Travel Adventures in Crimea
By Polina Kryuchkova
My first travel to Crimea happened when I was seven years old and came to my aunt in Alushta. During our first visit we lived in Crimea since May till September and then came back to Kiev... Twenty years have passed, and I am still feeling great love to Crimea, its gorgeous mountains, fragrant plants and the sea. I keep visiting it again and again and discover new places each time. It's quite a budget travel when you can spend $200-400 for two weeks, get on the train in Kiev in the evening and arrive next morning at a different world with its climate, hot sun, delicious fruits and the sea...
Small towns at Crimean southern beach (Yalta, Alushta, Simeiz, Foros, Alupka) astonish me by unique tropical plants, old mysterious mountains, numerous entertainments and attractions for tourists and delicious food at national Tatar cafes... The eastern beach of Crimea (Sudak, Koktebel) attracts more paraplane jumpers, mountain climbers who prefer wild nature, divers and camp tourists. The western beach (Yevpatoria) has wild nature with planes, strong wind, peach gardens and high waves. It's the favourite place with wind surfers and divers who are not fastidious to the living conditions and can actually live in a camp and sleep on the rocks.
I actually travelled to all the Crimean beaches several times and find each of them very special and attractive. Here I am writing about the most remarkable experience I got during my travels to Crimea. It will possibly help those who plan to have rest at this peninsula and can not choose where to go to.
Kara Dag adventures (Crimea Eastern Beach)I am fond of active rest, when you do not lie on the beach all days long, but walk, discover new places and climb mountains. When I stayed at Koktebel with some friends, we decided to visit Kara Dag mountain national park. That was a courageous decision to walk 10 km in the mountains during that hot summer day, some of the friends even wanted to stay at the sea beach, but curiosity to visit Kara Dag prevailed. We took a few bottles of mineral water, went by bus to Biostation where the excursions usually begin and waited for our guide at the shadow of the trees together with other travellers...
We had around half ah hour of spare time before the beginning of excursion and in the meanwhile went to visit Crimean insects museum at Biostation. I watched the exponents with a mixture of curiosity and disgust and learned that there are no poisonous snakes in Crimea and the only dangerous insect in the mountains is Black widow. Then we began climbing rocky Kara Dag mountain following our guide who was a tall and lean suntanned man wearing large hat. He told us that Kara Dag means "Black Mountain” and it is a former volcano. During the whole way up the mountain the guide made stops and told the group about different plants, insects and small animals we saw on the way.
After a few hours of walk we saw a gorgeous panorama of the sea with Golden Gate rocks. There were grey steep rocks on the top of the mountain as well and one of the friends decided to climb the highest of them to make a photo. I already imagined all the difficulties of calling the emergency in case he falls from the rock and tried to persuade him that he had already got around 20 photos where he stands on different rocks :).
A few kilometres later we saw the sign "entrance prohibited” it was the ending point of excursion. Then the guide showed us another path down Kara Dag which led to Koktebel, but we were too curious to see the prohibited part, lagged behind the group and then went by the small path leading to the prohibited part of Kara Dag. The path was much smaller than the tourists path and we could hardly see it in the dry grass. We walked and watched large birds and the sunset, but suddenly it began to turn dark. It gets dark in the mountains very quickly that's why we decided to return to the path to Koktebel. On the way back we heard some strange loud noise on the right. The guide had told us about large animals like wild pigs which inhabit Kara Dag, so we walked cautiously and breathed with relief as we got to the wider road leading down the mountain. It was already dark and the stars shone on the sky when we got down.
New World adventures (Crimea Eastern Beach)Novy Svet or New World is a small sea village near Sudak. It is famous for its sparkling wine, Novy Svet Reserve Park, spectacular brigands' grotto, Tsar path and Golden Beach. We actually stayed at Sudak and hired a local driver to go to Novy Svet. The young driver was proud of his Mercedes and tried to impress us by the ride at 100 km/hour (where 30 is already great speed :) ) at a narrow and meandering mountain road which ended by precipice on the left. Crimean drivers always astonish me by their self assurance when they exceed speed limits by two or three times or drive on the opposite side of the road at the closed turns where they can not see, if another driver rushes out directly into their front...
