So what’s Sochi like? Well, everything is brand new and immaculate. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere so clean. The hotels still smell of fresh paint, the receptions are still in temporary locations. The new electric railway system still has workmen fitting wires to fix the platform signs that still don’t work.
The roads outside my hotel are lined with bulldozers, diggers and cranes. Construction workers are hastily filling in pot holes, mending roofs, planting trees, sweeping snow from the roads in time for the Games. It’s very much still a work in progress – and they’ve got just under three weeks to go. Apparently there’s no wine being sold in the bars because all the licences are stuck in the port and haven’t made it through customs yet.
There are police officials and guards everywhere, patrolling the streets, lining every entrance and exit. Soldiers stand in formation on the side of the road. There are scanning machines in every building, it’s like passing through airport security a dozen times a day. Every time you have to take off your coat (and often snow boots and belt in my case), put your bag through the x-ray machine, empty your pockets, walk through the scanner, have a Russian lady pat me down. Then they have to go through my laptop bag, demonstrate that my laptop does actually turn on, as does my camera, my phone… It’s all so tedious that it’s put me off entering buildings unless I really have to. Not that I’m complaining (at least not too much…). I’d rather they were over-cautious than we all become victims of a terrorist attack.
I went to visit the newly-built alpine town of Rosa Khutor yesterday. “It looks like a European city!” said one Russian girl I met on the bus. “Well, I’ve never been to Europe but it’s what I imagine it looks like.” She’s not far off. It’s exactly how someone who’s never been to Europe would build a European city, like they chose the building designs from a catalogue called “European Buildings” and made it look like the streets of Austria. Sandstone-coloured buildings with terracotta paving stones and big glass shop windows selling expensive ski gear and jewellery.
However, it’s completely empty – like a ghost town. Shop assistants are slumped behind tills, waiting for customers to arrive. The shelves of the wine shop remain untouched. Waitresses linger on restaurant floors with freshly pressed aprons, ready to invite anyone who even shows remote interest inside. The whole town has got that pre-party atmosphere to it – waiting with nervous anticipation for the guests to arrive. Except there’s another two weeks until most people turn up in Rosa Khutor and nearly three weeks until the Games kick off. So for now, the town is largely populated by security guards roaming every corner – and me with my camera.