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Sasha’s Dacha in Sochi

Sasha’s Dacha in Sochi

Learning Russian

“Sasha has a Dacha in Sochi”…..these  words taunted me throughout my Russian CD course some years ago. It was a catch phrase, part of a jingle just before the end of each lesson. 

Gates to Sochi?
Gates to Sochi?

Russian is no easy language to learn, even the basics are frustratingly tough and not much stuck with me after the end of my course. However, “Sasha’s dacha”, are words I will never forget.  “Саша имеет дачу в Сочи”. “One day”, I remember thinking, “ I’m gonna check out Sasha and his dacha in Sochi” for real.

Beach and Sunshine

Sochi is on the Russian coast of the Black Sea at no more than a few hour’s motorcycle ride from the city of Krasnodar. It thrives as a summer holiday resort for locals and, in Soviet times, was no doubt a prized retreat for the so called nomenklatura.

The town hits the headlines these days when it hosts the Russian Formula One Grand Prix, or when it’s the chosen location for an international convention of some kind. Sochi was also the venue for 2014 Winter Olympics and most recently was also part of the 2018 FIFA World Cup circuit.

My chance to visit Sochi came as I explored the Russian plains north of the Caucasus on my motorbike. Oncve there I also seized the opportunity to also visit the Russian coastline.

The Riviera

I rode the narrow Black Sea riviera road under the glare of a hot June sun. The road twisted its way around limestone outcrops and steep switchback inclines. I could caught occasional glimpses of the sea in the openings between the bushes and trees to the side of the road. It sparkled for a few short seconds before it vanished from sight for a mile or two before reappearing, glittering once more.

There were magnificent pine trees by the side of the road, just like the ones I knew from the Mediterranean with tall dark green canopies that offered shade and relief from the blistering heat.

A lay-by on the Black Sea riviera road.
Combination of Pines and calm blue water under the sot Summer sun.

The scenery however, was no Mediterranean landscape. The pine trees were not as dominant as they are along the coast of Italy, Spain and France. On the eastern coast of the Black Sea it was the ash and sycamore that claimed most of the space at the water’s edge. Also, the symphony of tireless cicadas that pace the hot summer days by the mediterranean were totally absent on the road to Sochi with no real “buzz” from insects in the foliage at all. It felt very still, a little eerie and different to what I expected.

Then, I caught a glimpse of the first beaches with sun bathers and holiday makers. I had hoped for brilliant white or grey sand but what I saw at the water’s edge were pebbles and rocks to lay down on. The water was dark, bluish and green, never quite as clear and inviting as the waters of island of Greece or of Spain.

Downtown Sochi

Old tower blocks in Sochi
Old tower blocks in Sochi

Sochi greeted me with tall hotel blocks, traffic and busy shopping centres no different to most family resorts around the world. Young couples with children eating ice cream crowded the pavements while the elderly mostly sat on benches in the shade watching the world go by. Powerful  German sports cars ploughed up and down the main strip and contended the road with American Harley’s, Italian and Japanese sports bikes. This was clearly a place to show affluence. Accommodation wasn’t cheap either and I struggled to find a room for less than fifty Euro a night.

There was definitely something about downtown Sochi that reeked of nostalgia. Most of the hotel architecture was frankly grim and … boring. It looked like lots of the construction work had been done hastily in the late sixties and seventies perhaps without much thought for design. Now the weathered cement was crumbling and many buildings looked in need of care.

 The pebbly beaches in front of the hotel complexes were dull, narrow and cramped and walking bare foot was uninviting. However, family fun was everywhere to be seen with excited children playing in the water and watchful parents close by.

Water scooters for hire and floating “banana raft” rides were available as well. Russian dance music played loud from bars on the “Primorskaya Ulitsa” promenade where young girls roller bladed and boys gawked as they went by.

Beach down town Sochi
Beach down town Sochi
More pebbly beach in downtown Sochi
More pebbly beach in downtown Sochi

After dark I found the night life quite varied. Open air bars with lasers and DJs played Russian music. Young couples Danced on the dance floor, older ones also joined in. Small kids darted around causing mischief. Outstanding amounts of alcohol were consumed in a typical Russian way and I noticed that the dancing became more creative as the hours went by.

The Olympic Park

Medalion Squarein Sochi
Medalion Squarein Sochi

The Sochi Olympic Park was next on my list of highlights to check out. A huge construction project completed in 2014,  just a few kilometres south of the old town.

The Olympic park contains the Fisht Olympic Stadium, the Bolshoi Ice dome, the Arena Skate Centre, the Sochi Autodrome (Russian Grand Prix) and more. There’s also a theme park for family and kids but perhaps most interesting of all is the Sochi Medal Plaza with its huge fountain. Every Saturday there’s a spectacular water and lights display here that never fails to draw a big crowd.

