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.