Sochi: Spring Break with Sun and Snow

May 19, 2010 at 10:18 am (Uncategorized)

Sunday night (April 26th) we had to meet at the train station at eleven thirty in order to begin our long journey to Sochi.  Sochi is a city in the South of Russia, which is on the Black Sea and in the Caucaus Mountains.  It is also going to be the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.  It takes 30 hours to get from Vladimir to Sochi on the train, so we had all packed lots of goodies for the ride.  Our train left Vladimir at 12:40 am on Monday the 27th of April.

On Monday we spent most of the day playing cards, or any other sort of game we could think of.  We played the game where each person writes the name of a famous person on a slip of paper and hands it to the person next to them.  That person puts the paper on their forehead without looking at it and has to guess who they are using yes or no questions.  The Russians on the train all thought we were crazy, and they kept giving us weird looks while passing us.  I guess it must have been bizarre to see six Americans clutching pieces of paper to their foreheads.  We were extremely bored and extremely stuffed the entire day.  We realized that we had brought way too much food, so we ate it all day since we had nothing else to do.

When we woke up on Tuesday, we could see lots of green and finally, the Black Sea.  We arrived in Sochi at 9:30 am.  We were all ecstatic to see so much green and hear so many birds singing.  The weather was very warm as well.  We immediately got into a bus and got a tour of the city.  We first went to a park in the center of Sochi that is very big, and had lots of attractions and weird statues.  We couldn’t stop saying things like, “Look how GREEN everything is!”  We also walked around the city and on the boardwalk.  Afterwards we checked into our hotel, which was an odd mix of very nice, and very crappy.  The outside was not incredibly nice looking, but the lobby was quite nice indeed, so I thought that the inside must be nice everywhere after all.  After we got into our rooms, I realized that this wasn’t exactly right.  The rooms resembled college dorm rooms.  I lived with Emily and Erin.

We immediately put on our bathing suits and sprinted down to the Black Sea to swim.  While passing the floor attendant, she asked, “Oh you guys are going down to the pool?”  When we replied that we were actually going to the ocean, she gave us a very weird look, and said, “Um, you know the pool is warmer, right?”  We didn’t care.

We had to take turns going into the Black Sea because we didn’t want anyone to steal our stuff on the beach.  So we went in groups of two.  Emily and Erin went first.  It was very cold, but they went in anyway.  Courtney and I went next, and we had to go in fast because we had been talking so much trash to Emily and Erin for being slow about it.  So within a few minutes we dunked under the water (which was about 50 degrees).  However, the cold wasn’t the only deterant as there were many jellyfish in the water.  They were moon jellies, so they don’t sting, but it was still somewhat unnerving to think that you might dive into the water and slam your face straight into a jellyfish.  Anyway, we can now all say that we have been swimming in the Black Sea!

After swimming, we were all looking forward to a nice hot shower.  We returned back to the hotel to discover that there was no hot water.  We were rewarded for going into the 50 degree sea with a lovely freezing cold shower.

The next day our excursions began.  We first went to a tea plantation to hear about how tea is made.  Tea is incredibly important to Russia, and Russians enjoy drinking it about five times a day.  Coincidentally, I was very sick of tea.  However, it ended up being interesting because I learned that there is absolutely no difference between black or green tea leaves.  All tea originates as one plant, and then they are processed differently to become green tea, black tea, white tea, or red tea.  After learning a little too much about tea, we all got to try some.  We sat in a tea house and drank black tea and ate bread with different types of jam and honey while listening to people sing and play music.  One man played the accordion, and he played smaller and smaller accordions until they got too small to play.  It was incredibly weird, but cool.

After the tea excursion, we tried the pool out.  It was certainly warmer than the ocean, but it was still seawater.  We played Frisbee in the pool and swam around until we needed to meet for dinner.

The next day we went on our first (and best) hike.  John (the Moscow resident director) for some reason made the Vladimir group go way ahead of the rest, so we all took a marshrutka to the mountain.  A marshrutka is a form of Russian transportation that is acts as a bus, but is essentially a van.  They are very uncomfortable because you get squeezed in with many people, and then the drivers weave in and out of traffic at the speed of light.  I would compare these devil vans with the Knight Bus from Harry Potter, except obviously without the magic.

The hike was very beautiful because there were many flowers, and lots of green.  The first half and hour of the hike was incredibly difficult because it was very steep and none of us were in shape as we had been eating Russian food all winter long (a.k.a slabs of butter and tubs of oil).  However, it was all worth it because we got to see good views of the mountain.  At the end of our hike there was a magnificent waterfall, complete with a pond that we could swim in.  The Black Sea was a hot tub compared to this damn pond.  It was 30 degrees.  Of course, all of Vladimir went in anyways, because by God we were going to beat Moscow and Petersburg.  However, Evgeni, the teacher who came with us, told us that we had to ease into it in order to not go into shock.  The worst part was putting your feet in, and after that it was better because at least part of your body was completely numb.  Of course, when the other two groups showed up, they jumped right in.  However, after that they couldn’t really stay in for more than thirty seconds.  Win.

After finishing the hike, we ate Georgian food at a restaurant.  It was very good.  We actually had quite a lot of Georgian food on the trip because we were so close to it.  Afterwards we all had to get on marshrutkas again, except there wasn’t enough room for everyone.  When seven of us couldn’t fit, John decided to march us all down the side of a highway in order to get one.  About ten minutes into walking on the highway and trying to avoid maniac drivers, John hailed a marshrutka and we all, thankfully, got on.

