Actual Sochi Paralympic budget

Armenian team at the Opening Ceremonies.

Armenian team at the Opening Ceremonies.

Before going to Sochi, I tried to budget and discussed this more in depth than people probably cared to know.  Budgeting is very important when you’re doing citizen journalism and you want to possibly get money to support your efforts.

Transportation involved two trips on the Russian metro at 40 rubles each, airport express train at 640 rubles, and a round trip train ticket from Moscow to Sochi at AU$125.  I got zapped with 116 RUBs for the train twice for sheets. Plane tickets were bought using frequent flier miles.  Retail price is showing me US$331. Do some converting: €0.78 + €12.59 + €81.12  + €4.564 + €238.06 = €337.11.  Not bad. About €100 if you subtract the plane ticket part out.

Hotel expense was €33 a night for five nights.  That equals €165.  Food was… That’s a bit harder to calculate.  I took with me €200 that I converted to rubles with no commission at €1 to 40 RUB.  la la la la.  Let’s go with €160 on for food and postage, with about €25 of that at the airport on the last day, including a breakfast that was 760 RuB / €14.87 from Burger King that included lots of stuff I did not want including a disgusting breakfast roll thing with a tomato in it.  Sbarros for lunch was much cheaper at 220 RUB / €4.328 which included two slices of pizza and a very large drink. Two bottles of Pepsi each ran 70 RUB / €1.377.

IMG_5223I screwed up and converted USD to RUB and did not convert it before I left Russia.  Ooops.  Add US$75.

All told, assuming actual cost of airline tickets, going to Sochi cost me €551.05 / US$766.18.  That isn’t that much.  Going to the London Paralympics, the cost was around AUD$7,500.  Costs were lower because I did not fly to Sochi, because I did not attend the whole games, because I missed meals, because I bought fewer souvenirs.   (It was AUD$15,000 for two people. This included everything from airfare to food to internet.)

What did this get me? Page views for all 2014 Winter Paralympics articles from 1 March to 14 March 2014 on English Wikinews total 14,685 views.  To be fair, I produced only 10 articles while in Sochi.

In London, myself and my fellow report produced around 50 to 60 total articles. That’s a huge volume.  My reporting partners in Sochi were Ukrainians, who were primarily writing in Ukrainian and doing their own work.  It wasn’t so much a partnership of working together to support each other’s English Wikinews reporting.  The page views for London original reporting around the Paralympic period total 78,943 views.  That’s about 5 times as many views.  The costs for London were 17 times higher: €9734.25 / €551.05 = 17.  I think reporting wise, I got my money’s worth here.

I think, when I do a better metric analysis, some of the breakdowns will be interesting.  Where this reporting project fell down was background research and background writing for English Wikipedia… but I think the Ukrainian project will demonstrate why that matters and how useful that particular aspect can be.  I know that they had zero articles about the Paralympics before 1 March 2014 on Ukrainian Wikipedia.  They now have 53 pages with 23,803 total views from 1 March to 14 March, the fifth most visited Wikipedia for articles about the 2014 Winter Paralympics found in that category.  But that’s another analysis to look at Return of Investment for another time.



And then oops, I took a train through the Ukraine

Ukrainian passport stamps

Ukrainian passport stamps

Because I needed to travel this weekend, I needed to leave the 2014 Sochi Paralympics early.  Given my budget issues, I took the train from Moscow to Sochi, because it was cheaper than flying to Sochi from Madrid.  I had an enjoyable train ride from Moscow to Sochi.  It was one of those interesting experiences, and I had a grand time that involved Russian train passengers I was traveling with giving me alcohol for dinner and breakfast.  Fun times.  Great views.  Not a bad night’s sleep.

When booking my return to coincide with my flight, I opted for a slightly longer 36 hour return that involved two nights on the train.  My guess at the time was this train just made more stops.  I know on the way down that we didn’t stop at every station.  I also figured there would be less needs for express trains from Sochi to Moscow during the actual Paralympic Games.

Live and learn.  I had a lovely unexpected 12 hour train ride through the Ukraine.  Okay, not so lovely.  You know those moments where you think in blind panic, “ZOMG! I’ve fucked up! Eeek!” Yeah, it was one of those when the train car steward said something to me in Russian, then said to me in English “Passport control.”  I stared blankly at him like he lost his mind.  The other guy in my section said, “Ukraine.”  I looked out the window and sure enough, passport control.

I wasn’t avoiding the Ukraine: I just had no intention of going there.  The United States government specifically advises Americans not to go there right now, especially the eastern parts. There was no reason for me to go to the Ukraine.  Besides which, how would I get there anyway? Well, by train by not understanding things.  So while not avoiding the Ukraine but having no intention of going there, I ended up there.

