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: 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: Nikitsky Botanical Garden and Massandra

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

Crimea is this piece of land on the crossroads of so many nations and so many cultures. Below the general Soviet heritage that normally overlays every other historical layer on the post-Soviet territory (being the most recent – and a very distinct – one), there are Greeks, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Tatars, Turks, Goths, Scythians, Mongols and others who left their traces on this land. What unites them is the wonderful nature of Crimea, which in its turn is pretty diverse: steppe, mountains and sea!

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

I didn’t see the steppe part of Crimea but I did cover the mountains and the sea. To further explore the Crimean nature, I went to one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe (est. 1812) – Nikitsky Botanical Garden near Yalta. On that day I left my super comfortable accommodation in Alupka and went straight to the Yalta bus station where I got on a local bus that took me to the Garden.

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

At this point in my Crimean adventures I was thoroughly enjoying the nature – more than anything else. So much so that I didn’t really mind the poor service or sometimes total absence of pedestrian paths etc etc. I was in the tune with the luscious spring, the scope of which we can hardly enjoy even in July here in St Petersburg (this year in particular). However, I didn’t stop marveling at all the architectural gems of all kinds, as they are really many in Crimea.

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

One of the first non-natural things I spotted when I entered the gates of Nikitsky Botanical Garden was this sort of a wall commemorating the 30 years of the October Revolution in a very minimalist way (2 years after the war had ended).

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

There was another very Soviet architectural must in most of the parks (particularly in the South) – this open air theater in the Stalin’s neo-classical style. It was one of the locations of the now cult 1980s movie Assa, by the way:

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

I liked this house too. Can you see it? šŸ™‚

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

Gosh, was it hot on that day… After I – as usual – stubbornly covered several kilometers in a wrong direction (the Garden is 11 sq. km) from where I was evicted by a snake (!), I kept to the well-established paths and alleys.

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

There was so much sun my photos of the Botanical Garden are pretty bleak. Like this one with the previously visited Ai-Petri mountain:

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

I spent some time reading the signposts with the names of irises – parterres after parterres: Stop the Music, Stairway to Heaven and what not. I wonder how they pick the names! There were also roses, rows of palm trees, other amazing trees, bamboo groves and cats. Eleven (!) hectares of plants many of which have been introduced by the Nikitsky Botanical Garden research center.

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

And here’s another cat – in the nearby Massandra estate.

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

A tough touch of decadence:

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

Formerly one of the residences of Alexander III and Nicholas II, later a sanatorium for patients with TB amazingly called Proletarskoye Zdorovye (Proletarian Health), consequently one of Stalin’s (later Khrushchev’s and Brezhnev’s) dachas, Massandra is now a museum (I didn’t go inside).

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

Spot the cat:

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

Here I was completely transported to France, most definitely to the Loire region – and that was probably what the architect (or rather his client) wanted, choosing the Louis XIII style for this jewel of a palace.

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

No need to go to France, folks!

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

Its back facade looks even more Loire-ish, with its thin tubular towers. They say inside there’s some built-in mahogany furniture left over from the original owners (something is telling me not everything survived the sick proletarians :). Meanwhile, I enjoyed the wooden doors from the outside:

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

I’ve always wondered why they put vykhod (exit) signs on the other side of the door (besides, this sign looks pretty old – thanks god no one dares screw in a sign on such a great door now).

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

Add toad sounds here:

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

Zooming in – oh those lilacs!:

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

How to get there:

Nikitsky Botanical Garden can be reached by a bus that circulates from the Yalta bus station to Nikita, the settlement where the Garden is situated. It stops at the gates to the Garden, you won’t miss it. I got to Massandra on the same bus (just a few stops away) – moving from Nikitsky Botanical Garden back to Yalta but the other way round is of course also possible. Expect to walk from the road up to the estate, though.

Coming up: Sevastopol and its environs.

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

This post goes to the Travel collection.

