After being held up by things like broken suitcase wheels, bad time management, overweighed bags and overly conscientious airport staff, I finally made it to Moscow. This had been my first time back to the Russian capital since 2009 and I noticed a significant difference.
For starters, the only way to get from and to the airport was now by a swanky new train line they call ‘Aeroexpress’. The train features automated voices in Russian AND in English, plenty of leg room and a snacking trolley. It also costs £7, compared to the pennies one previously had to pay for the metro which took you to a stop very close to the airport. The only thing it does not seem to have is toilets.
To my amazement, people seemed to stare a lot less than when I last visited Russia five years ago. Does this mean Russians are slowly getting used to seeing people from different cultures? I also didn’t hear anyone shout “Ey, girl! Where did you get your tan from?” at me on the streets. This used to be a common occurrence when I lived in Moscow back then, along with many intense, long stares, which were impossible to deter, even if I stared right back. Russians aren’t easily embarrassed when it comes to staring.
After 24 hours with my good friend, good wine, good food and a wonderful visit to the banya (a Russian sauna), which was a nice contrast to the -17°C it was outside, I was off to the airport again to get to my final destination: Sochi. I was going there to cover the Winter Olympics for the Olympic News Service (ONS), but had so far not had the time to get excited about this.
I was more worried and concerned about getting everything in place beforehand and also the mere logistics of reaching my hotel. My plane was due to land just before midnight on Sunday, Jan 19, before my first working day on the Monday.
ONS staff had warned us that the hotel we’d be staying at had neither an address, nor a sign that would distinguish it from the dozens of surrounding houses and therefore gave us the address of a resort across the road. This, the team said, we should show to the taxi driver.
Even though I know Russian, I was worried I wouldn’t find the place and get stuck with a taxi driver somewhere in Sochi with no idea where I was, how to find the hotel, or who to call.
But it all turned out fine: there was plenty of volunteers wrapped in Sochi 2014 uniforms ready to guide us to the correct shuttle bus – which was still running! So, I showed the bus driver the address and he said in Russian: “I don’t know where this is but we’ll find it.”
Still nervous, I tried to make out our whereabouts looking outside the window, but failed miserably. My fate was in the driver’s hands, and his hands alone.
We stopped and he dropped me and another girl off right in front of our hotel, which had a big sign by its corner featuring the Sochi 2014 logo and a big ‘Welcome!’ (see picture below).
Once inside the hotel complex wandering around in between dozens of identical building blocks, the girl and I weren’t quite sure where to head. There were no signs pointing us to a reception or an entrance or anything else one might seek upon arrival at a hotel (see picture below).
Luckily, three random men turned up out of nowhere, and showed us to one of the building blocks, which housed the reception. We would have been walking around for hours had it not been for their help. There was only a very small hand-written ‘reception’ hiding on the door (see picture below).
After digging up a handful of Russian sentences which had been asleep in the back of my brain for years, I managed to check in, get my key and finally made my way to block number 12 where my room was located on the third floor. As I entered, I realised there was no bed. There was a desk, a wardrobe, a coat-hanger and a chair (see picture below).
And a door that led to the bathroom, which, to my surprise, even had a bath tub and some toiletries. Of course, after taking a further three-and-a-half steps into the room, I found another door which opened up into the bedroom.
We had been warned we might not even get a room to ourselves. So, if anything, I had been expecting a tiny single room – not this abundance of space comprising of a… well, a welcoming lounge?, a generously equipped bathroom and a double bedroom! I was over the moon.
I had also been warned that there was no hot water so I ran into the bathroom to run the tap. First I tried the sink: cold. Even after a good minute or so. Impatiently, I turned to the bath tub where the water quickly became luke-warm, then warm, then slightly hot. I was happy – put my PJs on and fell into bed. This was going to be a good five weeks, I thought.