The Sochi Olympics are just about to start, which is a problem, since the city of Sochi isn't even close to ready. It's something along the lines of a disaster, although one that will likely be pulled together at the last minute. But the bigger question is what the Olympics are doing in a small summer resort town in the first place. You know, one of the relatively few subtropical cities in Russia.
The Winter Olympics in 2014 may be in Russia, but spoiler alert, not all of Russia is cold. The largest country in the world, after all, has a lot of climate variation, from the Altaic mountains and Khazakh steppes to the Arctic north to the subtropical Crimean Sea, where Sochi is. From the current complete lack of snow in Sochi, you are perhaps wondering why they chose this of all the cities in Russia. It's a good question. Granted, it's a historic resort town - but a summer resort, because, you know, it's warm. Here are five other places in Russia that could have hosted Winter Olympics that wouldn't suck.
You haven't heard of Yekaterinburg? Whatever, you hadn't heard of Sochi either. Yekaterinburg is the fourth largest city in Russia, and it's nestled on the east side of the Ural Mountains, the first major city in Siberia. That means you've got mountains, forests, rivers, and, um, lots of snow. It's a bit on the cold side - but so is winter, the setting for the Winter Olympics.
Kazan, which celebrated its 1000th anniversary in 2005, is one of the old Mongol capitals, and now the eighth largest city in Russia. Deep in the interior of European Russia near the junction of the Volga and Kazan Rivers, there aren't as many mountains around, but that didn't stop Vancouver. Also, it's a real city, just like Sochi isn't. Also, it's winter there, just like Sochi isn't.
Attention: the biggest lake in the world is in the middle of Siberia. It's called Lake Baikal, and it's nestled among the mountains. Nearby is Irkutsk, best known to Americans from the Risk board, and it's been called the Paris of Siberia. Which is a lot better than whatever Sochi is. It's a stunning city with lots of old Tsarist architecture, well developed winter sports, and lots of mountains. It's a prestige city, not a tacky resort.
The great port of the Russian Far East has an advantage over Irkutsk: it's not in the middle of nowhere. It's a very brief flight from the great centers of Asia: Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo. It's got a slightly warmer climate than the interior, but it's still actually winter there. And, because it's Siberia, there are both mountains and rivers around. Perfect for Olympics!
1. St. Petersburg
The most obvious place to hold the Winter Olympics is neither Sochi nor a great city of the interior nor the great eastern port. It's Russia's greatest cultural city, its capital for two hundred of the last three hundred years. And it's a huge city, with tons of infrastructure, more than enough hotels already, the perfect weather, everything you could possibly want except mountains - which, again, didn't hurt Vancouver. It's where the 2014 Winter Olympics should have been. Instead they're here:
You know, pretty much the only city in Russia with palm trees. Winter Olympics, here we come!