Ron and Susan's 2009 Black Sea Adventure travel blog

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July 30, 2009

We walk to town and make plans with a wonderful woman, owner of Eugenia Travel for hotel and car rental to the Crimea. She used to be part of the Intourist back in the communist days, and is very helpful. We then stop for lunch - my first bowl of borscht! To my surprise, it is delicious!!! It is served with a soft white bread called pampushky, which is served wit garlic oil for dipping. Really yummy!! But the funniest thing happened while we were having lunch. Our table was outside, but under some sort of roof. Then the rains came fast and furious, and we had to open our umbrellas – their overhead protection wasn’t so good after all!! We all had a good laugh! Then walk back to boats, and pack for our 4-day trip to the Crimea, and Yalta.

July 31, 2009 – August 3, 2009

Trip to the Crimea Penisula

Loaded up into our Skoda (A Czechoslovakia built car) and hit the road about 0900. Turns out there is not much to see between Odessa and Yalta, but miles and miles of farmland. As far as you can see, fields of sunflowers, wheat and corn stretch out. Not like in the Midwest where you see farm houses and barns scattered about, just fields and fields and fields, no farm houses or barns. Guess it’s from the communist days when no one owned property. Anyway we watched the tractors and combines working the fields. This area is called the Steppes of Ukraine. It would have been a boring 9 hour trip were it not for the crazy drivers here. And the extremely poor condition of the roads – pot holes aplenty!! Many trucks, and the locals (many in their SUVs) passing in dangerous situations. We stopped at a roadside café for another bowl of borscht!! Arrived in Yalta and began searching for our hotel. What makes this especially difficult is the alphabet. Ukrainian uses the cyrillic alphabet (we use the Roman), so not only can we not speak the language, we can’t even read the letters.!! Took maybe an hour to find the hotel. We are all tired so we just go downstairs for a delicious pizza and turn in for the night.

We enjoy a sumptuous breakfast buffet, including smoked salmon and freshly made nalysnyky, Ukrainian crepes. Very tasty. Around Yalta are several palaces built for former leaders of the country, and we set out to tour them. The best and most important is Livadia Palace, famous as the site of the Yalta conference in 1945, where Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin sat down together. It was also home to Russian Tzar Nicholas II in early 1900’s before he and his family were arrested and executed in 1917. Very heady stuff.

We have another bowl of borscht for lunch at the Livadia Palace café. We are hooked!!

We have dinner at a kebab restaurant on Lenin Square, right at the harbor. And at the center of this big open square is of course a huge statue of Lenin. On this night a band has set up chairs and is entertaining the crowds, some even dancing!!

Sunday morning, after another great breakfast, we drive along the coast to Sevastopol, home port of the Russian Black Sea Fleet (only until 2017). We happened to be here during the weeklong Naval celebration. Many families were wandering about (just like us) enjoying the many wartime memorials. We ate lunch next to a group of sailors clearly having a reunion of sorts (like my Dad’s reunions of the USS Yancey). Some of the Russian ships were even underway. We visited an absolutely wonderful panorama depicting the crucial battle during the 349 day siege of Sevastopol in 1854 during the Crimean War.

Ate lunch at a waterside outdoor cafe of salad and “plov” (casserole of rice, beef and vegetables). Drove to Balaklava and walked around the tunnels which were the former home of the secret Soviet nuclear submarine factory. It was really cold under the rock, and we saw where subs came in and got worked on. Saw the nuclear blast proof doors, and the various work rooms, mess rooms and arsenal storage areas. We joked about seeing “Red October”. This town is also famous for the balaklava, the ski mask. During the Crimean Was (1854), British women knitted these full cover wooly caps – called balaklava - to help keep their men from freezing. How ‘bout that, you ski buffs!!

On Monday morning, we head north over the mountain pass. Once again, gorgeous vistas from this switch back mountain road. Al meets the challenges of the road beautifully. We stop at Bakhchysaray to tour Khan’s Palace, where we see the Fountain of Tears, built for the Khan for a lost lover. It is memorialized in the poem by Alexander Pushkin “The Bakhchyaray Fountain (1823) for you poetry lovers. Stop for lunch at roadside cafe and enjoy “lagman”, a hearty beef and noodle stew.

On the drive back to Odessa, we are stopped by the police twice: once for crossing a solid white line while passing, and the other for not merging properly into the fast lane. Mind you crazies are passing us all the time in very dangerous situations. In the case of the merge, we were doing a U-turn at an approved place. The highways here are constructed with an extra lane at intersections to allow u-turns from the left lane, and when you turn you are in a very short merge lane before you merge into the other fast lane. It’s bizarre. Anyway, we didn’t stay in the merge lane long enough to suit the cops, so they pulled us over. Turns out a little cash, and we were on our way. But this was quite a scam. They were pulling cars over one right after the other. We manage our way back into Odessa and our boats. Once again the challenges of reading signs and not speaking the language make it difficult, but “Al knows” – ha ha ha

Tuesday is a day of clean up, wash clothes, and walk to market. Our good friends will be departing on Wednesday, returning to the states for their son’s wedding. So we share a final happy hour, and many toasts. We will miss them.

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