architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Crimea in May: Simferopol and the End of Journey

Simferopol

The Crimean saga is coming to its end with this post. After spending the morning in the Demerdji valley and then most of the day in the touristy Alushta, I suddenly found myself in a big city and that was a bit disorienting at first. Where’s the beautiful nature, where’s the sea and the mountains, I was asking myself? Simferopol, the capital city of Crimea, was gradually preparing me for my coming back to St Petersburg.

Sudak

Simferopol did not leave almost any impression, I’m afraid. The time I spent there apart from using it as a transport hub (airport, trolleys, buses) was too short – in fact, just an overnight stay in a central hostel. However, I did manage to sample some local food there. You see, on my way from the trolley stop to the hostel, I was passing through a market where I couldn’t resist buying veggies and fruit, and was also given some fresh Crimean strawberries (omg, in May! we had them in July-August this year) for free. When I finally arrived at the hostel, I was loaded with a bit too much food for a dinner for one, not mentioning the rest of the things I accumulated throughout my journey. Here’s what I saw from the hostel’s entrance, from the second floor of a small building hidden in between a noisy square and a pedestrian district:

Simferopol

And inside the courtyard there was an old Zhiguli (aka Lada) car with famous musicians painted on its sides (see Vladimir Vysotsky on the right):

Simferopol

Find two cats:

Simferopol

Fancy entering?

Simferopol

Some sort of a constructivist building right in the courtyard of my hostel:

Simferopol

My hostel was behind this bank. I noticed that its corner balcony is now touching the ground – the building either sank over the years or they put too much asphalt layers on this street:

Simferopol

On my last morning in Crimea I took a short stroll around my hostel to get at least some more glances of the city. I woke up quite early so I had a few hours before getting on yet another trolley to the airport. Oh the trolleys of Crimea, you deserve to be praised! If you are super patient and are on a lazy trip, you might want to try to experience the entire trolley bus from Yalta to Simferopol, some 84 km (the longest trolley route in the world!) and 3.5 hours of sea and land to be enjoyed from your window. (I suppose though these cords in the picture below used to power trams)

Simferopol

Walking the narrow streets of the old center in the sunny morning, I though that Simferopol reminded me of Samara for some reason. Probably because it’s a warm place with low-rise houses (in the center). But then it can apply to many other cities I’ve visited…

Simferopol

The pedestrian Pushkina street and the district around it look like an oasis in the noisy and rather faceless (mid to late Soviet) Simferopol. Spotted some nice details on my way:

Simferopol

Traces of neoclassicism, as we know it in St Petersburg:

Simferopol

As far as I remember, one of the state theater buildings, under renovation:

Simferopol

Sorry, but no matter how hard you try, you just can’t fit an AC into the balcony of a neoclassical building:

Simferopol

Found several replicas of this facade with flat pillars all over the place:

Simferopol

Some local cat-art and irises in full blossom like in Nikitsky Botanical Garden:

Simferopol

Where do all these wires run?

Simferopol

Couldn’t resist the aroma of freshly baked bread and buns from one of the local bakeries – and came out with this all-Russia favourite, Moskovskaya plushka (Moscow bun), a rich dough bun twisted in a shape of a heart and generously sprinkled with sugar. It can be found all across the country – and thus I can survive almost everywhere šŸ™‚

Simferopol

Some Soviet mosaic apparently depicting the history of Crimea as an all-USSR zdravnitsa, or a health resort:

Simferopol

And to compliment the picture – a Stalinist cinema hall, now in disuse:

Simferopol
To the unknown guy who stayed at the same hostel with me and all of a sudden gave me this rose:

Simferopol

Goodbye Crimea – dosvidaniya!

Simferopol

When I got back home I spread the map of Crimea on my table and places some memorabilia on the places I visited. Many many more places yet to be seen – and I hope to see you soon, Crimea.

Simferopol

Here are some of the memorabilia recordings from my trip:

Vorontsov Park
Black Sea
Demerdji cows
Demerdji morning

Sevastopol

It all started in Sevastopol with some Crimean ice-cream (stakanchik or vanilla ice cream in a waffle cup) with Lastochkino gnezdo picture and a guide book which I carried along but did not really use. And see where it took me? Crimea in May series:

Crimea in May: Vorontsov Palace andĀ Park

Crimea in May: Ghost SovietĀ Sanatorium

Crimea in May: Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest,Ā Livadia

Crimea in May: Nikitsky Botanical Garden andĀ Massandra

Crimea in May: Sevastopol (and theĀ Poppies)

