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

Autumn and Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Autumn and Art Nouveau go really well together. And where else would they go perfectly well together than in Tsarskoye Selo, an aristocratic suburb of St Petersburg. I love visiting it in autumn when the ex-royal residence is wearing its gorgeous multicolour veil. This time though we decided (ok-ok, I persuasively suggested it) to go on an Art Nouveau quest around the town. The number of Art Nouveau places is limited but thanks to the overall status of Tsarskoye Selo as a ‘country’ residence, they are mostly separate cottages / dachas. The first spot we visited was the dacha (summer cottage) of the grand duke Boris Vladimirovich of Russia , now the premises of the Research Institute of Horticulture. Built in 1896-1897 – supposedly by two English architects – it is considered to be one of the first Art Nouveau places in St Petersburg.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Since the last time we were there in spring 2017 (seems like years ago), they’ve surrounded the whole area with a fence and also started renovation in one of the buildings which used to serve as a stable (also built in 1896-1897). Also, the little clock tower which used to decorate this house is gone…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

I do hope they will be careful with what is left from the original interior details (if any) – in this case you never know if the renovation is beneficial or on the contrary fatal for the building. The nearby second (reserve) home with a garage (one of the first garages for automobiles in Russia, built in 1899), slowly but steadily dying from the mold and disuse, represents a very sad picture from the inside:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Wonderfully decadent from the outside – if only there was a way to stop the building from decaying:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

I don’t know the plans for the garage, but I hope they do something about it pretty soon as the roof is falling in:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

An un-standardized door:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

An un-standardized window:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The previous times I was there I didn’t pay much attention to the fountain erroneously thinking it was a later addition. probably thanks to the fact the dacha is somewhat off the main road and the fountain is almost in the ‘woods’, it survived till today – and who knows, maybe even its mechanism is still working?

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Another thing which I didn’t explore earlier was this hobbit-like pavilion near the greenhouses (not sure if these are the original ones) – also built in the Art Nouveau style and now full of junk.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The entire pavilion seems to be growing out of the ground, merging with the garden. It has obviously sank over the last century which only gives it a more ‘natural’ look. If only it was also kept in a better condition…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Our next Art Nouveau stop was the ex-store of the Guards Economic Society, built already in the late Art Nouveau period when in St Petersburg they were mostly moving towards the retrospective styles (1911-1914). But the ‘province’ (although Tsarskoye Selo is very close to the city) is a different thing.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

They say the building continued to be used as a shop even in the Soviet period but now it’s hard to say what’s there. There are security cameras and yet half of the building seems to be abandoned.
Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Apart from the decadent stone staircases…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

with trees growing through them, …

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

and original glass in the windows,…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

there is also a pavilion in the same pseudo-English style nearby (as well as two other pavilions of an uncertain function):

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

I wish I could visit that shop when it was just open. Or even now, to see what’s hiding inside behind those large windows – and also what’s up there in the pinnacle? What’s inside the small pavilion is better not seen 😦

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The third stop was the mansion of count Gudovich (built in 1901-03), now a kindergarten, situated just outside the Catherine Park.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

You cannot go close to the building as the schools and places like this are now mostly fenced in (we had plans to get hired as cleaning ladies to get inside 🙂 so we just wandered around peeping through the fence. Must feel like a sort of Hogwarts to the kids!

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

One of the details that catch your eye is the grate and the gates designed by Art Nouveau guru Robert Metlzer. The grate reminds me of the Northern Modern style that was a very popular movement within Art Nouveau. It brought into the architecture all those Scandinavian fairy-tale elements that make you think of fortresses, ammunition and creatures that turn into stone.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The gates are still operating:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

There are also street lights but sadly no bulbs:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The forth stop was connected to the first automobiles in the Russian empire – though now it has more to do with the agriculture of the Leningrad (St Petersburg) region as it houses some of the departments of the local Institute of Agriculture. The garages were built in 1906-1907 to house 2 new Delaunay-Belleville cars bought for the emperor.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

When we saw this bas-relief we couldn’t decide whether that was a car or a tractor – such is the aura of the place now 🙂 But it actually depicts the introduction of the first cars in Russia. And here is the garage:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Now students sit in there listening to their lecturers. What a transformation for a garage!

