Exploring Olympic Park

With only one men’s ice hockey game taking place at Bolshoy on Wednesday, I was free to spend most of the day exploring Olympic Park a bit more thoroughly. It’s huge. I know there have been some comments about how empty it looks on TV, but seriously, there is a lot of space for people to spread out so I can understand that it won’t look the same as Vancouver where the live sites were so much smaller.

All of the coastal cluster venues surround the central medals plaza, but then there’s another big section with the national houses, sponsor showcases, the official merchandise store, and more.

Sadly, even a Canadian passport isn’t enough to get you in to Canada House. It’s for athletes, their family and friends, and invited guests only.

Even Quatchi didn’t make the cut:

There were long lines to get into the official merchandise store; will have to save that for another day. Instead, I popped into PyeongChang 2018 House, to learn about the host of the next Olympic Winter Games. Hmm, should I start learning Korean?

Cultural performance in PyeongChang 2018 House:

While walking through the park, I spotted this girl wearing the coolest Olympic Rings glasses:

Lunch was a picnic in the park with a fellow Canadian who is working here in Sochi. Yum, the first green vegetables I’d had in a week.

And then it was time to head into work. Once again my main role was to grab quotes from the top players after the game and run them back to the office to be input into the Info 2014 system, and then capturing the highlights from the post-game press conference with the coaches.

My view of the pre-game warm-up skate:

Thursday was pretty much the same, but busier with three games, three press conferences and many practices — often overlapping. After working the first two games, I stuck around after my shift ended so I could watch the first ten minutes of CAN vs NOR — my patriotic duty.

I’ll close out this post with a few random observations and updates:
— security has been a non-issue since I’ve arrived, and I have never felt unsafe. The police presence is noticeable but not oppressive. I do find it amusing that anytime I’m stopped for a pat-down when going through the screening gates, they poke my ponytail.
— my accommodation situation has improved immensely. I was able to switch rooms, so no more coughing/snoring roommate, and the room itself is much nicer. No shower curtain or mirror, but it’s still a vast improvement.
— the food continues to be hit-or-miss. Some items are pretty tasty, but it’s getting repetitive, and there haven’t been a whole lot of vegetables that aren’t potatoes. I especially feel bad for my vegetarian roommate; there’s meat in most things, and she’s pretty much living on oatmeal. Here are a few examples of recent meals:

Anyone want to send me a care package full of Tacofino fish tacos?

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The Games (Really) Begin

Wow, the last couple of days have been a blur.

Saturday’s highlight — other than spending more time exploring Olympic Park — was helping out in the mixed zone of the team figure skating event. Not my role or venue, but the venue press manager is a friend and asked if I could help out as they were short-staffed. One upgrade pass later, I was directing media to stand here to speak to the Russian skaters and there for the Canadians, and so on. I used to be love figure skating — back in the Kurt Browning era — but these days the only skaters I recognized were Virture and Moir. One neat moment was having a few of the other volunteers burst into tears in the mixed zone after Yulia’s performance. “She’s just so perfect.”

Sunday was my first official shift as a Sochi 2014 volunteer. That’s right, all this fun and I hadn’t even been put to work yet. The day mostly consisted of meeting our supervisors, getting a venue tour and a quick crash course on flash quote reporting. And before I knew it, we were in the mixed zone getting quotes from the Slovakian hockey team. I got a couple of decent quotes from Petr Nedved that were added to the Info 2014 system for accredited journalists to use as needed. There’s a real focus on quality over quantity — but it often takes a lot of notes to get that one gem.

Yesterday was more of the same. Many of the teams cancelled their practices in the morning, so there wasn’t much to do. But by the afternoon, most of the NHL players had arrived so all of a sudden the venue was crazy-busy. I caught a nice quote from a Finnish player, and another from Steve Yzerman at a Team Canada press conference.

After leaving the venue last night, I was passing by the Medals Plaza with the presentations already in progress, and remembered that Charles Hamelin would be getting his gold medal, so I detoured into the plaza. It’s always an amazing experience to see your country’s flag raised and have your anthem played at an Olympics. I only wish I had packed my red mittens!

Today was even better. I’m feeling in the groove now — asked Sami Salo a question in English after all the Finnish media were done with him (he said he remembers me from when I worked for the Canucks, which was sweet), stood thisclose to Teemu Selanne in the broadcast side of the mixed zone (where I’m allowed to listen but not ask my own questions), watched a bit of Canada’s practice, and got a short-but-exclusive interview with an Austrian player whose name is totally escaping me now but my supervisor said the quotes were really good, so I guess I don’t completely suck at this. Yay me!

The first men’s ice hockey games start tomorrow. I’ve got the whole day to rest up before we tackle CZE vs SWE.