Crimea in May: Chufut-Kale, Bakhchisarai andĀ Inkerman

Crimea in May: Fiolent, Balaklava andĀ Chersonesus

Crimea in May: Simeiz and Yalta, or a Study inĀ Blue

Crimea in May: Demerdji and Valley ofĀ Ghosts

Crimea in May: SudakĀ Fortress

Crimea in May: Funa Fortress andĀ Alushta

This post goes to the Travel collection.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

From Vasilyevsky to Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin Islands

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

I’m St Petersburg native, it’s my umpteenth year in St Petersburg and yet there are places in the city that I have never ever walked in my life. Among these was one of the many islands that the city stands upon – the Petrovsky island. An idea to ‘go see what’s up there’ ended up in making about 12 km, crossing 6 bridges linking Vasilyevsky, Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin islands (not counting the island I came from crossing the Palace Bridge) in a bit over 2 hours. That’s what I call walking.

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

Crossing Tuchkov bridge from Vasilyevsky island you first see this engineering marvel, Petrovsky stadium aka Lenina Stadium (whose else?), first audaciously built in 1924 then reconstructed in 1955-1961 and 1980. I have never been inside (not a football fan) but would like to see the city from within (if that’s possible).

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

After crossing yet another bridge that leads to Petrovsky island, I found myself first in a park and then on a heavily non-pedestrian street that rather resembled an interminable construction site – Petrovsky prospekt. Someone didn’t make it to the other side:

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

Petrovsky island may really disgust you once you leave the park – I did continue walking just because I came all the way there and was determined to get to the other end of it. However, reading about it now I realize it’s not only about construction sites and dying factories and research institutes. But – they are too hard to distinguish most of the times. It’s only later when I got back home that I found out I took a photo of an Art Nouveau building – in the midst of the garages and what not – and that once belonging to a factory which built the first garages in St Petersburg in the beginning of the 20th century:

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

The only wide street of the island, Petrovsky prospekt, comes to Petrovskaya square and then continues up to the other end of the island as Petrovskaya kosa (before Lenin they called everything by Peter’s name here :), which is an even less welcoming road with hardly any space for pedestrians. My aim was the yacht club and the haven from where you can see the newly finished highspeed road called ZSD (Zapadny skorostnoy diameter or Western Rapid Diameter). On my way there:

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

Doesn’t this thingy remind you of a certain character from a certain cartoon?

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

And then I saw this:

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

Or this, with less geometry:

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

The yacht club is there since the 1930s:

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

After some bathing in the warm sun and trying to avoid being run over by expensive cars (you have to pay to drive on the territory of the club), I went back to the square and turned left to the Bolshoy Petrovsky bridge (they say Rasputin’s corpse was hidden under the ice somewhere over there). There was yet another view towards the sun and the highspeed road – with a sort of a grass island in the middle.

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

I found myself on Krestovsky island, the place to go for fun (there’s a huge amusement park) and sports (arena, stadiums, nice tracks for skating, a rowing club etc). It’s also the most expensive real estate location in St Petersburg.

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

The sun was already pretty low when I got to the fountain in the middle of Krestovsky:

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

It was such a wonderful evening, a real Indian summer one (we call it Babye leto, Summer of Women). St Petersburg knows how to be good to us, and not just women šŸ™‚ This is a view from a bridge leading towards the green(er) and calm(er) Yelagin island, with this where-do-you-put-that Lahta center being constructed in the background. This controversial skyscraper now gets in the view from about everywhere in the city. No, not a fan either! Gosh, people, you won’t get to the stars and scrape the sky with that šŸ™‚

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

Let’s add a kayak, a bird and a grate here:

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

Take them away and put a fisherman instead:

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

By the time I got to the end of Yelagin island, the crimson sun already sank. There was a bunch of people listening to an excursion and some others taking selfies with the lion. Then I walked a bit more along the island and got to the Vyborgskaya side to take the metro back home.

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

And here’s my 12km route across the city – well, approximately, the flags appear there rather frequently for no particular reason (just because I was not sure the service I was using would build a correct route). That highspeed road is on the left.

route for Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin
This post goes to the St Petersburg series.
G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

7 Days, 7 Views from Palace Bridge in St Petersburg

From Dvortsovy

I cross Dvortsovy aka Palace Bridge each day at least once to get to my new job. It’s like coming 12 years back in time, when I was studying at the State University. In fact, the university where I work now is just some meters away from the main building of my first alma mater. I didn’t take these photos 7 days in a row but each day I was crossing the bridge from the Bezymyanny, Unnamed, and I-have-never-thought-of-it-as-an-island island to Vasilyevsky island, I could enjoy a very different view – as well as different weather conditions. Just wanted to share with you this daily experience. What’s your favourite?

