WORLD CUP: Rostov-on-Don a center for Cossack culture
MOSCOW (AP) — Cossack culture — including horses, whips and vodka — awaits World Cup fans in the southern city of Rostov.
Sweltering summer heat is likely to keep both players and fans of teams like Brazil and Iceland thirsty in a city where the pace of life is more relaxed than in Moscow.
Here's what you need to know:
The riverside Rostov Arena sits on the left bank of the Don river, an area known for its bars, cafes and artificial beaches.
After the tournament, the 45,000-seat arena will be the new home of FC Rostov, which upset Bayern Munich 3-2 in the Champions League in 2016.
WHAT TO KNOW
The region around Rostov-on-Don is proud of its heritage as the home of many Cossacks — a group who in the Czarist era blurred the boundaries between colonists, paramilitaries and an ethnic subgroup of Russians.
Cossack traditions include a love of singing, daring horsemanship and lavish feasts, and several restaurants in the city promote those traditions for visitors.
It's also the closest of the host cities to the Ukrainian border. The surrounding area has been used as a staging point for Russian troops and pro-Russian separatists during the conflict in eastern Ukraine, but is not considered dangerous.
WHAT TO DO
On a warm summer evening, fans will have a wide choice of bars and cafes. Rostov-on-Don's large Armenian population means the city boasts excellent shashlyk — juicy chunks of meat, typically lamb or chicken, roasted on skewers.
The parks and riverbanks are the social hub of the city in the summer months, but also keep an eye out for the city's unusual tradition of Soviet-style art in the pedestrian underpasses below major roads.
There will be big-screen showings of games on Theater Square in the city center.
WHAT TO WATCH
Rostov-on-Don hosts five matches, starting with Brazil taking on Switzerland in Group E on 17 June, before Uruguay meets Saudi Arabia in Group A on June 20.
Mexico faces South Korea in a Group F game on June 23, while World Cup newcomer Iceland's qualification hopes could depend on its game against Croatia in Group D on June 26.
There is also a match in the round of 16 on July 2.