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.

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: Ghost Soviet Sanatorium

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

In continuation of my post on Vorontsov Palace and Park in Alupka here is my second one in the Crimean series in which I indulge myself into one of my favourite pastimes – exploring decadent places, sometimes but not necessarily including running away from dogs.

Vorontsovsky Palace

When I was walking down to Alupka’s center from where the Sevastopol-Yalta bus dropped me off on the highway, I read a sign on the bus stop – Sanatory Solnechny (Sunny Health Resort), there was even a booth nearby which was supposed to be greeting guests. It was closed though.

Vorontsovsky Palace

On the same day I spotted this mansion with this gate and a fountain behind it. The sign however read Vkhoda Net, no entrance… There were apparently several more of such mansions around with some signs and numbers on them. I realized these were the remains of that very sanatorium. So next evening I decided to go and see if I could actually take a better look at the place.

Vorontsovsky Palace

Sanatoriums were massively introduced in the Soviet Union driven by the idea that even the sole vicinity to the sea, fresh air and sun is capable of making people healthier and more productive. For instance, the Gulf of Finland coastline is stuffed with sanatoriums and children’s camps, all meant to let the sun-deprived citizens of Leningrad benefit from the pine forests and sandy beaches.

Vorontsovsky Palace

People would get heavily discounted putevka (vouchers) to such health resorts from their work places – or from a medical organization. And although a sanatorium is now mostly considered to be a place for elderly people lazily moving from one medical procedure to another throughout the day and enjoying their dietary restricted meals (adapted to the patient’s ailment), that was a way for many people to get some rest with the benefit for their health – at least once in a while.

Vorontsovsky Palace

This sanatorium in Alupka was treating people with TB and nervous system-related health issues – with the view over the mountains, rest in the beautiful park and walks along the sea included. Sign me up! Too late though – seems like it was shut down just recently, its website merely saying that ‘the distribution of vouchers has been suspended’.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

I don’t have any blood-curdling story to go with this ghost sanatorium, there’s just this sad but seemingly inevitable fact that most of the unprofitable Soviet heritage in Crimea – as in many other places across Russia – goes wasted, abandoned, looted and burnt down.

Vorontsovsky Palace

I’ve googled this sanatorium and they say it was established in 1917 (rings a bell?) out of various nationalized mansions and dacha that were unfortunate enough to be built by rich people in Alupka before the revolution.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Little did they know back then that thousands of Soviets willing to recover from illnesses or to regain some health would flood into their leisure houses and their private rooms would be turned into common bathrooms, dining halls and massage cabinets.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Hence, this place in Alupka is double decadence – first it was abandoned by its owners and then it was (very recently) left by the people who ran the sanatorium. Some of the buildings however seem to be used as apartments (that’s where I got driven away by the dogs) – although the ‘medical service’ car parked outside manifests that those who occupy this place are probably its former employees.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Looks like the door to this mansion got a little bit … blocked:

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

This building is way below the ground:

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Now nature is taking its own back, turning these places into a sort of savage woods.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

One of the mansions got particularly unlucky as it was turned into a dump …. with a few cats really loving it there. Meanwhile, how do you find this balcony?

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Govorit Moskva…’ (This is Moscow speaking):

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

This blue house was on the ‘beach’ (there’s not one there, everything is either cemented or full of rocks), I was there in May and someone already wrote ‘Alupka Summer 2017’ in red paint on one of its sides (the hammer and sickle sign from the photo above was spotted near the ‘children’s beach’):

Vorontsovsky Palace

One of the mansions belonging to the sanatorium is just below the hotel I was staying at – it is already in a half-burnt state and the hotel’s owner has the intention to expand his premises incorporating it too. I hope at least one of them will get a proper – and delicate – facelift.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

… They say Abkhazia is the place to go if you’re interested in decadence overtaken by nature. Will go there one day.

This post goes to my Travel series.

G.