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The building in the background is the one with the bas-relief.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

A pavilion nearby was built later and has a glass roof for more light. I guess they use it to house some specimens of agricultural machinery:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Faded colors of autumn:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Natural decadence:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Beautiful door of the nearby dacha of Alexander Pushkin:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The day was really nice so I decided to leave the architecture for a while and go enjoy some nature. The Alexander park (a free-entrance counterpart of the more popular and more regular Catherine park) was surprisingly green for late September and although the sun was already setting down, I enjoyed my walk along the alleys up to those corners that you normally miss out.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Although this is a landscape park and so it’s not exactly all nature… But the combination of the natural beauty with the tricks of the architect makes you love it no less.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

A lamppost next to the ruins of the Chinese Theater:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

One of the bridges bears the name of the factory that produced it – the famous one that is also responsible for major metal constructions found here and there in St Petersburg, the San-Galli Factory:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Since the summer started a month later than it was supposed to, the autumn also arrived late(r) this year. The autumnal hues were just beginning to make their appearance:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Four friends:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

On my way back:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The golden evening light of September…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

…made the Catherine Palace less pompous and a bit warmer:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

While it made the gold look even gold-er 🙂

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Baroque palace meets civilization:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

And as my final stop, I entered the 1860s Lutheran church with its rows of white benches and a boy changing the plates with the numbers of verses to be read next day. I came just after the organ concert finished. The church originally opened for the German instructors working at the nearby Lyceum (where Pushkin studied) and had services also in Finnish and Estonian languages up until 1931. Then it acted as the premises for a factory, gestapo and a driving school. Miraculously, it didn’t suffer much destruction through all that.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

More pictures of autumnal Tsarskoye Selo are here in my last year’s post.

Adding this post to the Environs section of the St Petersburg collection.

G.

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 🙂

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 and Park

Crimea in May: Ghost Soviet Sanatorium

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

Crimea in May: Nikitsky Botanical Garden and Massandra

Crimea in May: Sevastopol (and the Poppies)

Crimea in May: Chufut-Kale, Bakhchisarai and Inkerman

Crimea in May: Fiolent, Balaklava and Chersonesus

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

Crimea in May: Demerdji and Valley of Ghosts

Crimea in May: Sudak Fortress

Crimea in May: Funa Fortress and Alushta

This post goes to the Travel collection.

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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

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: Sudak Fortress

Crimea in May: Demerdji and Valley of Ghosts

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

Crimea in May: Fiolent, Balaklava and Chersonesus

Crimea in May: Chufut-Kale, Bakhchisarai and Inkerman

Crimea in May: Vorontsov Palace and Park

Crimea in May: Ghost Soviet Sanatorium

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

Crimea in May: Nikitsky Botanical Garden and Massandra

Crimea in May: Sevastopol (and the Poppies)

This post goes to the Travel collection.

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 🙂 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 in  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 🙂 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 🙂

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 of Ghosts

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

Crimea in May: Fiolent, Balaklava and Chersonesus

Crimea in May: Chufut-Kale, Bakhchisarai and Inkerman

Crimea in May: Vorontsov Palace and Park

Crimea in May: Ghost Soviet Sanatorium

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

Crimea in May: Nikitsky Botanical Garden and Massandra

Crimea in May: Sevastopol (and the 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 🙂

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’.  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 🙂 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 in Blue

Crimea in May: Fiolent, Balaklava and Chersonesus

Crimea in May: Chufut-Kale, Bakhchisarai and Inkerman

Crimea in May: Vorontsov Palace and Park

Crimea in May: Ghost Soviet Sanatorium

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

Crimea in May: Nikitsky Botanical Garden and Massandra

Crimea in May: Sevastopol (and the Poppies)

This post goes to the Travel collection.

G.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

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

Simeiz, Yalta

When I was in Alupka a family staying at the same hotel told me about Simeiz, a resort town well worth visiting. So I made a mental note that I should visit it, particularly after passing an impressive rock several times right above this town and snatching a view of a strange platform stuck in the sea somewhere close by. I just had to go investigate into the matter myself.

Simeiz, Yalta

Do you see the platform to the right? That’s it. And the rock close to it is the beautiful rock with a beautiful name Diva, a piece of the bigger mount called Koshka or Cat in Russian but that’s false etymology as its original Crimean Tatar name Qoş qaya (double rock) just happens to sound like ‘koshka‘.

Simeiz, Yalta

I thought it was a sort of an oil platform (which was partially true as they recycled some old oil drilling sections), turns out that is a dying (but still functioning) marine research platform that they started building just before the collapse of the USSR (its second – later – part got fatally damaged in a storm and thus never finished) and that is rusting away now.

Simeiz, Yalta

It seems like Crimea was pretty loved by scientists, and not just for being a resort 🙂 It was an important field for all sorts of observations and experiments, thanks to its nature, its climate and atmosphere. But these unique round pools for simulating storms (sad photos here), observatories and absolutely sci-fi-looking heliostations with huge mirror reflectors (decadent photos here) and what not are in a rather sad condition now. More decadent photos of the platform (also from the platform) here.

Simeiz, Yalta

Crimea is my love too.

Simeiz, Yalta

Another Koshka:

Simeiz, Yalta

Never thought that a rock can be beautiful!

