February 24, 2014
Spasibo!

I have been so fortunate to have been given this opportunity. I want to thank everyone who has been apart of this experience. From all of the other volunteers and my leads, to the people I met at my hostel and to everyone at home who was excited and supported me. Most of all, I want to thank my parents. Without them and their support, I would have never been able to do this. So thank you again, spasibo! (fitting that it was one of the only words I actually picked up.)

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February 24, 2014
Getting to Russia

One does not just go to Russia. It was never on my list of places to go, but as soon as the option became a reality I was more than excited to go to Russia, especially for the Olympics. There was a lot of forms that needed to be filled out and plane tickets that had to be booked. The COC (Canadian Olympic Commitee) sent me form after form that needed to be filled out in order to get my volunteer accreditation and my Visa. Applying for my Visa was not an easy task. I was issued 3 different travel vouchers, one I was scammed $40 out of, one I was documented as a male and the final one was good enough for the Russian Embassy. Instead of booking the 4 flights required,  (2 legs each way), we ended up booking 6 flights due to… who knows what. Needless to say, if anyone is travelling from Sochi to Istanbul on March 21st there will be an empty seat waiting for you. After almost missing my flight in Toronto, and having a 9 hour layover in Istanbul on the way there, I eventually arrived in Sochi at 4:30am with 2 more tickets to the Women’s Gold medal hockey game than I had left Toronto with.

February 24, 2014
Morshoy Yozh

By time I had finished looking around in Sochi, it was time to claim my bed at the hostel. Instead of moving my stuff into a room, the man in charge took me to another building. This building was the “back building” which was in the second part of the hostel. This second part was on the 6th floor (no elevator) and had clearly been added in anticipation of the Olympics. It was much bigger than the first building, but also a lot less… finished. The walls were covered with colourful sheets that were attached with staples.  I also think I counted over 20 “tropical” pictures on the walls. The hanging sheets and pictures was their  obvious attempt to cover up everything that was not ready. The decor resembeled the ‘as-is’ department in Ikea, and had everything been finished, it probably would have been really nice.

20140223-140213.jpg My room was very small. It only had two bunk beds and a dresser. The mattress was a thin futon and was hard as a rock. It didn’t end up bothering me as much as I thought it would as I was always exhausted when I got home. The three other beds were filled every night I was there. People coming and going, some I got to meet, others whom I never managed to see. 20140223-140545.jpg There was a big living space and kitchen, which consisted of a table, fold up chairs and computers. The kitchen had a counter fridge (which supposedly arrived the day before I got there) and a sink. To my surprise, the sink had completely come apart from the pipe which offered a nice waterfall on to the carpet.  

There were 16 rooms with 4 beds in each, but I think I only ever saw half of the people staying in the hostel. It was nice to have the common room because I met tons of people who were all in Sochi for the same reason. I became friends with a guy from Canada who was travelling for 4 months all over Europe and 2 Americans that were just here for the Olympics. Every day we would exchange stories about what events we all  went to and then sit and watch highlights on the tv. I also met a girl form the states who messed up the times of her flight and missed it. Needless to say, she was pretty distraught. As I write this in the Istanbul airport waiting for my last flight, I am happy that I didnt have to go through anything like that. I met a lot of Russians and Aussies and some from Asia. It was really cool that we were from all over the world, yet we were brought together into the city for the same reason.  I guess thats the true meaning of the Olympics. 


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February 24, 2014
First Impressions

I was able to share a cab  to my hostel with the guy that sold me the hockey tickets. Our cab driver Vlad raced though the streets of Russia blasting Macklemore and Russian rap. When I arrived at my hostel, I thought I was going to die. Thank goodness Vlad called up and figured out where I needed to go. My hostel was in an apartment buliding so I had to  walk through a metal fence to the 2nd floor. The building was clearly under construction and the elevator was covered in Russian graffiti. After the scenic ride up, I was able to ‘check-in’ to my hostel which was much nicer on the inside.  When I say ‘check-in’ it was more along the lines of…  ’your room is not ready but you can leave your stuff and sit here until the sun comes up.’

