Speed Skating and Long Jump Events – Sochi Winter 2014 Olympics

This entry is part 10 of 23 in the series Russia 2014 Trip Report

This post will combine events we saw on two different days.

Ski Jumping (Long Jump)

The third event we had tickets for at the Sochi Olympics was Ski Jumping. It was the first non-medal event we’d be seeing, but it was still great! The jump was the “long jump.” I didn’t even know there were two types of ski jumps. The smaller jump is on the right, and the long jump is on the left.

Like the luge event the night before, we had to take a Gondola to the venue. These gondolas were slightly larger, and we were better prepared to board them and didn’t get nearly knocked over this time! It was always so difficult to gauge how long it would take us to get from the coast (where we were staying) to the mountain events. We ended up arriving at the venue nearly 90 minutes prior to the event start time. But not to worry, we got to watch the practice round! Nearly all of the 60 or so jumpers decided to participate in the practice round before the qualifying event. The stands started to fill up as the qualifying event was underway. I captured a wide angle shot of the venue, with the jumps on the left, the scoreboard at the bottom of the hills, and the media box on the right. There was an elevated structure, right near the “jump” part of the hill, and we’re not sure what that was. We think it might have been judges and/or coaches.

Here is a high speed capture with sequential images of a single jumper, much like the high speed sequence I posted in my luge post!

If you look close up on the hill, it looks like there is like dirt or debris on the hill. Those are actually pine needles (and some other greenery) to help jumpers determine where their landing surface is. When you jump and all you see is white snow, it’s difficult to tell how far away the snow actually is. You can read a better explanation of it here.

As things wrapped up, my sister took a picture of me and Ken, and then we all headed back to the gondolas that would take us back to the Krasnaya Polyana transportation hub.

Speed Skating

The next night, we had tickets to Speed Skating (the Men’s 1500 m), the only event we saw in Olympic Park! As we walked to the venue in Olympic Park, the air was electric with excitement. The USA-Russia Men’s hockey game was starting soon, and Russians were just chanting with pride as they walked through Olympic Park. Spoiler alert: By the time we left the Speed Skating event, the Russians had already lost the hockey game. It was so quiet in Olympic Park you could hear a pin drop! A very different mood than earlier! We arrived at the venue really early, and captured some pictures of a very empty rink!

Right before a race would start, they would put images on the big screens of famous speed skaters doing the “shush” sign so that the audience would quiet down.

I think there were 20 or 30 pairs “races.” I put races in quotations because the two skaters are not actually racing one another. That is called “short track” speed skating. Instead, in this type of speed skating, they just so happen to skate in pairs, but all that matters is their overall individual finishing times compared to the other competitors. I love the look of determination on their faces! I also didn’t realize how short speed skates are and that they don’t even cover the ankle.

Like many of the other venues, I was fascinated by the camera equipment used to film the events!

This was a medal event, and it was really crowded. And much of the crowd was decked out in orange, because I don’t think there are bigger speed skating fans than the Dutch! They typically dominate the sport!

But of course, we were cheering on Team USA!

After the event was over, a band came through and played in the middle of the rink!

And we said farewell to speed skating, and our last Olympic event during our five days in Sochi!

Buying Souvenirs at Speed Skating Venue

Remember in my post about Olympic Park that I lamented the three hour wait time just to ENTER the souvenir store? Well, there was a little souvenir kiosk at the speed skating venue. During a “zamboni” break in the competition, I went to the kiosk, but there was a line to enter. They were only letting like three people in at a time. I waited for nearly 30 minutes, and was still like five people away from entering. The competition had started back up, so I left the line. The kiosk closed right after the event was over (seriously, why do they do that?) and the last customers had already been allowed in. It was our last night in Sochi, and I wanted to leave with SOME SORT of Olympic souvenir. Outside of the store, I just kind of looked at the security guard and said, in English, “Look, I know exactly what I want, I’m just going to go in here real quick,” and I slipped past the retractable belt barrier that had been put up in front of the entrance. The security guard didn’t object, but the people working the counter in the store kind of did. I just looked really sad and pleaded with them. I knew exactly what I wanted, picked up the items, and checked out. Whew! We had a few souvenirs to take home. Ken took this picture while I was in there. Note the belt barrier that had been in front of the door.

And that was it! As we left the park, we walked past the Olympic Flame one more time, and snapped a few photos. Then we headed on the (long) walk to the exit, and headed back to our cruise ship hotel to pack up our things for our very early morning departure for Moscow!


 

Sochi – the ugly

This entry is part 11 of 23 in the series Russia 2014 Trip Report

When we tell people that we went to the Olympics in Sochi, the response is almost always universally the same. “Wow, did you have fun?” followed quickly by “Was it as bad as they said it was?”

