En route to Sochi and I am beginning to remember all the good and the bad from my first visit four years ago. Sochi is a seaport on the Black Sea, one of the few in a country mostly bordered by land (and lots of it). It is also the vacation destination for most Russians who spend the winter in sub zero temperatures and enjoy only a mild summer respite. Sochi’s subtropical climate makes it akin to Florida in the US.
It is a beautiful city, but suffers from the usual deficiencies of a provincial Russian city (at least it did four years ago): lots of open smoking, drinking, littering and a general sense of letting go of order and restraint. Think of a bunch of college fraternities getting together to form a city, and you can picture Sochi at its worst.
At its best, it is colorful, cultural, the chosen home of the 2014 Winter Olympics, and most important for us, the place where most of the extended family spend their summer. Sochi is language and cultural immersion at its best. No English language safety net to back me up except my wife; nothing to remind us of America except a single McDonald’s in the center of town. Last time, I was here for a month, and it nearly broke me, but as the saying goes, “Whatever does not kill you will only make you stronger.”
The part about extended family is the best on many levels. To begin with, we have not only a place to land, but on arrival, we are already made to feel at home. My love-hate relationship in the past with Sochi is decidedly tipped in the love direction as we arrive on time in a relatively new airplane, to a new airport, and are ferried to our destination in at least half the time it took four years ago on new highways. Sochi has changed to say the least, as it prepares to host the world in less than two year’s time. But one thing that has not changed is the bond of mutual love and affection born by our host aunt and uncle who live here most of the summer. Without them and the family they gather around them (a son and daughter with their respective families), this would be just another place on the map. With all of them, we have another place on the planet we can call home.