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An English traveller’s personal view of Sochi
By Frank Thomas

My journey to the Russian Riviera was by train from Kiev, two days across the Kuban Steppe, by the edge of the Sea of Azov and into the foothills of the Western Caucasus, my home and playground for the next two weeks. I was hosted by kind friends in the district of Bitcha high in the hills east of Sochi from where the glorious Black Sea shimmered and sparkled under the ever- blue sky.
Soon I was familiarising myself with the cheapest and most convenient form of transport, the white minibus or ‘marshrutki’. The network of routes is amazing but it has led to a huge reduction in a more sustainable public bus service and the consequent increase in road traffic.
I could be in the city centre in under 20 minutes but in the busy morning and evening rush hours Kurortny Prospect, the main highway, is hectic and unpleasant. Within minutes, though, you can be wandering through the parks and gardens which lace the city, admiring the magnificent trees. The best collection of trees and shrubs is to be found in the arboretum, or Dendrariy.


This is a stunning sight with its hundreds of species and lovely vistas to the sea. Nearby in the Friendship Park is the famous tree propagated by cuttings given by people from all over the world and from all walks of life.There are a few handsome buildings here, (the railway station is a notable example) but most of the city has suffered a zealous programme of hotel and shopping mall construction in the ‘global vernacular’. If this dismays, it is pleasant enough to stroll through the network of leafy side streets and stop for a drink at the quiet cafes and bars. One of the highlights is the approach through the parks to the sea front and the ever popular promenade. Here is the Russian seaside in all its gaudy cheerfulness – a happy throng of holidaymakers swimming, sunbathing and gorging themselves on a feast of fast food delights. Kids from the outer reaches of the Federation immerse themselves in the wonder and joy of their summer holiday – here as elsewhere in Sochi you have a strong sense of family where health and physical well-being is all important. Not far away there are some famous mineral springs which I decided to explore on a future visit.

Sochi is more than the city centre. Greater Sochi claims to be the longest city in the world, stretching as it does for 150 kilometres all along the Black Sea coast to the Abkhazia border. This is a region of great villas, dachas and palatial sanatoria. There is much to explore and I had time only to dip in and out of a few of the interesting sites. The most extraordinary of these is at Zelena Rocha, Stalin’s ‘Green Grove’, a sombre-looking dacha with an inner courtyard hidden among tall trees. Here you will come upon a shrine to Stalin’s memory: his bedroom with its coffered ceiling, the billiard table which was too high for him to reach, his study hung with portraits of himself and, somewhat eerily, a wax effigy of Uncle Jo seated at his desk on which rest gifts from Chairman Mao.

International hospitality is a feature of Sochi. The city is twinned with a number of communities across the world including Cheltenham Spa in England but public awareness of this fact seems slight in my experience. The same would be true at home. Friendship and twinning links are not perhaps what they were in the immediate post-war period and up to the 1980’s. A wider freedom to travel since independence is certainly available but the economic constraints do not always allow for this. It is to be hoped, however, that twinning and friendship links will continue to play a part in international travel which leads to such wonderful opportunities for social and cultural understanding.

The beaches are not expanses of golden sand.. They consist of grey and dun coloured pebbles ranging from marble- size to the sort than can only be lifted with great effort. Somehow this deficiency does not matter here. The tide-less sea looks and feels mostly very clean. If it is best to look beyond the frequented areas for bathing, a little judicious trespassing in the grounds of the private sanatoria will also provide some interesting insights into a typical Russian holiday experience. This is a step back in time to the days when ping-pong, tennis courts, and pre-pokeman childrens’ playgrounds were to be found at the British seaside.
If you enjoy the physical exertion, it is fun to take the steps up from the seaside to the city. There can be few resorts with such a variety and quantity of steps. Concrete, stone, metal, or paved: steps and risers all ultimately leading to your hotel or lodgings. The less energetic can take the option of the funicular.

For many visitors from the west, Sochi will enchant and delight. It is unique in the Federation, sheltered as it is by the mighty Caucasus mountains from the harshest weather and enjoying for months on end an enviable warm and sunny climate.

/Summer 2001/

Sochi Club 1998-2003



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