Our answer is always no, it was not as bad as they (meaning as reported on the news and Twitter) said it was. We thought it was amazingly well organized, efficient, and above all, very safe, which we were so thankful for considering all the fear mongering leading up to the Olympics. The volunteers were friendly and helpful, the transportation was amazingly easy to figure out, and everything was clean and sparkling new. I think the only two complaints you’ve seen me mention on here so far have been the dreadful food selection at Olympic Park and the venues, and the three hour line just to enter the souvenir store.

But, since everyone always seems to be so interested in what was “bad” at the Sochi Olympics, I thought I would dedicate a post to it. So, while we had no complaints about anything overall, there were a few things that made me scratch my head and say, “Wow, for $50 billion, I don’t think this should’ve been an issue.”

So, these things I am pointing out are, admittedly, very petty and did not detract from our enjoyment at all. This was also our first Olympics, so these types of things might be normal in all Olympic host cities! But since folks seem so interested, here you go …

Access for the physically disabled and building safety issues

I don’t claim to be an expert on how things should be constructed in order to accommodate the physically disabled. But, considering that Sochi would be hosting the Paralympics just a few weeks later, I was shocked to see things like sidewalk ledges that were way too tall, and no visible sidewalk ramps anywhere.

I’m not sure how tall this ledge was right outside of the Olympic Park entrance, the you can see that it is nearly up to the knees of the woman walking ahead of us. And we didn’t see a ramp anywhere.

 

There were no handrails on this main staircase inside the Adler Arena, where we saw the speed skating event. But, in their defense, there was an elevator right next to the stairs, but I did find it a little disconcerting as I climbed the steps, especially considering I’m such a klutz!

 

This ductwork in the hallway to get to our seats at the speed skating arena was so low, that we had to duck to walk under it. No caution tape, no padding, nothing. Seemed a bit dangerous for anyone distracted while walking.

Oh the Scaffolding and Fences

EVERYWHERE. Fences to cover unfinished stuff. Even scaffolding standing in for what looked like should have been the location of a permanent structure.

For instance, this elevated pathway looked like it should have been home to a permanent structure that was never finished. This is right by the Adler Arena and directly behind the medals stage.

And there was a lot of fences surrounding the venue that hosted the Opening and Closing ceremonies.

And these fences with bright orange feet around what appeared to be some sort of media building.

Fences hiding what should have been landscaped areas but instead were housing some sort of equipment.

And I was really surprised at all of the ugly equipment and fencing just off to the side of the Olympic flame.

Unfinished landscaping

All of the grassy areas did not look healthy and you could still see the sod seams. But others were just completely unfinished. Here was an area right by the Samsung exhibit inside Olympic Park. There is a single row of sod (bottom of photo), and the rest is just dirt and no trees or shrubs.

Other areas had some trees and shrubs, but still no grass.

The Parking / Taxi Drop Off Situation

Our primary form of transportation from our cruise ship hotel was taxi. There was no organized drop off point for taxis to drop off their passengers. Instead, the taxi drivers would pull into this insanely disorganized parking lot-type area and drop off passengers there. Then we’d have to maneuver through parked cars (and moving cars) to get to the Olympic Park entrance or to the train station. There’s a ton of empty space in Sochi, so I’m not sure why they couldn’t have had a better situation figured out for this.

And there you have it. Those were my primary “complaints.” And even then, they’re not really complaints as much as just shock that those things should certainly not have occurred considering the $50 billion price tag of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. And you can see in my previous posts about the Olympics that everything else was so beautiful and amazing!

Did you go to the Sochi Olympics? Did you see any of the same issues?


 

Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow (Hotel Review)

This entry is part 12 of 23 in the series Russia 2014 Trip Report

I was pretty excited for our stay at the Ararat Park Hyatt in Moscow!

I booked three nights using 66,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to my Hyatt Gold Passport account (this was pre-Hyatt devaluation). This hotel goes for up to $750/night, even for a basic room, so this was a great points value redemption!

Before getting to the Hyatt, let’s start with our last night in Sochi.

After the speed skating event, we went back to our ship hotel. Our flight from Sochi to Moscow on S7 airlines was leaving at 5:55AM, so we were going to try and get some sleep. But, by the time we ate, backed up our photos from the day, packed our things, and we STILL weren’t adjusted to the time difference thanks to the crazy Olympic game schedules, we weren’t even tired by 1:00AM. And the ship had arranged for an airport transfer to Sochi airport that was leaving at 3:30AM. Oy.

Our flight from Sochi to Moscow was relatively uneventful. We flew economy on S7 airlines, which is a OneWorld partner. They even served a full and pretty tasty breakfast for the two hour, very early flight! There was some sort of medical emergency onboard, and the flight attendants started giving a man oxygen. I guess he was okay, because we didn’t have to make an emergency landing or anything!

