Where love leads: My vacation in Sochi

It was not only my first vacation in Sochi, it was my first trip to Russia ever. And it would never have come this far if I hadn't met Alisa. Otherwise, my annual vacation would have been used for the typical trip to Italy. But love sometimes takes strange paths and sometimes these lead to Russia and thus to my vacation in Sochi.

On the road with the Russian railroad

Strictly speaking, my trip to Russia did not start in Sochi, but in Stavropol, the largest city in the North Caucasus. If you want to be even more precise, in Munich, from where I traveled by plane via Moscow to Stavropol, my first date with a Russian woman. But I also came as a tourist, after all, who could have guessed that the love of my life would be waiting for me here. So thought Alisa, who first of all wanted to have a good time with me (we both came from failed relationships and had all kinds of reasons to want to be happy).

Stavropol is not an ugly city, it has already been voted the best medium-sized city to live in Russia by its inhabitants. But Alisa, in desperate need of a change of scenery, wanted to spend her hard-earned vacation in Sochi. I had no objection to that and so we boarded the train to Sochi on the second day after my arrival in Stavropol.

Travelling by train in a different way

The old train was probably from Soviet times, at least that's how it sounded and that's how slowly we moved. We did not travel in 1st class, at least on the outward journey. That meant an open compartment, where we could watch various people killing the long travel time in their own way. Some did it by playing cards and drinking vodka, others tried to sleep, and quite a few mothers were busy keeping their kids happy anyway. I talked to my date, what else, because that's what I was here for. But I also looked out the window and got an impression of the endless vastness of the country. Russia is by far not as densely populated as one is used to in Germany. Only rarely could I spot people or houses through the window pane of the wagon. Most Russians live in cities, in between there is usually nothing.

Nevertheless, the train stopped every one or two hours and stopped at a small station. Often for so long that I wondered what potential passengers it was waiting for in this little place: there was almost never anyone to be seen. But the long pauses were part of the program and a major reason why the train ride lasted longer than I could imagine. The sun was setting and I tried to find sleep on the bench. I did not succeed, but my girlfriend, who snuggled into my arm, did. Feeling her physical closeness for the first time made up for it. It finally took more than 14 hours (for a distance of 250km as the crow flies) until we finally reached the train station of Sochi in the morning of the next day.

Relaxing at the Black Sea

We had not planned anything special. To be honest, neither I, nor my local Russian date had any plan in terms of local attractions, so how exactly we were going to spend our vacation in Sochi. At least I had booked a hotel in advance, so we headed to that first port of call for everything else. It was hot - even in the shade - but that was to be expected for a June in Russia's summer capital. As a gentleman, I naturally took over most of the luggage load, but first had to take a shower in the hotel room.

Since we were both hungry and had booked half board, we left our accommodation just as quickly as we had checked in to find a suitable place for a first meal. Not far from the hotel I spotted something familiar from Germany, the golden "M" of the most famous western fast food chain, which is now also at home in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Alisa didn't mind, she liked the fries there as much as I did (the best in the world in my opinion). Showered and full, we finally wanted to explore the city. 

Sochi the tourist paradise

First, we went directly to the seafront. After all, we wanted to go to the sea, otherwise we would have gone to Volgograd, Kislovodsk or another famous city near Stavropol. On the way to the beach, I got a good impression of Sochi. It was hard to deny that I was in the tourist stronghold of Russia. Everywhere I looked there were Russian couples and families who clearly did not look like locals but were here to spend their vacation in Sochi. Even when you met single people, they were carrying backpacks, Hawaiian shirts or a camera in front of them and a relaxed smile on their face. Except for the service staff behind the ice cream parlors, all Russians seemed to be on vacation in Sochi.

Vacation in Sochi Park

Regardless, the city itself was also built for tourism. We passed museums, which also made an impression from the outside, strolled through various parks. Here a monument, there a gigantic fountain and palm trees as far as the eye can see. In Sochi one should feel well and that with success. Already after one hour I had forgotten the stressful journey and felt more than just well. I felt here, with my Russian date, in a dream vacation become real.

Sun, palm trees, beach

Arrived at the beach promenade, we were already holding hands without being aware of it. Every now and then the voice of an excited soccer presenter sounded from a loudspeaker, it was the summer of the European Championship in France. At that time, Russia was eliminated from the preliminary round as the last team in the group, so the crowds at the public viewing area were correspondingly small. Rather, Russian tourists were on a lounger on the beach or in a café away from the depressing voice of the soccer presenter. There were hardly any free seats, which didn't matter to us. We didn't want to swim anyway, didn't even have bathing suits with us. Nevertheless, we kept our feet in the Black Sea, walked barefoot on the pebble beach and took photos as much as we could.

There was a lot to see on the beach promenade. Again and again, artists performing their tricks. Small markets where you could buy the most interesting souvenirs. Especially the fan articles about the Russian president can be disturbing if you don't know that Russia is Russia. Of course, there were also culinary delights and at some point we got hungry again. Since the sun was already setting, I invited Alisa to a restaurant with a view of the sea. A fish restaurant with specialties from the region (and lots of romantic atmosphere). The perfect ending for the first day of my vacation in Sochi and of course for my date that should later fall asleep in my arms. 

On the tracks of the Winter Olympics

On the second day of our vacation in Sochi, we both didn't really know which sights we wanted to visit next. Therefore, we stayed in bed for a long time in the morning. I researched on Google, Alisa on Yandex, until we decided to visit the historical museum of Sochi in the morning. After an extensive breakfast, however, we met a woman on the way there with various flyers in her hand, which she wanted to press into my hand. Since I was not yet able to speak Russian, I refused with a shake of my head, an international gesture that everyone should understand. However, not this woman, who then tried with a smile and stood in my way.

Alisa, who was watching the spectacle in front of her eyes, ended the phone conversation with her mother and came to my rescue. She pointed out to the Ukrainian woman with the flyers in her hand that we were not interested in her offers. At least until Alisa realized that the woman's offer was not so uninteresting. Because for our vacation in Sochi we admittedly did not have the plan we would have liked to have. And this very woman (still with a smile on her face) wanted to help solve this problem. She advertised a very inexpensive tourist tour that didn't even cost 100€. We would be shown various sights, the bus ride included. We followed her to a tourist office where we both signed up for the next sightseeing tour that was to start in a few minutes.

Inexpensive sightseeing

Shortly after, a rickety minibus appeared in front of the building. The lady behind the counter told us to go to it, a certain "Mrs. Lina" was already waiting for us there. It was exactly the same and to my great surprise, Mrs. Lina even spoke German. She said that she had worked as an interpreter for many German construction companies in the past and was glad that she now had the opportunity to refresh her rusty German knowledge ("you Germans, everywhere you are met in the world, now even in the Caucasus"). A great thing, because even though our tourist guide spoke Russian most of the time, she kept translating into German especially for me.

Our first stop was the Olympic Park. This is where the Sochi Winter Olympics, which were also very controversial in Germany, took place in 2014. At the time, various articles in the German media about the exploitation of migrant workers put the event in a bad light. In fact, the event led to a complete renovation of Sochi with a corresponding amount of work, and the city was unrecognizable afterwards. My Russian friend did not confirm to me the exploitation of migrant workers, rather she wondered why this was such a big topic in the German media. I explained her alternative view by saying that Western media had their own perspective on what was happening in the world, but also that the exploitation of migrant workers was generally not seen so narrowly in Russia. Nevertheless, it can be said that the general renovation of the city was by no means in vain. Today it is considered a vacation paradise for many, every Russian wants to spend a vacation in Sochi.