Two weeks into the World Cup, a phrase has been so oft-repeated by tourists in Moscow that it could be considered an unofficial motto of the tournament: “It’s much nicer here than I thought it would be.” One American correspondent covering the tournament even dedicated a column to the surprise. “Gray and unfriendly. Barren food shelves and shadowy figures,” he wrote on what he’d imagined before arriving. “I was wrong.”
That he was wrong is, of course, partly a question of preconceived notions. It also has to do with city authorities taking substantial measures to prepare for such a large influx of tourists (and for the mayoral elections that will follow the tournament in September). Since 2015, massive renovations have taken place each summer. Roads and squares and parks have been torn up and reshaped. Softer lighting has been installed. Outdoor cafés have sprouted up along the wider sidewalks and refurbished façades.
And just in case the renovations didn’t go far enough, authorities have also spruced up the place with last-minute zachistki. Translated as “mop-up operations,” they denote authorities cleaning up whatever may soil their efforts to present a clean, safe and modern country to the world.
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