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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 a lesson. 

Gates to Sochi?
Gates to Sochi?

Russian is no easy language, even the basics are frustratingly tough and not much stuck with me after the end of my CD course. However, “Sasha’s dacha”, are words I fear will be with me for life.  “Саша имеет дачу в Сочи”. “One day”, I remember thinking, “ I’m gonna check out Sasha and his dacha in Sochi.”

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 Communist “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 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 (Lucy) my motorbike. I needed to wait for a set of new steering bearings to be shipped from Moscow to the Krasnodar BMW dealership and seized  the four day wait as an opportunity to visit the not too distant Russian coast.

The Riviera

The narrow Black Sea riviera road twisted its way around the limestone outcrops under the warm June sun. I caught occasional glimpses of the sea in the openings between the bushes and trees to the side of the road. The water sparkled for a few short instances before it vanished from sight, sometimes for a mile or two before it reappeared, glittering to the horizon.

There were magnificent pine trees to admire, just like the ones I knew from the Mediterranean with high dark green canopies that offered welcome relief from the hot tar and the blistering rays of the sun. There  twiggy pine needles all over the ground in the shady lay bus whenever I stoped for a gulp of water.

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 had expected. Then, I caught a glimpse of the first beaches with sun bathers and early Holliday makers as well. I had hoped for brilliant white or grey sand  but once more, contrary to my expectations what I saw were pebbles and rocks. The water was dark, bluish and green in tinge, never quite as clear and inviting as the turquoise waters of Greece or Spain. I couldn’t help wondering whether the Black Sea  earned it’s name this way, though I’m sure there’s another story to that.

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 other family holiday resorts around the world. Young couples with children eating ice cream crowded the pavements while the elderly mostly sat on benches in the shade. Powerful  German sports cars ploughed up and down the main coast strip and contended the road with American Harley’s, Italian and Japanese sports bikes. This was clearly a place to show off 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 in a hastily in the late sixties and seventies perhaps without much thought for design. Now the poor quality cement was crumbling away from the block buildings some of which looked more derelict than others.  The pebbly beaches in front of the hotel complexes appeared to be a little dull, narrow and cramped and walking bare bare foot on the pebbles, uninviting. The odd stretches of soft grey sand were few, minimal.

However, family fun and atmosphere was everywhere to behold with excited children playing in the water, watchful parents close by. Water scooters for hire and floating “banana raft” rides were available as well. Also, there was no shortage of Russian dance music from bars and restaurants especially on the “Primorskaya Ulitsa” promenade where most of the beachfront evening action took place.

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

After dark I found that night life offered a variety of open air bars with the lights, lasers and DJs playing even more Russian dance music. Young couples threw shapes on the dance floor, older ones joined in. Sons and daughters danced with parents and grandparents while small kids darted around mischievously. It was a family atmosphere for sure but this hardly deterred the adults from consuming outstanding amounts of alcohol in a stereotypical Russian way and I couldn’t help noticing how the dancing became more and more creative and lopsided 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, still shiny and new,  just a few kilometres south of the old town.

The spectacular park contained the Fisht Olympic Stadium, the Bolshoi Ice dome, the Arena Skate Centre, the Sochi Autodrome (Russian Grand Prix) and more. There was also a theme park for family and kids but perhaps most interesting of all features was the Sochi Medal Plaza with its huge   “Waters of the Olympic Park” fountain. Behind the fountain stood the rather phallic looking Olympic torch tower upon which the Olympic flame had burned for the entirety of the past winter Olympic Games. Every Saturday there’s a magnificent water and lights display at the fountain which I was lucky to see and enjoy.

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. There is 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. So, I like to think that Sasha was there, somewhere and doing just fine.

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