As reporters begin to arrive in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics, they are noting firsthand the city's much-anticipated idiosyncrasies. And there are a lot of them.
New York Times reporter David Segal calls Sochi a "Soviet-style dystopia," and makes the city sound like a scene from the fever dream of SNL club-tipster Stefon. Segal describes a Sochi hotel bloc:
The exteriors are monolithic and nearly identical, except for sections of paint, in shades of yellow, taupe and mauve. None of the buildings have names. Instead, they are identified by numbers, and as of last weekend, many of the numbers had not yet arrived. Or they had arrived and had yet to be affixed to the buildings. Instead, they were printed on a piece of paper and taped to a wall. Breakfast is available in Building 10. But not only is Building 10 hard to find, there is no evidence that it houses a restaurant.
He also tells of a bare shopping mall with a dancing bear:
The mall’s doors are open, though the individual stores are not, and someone in a bear costume is dancing on the first floor to some piped-in music. But the ambience is less celebratory than anxious. Shoppers are vastly outnumbered by men wheeling pallets up ramps, or peeling plastic off glass displays, or unboxing products.
And the bizarre experience of riding a bus:
Like much of this city, the bus has the Sochi Olympics slogan emblazoned on its side: “Hot. Cool. Yours.” ... The drive takes you past the odd insta-metropolis that this area has become, a hodgepodge of old churches, sleek industrial office buildings and freshly paved highways. You also pass a lot of dirt fields, dotted with newly planted trees, kept upright with twine.
On the more mundane side of Sochi dysfunction, he says, is a deluge of half-finished projects, including unopened hotels and some where workers have yet to install heaters and air conditioners. There's a mall where the only operating store is a Cinnabon. And some projects are completed but shoddily done. Segal says he accidentally pulled the handles off two doors in the Bolshoy Ice Dome, and said stray dogs were able to enter the heavily guarded media center.
Other journalists have weighed in on the state of Sochi. Ha'aretz reporter Daniel Bar-On said he has fond memories of the beach resort from when he visited as a child in 1988, but that today's Sochi is much different:
Despite the squeaky-clean streets, the modern hotels and malls and the state-of-the-art train station that one would expect to find in Tokyo or New York – the sadness and cynicism are evident everywhere.
Sports Illustrated's Brian Cazeneuv writes that accommodations in the Olympic city are less than ideal:
Three of nine hotel centers in the mountain cluster remain unfinished and several people who have paid for single rooms are arriving to find other strangers -- in at least one case of the opposite gender -- already in their rooms. The three percent of officially unfinished rooms Felli mentioned are all located in the mountains, where one hotel guest arrived to find stray dogs in his room, and others discovered sewage dripping from their faucets.
According to Cazeneuve, even hotels that are technically fully open are missing essential items, like clocks and shower curtains. This photo of one hotel's tap water is not reassuring.
Weird Sochi scenes and stories are coming in via Twitter, as well:
Sochi hotel not quite finished, & has no record of my reservation. I'll go to the bar while they try to sort it. Oh. pic.twitter.com/HQjAm4UMHY— Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) February 4, 2014
LOOK: Absolutely bizarre signs in Russia's Olympic bathrooms http://t.co/eApvTWIBEs— The WorldPost (@TheWorldPost) February 4, 2014
It's perhaps not surprising that Sochi is not particularly welcoming to visitors, as it seems most of the government's attention has been (rightly) focused on securing the location. Terrorist attacks throughout Russia have increased ahead of the games, prompting President Vladimir Putin to crack down on insurgents and send roughly 50,000 law enforcement officials to help protect the area. But, per Cazeneuve, this doesn't make for a very welcoming environment:
Sochi looks like a giant fortress. Because of concerns about terrorism, fences are everywhere, keeping people in or out of whatever is finished or unfinished. Signs warning people not to enter certain areas sit side-by side with welcome signs featuring smiling misha bear mascots.
A handful of buildings are complete, and Segal says that the road to the mountains is well-paved. So patrons staying in unfinished, sloppily put-together rooms can at least enjoy a pleasant ride up a mountain on an inappropriately balmy day.