Wrapping it Up

Did I like Sochi? Yes and no. It’s a family resort for a family holiday. It’s expensive and frankly the beaches are disappointing. However, the atmosphere is relaxed and laid back and there’s entertainment and something for everyone.

Would I go back? Probably not, but then again I might do for a Russian Grand Prix or some other major sports event.

Did I find Sasha’s Dacha? 

There were many beautiful houses and villas around Sochi. It occurred to me though, as I admired them, that I had no idea of what a real dacha was supposed to look like. I like to think that Sasha was there, somewhere and doing just fine.

Travellingstranger Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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The Hottest Place on Earth!

The Hottest Place on Earth!

Lucy (my motorcycle) was perched on her centre stand by the main gates of the guest house in Kerman (Eastern Iran). As I fumbled in the darkness  with the fastenings to my bags I felt more than a hint of apprehension for what lay ahead. Suddenly, the first glimmers of dawn cut through the darkness and brought a fresh morning breeze. It encouraged a smile on my face. “Everything is gonna be just fine” I told myself as I reminisced stories from overland travellers who had followed my same route unscathed. My gear was safely packed and with a gut full of throbbing excitement I climbed on my bike, fired up the engine and pulled away from Kerman. I was heading east, towards the Afghan border.

The road to Zahedan

Everyone had warned me about the road to Zahedan. There were stories of lawlessness and gun slinging bandits, some had even used the word “Taliban”. It was best to ride during the hours of daylight I was told, and with eyes wide open, too. I took local wisdom seriously but felt that being held to ransom by the side of the road was unlikely. To me the bigger issue was to do with the Dasht el Luut (Lut) desert, one of the hottest deserts on earth, a section of which I had to cross. I had enough fuel, snacks and water and hoped these were enough to see me through unscathed under the July sun.

Soon enough, past the town of Ban, bright, barren, dry wasteland rushed towards me in warm embrace and the digits on my bike thermometer started to flick. Thirty six, thirty eight, forty degrees (104 F), this was all before ten o’clock in the morning. Gone was all vegetation, nobody lived here in this open, sun scorched land. I doubted there were any animals either apart from a few scorpions perhaps and lizards that snacked on the scorpions. There was nothing to look at, only sandy bleakness, the road ahead and the occasional truck to speed by.

Short stop for a drink of hot water in the middle of the desert
Short stop for a drink of hot water in the middle of the desert

Heating up

Forty six degrees (115 F) still with plenty desert to get across. I wondered what I would do if I broke down. Maybe the fuel pump or the battery or perhaps the electronics on my bike would play up on me. I pushed this nonsense aside. After all, the cooling fan on my bike had yet to come on once, the engine temperature was steady, Lucy was doing fine. Silently I rode on, engulfed in bright nothingness, stopping only every twenty minutes or so to munch at some nuts and sip a little sun heated water that scolded my tongue and throat like a big swig of cheap vodka would do.

Soaring temperatures in the Lut desert
Soaring temperatures in the Lut desert

Forty eight degrees (118 F). The vast expanse of flat barren land around me was hazy and unclear. In the distance I could see the ghostly outline of massive rocky outcrops and wondered whether these were the last remnants of the Kuhbanan range or the start of the Shuran elevations that I expected ahead of me. Most of all though, I saw no gangs of outlaws or chasing Talibans. It probably wasn’t business hours for them at that time of day.

Then the thermometer flashed forty nine point five degrees Celsius (121 F). “Come on!” I yelled under my riding gear, ” Give me fifty!…..I want fifty degrees! …DO IT!” I held my gaze on the display for the next few kilometres as I continued my ride, hoping to see the round number appear, but fifty never came.

The scenery gradually changed after the almost fifty degree climax. A small increase in elevation to the village of Nosrat Abat brought lower temperatures at last. From forty nine degrees the digits fell to a blissful forty four (111 F). Yes, forty four degrees can feel wonderfully refreshing, believe me …

Safely there…

So, I did eventually make it to Zahedan safely. However, crossing a small part off the Lut desert exposed me to the hottest temperature I have ever ridden in and perhaps ever will. Also, this was the last part of my trip in which I was allowed to travel alone so close to the Afghan border. From Zahedan onward across Baluchistan and all the way to Pakistani Punjab I had no choice other than to follow an armed police escort.

Burnt out truck on the side of the road in the middle of the Lut desert.
…no comment.

SOME FACTS

Distance from Kerman to Zahedan is approx 450km, (270 miles).

As of 2016, quality high octane fuel can be found in the town of the Ban, 160km (100 miles) from Kerman. I had to wait until I reached Thailand for any more of that good stuff.

Satellite images have proven that the Lut desert in Iran is consistently the hottest place on earth with ground temperatures regularly exceeding sixty degrees Celsius (140 F). Seventy degrees (158 F) is not unheard of either.

On a hot day dry fruit and nut mix makes a great snack to boost energy. I’m glad I had plenty.

Travellingstranger 2018 ©. All Rights Reserved

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