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A Weekend in Moscow

Russia – it makes me instantly think of the grand National Anthem which I associate with the Soviet National ice-hockey team that was unbeatable when I was a kid. Naturally I also have Red Square in mind, the symbol of Moscow. For many years I had been waiting for a fun event in the city to give me an occasion to visit Moscow, and when it was decided that the World Championships in Athletics would be held there in 2013 there was nothing to do but start planning.
My workmate Kenta wanted to join me, and the main problem before departure was finding a gap in between my travels during the spring so that I could hand in my passport for a visa application.

In August 2013 we landed in Russia and since someone had hinted that we should avoid the traffic jam on the roads to Moscow we went by train from the airport into the city centre. This city of twelve million residents welcomed us with fine weather and we felt enthusiastic with the upcoming visit to the capital. We checked in at the fine Courtyard Moscow City Center Hotel situated at number 7 Voznesenskiy Pereulok. The hotel had a 10 minute walking distance to Red Square so the location was a perfect base for sightseeing.

We were in a hurry to get to the arena in time to watch our Swedish gold medal aspirant Abeba Aregawi who was to compete the same evening as we we had arrived. In the taxi ride to the arena we crossed one of Moscow’s ring roads and we tried to count the number of lanes that we passed by, and there were some seven or eight lanes in both directions!
We got in time to the Luzhniki Stadium. An arena with a capacity of 85,000 spectators when FC Spartak Moscow plays their football matches.
When Aregawi put on a final definite burst of speed in the last curve we sat cheering in the front row. Sweden had won a gold medal in athletics and we were there on site! Aregawi ran a lap of honour round the arena and happily waved to us as we stood flying our blue and yellow flags. Goose-flesh is obviously part of such an experience.


On spot during the World Championships.

We went to the Swedish athletes’ hotel where we celebrated with Mojitos and then we finished the evening with a grand Gold Medal Dinner back home at our Courtyard hotel. A happy start of the trip!

It was definitely a five star buffet breakfast with all you could wish, including a chef frying eggs and omelettes. The Danish pastries with kiwifruit and strawberries were just the thing needed in the morning :)
After breakfast it was time for the most important mission of the trip. For a year I had been searching for accommodation during the Winter Olympics in Sochi. A short time before my departure to Moscow I had found a travel agency in Russia offering accommodation on board a cruise liner during the Olympics. I made a reservation but it was totally impossible to carry out the payment in Sweden, so I asked if I could settle the payment on site with the travel agency in Moscow. That would fit perfectly and now was the time to find their office. We took a taxi to the address I had and arrived at a big brick apartment building. The entrances were locked but finally we found a passage into the courtyard and there on a door was a sign reading ‘Svoy TT’ – we had found the right place. I met Olga whom I had contacted by mail, and payment by Visa Card worked excellently. Winter Olympics accommodation arranged for in Moscow – that gave me the absolutely right feeling!!!

I felt calm facing the Olympics trip and celebrated with a good Mojito before it was time to visit Red Square. Kenta and myself went down into the Metro system and were met by incredibly beautiful stations decorated with mosaics and chandeliers. We had time to see a number of stations as we went a bit wrong …
At last we reached our destination and in the summer heat I could finally make one of my travelling dreams come true. Within the square we immediately observed the famous St. Basil’s Cathedral with its colourful onion domes. It was consecrated in 1561 and has become a symbol of entire Russia. I had expected it to be bigger, but it was absolutely more beautiful than I had imagined. What a feeling to be standing on a spot that has always been associated with Moscow in my mind. It was a bit like standing high up in the Empire State Building in New York.


The Red Square.


Saint Basil’s Cathedral.

We took a turn in GUM, one of Russia’s biggest department stores – what a place! Several floors and galleries with fine boutiques, hardly the cheapest Friday entertainment in Moscow.


GUM

On our way back to our hotel we passed the Ritz Hotel. Just in front of me the former 100 metre world champion Yohan Blake stepped out of a car. I halted for while wondering whether I should ask him for permission to have a picture taken of me together with him but I was so completely taken aback that it didn’t happen.

