There's dust in the air in Sochi. And cranes. And workers on roofs. And sounds of the construction that's transforming this section of Russia into the face the country will present to the world when the Sochi Olympic Games begin in February 2014.
This is no minor project. With a reported budget of $18 billion, these will be the most expensive Winter Olympic Games in history.
By comparison, Vancouver-Whistler required a minor facelift at one-third of the cost: improvements to the Sea to Sky Highway here, the new Canada Line there. Touch-ups to Rogers Arena and BC Place Stadium, a new Olympic oval, curling venue and convention centre.
In Russia, everything is being built exclusively for the Games. That includes not only every venue for the ice events that will be contested in a coastal cluster on the Black Sea, but an entire mountain resort at Krasnaya Polyana to host the alpine events, and new hotels to house the athletes, media, officials and spectators.
A few years ago, nothing existed in these mountains. Now, there are ski hills, a sliding centre, ski jumps, a halfpipe tunnel, and a cross-country and biathlon centre.
Not only are existing roadways being improved, but work is underway on a new rail line and highway linking the coast to the mountains. It's a 48-kilometre journey fr om the coastal cluster of venues to the mountain cluster, making these the most compact Games in Winter Olympic history.
Meanwhile, improvements to the transportation system between Moscow and Sochi, which is 1,300 km south of the capital on the Black Sea, should cut the travel time in half.
"You're visiting one of the most exciting parts of the world, in terms of what's happening," Kevan Gosper, chairman of the International Olympic Committee's press commission, told journalists at the World Press Briefing in Sochi last month.
"What Russia is doing with Sochi to showcase itself to the world is very much like what the Chinese did with the Beijing Olympics. Russia is making a new presentation of itself to the world through these Games. ... It's one of the most extraordinary transformations of a community I've ever seen. It's one of the fastest-changing landscapes not just in Europe, but on the globe."
For Russians, these Games are about much more than the face they present to the world in 2014 - a year that marks the 25th anniversary of the first democratic elections held in the country since 1917.
It offers a chance to re-establish itself as a sporting power. When the Soviet Union broke apart, the country lost many of its winter sport venues when Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia gained their independence.
Since topping the tables at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer - when 11 of the team's 23 medals were golden - the best Russia has finished at a Winter Games is third, dropping to 11th in Vancouver with just three gold medals and 15 overall.
These new venues, Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov said, will create the basis for athletes to compete successfully at future world championships and Olympic Games.
"We have never had good enough facilities for them to train and dream," he said.
Indeed, plans are underway post-Games to make the region a year-round training centre for elite athletes, even creating a school for them while they train.
"These are unprecedented events that are taking place in our city. Clearly, through the Olympics, Sochi is becoming our winter sport centre," said Pakhomov.
"There was a need to provide the winter athletes of Russia with quality sporting venues," echoed Gosper. "With the coming of the Russian Games, you watch the Russians build their Olympic performance like London did with Team GB."
Dmitry Chernyshenko, president and CEO of Sochi 2014, said bidding for big events - from the Olympics to the FIFA World Cup, which will be held in Russia in 2018 - "is a deliberate strategy from our nation and leaders to start the process of redevelopment in our country for a greater way of life."
And the impact, he said, will go well beyond sports.
These Games will "enhance the quality of lives of millions of Russians, not only in Sochi but across the country."
Not everyone would agree. There has been much public outcry about the forced evictions of Sochi residents whose homes were on land needed for Olympic venues and infrastructure. Indeed, Human Rights Watch has criticized Russian authorities for their treatment of some of the families.
According to The Moscow Times, the Russian government has spent more than $300 million to resettle residents or compensate them for their losses.
Houses still stand empty, in some cases derelict, waiting to be plowed down in parts of the coastal Olympic Park. Some of the homes were in prime locations, just a stone's throw from the Black Sea.
The dead were treated a little differently, with a small cemetery preserved in a corner of the Coastal Cluster of venues.
But the impact the development is having on the local economy is obvious. One need only look at the construction in the area on hotels and roadways.
According to Chernyshenko, more than 76,000 workers have been employed in the leadup to the Games.
