The Times article from 1960’s, the copy of which I posted couple of days ago, brought some nostalgic memories :) and desire to elaborate on it and compare to present day. The article is rather good, so, these are not the notes of critique. To follow the read below you’d probably want to read the original article first.

I was born in Sochi in late seventies, and growing up there in eighties I have to note, that not much was changed since the times described by the Times’ correspondent to my childhood days. There were still putevkas, trip vouchers of a sort, and savages, the people who traveled to the Black sea resorts on their own. “Savages” (dikari in Russian), because their lodging was not civilized — or rather not luxurious, by Soviet standards, as stay of people settled in Sochi spas.

The source of the problem

The city of Sochi was established roughly in late 19th century, and it wasn’t until after the civil war Sochi began to develop as resort city. As pretty much everything in the glorious Soviet days, development of Sochi was boosted by the government… wait, that sounds reeaaally familiar! :) Subtropical climate, warm sea, gorgeous mountains — yet Sochi was nothing like a place for rest and recreation it is today. In fact i was a land of swamps and mosquitos, and palm trees were nowhere near to be found. And it took a lot of effort to create a resort of national importance there.

The putovka-man

The “resort”, in Soviet understanding, apparently did not mean “hotels for everyone!”, so Sochi has become nation’s largest health resort city. A quite a few sanatoriums were build, where one could fix all his body and mind problems. Many nations’ industries had their own sanatoriums in Sochi — and you can tell it by their names: «Moscow Railroad Worker», «Automobilist» (for motorists), «Knowledge» («Znanie», for teachers), International Youth Center «Sputnik» (for students), etc. To get to one of these you’d need a putevka (think of it as one of the benefits you get at your work), and theoretically anyone could get putevka at work. But with millions of people working for each industry, as you can imagine, getting a putevka wasn’t easy. To be fair here I should mention that industries had many R&R places for their workers in other cities as well. However, most of them were not in sea side, warm climate resort cities.

So, you get a putevka — you get an up to a month stay in a sanatorium, access to its medical wonders, access to the sanatorium’s beach (cleaner and less crowded than public beaches). And no, chances are you don’t have a “private railway” to the beach, very few paces have them. Everything else is the same as for everybody else.

The savages

There weren’t nearly enough sanatoriums in the whole Greater Sochi to accomodate all people desiring getting a nice tan under the burning sun. So, people would come to Sochi in hopes to find a stay for money with local residents. This meant staying in someone else’s apartment, sharing kitchen and bathroom, sometime dealing with weirdo hosts — living the uncivilized, “savage” life. Though, if you think of tons of people around the world living these kinds of lives today as roommates… there were nothing savage about that.

If you wanted to rent a room in your apartment, you could notify city’s tourist centers, and they’d send some guests over your way. Tourists centers were not the only ways to find a room, often people would go building to building, door to door asking if there was a room for rent. So, notes “Room available” and “No rooms for rent” on doors was normal thing of the summer, back in a days. As long as I can remember, we always had tourists over in our apartment (with family of four, we had three room apartment) during summer, some times as many as three families a summer (one at a time). With many of them we would make friends, they would come back another year straight to us, and would invite us to come to their cities. It was not uncommon. When people live side by side and share for weeks, and after that still end up liking each other, I’d say it’s even natural :) The level of trust with some of them was very high, my parents would let them take me to the beach or concerts or whatever after knowing these people for only a week or two, and I wasn’t even a teen yet.

The present

So, where are the putovka’s and the savages are in today’s world? They are all still here. The putovkas still exists, as well as the most sanatoriums. Though most people probably don’t pay 30% of the value, but rather all 100% of it, and for some places it’s no limited to the union workers. And many of the sanatoriums are still not adapted to the 21st century, and lagging behind small hotels in room comfort. The Savages are now called Guests of the city or simply tourists, and the practice of room renting is still very much alive, though, but nowadays rooms are often rented in apartments where nobody lives (at least during summer), and you can even rent whole apartment, and of course its not exactly the same as before. However, vast majority of the tourists come to stay in hundreds of hotels that were born since the break up of the Soviet Union. And even though most of the small private hotels won’t give you huge park around the building filled with exotic trees (you’ll find plenty of both throughout the city), access to the private hotel or a private railroad ride, they will have a nice clean room, many with A/C, TV, and refrigerator, some will include meals in your stay, and will be happy to help you find good tours to see local attractions.

The season’s on, you’ve got to visit! :-)


  1. 1
    Phil Firzon
    June 29th, 2008 at 19:07

    I need to establish personal contact (tele or email) with people who have a relatively current knowledge of Sochi for business purposes. This involves abducted children. Visit the web site Childrecovery.US for background and contact telephone no. It must be English speaking and preferably in the USA.

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