In the evening it was time for the Athletics Championships again. The atmosphere in the arena stands was marvellous as Russia won gold medals in Long Jump and Hammer Throw. One of my favourites, Mo Farah, won the gold medal of 10,000 metres. We could also watch a performance of the World’s Fastest Man, Usain Bolt. Beside me in the stand sat a triple jumper from Cuba, Mabel Gay. I had visited Cuba earlier so I showed her my pictures from Havana in my camera. Those are the exciting encounters you remember after a trip :)

Day three began with a sightseeing tour like I do in all major cities, that is taking a hop-on / hop-off bus. It runs around the city an you can hop off at one landmark and then hop on to continue the tour. This is a simple and fine way of familiarizing yourself with a city and finding the best places of interest. In Moscow a boat tour on the river was also included in the price and at the starting point of this trip there is a bridge where newly married couples make at stop after the wedding ceremony to affix little padlocks to big iron trees and then throw the key into the river. While we were standing watching on the bridge well 15 limousines with bridal couples made a stop at the bridgehead.
The tour by bus and boat was fine and warmly recommended.


The sightseeing bus Hop-on-hopp-off takes you around the city.


In the centre of Moscow there are many beautiful buildings.


A boat trip is warmly recommended.


Padlocks newlyweds attached to the bridge.

Once more we went to the Athletics Championships in the evening where we among other things watched Usain Bolt playfully win the Gold Medal in 200 metres. His lap of honour was one big Jamaican party since there were may fans in the stands.
After Athletics we went back to Red Square to watch all beautifully floodlit buildings. Imposing fireworks and the full moon provided a grand scenery for the fine St. Basil’s Cathedral, and the GUM department store almost seemed to be decorated for Christmas.


GUM by night.


I felt good on the Red Square!

We spent day four in the city centre before it was time to go back to Sweden again. Moscow was a positive surprise and I would gladly make another visit to the city. Surely there will be new great events coming up in the city soon.

Lengan

Popular hotels to book in Moscow:

National Hotel
Hotel located in Moscow center, 600 m from Red square and Lenin Mausoleum, 700 m from Spasskaya Tower and St. Basil’s Cathedral and 1 km from the Kremlin.

Izmailovo Gamma Delta
Located 10 km from the city center, and 100 m from Partizanskaya metro station.

Courtyard Moscow City Center
This hotel is located 4.5km from The Kremlin, the Red Square, Saint Basil’s Cathedral and Lenin’s Mausoleum.

Cosmos
Located in Moscow’s suburbs, 20 minutes by car to the center and 200 m from the nearest metro.

Metropol
5 star hotel located in the city centre, 35 km from the airport.




Lisbon

In my previous blog post I told you about my trip to the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and that adventure had its starting point in a visit to the Cristo Rei Statue in Lisbon in November 2013.

The aircraft made a turn above the Atlantic Ocean and then we had a marvellous approach over the city of Lisbon.
As I left the airport I encountered pleasant late summer weather and swaying palm trees.

The four star Lisboa Plaza Hotel was located in the city centre at 5 Travesso do Salitre, a perfect spot for exploring Lisbon.

Dressed up in the match jersey of the Swedish national football team I headed for the “Praça do Comércio” Square where some thousands of Swedish fans had gathered. We had come to the capital of Portugal to watch the World Cup Qualifier match Portugal v Sweden.
The teams were to meet in two matches and the winner would progress for the World Cup in Brazil. This was the first leg.


Supporters gathered at the Praca do Comércio.

We were quite a number of people from my Swedish home town of Enköping sitting by the riverfront building up for the game. Chants were sung and toasts of sangria were made and we enjoyed the sun that we had not seen for a long while back in Sweden.


Patrik, me, Petri and Kimmo at the Estadio da Luz.

The metro vibrated with the fans’ chanting on our way to the “Estádio da Luz” Arena. Expectations were great and we believed in a favourable outcome with the return match in Sweden at hand, but the incredibly talented footballer Ronaldo of Portugal had other plans. He scored 1-0 for Portugal and that was the final score in front of a jubilant home crowd. We were not altogether floored though, for naturally there was a chance of reversing the result at home, so we headed for the Hard Rock Café where we had a good time together with happy Portuguese people.


Portugal-Sweden 1-0 at the Estadio de Luz.

