Two Abbotsford residents are being treated to a close-up view of how Canada is performing at the Olympics.
Local resident Danielle Synotte won a trip for two to see the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. She won a Globe & Mail draw that included round-trip airfare, accommodation, and tickets to seven hockey games. Synotte and boyfriend Jamie Deba are in Sochi from Feb. 11 to 21.
"Danielle and I are really enjoying the trip so far. The Russians have been terrific hosts, are very friendly and the organization and quality of the venues are first class," Deba told the Abbotsford News by email after seeing the first two Canada hockey games.
"We were quite surprised how many Canadians have been in the stands cheering away…The arena is brand new and quite impressive. The Russian fans at the games seem to really like the Canadians. Anyone wearing a Canadian hockey jersey is constantly being asked by the local Russians for a photo with them."
Both say they have been treated very well. They were guests at Canada House, a “home away from home” primarily for the family and friends of Canadian athletes, where they met several Olympians and other celebrities.
Synotte and Deba went to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as well. They find the energy to be different in Russia, but no less inviting.
"The vibe is a very positive one with less energy than Vancouver," said Deba. "The Russians seem to be a much more conservative culture with less hooting and hollering than we remember in Vancouver…There seems to be a volunteer every 15 metres offering help and welcoming you to the games. The Russians have been very respectful and polite, and although most do not speak very good English, you get the impression they are proud to host the world and interested to meet new people."
Their brand new hotel room is neat and clean. The few hiccups they faced – a missing lightbulb and the TV not being programmed – were quickly fixed. The hotel was only open 10 days before Synotte and Deba arrived.
The couple has found media reports of sub-par facilities – such as brown water and multiple toilets in bathrooms – to be exaggerated.
"What people need to understand is that this isn't North America. We have a huge tourism industry and have been in the tourism hospitality business for many, many years. We are spoiled. The press leading up to the Olympics was so skewed, it is really amazing actually," said Synotte.
Weeks before the Olympics began, Sochi was the site of several terrorist attacks. Security has been a concern going into the games, but Synotte and Deba have felt safe in the city.
"(There are) lots of security, security check points and police and military around. Since landing, we feel just as safe, if not more, as being in Vancouver," said Deba.
One disappointment has been the food, which Synotte describes as "plain" and "underwhelming."
Synotte has been photographing and blogging the couple's Sochi adventures at adventuresinsochi.tumblr.com/.
Starting on Thursday, residents can get a taste of the Olympic spirit through the B.C. Winter Games, which run in Mission and other Fraser Valley sites on Feb. 20–23.
(Photo below: While in Sochi, Synotte and Deba got tickets to see the women's alpine giant slalom event. That's in addition to the seven hockey games they are attending.)