Sochi Winter Olympics: Back To The Mountains

Rainy morning in Krasnaya Polyana. The sun doesn't rise until 8.30am

Rainy morning in Krasnaya Polyana. The sun doesn’t rise until 8.30am

After four days of good food and sunshine, I climbed back on a plane to Sochi from Istanbul. As I was waiting at the gate, I overheard a man in the queue say to his friend, “Is this your first time in Sochi?” Yes, he replied. “Four weeks in Sochi is like four years anywhere else.” How true this is. It’s not that I’m not glad to be working at the Winter Olympics, but it seems to be a very slow, lingering process waiting for the action to kick off.

Most broadcasters are in town now. Journalists are arriving by the bus load. It’s great to hear English, American, Canadian, French, German voices being spoken over breakfast. The camera crews are busy setting up their equipment on the mountain before official training starts later this week. I saw one Swiss TV company had hired a helicopter to lift gear up and down the Alpine Centre where the skiing takes place. It’s busy but in a good way. All we need now are the athletes.

I’ve also moved into a new flat with three very sweet Russian girls, who’ve gone to the extent of writing down a few useful Russian phrases for me to use – including “sorry” which is pronounced “izvinite”, which is coming in handy as I’m continuously bashing into people with my big, geeky camera backpack.

A few things to note now I’m back in the ‘hood…

  • I thought there was just a couple of stray dogs up in Krasnaya Polyana. Nope, they’re everywhere. They’ve even got puppies that follow them around and sit outside the Media Centre, which obviously means foreigners (like me) stop and take pictures of them.
    Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 20.39.21
  • It’s bizarrely warm up in the mountains, about 6ºc. I don’t want to be a buzz kill on the whole Olympic spirit, but Krasnaya Polyana is toasty. Yesterday, I was up at the Laura Biathlon Centre and the sun was out. As I walked, the snow was turning to slush beneath my feet. They’ve obviously done a very good job preserving what’s there with the snow canons, but the corduroy just doesn’t seem hardy enough to withstand, well, anything… and today, it’s raining.
Lovely weather, but not really snow friendly...

Lovely weather yesterday, but not really snow friendly…

  • There are two types of drivers in Russia: nutters and grandmas. The nutters hurl around bends at 60mph but can get you to any destination in approximately 3 minutes and 30 seconds. The grandmas drive everywhere at 30kph (19mph) despite the rather restrictive speed limit being 60kph. One Sochi shuttle bus was driving so slowly, it had other shuttles overtaking it.
  • There wasn’t a lot of action going on at the Alpine Centre yesterday, apart from the Swiss helicopter spectacle mentioned above. However, I did find these jokers tobogganing down the Olympic ski slope…

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 20.49.48

… but before I was allowed to step on the snow outside the arena, I was made to stop and wipe my feet on a rubber mat. Just in case I brought dirty gravel onto the pristine piste.

  • I learnt a few interesting nuggets of information from my new flatmates about Russian culture. Rumour has it, there have been a lot of problems with the workforce building the Olympic infrastructure, hence why schedules are supposedly a little bit… behind. My flatmates explained to me that the Russian work ethic is not based on laziness, but they will only work when they’re told to do so. It harks back to times of oppression where Russian citizens were worked like slaves – they say it’s this “slave mentality” that Russian people today hate. A bad reminder of yesteryear.
  • On a more light-hearted note, Russians love the TV programme Sherlock. Apparently, it’s everywhere. They also love Sex and the City, New Girl and Instagram. No wonder we get on so well.
  • Cigarettes are cheaper than chewing gum. I don’t know much about cigarettes but a packet is a crazy 70 roubles, which is roughly £1.20 but you can buy some for as cheap as 60p. They’ve recently brought in a law to stop people from smoking in public places i.e. the street, but it’s clearly not working as I’ve definitely seen a couple of cheeky fags being smoked around corners.

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