When Sochi won the bid to host the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, it was a mere blip on my radar. Not only had I never heard of the city before, I had no idea where in Russia it was. I know I am not alone there.
Today I had the pleasure of discovering this unique Russian city and here is what I learned.
The people in Sochi rank among the friendliest I have ever met. English is not a language many of the inhabitants speak – but that is not an impediment to them. Hand signals, pointing and many other gestures overcome any barriers. Those who have even a basic knowledge of the English language use it to the fullest – and throughout the day, communication was a total non-issue.
There is no doubt that the Sochi natives are proud of their city. It rivals Tokyo for cleanliness. No garbage of any kind litters the streets or sidewalks.
It is two weeks until winter but you would never know it here. Palm trees and other subtropical plants are the predominant foliage, as green as those in any city south of the Equator at this time of year. I was reminded of my Australian homeland so many times as I walked through Sochi’s many exquisite parks. The temperature is in the teens during the day and slightly cooler in the evenings.
Restaurants abound on the boardwalk that will be open during the Games. Interesting food accompanied by waves crashing on the shore makes for an awesome dining experience.
We researched prices at one of the beach restaurants. Here is what you can expect to pay (check your currency conversions): eggs and bacon 120 rubles; the local fish (Barulybia) 120 rubles; Russian beer 90 rubles; Expresso or Americano coffee 90 rubles; a half liter of cognac on the beach (depending on the quality) will set you back anywhere from 1,100 to 1,600 rubles; a half liter of Beluga vodka 2,000 rubles and a bottle of fabulous Russian champagne is a total steal at 300 rubles.
Away from the water, IFS senior writer and photographer Elina Paasonen chose PNC, in downtown Sochi, on a whim for dinner. The menu boasts a vast array of options (predominantly Japanese with interesting pizza offerings). It was a total steal when it came to dollar value and the food ranked as fabulous.
Construction is a round-the-clock adventure as it is with every city in the year leading up to an Olympic Games and while many structures are yet to be finalized or even constructed, I have no doubt this city will be ready long before February 2014.
New hotels dot the skyline in every part of the city. If the exceptional service at the Radisson Blu, one of the media hotels for this Grand Prix Final (and where I am staying) is anything to go by, Olympic guests can expect the royal treatment.
While highway signs are not in English at this stage the ones that lead you to the airport are. However, street signs in the core are in both languages so navigation of the city (which some refer to as a big village) is a breeze.
I withdrew money using my Canadian debit card at both the Home Credit Bank and sberbank.ru without any problem. You can also withdraw funds from credit cards at a number of other financial institutions dotted across the city.
Be prepared to spend big bucks at the Olympic store in Sochi. A toque and scarf at the official store will set you back 3600 rubles (US$150). Russian gear for these Games started at US$250 for a vest to over $1,500 for a knee-length jacket. These prices are reminiscent of those in Vancouver in 2010.
My overall assessment of the preparation, possibilities, service and hometown excitement for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games: 6.0.