Simeiz, Yalta

Turns out they filmed some episodes of the much-loved (and super romantic) 1960s movie Chelovek-Amfibia (Amphibian Man) here, in Crimea, making as if it were in Argentina 🙂

Simeiz, Yalta

The observation platform on top seems like a popular spot for not only all those mesmerized tourists but also crazy divers. When I typed this rock in youtube search it returned more ‘suicide jumps’ videos then anything else.

Simeiz, Yalta

oh those blue colours, so peaceful

Simeiz, Yalta

The sea + limestone combination is beautiful.

Simeiz, Yalta

Crimean mountains hanging above Simeiz were obscured by clouds:

Simeiz, Yalta

doesn’t this look like Gondor?

Simeiz, Yalta

As an information board tells you, Diva has some rare Crimean plants growing on it that I couldn’t identify but let’s say these were the ones 🙂 The entire Koshka is a natural landmark since 1984.

Simeiz, Yalta

I definitely enjoyed the view in Simeiz better than in Fiolent – the fallen horizon in most of my sea photos only confirms the fact that the blue colours of the sea and the sky are almost blending one into another.

Simeiz, Yalta

I haven’t yet told you anything about Simeiz itself (its name has Greek origins). Well, it is small and typically… weird, as a Soviet resort can be. It has a statue of Lenin placed right there on top above the city and an alley of white fake Greek /Roman sculptures running between the rock and a fountain 🙂

Simeiz, Yalta
The ex-dachas of the riches turned into residential houses and sanatoriums have lost their original design but certainly gained in… eccentricity:

Simeiz, Yalta

Simeiz was a popular resort before the revolution and its pre-Soviet remains are quite curious – if not sad in their current state. My father was there back in October 2014 and he says the reconstruction works have not progressed at all. This Villa Ksenia for example – as the document pinned to its walls claims – was supposed to be fully renovated by March 31st, 2017. I was there on May 15th…

Simeiz, Yalta

Spot the cat:

Simeiz, Yalta

Once I realized I’ve had enough of the decadence (it’s a pity I didn’t mount Koshka where they have some really old ruins), I ate my ice-cream and left Simeiz, taking a marshrutka to Yalta.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Yalta. For me this name has long sounded like something from the 60s Soviet movies or from the history books (remember the Yalta Conference?) or Master and Margarita. Somewhere on the Black sea, obviously a warm place. Name of non-Slavic origin (from the Greek ‘coast’, as I found out later). That’s it.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

During my May journey in Crimea, I mostly used Yalta as a transport hub and crossed the city several times. But only on one occasion did I actually descend to its center from the bus station – on the day I went to Simeiz.

Simeiz, Yalta

The legend has it that Greeks were sailing in a storm and got pretty desperate when suddenly the mist disappeared and they saw the shores – yalos in Greek – which they happily shouted at the top of their voices and thus the city they founded got named Yalta.

Simeiz, Yalta

Once you leave the busy embankment with too many tourist traps on the way, and move towards its center, the old Yalta is revealed to you – it looks like this:

Simeiz, Yalta

and this

Simeiz, Yalta

for some reason I imagine Odessa should look pretty similar to old Yalta

Simeiz, Yalta

Turns out this Vodopadnaya river is a continuation of the Uchan-Su waterfalls that I saw during my Ai-Petri adventures:

Simeiz, Yalta

I don’t have much to tell you about Yalta as I didn’t really like it – way too big and busy to be of my kind. The decadent houses and the city’s layout along the slopes of the hills do attract me but I’d rather spend time visiting some smaller places along the Southern Coast of Crimea. Which I did.

How to get there:

Yalta is easily accessible from Sevastopol and Simferopol (you can try out the famous Yalta trolley for that – will tell you about it in my future posts). Do visit Massandra and Nikitsky Botanical Garden when in Yalta. Simeiz is on the way from Sevastopol to Yalta and can also be reached from the Yalta bus station. Don’t miss your stop!

Crimea in May series:

Crimea in May: Fiolent, Balaklava and Chersonesus

Crimea in May: Chufut-Kale, Bakhchisarai and Inkerman

Crimea in May: Vorontsov Palace and Park

Crimea in May: Ghost Soviet Sanatorium

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

Crimea in May: Nikitsky Botanical Garden and Massandra

Crimea in May: Sevastopol (and the Poppies)

This post goes to the Travel collection.

