AS we head off in search of accreditation, the England bus is already parked at St Petersburg airport, the bright livery standing out against the drab grey building that squats below the dull, cloudy skies.
The players’ flight from Birmingham was due to land at around 5pm local time and they will no doubt be whisked through security and straight on their way to Repino.
No such luck for the journalists and other workers arriving at the airport today – even, it seems a few very eager fans.
St Petersburg will not be as busy as either of the Moscow airports but there is an abundance of World Cup signage and plenty of channels devoted to those with official FIFA accreditation or simply match tickets.
That said, yesterday it was the non-specific queues that were moving faster – a dodge perhaps for England fans to in mind when they eventually make their own way to Russia.
“Faster” being relative, of course. About half-an-hour all-told to make it through the border – and that is before the mayhem really gets started.
The Russian alphabet is strange enough, with its backward letters and Ps that mean R. But there is on other element that visitors will just have to get used to. You cannot get from A to B without encountering a Q.
POETS probably would not bother composing that many odes to England’s World Cup base and that is a good job – because it is a potential minefield.
According to the locals, Repino does not rhyme with rhino or chino, as has generally been reported back in England, but minnow – which might at least be more appropriate for Gareth Southgate’s fashionable but thin-skinned and inexperienced side. Oh, and the emphasis is on the first syllable. Reh-pinnow.
The journey yesterday from the centre of St Peterburg out to England’s rural retreat for the next however many week took little over 40 minutes through miles and miles of dense silver birch forest that offers little variation in terms of scenery.
As we approach the coast, you can make out some fantastic holiday homes among the trees. This will be our base for the next few weeks – the England camp not quite visible but only short walk between the trees.
At the moment, it is extremely quiet. Too quiet? Let’s just say it will be a test of whether England players like each other as much as they seem to because there seems to be little scope for any escape.
FIRST impressions is this World Cup could change the perception of a country and its people a bit like the 2006 tournament did for Germany.
The space-age stadium in St Petersburg squats of the edge of the sea like a flying saucer, the blue water surrounding it glistening as its occupants analyse what strange goings-on are occurring around it.
There is an athletics track just across the sea. In another direction, a funfair complete with the sort of roller-coaster teams may be enduring over the course of 90 minutes. People walk their dogs alongside the lapping water, as a roller-blader whizzes by. The temperature is pleasant as the sun fights through the clouds and Russia seems in a mood to enjoy itself.
The helpers at the accreditation centre are personable and efficient – there is very much a spirit that they want visitors to enjoy what the country has to offer.
And for all the current ill-ease on a political level between our two countries – and between Vladimir Putin, his regime and much of the western world – with kick-off still a couple of days away, the early signs are that on a very personal level we will get a glimpse of what generous hosts the actual people of Russia can be.
TOMORROW: England open the doors for the first time formally to its World Cup base in Russia.