Wednesday September 13, 9.54 am

From Dvortsovy

Thursday September 14, 12.34 pm

From Dvortsovy

Friday September 15, 10.07 am

From Dvortsovy

Tuesday September 19, 5.15 pm

From Dvortsovy

Wednesday September 20, 10.04 am

From Dvortsovy

Thursday, September 21, 17.03 pm

From Dvortsovy

Friday, September 22, 1.10 pm

From Dvortsovy

Starring: Kunstkamera, arguably Russian first museum, the Neva river, arguably one of the most important factors in the foundation of the city, the Academy of Science,Ā  arguably the first of its kind in Russia, and – sometimes – the St Petersburg sun, arguably the most rarely seen star in the sky šŸ™‚

This short post goes to the interminable St Petersburg series.

G.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Crimea in May: Funa Fortress and Alushta

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Next morning was my last one in Demerdji so I decided to take a less adrenalin-packed walk in the valley, towards the Funa Fortress. First thing I saw in the fields was a white horse with its baby lying flat on the grass.

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Meanwhile to the right:

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Although I arrived pretty early at Funa, the guarding lady (and her son who must be a super lucky one to have a fortress all to his own!) took notice of me approaching and, well, sold me a ticket šŸ™‚

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Many many years ago the Demerdji mountains were called Founa, from the Greek ‘smoky’. What is now called Funa is a ruined medieval fortress which was built to counterpose a Genoese fortress down in Alushta. Here’s a 15th century stone with some inscriptions – a sort of a commemoration plaque:

Funa Fortress, Alushta

The day was really sunny and regardless of the wind you could almost imagine it was summer- well, at least the best St Petersburg summer days this year were pretty much the same.

Funa Fortress, Alushta

With the weather we are having now in St Petersburg it is even more difficult to believe I was there in this sunny place – and that there are these sunny places in the world šŸ™‚

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Can I just stay there?

Funa Fortress, Alushta

A tiny bit of decadence amidst the ruins:

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Those Funa people did choose quite a place indeed.

Funa Fortress, Alushta

A nice place!

Funa Fortress, Alushta

How many more views did I take?

Funa Fortress, Alushta

On my way back I revisited the Valley of Ghosts to see the supposed oak tree featured in Kavkazskaya Plennitsa movie. Well, who knows. There’s also a stone that they say featured in the film but others say it did not. A fine candidate to be that-very-stone from the movie was found some meters away from the official entrance to the valley:

Funa Fortress, Alushta

The trees in blossom reminded me we were still in May:

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Such a combination of delicate flowers and rough rocks!

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Although this tree looked almost autumn-like:

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Can I join you?

Funa Fortress, Alushta

The ghosts:

Funa Fortress, Alushta

The Head of Catherine and the eeeh that thing of Peter the Great in one shot:

Funa Fortress, Alushta

I was so reluctant to leave!

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Luchistoye said its good-bye to me with some deliciously decadent view:

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Some local creations were waiting for me down at the bus stop where I managed to buy bags of herbal tea collected right there up in the Demerdji mountains. Still drinking the Crimean spring šŸ™‚

Funa Fortress, Alushta

First thing I did once I arrived in Alushta (at first I even wanted to take a path that arguably goes through some park and a zoo down to Alushta) was visiting the local market. Finally. Saw many types of honey – from coriander, mountain linden and with an array of nuts. There I bought some mixed spices and more tea. And these Yalta onion bulbs were huuuuge (see potatoes in the background for comparison)! The seller said he used to send them to some restaurant in Moscow. Can imagine the prices should have at least doubled after reaching the capital.

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Alushta reminded me of Yalta indeed. Although it’s a much smaller city and much less famous. Its name is of course of a Greek origin, though there are at least two versions as to what it might mean – either ‘unwashed’ or ‘chain’.

Funa Fortress, Alushta

I did quite a lot of things in Alushta that I did not do during the rest of my journey like buying souvenirs (which I normally do not do) – sugarless sweet treats, natural oils, lavender sachets etc. Another thing was posting all the cards and letters from this old-school post office right at the seaside. Most Russian post offices in St Petersburg are now upgraded and do not have all these old signs.

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Alushta is a resort town since the very beginning of the 20th century. As I normally try to avoid tourist traps (and still tend to at least pass them by in the end), I decided to walk straight to the Professorsky ugolok (Professors’ Corner), a quasi suburb of the town where there are some dachas left.

