Notes from Sochi, Russia: Journey to the Olympics
Editor’s note: In Notes from Sochi, Ed Stoner documents some of the behind-the-scenes adventures, mundaneness and miscellany of his Olympics assignment.
My journey to Sochi began as I stepped into the Denver International Airport and handed the United agent my confirmation number.
“We have no record of your reservation in our system,” she said.
Not what you want to hear at the beginning of a trip you’ve been planning for six months.
After visiting multiple ticket counters and brokering a tense discussion between my travel agent on the phone and the United staff, I finally had a ticket.
Journey Gets Under Way
My first flight was an easy one from Denver to Chicago. I grabbed a bite to eat and boarded a flight to Istanbul at 9 p.m.
I settled in on the 11-hour flight, watching the movie “Enough Said” and listening to some traditional Turkish music on the in-flight headset.
We landed in Istanbul, walked down stairs onto the tarmac and took a bus to the terminal. I definitely felt like I was in a foreign land in a big city. People were heading to Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia. There were people rushing everywhere.
While I was at the Istanbul airport, I found out that one of our Vail Olympians, Heidi Kloser, sadly had already been injured during a training run just prior to her competition.
Headed For Sochi
I found the gate for the Sochi flight, and saw lots of Americans waiting to fly into Sochi. The family of Aspen’s Simi Hamilton and Tahoe’s Travis Ganong were part of the group. So was the father of Chicago speed skater Brian Hansen, John, who talked excitedly about heading to his son’s second Olympic Games. The guy next to me was from Virginia and was headed to the games as a spectator. The woman behind me was from Atlanta and worked for a corporate sponsor who would be hosting parties during the games.
At that point, it really sunk in for me that I was going to the Olympics.
On the Aeroflot flight, I could see the Black Sea out of my window, and when the lights of cities began to appear, I knew we were approaching the Russian coast.
We flew low over the water as we approached Sochi and you could see the Olympic park — the circle of stadiums that surround the torch — lit up out the right-hand windows.
After about 24 hours of travel, I had finally made it.
We piled into a bus on the tarmac, ready to begin our Olympic experience. The bus jolted forward and stopped at a curbside after just 20 yards. Everyone broke out laughing at the fact that they had sent a bus to transport us a distance we could have walked to in two minutes.
I was relieved to find the bag I had checked in Denver to be at the carousel as soon as I walked up to it.
I walked out of customs and was greeted by a throng of people wearing the ubiquitous multicolored, mulitpatterned uniforms of Sochi volunteers.
I handed a volunteer my accreditation. They laminated it and gave me a lanyard. At the next desk, I was told to get onto a bus outside at the curb that would take me up to the mountain cluster and my hotel room.
To The Mountain Cluster
The bus ride took us out of the city and onto the famed multi-billion-dollar road up to the mountain cluster. The Mzymta River was alongside us as we climbed up the valley. After about 40 minutes, we arrived in the mountain cluster. I could see the ski jumping venue lit up to my right. Most of the buildings — mostly hotels — seemed new.
I tried to talk to the bus driver. He said he didn’t speak English. He threw out the few English phrases he knew — “please,” “thank you,” “this is your stop” and “Michael Jackson forever.”
He dropped me off at my hotel, which is in the ski village of Rosa Khutor. I was apprehensive about the hotel, having seen so many stories and tweets about unfinished rooms and lobbies and lack of hot water and shower curtains. But my room is modern and clean, with a fully functional bathroom. I lay my head down on the pillow at around 4 a.m. Friday, but was up again by 8 to head back down to the coastal cluster for a press conference with the halfpipe skiers.