Sunday, February 2, 2014

Welcome to Sochi

About an hour ago we landed in Sochi. Sitting now in my room at the off-the-beaten-path Aks Hotel, I am very pleased with the Russia experience (the first hour of it, that is).

Aeroflot from Frankfurt was easy. The 90 year Russian airline took great care of us -- wonderful food, excellent hospitality, quiet time to nap and many gestures of "Welcome to Sochi" and the Olympics.

During our descent above the Black Sea, with the coastal cityscape and mountain venues aglow, the flight attendants delivered chrome key chains with a tiny metal jet and Sochi 2014 Olympic fob. Nice touch!
Passport control was faster than China, and the hotel was nice enough to arrange a taxi. So for the first time in my life I was greeted with a smiling driver and a typed sign "Welcome Nicholas WolaBer" just steps from baggage claim.

It was fun to bump into familiar faces from National Public Radio's production team arriving from Istanbul.

The Aks Hotel is about 3km from everything, nestled in a residential suburban area, and the taxi ride included brief off-roading around construction zones. But the Sochi highway system is ultra-modern and impressive. I was so happy the hotel manager gave me the key and said "sleep well and see you later today" when we arrived. This place is sort of a hotel-pension hybrid and the night sky and Black Sea are down the hill from my rooftop room.

Russian TV has no Super Bowl updates, but news about Philip Seymour Hoffman's apparent drug overdose is on many channels.

A 1940s Russian cartoon version of "Sleeping Beauty" or some similar fairy tale involving a violin-playing prince, a torch-carrying mob and a lot of swans will help me transition to slumber in no time.

More updates to follow -- with daylight, gotta find some fresh clothes and a toothbrush to get by until KLM arrives with my Detroit-stranded bag. Looking forward to trying the bus to Central Sochi.

So far so good!

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

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