So that’s what I did. A few hours later, everyone started waking up. I met an old man from Surrey, BC who came to the Olympics to collects pins. Lamest hobby ever… except at the Olympics pin trading is huge. I can definitly say I dabbled a little bit in the pin trading buisness. I then met Emma and Erin who were also volunteers at the COH (Canada Olympic House)! They were from Kamloops, BC and had just graduated from UBC. Shout out to them for taking me to the park for the first time and showing me where I had to go.

February 24, 2014
The Olympic Park

I don’t think I have even mentioned the Olympics yet! I conquered two of my fears over this trip: security check points and being kid napped (see Istanbul post). I don’t think it would have been possible to keep track of the number of times my bag was scanned or the number of times that I was patted down and my passes were checked. Everyday, I had to wear around my neck my spectator pass (to get onto the park or into events), my work force accreditation (allowed me to go though the workforce entrance) and my Canada pass (showed I was a volunteer at the COH). Whenever you were to get on a train, off a train, into the park and at any event, you had to go through a full security check - similar to an airport check. Hence getting over my fear of security checks. Although it was a hassle, the security did a great job and I never felt threatened at any point.

Once you passed through all of the security, checks you would walk. I did a lot of walking on this trip. Although the Sochi Olympics have been one of the only Olympics to have all the venues within walking distance, (aside from the mountains) it didn’t mean that places were close. To walk from the gates to the COH was at least a 20 minute walk everyday. Arguably, I am now in better shape than most of the athletes that were competing. (I may be featured in the Peyongchang 2018 Olympics roster. Stay tuned.)



20140224-103054.jpg The first day that I was there it was 22 degrees celsius and the view of the mountains was so clear and so beautiful. As soon as I got on the the park grounds there was people everywhere. They don’t call it a mega event for nothing. Everyone was repping their countries with jackets and flags. I must say that Canada had some of the best swag. The Canadian mittens were like gold. One of the volunteers actually traded their mittens and a sweater for a ticket to the women’s gold medal hockey game.

20140223-114827.jpg The one thing that I was very surprised about was the food at the park and in the venues. In North America, food is such a big part of the experience of going to a game (popcorn and hotdogs etc.) At the venues, most of the food came from vending machines (coffee, sandwiches, snacks etc.) The only food offered in the stands were pizza and pancakes (like crepes). AND… there was no beer served in any of the venues. All of the Canadians were outraged! Some people were fooled by the 0% beer that they were served assuming beer was beer and contained alcohol, apparently not. 

20140223-114939.jpg It didn’t really hit me that I was at the Olympics until I saw the official torch. It was ginormous! You could hear the flame burning and I cant remember the number, but it was some ridiculously large number that was spent to keep the flame burning 24/7. So much for environmentally friendly games.

I think that the Sochi blue will be ingrained in my memory forever. A lot of the signage and the volunteers outfits were in the most ridiculous shade of blue. Then, to top it off, add on the crazy pattern which was on everything, including the outfits that the volunteers had to wear. The volunteers really were great. Everyone was super helpful and very energetic; it definitely added to the experience. Another thing about actually being at the games is that I immediately felt less connected from when I was following every minute at home. The wifi was very limited so the only times I really knew what was going was when I was in the COH. Weird how it works that way.

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February 24, 2014
Canada Olympic House

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                                     The Canada Olympic House


The house itself was such a cool place. The bottom floor had a free bar (of course), lots of couches and tables, a huge screen and tons of other tvs that always had Olympic footage on. Everyone always said that it was nice to come in and hear Canadian broadcasting instead of all the Russian broadcasting anywhere else that you were.

People went crazy for that picture of them using their passport to open the Molson Canadian beer fridge. The upstairs of the building was where all the head honchos had their offices: the media room, volunteer lounge and the athletes lounge that was pretty cool. They had their own beer fridge and each athlete that won a medal got to sign the fridge in a gold marker.

