Impressions of Russia

By Len Yates
This item appears on page 29 of the November 2019 issue.

Scene in Sochi, Russia. Photos by Len Yates

My wife, Olga, and I visited Azov, Russia (Olga’s hometown, pop. 80,000), for a couple of days, then traveled south by overnight train to the Sochi area, on the Black Sea. After five days, we took another overnight train back to Azov for four more days. For this Sept. 9-19, 2017, trip, we made all of the arrangements ourselves.

At the Rostov-on-Don International Airport, 51 kilometers from Azov, Customs processing was still just as slow, hot and uncomfortable as ever. Lines were long, and processing was slow. The airport never seems to upgrade or automate its procedures.

The train between Azov and Sochi was electric, not diesel, and the compartments were relatively spacious. It stopped for 20 to 30 minutes in each city.

The following observations are a bit ad hoc.

Street vendors in Adler and the Sochi area had fruits, vegetables and trinkets but nothing much in the way of art. There were no street musicians, either. Most Russians are on a limited budget, yet we saw no beggars, and I never sensed any danger of being robbed.

950th birthday celebration of the city of Azov in southeastern Russia.

I found Russian food to be rather bland and uninteresting, and it was largely the same from place to place and day to day. I was surprised that restaurant variety was so lacking in the Sochi area.

Entrances to houses and places of business always seemed to have thresholds to step over.

Paved areas in public places were often a patchwork of concrete and asphalt splotches. And we saw no protective barriers around holes in the ground, including manholes.

The newest highway interchanges (built since I was there four years before) are “spaghetti bowls,” as if a whimsical child had drawn up the plans. More than once, our tour bus had to make a U-turn on the highway as part of his route while negotiating one of these spaghetti bowls. I also noticed that bike paths sometimes merged with major highways.

There was an overall sense of dustiness and drabness in Azov. I did not find it to be a pretty city. However, they did have a long, tree-lined boulevard through the main section of the city plus a large central park with lots of trees. I was impressed with how these areas filled up with people on Sunday afternoons. It was nice to see so many people of all ages getting out, walking, biking and having a good time.

Fountain in a park in Sochi, Russia.

Each day, the September weather was unseasonably warm and humid, both in Azov and in the Sochi area. Fortunately, the Black Sea was refreshingly cold, although the pebble beach was difficult to navigate and painful for sensitive feet. Everyone around me seemed perfectly comfortable walking on the pebbles, however, so I did my best to pretend it wasn’t a problem for me either.

While in the Sochi area, we stayed in a hotel in the resort town of Adler. From there, the city of Sochi was to the north, and the Olympic Park (home of the 2014 Winter Olympics) was to the south.

In the Olympic Park, we attended a terrific ice-skating show enacting the story of Romeo and Juliet.

In the center of the park was a big fountain. There must have been thousands of people watching as, with music playing, it displayed various fan-shaped sprays and other impressive shapes in multiple colors. In my opinion, it has Las Vegas’ Fountains of Bellagio beat. It may be the most spectacular up-spray fountain in the world.

Grayslake, IL

Typical walkway in Azov, Russia.