So, when we got to Novy Svet, everybody took a deep breath and we went into the National Park savouring fresh figs we bought from one of the old ladies on a small market. The park impressed us by its fragrance of juniper trees, I took a few blue juniper balls because my mother asked me to bring them. We went down the rocky staircase in the cliff and looked over the hidden Bay of Brigands where they kept their treasures. That is a gloomy grotto hidden from the sea, where it is cold even in a hot sunny day... It is quite possible to imagine yourself in ancient times when the brigands could appear any time on their boats with treasures and captives... We didn't find any diamonds or golden coins :), so we went up the cliff again and began looking for the Tsar path which led down the Golden Beach.
The descent down a steep path is quite a challenge, when you have to glide on your back between smooth large rocks with dark patches left by previous visitors and sometimes hold by hands not to fall down. It was a great pleasure when we finally came to the Golden Beach and could swim in the sea.. One of the girls in our company was too tired after the descent and refused categorically to go back by climbing the same path. So we took a motor boat and went back to Sudak by the sea. I enjoy sea excursions and actually saw the whole Crimean coast from the sea, as it is possible to take such excursions at any resort town. Some of them even give you an opportunity to swim at the open sea, but you need to beware of the strong current there. We were delighted by our trip and the sea voyage brought us rest after long walk in the Novy Svet cliffs.
Tatar horse riding adventures (Crimea Eastern Beach)One of the popular tourists excursions in Crimean towns is horse riding. It is usually offered by Tatars who train horses especially for inexperienced riders. There may be rides to some beautiful place in the mountains or near the sea. It is quite possible to ride even if you get on the horse for the first time. We listened to the short instructions of our guide and took our horses...
I actually regretted that I wore sandals and short breeches and not sneakers and jeans, because I rubbed my right foot sore by the stirrup. At one of the stops near the sea one of the Tatar guides saw that and gave me his jeans :) so that I could ride. My friends were quite astonished when they saw me wearing extra large old jeans instead of light blue breeches and asked where I had been :). Next time I was more careful and wore convenient clothing and shoes for horse riding.
Ai-Petri adventures (Crimea Southern Beach)Ai-Petri is the highest mount in Crimea, it is possible to get to its top by taxi, bus or by the ropeway. There is usually a large queue to the ropeway where you can wait for hours, so we came to it early in the morning when there were only a few people. The ride in a small booth 1234 meters high is a real enjoyment
Up the mount there was strong cold wind and we took on warm clothing and looked around. When you look down Ai-Petri, you may see foggy clouds, and a great view of the Black sea and Yalta. I saw an old calm Tatar man who was selling Ai-Petri herbs and bought some herbal tea called Ai-Petri. Later that tea saved me from flue and turned out to be very delicious. There is a small Tatar village there with numerous cafes, souvenirs market and people offering various services, food and wine to tourists.
We went to visit Ai-Petri cave called Three Eyes which has eternal snow inside even in summer and learned that in the 19th century princes who lived in Crimea ordered ice from that cave to make champagne cool. Afterwards we chose one of Tatar chai-hanas (cafe) and ordered there cheese and tomato chebureki, samsa and fried vegetables. The Tatars cooked our food right in front of the cafe and brought it in very quickly. They wanted to persuade us to try their home wine for free, but we refused...
After a walk on Ai-Petri mount we decided to try go down on foot... At first we followed twisting car road, but then to make the way shorter, used forest paths. On our way we saw tall trees with large roots where a person can hide, beautiful small flowers and mountain springs... Then we lost our way and the only guiding line for us was to go down... About three hours passed and then we suddenly saw a man wearing large rucksack who asked us, "Do you know where this path leads to?” which made us laugh :). We answered that we lost our way ourselves... Later we saw small hidden houses, waterfalls and former pioneer camps which stood empty. It was a feeling that we got into a fantastic world with large trees and abandoned buildings where you can walk for hours and see nobody... Then suddenly I got an sms from my friend and that was like the connection with the civilization. Finally we got to the road and discovered that we actually were near Yalta. We had to stop there and wait till long cortege of mercedeses, ambulances and police cars with red lights on passed, that was Presidential cortege with President of Ukraine who came to visit Crimea. Our descent lasted for five hours.
Prince Vorontsov Palace and Park in Alupka (Crimea Southern Beach)It is one of the most beautiful places in Crimea located close to Yalta which I visit each time when I get to the Southern beach. You get into the atmosphere of the 19th century watching old palace in Moresque style designed by the British architect Blor of Queen Victoria. I walk quietly near the palace and the park, touch white marble lions on the palace terrace, watch white lotuses in a small pond and swans in a large pond, enjoy the views of waterfalls and grottos, put my arms round large smooth tree branches, climb the stones, lie on sunny meadows with tiny white flowers around... The park round the palace abounds in hundreds of rare tropical plants like Japanese sophora, Lebanese cedar, araucaria...
