Friday, February 7, 2014

Sochi experience: Not perfect, but not bad

I have been reading several peoples accounts of their stay so far here in Adler/Sochi, and those accounts have inspired me to write my own. Please keep in mind that I feel badly for anyone who is experiencing less than adequate conditions, like those that have brown water coming out of their faucet or those waiting for their rooms. But our hotel, The Azimut, is great. It is brand new, like many other sites at this Games. It’s so new that many things are added as we head out for the day. Yes, you may see that as unfinished, but I chose to look at it as a pleasant surprise that only makes my stay better. You leave for work and come back to find you have a new hook in the bathroom. The whole place has that new smell, and I am fairly certain nobody has ever slept in my rented bed…YAY! The staff is so helpful and always tries its hardest to understand our English questions. What we have to reconcile is that every Games has its problems, and Sochi is no exception, but we also need to recognize that we are not the focus here.
View from my hotel balcony of the mountains and village
View from my balcony of the Black Sea

My biggest worry was safety when I came, and I truly feel safe. There are security personnel everywhere, but they're not making life complicated. The lines have been minimal, yet I know they will get worse once the Games begin as they always do. The system is comforting. My friends and I play a game of “how many locals can we get to smile back at us?” I know they want to, but they just aren't used to having people smile at them for no reason in the morning. So far, we have found that about 43% of the time, we get a smile in return. I call that a victory that still has room for improvement. 

The food has been really good in the call at the IBC cafeteria and elsewhere, although I haven't' had time to explore much else. The last time I was anywhere near Russia, in 1989 in Estonia, I nearly starved myself…partly because I am not an adventurous eater and partly because they would never truly confirm what kind of meat it was under all the sauce. I didn’t know if it would different this time, but I'm happy to report IT IS!  In fact, I could really stuff my face if I wanted to. There are healthy options of perfectly steamed broccoli, a salad bar and soups, as well as other offering such fresh banana bread and endless pizza.

The park housing and all the ice venues in the Olympic Plaza are amazing. Everything is so close together. And the medals area, which will house the flame for the 17 days of the Games, is right in the middle. I know there is a lot of negative talk about the Games, but I am done with it.  No Games is perfect. I remember carrying water up three flights of stair to have it in my hotel room in Athens. They are never perfectly done, and each LOCOG is always rushing to finish the huge undertaking. And while that can be disconcerting to the outside world, it's not why we hold or attend the Games.
Olympic Plaza
So I'm not talking about the “unfinished” pieces of this Games anymore because it’s not what the Games are about. It’s time celebrate the athletes. Send out the positive juju so these Games begin tonight with happiness and hope and smiles. Don't fret about condition because I can promise you, you can find the same in hotels in NY. Focus on the good, the beautiful moments that will be the Sochi Winter Games of 2014. Because the only things that has to be near perfect at an Olympics are the performances. Bring on the Opening Ceremonies.
Jamie Anderson and her family after the first Women's Slopestyle Snowboard event qualifications Feb. 6th

Thursday, February 6, 2014

My Top 10 Must-Haves for International Travel

As talk of the Winter Games picks up, and travel stories abound, I couldn’t help but reflect on the items I find as must-haves for international travel. I’m not talking about the basics like clothes and toothpaste, I’m talking about those things that make the list because you’d be hampered without them. And since I just packed for 25 days in Russia, I thought I’d share my list for Sochi. While this is not like a David Letterman Top 10, some of them may surprise you.

Here are 10 things I absolutely could not do without on this trip…in no specific order.

1. On-the-go charger. This bad boy has two full iPhone charges in it, and since I have no idea where I’ll be or when (and getting a glimpse of my kids is a priority), this is essential for me to feel connected.
2. Waterproof footwear. For me those are now Wellies. They’re always on the bubble during packing due to their size, but they always end up making the list. There’s nothing worse than traveling around all day with wet feet and pants. Between the construction and the rain here in Sochi, I was told these boots were a MUST. Thank goodness I bought them for London. Nice to see two Games working together wardrobe-wise.
3. Snacks that pack a punch. Pistachios and Kind Bars are my go to protein snacks. If there is one thing I know for sure after 9 Games, meals are often an after thought. Life gets CRAZY when trying to take in all the action while traveling, or reporting about it, or even compete in it. So I have learned to bring and keep a meal in my bag. If you don’t, you either go hungry or eat junk.