It’s safe to say that all of us here at Roadtrips love to travel and that’s important, since we spend so much time away from home. In addition to hosting clients at the biggest events around the world, we often travel to host cities numerous times to prepare. We scout out accommodations, interview local partners, and check out the sights to make sure we provide our clients with the most amazing sports travel experiences possible. Recently, three of our staff members returned from a visit to Russia: Sam Buffie, Lead Event Planner; Brian Benci, Senior Sports Travel Specialist; and Dave Guenther, Roadtrips’ President, who travelled along with his wife Liesa. They had lots to say about their visit.
Brian, this was your first visit to Russia. What was your first impression of Moscow when you arrived?
Brian: I immediately felt like I was in a sophisticated, modern metropolis with a very interesting history and some amazing architecture. One thing I have to point out is that Moscow is extremely clean. I was told that they wash and shampoo the streets and sidewalks nightly!
Did you feel safe there?
Brian: I felt incredibly safe in Moscow. In fact, more safe than in my own city. There was an excellent police presence, though it didn’t feel necessary.
Did you guys get a chance to do much sightseeing? What tours would you recommend?
Sam: The Red Square is like nothing I’ve ever seen. The referral to “Red” actually means “beautiful” and that’s no exaggeration. It’s anchored by the Kremlin, which is a site in itself, and encompasses the iconic Saint Basil’s Cathedral, GUM department store (which is actually a gorgeous shopping center), and Kazan Cathedral and Resurrection Gate, which is essentially the entryway to Red Square. In addition, the metro tour was a must-see. It’s considered to be one of the best and most beautiful subway systems in the world.
Brian: Like Sam said, there were lots of interesting sights. My personal favorite was the Armoury tour at the Kremlin. Lots of amazing artifacts from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries to discover!
Confederations Cup Fan
You were all there during the Confederations Cup. Did you get to experience a match?
Brian: We did. Sam and I watched the Mexico vs. Portugal 3rd place match at Otkritie Arena (a.k.a. Spartak Stadium). It’s one of the stadiums being used for the World Cup and was only 10 miles from Red Square. It’s a beautiful, modern stadium with excellent views of the pitch.
Sam: We felt incredibly safe at the stadium. There was a police presence for security but not in an intimidating way. The volunteers were friendly and helpful (many of them university students and many of them spoke English). Entrance and exit to and from the match was well organized and efficient. And we had to sample a local beer while taking in the match!
Dave: I was at the Final at the new stadium in Saint Petersburg. It’s a gorgeous stadium. World class. Great viewing from just about anywhere. Though, we did notice a few seats that we would not allow for our clients. I was impressed by how many Chileans made the trip. There were thousands and thousands. They went home disappointed but still smiling. Let me tell you, they know how to have fun at a match! We always have such great guests from South America.
Four Seasons Lion Palace
Let’s talk about the food. Dave, you’re a big foodie. What can visitors expect from the Russian restaurant scene?
Dave: My food experiences in both Moscow and Saint Petersburg were excellent. In general, I’ve been surprised as to just how consistently delicious the food has been on my visits to Russia. We didn’t have a bad meal. My wife and I both actually have some Russian – Ukrainian roots and we’re familiar with some of the traditional Russian dishes like vereniki and beet borscht. It was quite something to have the tastes we remember from our grandmothers equalled or bettered on this trip. Though our two favorite meals during the Confederations Cup were Percorso at the Four Seasons Lion Palace and Bolshoi by Novikov in Moscow. The ravioli at Percorso are unforgettable and the elegance of the atmosphere and the cuisine at Bolshoi will definitely have me back there during World Cup.
View from Ritz-Carlton Moscow
You mentioned the Four Seasons. Can you talk a bit more about the accommodations in Russia?
Brian: I stayed at The Ritz-Carlton Red Square in Moscow and it was fantastic! It’s located directly across from the Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral and The Kremlin. It’s also steps away from the Metro, tons of shopping, and some fantastic restaurants. Not to mention the O2 Lounge on the rooftop of hotel and its stunning views of the city.
Dave: I’ve stayed at the Ritz on previous visits and it is world class! A summer evening drink on the terrace at the O2 overlooking the best of Moscow is unforgettable. This trip we stayed at the Four Seasons Lion Palace in Saint Petersburg and the Four Seasons Moscow and both were fantastic. Great service. Delicious food. Beautiful spas. Super helpful staff. I’m a big fan of Four Seasons hotels and these were among the best I’ve experienced.
Moskovsky Bar Four Seasons
It sounds like a pretty amazing trip. If you had to pick one highlight, what would it be?
Sam: It’s hard to choose! I think it would be a day just taking in the Red Square, admiring the architecture, taking photos, having a coffee at a local cafe and just soaking up the vibe, followed by an incredible dinner at Bolshoi.
Brian: For me it was the whole package: a great city with rich history and lots to explore and do. The Metro is the most impressive I’ve ever seen. If I had to pick one highlight though, it would probably be the Armoury at the Kremlin. It was absolutely fascinating.
What are you most excited for Roadtrips guests to experience at the World Cup in Russia?
Brian: I think that for most people, it’s a destination that they have never experienced before. I think that they will leave pleasantly surprised on how great Russia is as a destination.
Sam: I agree. I immediately felt comfortable in Moscow and just couldn’t believe how clean, vibrant and orderly it was, not to mention the incredible architecture and fascinating history. It’s also a very green city, with many parks and gardens, which is something I think our guests will enjoy.
Dave: We always love it when we exceed our guests’ expectations. I totally think Russia will do that. People will come for the football but they are going to be blown away by how cosmopolitan and welcoming Russia can be. Plus we’re already at work assembling our Russian host team. Personally I think it makes all the difference when you are hosted by someone who not only cares deeply about your experience but who also gives you insight in to what it’s like to be from that place. That interaction is priceless and I know that a lot of our guests will create some amazing memories at World Cup 2018.
Dave and Liesa
One last thing that some of our readers might be wondering: did you need to arrange for a visa before you left?
Dave: All of the Roadtrips staff that went to Russia during the Confederations Cup made use of the special FAN ID program that replaces the need for a Russian tourist visa. It worked perfectly! Having been to Russia before and having had to go through a fairly onerous visa application process, it was so much simpler to just have to apply for the FAN ID. Even better, for World Cup 2018, Roadtrips will be taking care of the FAN ID application process for our guests as part of their package. It’s a huge savings of both time, money, and frustration for our travellers and we’re always happy when we can make things easier for people.
Russia has definitely won us over and we can’t wait to see it at its best during the World Cup next summer. Want to come with us? Whether you want to be there for the opening match, follow your team throughout the tournament, or witness the epic final, we will put together the perfect 2018 World Cup experience for you.