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.

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.

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 šŸ™‚ 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 šŸ™‚

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 šŸ™‚ 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 šŸ™‚

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 fromĀ 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 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.

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 šŸ™‚

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 šŸ™‚

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 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.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Crimea in May: Chufut-Kale, Bakhchisarai and Inkerman

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

One of the days when I was staying over at my friend’s in Sevastopol was dedicated to its ‘environs’ or the places you can quite easily reach from the Sevastopol bus station within several hours. That day I did three in one go (thanks to valuable advice from my host), visiting Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale and Inkerman. Brace yourselves – there will be lots of stones, caves and even more stones.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

My aim that day was not the Bakhchisarai Palace with its fountain (of Pushkin’s fame – and by the way the eponymous ballet is great!) but the cave city with a tremendous view, Chufut-Kale. The first thing you see when you walk from Bakhchisarai’s bus terminus to the caves is the Assumption Monastery of the Caves carved in the rock. It’s an inevitable stop along the way – moreover, some people come there just for it.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

It is believed to originate back as early as the 8th century but with all the construction and the renovation going on, it leaves no such impression. For some reason I didn’t want to stay there for long, so I moved on. After some walking along the ravine passing by a Jewish cemetery, I reached one of the most visited cave places of Crimea, Chufut-Kale (‘Jewish Fortress’ in the Crimean Tatar language).

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

This place impressed me quite a bit. I cannot say I enjoyed the caves a lot (although it’s pretty cool inside) but I really loved the view from this medieval fortified city on top of the world.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Any of these photos just fail to render the vertigo from the view and the wind you feel up there, with the birds flying across the valley and the road looking like a thread from such a height.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Gosh, this place is just stunning!

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

…it definitely sends shivers down your spine when you bend over to make a photo!

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

…but you can also take a look down your feet to check out the roads!

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

this one in particular – with the grooves left by oh so many wheels:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Believe it or not, but this place was inhabited (arguably from 5th century) until the very end of the 19th century. There are some temples and houses left. They even had a mint there. And a mausoleum, reminding us of the Mongol-Tatars. There’s also a museum of the Karaite culture but it was closed.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Crimean spring in blossom:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

And then walking back to the bus terminus from the other entrance to the site I got lost – together with three more crazy girls who stubbornly decided to take the upper road – the right one as they thought. I was foolish enough to follow them and even lead the way until I understood no one was behind me anymore and had to run back to them to find out they apparently changed their minds, well, quietly :).

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Walking back to Bakhchisarai‘s heavily touristy center (the city’s name means ‘garden palace’) to see the Palace, I passed by some rather old houses with the signs of ‘civilization’, like this one with newly installed windows:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

There are also Crimean dogs, not just cats:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Š”an’t resist posting this photo either, sorry:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Walking closer to the Bakhchisarai Palace is a bit complicated as you are very persistently asked or should I say almost physically drawn to go eat somewhere. It seems like every tourist that arrives to the Palace should be at least starving!

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

I paid for the entrance to the territory of the palace but was not inclined to go inside and wait for the next group excursion.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Instead I walked up the hill to a Second World war memorial and then back to the palace, duly enjoying only those of its corners that are open to a visitor with an ‘only entrance to the territory’ ticket.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

The city obviously lives off the Palace and the tourists (as well as many extreme sports & entertainments offered nearby). It was once the capital of the rich and powerful Crimean Khanate… And there was that legendary fountain – though not this one I suppose šŸ™‚

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

They say the palace is worth visiting but I spent there much less time than in Chufut-Kale and headed towards my last of the three destinations that day – for which I had to run a bit to catch a bus which did not stop where I was frantically waving to it but did stop some hundred meters further the road – the bus driver was a very law-obedient but also kind to wait for me šŸ™‚

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

The bus took me to the medieval fortress Kalamita in Inkerman, a suburb of Sevastopol. As in Chufut-Kale, you first walk up to yet another cave monastery before you can reach the fortress.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

They built Inkerman Monastery of St. Clement on the ruins of a Byzantine monastery where they kept the relics of St Clement for a while.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

When you’re done with the Monastery (which I actually visited afterwards), you can go up the hill to see the fortress and take in the view over pretty industrial Inkerman (there’s also a winery open n 1961), an artificial lake and the railroad:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

The fortress, well, the ruins of it, dates back to 6th century AD, when the Byzantine people ruled these places – it was called by the Greek name Kalamita. The fortress was consequently rebuilt and then, taken over by the Turks, it was renamed into Inkerman (‘cave fortress’).

