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First day in Russia

Hotel isn’t ready, but people and scenery are great

February 5, 2014
By CHRIS KNIGHT , Lake Placid News

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - It's 7:30 this morning. Lake Placid News/Enterprise Senior Sports Writer Lou Reuter and I are ready for breakfast, so we walk down the hall from our fifth-floor room in the Gorki Panorama hotel to the elevators at the opposite end of the building.

We step in, and I press the button marked 1, hoping to get to the lobby. Thirty seconds later, the elevator stops, but the doors don't open. We stand there puzzled for a few seconds until the elevator starts moving again.

"I think we're going back up," I say to Lou.

Article Photos

Adirondack Daily Enterprise/Lake Placid News reporters Lou Reuter, left, and Chris Knight stand in front of the Olympic rings shortly after they arrived in Sochi, Russia Tuesday evening to cover the Olympics. The photo was taken by a volunteer outside the airport in Adler.

Sure enough, when the elevator stops, the doors open and we're back up on the fifth floor. We press 1 again, and the elevator starts going down. It stops at the bottom, but again the doors don't open, we starting going up, and sure enough, we're back on the fifth floor once more.

"Let's take the stairs this time," I suggest.

We open the door to the stairwell and start making our way down. The concrete walls are unpainted, the trim around the windows is unfinished, and the stairs and landings are dusty.

We get to the third floor, and the door to the hallway is propped open. I peek around the corner and look up. Square sections of the ceiling have been cut out, and in some places wires are hanging down. The carpets are covered in drywall dust and debris. Three or four men talking in Russian are working on various projects down the length of the hallway.

Continuing down the stairs, we reach the bottom, except it's not the first floor. It's the second-floor landing for the elevators, and the paper covering these elevator doors is ripped in half. We decide to try the elevator on the right this time.

When it opens, some equally confused-looking German journalists greet us. They tell us they've been trying to get to the lobby, too, with no success. Lou and I file in, the elevator finally reaches the first floor, and when the doors open to the lobby, a small cheer lets up from the group.

It's just another day in the life at the Gorki Panorama.

After more than 24 hours of travel via car, plane, bus and gondola, Lou and I finally arrived Tuesday night at the Panorama, a five-story, upscale-looking hotel that's among a cluster of huge hotels located at 960 meters, or roughly 3,200 feet in elevation. This is where we'll stay for the next two weeks while we cover the Sochi Winter Olympics.

While we're thrilled to finally be here, our initial excitement was somewhat tempered by the frustrating situation at the hotel. It started the minute we tried to check in.

"Unfortunately, we've had some technical difficulties and your room won't be ready for another 20 minutes," a friendly clerk named Anna told us in a thick Russian accent.

She directed us to the bar and lounge off the hotel's lobby, promising us each a complimentary drink while we waited. After a long day on the road, that didn't sound too bad, so we sat down and ordered a couple of beers from a young Russian barkeep.

The bar was filled with about two dozen other members of the media from all over the world who were also waiting to get in their rooms. At times, the young hotel staff looked stressed, like they were still trying to figure things out, and I witnessed a few terse exchanges between them while we waited.

After about 45 minutes, Anna from the front desk walked through the bar, telling patrons their rooms were ready. When Lou and I went back to the front desk, we learned that we weren't getting a room with two twin beds, like we had reserved months ago. Instead we would have a single bed, Anna told us apologetically.

At that point we didn't care, so we got our key cards and headed for the elevators. That's when Sandy Caligiore, press officer for USA Luge and the first familiar face we'd seen since arriving in Sochi, walked through the door. He said he was supposed to be staying at the Gorki Grand hotel, but it wasn't ready yet, so he had been moved to the Panorama.

"They had seven years to do this, and they're still not ready? I'm sorry," Caligiore said. "If this was the United States and we had seven years to do it? Different story."

As we parted ways with Caligiore, he told us to not expect a quiet night.

"You'll be lulled to sleep by the sounds of construction work," Caligiore said.

We said goodnight and took the elevator to the fifth floor. When the doors opened, our way was blocked by dozens of small metal garbage cans wrapped in plastic. A worker was opening them up and putting them outside the doors of each room.

We finally reached our room, located at the opposite end of the building. It's small, roughly 15 by 30 feet, with a queen-size bed, a couple desks, one chair and two bedside tables for furniture, and a small bathroom with a shower.

The first thing we noticed was we couldn't connect to the hotel's wireless Internet service, as we had been promised. We then started plugging in battery chargers for our cameras and other equipment. As I turned on a power strip, however, the lights in the room went out. The breaker had been tripped. We found a shoddy looking breaker box in the closet but decided to get some help before playing around with it.

The Russian hotel worker who had been distributing the garbage cans came to our room, flipped a breaker and the power came back on. Then he turned to Lou and me, put both his hands on his chest and said, "Not electrician." We understood, and he went back to work.

As I looked around the room, I realized there were plenty of other issues. There was a phone, but it didn't work. The same for the television. We have a very large closet, but only two hangars. The bed had only one blanket, with no top sheet. The hardware for one of the bedside tables hadn't been installed. There's an air conditioning system, but no switch to control the small heater in the room.

Outside our room there is a large patio, accessible by the hallway. Lou tried to open the door to it and pulled the handle right out. We just laughed. There was nothing else to do at that point.

"I've never seen anything like it in my life," Lou said. "This is completely bizarre."

It was after midnight before we finally went to sleep. As Sandy promised, I woke up several times in the night to the sound of faint banging somewhere in the hotel.

When morning finally arrived, our attitude had changed. As the dawn broke, we were greeted with our first views of the snow-capped, craggy mountains that surround Krasnaya Polyana. At once, we both realized why this is such a great site for the games.

"It's gorgeous," Lou said as he snapped picture after picture from the patio. "It's amazingly beautiful."

Apart from the setting, the other real positive we've experienced here in our first 24 hours is the attitude of the Russian people who are volunteering or working at the games. They're very friendly and eager to help, despite the at-times-challenging language barrier.

Case in point, Tuesday night: After traveling by bus from the Sochi airport to Krasnaya Polyana, we were let off the bus too soon. We had no idea how to find the gondola to get us up to Gorki village.

Desperate, I went into the mall (yes, there's a mall here), and encountered several security officers. They had a hard time understanding what I was asking for, but a Russian couple happened by, saw our plight and offered to help. The man made a phone call to guest services at the Gorki Panorama, and two younger Russian women who are working the games offered to take us to the gondola. Without their help, what would prove later to be a stressful night would have been even more so.

After a good breakfast in the hotel lobby this morning, we headed out to explore Krasnaya Polyana.

"Things are getting better by the minute," Lou said.



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