As he had promised earlier, Roma did drop me off at the airport. Quite a feat, considering I had to be there at 7am! We said goodbye, promising we'd write, which of course didn't happen, and this time I had a much easier time finding the right terminal, having to use the same one as the previous time I had a stopover in Irkutsk.
There were only two others waiting in the room, a very drab looking older man and a lovely (but very tall) girl. Figuring they both had to be foreign (this wasthe foreigners' terminal) I started talking to the girl. Surprise; she was Russian. Still, she also was going to Sochi, so all I had to do was stay close to her in order to arrive at my destination. Why she was waiting in the foreigners' terminal, she couldn't tell,
though. Later, I figured she was flying first class, just like the drab older guy. However, the difference between first and second class, getting the same food on the same chairs, was more difficult to understand.
The chairs were put closer together than in a crowded Eurolines bus but we did have a choice of meat and fish. Hurray for Baikal Airlines!
Omsk airport resembled an abandoned train station. Many empty stalls, some still selling newspapers and beer. Only a few people here and there and in general, a very drab place.
I bought Svetlana, the girl I was tagging along with, a drink and I learned that she was going to visit her husband in Sochi. She herself was staying with her parents near Irkutsk but now it was time for her to go back again. Although she admitted to not feeling much like going back. I really wondered why, since I expected Sochi to be among the better places to live, in Russia, although I must say I didn't know her husband. Not only a better place to live because of the better climate, but more because of the better economy, masses of tourists spending heaps of money just to get a tan.
Lucky for me, having Svetlana around got me at the right time at the right gate and we took off only some 90 minutes after arriving in Omsk. Not that I felt bad for leaving the place. Not only did the airport fail to impress me, just before landing, we could see Soviet-style apartment blocks stretch from horizon to horizon. And then, when going through customs, the police felt it necessary to question me and go through my luggage for more then 30 minutes. And to top it off, on the plane, I sat next to two transvestites. To be honest, they where very good looking women.
Indeed, Sochi seemed a little bit more 'Western' than many of the towns I had visited so far. Not only were the buildings in better shape, hotels where lining almost the whole way from the airport to the city center. The town being so close to the Caucasus also left its mark. Even before entering the airport terminal after leaving the plane, already twice where my papers checked by militia keeping an eye on all passengers. Apparently, to them I looked more like a terrorist then a tourist.
I expected it to be easy to get a place to stay for one or two nights. I hadn't yet made reservations anywhere since I had started my trip. At the entrance of the terminal, fair damsels where holding up signs, shouting to get the attention of the wary travelers, trying to sell rooms in upper-class hotels. Deciding that wasn't for me, I waited for my luggage to appear. I figured it wouldn't hurt to ask for prices.
Some discussion with a very nice looking lady got me a bottom price for a room. One night, wait for it, 250 dollars. Yes, two hundred and fifty dollars. Bargaining, after a while, got it down to 160. I figured I was going to try in town. After all, the Planet mentioned a booking office at the main train station.
There, I wasn't even worth looking at. After pressing on for quite a while, a youth volunteered to translate for me, talking mainly to me and occasionally to the lady at the counter, her almost covering herself in papers. The only thing I could get was a cottage for 10 days, at $35 a day and regular hotels where booked until as late as October! I gave up, stood in line for over an hour to get a train ticket, leaving Sochi the same day for Rostov which would make it possible for me to sleep on the train, and went for a stroll around town.
What's so strange about getting a train ticket in Russia is that, although your time at the counter is limited to one to five minutes, even with as little as 5 people waiting in front of you, you could still have to wait for up to an hour. Just what are these people doing that makes the wait so long?
Sochi isn't any different from your average beach resort. Accept for the bunkers, on the beach, being half covered by the water. Busy beaches, tanned and beautiful girls, closed beaches, reserved for hotel guests and expensive, expensive drinks and snacks.
The temperature was good though, some 30 degrees Centigrade in the shade. The whole climate is reflected in the way people live and work in this part of the country. Much more like Mediterranean people, life is more relaxed and people are more passionate. Strangely enough, the city was also very clean, and well kept.
Trains leaving Sochi either go north or south. Since they generally don't leave Russia here, they go no further south then Adler, some 25 kilometers away. Likewise, all trains leaving Sochi and going north, almost always start in Adler. Nevertheless, my train managed to be 35 minutes late. I got in and immediately was almost killed by the heat hanging inside the wagons. After entering my compartment, I immediately took of my shirt and opened the window, welcoming the breeze after leaving the station.
The train station was so very much filled with people when I bought my ticket, for a while I was mildly afraid it would be impossible to get a ticket, leaving Sochi on the same day, me having to wait days and days to finally leave this Sunspot. Strangely, the train was almost empty, although I did share my compartment with a very old bald guy, no teeth, open shirt, and the biggest belly I had ever seen. Apparently a heavy smoker, he had a very difficult time breathing, coughing almost constantly. Naturally, he only spoke Russian.
Another indication that these parts of Russia are better off then the rest, was the fact that on none of the train stations between Sochi and Rostov where people selling everything for next to nothing. Apparently they already had all they wanted and didn't have to lower themselves to having to sell all they could for all they could get.