by Mara Baudais
Suddenly it appeared … the fairy wishing well which held the Russian currency we had been looking for! My companion had greatly wanted Russian coins for his grandson’s collection back in Canada. We had been thwarted at every turn. The banks and exchange kiosks were all closed on Sunday. But just as suddenly as the coins had now appeared, a policeman now also appeared, watching as my companion quickly reached forward to exchange American currency for Russian currency from the wishing well. I held my breath, imagining my companion being dragged off to the police station. However, in his hand were the coins he had wanted for his grandson’s collection and, if anything, had given much more than he took.
It was a very strange feeling I had never experienced before. We were in a new country with no local currency nor any way to get any. We had just emerged from a short strip mall of small shops with the same problem facing all of us in the group. So my companion and I finally had to become content to just meander the pathways of the park with no intention of purchase.
Besides this experience with the fairy wishing well, a few other memorable times are remembered. The pool and fountain housed a single gorgeous pink water lily. A simple foot bridge with a gentle brook below it was graciously set against the afternoon sun and the waters of the Black Sea. We had a great time admiring a portrait artist’s work in the park and befriending a father and his child with our smiles and nods of acknowledgement.
It was a quiet, peaceful time without anything of great consequence happening other than the policeman encounter at the fairy wishing well. It was a simple restful time with local Russian folk and I felt renewed as others before me had probably also felt. And above all, I felt I had set foot in Russia, the homeland of my great grand-parents.
Designed in l898 this park was originally established for the pleasure of Russia’s Tsars who would enjoy extended vacations in Sochi. The subtropical climate of Sochi, on the Black Sea, is the furthest area south in Russia.
It is favourable climate — April to November — with summer — July and August — being around l8 degrees in temperature. The warmest sea temperature for swimming is in July and August at 26 degrees. Many subtropical plants flourish—magnolia, eucalyptuses, palm trees, oleanders, rhododendrons, azaleas and yuccas. Citrus such as tangerine and lemon also grow here.
Today both locals and tourists spend extended times in Riviera Park to enjoy nature. One of the favourite areas of the park is the ‘Glade of Friendship’ or ‘Friendship Alley’ established in l960. It is mainly a magnolia grove which was planted by a Sochi-born cosmonaut to promote peaceful space exploration. There is also a botanical garden next to the park which contains trees and shrubs from around the world.
Vendor side stalls, artist’s displays, games, amusement park rides, art galleries, sports facilities, a cinema, numerous cafes, statues, a pool with a fountain and the Green Theatre, a venue for outdoor music performances fill the park. A pedestrian bridge connects the harbour to the park.
If You Go:
♦ Sochi, Russia on Wikitravel
♦ Visa: Not necessary by cruise ship or ferry; otherwise visa necessary which takes several months.
♦ By Air: Moscow and St. Petersburg as well as flights from Vienna and Istanbul.
♦ By Water: Ferry from Trabzon, Turkey, three to five hours May-Oct. twice a week; from Batumi, Georgia, 4.5 hrs., daily
♦ By Train: 2.5 hrs. from Moscow
♦ By Car: Through Ukraine and Turkey, 1660 km from Moscow
All photographs by Mara Baudais:
The fairy wishing well holding Russian coins
The footbridge from the harbour to the park
Entrance to amusement section
Clam & Clock – Statue
About the author:
Mara Baudais writes creative non-fiction, travel articles, philosophical essays, memoirs and poetry. These are mainly based on traveling and/or a deeply insightful experience. Besides extensively traveling in Europe, she has visited North Africa, Thailand, Israel, Turkey, China, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, Sri Lanka post-tsunami, Guatemala, Canada (coast to coast), local areas of the B.C. coast and the Yukon. Recently was a six month trip from Great Britain to the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea countries. The most recent trip was to Russia with a river cruise, Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sergiev Posad, a medieval pilgrimage town. An upcoming trip is a four month trip to Mexico and the Caribbean.