Whenever I think of Russia from past personal experiences, I think of snow, bitter cold, gloomy grey skies, and very tough conditions. These first thoughts probably also came from Rocky IV, where the hero had to travel to Russia, adapt to the environment and face a powerful opponent.
We flew to Sochi on a chartered flight. I took a window seat because I wanted to finally put to rest all my doubts and absurd rumours of white sand beaches and palm trees.
I've been to Russia about five times before - I won my first World All-Round Championship title in Moscow - and never saw white sand beaches, so I thought people were playing with me.
We descended into Sochi and at first it was rather normal, until I saw sunlight reflecting perfectly onto the Black Sea. It was so beautiful: palm trees guided our landing! I was thrilled to be in a tropical climate and staying at a summer resort, rather than in a cold snowy town similar to those I previously experienced in Russia, Rocky style.
The people of Sochi and the volunteers were exceptionally courteous and outgoing, making sure that we were comfortable and arrived safely at our lodging.
The Olympic venue was gorgeous at first sight, although the surrounding areas weren't finished and there was lots of construction around. It will be a wonderful thing to see when everything is finished: what an experience the world will have next February when they see and visit Sochi.
I was here for the World Single Distance Championships, and the security, traffic and continuous construction all brought me back to Olympic mode. Normal World Cup competitions lack this environment and this energy, so this was a fantastic dress rehearsal for next February.
The venue - the Adler Arena - reminded me of the 2006 Olympic venue in Torino. Inside were white marble floors, new scoreboards, big screen TVs and seats in hues of red colors, fading to light oranges and whites. Very Russian. We couldn't see everything due to security and off-limit zones inside the rink, but most importantly we had access to the ice.
In my free time, I indulged in some shopping and Russian food. There was a delicious pizza parlour at our resort and I ate there several times. I really enjoyed my accommodation. I found some great souvenirs and took a few pictures. There were shops and stores that I had never seen anywhere else in the world, so "when in Sochi"...or however the saying goes. Shopping - just being a tourist - is always a great way to recover and take my mind off of skating and the pressures of competition.
But I was in Sochi for business. I was pleased to make the podium: silver medal in the 1,500 metres and bronze in the 1000, my 13th and 14th World Championship medals. Overall, the competition ran smoothly and was a great test run and perfect motivation for what is going to be a hard summer of training - Rocky style!