The next day most of my friends went home, but since this was my first visit to the city I stayed on to explore Lisbon. The weather was glorious and in the company of Ola and Lars-Göran I took a look around the city. The city trams are famous and popular, and crowded as well! Patience is needed if you want to have a ride … One of the well-known landmarks of the city is the Santa Justa Lift. It was constructed in the early 1900s and takes you from the lower parts of the city up to the Carmo Square. From the top of the lift you have fine views of the city, and it is well worth a visit.


The Santa Justa lift.

After a wine stop at the “Praça do Comércio” Square we joined a guided tour by Tuk Tuk. Lisbon being situated on seven hills and the area being very undulating, riding a Tuk Tuk in the steep lanes is a perfect way of exploring the city. On top of one of the hills stands an old fortress and from there we had a magnificent view.


Praca do Comércio.

The guide told us about the city and showed us more fine points of vantage – so a good hint: Tuk Tuk.


View from the fortress.


Lisbon.


Of course it is possible to find some palm trees in Lisbon.

In the Rua de Sao Miguel alley we happened to join a Port Wine Tasting in the small cosy bar of “O Cantinho da Rute”. Five different brands of wine were set on the table while simultaneously the smell of BBQ from out in the street sneaked into the bar. A couple of bottles were allowed to come with us in carrier bags from there.

As sunset approached we took a taxi to the Christ the King Statue (Cristo Rei) in Almada.
There we experienced a sheer magical moment when the sunset coloured the sky red, and we had an unbeatable view of Lisbon and the “Ponte de 25 de Abril” Bridge crossing the river Tejo.


View from the bridge “Ponte 25 de Abril”.

The 260 ft tall statue of Christ was certainly impressive in the evening light and I felt as if my journey to Rio de Janeiro began there, I felt that the statue in Rio also had to be visited on site!


At the feet of the Christ the King statue I decided to travel to Rio.

The taxi cab had been waiting for us during the visit and now it took us to the Bairro Alto Hotel where we entered the roof terrace and treated ourselves to a couple of Mojitos. We had been spoilt all day by beautiful views of the city, and the one here was not bad either.

The evening was concluded with dinner at the cosy “Adega de S. Roque” restaurant at 120 Rua da Misericórdia. This restaurant has a Sports Theme and walls and ceiling are filled with scarves and pictures of different clubs and players. Fantastic for us sports geeks :)


The restaurant “Adega de S.Roque”.

Lisbon made me want more and I would be happy to visit the city again!

A few days later Sweden’s dream of World Cup in Brazil was shattered since Portugal won the return match by 3-2, but then I had already booked my journey to Rio, so my dream of World Cup in Brazil came true after all ;)

Lengan

Popular hotels to book in Lisbon:

Mundial
A reasonably priced hotel in a great location in the heart of Lisbon, next to the Rossio market and the parade street Avenida da Liberdade.

Borges Hotel
Hotel Borges is located 100m from national theater of Sao Carlos, 400m from the San Roque church, 700m from the Lisbon Cathedral and 3km from the Gulbenkian museum.

Avenida Park
Next to the Eduardo VII Park, close to Marques de Pombal and Avenida da Liberdade.

Lisboa Hotel
Centrally located in the heart of Lisbon one block from the mainstreet Avenida da Liberdade.

Turim Europa Hotel
Modern hotel located near Marquês de Pombal in the heart of central Lisbon.

Lisboa Plaza
Family run hotel just around the corner from Avenida Liberdade.




FIFA World Cup in Brazil

In 2007 it was announced that Brazil would host the 20th FIFA World Cup and from that day I had made up my mind to witness the tournament on site in South America. Ever since I was a child I have been a fan of Brazil’s with their great stars and samba football. When we played soccer at home on the lawn I was either Zico or Socrates!

Me and my pal Bengt bought tickets for three matches, booked four hotels in three cities and stayed ready with 11 flight tickets each. In June 2014 it was time at last for travelling to Brazil. The adventure started with a long stopover in Paris, so we had time to go to the Eiffel Tower for the mandatory tourist pictures.

In the evening it was time to board the plane with destination Rio de Janeiro and our expectations of the trip rose since the staff at the gate had decorated it with Brazilian flags and dressed up in yellow and green outfit :)
Finally we were on our way to the World Cup!

