SOCHI — Before Sochi became known as the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, it was famous in Russia as a seaside resort. Now the Black Sea beaches are providing a welcome break for many visitors from around the world.
In Sochi it is easy to forget that you are at the Winter Olympics. Temperatures in the past week have topped 20 degrees Celsius -- bringing many visitors onto the black-sand and pebble beaches.
Lying in bikinis in the sunshine, Tatiana, Elena and Irina said this is a welcome contrast to their home city of Vologda, a city north of Moscow. They are here to take part in the Olympic closing ceremony, and Elena explained they are enjoying the time off.
"The weather is very good here," she said. "Snow is in the mountains, but on the beach we are getting a suntan.”
The Black Sea coastline has long attracted Russians to Sochi. Vacation homes known as ‘dacha’ dot the surrounding hills; it was a favorite retreat of infamous Soviet Union strongman Josef Stalin.
Hundreds of fishermen line the shore on weekends. Leon Topjian said today’s catch, three Black Sea mullet, is not very big.
Topjian said he will eat them when he gets home. “You fry them slowly, gently. They are very sweet,” he said.
Wearing a traditional Cossack white dress embellished with embroidered flowers, Ina Golovin is taking a break from her job working in a Russian folk museum near the beach.
The Black Sea is very beautiful, she said. “We love living in Russia, in this region of Krasnodar.”
The snow-capped Caucasus Mountains are the one reminder that not too far away, athletes are speeding down the slopes.
The beach promenade offers a relaxing time out, though, for Grischa Vorosiv, who is visiting from Moscow. Grischa said it’s minus 15 degrees Celsius in Moscow - cold, winter, snow. In Sochi it is quite warm. Yesterday he said, he swam in the sea.
Pods of dolphins make a daily appearance a few hundred meters offshore.
Further out, Russian navy vessels sit at anchor, part of the ring of steel to counter the terror threat.
The Black Sea is seen as a security risk by Russian authorities, who have closed the waters to all boats except their patrol vessels.
But for most Sochi visitors, a visit to the beach provides a respite from the security checks and bustle of the Olympic Park.