G.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Crimea in May: Fiolent, Balaklava and Chersonesus

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Three places near / in Sevastopol with an exceptional view that can be visited in one day? Cape Fiolent, Balaklava and the ancient Chersonesus! Scroll down for many photos and (a) few words to describe them.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

The morning I set off for yet another around-Sevastopol trip was pretty promising, there was plenty of sun and warm wind. But already while I was enjoying the view at cape Fiolent there came the clouds and a sort of a haze.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

After enjoying the view from the observation platform with a monument to Pushkin (who once visited these shores), I came down a long-long stone staircase to the beach where I saw these layered volcanic rocks:

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

The popular Jasper beach was quite deserted although I managed to attract the attention of a guy from Tobolsk who was travelling alone just like me with the difference that he was staying at a sanatorium (he works shifts somewhere in the Far East).

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

It was almost drizzling with rain so there was the only thing to do – continue the journey. We climbed up the staircase to St George monastery, spotting this cat on our way. There’s a legend that in 9 century AD Greeks got in a nasty storm with their ship wrecking right there near cape Fiolent and since they survived they built a monastery.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

The we parted our ways as I went to Balaklava (the center of the district where Fiolent is situated) and that guy headed somewhere else. By the time I got to Balaklava, it was raining and the wind was getting stronger.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

I hope I’m not hurting anyone’s feelings but I really found Balaklava a very run-down sad and dirty town with dirty water and a general atmosphere of something dying.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

The local decadence didn’t leave a good impression even on me.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Walking towards the cliff:

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Wait, you said balaklava?! Yes, they say that the British invented this sort of mask now closely associated with terrorism right there in Crimea where they were experiencing quite a freezing time of the year 1854.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

But Balaklava is also famous for this very harbour which boasts such a location and shape that it knows no storms (unlike Fiolent) and becomes almost invisible from the sea. There I saw dolphins!

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

And that’s why it was used as a secret submarine base up until 1993. The town was a closed one and the entire population was employed at the base – and obviously they were not at all involved in searching for the gold left by the White Army (which they say they originally did in the 1920s, for which they opened the first diving courses in Russia there), they were working for the defense of the Motherland.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

The entrance to the base is to the left of the ruined tower on this photo:

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

There’s a museum now with no actual submarines – but I decided to skip it, recalling my sheer intolerance of closed space when we visited a submarine in Kaliningrad.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

The tower is right above the town, guarding this water way into the harbour:

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Scotland? Ireland?

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

It was misty and rainy when I got to the Cembalo fortress, first trying to get to a place intriguingly called Kefalo-Vrisi (Head of the Source) but helplessly and rather dangerously slipping and sliding on these rocks.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

But then I just couldn’t see anything around at all!

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

They say they tried to renovate the 14th century fortress in the 50s – since then there’s this other thingy left:

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Woohoo!

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Some bits of Balaklava through the mist and clouds:

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Balaklava might be a pretty ugly (I’m sorry!) place down at the ground, but then it just beats you when you climb up to the fortress!

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Spot the bird:

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Definitely Scotland! And yet it’s Crimea 🙂

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Realizing there was nothing more to do in Balaklava (I just spotted an entire factory now occupied by some hard-core quests, as well as a ruined cinema with the ‘Segodnya‘ (On today) letters still visible), I left the town for the city. When I arrived back in Sevastopol and went to Chersonesus, it was raining non stop.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Right there in Sevastopol there is an ancient site of Chersonesus which is a must for all the tourists visiting the city. By this point I was already quite tired and also the wall of rain was a bit obstructing the view, so the time I spent there was pretty inconsiderable.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

I’m sure the place has many legends to tell, with all those ancient stones, some of which might as well be there from when the Greeks established their colony there, in 6 century BC.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

And yes, this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Imagine that those who live on the opposite shore of the bay can see the ruins of an ancient Greek colony every day?

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

But as always I enjoyed the view towards the sea most of all:

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Regardless of rain.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

The sea is the best! And definitely not black at all 🙂

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Love you too, poppies!

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

How to get there:

There’s bus #3 that goes to Fiolent from the TsUM bus stop in Sevastopol. If you get off at Fiolent bus stop, you will have to walk a bit to the shore but in this way you will gradually take in the view as you stroll towards the monastery (you can also get off at the terminus which is right next to the Monastery). From there you can hop on any bus that goes to the transport hub called ‘the 5th kilometer’, where you can ask the locals for bus #9 that will take you to Balaklava. On the way back you can take the same bus to the 5th km, then get on any that goes through TsUM stop where you will get off and walk towards Chersonesus. Sounds like changing transport a lot but in reality it’s not that complicated, nor is it far.

Crimea in May series:

Crimea in May: Chufut-Kale, Bakhchisarai and Inkerman

Crimea in May: Vorontsov Palace and Park

Crimea in May: Ghost Soviet Sanatorium

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

Crimea in May: Nikitsky Botanical Garden and Massandra

Crimea in May: Sevastopol (and the Poppies)

This post goes to the Travel collection.

G.