"" Writer's Wanderings: Port of Call - Sochi, Russia

Friday, October 19, 2012

Port of Call - Sochi, Russia

If you look at a map of Russia, you will notice a tear-drop shaped area in the southwest that falls between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Sochi sits on the coast of the Black Sea on the very southwestern part of that teardrop. Because of its location, it has always been a sought after holiday destination. The area became a part of Russia in 1829 when it was ceded to them in the Russo-Turkish War. Sochi was established in 1838 as the "Alexandria settlement" but was renamed Sochi in 1896.

When Czar Nicholas II built a dacha (summer house) in neighboring Dagomys just north of Sochi, the Russian elite discovered the resort and followed his lead. The area continued to be popular among the Soviet leaders including Joseph Stalin who also built a dacha there.

When our private tour that we had contracted online was canceled, our only choice to see anything of Sochi was to book an excursion with the ship. In Russia, unless you are with a licensed tour guide or on a ship's excursion you cannot wander around on your own without a visa. We had no time or inclination to get a visa and so we chose one of the "less expensive excursions" that would get us out and about--Stalin's Summer Home.

Our tour began with an excruciatingly slow drive through town. Istanbul's traffic was nothing compared to this. And Sochi will burst at the seams with Olympic traffic in February os 2014 for the Winter Games. We all wondered what they will do to alleviate the bottlenecks.

First on our list of sights as the description read in the excursion brochure was to take a seaside stroll. Our bus let us off at some gardens that surrounded a bright yellow pillared structure that we figured to be a theater. It appeared to be under renovation. The gardens were colorful and well-kept. Busts of several Russian composers circled the building.

Our "seaside walk" consisted of walking down a sidewalk to the top of a small rise that dropped off to the Black Sea. We could look down on a handful of swimmers and sun bathers laying on a pebbled beach. No sand. We walked about 100 feet and then circled back to the bus so we could be on our way to the lookout tower on nearby Akhun Mountain.

The drive up the mountain was thrilling as is it is anywhere you drive to a lookout and have hairpin turns. The view promised to be good as we got higher. Once we arrived, we walked a short distance to the base of the tower passing by the vendors just beginning to set up shop. There were 222 steps to the top but a couple of places to stop along the way. One had a huge display of stuffed animals indigenous to the area.

Once at the top, the views were spectacular. You could see the city of Sochi and the mountains in the distance where, once snow covered, they will provide a great venue for the Olympics.

We didn't linger long on top. There must have been a nest of bees nearby and they weren't real happy with all of the visitors. Once I had some pictures, Bob and I walked down an perused the souvenir stands. As we waited for the others in our group, we were fascinated by two horses who were waiting for riders. Apparently you could rent the horses and ride the trails through the woods around the tower. The horses stood perfectly still in one place--untethered. Once in a while they would shift their weight slightly but if they began to drift a bit, the young woman who owned them would spout something sharply in Russian and they would regroup where they were supposed to stand. It was amazing. I wondered how well she would do training kids?

On the bus again, we wound our way down the mountain to the entrance of a road leading up slightly to the Stalin dacha. Finally. This was what I had truly wanted to see on this excursion.

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