Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A few of my favs

Can't believe our Russian journey has come to an end.  It was just as the blog title says an "epic" journey that I will never forget and feel so blessed to have shared it with Chris, the Gamboas, Team USA and their families.  For a trip that we had a little bit of nervousness mixed in amongst all the excitement - there was nothing to be nervous about.  Sochi/Adler was lovely, safe, exciting, and fun - we met some wonderful people, spent time with friends, and saw more hours of sports in a week than I'd probably watch in a normal year.

Here are a few photo highlights:

First time at the Ice Cube Curling Venue - our sort of home away from home.  

Up close to our Bond Girl's adopted James Bond, UK Skip David Murdoch, at the first game.

At the House of Switzerland - where's Team Tirinzoni? 

No Chris!  It's hot!

Chris looking like he should be marching in Opening Ceremonies for Team USA.

Fancy times with the Gamboas in the NBC Hospitality Suite.

Look - those guys skate fast!

Cindy made us Cinsational USA scarves.

When in Russia - Vodka!

Go Team Brown go!


Team USA Curling's biggest fans.

Short Track Speed Skating.  So exciting to watch in person.

More photos to come - but those are a few highlights!


Deutschland Redux

Well, we are here this morning in the Frankfurt airport walking to our gate. Soon we'll be flying across the pond back home on our 12 hour flight. 

This trip has been the very best. It's been magic every step of the way. 

Auf Wiedersehen again Germany. We are on our way home. 

The Altai Hotel

For our week long stay in Adler, we stayed at the lovely Altai Hotel. Both of us were not sure what kind of hotel experience we'd get after seeing all the news stories before we left (all those horrible hotel stories you read about were mostly confined to media hotels). The kind people at the Altai gave us a great place to stay. 

We stayed on the 5th of 6 floors. The top two floors were added 2 years ago and are much more modern than the first 4 (which have been there for 10 years). I get the sense that the bottom 4 floors are probably less modern and less fancy but our room was very nice and we had no complaints. 

Our bathroom was very modern (much nicer than I was expecting) and had a marble-ish material all over. 

We had plenty of space and a TV where we could follow along with the Olympics on a few channels. We didn't have much time to really experience Russian TV but I did see a little of a Russian version of The   Voice. 

They also had free internet for us but the connection in our room was spotty. Sometimes we had to go out to our 5th floor landing to connect. 

One of the smallest elevators I've used in a while takes guests between the floors. 

Downstairs you can see some of the hodgepodge add-when-you-can construction but nothing was dirty or unkept. 

They had a nice breakfast spread for us each morning (sorry, I forgot to get photos of that) which included two cereals, pancakes (more like crepes really), eggs and an assortment of breads and pastries. They also had fruit and fresh juice. It was a very nice and filling way to start our 14 our Olympic days. 

 I'm not sure about the quality of the neighborhood the hotel is in. It's not a slum but it's not Beverly Hills.

At no time did we feel unsafe.  Not once. They park looked great in the early morning light too. 

The hotel is on the small side, only 26 rooms total. It doesn't quite have a full bed and breakfast feel (almost) but is much more personal than a corporate chain. Angelina, who runs the hotel was very kind to us and we had very few problems communicating in (broken) english. 

I might not drink the water in Russia but if I ever found myself back in Adler I'd stay here again. It's was very pleasant, our hosts were kind and it's actually in a great location to all Adler has to offer. 

Spacibo Altai. Spacibo. 

Monday, February 17, 2014


We made it to Moscow though we left 40 minutes late. Less than 1:30 minutes to check in at Lufthansa and go through passport control. 

Here's hoping the airport (which is covered in snow) is not busy today. 

We're almost out of Russia. 

Update:  we made it to the gate with a few minutes to spare. We should be boarding shortly. 

Pro Tip: the Moscow airport is a bit of a joke. It looks nice but there is a scarcity of information when you're connecting from other flights and they have computers from 1980 apparently. 

For a second I thought I was stuck in Russia at passport control when the immigration officer looked up at me and let out a long string of Russian that seemed to suggest there was something wrong with my visa. Then she just blankly stared at me after I said "I'm sorry, I only speak English". I guess she figured it out because she did some work on her terminal for a few minutes then stamped my ticket and visa. 

Phew!  So we're all set to depart super snowy Russia.  I'm going to have a beer (or two) on my flight to Frankfurt. 

What an adventure. 

Do svidaniya

We are siting in the Sochi airport waiting for our flight to Moscow. Security was a bit hectic but we made it through, though they made Marissa check her carry-on. 

Soon (-ish) we'll board our plane and be on our way home, with a quick night sleep in Frankfurt again (I told you we'd be back soon Germany). 

We had a fun little adventure today in Adler before we got here though. Outside our hotel there is a little park with what looks like a WWII statue/memorial. 

Then we started off for the heart of downtown Adler and found this fully authentic and thriving market. 

It puts the farmers markets back home to shame. 

We also stopped by the Mandarin mall, which is brand, spanking new...

and almost completely empty. There are stores, which are open but mostly without customers. 

No mall anywhere in the world is complete without a Cinnabon store


Or a faux Apple Store...

Next we took a very quick stroll to the Black Sea.  

We capped off our adventure with lunch at the most American of restaurants. 

