(Sochi, Russia ...in case the preceding doesn't print correctly. I have a Russian alphabet font but it may not be transmittable for some reason. Just showing off. Sorry.)
Sochi will host the Winter Olympics in 2014 but they aren't ready yet. That's the consensus of this boatload of tourists. In fact, Sochi isn't ready for any tourists yet. Not too surprising because they apparently haven't been a tourist stop until very recently. I understand the first cruise ship showed up about a year ago. In any event, I had a blast. More on that later.
I set my alarm for 7:20 AM last night so I'd have time for breakfast and be able to make an 8:15 tour. No need. The immigration people here are not comfortable with visitors yet. They made us jump through some hoops but we eventually got going about an hour late.
My tour was billed as a Russian Tea Party. Not much of a tour but I decided that would be fine when I was signing up for stuff way back in the fall. We started off on the right foot. Our guide spoke pretty good English and seemed to know a bit about the town. Later she confided this was her first tour. Her day job was as an English teacher in the schools.
Sochi is a resort town used for many years by the royals and then by the Communist Party bigwigs. They say the scenery is lovely and the beach is ok. I couldn't say. The weather was overcast and drizzly all day. The tea was pretty good however and we were given a look at the machinery they use to process it and drove by some tea growing in fields. This is what they (they being the residents, perhaps for tourist purposes) call sub-tropical. Well, it is spring and the trees are blooming but 50º F doesn't sound sub-tropical to me. Of course, I've been in a lot of warm places lately so maybe I should cut them some slack. After tea and sweets our host, through our guide as interpreter, explained the tea business to us.
So, you ask, If the weather was bad and the tour not very exciting. why did I have a blast? Well, many moons ago (over 40 years to be more precise) I studied Russian. Three years in high school and a semester (the 4th semester) in college - that's all the college offered. They gave me credit for the first three semesters because of my high school Russian and they didn't offer a 5th semester. That's why I had to take a semester of German in college. I needed two semesters of upper level language (3rd and 4th semester) to meet my degree plan requirements. I told them I'd be glad to take another semester of Russian if it was offered and they let me slide on the two semesters of upper level but made me take 1st semester German to get two semesters credit. A bit twisted but in those days you did what you had to to meet the requirements. I figured they might make me take enough German to reach 3rd semester or something. I argued fairness and they saw the logic to my saying that by taking 4th semester Russian I had shown competency and it wasn't my fault that I couldn't go on for another semester. They agreed.
So, you ask, what has that got to do with having a blast? Well, I don't remember much of my Russian vocabulary. I haven't used it for, let's see...45 years ... wow! Well, I guess it is understandable that I have forgotten much of what I knew. I mean we were reading Tolstoy in Russian (ok, we had a dictionary in the other hand but we were reading and usually understanding quite a bit) and now I can't put more than two words together most of the time. But, I digress again.... As we began our trip I started looking at signs and realized I could still sound out the words pretty well. The Cyrillic alphabet is similar to the Greek - long story there, another time - and most people haven't a clue. But as I began to sound out words I didn't remember or had never seen I realized it was like working puzzles and each time I understood something it was like the aha moment you get when you figure out a puzzle. Well, that just kept happening and as I went on I began to remember more vocabulary. I'm a long way from 1963 but it was just fun! I even had some short conversations with some Russian speakers. For me that was a blast! (All right, I have to get my kicks somewhere. Still not married. Give me a break here ok?)
I did run into a very cute new female face after returning to the ship. Only problem was that she had a Russian uniform on. Wish I'd been more fluent. She spoke some English and was apparently just walking around the ship having a look. We talked very briefly and she said the ship was "cold". I didn't realize until after we said goodbye what she meant. It was cold outside but not inside. Then it hit me. She thought the ship was cold as in impersonal. I had not thought about it that way but to an outsider who doesn't have the benefit of all the smiling faces and greetings that we see every day the furnishings might seem a bit cold. The ship is basically a big hotel on the water and as such doesn't have the kind of warmth that a home might have. I imagine that part of the experience for her was coming from a place where very few people could afford to take a cruise that she was probably looking for something less than perfect so she could tell friends that it wasn't such a great thing. Perhaps I'm wrong because we certainly didn't talk much but trying to look at things from her perspective led me to that thought.
Having a morning excursion returned me to the ship in time for lunch and afternoon trivia. I joined three people who I had not met who were willing to add me to their group. We won! I wish I had been able to contribute more but what the heck. Our prize was a caribiner (my spell check is no help with this word. I'm talking about the kind of loop clamp that mountain climbers use. One side of it pushes in to allow you to clip it onto things - a belt loop perhaps) with a strap on it to use as a key chain. A win is a win. I won't tell you that there were only two other groups competing. Everyone else was still on tour I guess.
I ran this afternoon since I had the time. That's about it. We gain an hour tonight because we head west to Sevastopol.