G.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

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

Vorontsovsky Palace

This is how it looked on the day I arrived in Alupka, on the Southern coast of Crimea – the Ai-Petri mountain perfectly vivid and shining under the sun. Next morning the top of the mountain was obscured by clouds (mist) which should have told me that the weather up there would be a little bit cold but… I didn’t even pay attention to that, it was so sunny down there. And that’s how the Ai-Petri and other adventures began that day.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

The cable road in Miskhor leading to the over 1200 m high Ai-Petri mountain is just a short walk away from the Vorontsov Palace, so there I went and very soon found myself and three other tourists (two of them from St Petersburg) on our way to the top in… a motor car and not a cable car šŸ™‚ That’s one of the ways to gain money for the local men who take the tourists up to the mountain in a car with a few stops here and there for the price of a ride on the cable road.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Our first stop was at the Uchan-su waterfall (from the Tatar ‘flying water’ – which it is, falling from such a height it makes your head tired from looking up) on the Southern slope of the Ai-Petri mountain, where the guarding ladies (with a cat) will let you in once you pay a 50 ruble entrance fee (I immediately recalled The Twelve Chairs by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov – how the extremely resourceful main character was collecting unsanctioned entrance fee so that the Proval or Fall, a cavern with a lake in the Caucasus, would not… fall).

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Already at the waterfalls did we start to feel some kind of a chill – it was gradually getting colder the closer we we getting to the top of the mountain. Meanwhile, our resourceful driver drove us up to the next stop – at the rotunda overlooking Yalta the access to which is supposed to be forbidden but apparently not so at all in the absence of the guardians. I know I know, I took innumerable photos of the views which cannot render even a tiny bit of what you feel when you are there yourself…

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Then we drove more along the narrow (to say the least) serpentine road up the mountain, listening to all the legends our driver was eager to share. After some more stops we got off the car just before reaching the cable road station to see some tiny white and yellow flowers and… this:

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

No, that was not cotton-wool used as fake snow in the old Christmas decorations. I cannot say we were not at all surprised to see this in May but… Given how cold it was up there, it was easier for us to believe that was real snow! And if you stay on that cliff open to all winds and biting cold long enough, you become as crooked as this tree!

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Oh that colour! My mind though…, well, it was quite frozen by the time we arrived at the top of Ai-Petri, so I can now barely recall the sensation. But I remember that looking down there I had only one idea in my head – there it should be sunny and warm, no more mist, no more strong wind!

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

In fact I got so cold and also instantaneously tired from the nauseatingly persistently offered service (grilled meat, ponies, excursions, whatever you like – how do they all survive up there?!) that I jumped into the first cable car available. They say in winter when the roads are covered with snow, the cable car is the only means to get provision to those who live on the mountain. Brrr! We made it back to the station with a stopover somewhere in the middle where you change cars in 15 minutes against about a 2 h ride up there. ‘Flying’ over the vineyards:

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

When I got out of the cable car and started defrosting a little bit, I headed towards the bus station at the entrance to the Vorontsov park and got on the marshrutka (a commercial bus) that goes in the direction of Yalta. My target was the Swallow’s Nest, one of the symbols of Crimea. First, you get rid of all the souvenir shops greeting you at the bus stop, then you walk many steps towards the castle and then you see this:

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Everyone’s there for the iconic view (there’s also another one from the sea if you take a boat) of this fairy-tale castle that sits on the cliff and seems to be sailing to the horizon. They say it looks like Miramare Castle in Trieste but most certainly it resembles a toy, a miniature castle, even when you get there and stand close to its entrance. The Castle is hanging there for over a century, originally built for the riches it was then abandoned because it started falling into the sea. It was under construction when I was there in May.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Done with the castle, I hopped on the bus which took me to another must of the Southern coast of Crimea – Livadia Palace, the one where they held the Yalta Conference in 1945. While Churchill was hanging out in the Vorontsov Palace, the President of the US was stationed here in Livadia, the former Nicholas II summer residence. Well, one of them.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

I have to say I was much less impressed by Livadia Palace and I decided not to wait for the excursion group. Built round the same time as the Swallow’s Nest, this rather squarish palace seems a bit too… square. However, the park was beautiful as well as the view towards Yalta and over the sea.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Spring in Crimea is gorgeously luscious:

