A spontaneous visit the opening ceremony of the
2014 Olympic Winter Games.
Attending the Olympic Games was a long time wish of mine that I kept on postponing for many reasons: Either it was too far away, too expensive or lack of remaining vacation days at my job. Moreover, a trip to these games requires careful planning – months ahead of the event - Or – maybe not.
In fact, one week before the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics, I read a local newspaper predicting in an article that the stadium of the opening ceremony might be half-empty. Ticket sales were not as expected.
So I went to the official Sochi ticketing site which confirmed the news. I could spot tickets for the opening ceremony still being sold. Quickly, I started to make the plan to attend the event in Sochi. The upcoming Friday was a scheduled day off at work, meaning a long weekend. And - for reasons beyond this blog report - I do carry a multiple-entry Russian visa.
After securing the event ticket online, booking a (surprisingly cheap) flight and (surprisingly expensive) Bed & Breakfast, I was all set to leave. Two days later I arrived at 5 am in Sochi.
The plan was to pick up the ticket and the spectator pass using my online reservation. Since my room was only ready by 2 pm, I would still have time left to visit the town of Sochi during the remainder of the morning.
Reality turned out to be a bit quite different from my day plan. After a quick breakfast in a local fast food chain, I went to the main Olympic ticket office at the Sochi railway station. I started to queue like the rest of the crowd already there. But it was 8 am, and I was sure that the queue - disappearing around the corner - would quickly advance.
After about two hours, I reached the corner from where I could see the progress. And I realized that so far I only made it half-way to the entrance. The line continued up the stairs to the first floor, where the ticket office is located.
When I booked online, I "hacked" myself into a ticket reservation: Since the event tickets for the opening ceremony were sold on the official Swiss agency, I went ahead and booked directly on the official Sochi site. This meant, however, that I had to fib about my nationality. To pass their reservation system successfully, I entered all data truthfully, but selected "Nationality: Russia". Therefore, I was a bit concerned how strict the ticket office would double-check my passport against the nationality registered in their system.
Standing in line during a cold winter morning with an uncertain outcome required some self-motivation. I did this by telling myself that this was a real Russian travel experience. I now had a first-hand experience how the day-to-day Soviet-era life must have been. I was laughing at myself standing in a line for hours not knowing whether it was the correct one. Or whether I would get what I expected, once I was at the counter. Mentally, I was prepared for the worst.
After a total of four hours, I finally reached the entrance of the ticket office. Once inside, I was given a number. The announced waiting time for my number was another hour. However, the room was warm, had some vending machines and a toilet – which I urgently needed by now.
Despite my concerns, picking up the ticket and the spectator pass – was a snap. Nobody cared whether I was Russian or not. On the contrary, the ticket counter people were eager to help me – the silly tourist – through the process. And they were eager to move the queue forward. No time for questions, no time for arguing. My luck! By the time I left the ticket office, it was 1 pm – just enough time to buy a local SIM card (hey, I need Internet!). After that, I decided to catch a train to the town of Adler to take a nap at my B&B, which was located not far from the Olympic grounds.
That evening I went by foot to the Olympic park. Security controls were tight but very efficient and polite. Once inside the Olympic park, I was amazed about the sheer size of the place. What looks relatively compact on Google maps, turns out to be quite a hike: 20 minutes from the entrance gate to the Fisht stadium, where the event was taking place.
Walking that distance, I was stoked like a small child: The various light shows and illuminated buildings were spectacular, and the overall atmosphere among the visitors and staff was both relaxed and excited. Once inside the stadium, I was surprised to see it filled up to the last seat! I can only speculate whether the organisers have decided to give away the tickets for free - or if Russians usually do last-minute shopping. Anyhow, the opening ceremony show was gigantic, emotional and absolutely superb.
On the next day, I went back to the Olympic park for breakfast and a stroll among the five huge stadiums. To complete the experience, I also went by train to the so-called “Mountain Cluster” - to the villages of Krasnaya Polyana and Rosa Khutor.
The mountain site is huge. I wonder what will happen to all the buildings, shops and restaurants after the Olympic games. I struggle to believe that this area will receive the same amount of visitors throughout a regular "non-event" year.
Nevertheless, these mountain villages are set in a very scenic area, and it is worth coming back to these places for a holiday.