This wasn’t what I was expecting.
Sure, I was somewhat prepared for the exhausting 26-hour travel time to get to Sochi, Russia from Winnipeg, Manitoba. And I was also prepared for a bit of jet lag and adjusting to some lack of sleep. But to see the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, I was ready to take whatever was thrown my way. So far, just a day in, it has been nothing but a whole lot of good.
What I wasn’t expecting was Sochi. And most certainly I had never envisioned palm trees. Yep, I said palm trees.
When I thought about attending the 2014 Olympic Winter Olympic Games in Russia, I thought snow, cold, winter. After all, it is the “winter” Olympic Games and the Twitter handle associated with Canada’s Olympic Team is #wearewinter! And to be honest, I was so busy leading up to my departure I hadn’t taken any time to find out anything about Sochi – where it was, what it’s history was, what to expect. That is a sad reflection on me. I should have embraced the opportunity to research, study and learn about all this city had to offer before I left.
The good news is I have the best experiential learning opportunity one could possibly have – the firsthand experience of taking it all in live and in person.
Our group of friends and family of Team Jenner Jones, the Canadian Olympic women’s curling team representative, arrived in Sochi late Sunday evening so it was dark and we were pretty much consumed with getting through the airport and on to our hotel. You would think there wasn’t much to see on the drive from the airport to the hotel, but as we were carried off in our VIP van and onto the roads of Sochi, I was struck by the “newness” of everything…. New roads (Winnipeg could learn a thing or two about traffic efficiency and overpasses), new buildings, new cars. Just new.
It was the morning that surprised me and opened my eyes to the real Sochi. The sun was out as we strolled down the alley to a pathway that leads to a boardwalk along the Black Sea that rivals what you see in Long Beach or Atlantic City. I needed to get to one of six registration centres to pick up the required Spectator Pass that must be presented at every event – part of the intense security precautions to protect all participants and visitors to the Games.
The temperature today was about 15 degrees Celsius and there wasn’t any snow to be seen, other than when I cast my gaze upwards to the beautiful snow-capped mountains in the distance that seem to frame the outskirts of the Olympic venue.
The warm weather, green vegetation, colourful flowers, and water (what we drink, shower in and see along the shore) are all a positive and welcome surprise to me, as are the preparations which are quite impressive and not at all as some of the media have described.
The greeter at Canada House in Sochi
The Olympic Park is impressive. You’ve likely heard the stories about the expense Russia, and President Vladimir Putin, has put into Sochi and the Games. It shows. And I, for one, am in awe.
Among the themes developed by Russia to welcome visitors to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games is: Russia – Great. New. Open. Those who know me know I am not one to buy into marketing pitches but this one caught me and I see it as believable and genuine as I attend my first Winter Olympic Games on foreign soil.
So, just one day in, this visitor is impressed, happy, really pumped and feeling oooooh so fortunate for this opportunity. Oh yeah, and there was an opening curling game today, too, and Team Canada won 9-2 over Team China in 7 ends.
That was probably the only thing that didn’t surprise me in my first 24 hours in the seaside city of Sochi, Russia.