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Accreditation and Uniform: Da! Opening Ceremony: Nyet!

Despite getting very little sleep due to some epic snoring, the day started out very promising. The shower in our volunteer accommodation has good water pressure and lots of hot water, and the breakfast over in the dining tent was filling: porridge, yogurt, butterscotch blinis and ‘freeze-dried coffee’. Not exactly Starbucks, but actually pretty good.

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As we were finishing up breakfast, someone came in to the dining tent and announced something in Russian that made everyone else perk up. Turns out, they were going to have a few thousand tickets to the Opening Ceremony for volunteers. A line formed, but you had to write down your accreditation number — and I didn’t have my accreditation yet. We begged and pleaded, but no dice,

So my roommate ‘S’ and I took the workforce bus over to Olympic Park to pick up our accreditation and uniforms. This time, I was in the system and getting the accreditation printed and validated was quick and easy. Uniform distribution was also smooth, except they were out of the extra-small sizes in a few items — I’m going to be swimming in my medium pants, and will have to double up on socks to get the shoes to work.

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The uniform package is pretty comprehensive: jacket, hoodie pullover, pants, three polo shirts, cap, toque, gloves, rain poncho, backpack, fanny pack, duffel bag and sneakers. Not sure how I’ll be able to get all this stuff back to Canada.

After lugging our uniforms back onto the bus and returning to our accommodation, we popped into the volunteer lounge just on the off chance they were still taking names for the Opening Ceremony — and they were. They wrote down my name, phone number and accreditation number — and said to meet up at 5 p.m. at Shayba Arena. That was the only instruction.

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So off we went back to Olympic Park to explore. Except when we went to enter the park, we were turned away. An Olympic Park entry ticket was needed — no one had mentioned that. We walked the circumference of the park, trying to figure out where we needed to go. The workforce staff at Shayba didn’t know anything about the volunteer tickets for the Ceremony, but as more and more volunteers gathered without any clue of what to do next, eventually we were pointed to another area. And then another. And so on.

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Again, I started to write a detailed explanation of the confusion that followed but who wants to read that? Long story short, after four hours of waiting, we were close to the front of one ‘line’ (actually a jostling sea of humanity) but with no sense of whether we would actually make it in. It was now 8 p.m., almost time for the Ceremony to start, we were freezing and had to make a decision: stay for a small chance of getting in, or bail and find somewhere warm to watch it on TV. We chose the latter, and power-walked to the Main Press Center, just in time to catch the Russian national anthem.

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We ended up watching the rest of the Ceremony while drinking espresso and — since I hadn’t actually eaten since breakfast — indulging in some fast food at the McDonalds in the MPC. (That’s a royal cheeseburger, and I hope I’m not the only one who replays the ‘Royale with cheese’ scene from Pulp Fiction in their head)

I normally like watching the clean feed of the broadcast, without the commentary, but this one was pretty confusing without someone explaining what the different parts were meant to represent. I liked certain elements, but will be curious to hear what the television viewers thought compared to the in-arena audience.

Time for bed. Any tips for blocking out the sound of snoring? Earplugs were useless, and I can’t exactly elbow my roommate like I would my husband; it’s going to be a long three weeks if I’m getting no sleep.

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Welcome to Sochi

Well, that was an interesting day.

After what turned out to be a $45 breakfast (!?!) at the hotel (I should have gone to Dunkin’ Donuts instead), I took the Metro to Belorusskaya Station and transfered to the Aeroexpress train to Sheremetovya Airport. Only got lost once on the Metro, so counting that as a win.

It was a short flight to Sochi, and I was feeling optimistic — now it’s getting real. I grabbed my luggage and stopped by the Sochi transport information desk. With the Games starting tomorrow, and assuming that most of the volunteers should have arrived by now, the instructions on how to reach the volunteer accommodation were vague and conflicting. And that’s pretty much how the rest of the day went.

I initially wrote a very detailed step-by-step description of my getting-from-the-airport-to-the-volunteer-accommodation adventures, but it’s actually pretty frustrating to re-live it, so I’m just going to sum it up thusly: well-meaning but ultimately not helpful directions, ambiguous or non-existent signage, and my lack of conversational Russian all contributed to an epic 4-hour journey to the volunteer village. I finally made it to the right place for check-in… only to discover that they had no record of me in the system. Awesome.

After handing over my passport and waiting another 30 minutes, I guess they figured out that I was legit because they handed me a key… except that each room has only one key, so last person out of the room each day is supposed to return it to reception.

I’m sharing my room with two other volunteers at the moment, though the room sleeps four. ‘B’ is an elderly Russian woman from St Petersburg who doesn’t speak much English. ‘S’ is a younger woman from Switzerland who speaks both English and Russian, and we’re actually performing the same role at the same venue, so that will be nice.

