Instagrammed: One week in Sochi, Russia

“How was Russia? How was Russia?” everyone keeps asking.

(Which is a fair question, I don’t think I’d be friends with anyone not curious about a trip to Russia.)

Well, Russia was fantastic.

…but I didn’t see much outside the hotel.

Flying into Moscow — my very first glimpse of Russia

That’s the thing about work trips: you don’t sample much of the local food because you’re at the hotel buffet for every meal; you can’t explore the city because you’re busy working from sunrise to midnight every single day.

(While most people would consider that a personal hell, I absolutely enjoyed every moment of it. When you’re doing what you love, even the 20-hour workdays are still fun.)

But that’s also why I don’t have many photos of Sochi, the city itself — and I’m guessing very few of you would be interested in snapshots of my colleagues or the goings-on behind our sports association congress.

The view from my hotel balcony. Athletes’ Village on left, Olympic venues distant right.

So what can I tell you about Sochi?

I can tell you the people are incredibly friendly (much friendlier than the Russians I met in Moscow airport — though that’s not exactly the highest threshold to be judged against; a shrub with a hat has more personality than the irate passengers I met at Moscow airport).

I can tell you the city itself — the part gearing up for the Olympics, anyway — looks pretty scrubbed up and sparkly, like the quiet girl getting ready for prom. Flying over the newly-built roads and highways, I was eerily reminded of a child’s Hot Wheels racetrack. Work is still ongoing, there’s still a good deal of dust and construction on the grounds; I can’t wait to see how drastically different the city looks ten months now.

Sunset view from the hotel bar. I’m not kidding when I say the Olympic Park is literally next to the Black Sea.

I can tell you the view from the hotel on the Olympic Park grounds is spectacular: one side overlooks the Black Sea; the other faces the mountains and Athletes’ Village, the Olympic venues in the distance.

I got the latter, and that view was a brilliant way to start the morning.

(Another sidenote: the staff at the Radisson Blu there are fantastic — one young woman working the front desk was fluent in French, she was a total lifesaver when my language skills weren’t up to snuff when speaking with our African delegates. Also, totally put me to shame because she learned all of her French in Russia.)

As I was there for a sports press congress, the whole lot of us (nearly 300 journalists) were given a tour of the Olympic venues. We weren’t able to see inside the Mountain Cluster venues, but we were given tours of the Sea Cluster venues as construction on those buildings has been completed for a while — in fact, the Bolshoi ice dome (below) was hosting the World Ice Hockey U18 Championships while we were there. 

Sochi is nothing like I expected Russia to be, and while I had my reservations about it as an Olympic host city, after my visit I now can certainly understand the appeal. And in case I don’t make it to next year’s Winter Games, I’m grateful to have experienced at least a tiny bit of the Olympic magic that’s already there in the city, with less than a year to go until Sochi 2014.

Yep, those are the Olympic venues. Until next time, Sochi…

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Comments

  1. Beautiful! I would love the chance to get to Sochi sometime next year and check it out…oh yea, and see the Olympics (although I’m a bigger summer Olympics fan!) Sochi looks like Abkhazia. Can’t believe we were so close!

    • I know, funny timing hey? I hope you get to the Olympics next year, we could meet up if I happened to be there too!

  2. Moscow is high on my list of places to visit – but these pictures really make me want to see Sochi, too. Definitely not during winter though… maybe for a summer escape next year.

    • Sochi is quite southerly, it’s right on the Black Sea so it’s actually quite warm there! In fact, it was warmer than Paris during the winter…

  3. I can’t believe the Sochi Olympics are coming up so quickly – feels like it wasn’t that long ago that I was bursting with pride over the Vancouver games.

    Sochi certainly looks much different than I would have expected – I’m keeping my fingers crossed that you’ll get to cover it – I loved your look at the London games!

    • I know, I can’t believe it either; I still remember being a senior in college and watching the Olympics in Vancouver each night after classes…thanks for the good wishes, I’ve got my fingers crossed too!

  4. Somehow I had no idea Sochi had the next Olympics – looks pretty mindblowing – what an exciting trip!

    • Yeah it’s crazy how many people haven’t heard of it, the people in the airport kept asking if I was going to China!

  5. Gorgeous pictures! How close are they to completion with the facilities?

    • Almost all the venues look complete or near completion, but they still have a ways to go on the surrounding park area — but it’s the smart thing to do really, finishing venues first and focusing on things like grass and flowers later.

  6. Funny you should mention the unfriendliness of Moscow airport employees, because for some reason or another, everyone in bureaucratic official service positions will be incredibly annoyed that they have to deal with customers, but if you have anything at all to do with Russians outside of this context, they’ll feed you and give you vodka and let you stay at their house. It’s like they’re just allergic to protective glass or something.

    • Oh it wasn’t the airport employees — it was the passengers themselves. But I agree, the Russians I met outside the airport were very hospitable and kind.

  7. Looks cool. I wouldn’t mind getting a job to send me to Russia for a little while.

  8. I’ve been curious about Russia… and despite having 3-4 weeks after my contract ends before going home, gulp, I still have no travel plans. hmmm… time to research or just randomly by a flight or train ticket to anywhere in Europe!

  9. I have gotten SO many questions about Russia after my trip in February. It’s interesting to see just how fascinated people are by the country. I hope you get a chance to head back with a bit more free time!

  10. “a shrub with a hat has more personality than the irate passengers I met at Moscow airport”

    This made me snort my tea! Priceless! We’ll be going to Russia for the first time next year so now I’m prepared not to expect much upon arrival.

  11. I’m exactly the same as you. I would be happy as a clam to spend 20 hour workdays in a foreign country! What an awesome experience!

  12. Wow! This trip probably wouldn’t have been so cool if you weren’t working – I mean, I’m guessing a tour of the future Olympic grounds isn’t something just anyone gets to do. Thanks for the photos – it looks like a beautiful spot for the next games, though it does seem like the last ones just finished. Where does time go?

    • I don’t know, it’s scary how fast time goes — can you believe next year’s the World Cup again already??

  13. Hmmm, as someone who lived in Vancouver for 8 years right up to the 2010 Olympics, locals became aware of all the plans to be environmentally conscious, transportation plans, etc.

    It would be impressive that Sochi did the same thing. They have/will have a problem : they don’t have a culture of volunteerism, en masse, which is required for some of the performances, event jo-jobs, etc. Vancouver requires several thousand locals to volunteer, plus all the different companies with contract/permanent staff.

    I assume you were there because of your job?

    • They might not have the culture of it, but from what I saw those who were volunteering for the test run events were just as energetic and nice as ones at previous games I’ve attended, so I think there’ll be so many people that excited about the Olympics that it won’t be too much of an issue. And yep, I was there for work.

  14. Ive always wanted to go to Russia. Would you go back there if you were asked to help work at the winter olympics again?

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