The next day we went on another hike.  None of us understood why we couldn’t separate the two hike days, but instead John put them back to back.  This hike sucked.  We walked up a highway to the top of the mountain, which was absolutely zero percent interesting.  The only semi interesting part of the hike was when a dog attacked me halfway up.  It was only trying to herd me away from its house, but for a while I thought it was going to bite me.  At the top of the mountain there were several weird things, the first of these being the variety of animals you could be photographed with.  There were parrots, a peacock, a monkey, and a lion.  It was very unlike Russia.  We had lunch and went up a tower to see the view.  It was rather foggy, so the view wasn’t as good as it could have been.  However, it was still the best part of the excursion.

Afterwards, there was not enough room on the bus for everyone to go back down the mountain, so people were encouraged to walk down.  All but two people who volunteered were from Vladimir.  We all walked down the mountain cursing John for being the worst organizer ever.  By the halfway point, our feet and knees were killing us, and we were not pleased.  We later found out that each way walking was 7 miles.  So we hiked 14 miles that day.  Thanks John.

After the hike, we decided that we deserved McDonalds.  Unfortunately, the trek to McDonalds turned out to be a little more of a hike than we wanted because we couldn’t remember exactly where it was.  However, when we got there, we literally ran up to the doors yelling, “Yeeeeeeah!!”  It was only later that we realized what huge dorks we were.  Drew bought Emily and I fries and a muffin because he was so grateful that we found McDonalds for him.  It might have been the best meal ever.

The next day we were all incredibly sore.  Luckily we didn’t have a hike.  Instead we were going to Krasnaya Polyana, a very popular ski resort, and the future Olympic mountain.  It also happens to be Putin’s favorite ski location.  We found out that Medvedev was planning on coming to the mountain that day as well, but alas we didn’t see him.  We did, however, see his plane at the airport on the way to the mountain.  Yes, I saw the Russian equivalent of Air Force One.

At the mountain, several of us paid to ride up the ski lift to the top.  There were four lifts that we needed to ride in order to get to the top, and each one was a dinky two person chair.  It took and hour to get to the top.  It was an absolutely gorgeous view because we could see so much of the Caucausas.  The Moscow teacher got off the last lift and immediately ran up the hill, tearing her shirt off, and screaming, “Everyone take your clothes off!!”  Needless to say, she was a bit nuts.  She was also hilarious.  Everyone took lots of crazy group pictures.  Once we got down, we spent a little time wandering around the mountain base before we had to get back on the bus and go to a honey farm.  At the honey farm we learned about different types of honey and got to try some.  I learned that not all honey is delicious.

Our last excursion was a little weird.  First we went to a river and were supposed to drive up a ways to see a good view of the river and go into a cave.  John came on the bus microphone and told us, “Well, um, the road up to the view is closed so we have to hike.”  Most of the Vladimir group wanted off with his head.  I suppose it wasn’t his fault, but we were still super sore from having to walk 14 miles the other day instead of 7 like everybody else.  It was only a ten minute hike up to where we were going, but it was straight uphill, and I have never felt that much pain in my life.  It was all for nothing as well, because we could hardly see the river, and the lady working there refused to open the gate for us to see the better view and get into the cave.  We were more than a little bitter about this.

We walked back down to the river, and hung out there for awhile.  There was a rope bridge, so I walked across that, and then I found some sand on the bank of the river, and lay in that for awhile.

Afterwards, we had to go to the second part of the excursion, which was a fish hatchery.  No one was particularly interested in the fish, but we got to see the whole process.  We saw tiny baby fish, then we saw bigger fish, and then we saw a lady in the parking lot slicing people’s purchases open and throwing their guts into the parking lot.

That night, Medvedev ate at our hotel.  Emily, Erin, three of the Moscow girls, and I went running down to the beach (where the restaurant was) a little too late because we had only just gotten back from dinner.  We had missed him.  One of the Moscow girls went up to a security guard, and asked, “Where’s our president?”  The guy responded, “He’s over on the dock having tea with Putin.”  We sort of had to pull her away, because she thought the guard was serious, and we had to tell her that he was joking.  We found out later that even the people who had been down there when Medvedev showed up hadn’t seen him either because he had so many security guards, and he went through the back door.

When I was in a produkti (a small Russian grocery store) buying chips, a man rather demandingly asked for expensive chocolate while I was putting my money away.  As I was walking out the store, he called me back over and gave me the chocolate.  This is what we have dubbed, “the pretty discount” because if you are remotely attractive, Russian men will often buy you things, or at least give you large discounts on things you are buying.

The next day we didn’t have an excursion because it was our last day in Sochi.  St. Petersburg had to leave at six in the morning to make their train.  However, we weren’t leaving until three, so most of us spent the day walking along the boardwalk.  We were all sad to be leaving because it was so beautiful and interesting there.

We spent most of our nights on Sochi walking on the boardwalk, and then having a beer on the beach.  Russians don’t have the same idea of not drinking in public as Americans do.  It was really nice to have a beer and watch the sun set.  It seemed pretty normal to me to see the sun set over the water, but everyone else was from the East Coast, so they never see the sun set over the ocean.  It was also really nice because the sun has also started setting a lot later, so it was light until about nine.  (Now it is setting at around ten and rising at four thirty or five—we’re a lot closer to white nights).

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