Since it is my goal to try and include all of you in the Olympic experience, I want to tell you about this last week, and some of the challenges I have had. With the past three Olympics Games, I had a pretty easy time getting everything organized. Vancouver and London were both English speaking, which meant that it was easier to communicate with the organizing committee. This time has been a challenge for me.
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I have been working with the Olympic Organizing Committee for the last 8 months, to get credentialed, arrange a room in the press hotel, get Olympic Internet access, and other details. Well...just last week I got an email message from the people who handle Internet access and they said that they never received payment for my order. They require payment in Russian rubles and I had arranged a wire transfer for the funds months ago. I checked and the money was indeed transferred, but they have no record of it. Now it looks like I may have to pay twice for this service and sort it out later, since there may not be time to investigate this before the Games start.
Then, the day before I took off for London (the first stop on my trip), I realized that I did not have the details for my hotel room in Sochi. I fired off an email to the email address provided by the committee and asked which press hotel I was staying in. No response. Then, after a couple of days, I get an email saying that they have no record of me requesting a room, and no payment. Once again, I checked and the payment (much larger sum than the Internet) was transferred back in August of 2013. I sent them another email (not panicking too much as this point) and sent them a copy of the bank statement showing the wire transfer. Again, no response for a couple of days. I am now 3 days away from my trip to Russia and starting to panic. I get another email asking for my confirmation number, which I never received. I wrote back and told them that, if I had a confirmation number, I would have given it to them in the first email.
Days go by and now I am now laying awake in my hotel in London and trying to figure out a plan B. Would I sleep on the floor in the press center? Would I call some of my friends who were also attending the Olympics, and try and bunk with them? I started reaching out to some of those friends to see if anyone had an extra bed. But, the two photographers who I know best were both staying in the mountain cluster, an hour and a half from where I need to be. That would make life very difficult!
I managed to get a little sleep at 2am and then woke up again at 6am, having nightmares of being "homeless" in Sochi. At this point, I reached out to a friend in Moscow and asked him if he could call them and speak to them in their own language, which he did. I also managed to find a phone number of someone in the press center who handled housing for us. Using Skype on my iPad, I started working the phone system instead of email (which, in hindsight, I should have done earlier).
After 8 hours of exchanging phone calls, and spelling everything out letter by letter due to the language barrier, it was confirmed that I do indeed have a hotel in the coastal cluster. I got a confirmation email as I was about to board my flight to Moscow. To say that this was a relief, is a complete understatement!
Happy to have a hotel, but exhausted from the lack of sleep, I was not the most patient person at the airport. I received some emails last week from friends who had already made their trip to Sochi, saying that there were tough restrictions on Aeroflot Airlines. I knew that my luggage was heavy, and figured that I would just pay a small fee for the overweight luggage. I really didn't care about my clothes, as long as my camera gear was on the plane with me.
Well...as it turned out, the overage charge for the additional 7 kilos was $125 dollars. Yikes! And worse yet, they absolutely refused to let me take my LowePro x200 on the plane, since it was too heavy for the overhead bins. I talked to the manager in charge and pleaded my case, telling them that this bag had been in many overhead bins around the world, but they would not budge. I really was not comfortable checking $25,000 worth of camera gear! So, here is what I did. I removed two of the Canon 1DX cameras with 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses. I moved a bunch of less expensive equipment (mounting brackets, power chargers, monopod...) from my suitcase to the LowePro roller, and evened the load. This saved me the overage charge on the suitcase, and meant that I would only have to pay $60 for the extra bag.
I still was not comfortable checking the x200 roller, but I had no choice. I did have a little peace of mind knowing that I had the most expensive gear out of the bag and that the roller has a cool locking system, which I employed before handling it over.
So...here I was, traveling from London to Moscow with my LowePro backpack (with my 5D Mark III and a bunch of other gear) on my back and two Canon 1DX cameras slung over my shoulders. Yes, I did get a lot of strange looks from people, but that is nothing new for me. :)
I am now one day away from my flight to Sochi, and figure that I will have to repeat this entire process when I fly there from Moscow tomorrow. Hey, at least I know what to expect this time around.
UPDATE: I wrote this blog yesterday, and was waiting to post on Monday morning (to avoid bashing into the Super Bowl). Due to jet lag I woke up this morning at 4am to see a Tweet asking me about my hotel experience. And there was a link to this article in the Washington Post saying that I am not alone in the hotel fiasco. Since I could not sleep, I turned on CNN on the hotel TV and saw them report the same problem. Maybe it is time for me to worry again!!! So...due to the news breaking, I am posting this early.