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                                            Athletes Lounge 

The purpose of the house was meant to be a comfortable spot for all of the athletes and their family and friends to gather and enjoy some drinks and everyones company. My first shift happened to be one of the most exciting nights. Normally, the house was closed to Canadians who were not registered as friends or family, but my first night was the open house. This meant that the hosue was crazy busy and anyone with a Canadian passport was welcome to come in and enjoy the house. Later that night,  Valdimir Putin himself, who had just been at the USA house (right next door) stopped by and said hi! The funny thing is that his security had been surrounding the USA house all day and then he just wondered over to COH. His final words were “see you in the hockey final”, which did not turn out to be the case, but everyone was very excited that he stopped by. 20140223-141535.jpg

                                             Inside the COH

Whenever Canada won a medal, there was be a medal ceremony that night. The ceremonies consisted of the president of the COC would go up and say a few words. Well, quite a few words, spoken by this loud and obnoxious Quebecois man. It was good energy but a bit much even for me. I did find out that his position was a  volunteer position - so good for him. After he spoke, the head of the governing sports body (eg. Skate Canada) would go up and say a few words about the athlete who had won and then the coaches of the athlete always had really nice speeches. Then, the athlete went up and said their thank yous and usually joked around. I was fortunate enough be be at Patrick Chan’s silver medal, Denny Morrison’s bronze medal and Han Hudec’s bronze medal presentation. I didn’t think that I got very star struck until this week! But the athletes were all so humble - almost like they were real people…whaaat, no way. It was amazing to be apart of the ceremonies celebrating all of the hard work and dedicaton that these athletes have put in. Not to name drop (totally name dropping) the people that I got to see were:

  • Patrick Chan
  • Denny Morison
  • Scott Moir
  • Tessa Virtue
  • Jan Hudec
  • Taylor Kirsch
  • Casey Campbell
  • Charles Hamelin
  • Garry Bettman
  • Doug Gilmour
  • Justine Dufour-Lapointe
  • Alexandre Bilodeau
  • Mike Riddle
  • Mikael Kingsbury
  • Dominique Maltais
  • Marcel Aubut
  • PK Subban
  • Martin St. Louis
  • Mike Smith
  • NHL referees

All of the friends and family and the athletes all wore these really nice red, white and black jackets. Something cool that someone told me, was that if the athlete’s jacket had white on top instead of red it, meant that they had medalled. Neat little fact.

Another cool thing that the COH hosted but I didn’t get to see, which I  thought was a great idea, was a Team Canada vs. Team USA ball hockey game outside the two houses. Any of the athletes were allowed to play. I heard that Patty Chan was rippin ched. COH also hosted the Stanley Cup for a day, didn’t get to see it but I heard it was a great photo opt.

February 24, 2014
The part when I actually had to work…

The one regret that I have about my trip is not volunteering from the very beginning to the very end of the Olympics. I felt like one day I was introducing myself saying that it was my first day and then the next I was already saying good bye to all the friends that I made.

All of the volunteers were great. The majority we my age or a few years older. There were some people who older as well. Everyone was super nice and tons of fun no matter how old. Most of the volunteers are in sport management as well. It was really cool to meet other people who were on the same path as me. I didn’t realize that there were others out there. A lot of the volunteers have volunteered at previous olympics and knew each other from before. I can definitely see how this could become addicting. It was so exciting being involved more than just as a spectator yourself. I was fun making other peoples experiences better. Who knows if I can save up enough money I can definitely see myself going to Rio!

