We arrived at Adler/Sochi airport in the Krasnodar District of Russia at one in the morning, tired, fractious and more than a little anxious. It had been a very, long day. A 28 hour day in fact, due to the crossing of several international date-lines. But Sergey was there to meet us, one very pertinent success following a long sequence of uncertainties.
When David and Stacey qualified for the Olympics back in September 2013 our first plan was to book our tickets and accommodation through CoSport, preferred partners of the British Olympic Association. Eager to get our places we logged onto their website to buy the ‘figure skating package’ only to find it was going to cost €22,000, each! After recovering from the shock we decided we’d have to cancel all hopes of attending the Sochi Olympics, but then we found an on-line advert for ‘those seeking alternative accommodation’ – and we immediately booked what was advertised as a room in a ‘warm wooden hut’ near Sochi.
Our family thought we were mad. Actually to be honest I think we thought we were mad, going to a country we didn’t know, whose language we couldn’t speak and staying with an anonymous stranger we’d found on the internet. But we absolutely wanted to go and this looked like the only way we could afford it.
During the weeks running up to our departure we had a series of calamities, none of which boded well for Sochi, to such extent I felt my nerves couldn’t cope with the pressure. I was convinced it was going to be a complete disaster. I have never packed my suitcase with so much care, because I was so worried about Russian immigration or that our bags would go missing never mind what we’d need when we got there.
But as soon as I saw Sergey, holding a banana in the air so we could identify him, I just knew everything was going to be all right. Sergey wasn’t just a figment of the internet, Sergey was a real man, and one who kept his promises.
When arriving at a strange place in the early hours you’d expect to be shown the necessary facilities and then abandoned, but this was not to be. Russian hospitality demands a convivial reception. So the first thing we saw when we opened the door was a table set with several bottles of vodka, five shot glasses and platters loaded with bite-sized snacks. And handing them around with a beaming smile was Andrei, our in-house-keeper. Because, as we soon discovered, we hadn’t booked a single room to share inside a ‘wooden hut’ but a whole house, a beautiful, chalet-style house with en-suite bedroom, kitchen, dining room and spacious lounge, all kept at a constant temperature of 28 degrees. Well the advert did promise ‘warm’.
So began the most astonishing ten days of my life. Having braced ourselves for the worst we’d landed on our feet, and had a good solid base for the helter-skelter that is the Winter Olympics. Andrei cared for us like a mother-hen, tracking down taxis, waiting-up to make supper (delicious Russian-style fried potatoes with eggs) before we fell into bed (usually later than 1am) and kept the fridge fully stocked with vodka. It emerged, as Anglo-Russian communications improved, that Andrei was engaged to build the ‘hut’ (it wasn’t quite finished on the outside) for Sergey’s son, Axiom, who lives in Moscow, just over a thousand miles north of Sochi. This didn’t deter Sergey from ringing him whenever he needed an interpreter, and even when half asleep Axiom could communicate in perfect English. It emerged several nights and many bottles later that Axiom works for a company which imports whiskey (Irish not Scots) and was formally based in London. But the point I’m making is that Sergey did his very best to make our stay memorable, even providing a Russian mobile phone so we could reach him quickly with any problems. And the fact we didn’t speak any Russian and he didn’t speak any English didn’t deter his enthusiasm we should carry it at all times. Not that we ever needed it, wherever we went, whatever we did, someone always came to our aid, whether we needed them or not. Russia was open to all nations, and their motto – ‘Hot, Cool, Yours’.
To be continued…..