What’s the best way to have your Russian visa requirements waived? Declare your undying love to either Chelsea or Manchester United football clubs. The May 21 cup final of the Champions League (Europe’s pinnacle of club soccer competitions), takes place in Moscow this year. And, for the first time, the grand showdown involves two English teams — along with 50,000 visiting supporters. As a dispensation to the Brits, and as a way to circumvent what was looking like one almighty diplomatic row, Russian authorities have decided to fast-track visitors traveling with tickets: all they’ll have to produce on entry is a passport and a valid match ticket.
Chelsea and United fans are not particularly fond of each other. Drinking and smoking in Red Square are both illegal. And the Moscow police force is not renowned for restraint when exercising its zero-tolerance measures. But don’t let that little Molotov cocktail put you off the world’s most expensive city to visit. Soccer has been called “ballet with the ball,” and its gentrification in England over the decade, along with spiraling ticket costs, makes Moscow the most natural of venues for an all-England final.
If you prefer to see the real thing, however, you might want to wait until November 2009, when ballet’s most storied home finally reopens. Closed since 2005, the historic, and crumbling, Bolshoi Theatre was due to open this month — until it was pushed back after emergency work to save it from collapsing.