My job was always on the access and accreditation, which is a fancy way of saying front desk. Besides the open house, the COH was only open to the athletes and their friends and family and important people associated with the COC, IOC and lots of other big organizations like Hockey Canada. My job was to register and sign in the people who were legit and then listen to everyone else’s story of why they should be let it. Was pretty funny some of the stuff that people came up with. One guy came in with a red helmet, a Canadian flag cape, and a maple leaf shaved into his chest hair and yelled at us “Am I Canadian enough?” It was sad to turn him down. Most of the time it was either Canadian spectators upset they weren’t allowed in or Russians who want to come in. At first I was to easy on them and it took forever to get them out because they couldn’t understand me. By the end I would just say “Het” and make an exit with my arms because that meant no in Russian. Everyone had to pass by us which meant we saw a lot of cool people. The thing is that I probably met a ton of really high up people that I didn’t even realize.

Every shift we got a catered dinner. The food was amazing! Tons of lentil salad, if you know me you know I love lentils! They also had a basket of snacks that was free to take. I don’t think I have eaten the amount of candy and chocolate I consumed this week in the last 3 years (minus Ellie’s halloween candy).

The biggest perk of volunteering though had to be the free tickets. If there were left over tickets after the games or events had started then they would offer them to us. I only expected to go to two event but I was given a free ticket to the women’s Canada vs Switzerland hockey game AND the men’s Canada vs Latvia game! My seat for the mens game was in the 12th row, I could almost smell Sidney Crosby’s sweat.

Overall it was a great experience and I met a ton of awesome people!

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February 24, 2014
The Main Event

Before I left for my trip I bought tickets to short track speed skating and women’s snowboard cross. I figured I could go see a hockey game any time in Canada so I should pick sports that I would probably only see at the Olympics. Well that was a stupid thought the hockey games that I got to go to made up some of my best memories. But let me explain all the other events. On the second day I was there I got to go to short track. I ended up sitting beside a family from London. It was a mom her three daughters and their cousin. They were lots of fun to watch the event with but we didn’t really have very many Canadians. Charles Hamelin, the Canadian favourite fell and didn’t end up qualifying unfortunately. Even though Canada didn’t medal, two Russian got gold and silver. The crowd was ridiculous, Russian fans do not hold back. I think that it was the best alternative outcome to Canada winning. My favourite part was when the skaters were at the start line they would show the mascots on the screen saying shhh (or tcccc im Russian) to tell everyone to be quiet.

20140224-100310.jpg On my third day I went up to the mountains to watch women’s snowboard cross. Such a cool sport. The train up to the mountains was really easy and once you get up there (Krasnya Polyana) I took a bus to the gondola’s and then a gondola way up the mountains. What a spectacular view. I think that mountain peaks have to be my favourite I guess you say tourist site. Probably comes from all the years flying over the Rockies and sitting on Kootenay Lake looking at the mountains. I think I need to move to Vancouver. When I got to the site, I had to walk down a tons of stairs (which I didnt realize until I was walking back up them) but you got a really cool view looking into the bowl of the finish line and seating area. I ended up sitting beside two Canadians again, so even though I was going to these events alone I always had people to share the experience and the excitement with. The way snowboard cross works is that they race once on their own to get a qualifying time and then they are put into groups of 6. Then they race down in groups of 6 for quarters, semis and finals. I always thought from watching or TV that they went around in a circle… except now I realize that makes no sense. They go down a big hill with jumps and turns. From where you sit you can only see them for the last 30 seconds of their race. You watch them on the big jumbotron and then you start looking for them coming over the jumps at the top and you have a great view of the last big jump and their finish. There were some big falls… one of the American girls looked lifeless for a few seconds before they cut the footage but she ended up being fine. I wish I could have gotten an opportunity to have seen the mens or the ski cross I would have. If the girls can go that fast and hard I cant even imagine how the guys do it. Dominique Malatis ended up having a crazy final run, almost being taken out twice but she managed to take home the silver!

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20140224-100514.jpg One of the more quiet nights they were a bunch of women’s hockey tickets floating around that they offered to us. It was the Canada vs Switzerland game and of course we won. The game was in the Shabaya Arena which is the smaller of the two where a lot of the women’s and less significant games were played. We had great seats but the place was small enough that ever seat would have been awesome. Again we were in a huge group of Canadians which always makes it better.

