peacetraveler22: (bear)

I've expressed many controversial viewpoints about Russia and its people in previous posts. After three visits in one year, the world's largest country remains a huge puzzle in my mind, with many pieces missing such that an entire frame or understanding will likely never be achieved. In the lead up to the Sochi Olympics, I had huge doubts. How could a nation with virtually no tourist infrastructure host a global event, welcoming visitors from around the world? After the Volgograd bombings, American and other Western press went into a feeding frenzy, focusing only on the strong probability of terrorist attacks. U.S. Senators, and even some athletes, went on major news networks and proclaimed they wouldn't send their families to the Games. "It's too dangerous"..."Russian security forces can't handle the threats," and other strong words of caution penetrated Western airwaves to the point many tourists became so frightened that they canceled plans to attend. In my mind, absence was never an option. Every day, I sit in the heart of Washington, DC, a few blocks from the White House, perhaps the largest terrorist target in the world. Such tragic bombings can occur anywhere, including right here on my beloved American soil, and they have.

When foreign journalist arrived shortly before the start of the Games, the Internet immediately exploded with pictures of dirty water, stray dogs, weird signs and hotel horror stories. It looked like Russia would become a joke on the world stage. And then the Games began...
Read more... )
peacetraveler22: (bear)

After a quick night's sleep in Moscow, it was time to head to Kazansky Rail Station to continue my journey to the Olympics. The original plan was to take the new double-decker train to Sochi, but after arriving at the station I was informed the train was full. So, I waited for the standard train which wasn't scheduled to depart for about three hours. What to do in the meantime? I wanted to take photos of the station, but a guard immediately approached when he saw the camera and informed me no photography is allowed. I was able to speak to the Chief of the station, a very nice guy who spoke decent English. Because the station is undergoing a lot of construction, the Chief preferred that no photos be taken. However, he offered to give me rare access to the rooftop of Kazansky Rail Station and from there I saw some amazing views shortly before sunrise!Read more... )
peacetraveler22: (bear)

Every trip to Russia is memorable, but this one was special. An opportunity to attend a major world event in the motherland, to see Russia in all its glory, and evaluate how well the country handled the massive influx of foreign tourists visiting Sochi for the Olympics. At the same time, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take my first train journey. The rails are deeply rooted in American history and remain active today. However, they are primarily used for freight shipments rather than passenger transport. Most Americans have cars, our road infrastructure is excellent, and we're a very mobile nation. There's no need to ride a train long distances when you can simply drive yourself anywhere in America and enjoy magnificent sites along the way. So, I've never once taken a train ride in the States.

My journey to Sochi began in St. Petersburg, my favorite Russian city. It was here that I boarded the high speed Sapsan train, which carried me to Moscow. Overall, an impressive experience!Read more... )
peacetraveler22: (bear)

Hello everyone! I'm alive and well. I discovered all kinds of fun in Sochi! Rabbits, bears, friendly Russians and a great international spirit. Along the way, I had an interesting and very long train journey on Russian Railways. Overall, the Olympic experience was impressive and I'm happy I had the opportunity to attend. Soon I'll tell you all about it. One busy day in Moscow and then I'll return home to America. This trip was so short and I'm sad I have no time to explore other regions or meet with readers.

Btw, this black rabbit slapped my ass. No sexual harassment laws in Russia? :) And where is my beloved Russian winter? It's so warm here, with no sign of snow in either Moscow or St. Petersburg. Pity for me! Stay tuned for stories later in the week....Cheers!
peacetraveler22: (bear)

American press has been very unkind to Sochi, and the Games haven't even started! I can't think of one positive report. All attention is focused on possible terror threats, double toilets, poisoning of stray dogs, hacking of electronic devices, and unfinished and poor hotels for journalists. Such reports are not fabricated, simply follow @SochiProblems on Twitter to see photographic evidence and commentary. You've also seen various reports all over LiveJournal. However, I don't believe it is the norm. Several friends already are on the ground in Sochi and they report most everything is in order. My Austrian friend works for the International Luge Federation, has traveled all over Russia, and attended multiple winter Olympics. She's not a fan of Russia, yet had very kind words to say about Sochi. Yes, there are minor annoyances and problems. This is still Russia. Tourism infrastructure is not the country's strength, and I'm certain there are many things in Sochi to which Westerners will not take kindly. We're spoiled in many ways, used to a lot of conveniences. To me, it's all part of the adventure. Next week, I'll go and make my own conclusions. I'll travel with a Russian, but want to be there as an American. Assess the situation from a foreigner's perspective, not relying on my companion for constant assistance with communication at venues, restaurants, etc. unless it becomes absolutely necessary.

