Getting to Russia was never going to be easy. I thought I was doing pretty well when I got through Heathrow, boarded my flight to Istanbul airport unscathed and transferred onto my flight to Sochi. It was unexpectedly smooth. Then I arrived in Russia.
Every stereotype you’ve ever imagined when it comes to picturing Russian police officials are all absolutely 100 per cent true. Big fur hat, breeches, chiselled jawline, knee-high leather boots. They were stood waiting outside our plane as we disembarked at Sochi airport, like characters from a Cold War Thriller. I kind of wanted to laugh but decided it was probably best not to. Especially considering that if there was one country you shouldn’t piss about in while heading towards passport control, it’s Russia.
The airport was as I expected – grey concrete Soviet architecture, decorated with a few outdated-looking posters – but littered with brightly coloured, incredibly helpful Olympics volunteers. They were so helpful, so smiley, that it was a welcome relief after twenty hours of travelling to have someone escort me to a cafe, translate my order into Russian, show me how to work the WiFi while waiting for the bus and even offer me their hat to keep my head warm!
Forty-five minutes later the bus arrived. I was helped aboard by an over-friendly, awkward Russian teenage volunteer who spoke impeccable English. I climbed aboard waiting for the others to join me. No one got on. It was just me. Alone on the bus. My gangly helper just stood outside the door, waving. “Good luck!” he cried. I’m sure it was said with every good intention, but there’s something just a little unnerving about being plonked on an empty bus with a Russian bus driver at 5.45am and being sent off into the dark mountains.
The driver didn’t say a word as we passed down the newly-tarmacked motorway, illuminated by the orange glow from the street lamps. Eventually the blackened roads turned white as we headed up into the mountains and a huge complex of new apartment blocks came into view. But the driver kept on driving. He eventually pulled up on the side of a dual carriageway and opened the door onto a pile of snow. This definitely wasn’t my hotel. I tried protesting in English but he was too busy trying to talk down his radio to his colleague, presumably asking for directions. We sat there for some time waiting for a response.
Eventually the bus driver stood up and said, “Come”. He took my suitcase out of the hold and placed it on the snow by the road before jabbering in Russian again. He seemed to want me to stay put. On the side of this dual carriage way. With my suitcase wedged in a snow bank. Then he climbed aboard and drove off….
Continued in next post