Funa Fortress, Alushta

On my way there I was soaking in the blue colours:

Funa Fortress, Alushta
No Smoking at the beach!

Funa Fortress, Alushta

One of the local seaside mansions:

Funa Fortress, Alushta

I knew there was a house somewhere over there, where the Russian emigre writer Ivan Shmelyov lived, so I walked and walked along the shore, coming across this Kyiv sanatorium on my way:

Funa Fortress, Alushta

When I climbed up there to the museum (which actually was just a house he only visited but not lived in – the real one is owned by someone unwilling to cede it to the museum), little did I wait for a concert, public reading, a free excursion and… tea with cookies under a gorgeous tree! If you know Russian, I strongly advise you to read his Leto Gospodne, it’s such a nostalgic book he wrote in emigration, and there are quite a few references to the long gone food they used to have back in the per-revolutionary Russia.

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Turns out that was a Museum Day, a sort of Heritage Days they have in France. And it has made my day.

Funa Fortress, Alushta

And here is the gorgeous tree:

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Down at the seaside I fed sunflower seeds to local pigeons and enjoyed some more of the Black sea and the sun.

Funa Fortress, Alushta

I didn’t go swimming though as it was pretty windy.

Funa Fortress, Alushta

There was a certain feeling of my journey coming to its end.

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Alushta is not only tourists. There are some locals at the seaside too:

Funa Fortress, Alushta

More locals:

Funa Fortress, Alushta

And the cat lady:

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Walking back to Alushta bus station I spotted some decadence:

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Crimea is still a mine of relics of the past that are there just because no one ever thought they shouldn’t be. But these signs are gradually going away.

Funa Fortress, Alushta

That was my third trip with the Crimean long-distance trolleys – I was going to Simferopol for my last night of this trip. And here’s a fine specimen to my collection of Crimean bus / trolley stops:

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Should have been pretty(ier) when it was just made – with this sort of lace in the background.

Funa Fortress, Alushta

Somewhere in between Alushta and Luchistoye I could see the rocks and the mountains, saying good-bye to them. I really did enjoy this part of my trip – the mountains have mesmerized me probably even more so than the sea.

How to get there:

Alushta can be reached from the major cities by bus or by trolley from Yalta or Simferopol. Funa fortress is best reached from Luchistoye.

Crimea in May series:

Crimea in May: SudakĀ Fortress

Crimea in May: Demerdji and Valley ofĀ Ghosts

Crimea in May: Simeiz and Yalta, or a Study inĀ Blue

Crimea in May: Fiolent, Balaklava andĀ Chersonesus

Crimea in May: Chufut-Kale, Bakhchisarai andĀ Inkerman

Crimea in May: Vorontsov Palace andĀ Park

Crimea in May: Ghost SovietĀ Sanatorium

Crimea in May: Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest,Ā Livadia

Crimea in May: Nikitsky Botanical Garden andĀ Massandra

Crimea in May: Sevastopol (and theĀ Poppies)

This post goes to the Travel collection.

G.

Greek recipe · pies · vegetarian

Cheese Pie with Homemade Phyllo Pastry

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

Cheese. Crunchy pastry. Worth some effort that the traditional Greek phyllo pastry requires – as well as worth a short walk to get some Georgian cheese šŸ™‚ It’s a coincidence that I found some flat suluguni cheese in our local ‘farmers” store (they say it is a blini type of suluguni and sell it in disks) – which looks just like the pastry before it’s rolled out into sheets.

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

I have been meaning to use this recipe for the Greek phyllo pastry since I saw the video on the Food Wishes blog (the videos are always enjoyable – even from the language side of it – fellow linguists will understand:) some time ago. And finally I did dare to make a cheese pie with it – a sort of tiropita.

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

I have to admit this recipe is not a very quick one but you’ll see the difference and you’ll like the result for sure. And moreover there’s the video so you just have no excuses not to make this phyllo pastry and use it for savoury or sweet pies like bougatsa or baklava (there’s another video on how to make baklava). Careful though – baklava is super nutritious and addictive!

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

Don’t get intimidated with the seemingly complicated recipe procedure – Chef John’s instructions will guide you through it and after several it-will-never-work-out-well moments you will master this pastry that they use in so many pies in Greece. Oh, Greece is the heaven for pie fans!