We arrived in Rio early in the morning and in the taxi cab to the hotel I eventually saw him, Christ the Redeemer! High above the city stands the classic statue which I have always dreamt of seeing in real life. Just imagine that we had actually come all the way to Rio de Janeiro.

Our hotel was located in the neighbourhood of Lapa, which suited us perfectly. In the daytime we had easy access by tube to the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, and in the evenings we had a 50-yard distance home from the bar street.
It was obvious that the World Cup was afoot for everywhere in the city lots of match jerseys, vuvuzelas, wigs etc. were at sale and streets and beaches were filled with singing fans from all over the world.

Our hotel was a stone’s throw from the Metropolitan Cathedral and inside it you could see fans praying for success in the tournament.

At the fantastic beach of Copacabana the atmosphere was wonderful during the World Cup. At one end of the beach there is the fort of Forte de Copacabana, which we visited one day to get a few moments of cooling breezes out there beside the cannons. Then the right thing to do was to stroll along the four-kilometre Copacabana Promenade and delight in in all happy football fans, until reaching the other end of Copacabana, where an enormous area for fans had been prepared: FIFA Fan Fest™ Inside it the matches were shown on big screen TV, and sponsors had stalls with various activities. A magical atmosphere reigned when tens of thousands of fans cheered for their teams during the tournament in Copacabana.


A happy Lengan outside the fan area in Rio.


An exciting encounter with the footballer Rio Ferdinand at Copacabana.

The first match of the tournament was Brazil vs Croatia and we watched it at a street party in Alzirão. Thousands of fans always gather in that street when Brazil plays World Cup matches, and naturally we didn’t want to miss that. What a party it was! We could hardly move in the crowd and the cheering was unlimited when the home team won by 3-1 getting a good start in the tournament. Grown-ups and children danced, celebrating the win while we Swedish people just walked around enjoying being on site in South America :)


Children celebrating the Brazil win over Croatia.

One afternoon when Spain was playing a match we took the chance of visiting the Sugarloaf Mountain. That proved to be a stroke of genius for everybody else was watching the game and there was no queue at all to the cable car so we got away to the top directly. That was definitely one of the highlights of the trip and a must for everyone visiting Rio. The view of the city is marvellous and you can watch the beach life at Copacabana, Bogafoto and Flamengo. We experienced a sunset never to be forgotten. The colours beyond the mountains, the statue of Christ the Redeemer floodlit with dark clouds behind and the street lights being turned on along the promenades, everything was sheer magic!


A stunning night on the Sugarloaf Mountain.

Visiting the statue of Christ the Redeemer was naturally another highlight, since it represents my image of Rio de Janeiro. We went by mini bus along the winding and lush road up to the top of Corcovado Mountain, and suddenly, there I was on site at the foot of the statue I have always dreamt of seeing in real life. Of course I
felt shivers and got goose bumps looking out above the city with the statue of Christ behind me.
It was hard to realize that I had made one of my main dreams come true as I was standing there on the top enjoying the view. From one side of the statue one could look down at the legendary Maracanã Arena and from the other side one could see down to Ipanema and the Jockey Club Racecourse. In fact we visited the racecourse and there we found a showcase with footballer Pelé’s jersey from the World Cup in Sweden in 1958.


A dream coming true.


Magic atmosphere inside the Maracanã.

In the vicinity of the Jockey Club Racecourse there is the Botanical Garden and we made a visit there among turtles, monkeys, fish and wonderful palm trees. As you might know I love palm trees so my feelings were more than all right. This is a beautiful park definitely recommended for a visit if you are in Rio.


Fabulous palm trees in the Botanical Garden.

Another iconic sight is Sunset at Ipanema. Every evening lots of people gather on a cliff between Ipanema and Copacabana to enjoy the fabulous sunset. As the sun had just disappeared behind the mountains in a colourful scenery we did like everybody else: we gave the “show” a big hand and headed for nightlife in Lapa.


Sunset at Ipanema.

