Five days in Sochi have felt like both five minutes and five years.
Days fly along at the speed of a bobsled, with reporters and photojournalists – or, in my case, both jobs in one – churning out content for all forms of media.
And yet, because those workdays are so long, and because they are bombarded with so many new experiences, they make the recent past seem distant. My flights from Atlanta to Sochi seem many moons, and many stories, ago.
Here are ten observations from my first five days:
1. The Olympic sites are, in fact, quite gorgeous. Sochi has a peaceful charm, with the Black Sea on one side and the Caucasus Mountains on the other. The mountains themselves are stunning up-close, specifically around the Olympic village and ski venues.
2. But I’m still waiting for that kick of Russia. I lamented in Thursday’s entry the struggle to find authenticity in any of it. Other than the natural wonders themselves, the entire outfit seems both temporary and out of place. The many beautiful buildings and arenas have been built specifically for the Olympics; they seem ill-fitted for when the Olympics leave. I have a hard time admiring the buildings’ beauty without wondering about their long-term purpose.
3. Geographically, the area is difficult to grasp. On the ground, one occasionally glimpses the mountains but rarely the sea. And yet, the Black Sea is so close – literally a few hundred meters – from the Olympic venues. I remember looking at overhead maps before the trip and thinking how everything looked so compact. Then I got here and realized I needed to budget 30 minutes for a two-mile bus ride.
4. The weather during the day has been great, but it changes fast. On most days, during the afternoon, I have not needed a jacket to maneuver around the Olympic park. But then comes a 15-minute span in which the sun falls behind the buildings, the wind picks up, and suddenly the village is freezing. I blame the mountains.
5. I still haven’t quite figured out my time zones yet. When I wake up in the morning, my family and friends on the East Coast are heading to sleep. When I head to bed at night, they are just beginning their afternoon. Try and keep this straight during phone conversations and work responsibilities; it’s dizzying.
6. The days are long, the nights quite short. My first four workdays in Sochi, I worked 16, 18, 15, and 16 hours, respectively. Do the math, and you will find little room for sleep in there. Typically I finish my workday after dark, take the bus back to our hotel, and cherish a good 30 minutes of “me” time before falling asleep. I also had the pleasure of working so late that I spotted two stray cats hanging in our storage area. I needed a few seconds to make sure I was seeing straight. (I was.)
7. But even if I had free time, I wouldn’t have much to do. I greatly enjoyed my 2010 Winter Olympics experience in Vancouver, because both the venues and our hotel were looked close to downtown. This time, we are pretty far removed from anything, though I’m told there’s a McDonald’s nearby.
8. Getting anywhere (especially with gear) takes a long time. I mentioned the 30-minute bus rides earlier. In addition, every trip from the international broadcast center to the Olympic venues takes nearly as long on foot. Throw in the 20 pounds of equipment I regularly carry, and my legs have become pretty fried.
9. The volunteers have been, if nothing else, a reliable source of smiles. Many speak limited English; many have clearly just started in their respective roles. But if you want to capture the simple joy of getting to attend this athletic extravaganza, look to the volunteers. Their smiles are regular reminders of the privilege of being at an event like this. I suspect I will see similar facial expressions from all of the fans.
10. The most rewarding experiences have been the “little” ones. The Olympics kick into high gear with Friday’s Opening Ceremonies. At that point, the event will realize its grand nature. But in this preceding week, I have been buoyed by the “little things”: chance encounters with residents of other countries; trading pins and gaining mementos of the experience; and getting to know co-workers and attendees alike.
I will take a break from blogging for the weekend before getting back to action Monday. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook.
And here’s to the first five days … as well as whatever may come in the next two weeks.
FOR MORE ON MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Culture shock? What culture shock?
FOR MORE ON MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Checking out the mountain cluster
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Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at email@example.com.