Monday, February 3, 2014

Settling In Across Sochi

 
Day one in the Olympic City was restful then productive. Dozed off just before dawn local time, and awoke to a gorgeous sunny day with the Black Sea and Central Sochi on the horizon from my perch atop the Aks Hotel.

By perch I mean the penthouse -- this five-level hotel is on the side of a large elevation sort of around the bend from the city center. The topography reminds me of those areas of San Francisco where a dramatic elevation blocks a clear view of the urban sprawl. All three taxi drivers hired today each joked that the driveway to my hotel is a "typical Russian road" since a Hummer or Jeep 4x4 would do better on the gravel and water-swept off-road course for the final three blocks of the approach (I will try to photograph this "Road to Sochi" tomorrow).

The Southern view is spectacular, and as my eyes adjusted to the midday sun I spotted the Port of Sochi and one of the cruise ships on the horizon, not far from three Russian Navy vessels about a mile off-shore. Sunset over the Black Sea (shown) also was a feast for the eyes.

Though far-removed from the main city, the taxi ride into town is easy (even with the potholes) and downtown Sochi is a bit like Long Beach or even San Diego with the harbor traffic and many high rise buildings all around. Most of the street lights now don a Sochi.Ru 2014 banner or an LED display shaped like the Sochi sports pictograms (though about every 10th LED looks like it was created by a high school shop class flunky).

My driver dropped me right at Sochi Port at the just-opened Sochi Media Center.

Like similar media centers in Torino and London, the SMC is inside a spectacular and historic venue I suspect opened as a shipping exchange in the 1800s. There are about 300 computers and dozens of giant screen Samsung TV monitors inside -- this place will be a fun "office" not far from "home" in the neighborhood.

About a quarter mile from SMC is the main collection of cruise ships (some friends are staying at a similar cruise ship option in Adler). Though I could not yet board my floating apartment booked for Feb 6-20, the Princess Anastasia is decked out with Olympic sponsor ads and the ship's berth is next to an enormous set of the Olympic rings painted white for the night, likely to appear soon on Olympic broadcast promos. The rings nicely frame the skyline and I felt lucky to get to walk out on a lighting scaffold for some evening photos.

While walking through the seaside shopping district, I noted there were no "Sochi stray dogs" as reported by the Associated Press (if there were strays around, they are now gone in the City Center areas visited today).

But there ARE a number of feral cats. I lost count of all the cats spotted around Sochi Port, near the hotel, the airport parking and about town. How come the AP did not report about all the pussies in this part of Russia?

Thanks to pre-Games research, I found a small Greek café not far from the wharf, window shopped at a nearby mall (remember, no luggage from KLM means I need clothes!) and also stocked up on a few grocery necessities at a 24-hour market next door.

Fun to discover Olympic sponsor beverages including juice boxes with the Sochi Olympic mascots, cereal and Coke products.
Even more fun to find one of my all-time favorite beverages -- Caffeine-Free Dr. Pepper, a drink rarely spotted in Atlanta -- in the store cooler. And this tasty treat is canned in Texas, not Europe, for that home town corn syrup goodness.

While shopping for the right vodka a gaggle of Sochi Olympic volunteers swarmed the store, with two friendly English speakers informing me never (NEBBER!) to get caught drinking on the street.

That's OK, I thought, later happy to toast day one in Sochi while watching the Olympic trains speed along the seaside tracks, just down the mountain from Aks Hotel. Za schast'ye, Sochi! To happiness!

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver



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