(Ed.The last of the cruise ….. but not the blog!)
We dock in the middle of the waterfront. To one side is a Marina full of huge sleek yachts staffed by equally sleek young men and women. The owners pay the exorbitant marina dues and let their fully staffed yachts sit there most of the year until the mood takes them to venture out on the Black Sea for a few days.
On the other side of our ship is the long promenade. The beaches are shingle but already packed with sunbathers at 8am when we arrive. The Russians see very little sun during the year, and so when they do see it, they make the most of it.
Behind the beaches is an enormous fairground that stretches along the waters edge, with water slides and ferris wheels, all busy with Russian revelers. And behind all of this is the sleek modern Russian City. There is no old town, no tourist sights, nothing to do except stroll the streets. It lacks the soul of the of the Ukranian Cities we have visited. It is beautiful to look at with it’s background of lush green mountains, but there is “no there, there”
The next Morning we arrive at Yalta, which is maybe how Sochi would like to be. But Yalta is not just beautiful to look at, it is absolutely stunning. Behind the waterfront there is a narrow strip of land on which the old town sits, and immediately behind that are breathtaking mountains, the tops of which are thousands of feet high and shrouded in mist. The walls of the mountains are almost sheer rock in most places, dropping from the mountain top to the pine covered slopes below. It is a rock climbers dream, which is why, of course, Sergey lives here.
Sergey, our guide for Sevastopol is to be our guide here too. He meets us at the port in exactly the same clothes as he met us in 5 days ago. We are not sure whether they have been washed since, but his car has definitely not been. In fact an axe and a saw have now rather alarmingly joined the debris that litters the floor behind the front seats. We try not to think about the reason for them being there.
There is a lot to do and see in Yalta and its surrounds, and Sergey sets off up a winding mountainous road at an alarming pace. Finally we stop at the side of the road and Sergey informs us it is a short walk to the Massandra Palace, which we have come to see.
Sergey’s idea of a short walk is not mine, nor is his idea of a comfortable walking pace. We walk for at least a mile up a steep and narrow winding road at a pace that could induce a heart attack in a man of my age who has been on board a luxury cruise ship for almost 4 weeks. But Sergey is totally unaware of my discomfort as we approach the Palace at a fast trot, my clothes soaked in sweat and my breath coming in short gasps. Once there the first thing I see is a handful of cars in the car park. A light finally goes off in my mind. Sergey is cheap. Hence the old dirty car, the old dirty clothes, and the long walks. Sergey is avoiding paying any parking fees, despite the large amount of money we have paid to have him chauffeur us around.
But we do cover a lot of ground, seeing three Palaces, two churches and Chekov’s house, as well as having lunch overlooking the world famous Swallows Nest Castle.
Sergey meanwhile fill us in with a lot of history, interspersed with anecdotes of his rock climbing and para-gliding escapades in the beautiful mountains all around us. He is clearly happier talking about his adventure sports, but doesn’t stint on the history, even if it is seen from a completely different angle from the one we have learned.
Yalta of course is home of the Yalta conference and we visit the Lividia Palace where the famous World War Two Treaty was signed. What we had never learned in our English schooling however,was that Russia in fact won World War Two which is why Stalin could dictate terms of the Treaty.
Nor had we heard the story that while Churchill stayed in the beautiful Alupka Palace, he secretly made holes in many of the walls, and then tried to cover them up by moving pictures over them. Sergey’s story has it that Churchill was distantly related to the family who owned this Castle and so knew that many walls had been built with gaps between them. As the Revolution took a decidedly Red turn, the wealthy owner of the Palace hid a lot of gold in these gaps and this is what Churchill was looking for. Churchill was, according to Russian history, attending the Conference by day and hunting for gold at night which explains the mysterious nocturnal knockings which the staff would hear. Although no gold was ever found on Churchill’s person, it was believed that he arrived with several empty suitcases, which were full and extremely heavy when he left.
I enjoyed one other story that he told us, for no other reason than for its sheer fabulosity content. Czar Nicholas 2nd was extremely popular with the Russian People prior to World War 1 (it all changed after that, which is of course another story.) But when Czar Nicholas appeared in public, people would pay to stand in line to watch him go by . A premium price was paid to stand in the front row on the sunny side of the street, because Czar Nicholas would cast a shadow that way and the people in the front row would kneel and kiss his shadow.
Now that is sort of Fabulous.
And talking of Fabulous, you will perhaps remember the lady with the white hat who graced an earlier blog. We have since got to know her a little. Her name is Lynne and she owns an Antique Clothing Store on the Upper West Side in New York. She has become the star of the ship at least in her own mind, appearing each day in a succession of outfits, each one more glamorous than the next. She finally out did herself at dinner tonight, appearing in the outfit below which she had purchased in the Bazaar at Odessa.
She arrived at dinner with her sister in law who was more carefully dressed
in a similar outfit but designed not to overshadow her sister’s. Lynne stood at the entry to the Dining Room for some time so that her admiring public could photograph her, and have photographs taken with her. Finally, as the crowds abated, she was seated and removed the veil to eat dinner. But periodically, to keep her fans happy, she would rise from the table, replace the veil, parade round the dining room and stop at each table, greeting everyone, whether they wanted to be greeted or not.
And I thought you might like a glimpse of the man who would dare to travel with her,