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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.

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