Despite all the development, Sochi still feels like a kaleidoscopic version of Coney Island, all juiced up on lukewarm vodka and sunburned potbellies, and that can either be part of its charm or the one thing that keeps it from being a truly relaxing place to spend a few days. The Mediterranean-style glamour that Mr. Markozov mentioned, at least for now, can be frustratingly elusive, sprinkled around at places like Platforma and Sinee More, or the Blue Sea [LR: Actually, it means “dark blue sea”], a restaurant with white tablecloths and a sleek wooden deck that looks out onto the water. With its poor roads and gruff service, Sochi can often seem less like the heart of the new Russian Riviera, and more like the Soviet package-tour destination it once was.
In building the new Sochi, the state is relying on huge investments from Russia’s largest businessmen, the billionaire metals and energy oligarchs who maintain a symbiotic, and at times impossible to parse, network of relationships and favors with the Kremlin. It remains unclear how the financial crisis will affect costly development plans for Sochi, though a shrinking credit market and falling oil prices have already begun to eat into state budget projections and the personal fortunes of the country’s most wealthy.
On my way out, I was stopped by hotel security, who told me that my behavior was “mysterious” and “strange.” What happened next was even stranger. A guard led me to a group of policemen stationed just outside the hotel gates, where I was questioned for more than an hour about what exactly I was doing at the Rodina that afternoon. They examined the photos on my camera, and tried to make sense of the scribbled handwriting in my notebook.
This would have to be resolved at the station. I took a seat in the back of a police jeep, and we drove, with the blue light flashing, down to the local militsia precinct. After another round of questions, I was told I could go, as soon as the cops made a photocopy of my passport. The police station didn’t have a copy machine of its own, so we had to go to an internet cafe down the street.
— The New York Times, November 16, 2008
And now, a photoessay on the wonders of Sochi, home of the 2014 Olympic Games: