Sorry, Mom, I did something here in Russia that I promised I wouldn't do. I took public transportation, riding the Sochi light rail from Olympic Park to Adler, the nearest town.
My mom--and lots of other people--had heard all the warnings from experts that "soft targets'' like train stations and buses would be the likeliest terrorist targets during the Olympics. But I needed to get outside the bubble. This Olympics feels disconnected from its surroundings; the Olympic Park, where all the arenas are, is about 15 miles from Sochi's city center. The Greater Sochi area, which includes four districts, is a 90-mile-long strip along the Black Sea coastline. It's a far cry from Vancouver or London, where many venues were right in the middle of bustling cities.
I actually had forgotten about my promise to avoid public transportation until I got to the station and saw the black-uniformed police outside. Just as it has been at the Olympic venues, security feels tight enough but is not intimidating or overly burdensome.
You have to pass through a metal detector and have your bag screened to get into the station. There also was a patdown, from a smiling woman who seemed to be trying to make visitors feel at ease. Passengers have to go through another screening to get to the train platform. The police wore their weapons discreetly holstered on their hips; they weren't toting huge rifles, as security officials have in some past Olympics.
There were lots of them around, supplemented by some people who appeared to be with the military (wearing blue camoflauge) and Cossacks in their knee boots, tall fur hats and coats with epaulets. There also were people monitoring the trash bins.
The security screening for media has been efficient and unintimidating as well. We have bar codes on our credential badges, and those are scanned every time we enter and exit any venue. Our bags are screened on the way in, we walk through metal detectors and we get the occasional wand or patdown from friendly personnel.
In some recent Olympics, officials have climbed aboard media buses to inspect everyone's credentials before the bus is allowed in the parking lot, and the bus is thoroughly checked out (including with mirrors to look at the undercarriage). We've been asked to take out laptops and turn them on when we go through screening. Bomb-sniffing dogs have been deployed. None of that is happening here, to my great surprise. But I don't feel any less safe.
Now, on to the fun stuff. The train station in Adler has a gorgeous balcony overlooking the Black Sea. For the Olympics, they have stationed a large Olympic rings sculpture at the edge. It was swamped Friday by families, couples and pals taking advantage of a great Olympic photo op. From the balcony, you also can look down the coast toward Sochi and get an idea of how long this metro area really is.
One of the shops in Adler station was selling Russian souvenirs, including the ubiquitous nesting dolls. They had the traditional kind, with their headscarves and rosy cheeks, and something unexpected: ones that were painted as world leaders. You could get a couple of different U.S. sets, with Barack Obama as the big doll going all the way down to a tiny Reagan or a really tiny Kennedy. (The likenesses were uneven; Obama wasn't bad, but I didn't recognize George H.W. Bush and Carter.) They also had Russian leaders (with Putin as the big doll), the Germans (with Angela Merkel) and the British royal family (not a great rendering of the Queen).
And if that didn't suit your taste, you could buy a big Russian fake-fur hat with the Red Army hammer and sickle badge in traditional black, fashionable red or trendy pink.
Here are some photos.
The nesting dolls of world leaders.
The Black Sea coast, looking toward Sochi, as seen from the top of Adler Station.
People posing with the Olympic Rings on the Adler Station balcony.