Sochi and Krasnaya Polyana

September 2018

People usual don’t associate Russia with palm trees, but the Russian city of Sochi does have them. Surprisingly the Winter Olympics of 2014 were here, instead of anywhere else in the country where it can actually get cold. When Nicole and I exited the airport on a night in September 2018, we were welcomed by warm weather and the Olympic Rings. We would later visit the city, but first went inland to Krasnaya Polyana.

The mountains

Krasnaya Polyana is a quiet town surrounded by mountains. We planned to do a big hike nearby. Unfortunately a lady at the tourist office told us many hiking trails were inaccessible because of a danger of bears. Therefore she recommend nearby Gorky Gorod (Gorky city). The town has an extensive cable car network. The views were great, though I was surprised about the music played at the cable car stations. Apparently tourists want loud house music with their mountain views. After four stations, at 2200 meters, we escaped the crowds and followed a path to the ruins of a village. There were plenty of more stations and cable car routes, taking us eventually near the impressive Polikarya waterfall. It’s tempting to get closer to the waterfall or to explore around it, though frequent signs warning about bears suggest otherwise.

At the end of the day we got off the cable car at Gorky Gorod’s upper town. Its square has a nice view of both the mountains and the valley, but it’s unfortunately surrounded by (to my opinion) ugly hotels. Also the row of exhibited Mercedes SUVs with Mercedes flags placed behind them didn’t match the setting. On top of all this there was a man on a stage dressed as a monk slamming bells in a monotonous rhythm, accompanied by a loud music installation playing Russian nationalist pop (Raaaa-si-ya! Raaaa-si-ya!) while disco lights flashed around him. We didn’t like this area, and after a drink here we preferred to go back to our guesthouse in Krasnaya Polyana.

The next day was sunny, and the room at the guesthouse had a balcony overlooking the nearby green hills - a nice spot to have breakfast. We found a place to hike without the risk of bears. From the edge of town we followed a path into the hills. The path went up and down through forests. After a couple of hours we encountered a creek and a waterfall. We swam here for a while before reaching the road and taking a bus back to town.

The sea

A train brought us to Sochi, a city stretched out along the Black Sea coast. We walked on a crowded pedestrian promenade flanked by palm trees to reach our hotel near the port. The port building dates from the Soviet era, but the expensive yachts near it show how times have changed.

It was windy and cloudy. With a rough sea on the right and shops and restaurants on the left we strolled over the seaside boulevard. We walked further to a cablecar that brought us up to Sochi Arboretum - a highlight of Sochi. It was built in 1890 and has all kinds of subtropical trees and plants. It’s located high up, overlooking the sea. We had escaped the crowds end enjoyed the views.

Practical advice on traveling here

Travel between Sochi and Krasnaya Polyana: The train station of Krasnaya Polyana is called Esto-Sadok (Эсто-Садок). You can book train tickets on the website of Russian railways, eng.rzd.ru. The ride takes about one hour and fifteen minutes.

Getting around: Yandex Taxi works in Krasnaya Polyana and Sochi. There is a bus connecting Krasnaya Polyana and Gorky Gorod, you pay onboard the bus.