Joel Reichenberger: Busted on the Olympics’ buses
February 7, 2014
Sochi, Russia — The early story of these Olympics, aside from terrorism fears, has been the lack of preparedness at media hotels. We certainly experienced that, too.
But 24 hours into our coverage of the Olympics, nothing proved quite as stupefying as the bus system here in Krasnaya Polyana, the town mountain cluster where our hotel is and where most of the events we cover will take place.
There are three main problems, and to be fair to our hosts, one of those problems is definitely us.
Issues with the buses began almost as soon as we landed in Sochi on Wednesday night. We filed out of the airport, newly laminated credentials proudly hanging around our necks, and asked a waiting Russian what bus we needed. We got a definitive answer and joined a group of reporters waiting by the curb. Then, a few minutes later, another Russian approached, asked what we were waiting for and directed us to a different spot on the curb. So, we waited there, and eventually ended up in Krasnaya Polyana.
Next task: find the hotel.
We went with our tried and true approach of pointing at a piece of paper and hoping someone recognizes the right words and then points us in the right direction. The problem was no one seemed to recognize any of the words.
The vast majority of buildings here are brand new, or will be brand new in a few more days or weeks. The complex where we ended up is enormous, larger than any in Steamboat. There are maybe 15 buildings, all at least five stories tall and all large and winding. One is a major shopping mall, though right now it's still on the "to-be-completed" list.
The problem with all these new buildings is no one knows what or where they are, Russians included. So, every person we asked sent us on a different bus to a different location. We got off the main media bus at the mountain media center. Then we got in line for another bus, and seconds before it took off, we were told to go to a different line and a different bus. We loaded our baggage onto that one and rode until we hit a large bus station, where again it was time to change buses.
There, we asked several different Sochi workers for help and, once again, everyone gave us different instructions. "Bus B13," we were told. "It's M6," others said. One poor worker, trying in vain to help us, recommended we get on three different buses before finally suggesting the same bus route twice. We loaded our luggage on a bus only to pull it off before leaving and start over three different times.
We got really good at loading our luggage.
Finally, after taking a spin through the entire village on the WF-5 bus, we decided it was the M6 bus we needed and had been all along. So, once we were back at the bus station with our bad-recommendation buddy — he must have thought we didn't actually have a hotel by that point — we decided we were looking for M6.
We hopped on the next M6, and our jaws dropped when it stopped at a sign that almost entirely matched up with the words we were looking for. It still didn't mesh with our incorrect idea of where the hotel was, however, so we turned down the chance to get out.
One bus station later, we got back on an M6, and this time, we got off when we had the chance, at a stop we suddenly realized we had passed at least four times, and one that was about a 10-minute walk from the media center, where the whole adventure had begun.
It would have helped, of course, if this hotel had been blessed with a sign, but maybe it is to be installed tomorrow.
Our problems grew more troublesome yesterday, the first day of competitions.
We planned our whole day around covering the women’s moguls preliminary competition. Even after we were inexplicably locked out of our room as we prepared to leave — it may have had something to do with the maintenance crew that must have stopped by to fix our lights — we left with enough time budgeted. Or, it would have been enough time had we not, one more time, tried to master the bus system. We figured the only silver lining from the previous night's escapades was that we knew where the buses went.
We hopped on a bus that stops right in front of our building — yes, it's the route that the bus station helper suggested twice. In our defense, it was not his final suggestion, so we never took it.
We rode this bus to the big bus station and asked around for the bus to moguls. We never found a media bus to moguls. We did, however, find the spectator bus, which came with its very own huge mob of people waiting, and, after a frustratingly long wait, standing-room only access for us.
We walked in just in time to see Hannah Kearney lay down the best run of the day and qualify for Saturday's finals in first place.
We managed to find the media bus on the way home, which provided a trip that was far less cramped but admittedly less interesting.
A big bus ride awaits today, too, as we head down to Sochi itself for the Opening Ceremonies to see Todd Lodwick carry the flag.
Don’t worry. We plan to leave plenty early. We have to be prepared in case we accidentally catch the bus to Moscow.