While I was constantly lagging behind my friends to take a photo of some unusual plant, they bought Crimean aroma oils like rose and orange. We learned that orange aroma oil is great to relieve fatigue after long working day, when you just put a few drops into a bath. I tried that later and it really helped :). I also liked very much small wooden souvenirs like saucers made of juniper tree which still stand in my kitchen and smell pleasantly.
Black Sea scuba diving adventures (diving in Crimea Southern Beach)After diving in Egypt I was eager to try diving in Crimea and see how the Black Sea differs from the Red Sea. I consulted a few Kiev professional scuba divers who recommended me one diving centre in Sevastopol and one diving centre in Simeiz (small town near Yalta). I arrived in Simeiz anticipating underwater adventures and went to Aquapolis diving club which belongs to PADI network. I saw a large bearded man there who looked at me suspiciously and turned out to be diving instructor Andrey :). I showed him my PADI OWD certificate and logbook and arranged a dive with him on the next day. Black Sea really surprised me by its low visibility (around 10-15 m), coldness and numerous algae, I also took less weights than in the Red Sea, because the water in the Black Sea is less salty.
During my stay I had several dives, and remembered most the dive when we hunted for rapanas and the dive into underwater grottos. Crimea abounds in rapanas which are sold everywhere as souvenirs and are cooked at cafes. Their beautiful orange shells can be used as interior or garden decorations. Rapanas are predators which eat mussels and that's why there are no restrictions for collecting them at Crimea beaches. The instructor took a large bag made of fishing net and we began collecting large rapanas at about 7 m depth. This hunt was so exciting that I even found it difficult to distract my attention from rapanas and control air. When we finished we had a bag full of rapanas, I decided to give half of them to the instructor, but he refused as he had caught plenty of them before. He told us not to overcook them and just to put into the boiling water for a minute. When they are boiled, they can be easily extracted from the shells by fork. We cooked rapana salad which was very tasty, took most beautiful shells as souvenirs to the friends and gave the rest of them to our host who was really pleased.
One day the instructor offered me to dive into underwater grottos together with another open water diver, to pay less for the rent of motor boat. It was my first experience of dive from the boat and I listened carefully to the instruction to fall back immediately after signal not to get slammed by somebody's fins :). It was funny to fall back into the water with all the equipment, keeping the head down...Then we discovered underwater large stones covered by algae, swam into the holes between them and saw grey Black sea fish. After the dive the instructor helped me into the boat and we went back...
Black Sea has many interesting dive sites like shipwrecks, but in order to see them at least PADI Advanced Open Water Diver qualification or CMAS 2 stars is necessary, because they are 25-30 meters deep. Now more and more diving centres appear all along the coast, but it is important to use only certified centres with quality equipment.
Tarhankut adventures (Crimea Western Beach)When I got the proposal to go to Tarhankut with a group of friends and live their in a tent at yoga camp, my first reaction was to refuse, because I was accustomed to better living conditions, at least, a room with hot shower and a bed :). Anyway, I decided to go and get new experience of "wild rest”. I borrowed a tent and a sleeping bag, got a list of useful things for a tourist and bought a large rucksack. Tarhankut is the name of a coast located around 130 km from Yevpatoria. The camp was situated by the sea shore at steppes, about 6 km away from the nearest small village.
We went out of car looking for the friends who had arrived before and felt hot wind and sun. The beach was covered by large grey rocks, and when I looked around, I saw only the sea, the steppes, a few tents and dusty road. No civilization at all... I went to swim into the sea and was astonished by its pure water, smooth stones and mild algae. I took a mask and fins and snorkelled there observing the bottom. Then I sunbathed on the rock and went to the sea again when it was too hot...
I decided to sleep on the rocks in the sleeping bag and not go into the tent... I lied there looking at bright stars and fell asleep soon. It is quite all right to sleep like that in summer, if there is no rain, when you wake up because the sun rises. Surprisingly, I didn't suffer from the lack of hot water. The sea was so warm and pure, that I could wash my hair there and felt like some sea fairy tale creature. I got accustomed to living in steppes so easily, that when we went into a cafe in a small village 11 km away from the camp it was a bit strange for us to see a normal WC, a tap with fresh water and a mirror! It is difficult to say whether I will go there again, but at least I understood that it is possible to live in different conditions and feel well and happy.