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

1 year ago – Official St Petersburg or Along BolshayaĀ Morskaya

2 years ago – Pear Croustade and Pane TipoĀ Altamura

3 years ago – From Sunny Greece to Autumn Leaves in StĀ Pete

4Ā years ago – Plum Cakes from Italy andĀ Austria

5 years ago –Ā Shangi, Pies from the North andĀ Urals

6 years ago – Ode to MyĀ Baboushka

Cheese Pie with Homemade Phyllo Pastry adapted from the hilarious foodwishes.blogspot.com will make an almost authentic Greek pie… well, at least you can imagine it is! Go to the link above to watch video instructions for the pastry (attention: requires some time and effort!). See my remarks in italics.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 5 teaspoons olive oil ā€“ for some reason I thought it was 5 TABLEspoons šŸ™‚
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar ā€“ our 10-year old vinegar from France gave too much of flavour
  • 3/4 cups warm water

filling:

  • about 300 g rubbery cheese, ideally – suluguni, if not – haloumi, grated / mashed
  • about 300 soft fresh cheese in light brine, ideally Feta, Imeretian or Adygea cheese, grated / mashed
  • salt with dried herbs, pepper

starch mixture:

  • 1/2 cup cornstarch – I had only potato starch
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Procedure:

Make the pastry: Place the flour in a bowl, make a well in the center and pour in the oil, vinegar and the warm water plus the salt. Mix these ingredients with your fingers (not with someone’s else of course) in the bowl, then place on the surface and kneed into a smooth and soft ball, about 5 min. Roll the ball into a log and then back into a ball for several times. Wrap and leave to rest for at least 1 h at room temp.

Divide the dough into balls of 20 g (mine were about walnut size), cover the ones you are not using. Take 5 balls and roll each of these balls into a small disc, dust each of them really well (!) with the starch mixture and stack all 5 together. Then roll the stack out to about double the size, separate the discs (this will come with practice…), dust each disc again, re-stack them together in any order you like and roll out again into a sheet of pastry – the thinner the better.

Place one sheet of pastry between 2 sheets of parchment (reuse them in baking later), roll into a log (do not press), wrap in plastic (I placed them in a plastic bag) and leave in fridge / freezer if not using straight away.

When assembling your pie, use several sheets for the bottom layer and some more for the top layer (or even in-between layers, as in baklava). Drip olive oil over each 2nd sheet of pastry and do not forget to pre-cut the pie (do not cut through). Bake at 350’C for about 1 h (I did not have that much time so I switched the fan on at 180’C and reduced baking time to 30 min).

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

Remarks: Chef John says the recipe will make enough for about twenty sheets of pastry but I got 3 sheets with 5 layers + 1 sheet with 3 layers which was enough for a rather large though flat pie. I didn’t roll my pastry out too thin though. And yes, re-separating the discs of pastry is the most challenging part of the process, I only got the trick after rolling out and re-separating two stacks.Ā  After all, phyllo means a leaf (or a sheet in this case)… Another remark, the cornstarch mixture makes a bit too much for this amount of pastry – I used the leftovers in a cake. Also, I used quite a small baking sheet so had to make rather thick borders – better avoid it, the pastry get too tough at the edges.

Result: Crusty-crunchy flat cheese pie. Do you need any more comments to persuade you to make it here and now? That’s what you are striving for – the crunchy outer layers of the pastry:

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

…and these layers that separate from each other on their own once baked:

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

…which are not that easy to separate before baking šŸ™‚ Here is one of the stacks before rolling out:

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough

and before re-separating the discs:

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough

I was a bit late to photograph the entire pie – this is what was left next morning:

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

And yes, my blog has just turned 6!

This post goes to the Lunch / Dinner and Greek recipe collections where you will find many more Greek – and not only – pies.

G.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Crimea in May: Sudak Fortress

Sudak

The morning after crazy hiking in Demerdji was peaceful and my breakfast in Luchistoye was accompanied by an endless view and a gang of cats and a dog with oversized front teeth šŸ™‚ I was planning to go to the medieval fortress of Sudak along the coastal road that day.

Sudak

Luchistoye is disarmingly-charmingly decadent:

Sudak

I wish I had the opportunity to get out of the bus almost at each bus stop on the YuBK (Crimean Southern Coast), it’s such a treasure trove of the Soviet creativity. Most of them are decorated with mosaics and some of them have weird shapes, imitating waves or caves or what not.

Sudak

I’m not sure why I was so eager to visit the fortress but I chose it over other possible destinations – which were quite far off too. We are not looking for easy ways, you know.

Sudak

Gosh, was that a long trip in a hot bus! And such a bumpy road with such short stops at various settlements that we were not allowed even to open the door to let some air in. In a way I was still getting over my adventures in the Demerdji mountains the day before, with my hands aching and itching with all the cuts and thorns still inside, so you can imagine my state when I finally arrived in Sudak – first though, I had to take yet another local bus to the fortress.

