Our next stop is Sevastopol, which is pronounced with the emphasis on the last two syllables, making it sound like a Russian Jew closely related to the Fiddler on the Roof. Finding a rental car on the Internet had been impossible, and so we had booked a guide to drive us to the places we wanted to see. I found Sergey on the Internet and he was friendly, helpful in his emails and inexpensive in his price. He meets us as planned beneath an imposing statue in the town square. He however is not imposing and is in stark contrast to the guide we had in Istanbul. Sergey is 30 years old and, as he had described himself in an email, “not tall”. We would say he is positively short. He is dressed as if for hiking, with a large and very grubby rucksack on his back, which looks as if it contains enough supplies for a week’s camping. I am a little concerned as hiking and camping are not anything I care to do and certainly do not register on my Fabulosity Meter. His hair is cut in a sort of mullet and I am sure he is about to address me as “Dude”
He walks us over to his car, and while it was made in the same country as the sleek black Mercedes of the Istanbul guide, it is the only similarity. This is an Opel of indeterminate age and color. The outside is not particularly clean but does little to prepare us for the inside, which is truly grimy. The seats are dirty, the floor is littered with trash and all the door pockets are full of wrappers and empty water bottles. The only thing that persuades us to get into this vehicle is Sergey himself, who has an open friendly face and is full of easy charm. You can’t tell a guide by his car, we optimistically think.
We expect his driver to appear at any minute, but soon realise that Sergey is both guide and driver, which means the guide part of him goes into seclusion while the driver part negotiates rush hour traffic in Sevastopol. What we do learn from him however, is that he is an adventure guide in real life, taking people trekking, climbing, skiing, and mountaineering. Being a tour guide is something he does to fill in the spaces between between all the good stuff. We appreciate his honesty and it certainly explains a lot, but we would like to suggest that some of his “filling in the spaces” could have been spent cleaning the car. He goes on to say that he doesn’t own a TV, and knows nothing of Pop Culture or movies . He is however well read and full of insights into the history of his country and its split with Russia. He is also a qualified tour guide and knows his stuff. The adventure sports side of his business also means that he is intimately familiar with all the back roads, and instead of using the main roads, he takes us everywhere on minor roads through some stunning scenery . We have a fascinating day with him, and end up being rather impressed with our choice of guide. We are also delighted by the Ukraine.
First the city of Odessa dazzles us and now we discover that the countryside is equally as impressive.
Part of our scenery trip includes the famed Charge of the Light Brigade valley. Once you see it you wonder what WERE they thinking?”
Sergey covers a lot of ground in a few hours, mainly because whenever we stop at a site, he force marches us at an incredible pace. At one point we stop to see a hillside monastery, and he parks at the bottom of a steep road and begins to march up it to the monastery. It is mid day and the sun is beating down on us, and I am winded. To my surprise, cars start passing us on the road and so I ask Sergey why we are walking up the hill. He just stares at me as if he is unable to comprehend the question. “Well its so much nicer than driving to the top” he explains. That is most definitely an opinion that I do not share.
I had read about a larger monastery, but Sergey thought this one was better, and he is right. The larger monastery is packed, but this one is completely off the tourist map, and we were the only people there. It has two chapels each with its own altar. The smaller chapel is very roughly hewn out of the rock. There is an elderly resident Nun there who explains that it is thought the rough hewn altar was built early in the first century and was actually visited by St Andrew. When I tell her that my name is Andrew, she is delighted, and presents me with a small picture of the Monastery. It is very moving
The other highlight is equally as impressive, but in a totally different way. This is a top secret Russian nuclear submarine base and dry dock, tunneled deep in to a mountain side and unknown to the world until the 1980’s:
A fascinating day, and we are already looking forward to seeing Sergey again. We return to the Ukraine in a few days, this time to Yalta, which is Sergey’s home town, and he has agreed to show us round there too.
Our Fabulosity Meter, which has been humming along quite unexpectedly throughout our two days in the Ukraine, suddenly bursts into renewed life when we return to the ship. A small embossed envelope has been pushed under our door and inside is a beautifully engraved invitation to join the Destinations Manager and the Concierge for dinner in three nights time.
The Destinations Officer is a delightful Brazilian woman with whom we have had several amusing conversations. She is responsible for all the organised daily tours put on by the Cruise Line, and considering we haven’t taken one of them during the last two cruises, we are surprised and pleased to receive her invitation. The Purser is a charming and dashingly handsome Spanish man who has just joined the ship, and is an old friend of the Destinations Officer. She has told him we are the most fun people on board (hardly surprising considering the lack of competition) and suggested we all have dinner. Ding Ding Ding went the Fabulosity Meter