Coverage of the Olympics is everywhere and whether you are watching our athletes whizz by on the ice and soar high on the half pipes, you may notice there is a strong presence of Canadian supporters on the sidelines!
Attending the Olympics Games as an athlete is the stuff dreams are made of but in my own personal experience attending as a spectator can cause headaches, empty bank accounts, and vomiting. The Sochi Olympic Games came with a number of unprecedented organizational hurdles to overcome. Arranging tickets, hotels, flights & transportation can be difficult but across the world and in a difficult foreign language only adds to the struggle.
I began planning my trip to Sochi just over six months ago and determined that attaining the trifecta of flight, accommodations, and visa were my top priorities. You see, to enter Russia as a Canadian citizen you need a special tourist visa that requires a letter from your hotel or travel agency declaring you have accommodations. Some longer stay Russian visas have several other hoops to jump through including a HIV test… but luckily all I had to do was come up with a piece of paper stating I wasn’t go to couch surf. I got my declaration letter from an external Canadian based agency which cost extra but was more reliable and time effective. Shortly before I went to apply, the Russian Embassy announced that you would also need to register for a ‘spectator pass’ and this would be an additional form of accreditation and security measure to allow spectators to enter any venue with their accompanied event ticket. A week later the announced again you would not only need your spectator pass, declaration letter but also proof of Olympic ticket purchase to apply for a tourist visa. The visa process was a scary one and I applied in person to a very nice Russian lady at the Russian Embassy when I was home in Ottawa over Christmas. My heart was pounding when a not so nice looking Russian man took me into the back room but alas, he handed me back my passport complete with my new shiny Russian visa!
Meanwhile I was working with the Friends & Family coordinator at Bobsleigh Canada who was able to secure me a hotel room for the first four nights of my stay at a reasonable price and also booked my flights through Moscow. Through connections I have made with the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and with my status as a ‘local volunteer’ I got hooked up and will be staying at the Performance Centre in Khosta for the second part of my trip. This is a COC organized hotel which they will use as the Canadian base away from the Village to allow athletes, support staff, and volunteers to rest up.
Despite flights on Expedia coming in just over $4,000 when I first looked back in September, I felt I got a good deal and came away with an Air Canada flight through Moscow for just under $2,000. I will be flying on a small Russian airline to Sochi from there.
Inevitably with travel, things go wrong and more often than not luggage gets lost…. I was really hoping to take carry-on only to Sochi but all flights internally through Russia have a strict no liquids policy now! Part of me is relieved they are taking extra security precautions, the other part of me
is annoyed because I just want some toothpaste!
I leave for Sochi in just under 48 hours…not like I’m counting down the seconds or anything…and my bags are half packed and my adrenaline is going full swing. I am excited and ready for whatever will happen at the Games. Will Sochi 2014 will be remembered as the ‘gay games’, construction havoc, rampant corruption, bobsleigh beards or Canada’s domination… only time will tell.
For me it will be a once in a lifetime adventure. Please stay tuned for what’s next.
Erica Wiebe is a Canadian freestyle wrestler and Bachelor of Arts student at the University of Calgary. Her passion for wrestling and writing combine in the words of this blog, sprinkled with a strong opinion on certain matters and a hint of feminist thrown in for good measure.