And since the state of the bathrooms in Sochi have been a topic of discussion, I’m pleased to report that our room does indeed have a nice enough bathroom with just the one toilet, plenty of toilet paper, and no warnings about not drinking the tap water.

Tomorrow is uniform and accreditation pick-up, and hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to explore my new digs a bit more, buy a SIM card, and figure out where to eat my meals. And find a spot to watch the Opening Ceremony!

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24 Hours in Moscow

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With just one day to spend in Moscow before heading to Sochi, and knowing that I’d be jet-legged from two overnight flights, I had pre-arranged a private guide to take me around to all of the major sites.

I met my guide Alina at my hotel, and she accompanied me on a whirlwind 7-hour walking tour. We checked out the Kitay Gorod neighbourhood, the GUM (the former state department store that was now a fancy shopping mall), walked past the Bolshoi Theatre and the KGB headquarters, visited the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (originally build in 1800s, destroyed by Stalin, the lavishly rebuilt in 1997 — also famous for being the location of the Pussy Riot performance that resulted in their arrest and imprisonment), the Arbat neighbourhood with its pedestrian shopping street, and several of the Moscow metro stations — not only an essential public transport system to rival London or New York but with some of the most amazing architecture and design I’ve ever seen. Gilded ceilings, chandeliers, frescos, mosaics, stained glass — each station was different, and the extravagance of design seemed in stark contrast with my preconceptions of the Soviet style of their time.

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But the highlight — tourist cliché though it might be — was the Red Square and the Kremlin. The first time we rounded a corner and saw the imposing red walls and towers of the Kremlin, with the colourful onion domes of St. Basil’s peeking out in one corner, that took my breath away. Chilly temperatures kept the crowds small, and we were able to wander around the streets of the Kremlin seeing the people go about their daily business.

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Other than the countdown clock just outside of Red Square and a few Olympic-themed sponsor ads in the GUM and on the metro, there wasn’t a whole lot of evidence in Moscow that Russia would be hosting the Games starting in just a few days. But I suppose that would have been similar if I had visited Ottawa or Toronto during the lead-up to Vancouver’s games.

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Spending the day in Moscow also highlighted that my Russian language skills leave a lot to be desired. The Moscow airport — with its bilingual signage — gave me a false sense of confidence, but once on the Metro or walking around downtown, it would have been quite difficult to navigate on my own without speaking the language. I can read certain words, but the second someone spoke to me, I’d have no clue what they were saying.

A few random observations:
— the Russian people may not be overly cheerful or expressive, but the second I struggled with my heavy suitcase on the Metro stairs, I had three guys reaching out to help me carry it.
— traffic regulations (and even the division between road and sidewalk) seem more like suggestions than actual rules.
— I keep forgetting that other countries/cities have different smoking regulations. Sitting in the ‘non-smoking section’ of a Moscow cafe doesn’t mean that the tables on either side of you won’t be puffing away.

Tomorrow I fly to Sochi, but I’ll definitely need to return to Moscow in the future to explore more of the city.

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The Journey Begins

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“I volunteer as tribute!”

Okay, perhaps it wasn’t quite that dramatic when I volunteered for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. But I am taking a journey into a fiercely competitive arena where who-knows-what awaits me.

I am currently en route to Sochi where I will be volunteering as a “flash quote reporter” at Bolshoy Ice Dome for men’s ice hockey. Although this will be my third Winter Games, it’s a new role for me and my first time volunteering for a Games versus being paid staff.

After a year of preparation, my volunteer journey officially started yesterday (I think — overnight flights and time zones are messing with my perception of time) with a flight from Vancouver to London, and onward to Moscow. I’ve just arrived at Domodedovo Airport, at 5:30am local time, more than a little disoriented and already experiencing a whole lot of culture shock.

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Now to grab the train into central Moscow and cram as much sightseeing as possible into a 26-hour layover before taking the final leg into Sochi tomorrow.

Let the Games begin.

(My updates from Sochi are being shared via VancityBuzz, who graciously provided Quatchi.)

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One Week!

I can’t believe that the 2014 Olympic Winter Games start one week from today. I’m not quite ready, but getting closer.

Right now my biggest stressor isn’t Sochi security or language barriers — it’s figuring out what to pack. It’s currently -25 degrees in Moscow, but 10 above in Sochi. What jackets to I bring? What about shoes/boots?

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On the bright side, my Russian visa finally arrived, rubles have been acquired and I’ve got a stash of red mittens ready for gifting/trading once I get to Sochi.

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My flight to Russia leaves on Monday. Any last minute advice?

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