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Much as I enjoyed the nature (there’s this Tsar’s or Sunny Path that runs through many palaces and parks which I would love to take in the future) I was too tired to continue my trip along the coastĀ  and got back to Alupka where in the evening I however found some strength and attention to explore a ghost sanatorium.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

How to get there: I suggest to give in to the promises of the drivers (you will find many of them at the Miskhor cable car from about 10 am) and go up the Ai-Petri mountain in a car and then descend using the cable car. If starting from Yalta, take a marshrutka from the bus station towards Alupka and ask the driver to stop at the kanatka (cable car). If you wish to visit only the Castle and the Palace, the same bus will take you to Livadia (you will have to walk from the stop to the palace), and then you can proceed to the Swallow’s Nest taking any bus going in the same direction. These local buses make numerous stops at sanatoriums, hotels and other places so your journey might take some time. However, I managed to squeeze in these three musts in about 6-7 hours starting from Alupka.

Will continue my Crimean adventures soon, there’s so much I’ve seen and looking through the photos I realize there’s so much I have seen but haven’t really noticed!

This post goes to the Travel collection.

G.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Crimea in May: Vorontsov Palace and Park

Vorontsovsky Palace

Crimea has mesmerized me. It is so multifaceted, it’s so sincere and so yet-to-be-discovered. I’ve definitely had the most enjoyable days of spring 2017 in Crimea when I took a short break and dedicated it to my favourite lifestyle – on the road.

Vorontsovsky Palace

Crimea is unique and yet I found there so many things you would typically admire in so many places in Europe – since I had never been to any of the ex-Soviet Black Sea regions / states before (the southernmost I had travelled in the post-Soviet territory was Samara on Volga), the only points of references for me were Italy, France, Greece… And all of them I could find in Crimea.

Vorontsovsky Palace

The unrivaled beauty of its nature, the simplicity of life and the decadent notes (not to say atmosphere) of a lost Soviet empire (plus cats everywhere :)) all make Crimea a perfect place for me. Except for their dairy products and bread, they do have to work on these two in order to win my heart and respect 100%.

Vorontsovsky Palace

I was travelling alone, without a car and huge budgets, I felt safe and could get almost everywhere using the local transport. People were open and eager to help – and if you avoid high season and ridiculously touristic places, you will get the most out of your Crimean adventures.

Vorontsovsky Palace

Just try not to have high expectations in terms of service and infrastructure, give Crimeans some more time to get over this tricky period and adjust to the demands of a different category of tourists who are no longer satisfied with the Soviet standards. Yet another tip: use bigger cities like Sevastopol, Simferopol and even Yalta as transport hubs and places of cultural interest (rich and important museums are there) but keep to smaller places where there’s a bigger chance of finding the authenticity well preserved – unless not the best specimens of typicized Soviet architecture is what you are looking for.

Vorontsovsky Palace

Although I spent my first day (that was Russian National holiday, Victory day on the 9th of May) in Sevastopol where I met my friend from the Erasmus Mundus times, I’d like to start from Alupka on the Southern side of the Crimean Peninsula. I’ve only been to a fraction of the peninsula (and probably the most touristy one as well – the YuBK or the Southern Coast) but every day I spent there was packed with impressions and could easily make for a separate post. This one will be dedicated to Vorontsov Palace and Park in Alupka (aka Vorontsovsky Palace), a place well known as aĀ  setting for various popular Soviet films.

Vorontsovsky Palace

(insert toad sounds here)

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

I’ve been to several parks in Crimea but I liked this one the most. I would just live there, I don’t need the palace, a shed would suffice with such a natural (and horticultural) beauty around you.

Vorontsovsky Palace

The park is huge and there’s no need to hurry up: take your time while you wander along its wonderful sunlit parterres and shadowy paths winding around stones and brooks.

Vorontsovsky Palace

The park was designed by a German while the palace was created by an Englishman (who also finished off a certain Buckingham Palace, they say).