We barely slept on the plane thanks to the excitement of the medical emergency, and we were actually dreading the private tour of Moscow we had arranged for 10AM that day because we were so exhausted. As soon as we landed, I contacted the tour company to reschedule, and they had no problem with that.

Before our trip, we had arranged for an airport transfer through the Ararat Park Hyatt. We landed at Moscow Domodedovo (DME) airport, which is quite far from the city. After checking prices with multiple companies, we were so shocked that airport transfers routinely exceeded $150. So, the airport transfer booked directly through the hotel was not that much more expensive, and we figured they’d know exactly where to take us.

At DME, the driver was holding a sign with the Park Hyatt logo after we picked up our luggage, so he was very easy to find. He walked us to the car, which was just outside the door. The car was a Mercedez Benz E-class. It was a nice looking car, but there was some trash in the back seat, like empty water bottles, which I was pretty disappointed with. As soon as Ken and I got in the car, with both passed out asleep.

When we arrived at the hotel we were hoping so so much that they would let us check in even though it wasn’t even 9AM, and check in time wasn’t until 3PM. We figured we’d offer to redeem more points for another “night” just to be able to check in. But luckily they had a room for us!

We went up, I snapped some pictures, and we slept for probably nearly six hours before heading out to do some touring of our own of Moscow!

Our room was a Park King. As soon as you entered the room, there were two closets and the door to the bathroom on the left. This is the view looking down the hallway.

The bedroom area was small but lovely.

There was a small desk and easily accessible power outlets in the corner. My only complaint was that the chair, which swiveled so you could use it at either the small table or the desk, was so insanely heavy, making it difficult to move it closer to the desk.

There was a small nook next to the bed housing coffee and tea supplies.

I thoroughly enjoyed the room’s automation features. Next to each side of the bed was a small control panel.

From this control panel unit, you were able to control the temperature in the room, adjust the shades or blackout curtains, turn on or off lights, and, perhaps the most fun, set your room to “do not disturb.” None of those pedestrian “do not disturb” door hangars at the Ararat Park Hyatt!

I didn’t get a picture of it, but there was a similar unit in the room’s hallway, which also allowed you to control the radiant floor heating in the bathroom.

The view certainly wasn’t anything to write home about, but the Ararat Park Hyatt was on a pretty narrow street, so I don’t think there would have been any amazing views of anything anyway.

Looking down the hallway from the bedroom area.

The bathroom was AMAZING. So, so incredible. For one, there was radiant heating on the granite floors. Being in Moscow in FREAKIN’ WINTER, the radiant floor heating was such a luxury! The decor was beautiful and there were many mirror and glass finishes, like on the sink area. The sink area also had plenty of counter space and storage to the left and right of the sink.

I also used this huge tub twice during our three day stay.

There was a glass enclosed, standalone shower in the bathroom. I did have one minor complaint about the shower. Whatever texture they put on the floor to make it nonslip really kind of hurt my feet. They looked like very thick grout lines or something, and there were about five of them, so they were hard to avoid while standing in the shower.

The toilet was not separated from the rest of the bathroom, but that’s not a major complaint.

While taking pictures of the hotel lobby, I was promptly interrupted by a hotel employee. He stretched out his arm, panning the room and said, “Please. The children.” Nevermind that there was not a single child in sight. I just said that I was a guest, and continued to take photographs. He looked annoyed, but did not object any further. If he had, I probably would’ve stopped.

I also took some photos from our floor. I believe we were on the 7th or 8th floor.

We did eat breakfast at the hotel one morning, and it was very tasty, but unfortunately it was incredibly expensive ($30 for a plate of pancakes anybody? $45 for the buffet?). Sorry, I didn’t get any photographs of it.

Luckily we found a nearby pastry shop that served as our breakfast location for our remaining days in Moscow!

I’d definitely recommend the Ararat Park Hyatt to anybody planning a trip to Moscow. The service was impeccable. The concierge staff even booked and picked up train tickets for us, and left them in our room while we were out touring. It was also incredibly easy to arrange for our visa support letters prior to our departure, which is a requirement when getting a Russian tourist visa.

I’m definitely excited to try other Park Hyatt properties in the near future!


 

Moscow, Day 1 (Russia 2014 Trip Report)

This entry is part 13 of 23 in the series Russia 2014 Trip Report

In the previous trip report post, I mentioned we slept for about, oh, six hours after our arrival in Moscow. We had only slept for about two hours the night before thanks to the late night Olympic events in Sochi, followed by our 3:45AM taxi to Sochi’s airport for our flight to Moscow, so we were exhausted when we arrived.**

After we woke up, it was time to give ourselves a brief tour of the city. Thankfully, the Ararat Park Hyatt is just a very brief walk to Red Square. Armed with some directions provided by the hotel front desk staff, we navigated our way through Moscow’s underground pedestrian walkways to get to Red Square.