20140224-100613.jpg And then it was the Men’s Canada vs Latvia hockey game. I was offered a free ticket and gladly took it. I never expected that I would get to see a mens game let alone in the seat that I had. I have never had such a good seat at a hockey game. I was right behind the players bench in the 12th row. I was surrounded by Russian fans but made friends with them. The Russians are funny because they all just cheer for who ever Canada isn’t playing. The hockey was awesome Latvia definitely put up a fight. It was 1-1 for the longest time but finally in the 3rd period Canada scored to win the game 2-1.

20140224-100650.jpg I thought that that game would be the experience of my trip… that was before the womens gold medal game. I sat with Fraser, Emma and Erin in the very last row, backs against cement but because of the size of the arena they were actually awesome seats. We had a great view of the international sized ice. Oh boy, what a game. In the first and second period it was an alright game. By the third period I hate to say it but I had lost a lot of hope and was kinda bummed that this would be my last olympic experience. You could tell that the crowd wasnt feeling it either but then in the 3rd period after the ref was in the way and the Americans were inches from scoring on an empty net that would for sure have won them the game. I think that it was a sign that the girls had to win. With 3 minutes and thirty seconds left Canada scored. The atmosphere completely changed and when they scored the second goal everyone was going wild! I have never screamed spontaneously so hard in my life. The 4 v 4 overtime on the big ice was so cool. All of the penalties made it so exciting! There were so many times when I was sure that the game was done and we had lost. Our goalie played unbelievably. The last play that won the game was crazy! In our videos you cant see the puck go in because were already jumping up and down celebrating. It was really neat getting to watch the medal ceremony and watch the flags being raised while they played O’Canada. When we left the arena everyone was high fiving us and all the Russians wanted to get pictures. That game was hands down was my greatest Olympic experiences and as much as I wanted to be able to celebrate with everyone, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my trip. After the game I headed back to the hostel, got my stuff and headed to the airport.

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February 24, 2014
Going Out

As volunteers we lived a pretty a sheltered nightlife. We heard that there were crazy bars in downtown Sochi but because we worked so late and the games didn’t finish until 11 we ended up at the Swiss House. Same idea as the COH but it was welcome to everyone. They had a downstairs bar and a DJ and dance floor upstairs. Every night it was probably 75% Canadians taking over. This is where I got a picture I wouldn’t say with, but of me and PK Subban. Martin St. Louis and Mike Smith were also there … so pretty much the scratches but hey oh well.

20140224-095932.jpg On the one day that I had off I went up to the mountains again. It was a gross and rainy day but I ran into a guy from my hostel on the train and we ended up wondering around until we found the Austria house. They were also open to the public so we went in and ran into a big group of Canadian guys from Calgary who work on the rigs. These guys were loaded and kept buying drinks. All of the vodka shots had a piece of proccuito and a pickle, that you used as chase. It was surprisingly really good. I think I was home and in bed by 8 after the crazy afternoon at the Austria house.

20140224-100018.jpg Every night on our way home we would walk by what we called the Shakira Bar because there were always Russians dancing to Shakira music. We never ended up going in, I may have to return to Sochi one day to go to the Shakira bar.

One night on the way home we bumped into some other Canadians on the way home. I was taking to a women and she told me she was the coach of the Western figure skating team which is pretty cool, but then her friend chimes in and says “you forgot to mention that youre Scott Moirs mom”. Needless to say she was a very sweet and modest lady. Oh also heard some gossip through the grapevine that because Scott and Tessa are retiring now their parents are going to push for them to get married.. Oh AND that Tessa has been dating Sidney Crosby since Vancouver but recently broke up… Olympic gossip!