Vorontsovsky Palace

Later, a certain Sir Winston Churchill stayed here during the Yalta conference. I visited the Palace on my first day in Alupka and quite liked it – probably more so from the inside than from the outside as it represents such a mixture of various styles that you cannot really make head or tail out of it.

Vorontsovsky Palace

The palace is worth visiting (there are audio guides available at the entrance which are included in the ticket price). There are castle-like rooms richly decorated with oak panels and almost Hermitage-like parlours with the view to the sea.

Vorontsovsky Palace

Two parts of the building are connected by a winter garden with marble statues and exotic plants. The gallery leads to this enormous dining room with a mantelpiece and some eastern motifs corresponding to the palace’s (other) Moorish facade.

Vorontsovsky Palace

You can spot this other facade in the photo below. This lion and the roses actually reminded me of a similar ‘composition’ in Pavlovsk where we went today.

Vorontsovsky Palace

That view though… the Black Sea at its best!

Vorontsovsky Palace

A delicate open gallery which got me occupied for a while. It is conveniently located in the shade of the palace, close to the exit to the park.

Vorontsovsky Palace

The 40 ha park occupies half the town or so it seems, especially to those who come to Alupka only to visit the palace. I would however suggest taking a stroll to the left (facing the sea) and there along the coast you will find the so called Rock of Aivazovsky (the marine painter born in Crimea) from which there’s a great view towards Yalta and over the majestic Ai-Petri mountain. I wish I could live in that gorgeous place…

Vorontsovsky Palace

Alupka doesn’t really attract you as a town in itself, though (apart from the park and the palace) there are several places – wonderfully decadent – that I will tell you about a bit later (I hope).

Vorontsovsky Palace

In the evening after the sunset I took a stroll along the sea shore (no way you can swim there, it’s all concrete including the so called Children’s Beach) and inevitably (and with great pleasure) made my way up to the hotel through the garden taking yet another glimpse of that beautiful tree growing (hugging) the tower gate of the palace:

Vorontsovsky Palace

The place where I stayed in Alupka for 2 nights was reasonably priced and untypically tasteful, well-equipped and looked after for the Russian standards (not mentioning Crimean) – it’s called Chetyre Sezona or Four Seasons. I witnessed one family coming back to this place after they got really dissatisfied by merely seeing their next hotel on their route.

Vorontsovsky Palace

How to get there:

I took an inter-city bus (about 1.5 h) that goes from Sevastopol bus station to Yalta and asked the driver to stop in Alupka. Well, technically, you will get off at a highway that goes above the town, so you’ll have to walk down to the sea and then to the left. Another way is to ride all the way to Yalta and take a marshrutka (a small commercial bus) which will take you to the Vorontsov Park straight away using a local (lower) road. Everywhere you go in Crimea there are marshrutka buses with many stops along their way which makes it quite handy if you travel around without a car and would like to save on taxis (which will cost about 10 times more).

Can’t believe I’ve eventually started my Crimean posts!

This post goes to the ‘Russia’ section in the Travel collection.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Dunino, Zvenigorod and Moscow

Moscow

This time Moscow has shown to me its private side. First, though, we had to ride next to the outrageously high fences rising along the posh Rublevskoye highway where all those who have money and an urge to make everyone know about it have their dacha or home.

Moscow
And then all of a sudden you get to this tiny road with low fences, out-of-use phone booths and cars growing into the soil. By the way, the spot with the phone booth out-of-use and a new one in-use, seems to be also the one either with a better mobile reception or with too many phone-calling memories attached as we spotted 2 people simultaneously talking on their phones right there.

Moscow

But we were actually after the place where one of my favourite personalities of the 20th century lived, the Russian writer Mikhail Prishvin. He bought a house here in Dunino in Podmoskovye (the Moscow region) after the war and settled here with his wife and dog(s).

Moscow

Here, who would believe this is the same Moscow river as that wide highway running through the capital, near the Red Square and the Stalin’s skyscrapers?

Moscow

Life is so calm and unpretentious in Dunino. It’s obvious why Prishvin with his love for nature and simple life would move here and come to Moscow only when his car would break down šŸ™‚

Moscow

Mikhail Prishvin lived here with his second wife who was his real soulmate, although 26 years younger than him. They found each other when Prishvin was 67, just before the war. This cozy house is just impregnated with the love they shared.

