January 28, 2013 (Sochi, Russia) – At the moment, the 5th Russian fix-it-man of the day is watching Holly try to explain/pantomime that the upstairs shower leaks through the ceiling and upstairs someone else is working on the pipes. And this has been the “down-time” part of the last few days! Russia has been very exciting, like this huge adventure. I’m never quite sure what to expect, where to go and when to be there, but it’s cool as long as you go with the flow. And don’t bother asking questions – you won’t get anywhere!
So here’s how our travel to Sochi started: we drove to the Zurich Airport a full 4 hours before our flight was supposed to leave. Just in case, you know. And we had to tag and drop off all our ski bags and duffels, and then go purchase tickets inside. Then we boarded the plane. So far, this sounds like a normal travel day, right?
Because this was a charter flight full of athletes and all their skis, wax tables, benches and boxes, there were about 90 bags that didn’t make the flight. But not for lack of trying. The last 10-ish rows of the plane had the seats folded down and duffels stacked up – and the row in front of them was emptied “for safety reasons”. In case the bags started sliding, I guess. I think the plane was weighted funny because when we landed, we landed HARD and there might have been a few screams from the back row (we were in the back rows).
But the flight was fine, and then we had to get through customs. Turns out getting into Russia isn’t that easy and you need an invitation, then a visa, and then you fill out identical sides of this tiny piece of paper that they stamp. What they don’t emphasize nearly enough is that the other half of that little paper is your ticket back out, and you can’t lose it. Just don’t let it out of your sight!
Our team was really lucky and all our bags made it through, so we loaded them into these huge trucks and then waited in the rain for a bus. Once we were on the bus, we waited on the side of the road for 30 minutes, then drove slowly through traffic up to the venue. Then waited some more, before going through accreditation processing.
Once we got our credentials, which you also CANNOT LOSE because there are guards in fur hats everywhere that check your creds at all these checkpoints, we went through another security scanner. Then we hopped into a gondola that took us to the Olympic village and trails at the top of the mountain, at the venue called “Laura”. Turns out the venue is named after a raging river, which is named after a girl named Laura who jumped in it to kill herself instead of living with an old prince she didn’t love. Whoa. More info on the venue and 2014 Olympics in general HERE.
After getting off the gondola, we had to check in again to get our keys to the condo, and after eating dinner at 1:00am we took the bumpiest bus ride EVER to get to our lodging. It was super exciting! We all thought the bus ride was hilarious so everyone had their phones out. The picture below helps to explain some of the bumpy ride. So yep, that was our travel to Russia! But because we arrived in the dead of night, we woke up to see beautiful mountains and check out the venue.
Basically, we’re staying in brand spanking new condos that have 5 rooms each, for 10 people total, and they’re super roomy. The only problem is the aforementioned leak in the ceiling whenever Simi and Noah shower. But we’re working on that! However, most of the village is still under construction so there are cranes and construction crews all over.
And the GUARDS. They are everywhere, and there must be several hundred volunteers all in blue jackets. The volunteers are super friendly and most speak very good english, but most of the guards don’t say a word. Except when they stop the buses to check everyone’s credentials. I told you – you don’t want to lose that thing!
Once you leave the really modern new strip of housing, things get a little messy. And I do mean that literally since there is mud and water all over, and in some parts of the road all you can smell is sewage. But what I noticed most was the absolute lack of privacy. Some people say “God is always watching”…but now I know the real deal. The Russians are always watching. There are cameras everywhere, along the fences, on the course, in the entrances to buildings.
The dining hall is about an 8-minute walk away, up the side of the bunny hill where little kids in boots up to their knees are bombing around. And what starts out as a waist-high metal fence on the right slowly morphs into a 10-foot tall fence with barbed wire spiraling over the top and cameras mounted in all directions along the wall. On our side of the fence are the new buildings, glass-walled bars, chalets and chairlifts, and on the other side there is mud, construction zones, and containers stacked on containers that provide housing for the workers. And I’m not complaining about a thing because I’m on the right side of that fence!
So here are some things I’ve figured out about Sochi so far:
- The ski trails are amazing – rolling, super wide, and with seperate trials for cross country and biathalon
- There are also two seperate stadiums, and while the biathalon is a permanent structure, the cross country stadium is a temporary one. But it’s still gigantic.
- It doesn’t look like there are other lodging options up here except for the condos, but there is a hotel at the bottom of the gondola where some of the teams are staying.
- There seem to be rules and regulations about so many little things. Like checkpoints, fences, credentials, transport, meal tickets.
- And then sometimes there seem to be no rules at all. Like what time you eat and train at, or whether your wax cabin is unlocked.
The races start on Friday with a skate sprint, Saturday a 15km skiathalon, and Sunday is the classic team sprint. I’m excited to be here and will put up more pictures when I can!