#Sochifornia: Locals Say 2014 Olympics Helped Sochi Shed Its Soviet Sheen One of the World Cup hosts, Sochi is known for the 2014 Games, the most expensive Olympics in history. Now Instagram culture has dubbed it #Sochifornia — as in, Russia's answer to California.
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#Sochifornia: Locals Say 2014 Olympics Helped Sochi Shed Its Soviet Sheen

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#Sochifornia: Locals Say 2014 Olympics Helped Sochi Shed Its Soviet Sheen

#Sochifornia: Locals Say 2014 Olympics Helped Sochi Shed Its Soviet Sheen

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

You might have noticed that some of this year's World Cup matches are being played in a stadium built for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. And you might remember that the fate of structures built for these big events is often not a happy one.

NPR's Alina Selyukh wanted to find out what happened in Sochi and found a sea that seems to be defying those odds.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN PLAYING)

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: For many Russians in their 20s and older, the thought of Sochi has a sheen of Soviet nostalgia, a sunny, wild resort on the Black Sea where you get a photo with an exotic monkey, dance to some oldies, eat fresh boiled corn on the beach.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAVES CRASHING)

SELYUKH: And even in the hype of the World Cup, some of that history you can still find, like the classic statue of Lenin in a square. But then there are little touches...

(SOUNDBITE OF CROSSWALK ALERT)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking in Russian). Please finish crossing.

SELYUKH: ...Like multilingual crosswalks and gleaming five-star hotels that show the city is moving on. And the pivotal point is Sochi's new tourist destination, the Olympic Park.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Russian).

SELYUKH: Speaking of tourism, I joined a tour of Sochi called the Olympic Legacy. The guide is artfully describing the stadiums - the spinning puck, the frozen water drop, the iceberg - all sounding very nice in the subtropical heat. The construction of these buildings and all the ski trails and roads to host the 2014 Olympics is said to have cost $51 billion. That's before the constant upkeep.

Olympic locations around the world are known to become ghost towns afterward. But in Sochi, a lot was co-funded by private investors who were hustling to turn a profit. Not all of them do, but they are changing the stadiums into a tennis academy and arena. They even started the city's first hockey team. And locals say since the Olympics, tourism has been nuts.

Roman Sherbin made this sardonic joke of.

ROMAN SHERBIN: (Through interpreter) There's such a stream of tourists that you could put up a table, spread some nails on it, put a jar of some kind of sauce, and people will dip those nails in sauce and eat and pay money.

SELYUKH: Sherbin is a lawyer at Center Omega, a government-owned company that runs some Olympic structures. And he says the games were actually a catalyst to the original goal that was to improve Sochi into a better domestic vacation destination for Russians who often search for beaches overseas.

SHERBIN: (Through interpreter) Now, I have a choice. If I want, I'll go somewhere else. But if I want, I should have a high-quality choice of a vacation resort at home.

SELYUKH: As I scrolled through Instagram photos of young Sochi vacationers, I stumbled on a word, Sochifornia, as in Russia's answer to California.

Alina Kolesnikova, editor of the local magazine SCAPP, traced the history of Sochifornia through the waves of surfers, skaters, snowboarders, then fashionistas and the creative circuit that were discovering a city in their own country with palm trees, epic sunsets and snow-topped mountains roads to fill in bother with the Olympics.

ALINA KOLESNIKOVA: (Through interpreter) With the Olympics, more people found out that, wow, Sochi isn't some Soviet-era city on the sea. The big-city crowds started coming here and showing how it's done.

SELYUKH: Once I started thinking of Sochifornia, it was hard to stop noticing its signs, like the amusement park right next to the Olympic cluster complete with a castle hotel that would make Disney proud or this coffee shop chain called Surf Coffee, serving up Wagon Wheels, chill tunes and cold brews on tap, though, in true fashion, Kolesnikova says the scene that spread the idea of Sochifornia now thinks the word is actually kind of passe.

Alina Selyukh, NPR News, Sochi.

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