Sochi Olympics

A spontaneous visit the opening ceremony of the
2014 Olympic Winter Games.

10 February 2014

From the idea to the trip

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.

Queue like the Russians do

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.

The Olympic venues

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.

Pictures

Athletes carrying the olympic flag
Athletes carrying the olympic flag
Bolshoy Ice Dome stadium
Bolshoy Ice Dome stadium
Russian athletes entering the stadium
Russian athletes entering the stadium
Olympic flame in the night sky
Olympic flame in the night sky
People walking along a riverbed at Krasnaya Polyana
People walking along a riverbed at Krasnaya Polyana
View of Rosa Khutor
View of Rosa Khutor