Where do you think the most expensive road in the world is located? And how much did it cost to build, per kilometer?
Would you believe that Russia has spent $145 million per kilometer to build a road from Sochi to Krasnaya Polyana? That is $145,000 per meter. So, you could buy a house in California or a few meters of asphalt. How is that even possible?
In early September, we visited Sochi, Russia and toured the sites where the 2014 Winter Olympics will be held. Sochi hasn't gotten a lot of international attention yet. Between visiting the sites, talking to the locals, and reading up on it - I feel like it is a topic that people should read about. It is only a matter of time before Russia feels the uncomfortable shine of the spotlight on Sochi.
When Sochi was awarded the 2014 Olympics, the sports world was shocked. Sochi was a relatively quiet city on the Black Sea in southern Russia. It had a tiny airport, no metro station, poor public transport, and no stadiums. At the time of selection, there was only one tiny ski resort and it was a 90 minute car ride down a two-lane road. Travel visas to Russia are expensive and difficult to obtain. It is certainly not an international travel destination.
To clarify, the Olympics are not actually being held in Sochi. New stadiums are being built near the area's only airport, in the city of Adler, about 25 km south of Sochi. New hotels and ski resorts are being constructed in Krasnaya Polyana, which is 60km inland. A high speed rail and new highways are being built to connect these three areas. The most expensive road in the world connects Adler to Krasnaya Polyana.
If you've been reading this blog, you know that our experiences in Russia reflect the inherent corruption throughout the country (see here and here). In fact, a recent report by Transparency International stated that Russia has dropped from 146 to154 out of 178 nations in the Corruption Perception Index (#1 is least corrupt, #178 is most corrupt). That's right, Russia is sitting at the bottom of a very stinky pile.
Sochi is a glaring example of what is wrong with Russia. Putin has pushed heavily to host the Olympics. He now stands to make an enormous amount of money from the land he owns there and kickbacks from investment, real estate and construction companies. Nobody knows exactly how much he, or any other politician, is making with these arrangements.
To put things into perspective, the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver cost $1.3 billion. The Russian government estimated that the Sochi Olympics would cost $12 billion. That figure already been revised to $30 billion. We still have three more years to go!
If you're interested in learning more, I can recommend a good article on the rise of corruption and bribes, and an investigation into the Sochi corruption. If you're more inclined to visuals, check out these photographs, which show the comparative cost of using luxury items to build the most expensive road. You know, like how many Louis Vitton bags or truffles they could have used instead.
We visited Krasnaya Polyana, thanks to our friend Denis who gave a ride. You can see the town of Krasnaya Polyana in the background as we ride the Austrian-made gondola up to the mountain village.
A tour group hearing about the construction plans for the ski resort at Krasnaya Polyana.
It looks like they have a lot of work to do to get those red X's to become green check marks.The red X's represent lifts, ski runs, cafes, restaurants and other facilities that haven't been built yet.
At the top of the mountain where they will be building an entire village of homes, a cross-country ski track, and access to numerous other ski lifts.
These ski cabins look great on paper. In the bottom right you can see name Gazprom (in Russian), which is the largest gas company in Russia. They are financing the construction of this entire ski resort, ski village, and many nearby hotels.
OK, enough of the serious stuff. After traveling around Sochi, we flew to Irkutsk in Siberia. The next blogs will be about backpacking along Lake Baikal and exploring Siberian Cities.
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