t even interested in the World Cup. He mimed that he likes to play football – but watching it sends him to sleep. Participation rates vs fan numbers are a universal theme it seems. I tried to ask what he felt about NRL and AFL but I think I lost him at that point.