Thursday, 13 February 2014

The Road to Sochi

It's with a bit of shame that I steal this Olympic athlete favourite twitter hashtag. Attending the Olympics as a spectator is obviously in a league well under the one all those hard working athletes are in. Yet, it is not a quick Eurostar weekend in Paris to plan either!

While I had lived in Vancouver and London when they hosted the Olympics, moving and living in Russia was never in my plans! (Regardless of the many times I was asked if was 'following' the Olympics)!

While summer Olympics are usually hosted by big touristy city, Winter Olympics tends to take place in remote places that don't exactly make the Expedia Top10 destinations! And Sochi is one of them!

Back at the beginning of 2013, Cosport (the British reseller) sent a tiny innocentI email named "Expression of interest"... They just wanted to now if I would be interested in going to the Winter Olympics... Doh - do you ask a dog if he wants a bone???
So after a chat with my figure skating aficionado friend Luke, we decided to both "express interest" for, well, all the Skating events!!

Since it was pretty much like the lottery for the London Olympics, we were not really expecting to get anything. So that was quite the surprised when we both received emails saying we had been allocated tickets! 
I was the lucky one as I got the Dance Free program (my fave event) and Ladies Long program (Luke's fave)!! We only had 48 hours to decide or we would lose the tickets!!
And while it seems like it was an obvious decision since I'm writing this waiting for my flight to Russia, well, the tickets price were exhorbitant! So, after an hour and a half on the phone, the decision was made - we were indeed going to attend our 3rd Olympics! (I'll pass on how we got more tickets three days later in the general opening! And how nice was Santa to get me a hockey ticket!)

But how does one gets to Sochi, little summer resort for rich Russians on the Black Sea coast?. Well, if you are organised and want to book your flight 10 months before like we were, not easily!

With no surprises, none of the big airlines where even flying close to Sochi... The most (geographically) sensible way was to avoid Moscow and connect before entering Russia. 
This is how we ended up with fairly decent flights via Kiev, landing 19h before our first event and taking us back home at the beginning of the weekend to recuperate before heading back to work. It was all pretty and nice and cheap until ... They got CANCELLED! in November. 
This happened to be a blessing in disguise! We had no choice but to go through Moscow this time, prompting the obvious decision to spend a couple of days in the  Russian capital! My finances were not thrilled, but the occasion was unmissable!

Flights with hindsight happened to be a walk in the park. We had tickets, we had flights, but came October we still had nowhere to stay! The Russian Olympic Committee had been saying for months that once the Olympic family and officials would have been allocated, rooms would be freed for the public... Months went by and nothing was being freed... Around July, the news came out that several cruiseships would be docked in Adler and Sochi ports to accommodate volunteers and public. While most people (in adversity you become attached to the fellow TripAdvisor community) were jumping in joy at the prospect of staying on a cruiseship, well, I was not! Probably my posh side, but I wasn't traveling so far away to be tuck underwater in a no window cabin! After contacting our local Olympic committees (GB, France, Australia, and countless hotels in the Sochi and Adler area, we were still very much homeless in Russia!
In a desperate attempts, and while they were not advertising any 'dry' hotels, we contacted the French reseller - Eventeam - and begged! 
They were able to offer us rooms in a giant hotel in Sochi, that was also hosting the Cosport client at a great price. While we would have preferred to stay in Adler near the Olympic Park, Hotel Zhemchuzhina looked great, prices were under our budget and knowing that Eventeam would be in site to help in case of problems sealed the deal for us! 
I can see how this is all very much #FirstWorldProblems, but the reality of being homeless in the middle of nowhere in Russia is not an appealing one!

With flights, tickets and hotel in hand, the last leg of preparation was still an important and one that could prevent everything to happen: obtaining a Russian visa. (This cannot happen until you book a hotel and receive an invite, hence our fears of not getting a place to stay!).
This was a fairly smooth process if you comply to giving all the info they request... Some I understand, some I still don't (3 months if detailed bank statements - do they need to know I go to Sainsbury every Sunday?) apparently they need to know if you have £100/day on your account to live in Russia... As I told the first dry unhelpful lady at the visa centre, "we are paying extortionate prices to go to the Olympics, do you think we don't have the money to survive there 10 days?" She did not care!
After 5 working days, the message came that my visa had been approved! Yeah! Felt like I graduated again! The Sochi trip was really happening!!

So that's it! I am writing this from Moscow Domodedovo airport, only a couple hours away from my third (and last) Olympics a year to the date from buying our first tickets. 

 I do plan on keeping the blog up to date while I'm there, but bear with me! Pictures will definitely coming even if content is scarce!

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