Sudak

The street is called Genoa Fortress and the visit to the fortress starts here – complimented with a guy making money taking photos of the tourists with his monkey. When I said no and added that the animal must be suffering, he fired back on me saying that I was wearing leather sandals…

Sudak

When I entered the fortress it was very hot – and there are no trees to hide from the sun. Just an open space with a guy cutting the grass on the slope of the hill. No monkeys inside the fortress.

Sudak

The view from the top of the fortress over the outskirts of Sudak:

Sudak

I took innumerate photos of the fortress, I must admit it’s impressive.

Sudak

There are several versions as to why Sudak is called so, each referring to a different language. The fortress has been there since 6th century but it’s mostly known inĀ  its 14th century edition – the so called Genoa Fortress, built by the Genoese people. It looks like Chinese wall from this point of view:

Sudak

The watchtower and the view from the wall looking over the Black sea:

Sudak

And down there I saw the beach and with it in my mind continued the visit:

Sudak

The walls:

Sudak

The view from one of the towers – there was some wind too:

Sudak

And the view through a crack in the wall:

Sudak

As is the case with many locations in Crimea, this fortress has starred in many films – from Othello (1955) to Master and Margarita TV series some 50 years later.

Sudak

A lonely tower with the church of Twelve Apostles outside of the fortress walls:

Sudak

This recycling of ancient stones reminded me of the Eptapirgo fortress and ex-prison in Thessaloniki.

Sudak

The remains of the earlier walls:

Sudak

And some later additions:

Sudak

It’s a pity the road to and from Sudak is so long – I was so close to beautiful Novy Svet, one of the spots I originally wanted to go to but then opted for less far away places. They shot the romantic comedy Three + Two there and most of the exhibits in the Sudak archeological museum were from Novy Svet.

Sudak

Open-air museum:

Sudak

There’s also a small museum inside the Mosque with various finds from the early days of Sudak. There’s a bored but very helpful guy in there ready to give you some tips on where to move next and how. And he doesn’t ask you if your shoes are made from leather or not.

Sudak

In the museum:

Sudak

Outer walls:

Sudak

Walking towards the beach (with the heat that was on I was much less interested in the city itself) I spotted this small oasis right outside the walls (many fortresses I’ve visited still preserve a settlement right down there under the walls):

Sudak

And then I went swimming – the first of three times this summer of 2017 – together with loads of jellyfish (they were not stingy, just not particularly pleasant to be swimming in) and a very few other crazy people on the beach that day.

Sudak

Those who did not go for a swim that day were making this:

Sudak

I got back to Simferopol when the sun was going to set. I had to wait for the next trolley and got off at Luchistoye stop when it was already dark. While I was bravely walking (read: running) alone the lonely road that goes up to Luchistoye (via another settlement called Lavanda) I couldn’t see anything around, including my legs šŸ™‚ Running blind I was. The battery in my music player died and the only thing I had to cheer myself up (not that it was particularly horrid, it was just too deserted! Although I must admit the sensation was pretty unique) were a couple of Pink Floyd songs on my phone. When I realized that the 4.3 km of the winding road just wouldn’t finish, I had to call the proprietor who found me somewhere quite close to Lyuchistoye in pitch darkness and fetched me to the coziness of Demerdji House in his car.

How to get there:

First, I took a marshrutka to the Alushta bus station – at one of its stops there was a cow queuing for the bus. Not kidding! Well, it looked like this šŸ™‚

Sudak

Then our bus was at the brink of dying, the driver courageously resuscitated it from time to time and we did make it to the station after all. There however I failed to find any bus going towards Sudak and had to hop on the famous Alushta – Simferopol trolley instead. Then a few minutes at the super busy Simferopol bus station and off we go to Sudak. The road is more tiresome than it is long, with some turns and bumps (although much less so than if you take the lower – coastal – road which looks sort of shorter but definitely much more difficult and even dangerous). From the bus station in Sudak take a local bus that goes to the fortress (the same one can also take you to Novy Svet as far as I understood).

Crimea in May series:

Crimea in May: Demerdji and Valley ofĀ Ghosts

Crimea in May: Simeiz and Yalta, or a Study inĀ Blue

Crimea in May: Fiolent, Balaklava andĀ Chersonesus

Crimea in May: Chufut-Kale, Bakhchisarai andĀ Inkerman

Crimea in May: Vorontsov Palace andĀ Park

Crimea in May: Ghost SovietĀ Sanatorium

Crimea in May: Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest,Ā Livadia

Crimea in May: Nikitsky Botanical Garden andĀ Massandra

Crimea in May: Sevastopol (and theĀ Poppies)

This post goes to the Travel collection.