More Russian passport stamps.  One can never have enough Russian and Ukrainian passport stamps.  They compliment my 22 Australian ones.

More Russian passport stamps. One can never have enough Russian and Ukrainian passport stamps. They compliment my 22 Australian ones.

The Russians appeared just as confused as me as to why I was there.  There were five of them I dealt with.  Journalists are not high on their list of people they love at the border, and I tried to make clear: I was not in Russia to write about politics but about sport.   Sport.  Sport.  Also, I was leaving Moscow the day my train arrived in Moscow.  Also, the train ticket SEE! LOOK! does not say UKRAINE! anywhere on it.  Also, when I went Moscow to Sochi, I did not not go through the Ukraine! I was there for the Paralympics!  It was hard to babble when they spoke no English and I spoke no Russian.  I showed them my papers.  They photographed everything, including my return ticket.  They used special glasses to look closely at my accreditation. They radioed a guy, who spoke English, who talked to me.  Apparently, foreigners do what I do occasionally and it was not a big issue.

The Ukrainians were not that fussed because I was not getting off the train.  They were more concerned about the guy in my compartment bringing camera equipment and a television.  Besides which, there were only two. And unlike the Russian side, the border guys had few guns and less overall personnel.

So onwards intrepid reporter who plans poorly. Did I mention I was a bit hungry? When going through security in at the Olympic Park Train Station in Sochi, they took my fuet. They also took my can of corn. I bought ramen in the train station, which was fortunate on my part. Unlike my trip to Sochi via train, this train had pretty much no food for sale. My bottle of coke I had leftover from lunch, a bottle of water from my bag, and tea made on the train was all I had to drink. Food was ramen, Oreo cookies and store band Starburst candies. woot woot. 36 hours on the train.

Anyway, while in the Ukraine, I kept looking for Russian flags.  My perception from the news was this area had become defacto Russia.  Russian nationalism should be on display.  There should be a feeling of tenseness in the Ukraine that I should feel having accidentally wandered through it.

Except there was none of that. Ukraine along the eastern rail line I took felt poorer than the Russian parts I had traveled on. The trains on the Ukrainian side appeared to be older, and more rusted. People appeared to be going about their business, riding bicycles here and there, carrying bags of what looked like groceries and other supplies. The towns felt empty, but no emptier than other small towns in the USA I have taken the rail through. There were no Russian flags, but at the same time, there were very few Ukrainian flags. I saw them occasionally at what appeared to be government buildings. Sometimes, I saw blue and yellow painted poles that looked more like store advertising (and no real Russian colour equivalent). No one on the train seemed overly concerned. The Russian Railways staff seemed not that concerned. There were people of all ages and genders trying to sell stuff on the train in the Ukraine, which did not happen on the Russian side. There were fewer passengers, a lot fewer, than in Russia but that was it. A bad part of me wondered, “Why does Russia want this part of the Ukraine that feels so poor compared to the Russian side?”

Traveling in Ukraine, I was taking train.

Traveling in Ukraine, I was taking train.

Near as I can tell, the train entered Ukraine close to Donetsk and left around Kharkiv.

Going back into Russia, again a repeat of accidentally leaving Russia. This time, no English speaker at all and this time, every single page of my passport was photographed.  No problems getting through customs, but a bit scary nonetheless when your government is telling you not to go there and the news says they are on the brink of war there.

By the way, did you know that Russia is amassing troops on the border with Ukraine? Before hitting immigration control, I saw a train with at least 15 tanks and at least 15 troop carrier trucks. If I had to make a stupid mistake, I am glad I made it Wednesday and not later.

Welcome to some of the surreal and weird experiences I have had thanks to my involvement with Wikimedia.  I think this tops what I have gotten myself into on my own.

Arrived Sochi: First impressions and thoughts

A sign pointing the wrong way to the media centerWhen watching the Olympic news coverage, one of the first things that struck me was the journalist complaints about accommodation. I have had no such problem.  It is fine. The toilet works.  There are no dogs in the hallway.  The door is on my hotel room.  If there were kinks at the Olympics, they are all gone for me at the Paralympics.  I don’t have any complaints.


My issues would be elsewhere.  Whine whine.  Complain complain.  There has been a huge amount of media attention given to how the Olympics (and Paralympics) were supposed to show case Russia, and sell it to the world.  With the current political situation with Russia, one would think this might be even more key.

But I don’t quite feel it.  I have only the London Paralympics as a member of the media to baseline my experience from.  Everyone I talked to said the London Games were potentially the best Games ever.  The best.