There was a kind of “entrance” gate to Red Square. The next morning, a guide we hired explained that this gate is a replica. Stalin had torn down the original to make the path wider for the parades he loved so much.

As you entered Red Square, you could see Gum (pronounced Goom), a famous Moscow shopping mall, on the left, the Kremlin walls on the right, and St. Basil’s Cathedral straight ahead.

I tend to get kind of emotional when I see such famous sites up close and in person. I literally cried at the Taj Mahal. So, I was pretty overwhelmed at the historical sites before my very eyes.

We walked closer to St. Basil’s Cathedral and interspersed photo snapping with utterances of “Wow!” over and over again.

It was pretty cold, and we decided to walk around Gum for a while to warm up. It was quite beautiful inside.

Of course, Olympics decor abounded.

On our walk back to the hotel, we used the same underground pedestrian walkways that we had used earlier. Ken didn’t realize how low the center part of the ceiling was and managed to smack his forehead, hard, on the lower crossbeam thing. I was having flashbacks to the Spain ankle sprain / fainting incident.. After a few moments of Ken gripping his head and Russians walking by and being all WTF, we established that there were no serious injuries, and we were able to laugh about it. We decided to memorialize the moment with a photograph of the too-low Moscow pedestrian ceilings. Future travelers, take note!

 

We grabbed some dinner and headed back to our hotel. We had a private tour arranged for the next morning, we just relaxed the rest of the evening.

**Unlike other international trips, we never fully acclimated to the time change in Russia. For the first five days, in Sochi, we weren’t going to bed until nearly 3:00AM because the Olympic events went so late. On the remaining six days, we had a somewhat easier time, but considering it was still pitch black dark at 9:30AM, it was still messing with our circadian rythyms! By the time our jet lag was over, it was time to return home to the United States.


 

Moscow, Part 2 (Russia 2014 Trip Report)

This entry is part 14 of 23 in the series Russia 2014 Trip Report

This post covers sites we visited in Moscow over the course of three days. These sites are all within walking distance of the Red Square area.

(For links to other parts of our Russia Trip Report, see the bottom of this post!)

We hired a private guide for a four hour walking tour of Red Square and the surrounding areas. She picked us up at our hotel, and we started walking to Red Square, just like the previous night!

As we walked towards Red Square, the guide stopped and pointed out the Bolshoi Ballet building. (We had considered seeing a performance while we were in Moscow, but there was only one showing during our time there, so it didn’t work out).

And just across the street from the Bolshoi was this statue of Karl Marx.

 

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Moscow Subway

The guide provided a brief overview of the Moscow subway system. When we were researching what to visit while we were in Moscow, we found that the Moscow Subway System ranked highly over and over again on travel-related review sites like TripAdvisor. The subway station was pretty amazing and included things like statues and marble walls!

 

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Ken started to use his video camera, and the guide look absolutely panicked. She started stammering, “Please, photos are okay, no video!” Ken had already wandered a few feet away videoing, so I ran up to him and told him to put the video camera away.

After the subway stop, we mentioned to our guide that we wanted to get some bottled water. She walked us to a small cafe that we would’ve never found otherwise. And we were so glad because that cafe served as our breakfast location for our remaining days in Moscow!

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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow

Next on the tour was viewing a changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is located just outside the Kremlin walls and happens once per hour, on the hour.

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Just as a side note, the red walls along this path are known as the Kremlin Walls. Just on the other side of the building is the Kremlin, which contains several government buildings as well as many cathedrals.

We visited the cathedrals the next morning on our own (more on that in a subsequent post).

 

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Red Square and St. Basil’s Cathedral

Next, we walked to Red Square. We had visited Red Square the night before, but it was nice to see it in the daylight! I love that you can see St. Basil’s cathedral peeking out as you walk up the hill to the Red Square area.

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Just outside of Red Square is what the tour guide explained to us as the “center of the city.” Folks will frequently toss coins into the circle.

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Lenin’s tomb is in Red Square as well. Ken and I both opted out of going inside. Something about seeing an embalmed body that has been on display for 90 years just didn’t quite appeal to us. But here it is from the outside!

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We captured some photographs of St. Basil’s cathedral in the daylight.

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Inside St. Basil’s Cathedral

The tour did not include the inside of St. Basil’s Cathedral, so we went there on our own on our last morning in Moscow. (Lots of photos! I may have gone a bit overboard).

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I should point out that St. Basil’s cathedral was not temperature controlled, so, considering it was winter, it was very chilly inside. The employees who monitor each room huddled around space heaters!

 

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And here was a view of Red Square from a window inside St. Basil’s cathedral.

 

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We had already seen so much in Moscow, but there was even more to see!