A Visit to the Crimea
Written by VICTORIA VARVARIV MARKOWICZ, PhD
One long weekend in May, my family, childhood friend and I decided to travel with Wizz Air to Simferopol on the Crimean Peninsula. After about a one hour flight, we arrived early on a Friday morning in Simferopol, where we had reserved a rental car at the airport. It then took us almost two hours to drive to Yalta, a “hot spot” on the Black Sea Coast. The adjoining area to Yalta is covered with cypress and juniper trees and vineyards. There are very high silvery blue cliffs rising behind this lovely coastline. Although we chose to hire a car so that we could explore quite a lot on our own, there is a minibus (marshrutka) or taxi available to travel from the airport to Yalta.
My husband had reserved a two bedroom apartment in downtown Yalta which was a five minute walk to the Embankment or Esplanade (beach front promenade pedestrian walk). This is Yalta’s main street. From here you can see cruise liners in the seaport, an ancient lighthouse and various private yachts. There are ferries that you can take on various excursions. It was from here that we took such a boat to visit The Swallow’s Nest. Although it looks medieval in style, this beautiful miniature castle was built in 1912 for German oil magnate Baron Steingel as a present to his mistress. This tiny “castle,” which now houses a restaurant is perched on a steep cliff, ten kilometers west of Yalta.
That Friday evening, we had dinner at Khutorok Lya Mer (there is a Khutorok Restaurant in Kyiv, too, on the Dnipro River). We ate on the seaside back terrace - a lovely, although very windy, spot that evening. This restaurant is designed to look like the interior of a ship.
Saturday, we drove to Livadia – this is the site of the 1945 Yalta Conference, where Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin carved up postwar Europe. Historians have said that in Livadia’s enormous White Hall, the “Big Three” and their staff met and gave the USSR the biggest influence in Eastern Europe. The documents, which also divided Germany and ceded parts of Poland to the USSR, were signed on the 11th of February in the English billiard room. Livadia Palace, built in 1911 in the Italian Renaissance style, was a summer residence of the last Russian Emperor Nicholas II and his family.
Livadia’s coastal gardens are very beautiful and a seven kilometer path (Suny Path – Solnechnaya Tropa) leads to the lovely Swallow’s Nest castle mentioned above. Immediately to the right of the beginning of this path is the Romanov family chapel. The day of our visit, there were several christenings being performed. After a delicious lunch at an outdoor terrace garden café, we drove on to another palace in Alupka.
The palace in Alupka was designed by English architects for the English educated Count Mikhail Vorontsov. It is an unusual combination of a Scottish castle and an Arabic/Asian/Indian fantasy. Vorontsov built this palace and park from 1828-1846, and a century later, Winston Churchill stayed there during the 1945 Yalta Conference. In this palace is an imitation Wedgewood “blue room,” an English-style dining room, and an indoor conservatory with a lot of tropical plants. There is a wine tasting center nearby (Massandra). Crimean wines are famous for being somewhat sweet, as dessert wines. That evening when we returned to the center of Yalta, we dined in the Yalta Bay on the Golden Fleece Restaurant – it looks like a large ship on pedestals. We had a nice outdoor table with live music playing throughout the time of our dinner.
On our last full day (Sunday) in Yalta, we started off with a brisk stroll through the Nikitsky Botanic Gardens which houses up to 28,000 species including an olive tree grove, roses, cacti and temporary exhibits. We were lucky enough to see dozens of various irises in full boom.
Next we went to the charming seaside town of Gurzuf where we visited Chekhov’s dacha, which is now a museum sitting on a steep cliff. We lunched in a wonderful Crimean-Tartar restaurant called Meraba. The view was breathtaking, and the food excellent. After lunch, we visited the lovely park Polyna Skazok (Field of Tales). It is full of fantastic, hand carved wooden folk figures from folk tales. Both Ukrainian/Russian and European language guides are available for guided tours. We visited on our own. Next door to this park (same parking lot) is the Crimean Zoo. We were surprised to see a large panel of photos at its entrance showing those animal friends who “have left us” (deceased).
We did not visit the zoo. It was time to go back to our apartment and enjoy our last dinner on the Embankment. We chose a local café, eating delicious kebabs and watching people stroll by. Beginning on Friday evening and lasting throughout the weekend including this Sunday evening, we noted that there was live music being played at the widest part of the Embankment. Here couples of all ages danced to the music as if they were visiting a large dance hall. This was very entertaining to watch.
Early Monday morning, we admired the sunrise as we drove our rental car back to Simferopol and returned to Kyiv, again with Wizz Air. No sooner in the air, my husband, daughter and I were already looking forward to our next trip to the Crimea!