Moscow

I’ve been reading his diaries recently, not in the chronological order though. I started with the torturous 1930-31 and now moved on to the after-war 1948-49.

Moscow

Reading his daily musings and piercing thoughts about his country, about life and just about everything, makes you understand the very truth of his saying that for every line of his diary he could as well have got 10 years of execution.

Moscow

The house and the garden with beehives and many trees are very peaceful and as if waiting for their master to come back from the usual hours-long walks in the forest.

Moscow

Best-known in Russia for his short stories about nature and animals (and thus mostly read only in childhood), Prishvin as a writer, as a thinker, as a skillful photographer, was so very beyond this ‘tagline’ that persists today. Just read his Ginseng novel: yes, it’s so very romantic and out-of-place (written in the early 1930s and published in 1933 when the country was preoccupied with very different things like labour camps etc) but so very poignant, so philosophical (in a good way).

Moscow

I’m glad that writing a master’s thesis on this very novel did not ruin my love to the writer. I’m still discovering the treasure he left behind him, reading his diaries as real revelations of the era. Prishvin outlived Stalin for just 1 year but considering the things he dared to think and write down (though without publishing of course, his diaries only came to the public in the 1990s), he was way too lucky.

Moscow

Our next stop was in Zvenigorod where Prishvin used to walk sometimes. Under torrents of rain we ran into the Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery which houses a local museum as well as executing its original functions.

Moscow

This monastery founded in the 14th century was pretty famous and quite rich in the old days. Now it looks a bit shabby but obviously gets its fair share of tourists and pilgrims who willingly buy bread (each of the items seems to be called Monastery-soemthing) and kvas.

Moscow

We spent quite a bit of time at the bread store but we also visited the museum which is divided into several section. With every new section we entered, the weather would change to the better. When we went out of the last one, the sun came out and the rain stopped.

Moscow

The sun finally opened my eyes to the surroundings and I regained interest in taking photos and in general looking out of my hood šŸ™‚

Moscow

The spring always comes to Moscow earlier than to St Petersburg which is always lagging behind. My eyes were happy to see some bright green colors:

Moscow

By the time we went into the bread store and the cafe, it was all very fine. But when we were sitting in the cafe…

Moscow

The rain started again – this time it was recklessly pouring onto the surrounding hills and fields regardless of the shining sun. Here’s how it was:

Moscow

Our last stop before returning to Moscow was an old church hidden somewhere off the busy roads. It was unfortunately all covered in scaffolding so I took a photo of this small house instead. The street is called Gorodok, which is a diminutive of a city or town.

Moscow

Next morning we went to the recently-opened Museum of Russian Impressionism (yes, it does exist!) where we recharged our batteries with sun-lit paintings some of which were from Armenia (and were really good). After that we went to see one of the atypical places in the enormous capital, Sokol or the settlement (village) of artists.

Moscow

Rising up in the background of this photo is a nearby residential house and it’s a tricky question what seems to be more out of place: this high-rise monster or this village with tiny wooden houses? Although they say it is much more expensive to buy any of these houses than a pretty posh apartment in the center.

Moscow

The history of this unexpected village planted right in the middle of a ‘normal’ high-rise Moscow district is quite recent: it began in 1923 when the ideas of a garden city were in the air (including St Petersburg, then Leningrad) and so a community of artists, scientists and other intelligentsia were granted the right to use the land. The streets of this village are named after famous Russian artists, although they say not many artists live here now. It still preserves an atmosphere of an ordered village but the ever-present fences do not allow you to see many of the houses.

Moscow

We left the district on this bright blue tram. Seems so out-of-place in a more-than-busy capital like Moscow, doesn’t it? And yet the line crosses streets and parks and many people do still prefer this means of transport as it takes them to those hidden places where people actually live.

I really enjoyed this private side of Moscow!

This post goes to the Travel series where you can find more posts on Moscow under ‘Russia’.

G.