There's one thing I always find amusing in Russia - the signs! Here's one that was published from a Sochi restroom. No fishing permitted in the toilets! Most of the images are self-explanatory, but what is the last image on the right? Seems to me the person is holding a bottle of some kind. No vodka drinking or drunkenness permitted in the WC? :)) Let's have another reader contest. I'll send a prize to the person who comes up with the most original and funny description for the image on the sign. Btw, the winner of my last contest was [ profile] rollson. I forgot to congratulate him.

Look here or here to see examples of recent American news coverage. Why is it all bad? Well such sensationalist stories draw ratings and intrigue from viewers. It's the same on LiveJournal. Tonight coverage of the actual sporting events begins, and I believe the tone will turn more warm and fuzzy. Unless something tragic happens, the media should shift its focus to background stories about the athletes and competition results. At least I hope, because Russia already has become a bit of a joke and laughing stock to Americans unfamiliar with the nation. And this makes me sad.
peacetraveler22: (bear)

Perhaps you remember this photo from my Moscow post last year? I came across this Sochi countdown structure during a stroll in the city, yet never imagined that a year later I'd be attending the Games. On Sunday, I'll leave America for a very short yet interesting journey in Russia. I've never been to an Olympic event, but am intrigued that Russia is the host country so I'll go and witness everything for myself. During the trip, I'll also take the opportunity to ride the Russian rails. I wrote here that I've always been curious about long train journeys, so I'll take a ride from Moscow to Adler on the new double-decker trains. This journey is over 24 hours! I'm sure to get a good taste of what it's like to travel on Russian Railways, maybe see some interesting scenery along the way and hopefully sleep a bit. Here's the full itinerary, although it's subject to change:

(1) Arrive in St. Petersburg the evening of 10 February. I'll have a free day on 11 February. If there are any readers who can walk with me or show some interesting places in the city during the day, please send me a message on LiveJournal or to my personal email account at Of course, it's necessary that you speak basic English as my Russian is very bad. I visited St. Petersburg last winter and like this city very much. I've seen all the standard tourist sites, so I'm looking for a unique place or person in the city that I can photograph and write about. Any suggestions from locals?

(2) On 12 February, I'll take the high-speed Sapsan train from St. Petersburg to Moscow. From there, the real adventure begins. I'll board the new double-decker train and ride all the way from Moscow to Adler. I'll stay in Sochi for two days, then fly back to Moscow. One day there and then back to America. The entire trip is only one week, and I'll have no time to meet with readers in Moscow. I'm sorry, as I know many of you have requested such a meeting. Hopefully next time I'll be in Russia much longer and have time to arrange a gathering.

I truly hope Russia shines on the world stage during the Games. I know many readers are opposed to the financial resources dedicated to the Olympics, or have no interest in competitive sports, but for me it's an opportunity to see Russia in a new and unusual light. To assess Russia's ability to accommodate a huge influx of foreign tourists and engage in hospitality on a grand scale. I'll be sure to share my observations about the good, bad and ugly encountered at the Games and on the rails. This is Russia - always something interesting and strange waiting for me. :) You can also follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Please share this post and my journal with others who may be interested in my Russian journey. And a special welcome to my new readers who found me through the community [ profile] ru_learnenglish!
peacetraveler22: (bear)

I don't know how Russians feel about the Olympics, but American television is already showing a lot of ads and promos for the event. In general, the Olympics are a big deal here. Most people enjoy them and are glued to their televisions watching the events and coverage for almost three weeks. However, this past week U.S. media has been on a mission to instill fear about possible terror threats in and around Sochi. It started at the end of December with the Volgograd bombings, but this week panic reached epic proportions with the release of a new video from Islamic terrorists and the identification of potential "black widow" bombers. Of course, it's normal to discuss terror threats before any Olympic Games but Sochi and Russia are receiving a lot more attention than other Olympic hosts, at least in the American press.

What do you think? Can Russian security forces handle the threats posed by these extremists at the Olympics? If possible, would you attend the Sochi Games?


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