Monday, 6 April 2009

Sochi

After 22 hours on the train we arrived and sadly unlike Volgograd Sochi was misty and cold, luckily not Moscow cold just cold for the south of Russia. This did not deter me in enjoying my holiday, I was by the sea and thousands of miles from Moscow, I was going to enjoy myself come hell or high water!
The first day was spent trying to find a map of the place so that I wouldn’t get lost and end up in Chechnya by mistake or something. Having done this Simon and I spotted a little kiosk outside the hotel selling excursions to local attraction, we spotted one that took you up into the Caucasus Mountains to a viewing tower where you could see all the mountains and even see as far as Abkhazia (for those of you not up to date with the situation in the Caucasus’ Abkhazia was a region that gained independence when it all kicked off again between Georgian and Russian in August 2008.For those who do not know much about the area the Caucasus’ have regions like Chechnya, Dagestan and other war zones in them, so not the safest place to get lost in).
After exploring Sochi for a couple of hours we were off on the mini bus with a Russian guide giving us a tour of Sochi and pointing out local sites in the city, which included various Sanatoria and ‘The Tree of Friendship’. The first stop was a waterfall deep in the mountains we stopped for about an hour to explore the waterfall and take numerous pictures of it and the surrounding area. The area was so beautiful and peaceful with the sun shining through the trees and the river gently running through the trees, such a wonderful change from the business of Moscow. Then it was on the viewing tower on the mountain. There was a slightly worrying moment when our guide started talking about going to Abkhazia. Neither Simon nor I had been properly listening to what he was saying as I was more worried about the fact that the bus had no seatbelts and we were going up a very windy road with no real safety barriers, but we both suddenly came to attention when we heard the words ‘to Abkhazia’. Now I may jokingly say that I would go there but there is no way on earth I would ever willingly enter a war zone, I may have blonde moments but I am not that stupid. We also had a worrying moment when we thought that we may have actually signed up to go there and it was part of the tour.
My nerves settled a little once we were up the tower and viewing the beautiful mountains on one side and the black sea on the other. As it turned out the guide had simply been telling us of other possible trips the company offers to tourists but only after he propositioned us, the conversations is something as follows:
Setting: Up the top of the viewing tower, on top of one of the Caucasus Mountains
Guide: (in Russian) You want to go to Abkhazia?
Me and Simon: (suffering slightly from vertigo and hoping that he is joking) erm….no thanks
Guide: it is very cheap only 200r
Me and Simon: no thanks
Guide: it will be fine you have Russian passport, all will be fine…. I take you there it will be very safe
Me: Erm actually I don’t have a Russian passport and I don’t really want to go to a warzone, so No thanks

After that he got the hind and went off for a fag, leaving Simon and I to try to take pictures of the mountains while also clinging madly to the ‘safety’ rail.
The day ended by having ice cream on the beach and watching the sun set, it may have been cold but I was still going to have my ice cream damn it, I was on the beach.
Before we left back to Moscow we also visited the tree of friendship that the guide had told us about, turned out to be rubbish, it wasn’t even a tree Just a lump of metal shaped like a tree with the word ‘druzhba’ (friendship) written on it! After that we found some real trees in the Riviera Park near one of the beaches.
As a holiday location Sochi is a good choice as it has lots of entertainment and things to see, however it is probably best to visit it in summer, I was only there for two days and saw pretty much all there was to see. In nicer weather site seeing could be mixed with lying on the beach or swimming and other seaside activities. I really enjoyed Sochi and was glad to have gone as it one of the twin towns of Cheltenham and is the site of the 2014 winter Olympics so when they are happening I can sit back and go ‘I’ve been there’.

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