Why Russian people no longer like to holiday in Russia

Following our annual family trips to random places by the Mediterranean Sea, this summer we decided to explore a Russian coast of the Black sea. My Russian grandmother’s EU visa application process has become very lengthy after she had turned 75 and therefore a local vacation seemed like a perfect solution. Moreover, while I come to Russia at least twice a year for family visits, I have never visited a beach location in this country. The last but not least, my nan was just SO excited to visit a dream holiday destination of her youth in the Soviet Union one more time!

In short, Sochi turned out to be an exceptionally beautiful coastal nature area with an adventurous educational add-on tour about how the East of Europe had been before I was born in 1990s. While I am easily pleased with any vacation, as long as there is a beach and sunshine, after weighting pros and cons, I am not entirely sure I would be repeating this adventure one more time.

Pros

  • Convenient for Russian citizens – foreign visa not required;
  • Amazing nature, both in the mountains and by the sea;
  • Accessible last-minute flight fares

Cons

  • Poor St Petersburg airport experience flying locally. Pulkovo airport has two separate terminals in one: one for international flights and one for local flights, which is much worse;
  • Pollution: unless you stay in a remote mountain hut, you will barely get to enjoy fresh seaside or mountain air in Sochi. All city and rural areas seemed to be very heavily polluted with car exhaustion;
  • Accommodation will never look like online and you will have to accept that 50 per cent of advertised facilities will ‘not work at that time’. This made us change accommodation twice during a two-week vacation: starting with Rennesans hotel in Adler (we escaped from there as soon as we had arrived), followed by Marins Park Hotel in Sochi city centre and a beachfront Guesthouse on Azovskaya in Loo suburb;
  • Lack of cleanliness: in hotels, all public toilets, waste on the streets etc;
  • Vegetarian/ vegan? Bring your own food because nobody cares.

Pulkovo Airport, St Petersburg

This time was the first time I took a local flight in Russia and I surprisingly learned that Pulkovo airport had two separate terminals inside one: one for international flights and one for local flights. The international terminal is spacious, airy and comfortable with loads of seating area, free Wi-Fi and the ability to charge all your electronic devices before your flight. This time we were taken through a different security check area, which took us to separate waiting area for local flights with no air conditioning (not great for elderly, with 27C outside air temperature on that day), very small seating area and  ‘free WiFi’, which never worked.

Red Wings Airlines flight St Petersburg – Sochi – St Petersburg

The trip began with our outbound flight experience with a local Red Wings airline (very last minute return flight fare St. Petersburg to Sochi 8500 rubles or approximately £100, very good). Very messy and prolonged check-in procedure at the airport with very grumpy staff who always seem to dislike you. Our Russian TU aircraft was very noisy during take-off and had rain-like water drops from its air conditioning system (I am rarely nervous flying but it was really discomforting). Most passengers near me had to search for tissues or clothing to protect themselves from dripping water. The return flight on Airbus was however very pleasant and no more rain on the plane. Very good food also!

All I can say about this property is thank you the receptionist Sergey, who worked on the night of our arrival, for not kicking us out while I was helplessly trying to use non-existing Internet to book alternative accommodation in Sochi for the same night. In short, the overall condition was not acceptable for a relaxing vatation: our triple room with a seaview appeared to be an extremely unclean double room with an fold-out armchair for a third person, the balcony faced something similar to a pond which was a source of flies and mosquitoes and  a really loud frog quack orchestra, no sea view.

Marins Park Hotel, Sochi

After a few days in the region we understood that you will need to take 2 stars off official hotel rating of any hotel, to have realistic expectations of your accommodation. For instance, a 4-star hotel will cost you 7000 rubles (approx £85) per night and is likely to look like an OK 2- star hotel in Mallorca (sorry Marins Park Sochi). We booked a double sea view room with an add-on bed due to no availability of triple rooms. We were welcomed into a double room and witnesses a poor housekeeping lady trying to squash in a tiny roll out bed into our bedroom.  Advertised seaview was also absent and we were told that this is due to trees and the buildings between the hotel and the beach. I politely refused an offer to move to the upper floor where the rooms were ‘in worse cosmeting condition’, I am quoting our lovely receptionist. This hotel benefits from it’s location, which is 2-minute walk from Sochi beach, if you are healthy in your 20s or 30s. You will need to climb multiple steps down the hill, in order to reach the beach, which is not an option for a 77-year old in 32C temperature. They have an all inclusive which was not bad but just not worth it: lunch had leftovers from breakfast, dinner had leftovers from lunch and so on.

Accommodation tip: Reserve a modern apartment or a villa without pre-payment, if possible.

Sochi City

What a lovely city with a gorgeous nature, the view of the mountains and a beautiful seafront! It is best to ask for local self-service cafe ‘Stolovaya’, where you will find healthier and better typical local food options (250 rubles or approx £3 for lunch/ dinner). Beachfront restaurants mainly offer poorly cooked seafood, pizza and sushi (1500 rubles or approx £20 spend) which all look like from your local takeaway. Very well services beaches and you can rent a sunbed for 150 rubles (approx £2) but they will try to charge you 1000 rubles (approx £12) if you do not speak Russian.

Loo village, Sochi region

Our suburb beach town experience has been pretty good: beautul beachfront ensuite with a lovely host family living downstairs. Swimming in the sea was only possible before lunchtime, unfortunately, because the current brought huge amount of trash to the beach in the afternoon. We were staying away from the centre of the local town which is the reason why the evenings were peaceful; I have noticed that central town beach was extremely dirty and overcrowded and you could constantly hear really loud old-school Armenian or Russian pop music playing. Public toilets and changing rooms were non-existent.  You must be prepared that you will be dealing with surly staff in the stores, restaurants etc, who will make you feel like you owe them a huge deal money, most people stare at you if you do not look like a local and men have shaved hair and have an aggressive look (they are harmless though). Walking alone late in the evening is not recommended due to large number of boozy holidaymakers.

All in all, the seaside here is absolutely lovely. Beautiful views of the mountains in the back and beautiful seafront houses and villas, you can truly have an amazing family break, if you wish to have a holiday without crossing Russian border (visa and insurance process for Russian citizens is rather complicated, especially for the elderly). However, I have not seen any young Russian people anywhere near the beach in Sochi area, which is understandable: they prefer to travel to Turkey, Egypt or the Caribbean, where they get 100 times better service and experience for less cash.

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