14OWG-PhotoBlog11-00008by Adelaide Ponte Usdin and Wendy Ponte

February 15, 2014

Getting up this morning was difficult for us late-nighters. We had event tickets to see the Ladies Super-G on the mountain and that required waking up at 8:00 A.M.

It takes about an hour and a half to get there via train you. We could feel the difference in altitude between Sochi and the mountains right away. Upon arrival in Krasnya Polyana, one can choose between traveling further up to the correct mountain via bus or via Gondola. It’s a long way up there, and the scenery is spectacular, to say the least!

When we flew into Sochi, we went over the Causcus Mountains. They are black and grey and harsh looking. Now that we have been directly in them, we see why. The mountains have a rich, dark colored soil, but also they are mostly covered with deciduous trees, except for the highest points, which have a very dark green evergreen tree cover. Because the deciduous trees have no leaves right now, they have that dark grey look to them. We are more used to seeing high mountains with fir trees on them.

We saw a perfect amount of skiing, not too much not too little. And let us say that those ladies who reached the top 30 really fought to be there! To an outsider, it looks like it would be easy to stay on course but it is quite the opposite. From the time we were there at least four women fell off the course, and we understand that many of the first, and top, skiers did the same. Some of them continued on knowing that they wouldn’t make the top 30, while others just stopped.

Again, like the speed skating, the arena was perfectly arranged! You could see all of the action, no matter where you were sitting. Both Wendy and Adelaide wish that was the case with the skating venue.

14OWG-PhotoBlog11-00007After this was over, we headed to an appointment we had made with a Russian banya, also in Krasnya Polynana. We make that sound like an easy thing to do, but once again it took talking to more than a half dozen people, none of whom knew where the street was, or how to find out. The banya’s phone seemed to not be working….

We will spare you the details of an old and repetitive story! Suffice to say we finally got there, albeit an hour late.

The journey was worth it! We had wanted to try an authentic Russian banya (baths). This place turned out to be rather a New Age version of that, and it was stunning. It looked almost like a woodland fairy tale, with small buildings constructed from logs, stones and twigs. Sculptures were everywhere.

The owners are Russian and told us that their aim is to create a place to nurture the spirit as well as the body. We started out with a pot of lovely herbal tea, flavored slightly with honey, and a dish of dried fruit and nuts, while seated on a heated black marble bench. We returned to this spot between each treatment.

The regime begins with a sit in the Russian steam bath and an encantation from the owner to banish any evil spirits. He fanned the air with a mist from the leaves of a local tree, the artemisia bus.

After this we took turns lying on a steamy bed of damp leaves, where we were rubbed with a mixture of honey and seeds, rinsed off with cold beer, and hit all over with branches and leaves! This is less brutal than it sounds. At the end of the that, we plunged ourselves into a cold bath and then sat in a cauldron (literally) that hung over a wood fire. We felt like dinner, but it was very, very soothing.

We also had various body scrubs and massages. In short, it was heavenly!

This was a special place, and a lovely and much-needed refuge for us. Banya-Land, as they call themselves, also has rooms where one can stay overnight.

We took a taxi back to the train station from the banya, and wished we could spend more time in this lovely place. The villages were quaint and it would have been so nice to wander through some of the winding streets and eat at the restaurants. Although there were obviously many new buildings here that were created for the Olympics, there is also so much beauty to this area to see.

On our way back, on the train, we found ourselves seated across from the President of the U.S. Curling Association, Jim Pleasants, and his wife–the “Pat St. Peters” (president of USFSA) of Curling, if you will! That was fun because we learned even more about the sport of Curling. For example, we did not know that it began in Scotland, and has been an Olympic sport since 1924.

We also learned, that as an official, he gets to stay in that darned Disney Castle. He and his wife confirmed that is is, indeed, a very nice place to stay. Oh dear…