The London Olympics are over, which means it's time to start looking toward the next Games: Winter 2014 in Russia. Preparations are ongoing in Sochi, a resort city on the Black Sea complete with palm trees. Yep, palm trees. Whether it will get cold enough to produce a sufficient amount of snow is just one concern, though organizers dismiss that particular fear ("Mr. Putin told me Sochi has the best snow in the world, and I have no reason not to believe him," said one organizer last year). Other concerns? The possibility of terrorist attacks and qualms about the performance of the not-so-hot Russian Winter Olympic team (in terms of gold medals, it finished 11th in Vancouver), to name a few.
With the Games, Russia wants to prove its strength after the fall of the USSR—this will be its first major event since then. So far, things seem to be progressing smoothly: The ski facilities are ready, most other venues will be done soon, and thousands of cubic meters of "reserve snow" are being stored in underground facilities … just in case. The budget for the games is $18 billion, the Wall Street Journal reports. That will cover a sea-level park with the stadium and the skating venues, plus a mountain park connected by a 30-mile highway, a high-speed train, and gondolas.