February 24, 2014
The Boardwalk

Like I mentioned my hostel was in Adler which is like the Wasaga Beach of Russia. There is a boardwalk with lots of restaurants and souvenir shops along the water. I went for breakfast twice along here. Both times the food was questionable. It was a cafeteria style so everything was on the cold side but the view was nice. I also went for a few runs on the boardwalk. It was amazing how you could look one way and see the beach and the other and see the beautiful mountains. I think I need to move to Vancouver. I ran past the most beautiful McDonalds and all the way to the river. There was a bridge that crossed the river and lead up to the high way so one day I ran up to the highway and took some really nice pictures of the mountains and the other day I ran to the sea port where there were cruise ships that I know lots of people stayed on.

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February 24, 2014
Were the Games Ready?

In my opinion Russia did a great job hosting the Olympics despite how the media has depicted them. I am excited to be back in Canada and hear what the media is saying now about the games. Everything inside the Olympic bubble was all ready. The new transit system including the trains that reaches from Sochi to one stop past the Olympic Park and all the way up to Krasnya Polyana were very efficient and clean. The buses were easy and came every 15 minutes. All of the venues were huge! Russia’s plan is to collapse and move most of the venues to other locations in the country. The Fisht Stadium will be used for used for FIFA I believe and the Bolshoy Arena will remain as a conference centre. Other than that they will disassemble and move the venues. However… outside of the bubble there were definitely signs that this city was built within 5 years from the bottom up. The rumors about the stray dogs were true. There are lots of dogs all over the place, especially near the water that were left there when people were forced to leave their homes to build the railway and highways. One of the craziest things I saw was a cemetery right beside the road. It was pretty sad that you could tell that graves had been dug up because of the proximity to the road. The city also just chose to cover up anything unsightly or unfinished with big Sochi 2014 banners or panels printed with bricks or stones on them.

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February 24, 2014

My trip to Istanbul in one word was overwhelming, beautiful but overwhelming. I stayed in a hostel for one night (much nicer than my Sochi one) and toured around for a day. Everything in Istanbul was very beautiful and historic. All the roads are cobblestone but there is a transit system like the subway, that runs outside right though the most historic parts of the city. I was able to see the Blue Mosque which is incredible inside.

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20140224-091935.jpg I walked to the sea port and planned on taking a Bosphorus Cruise along the coast but I was the only person and I didnt feel comfortable getting on the boat alone with the crewmen. It would have taken two hours out of my one short day and it was quite an overcast day so I wasn’t sure how much I would be able to see anyway.

20140224-092145.jpg After my little scare with the men on the boat cruise, I seemed to be on the defence for the rest of the day. Especially in Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is a huge covered marketplace. They sell beautiful bowls and lamps and fabric and tea and spices but it was all very overwhelming. I wore my Canada backpack which was a HUGE mistake. As I would walk by the male store owners would yell “Canada Girl”. It took me a while to realize that it was okay to keep walking. But before I realized that I would stop and say hi and they would want to show me their store and then the back of their store. Then they would offer to sit and have tea. This is where my fear of being kidnapped kicks in, and I would say no thank you I only have a day. Before I could get away they would give me their business cards and tell me how beautiful I was (2 days travelled, no shower beautiful) before I could get out.

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The whole courting was pretty funny to me once I assured myself I would be leaving the shop in one piece, so I would come out smiling. This was just bait for the next store owner though. “Oh pretty girl you are so happy let me show you my store!” Needless to say it was an exhausting day always having to be on the defense.

20140224-093033.jpg I think that my favorite part of Istanbul was the food. For lunch I had a delicious chicken yogurt dish with lentil soup (yum). And for dinner I had a dish with spinach cream with lamb and roast potatoes called Sultan’s Eye. Im not sure if the people of Istanbul themselves like nutella but it was a huge hit with tourists. They serve nutella on these really thin bagels called a simit from carts like a hot dog stand.

Would I go back to Istanbul? Yes, but only if I was travelling with someone. I would want to take the Bosphorus ferry cruise on a noce sunny day and go over to Taksim on the European side of Turkey.

I made it home safe and sound but I can not wait to go on my next adventure. I have officially caught the travel bug.

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