From Russia With Love

While London 2012 is obviously amazing, the winter Olympics are totally my thing. And because there was nothing doing on my last morning in London, I decided to take the opportunity to get myself excited about Sochi 2014 by visiting Sochi.Park, a fun little set-up in Kensington Gardens. It had to be a quick visit, though, since my travel time is so long and I had to get myself there and back and then to Heathrow to catch my flight. The website said it didn't open until 10 am, so my plan was to be the first one through the door and get out of there by 11.

It took me a little while to find it -- I should've gone to a different tube stop than I did, but all that mistake did was give me a walk through a really beautiful section of Hyde Park I'd never seen before. I spent a few minutes looking at the pretty pictures of Russian scenery that were displayed outside (and sounding out words in the descriptions written in Russian!) before walking up to security... only to find out that they weren't open yet. LAME. They told me it'd be another 10-15 minutes before they'd be letting people in. By the time they did open it was almost 10:30 and I was stressing out a little, but then I got inside and... time no longer mattered. Oh man, it was glorious.

It started off with a short video about "the new Russia" and the Olympics, which was more than enough to get me excited for 2014, and then we were led into a room about the Krasnodar region of Russia where we could play some Wii-like games and get free stuff. That led us into a room built to look like the interior of a train station and exterior of a train going to Sochi's Olympic Park -- then you walk into the train, where there's info about transportation in the area; apparently the Sochi City airport is brand new, and there are lots of new railroad lines, and the train journey from Olympic Park to the ski village is going to be free during Games time. After exiting through the back of the "train," there's a room dedicated to Sochi's sponsors, primarily a technology company. I thought it'd be awful and corporate, but there was actually REALLY cool stuff in there! There were all these interactive Olympics-related games along the walls, and I played one that's a Russian/English translator quiz. It was four questions and I completely guessed on all of them, but I got two right and it told me I'm almost fluent in Russian! Haha, what a liar! :P But I'll take the praise, I guess! There was also a luge simulator and the opportunity to put on some Sochi athletic gear and take pictures in it. So I posed with a snowboard and in a bobsled, because why not? My willingness to look ridiculous earned me a friend in the Russian girl who was in charge of decking me out in the equipment.

Then there was a "4-D movie experience," which was pretty neat, followed by a room about Russia and sponsored by a beer company. Hah. I think there were some technical difficulties going on in there when I arrived, and the working part of it was pretty crowded, and by now I really needed to get myself out of there, so I pretty much went straight through and found myself in the gift shop. It's a good thing everything was too expensive for me (including the keychains), because everything was SO PRETTY! I'm as blown away by the Sochi graphics and color scheme as I am iffy about those of London. They're so beautiful, and so appropriately Russian. I can't wait to start stocking up on Sochi 2014 souvenirs!

In case you haven't realized, my experience at Sochi.Park switched my thinking from "it'd be pretty cool to go to the Olympics in Sochi" to "...yeah, okay, this has to happen." So the Darci Needs To Go To Sochi 2014 Fund is now officially accepting donations. I wonder when the ticket lottery starts...

But anyway, the gift shop led me back outside. There's also an ice arena as part of the park (seriously), but obviously that wasn't really in the cards for me. Alas. I was running way behind schedule at this point and booked it back to the flat, where I tried to finish up the food I had left before booking it back onto public transit to get to Heathrow. The tube made this extremely interesting, as the train I got on because its destination was Terminal 4 changed destinations halfway through the journey. Doncha love when it does that? So I had to get off and wait for another train, which didn't come for ten freaking minutes. I ended up being plenty early though, so no harm, no foul. I did see some athletes from Peru on the tube on my way to the airport! They were talking to this little British boy that was with his dad, and they gave him a keychain -- he was SO happy! Ahhhh it was adorable. I wish I knew who they are, because they're my favorites! I also saw some Bulgarians in the airport, and apparently the family of one of the American rowers was on my flight home.

Actually, I kept a list of all the countries I saw accredited people from, so here it is!
-Czech Republic
-Great Britain
-El Salvador
-Chinese Taipei
-Sochi's National Organizing Committee

Not bad, right? ;)

It's kind of crazy to think that it's all over, and even crazier to think that it happened at all. It made all those hours roaming the wellness center and all those awful newspaper deadlines more than worth it! It's kind of funny, though, that there are so many things that I didn't get to do; I didn't see Big Ben, I didn't visit Queen Mary, I didn't drink tea at the Tate Modern, I didn't get chips at Golden Fryer. But I spent every moment doing Olympics things and I don't regret a single second.

Expect some massive photo updates within the next couple of days! :)