G.

on USSR / Russia · travel

Crimea in May: Demerdji and Valley of Ghosts

Demerdji

And now on to the Swiss part of my Crimean journey. This day I spent in Demerdji mountains was probably the most adrenalin-driven one, a bit controversial one too but definitely very exciting!

Demerdji

Remember I told you that Crimea reminded me of some European landmarks that – for the lack of anything else to refer to – I couldn’t stop comparing to what I saw. In Luchistoye at the feet of Demerdji mountains where I headed off for my last 3rd of the journey I was constantly wondering whether they just accidentally sold me a ticket to Switzerland instead. In some ways I also recalled Zlatoust in the Urals and Stolby park near Krasnoyarsk. Well, you see, I have never been to proper mountains!

Demerdji

When I was planning my journey I got stuck choosing my final destination as I didn’t want to stay in a over touristy place on the coast but at the same time had no idea where else to go. So accidentally, while searching booking.com for accommodation, I opened the map with all the available hotels and started clicking on anything that was a bit off the beaten track. And this is how I found Luchistoye (beamy, radiant), a small settlement close to Alushta, which is another resort on the Black sea coast.

Demerdji

I stayed two nights at Demerdji House, a sort of a guesthouse with an amazing view over the sea, and the mountains, funny animals that will follow you everywhere (I loved the dog with sticking teeth that looked like a kind ever-hungry zombie) and unforgettable sunrises and sunsets, but rather basic facilities. It was not that 5-star place I stayed in Alupka but you just can’t beat the magic of the nature around you: the birds at about 4 o’clock in the morning, the clouds moving above the mountain tops… Particularly if the first thing you do when you arrive at Luchistoye is buying freshly made cheese and a woman who kindly guides you to the hotel from the bus stop offers you home-made cottage cheese!

Demerdji

The only thing I knew before arriving there is that the place right next to Luchistoye is called Dolina Privideny (Valley of Ghosts) and it is featured in a number of Soviet movies, including the ever-popular 1967 comedy Kavkazskaya Plennitsa (translated as Kidnapping, Caucasian Style). I also read in a book back in Sevastopol the legend about this mountain’s name – Smith’s Mountain from the Crimean Tatar language.

Demerdji

So off I went towards the Valley – or so I hoped cause there were no signs – I could have accepted an offer from a local who said gong into the mountains was not good for a girl travelling alone, of course, but I stubbornly continued my walk alone. My company were the horses and the cows who actually chased me off the road (as an urban girl I’m a bit cautious when it comes to meeting big animals freely grazing on a deserted road).

Demerdji

The landscape was just breathtaking (wait, more is coming!) – with the view over Chatyr-Dag mountains, the Black sea with Alushta and the South Demerdji mountains. I have never walked anywhere in the Alps (although we crossed them on our way from Strasbourg to Venice once) but I imagine it should look like this there:

Demerdji

… And then there were suddenly three of us, climbing recklessly for the want of a harsher word straight to the top almost upright, without any idea of what was waiting us ahead, ignoring completely (because not aware of) the official track, so much easier, so much less dangerous and – not free of charge as it turned out later. Some 30 minutes later, with blood, sweat and almost tears, and some amount of nerves completely gone that will never resuscitate, we saw this:

Demerdji

I want to thank those two crazy adventure-seeking Olga and Kirill from the Artek young pioneer camp (they worked there as group leaders, sort of animators for kids) who accidentally – though nothis is accidental in our life – came to Demerdji that day when they had their rare rest, at the very moment I got there. I really just abandoned all my common sense and decided to go with them when we met each other somewhere near the mountain, all three uncertain as to how to ‘attack’ it. The kids (well, actually they were just about 5 years younger than me) were obviously better trained and at least better dressed for such wild climbing but at that moment I didn’t really use my brain.

Demerdji

I don’t know how these two didn’t throw me off the cliff cause I was repeating ‘Oh no no no, I’m not going there, I’m turning back!’ like every 2 seconds. Olga and Kirill got me even more nervous when they starting making photos on top of slanting rocks and asking me to take their photos as their camera died. Thanks God, only their camera did, Gosh, I was so nervous up there!

Demerdji

We started climbing at about 4 pm and by the time we got to the top it was windy as hell, pretty cold but sometimes sunny (though definitely less cold than on top of Ai-Petri!). The views were fantastic. If I were in a less agitated and nervous state, I might have made more photos and taken in the beauty calmly and with dignity. But these views are certainly engraved in my brain (which I tend to use a bit irregularly) forever.