Nightlife in Lapa is widely known and famous, and we mingled around in the streets every night. Everywhere drinks and food were sold from little carts rolling in the neighbourhood. Our favourite venue was the Selarón Steps where we sat chatting with other fans from all over the world. The stairs are world-famous for colourful ceramics and if you give them a close look you can find a number of tiles from Scandinavia.
Our preferred club of the trip was “Carioca da Gema” where we danced to the best musicians. The venue had live music every night and all customers were in high spirits.


The Selarón Steps in Lapa.


Lots of tasty night food in Lapa.

What about football, then? We Swedish people often heard how much all other fans missed Zlatan Ibrahimović in the tournament and indeed it was a pity that Sweden had blown its chance to qualify for the World Cup, but still we had a good time on site.
The first match we watched live was at the legendary Maracanã, the area I have been dreaming of as long as I have been a football fan. What a feeling to walk into the arena and absorb the atmosphere, a World Cup in South America, in Brazil.
We watched the match Argentina vs Bosnia in the company of 75,000 other fans and the terrace chants gave me goose bumps! Argentina won by 2-1 and celebrations went wild all over the city since very many Argentinians had come to Rio.

Our second match was in the North of Brazil, in the city of Fortaleza. We had managed to get tickets for the Dream Match of Brazil vs Mexico! On our way to the arena the taxi passed through a Favela where people stood cheering the cars driving to the event. Outside the arena the atmosphere was magical, of course. Brazilian and Mexican fans were singing and dancing together and it was a surreal feeling that we were part of it all. Just imagine all the millions of fans who would love to change places with us at that time.
Inside the arena the atmosphere was no less intense. During the National Anthem of Brazil the crowd’s singing drowned the loudspeakers and once more I had goose bumps all over my body! Unfortunately the match ended 0-0, but this was an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life.


Brazil vs Mexico in Fortaleza.

The last match we watched live was Costa Rica vs England in Belo Horizonte. The night before we had watched on TV how Brazil beat Cameroon, resulting in mad celebrations with the Brazilians in Belo Horizonte. On account of that we were a bit tired as the match was played in the middle of the day in the heat. Moreover England was already eliminated from the tournament, so it wasn’t terribly exciting either. But still, it was a World Cup match and we expected a fun fight …. but of course it ended with 0-0. I love events, so after all it was fun!

The last afternoon in Rio we spent at Copacabana where we watched big screen TV and the match Brazil vs Chile. It was a round of 16 match and we were together with thousands of other fans outside FIFA Fan Fest™ . You could stand between this area and the ocean and still see the big screen and there the football party of the year took place. Mojitos and beers were sold from carts and cool bags and some of the fans were standing in the water dancing to samba music while other were sitting in their deck chairs waiting for the match. Brazil scored 1-0 and all of the beach went bananas, what celebration! Later when Chile equalized, their fans too, were loudly and clearly heard. This match was a real thriller and was finally settled in a penalty shoot-out where Brazil ended as winners. Wow! What excitement and what celebrations along all of Copacabana!
I was so happy that I could experience that match just there on the beach together with all the cheerful fans.


Brazil vs Chile at Copacabana.

Me and my pal Bengt spent a few wonderful weeks in Brazil and most probably I will return to Rio de Janeiro, hopefully as soon as 2016 when the Olympic Games will be held there.

Have a good time!
Cheers
Lengan

Book popular hotels in Rio de Janerio:

Copacabana Rio Hotel
Located on the seafront, 200m from the beach, 10 km from the National Historical Museum and 13.5 km from Cristo Redentor.

Atlantico Copacabana
Only three blocks from the famous Copacabana Beach, the Hotel Atlântico is a good choice for those travelling on business or leisure.

Rio Design Hotel
Located on the world known beach of Copacabana, in the south zone of the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Windsor Atlantica
The Windsor Atlantica Hotel is located just 2 blocks from a variety of shops, restaurants and lively bars. Situated on Avenida Atlântica, across from Copacabna Beach and a five minute walk from Ipanema Beach.

Best Western Sol Ipanema
Located in front of the Ipanema beach.

OK Hotel
The OK Hotel is located 100m away from the Cinelandia square, 1km from the Modern Art Museum and also from the Rio de Janeiro Cathedral.

Arcos Rio Palace
The Arcos Rio Palace Hotel is located in the centre of Rio de Janeiro, in the Lapa area, and 9 km from the beach. 5 km from the train station.




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