They have a nifty automated ordering kiosk

Which we had trouble using to pay but we did soon get lunch the old fashioned way (at the register). 

Yes, that's a Happy Meal Marissa has there. I went with McNuggets. 

All in all it's been another great day on a very extraordinary trip. I'm sad to see this trip come to a close but happy to be returning home. Marissa and I plan to have many more adventures together so this is still just the beginning. 

Spasibo Russia!  You've been great. 

Olympic Legacy

While we have had an absolute blast this past week I can't help but wonder what the impact of the games will be on Russia generally but also specifically for Sochi (and Adler). I'm no expert on international finance or politics so I'll not speak much in that vein but that doesn't stop me noticing and wondering. 

At 50 billion dollars it's easy to see (and say) that Russia overpaid for these Olympics. A lot of the buildings here have a temporary feel to them. Mostly that's intentional and expected for all the country "houses" and food and merchandise shops. But there is a sense that some things that should be finished and polished are not (and not including the media hotel shenanigans you've heard about). 

Maybe stuff like grass and trees with no sprinklers are only ment to last a month or two. Maybe the newly planted trees are we're only meant to be transitional.  

Even if half of 50 billion actually went to the Olympics and not into Putin's cronies pockets, it's probably still a bit pricey for what they got. Soon an F1 Grand Prix track is being incorporated into the park. 

That should keep some interest in the area. Other people we were talking to said Russia is trying to lure a European football club. They are going to keep the curling venue and at least one of the hockey venues (I'd say the bigger Bolshoy Dome). 

Still, there must be doubts. I recently saw photos of derelict and abandoned Olympic buildings in Athens. Of course Greece had serious issues which sent the country into a tailspin but how much will the people of Russia and Sochi care about this area in a year or two. What happens in a month when all the security is gone?  We talked a bit to our hotel proprietor who talked about the hope of bringing sports and people to the Olympic park in the coming year. But will the people come back?

I wonder too if as many people attended the games as was hoped. I wonder what Russia is saying and what the US media is saying. It did seem less full than I thought it would be mostly but the Olympic park is huge and it's hard to make that space feel full. 

I've talked to other people who've been to other Olympics and they say that all Olympics are just like these; slightly rushed, unfinished and pricey.  So in that regard I don't think Russia failed with these Olympics at all. Yes, they need to work getting capitalism right (that's not a dig, its just seeing how they sell stuff here compared to back home really shows you how far behind they are in that respect). Yes, there were some cultural quirks that seem odd because they are not my quirks (if you have a kid with you in any line you can cut to the front if the line). But Russia did not fail at these Olympics. 

In fact I think they mostly got it right. As I said before, the Park is huge but it's probably the best that's been designed for accessibility and proximity. It was great to be able to walk to every venue inside the costal cluster in less than 20 minutes. That's a bug win and had never been done before. 

Public transit was also a big win. We didn't have any problems with the (totally) free shuttles and busses to and from the transportation hub. Again, totally free. And timely. 

Don't listen to people saying there was not security everywhere. Just back slowly away from those people and go about your day. They were not playing attention. There was security everywhere. I'm sure there was a lot more that I didn't see. 

Lastly, I feel a bit irked at the US news media machine (more than normally). It seems to me there was a serious hatchet job done to paint these Olympics in a bad light and discourage travel. Shame on you media folk. Sure there were concerns going in (security, readiness, etc) but the view before I left was completely one sided in a negative way. We can and should be better than that. Maybe save the politicing and commentating for reality TV and do some real balanced journalism?  

Being here on the ground myself proved to be much more truthful and informative than anything I saw on the news. The Olympics are about bringing out the best in us as we compete together. That should apply all the time, even to us non-Olympians too. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Hot. Cool. Yours.

Hot. Cool. Yours. That's the official slogan for these Olympics. I'm not sure what that really means or how I feel about that as a slogan. What a perfect  Olympic Adventure this has been though. 

As we walked in to the park this morning I told Marissa it was easy for me to pick out my favorite memory from the trip. 

It's our first photo inside the Olympic park. That was really an amazing moment. At our first Olympics. In Russia! It was a whirlwind of a day but so good. 

This whole trip is a dream come true really. I've loved the Olympics since i was a kid, Marissa too. I remember secretly investigating an Olympic trip after we got back from Fargo last November. Marissa was doing the same thing and one night we both said to each other "so I've been looking into a Sochi trip..."

We've had the best experience here thanks to a lot of great folks: Team Shuster, the P&G house, Team Brown, almost everyone at the NBC hospitality sweet except the one guy yesterday who tried to keep us out because our official passes were not official enough apparently. We would have had good time without all the extras but they did help make the visit great. 

I would absolutely go to the Olympics again, we're already thinking about Brazil and Korea. I keep thinking now, that a vacation every two years following the Olympics around the world would be a great bunch of vacations. It would probably take us to places we might not otherwise go. 

We've made these Olympics our own. Maybe in that way HCY begins to make sense. This has been a magical adventure to a foreign land. It's been full of generous people. We've had very few, if any problems with the Russian people. 

We've had a blast cheering on Team Brown. 

And Team Shuster

Ann, Jess, Debbie, Erika, John, Jared, Jeff and John, the both of us are proud to cheer for you win or lose. We are glad we know you and so happy to come support you half way across the world. 

It's been the best experience and I wouldn't change one second of it for anything.