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

This is all what is left from it:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

And here is the view on the artificial lake – they dug it out, gradually extracting stone for rebuilding Sevastopol after the War (add sounds of 80s music from one of the jeeps with local holiday-makers):

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

And here are the poppies again:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Can you feel the wind? Add sighs here:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Feels and looks like a rug – I wish I had such a spot somewhere close to me:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

How to get there:

The easiest way is to catch a bus from the Sevastopol bus station that goes to Bakhchisarai (you’d better get your ticket at least the day earlier cause this is a rather popular destination and you might have to wait for the next one like I did), then hop on the local bus that goes from the bus station to its terminus in Bakhchisarai (don’t be fooled by the ever present taxi drivers, it’s not worth a costly drive!) from where you can start your walking tour towards the Monastery (free of charge but you cannot take photos inside) andĀ Chufut-Kale (there’s an entrance fee). Then you can walk a bit more / catch a bus back to theĀ Bakhchisarai Palace (you can’t visit even the courtyard without paying the entrance fee and if you want to go inside you’ll have to wait for a group excursion), walk towards the road / get there on a bus to catch the Bakhchisarai-Sevastopol bus that will take you to Inkerman (you need the ominously looking Vtormet stop – see below), where you can visit the Monastery (free of charge) and the ruins of the fortress (also free of charge). From there you can either take the same bus back to the Sevastopol bus station or hop on one of the passing buses (which I did) that will drop you off at one of the city’s main transport hubs called ‘the 5th kilometer’.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

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)

This post goes to the Travel collection.

G.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Crimea in May: Sevastopol (and the Poppies)

Sevastopol

I arrived in Sevastopol just on time for the Victory Day festivities. I didn’t really plan it that way, it’s just that there was a direct flight from St Petersburg to Simferopol the night before. I took a long taxi drive to Sevastopol across the peninsula in almost complete darkness, snatching here and there the names of the places we were passing by.

Sevastopol

a moment later:

Sevastopol

We arrived in the very center of Sevastopol in the morning before the traditional military parade (which I’m not a fan of), joining the crowds gathered all along the main street. The weather was not that inviting, it was misty and chilly once the sun decided to disappear.

Sevastopol

We did not wait for the ships to parade in front of the audience later in the evening but watched the people carrying photographs of their relatives perished in the War in an impressively long procession. Veterans were very scarce but those who were there (some of them were in the old cars and motorcycles) were greeted with all our hearts.

Sevastopol

Then we walked in the center a bit, along the embankment too – which reminded me of Vladivostok, another important maritime city oh so far away!

Sevastopol

The center of Sevastopol is largely post-war (as the city was almost erased from the map), with many low-rise Stalinist style buildings decorated with hammer & sickle and the company.

Sevastopol

And yes, one of the main streets is called Lenina Street (can’t beat that!), where you can also find some forgotten artifacts of the gone era, in this case a sign telling you where to find the nearest telephone booth and which number to call in case of its malfunction:

Sevastopol

A bit down the same street we spotted this amazing (later Soviet) house. I wonder if its dwellers are ok with not seeing anything from their windows for several months of the year šŸ™‚ We also visited a Greek cafe (and ate a spanakopita…), unfortunately, just before its owner shut it down and left the city.

Sevastopol

The center looks almost toy-ish, particularly when you turn your head towards the sea and see this immense harbour which features on many of my photos taken in Sevastopol:

Sevastopol

A typical semi-rotunda that can be found on many embankments in Russia – be it on a river or on the sea. In a very Stalinist style:

Sevastopol

I can almost imagine couples (a sailor and a pretty girl or a captain and a lady) strolling along the embankment and stopping once in a while to take in the view:

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

And here’s another view, of the Black sea close to where I was staying in Sevastopol:

Sevastopol

aaaand this one:

Sevastopol

This trip wouldn’t have been the same (and in many ways might not have been that easy!), had I not the help of my Erasmus Mundus times friend Daria and her happy-go-lucky clockwork dog Busya. A very welcoming home, plenty of food in a very ‘wide-Russian-soul’ way, good laughs and so many useful tips for my travels! Thank you both! šŸ™‚

Sevastopol

And now on to the poppies – the leitmotif of the Crimean spring.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

They are everywhere!

Sevastopol

Can’t squeeze in here all the ‘poppies and…’ photos I took during my journey – most of them in Sevastopol:

Sevastopol

I like this one in particular:

Sevastopol

My conclusion on Sevastopol: a big city (it sprawls considerably here and there but the center is small) with great views on the harbour and much stuff to see if you are interested in the navy and the War. It is some 80 years younger than St Petersburg and suffered a lot during the War, so probably is not that diverse from the architectural point of view. A great hub to travel to the other corners of the peninsula, though.

Sevastopol

Will tell you about the environs of Sevastopol andĀ the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Chersonesos in the upcoming posts.

Sevastopol
Crimea in May series:

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

Crimea in May: Ghost SovietĀ Sanatorium

Crimea in May: Vorontsov Palace andĀ Park

Crimea in May: Nikitsky Botanical Garden andĀ Massandra

This post goes to the Travel collection.

G.