What it's like to be in Sochi watching the Olympic games

Our Editor in Chief, Jennifer Reynolds, is in Sochi cheering on Team Canada. We asked you to send in your questions for her. You wanted to know about the food, the stray animals and of course if the hotels are really as bad as reports have said. Jen has answered all of your questions and is giving us an amazing peek into Sochi life.

1. What are the amenities like, is it really bad as pictures have shown?

Olympic Park is actually in Adler less than an hour east of Sochi and that’s where I am staying. In Adler there are lots of new hotels including the 700-room hotel I am staying at called Bridge Resort. I would compare this hotel to a high-end Holiday Inn, complete with generic art on the wall, contemporary furniture and a big bathroom. I have a roof, heat, lights, a modestly-stocked mini bar and a kettle to make tea. The shower does leak a little on to the floor every time I use it and when I flush the toilet I often hear a concerning dripping sound in the wall (I have no intention of investigating this for fear of discovering something bad). Like many other countries in the world, it’s practice for Russians to not flush toilet paper and to rather discard the waste in trash bins located beside every toilet.

I brush my teeth with the water from the sink that looks and smells clean but I’ve been drinking water from a bottle (and feel thoroughly guilty about doing this because there doesn’t seem to be any recycling programs).

2. What weather did you pack for? Summer or winter?

The slogan of the Olympics is “Hot. Cool. Yours.” I first thought this was pretty lame (though apparently when translated in Russian, it actually rhymes) but now I get it: it perfectly describes the climate here.

I totally stressed about packing because I have a small suitcase but I think I nailed it. I brought three pairs of jeans, a couple pairs of slim black pants and a pair of long johns. I packed t-shirts, long-sleeved shirts and zipped-up jackets and sweaters. Layering is key because it can be windy, warm (up to 20 degrees C), cool (down to 3 or so at night) and cold and damp in the mountains. My Hunter boots, with liners for the muddy mountain days, have come in handy! The one jacket I packed is from Canadian company Arc’teryx—a sporting goods brand based in North Vancouver. The coat covers my bum and was a bit of an investment but has been worth every penny: It’s light but warm to -25, windproof and totally waterproof with a hood too.

The most important tip for packing for any Olympics is to bring lots of red and white, enough to wear something that says ‘Canada’ every day.

3. What else is there to see in Sochi?

In the city of Sochi there is a beautiful park called Riviera Park, considered to be one of the best parks in Russia. It boasts a visitor-friendly dolphinarium, an oceanarium, rides, shops and more. Mount Ahun is the highest mountain within Sochi city and as visitors climb to the stone watchtower at the top, cafes and shops greet them along the way.

The central markets in Sochi are bustling with families buying traditional foods and spices.

The village in Adler, right by Olympic Park, has a couple little shops and restaurants, but the most popular area is the beach and newly paved ‘boardwalk’ that is very popular with tourists everywhere.

4. Have you seen any of our medals up close and personal?

Yes!! On February 19th, I watched Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse win their second Olympic gold in Two-Woman Bobsleigh (more on that experience here) and got to hold it in my hand! It’s heavy! In an exclusive interview, Kaillie’s dad Ray Simundson jokes that the medal is made out of gold, some other stuff and a little known alloy called guts! Love it!

Here I am with two-time Olympic gold medalists Heather Moyse and Kaillie Humphries.

5. Are you there by yourself?

No. I am an invited media guest of Olympic worldwide partner P&G and their Thank You Mom campaign so I have lots of Canadian and international friends to hang out with at the hotel, the P&G headquarters for the Winter Games. The company has sponsored 75 athletes from 25 different countries and the families of most of these athletes are staying at this hotel too so I have met lots of interesting people (super-parents who have raised the world’s best competitors!).

Our 700-room hotel is also where the McDonald’s teams are staying and the NHLPA (no wonder there are very late night parties every night!).

6. How many stray dogs have you seen?

I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad thing but I have not seen too many stray dogs around—maybe less than a dozen over the last week. From what I hear from friends who arrived at the beginning of month is that there were lots of dogs around and now they see less and less every day. I’ve asked a few of the Russian people by the front gates of Olympic Park, but they do not answer my question.

The dogs I have seen look scruffy but not sick. As with stray dogs, they all look very similar. They walk quickly but come close enough to greet strangers with wagging tails. I really want to pat their friendly little faces but as a cautious traveller, I have resisted.

7. Are there really lots of animals being rescued and have you seen the exterminators?

I have not seen the exterminators or the rescue teams but I know many of the athletes would love to bring one home. Dog-lover Meghan Agosta-Marciano told her mom she wanted to rescue the dogs she saw hanging around outside the Athlete’s Village. She said it made her heart break to know they didn’t have a home. I bet that if there was a way for her to bring one back to Canada to join her dog (and super-fan) Dante, pictured below, she would.

8. What do Russians like to eat? What’s the cuisine like?

Russian cuisine varies greatly by region and in my experience here I have tried a number of delicious local dishes including borscht soup, a variety of meats and fish and a doughy bread filled with cheese that I have not figured out the name of yet. At Olympic Park I had meat dumplings, pictured below, that were mass-made and unfortunately tasted like supermarket perogies.

There is also lots of Western-inspired food here to please the tourists. Apparently the pizza in Olympic Park is incredible.

Interesting: It is not common to put milk in tea here but the locals use lemon juice instead (bottled lemon juice). I have not adjusted my palette to this taste but it did jar my memory of my Ukrainian-born grandfather doing the same.

9. What’s your favourite food so far?

Our hotel, the Bridge Resort, offers a ‘club sandwich’ that is more like a triple-layer breakfast sandwich. It has a fried egg, bacon, lettuce and a tangy mayo on it. Because we seem to be having many late night victory celebrations at the hotel, I’ve been ordering it as my 1 a.m. snack. It tastes like victory.

The borscht soup at our favourite little restaurant around the corner from the hotel is delicious too!

10. What are the food choices for visitors besides junk food?

There is one main ‘food court’ at Olympic Park that has counters that serve all of the predictable fast food including pizza, pasta, Greek salad, the dumplings I mentioned and something that looks like a meat pie but is more pie than meat. On the mountain there are hot dog stands that have lineups over one hour long (I couldn’t wait). Efficiencies in making food for lots of hungry people were not well thought through as it appears that the hot dogs are cooked to order, one at a time.

To satiate large crowds, there are walls of vending machines that offer everything including Belgian waffles, cheesecake, chocolate bars, nuts and pretzels. I was very hungry and ordered a bacon and turkey sandwich from the vending machine but wisely discarded it when I realized it had expired three days earlier (it smelled okay and I probably would have had it but the fact that it had more than three-day-expired mayo made me cautious). For about 60 rubbles ($2.00) vending machines also offer a shot-glass-sized cup of hot chocolate, coffee and a variety of teas.

Here’s my friend Natasha with her shot of hot chocolate.

11. Why are you there considering Russia’s LGBTQ issues?

I have lots of LGBTQ friends and in several forums, support LGBTQ issues and share LGBTQ issues to wide audiences in provocative ways. I have used the politics and stories from the oppression of LGBTQ Russians (and others around the world) as a way to start important conversations with lots of people including my nine-year-old son. I think it is very important to keep these conversations in the news; that’s the power I have as a journalist and communicator. To not watch or attend the Winter Games would be a mistake in my opinion. In Sochi, Canadians and especially Canadian women have done things that we have never been able to do before (such as compete in women’s freestyle ski halfpipe). That triumph should inspire us all. Let’s keep fighting for what we believe in and show our children that anything is possible!