In London, there were volunteers at the airport.  There were volunteers at the train station.  They were bubbly and enthusiastic.  They wanted to help you.  My media accreditation lamination process was handled in Heathrow.  I came into Sochi via plane in Moscow.  (And then I took a train down to Sochi.)  There was a special line at the airport, but that was the visa and special ended there.  (Though to be fair, my flight got in at 4am.)  No help, no volunteers, no one there.  I saw signs that indicated they might possibly have such assistance, but no luck.  (Then the metro in Moscow and the train station where you catch the train to Sochi had poor English language signage.  Few to no people spoke English.)  When I got to the Adler train station, no real sense of volunteers and I got a free ticket to get to Olympic Park.  No enthusiastic volunteers,  No yellow line directing you where to go.  No clear signage.  They assume you knew which way the train route went.  When I got to the Olympic Park Train Station, assistance was again non-existent.  The extent to which I had it was “Not this line.”  A taxi driver eventually pointed me at the direction of my hotel.

Media bag.  I like it.I’m staying at an official media hotel.  There was an accreditation help desk in the lobby.  The person could not tell me 1) where the main press center was, 2) how to get there, 3) where to go to get my accreditation laminated.  Joy.  I wandered back to the Olympic Park area, looking and looking for signs.  None.  I saw a sign for accreditation but it was not really media accreditation.  They did help me get it, no explanation.  And then no follow up as to where the Main Press Center was, or no opportunity to ask this.

I know media accreditation lets me into venues pretty much unfettered.  I took advantage, wandered on in, and started looking for signs for the main press center.  I stopped volunteers, security and others asking where it was. Most responses I got were “No English”, or people pointing me in the completely wrong direction.  This was hugely different than London, where volunteers who could not answer got on the walkie talkie and asked to find some one who could answer your question.  It is hard to enjoy where you are when you’re walking around lost, cannot find assistance, have no map of the venue and have people pointing you in the completely wrong direction.  Welcome to Russia eh?

With assistance of two people, I was gradually pointed in the right direction.  This took up a lot of time and energy. Also, unlike London, there were few cheap food options around walking around the area outside the Park.

There was a lot of talk about security for the Olympics.  I thought there would be a lot for the Paralympics.  To be honest, outside the train stations where bags all go through metal detectors, I am not getting a sense of it being very high.  It seems no different than London, possibly even more laid back at this point.  In London, I felt like I was forever having my badge checked.  Here? Outside when I entered the park and exited, no one seems to want to see it or verify it.

The major advantage I see right now to Sochi is the internet is free for journalists.  There was a 100 GBP charge to use the Internet in London.  Sochi has wifi in the MPC and it is free. This is great, and there does not appear to be a charge for special access to a journalist information system where the exact same information appears on the Sochi 2014 website for free.


We’ll see how thing progress as we go along.  I’m trying not to be pessimistic, but my first gut feel is things will be different than London, and not as great. Putin’s grand vision of winning over the world hasn’t personally won me over yet, even if the Ukrainian situation could be forgiven.

Current published Wikinews stories about the Sochi Paralympics:

Getting to Sochi: Implementing the plan to get there

I have tickets to get to Moscow, and from there I plan to take the train from Moscow to Sochi.  This is supposed to be a beautiful train ride, doesn’t involve scary domestic flights and gives me more time to see what is supposed to be a beautiful country.

I’ve heard of some problems involving journalists and their experiences with Sochi at the Olympics.  My first hiccup with booking? The Russian railway ate my ticket order, charged my account for the ticket that they have no record of, and when I sent them an e-mail per “In the event of a dispute about debiting funds when paying for e-tickets, passengers should send an email to, keep a copy of this correspondence, and contact the bank which issued their card.“, the response I got back was in Russian requesting that I put the request to them in Russian.

Whut?  Seriously, not fun.  I used Google Translate to send them the message I sent them in English in Russian.  Waiting to hear back.  This does not feel like a good start.

Update: Apparently, the way the system works is this.  You go through the ticket process as round trip.  When it comes time to payment, they first bill you for the first part where they give you the total for the WHOLE trip.  After you pay for the way there, you then go through a second transaction to pay for the RETURN which also says the cost is for the whole trip.  The assumption is everyone buying a round trip ticket knows this is a two step payment process, so there is no warning about it when you get to the second payment screen that if you cancel, you kill the whole round trip ticket. ( Book: Moscow to Sochi, Sochi to Moscow.  Ordering: Whole trip: €120.  Pay €120.  First payment is actually €60 and only for Moscow to Sochi.  Then despite second booking, new screen saying pay €120 for Moscow to Sochi, Sochi to Moscow but actually paying €60 for Sochi to Moscow. )

This e-mail is all taking place in Russian with my use of Google Translate.  Their responses are all attached in Word documents written in Russian.