More than 27,000 new hotel rooms are being built, along with 74 social infrastructure venues and 567 kilometres of rail and auto roads, with 22 tunnels.
Four new schools have been built in Sochi, while 36 have been renovated.
Two hospitals are being built, along with a trauma and surgery centre.
"This is a very good example of how venues of sport and a sport event can change a whole city, a region, or even a country or the world, for the better," Pakhomov said.
The green approach
The development of the region has also provided an impetus for the Russians to improve the way they do business. Having endured criticism early on for the environmental impact of the construction projects, organizers have of late won praise for their efforts.
"We're going green wh ere before it didn't exist," Chernyshenko said.
"This is a legacy of the Olympic process."
The Sochi 2014 organizing committee received recognition at the International Sports Event Management Awards Conference for their efforts at sustainable development and environmental protection.
The venues have been certified as being "green," while organizers have pledged a climate-neutral Games.
While accessibility wasn't a priority pre-Olympics, the Paralympics have changed the way venues are built - and led to improvements in existing facilities, with more than 500 sites reviewed for accessibility.
And the volunteer movement - which was non-existent in Russia before Sochi won the 2014 Olympics - is thriving. While fewer than one per cent of Russians previously volunteered, that number has climbed to between two and nine per cent, according to Sochi 2014 figures.
More than 130,000 people applied for 3,000 Olympic positions when a call for volunteers went out in February, and 26 volunteer centres have now been set up throughout Russia.
"We started the volunteer movement in our country, which I'm ashamed to say didn't exist before," Chernyshenko said. "Thanks to that, the volunteer movement has started to operate very productively in our country and after the Games there will be millions of volunteers. In my opinion, that is the best intangible legacy of the Games."
When the eyes of the world turn to Sochi in 2014, they will see those volunteers. They will see the new venues, the new roads, the new railway. They will see a city previously known as a summer resort - basking in a sub-tropical climate, protected from Arctic air by the Caucasus Mountains, with 300 sunny days per year - transformed into a modern winter mecca.
They will see, Chernyshenko said, "the new Mother Russia." "Every Olympic Games should surpass the one before," he said. "To organize the Games after Vancouver, London and Beijing is a big challenge, but we will succeed."
He's not alone in that opinion.
"I personally believe that Sochi in 2014 will deliver one of the great Games - not just one of the great Winter Games - of our times," said Gosper.
SOCHI OLYMPICS: DID YOU KNOW?
· The Sochi Olympic Games will feature 18 days of competition - starting the day before the opening ceremony - one more than in Vancouver.
· The Olympics will run from Feb. 7-23, 2014.
· Twelve new events were added to the Olympic schedule after Vancouver: women's ski jumping; men's and women's freestyle half pipe; team figure skating; luge team relay; co-ed biathlon relay; men's and women's snowboard slopestyle; men's and women's freestyle ski slopestyle; and men's and women's snowboard parallel slalom.
· Female ski jumpers will compete only on the normal hill, rather than the large one. Men compete off both hills.
· The sliding track in Sochi was designed to be "the safest in the world," following the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili during a training-run crash prior to competition in Whistler. Three inclines were included in the Sochi design to slow speeds at various points of the track.
· The distance between the Sochi Olympic Park, dubbed the "Coastal Cluster" and home to the ice venues, and the mountain venues in Krasnaya Polyana is 48 kilometres.
· Sochi boasts a sub-tropical climate, with palm and citrus trees, and temperatures in the 20s through November. The temperature at the Coastal Cluster along the Black Sea during the Games will likely hover between five and 10 degrees in February 2014. On the mountains of Krasnaya Polyana, they will likely range from -6 to +1.
· The marquee coastal venue will be the Bolshoy Ice Dome, home to men's hockey. Images can be projected onto its egg-shaped dome, similar to the colours that were projected onto the "Ice Cube," the swimming venue at the Beijing Olympics Games.
· The Sochi Paralympic Games will run from March 7-16, 2014.
· Eight more medals will be awarded at the 2014 Paralympic Games, with more biathlon events added to the schedule and the addition of men's and women's para-snowboard cross.
· There is a 12-hour time difference between Sochi and Vancouver during the winter months.