Scott Swan's Olympics blog: The Heartbeat of Russia

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Nothing beats an Olympics assignment. Nothing. 

I caught the Olympics bug as a young sports producer covering the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. I lived in Salt Lake City during the 2002 Winter Olympics. And I've been blessed to travel to Athens, Torino, Beijing, Vancouver, London and now Russia for WTHR's Olympics coverage.

While our other WTHR crews cover the athletes and competition in Sochi, my assignment was to find human interest stories outside the Olympic host city and showcase the heartbeat of Russia.

In the fall of 2013, photographer Steve Rhodes and I spent two weeks in Russia. We took ten different planes, two boats, plus trains, subways, taxis and vans. We visited Moscow, St. Petersburg and went to rural areas of Russia. Plus, we had an amazing trip to Chernobyl. We never went to Sochi.  Our trip from Indy-Russia covered 10,000 miles.

The Russians I met were friendly and hard working. They are proud of their culture. They love their children. And they have a sense of humor. One Russian tour guide joked, "We don't trust Russian government, the forecast or Russian cars." 

The hardest part of organizing the trip was the language barrier. It was my experience that very few Russians speak English.  Photographer Steve Rhodes and I spent weeks researching stories and, with the help of Google translate, wrote dozens of emails in Russian. We had to overcome many roadblocks along the journey.

We filled out countless pieces of paperwork to secure the visa and media papers necessary to visit the Kremlin and Chernobyl. We weren't entirely sure cameras would be allowed inside either location. But once we arrived and security checked our paperwork, we had incredible access. We were never stopped and questioned about our stories.

One story you WON'T hear on TV. The airline lost our luggage somewhere between Indy-Moscow. No one at the airline spoke English. Since our interpreter was told the "luggage will arrive any time," I didn't buy new clothes right away. By day 3, I caved in and went to a Russian mall to buy a shirt, jeans and underwear. Guess what? My luggage arrived hours later.

At the Chernobyl hotel, a sign was outside our room asking us to "remove our radiation shoes" before walking inside. My wife was a little concerned that I brought those same shoes back home. 

Over the next two weeks, I will be your TV tour guide in Russia.  Watch my stories to learn more about the rich Russian culture, history and favorite tourist spots.  I will take you places off the beaten path to meet people you are unlikely to see anywhere else.  My stories air at 7:30pm Monday-Saturday on WTHR.