Sochi: From Palm Trees to Snow
Published: January 7, 2014 (Issue # 1792)
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — For visitors to the Winter Olympics, Sochi may feel like a landscape from a dream — familiar and strange at once. Palm trees evoke a tropical seaside resort, but the Black Sea itself is seriously cold; turn away from the palms and the jagged, snow-covered peaks of the Caucasus Mountains rise nearby. Lively and garish modern buildings mix with Stalin Gothic piles, like trophy wives on the arms of elderly men. Billboards are written in an alphabet where some letters sound exactly like you think they do, others mean something else and the rest are flat-out alien.
What may seem oddest of all is the city's cheerful and relaxed aura in a country stereotyped as dour. Even a local statue of Vladimir Lenin catches the casual vibe. He's not haranguing the masses, just standing under some trees with one hand in his pocket as if he's killing time waiting for a date.
Some questions and answers about the resort city often called the Russian Riviera:
Am I in Sochi?
Rather like New York City, Sochi is a sprawling municipality, incorporating four boroughs. Confusingly, one of the four is called Sochi. So it's possible to both be in Sochi and say "I'm going to Sochi."
All the Olympic events take place in the Adler borough, though the snow sports venues are often referred to as being in specific settlements such as Krasnaya Polyana and Esto-Sadok.
Sochi borough is more or less the Manhattan of the city, home to the best restaurants, coolest clubs and the main cultural institutions. The urban part of Adler also has attractive restaurants.
But while its attractions are relatively cosmopolitan, and its coastline is 90 miles long (145 kilometers), Sochi is not a big city population-wise, with only about 350,000 inhabitants.
Will They Understand Me (And Vice Versa)?
Volunteer staff at Olympics test events spoke excellent English and sometimes struck up conversations just to improve their skills (or show off). But outside the Olympic venues and large hotels, communication in languages other than Russian is likely to be difficult. The Games' organizing committee recommends that mobile device users download a translation app.
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