As the world’s largest sporting circus prepares to kick off, we tour lesser-known host cities by train from Moscow, and find three very different metropolises, all with a lot to offer
In the shadow of Nizhny Novgorod’s hilltop kremlin, high above the Volga River in central Russia, stands a huge statue of test pilot Valery Chkalov, named one of Stalin’s “falcons” for his aviation achievements.
The huge monument has been popular with tourists ever since it was unveiled in 1940, but this year it has been eclipsed. Visitors now take snaps of each other posing around a modern sculpture of giant red letters reading “Russia 2018”. Over the next six weeks the city formerly known as Gorky will host six World Cup matches, welcoming teams including England, Sweden, South Korea and Argentina, and there’s a discernible, if muted, buzz in the air.