Joel Reichenberger: ‘Thank you’ a key phrase in journey to Sochi
February 6, 2014
Sochi, Russia — The first Russian word I learned was "spasibo."
That's pronounced "spa" "see" "bo", though I keep butchering it and saying "Spice-abo" or "Space-ibo".
It means "thank you," and it was awfully important on day one (or day one+, as the case was) of our journey to cover these Olympics.
We're sitting here now in the mountain cluster media center that has a name I haven't memorized yet. It's a big room with about 30 long tables for reporters, a big TV at the end of each with Olympic coverage. It's basically an Olympic fans nirvana.
But, before we get to that, I need to write about spasibo.
I keep thinking of "yesterday" as the day we traveled, but that's an awkward term since we traveled for 32 hours and I slept only two hours in the 24 hours before that. Add in a shift of 11 time zones with a few desperate hours of napping, and I have no real idea what day it was.
"Yesterday," as far as I'm concerned, was one real sleep ago, and that means yesterday started with a dash over snowy highways to Denver International Airport.
Life was uneventful as we flew to New York, and the only excitement on the 10-hour flight to Moscow came from one passenger's yelping dog. Several near-by passengers really didn't appreciate the pooch, but through serious and lengthy mediation by the flight crew, their disagreement never turned into anything more than some heated words and a lot of Eastern European gesturing.
After we landed in Moscow, the fun started.
We booked our flights early last summer moments after management had given us the go-ahead to send two people to the Olympics. We had made promises about keeping the cost down and in searching for flights, I realized we could save about $400 each on plane tickets if we booked a separate flight from Moscow to Sochi instead of one big three-legged ticket.
The only problem was the third Moscow-to-Sochi flight took off from a different Moscow airport. I allowed us six hours to make the transfer, knowing we were talking about moving from one end of Moscow entirely to the other.
And we made it, even with a little time to spare. But, it took a whole lot of spasibo.
First was Kate, a Russian volunteering in the Sheremetyevo International Airport.
The Russians may deserve some criticism for the state of some of the hotels here, but they certainly are trying, and the most visible element of that is ever-present people in bright Sochi 2014 gear who, in broken English, seek to help you with whatever you need.
They often don't understand the question or the problem, but hey, at least they're trying.
Anyway, herds of these people were waiting as we got off the plane in Moscow. The first two or three we talked to explained, as we'd read, that it would be much, much cheaper to take the train to the other airport, Domodedovo, than a taxi. Alas, they continued to reassert that fact as we tried to find the train.
"Where is the train?"
"Yes! There is a train!"
Finally, Kate came to our rescue. She spoke English a little better than the rest, and figured out what we were looking for, and rather than try to explain directions, simply led us there. It was a hike, too, so we were incredibly thankful. She even made sure we bought the right tickets and left us standing exactly where we needed to be.
Spasibo, Kate. Spasibo very much.
That's when we met Nikolai, a Russian returning from a business trip who immediately took pity on the two wide-eyed Americans frantically studying their guide books before boarding the train.
I'd like to think we'd have made it without Nikolai, but I'm glad I didn't have to find out. We certainly would have made it on the first train, but that train only connected us to the subway, and it took a certain amount of zigging and zagging to get between the two, from the train platform, through a plaza filled with vendors, into and out of a building and finally down a long escalator.
He led us the whole way. He called on what little English he could remember from his school days — he seemed about 50 years old — and we were able to communicate better than I would have expected. Both he and Kate apologized for their English, but it was infinitely better than our Russian.
Nikolai got off the subway three stops before we needed to get off, and he left us his own instructions, plus a note to present to the next Russians we were sure to look to for help.
We did that, of course, pointing at the airport on the map, and we got somewhat helpful directions. Finally, I handed a woman Nikolai's note and she responded with the last directions we needed, in nearly perfect English.
That was one last adventure, an exhausting one as we hauled our oversized bags up and down flights of stairs. But we finally found our way and made it to the airport, two hours before our flight.
Spasibo, Nikolai. Spasibo.
There are a lot of people to say spasibo to for this trip. My final days in Steamboat were cool as seemingly everyone I ran into — whether I knew them or not — wished me luck on the trip. Friends and family wished me the best, and my parents and brother were, as always, an invaluable resource in preparing for the trip, my first to Europe. Our editors and co-workers deserve a spasibo for picking up the slack back on the homefront while we’re gone, and certainly management gets one for believing in the importance of our being here, covering these stories.
I'll fill in the rest of the tale of our trip here later.
Spoiler alert: the highlight is a long, draining late-night search for a hotel that was about 100 yards away, a guy who is probably in the Russian mob and a hotel room that, judging by #SochiProblems on Twitter, is a good one. But for now I need get on with this "covering the Olympics" thing.
The women's moguls competition begins this evening, and that's our first big event to cover, as it features one of the top U.S. threats for gold, Hannah Kearney, as well as Lowell Whiteman grad and Steamboat Springs Olympian, Eliza Outtrim.
I need to figure out how to find the moguls venue, and I expect it's going to involve the help of plenty of Russian volunteers.
I'll have my spasibos ready to roll.