Demerdji

My hands got so scratched and pierced with all sorts of wild thorns all over as I was desperately holding on to just about anything that I could grab hold of around me, that the next day they hurt all over and I poured iodine on them, my poor hands! My up to that moment new leather shoes still bear the traces of that adventure šŸ™‚

Demerdji

We survived somehow on oat cookies that I bought in a local shop and took with me. Probably the most suitable kind of food for compulsive eating when you are super shaky. Nutritious too.

Demerdji

The phallic looking rocks are sometimes compared to animals, people or ghosts depending on what they appear to be from afar (or maybe in the dark too). The rock formation in the photo below is called Golova Ekateriny (the Head of Catherine, that is Catherine the Great) and the one which is particularly phallic and stands out of the (phallic) crowd (see above) is called… well, penis of Peter the Great, respectively (not so respectfully though).

Demerdji

The photo above shows roughly our crazy way up to the Head of Catherine. Which in the end we never reached as it is in an even crazier spot and we left it behind.

Demerdji

And then we saw these crazy (everything that day was crazy!) horses grazing up there peacefully where we just got after hurting our hands and killing nerves (which applies mostly to me), as if they are somewhere on a plain at the sea level! I wish I had a) their climbing abilities, and b) their astonishing tranquility!

Demerdji

By the time we got to the very top (where these kids also climbed up a stone with a beacon on it) I was less shaky and frantically thinking of ways how to avoid descending using the same route.

Demerdji

Thanks God we found a real track that was much less crazy and so I was even capable of asking my crazy companions all sorts of questions about their life at Artek.

Demerdji

The camp is all-year-round and employs many mostly young people to cater for the kids. Since its inception in the 1920s Artek has been a camp for the elite – either those who got there because they were kids of some upper nomenklatura or because they were super bright and had shown some particular zeal in ‘building communism’.Ā  Seems like now its a place for the same two categories – you either have parents who know the right people or you are super bright.

Demerdji

On our way back we saw the horses again:

Demerdji

Olga ventured out to touch the baby horse but when we saw that the other horses sort of moved towards us, it made us a bit uneasy and we speedily retired šŸ™‚ Anyway, the sun was obviously not going to stay there for long and these two had yet a rather long way back to Artek, where they were about to start their work day quite early.

Demerdji

By the time we got to the gates from where more thoughtful and sober citizens start their walk (as it resembles walking more than climbing) towards the top, the sun was already low, illuminating only the top of the rocks. Oh my God, we were up there!

Demerdji

What a day to remember! You might not believe it, but it was actually quite disturbing for me to recall this day for quite a bit of time. It really was controversially exciting!

Demerdji

No need to tell you how particularly excited I got when we were down there, buying cookies for the kids’ journey back to Artek in a local shop just some 1.5 hours after we first met. Probably the most crazy 1.5 h of my life!

Demerdji

When I went back the road up to my room (thanks God, no hands required, just walking up a hill), the cows were turning back from pastures. Was good to see them!

Demerdji

The sunset was amazing. As was the fresh cottage cheese (tvorog) that I had for dinner. I think I was still abit shaky when I went to bed that night.

Demerdji

P.S. No poppies or palaces in this post!

P.P.S. Middle of September and I’m still writing about May! There are 2-3 posts left from my Crimean trip yet.

How to get there:

Take a bus to Alushta bus station, then catch marshrutka that goes to Luchistoye (bus stop is outside the station on the road to Simferopol; this marshrutka circulates only a couple of times a day) or take the trolley to Simferopol from the same stop and get off at Luchistoye stop (from where you will have to walk quite a bit). When you get to Luchistoye, walk up Gornaya street to the tourist base and then walk towards the Valley of Ghosts from where you can start ascending the mountain. There are locals who will be glad to take you up there in a jeep or guide you; you can also ask at the tourist base for horse walks, etc etc.

Crimea in May series:

Crimea in May: Simeiz and Yalta, or a Study inĀ Blue

Crimea in May: Fiolent, Balaklava andĀ Chersonesus

Crimea in May: Chufut-Kale, Bakhchisarai andĀ Inkerman

Crimea in May: Vorontsov Palace andĀ Park

Crimea in May: Ghost SovietĀ Sanatorium

Crimea in May: Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest,Ā Livadia

Crimea in May: Nikitsky Botanical Garden andĀ Massandra

Crimea in May: Sevastopol (and theĀ Poppies)

This post goes to the Travel collection.

G.