GDANSK, Poland (Reuters) - Thousands of soccer fans have chosen Poland’s historic harbor city of Gdansk as a base ahead of England’s final World Cup group stage clash against Belgium in Russia’s Kaliningrad.
Gdansk, which was a host city for the UEFA Euro 2012 soccer tournament, is only 160 km (100 miles) from Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea coast.
“We’re getting a minibus from Central Gdansk to Kaliningrad the very first thing in the morning, then it picks us up after the game and we come back,” England fan Darren told Reuters.
“So we’ll just get in and get out on the same day, that’s the plan.”
Darren, from Leicestershire, who has traveled previously to the Copa America and the African Nations Cup as well as several European Championships and World Cups, said the tournament in Russia has been the most difficult to organize transport for.
According to Poland’s border agency, big groups of fans are expected to cross the Polish-Russian border on Wednesday night and on Thursday before the match, which kicks off at 1800 GMT.
Gdansk has a well-developed hotel infrastructure and is easily reached via a number of budget airlines — in contrast to some Russian cities that are hosting games.
Some supporters pointed to costly airfares and accommodation prices in Kaliningrad and a lack of direct flights.
“Gdansk is cheaper to fly to,” said Alexander, from Bruges in Belgium.
Kaliningrad’s Soviet-era Khrabrovo airport has undergone extensive renovation for the World Cup, but even though the city is Russia’s westernmost it serves only a few international destinations.
“If you wanted an indirect flight, it was, I think, 1,200-1,300 pounds for a 14-hour flight via somewhere else. So the easiest option, the cheapest option as well, was to fly via Gdansk,” said England fan James, also from Leicestershire.
Buses — like flights, booked by many supporters soon after the draw was held on Dec. 1 — were even cheaper.
The Belgian football federation also arranged coaches for about 200-300 people, Quentin from Liege told Reuters.
Some fans were taking a relaxed approach, however.
“We’ve only booked our flights about a month or three weeks ago,” said Charlie from Buckinghamshire in England, who with 24 hours to go was considering taking a taxi from Gdansk to Kaliningrad for Thursday’s game.
“We’re going to sort that out later,” he said.
Reporting by Anita Kobylinska and Pawel Goraj; Editing by Catherine Evans