Sunday, May 5, 2013

South to Sochi: Let the Journey Begin

The time has finally come - spring break abroad. It was the last week in April, and I had been anticipating our week long group excursion to the tropical resort of Sochi, Russia for months. Now that's I've returned to St. Pete I can honestly say that Sochi was everything I wanted it to be and more. On Friday, April 26th my friends and I boarded our 36 hour train ride to our final destination- Sochi. On the train, it was most intriguing to see how the majority of Russians live. We passed a number of worn down houses, small cities that I didn’t know existed, and an endless sea of golden fields on the way south. Cherry blossoms thrived on the river banks of Varonezh (city in pic to the left) as I stared out the widow. The most memorable portion of the train ride experience was without a doubt the sight of modern day collectivized farms in the rural countryside. In the early 1930’s, Stalin repressed millions of Russian peasants by forcing them onto small plots of land to cultivate agriculture. Families were obligated to provide a certain ration of their produce to the state by law (whether or not this amount had been produced). Even though this collectivization policy is no longer viable in Russia, many famers as I saw still live on this small plot of land. While gazing out my window, I saw rows upons rows of families living in houses approximately the size of a small shed, each with its own 25 by 25 foot agricultural land to harvest crops. My jaw literally dropped when I saw all the hard labor being conducted on such small properties. It is mind-boggling to imagine how visible the effects of the Soviet Union’s policies still have on the daily lives of many Russians. 

Fast forward to Friday and we’ve arrived in Sochi! home of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Immediately upon arrival I thought I had been transported into an entirely different country. Palm trees lined the streets leading to the Black Sea Coast Line. The Black Sea itself reminded me of home. The calm lapping water literally sparkled with a blue- green tint. Then there’s the mountains covered with a mixture between tropical plants and deciduous trees. Even visible are the snow covered mountains of the Caucasus. When we moved into our hotel room, I was graced with a view of Sochi: the mountains, forests, rivers, city, beach, and sea. The picture to the right is only one from of Sochi from my hotel room's balcony. This place was magical. Russians actually smiled on the streets of the city... what a difference from St. Petersburg. 
Olivia and I in the waterfall pool

Our first excursion in Sochi after our arrival can only be described as purely magnificent. We took a 30 minute hike through a forest toward a tree covered gorge with a cascading waterfall. I’ve always dreamed about swimming in a waterfall pool and I finally had my chance! The water was freezing, but the experience unforgettable. I also swam in the clear green waters of the river that cut through a mountain gorge. I didn’t think that I would ever want to leave.

Fisherman on the pier at sunset- Black Sea

My first day in Sochi ended with a trip to the Dendarium Botanical gardens where we ran away from a bat, chased peacocks, listened to frogs chirp, and gazed at the radiant tropical flowers that are non-existent in St. Pete. Then it was off to the boardwalk. As I watched the sun set over the Black Sea leaving streaks of orange and pink in the sky, I couldn’t wait for the next day in Sochi. What an experience of a lifetime, and I had only been in Sochi for one day.

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