I'm a passenger on the
, the ship that was featured in the 1970's television sitcom,
the Love Boat
, and I'm enjoying a two-week cruise of the
. One of my day long excursions is Russia' biggest resort city Sochi, host of the
2014 Winter Olympics
(Feb.7-23) and Paralympics (Mar.7-16).
When our small party of 25 disembarks at the deep-sea port of Sochi, we are met by our English speaking guide, Albina and bus driver Yuri who "baby-sit" us for the day. Albina explains that Sochi is situated on the southern coastline of the Black Sea in the western foothills of the Caucasus Mountain range, close to the Georgian border. The close proximity to these mountains and the warm Black Sea makes it the most northern subtropics in the world. I soon discover why Sochi with this cheerful climate and a coastline of 90 miles of pebbly, stony beaches is a favourite health resort for people all over Russia and Eastern Europe. The temperature on an April day is a balmy 75F, the norm for this time of the year.
This Russian health resort capital hosts between May and October almost 2 million people. Many former Sochi palaces or mansions are now used for hotels and health centres. Russians refer to these centers as sanatoriums.
This seaside resort was originally developed by the Soviet Union as a holiday town reserved for the families of deserving party members. Today anyone can visit as long as you have Russian rubles.
Hosting the Winter Olympics in Russia for the first time should be a challenge with temperatures averaging in the mid 57 F. range. However, Albina explains, "Greater Sochi boasts excellent ski resorts with snow making facilities and breathtaking scenery, excellent rails and spacious cable cars. We'll be ready for the Olympics."
After our little talk we are on our way to discover this fascinating city. These are a few of the things from the trip that I tucked away in my memory bank. Sochi has plenty of botanical gardens, arboretums, and parks. The Arboretum and Riviera Park are among the city's most popular attractions. Mothers with their small children seem to be everywhere in these parks. Like other large parks in the world, we also spotted an occasional homeless person. The
Dendrarium Botanical Garden
had over 1,800 trees and scrubs from all over the world. I even saw a Maple tree from Canada.
Art galleries are popular. The
Sochi Art Museum
has both temporary exhibits and a permanent collection of mainly
This clean city, like most Russian cities, has plenty of historic and cultural monuments and statues recognizing wartime heroes.
There are over 50 health centres; they call them sanatoriums, in the city. One of the largest is the neo-classical Matsesta (meaning fiery water) Sanatorium built in the early 1940 under orders of the villainous dictator Joseph Stalin leader of the Soviet Union from the mid 1920's until his death in 1953. These centres are popular because of the healing powers attributed to the water of the region. The heavy hydrogen sulfide content of the water is said to help heal a range of health problems from heart disease, arthritis to burn injuries. When we visit the health spa the water has an overwhelming rotten egg smell. Over 1,000 people walk through the doors daily to experience the magic of Matsesta.
Outside the health centre there is a flea market where enterprising merchants tried to sell us souvenirs of our visit.
Sochi is the site of the former summer residence or Dacha of
. When we entered this dimly lit building, which is now a tourist attraction, it felt to me like an evil place. The interior of the home and the inner courtyard are preserved as it was in his era. There is even a wax figure of him seated at his desk, with smoking pipe in hand that you might have your picture taken with. I, like most of the others on the tour, couldn't resist having my photograph taken with this much feared former dictator. Why did I do that? What I found strange was that all of his furnishings were built undersize, making this small diminutive man appear larger than his actual size. After the tour, we are treated to one of Stalin'sā favourite Georgian wines (these bitter wines weren't my favorites) and local fruit.
Sochi, Wikipedia Commons
Another highlight of the day is enjoying the stunning views of Greater Sochi as we drive along the Black Sea coastline and high atop Mount Akhun 2,175 feet above sea level to Dragon's Tea Plantation where we learn how tea is grown in Russia (Russia is the northernmost commercial tea producer in the world) and then treated to a traditional Russian tea ceremony. We have four different types of tea, all without milk. The homemade pies that accompany the tea are superb. The ceremony culminates with a lively and colourful performance of traditional Russian music. It is a big contrast from our visit to Stalin's summer residence.
When we descend the mountain, we pass through part of the Caucasian Natural Reserve and see mysterious yew and
groves. Evergreen Box trees live 500 to 600 years.
The day passes too quickly and we soon return back to our ship.
George Bailey contributes to Sun Media's 43 paid-circulation newspapers across Canada as well as numerous magazines. George has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, Canada AM, the Discovery Channel, and Live with Regis and Cathy Lee. He has published five books on Niagara Falls.
Sochi Russia is a city in Krasnodar Krai, Russia, situated on the Black Sea coast near the border between Georgia and Russia. Greater Sochi sprawls for 145 kilometers (90 mi) along the shores of the Black Sea near the Caucasus Mountains. According to the 2010 Census, the city had a permanent population of 343,334; making it Russia's largest resort city. It is one of the very few places in Russia with a subtropical climate, with warm to hot summers and mild winters.
In June 2006, the International Olympic Committee announced that Sochi had been selected as a finalist city to host the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2014 Winter Paralympics. On July 4, 2007, Sochi was announced as the host city of the 2014 Winter Games, edging out Pyeongchang, South Korea and Salzburg, Austria.
This will be Russia's first time to host the Winter Olympic Games, and the first time to host the Paralympic Games. The site of a training centre for aspiring Olympic athletes, as of 2008, the city has no world-class level athletic facilities fit for international competition. To get the city ready for the Olympics, the Russian government has committed to a $12 billion investment package, shared 60ā40 between the government and private sector. By some estimates, the investments necessary to bring the location up to Olympic standards may exceed that of any previous Olympic games