Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Sunday, October 27, 2013 02:33:51|
BLACK SEA, SUDANS, ETHIOPIA 2013: 4 - Yalta, Sevastopol, Odessa Ukraine
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
What a change in immigration policy! Here there was none, we didn't see a single official going to or from the ship at any port in the Ukraine, passports were never checked. At the entrance to the part was a 15 seat van with a lady, Natasha, selling tours on it for less than half the ship's price, so we signed on. It was a good move - there was a good group and she was great.
Yalta is a pretty city of 175,000 people, with more than half of them Russians, a bit of a sore point with the Ukrainians. The city swells by 2,000,000 people, mostly Russians, in the summer months as they flock here for the beaches and the health spas. Tourism is the main source of revenue.
Over time palaces have been built by many prominent people, including Czar Alexander III and Czar Nicholas II. We visited the palace of Nicholas II, Livadia, which is where the conference was held between Stalin, President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill on dividing up Europe near the end of WWII. We also saw exclusive subdivisions for the new rich of Russia, with huge mansions they use only for vacations. A castle called Swallow's Nest, perched precariously on the lip of a cliff, was on the agenda, but only as a photo op. We left the tour at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a new church built in the style of the traditional Orthodox cathedrals. It look big from the outside but inside was quite small.
>From there we walked down narrow, shop lined streets to the Lenin Embankment, a wide promenade along the length of the waterfront. Of course, shopping was part of the walk, and Marilynn was once again able to find things she liked.
We had a gourmet restaurant recommended to us, where we enjoyed another fabulous meal of Crimean food accompanied by a great bottle of local wine. My rack of lamb Crimea style was amazing. We then walk off lunch on the embankment to Lenin Square, where one of the surviving huge Lenin statues stares out to sea. Natachas said they would have replaced the statue as they have in most of the rest of Russia, but that they haven't had a decent leader since to replace him with!
We found a taxi driver who spoke a little English and hired him to take us to the Massandra Palace, which was the abode of Czar Alexander III. It was furnished, but in comparison to palaces we have seen elsewhere was a miniature. We rented an English language self guide recorder, but it went into such great detail that we'd been through the whole palace before it finished the spiel on the first room. The place was full of cats, and we eventually fled as my allergies where kicking in big time. We've seen few dogs in Yalta, but a lot of cats.
The next stop was the winery, but their tours were expensive and only in Russian, so that was a bit of a wasted effort. It was not even possible to sample wines with a thought to buying. We had the driver stop at a mini-market on the way back to the ship to buy a case of water, and once again the whole 12 bottle came in only slightly above the price of one bottle on board.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
We woke up in Sevastopol this morning, a pleasant port city of about 345,000 founded by Catherine the Great in 1783. We'd expected it to be dirtier, as it has been the main base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet for many years, but the naval base is well away from the old, principal part of the city, which is well maintained and has many beautiful buildings. The use of columns in building we definitely the trend! The Russians still lease the base at a huge price, but are gradually moving operations to other Russian Black Sea ports. The locals are fearful they may move out all together, causing a great deal of unemployment.
The area was originally inhabited by the Greek colony of Chersonesos, then was part of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. At the end of the 18th century it was conquered by the Russians.
The same driver and van we had yesterday in Yalta made the one hour drive to pick us up today. They are not permitted to work here, so we had to find them outside the port gates - there was some hostility from local guides trying to get passengers. Everyone who said they were coming yesterday showed up, plus a couple of others, so 12 of us made it worth their while.
We drove quite a distance from town to see the former secret Soviet submarine base at Balaklava, which was the site of a British base for many years before WW2. The city of Balaklava has been merged administratively with Sevastopol, but the cities don't overlap,
The base overhauled and serviced diesel subs, nuclear subs were never here. Subs entered a 600 meter (1,968 ft) one way tunnel 8 meters (26 ft) deep. Inside are separate bays that can be drained to make dry docks for overhauling subs. The tunnel is one way - it exits through the cliff further on. Inside are barracks, workshops, munitions and torpedo rooms and so on. It was built after Hiroshima, and was intended to withstand a direct hit of a nuclear bomb of up to 100 kilotons. The whole base can be sealed to not let in outside air or radiation,
There was a highly secret 15,000 sq. meter (161,400 sq ft) room for the storage of nuclear warheads. Only officers were permitted into this area, and very few stationed here knew the room existed - it was well below the rest of the base. People living in houses on the top of the hill above did not know the sub base was there, as subs were moved in and out at night. The complex has an interesting museum with large models of Russian naval ships, historic items, examples of submarine control rooms and so on.
On our way to our next stop we were pulled over by traffic police, who delayed us a considerable amount of time, eventually extracting a bribe before permitting us to continue. Natasha says it is likely a complaint was made by the guides soliciting tourists outside the dock area, and the police would have noticed the Yalta license plates. They apparently have their friends in the police in Yalta who do the same to Sevastopol tour operators.
We next visited a large round building which contained a 360 degree diorama depicting the invasion of Sevastopol by Turkish, French and British troops in 1854 during the Crimean War. The defenders held out under siege conditions for 349 days. It was fantastically well done, giving a feel of how it must have been in the thick of the battle. The huge circular canvas used as a backdrop is about 2,000 sq. meters (21,520 sq. ft.), and in the foreground are many props such as cannons, dugouts and defence works.
Back at the dock we headed off in search of a restaurant, walking along the park which ends in several layers of walkways along the harbour shore. Many locals were strolling along, and on the lower level fishermen were trying their luck. We bought popcorn from a vendor to ward off starvation, then eventually came back to a restaurant situated overlooking the waterfront and harbour.
This turned out to be the find of the trip. It was very classy, and being 3 PM was not crowded so we sat by the window. The cruise director, comedian and a couple of other ship staff came it, but ate more quickly than us and left. It was another fantastic meal of local foods. Most choices we made were dishes we hadn't heard of. We ordered the Foix Gras, a favourite of ours from other places, but here it was breaded in hazelnuts and the flavour was unbelievable. We had course after course over the hours, exploring one amazing taste after another, and consuming two bottles of very good Crimean wine in the process. A delightful 20 year old girl who spoke good English assisted us with selections, directing us away from choices that were not Crimean and putting us onto some we may not have otherwise tried. When we left our waitress, our helper and the lady chef all came out to see us off.
Friday, October 25, 2013
We didn't arrive in Odessa until about 10:45, so had a morning to catch up on writing and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. We are docked at a container port, so it is less convenient that the previous three ports where we were only a couple of blocks from downtown.
Odessa is the third largest city in the Ukraine with a population of 1,004,000. There are two ports here, the container one we are in and an oil port which connects Odessa's refineries to pipelines from Russia and the EU. While in the Crimea Russians outnumbered Ukrainians, here Ukrainians are the majority, although the main language is still Russian. The city was once the centre of trade for the Russian Empire, the source of the city's grandeur.
The city was founded by Tatars in 1240 as Hacibey. It passed to Lithuanian control and then into the Ottoman Empire in 1529 until the Russo-Turkish war of 1792. It became Odessa by decree of Catherine the Great in 1794 and a free port from 1819-1858. It was the most important port of trade in the Soviet Union, and a naval base. On January 1, 2000 Quarantine Pier of Odessa was declared a free port and economic zone for 25 years.
We hired a van, driver and guide privately at the entrance to the port to take us to the famous catacombs. The guide said there are 3,000 km (1,864 mi) of tunnels and a book said 2,500 km (1,553 mi), but no matter which you take it is a lot of tunnels. They are stacked up to 3 levels high, and inside are a maze of passages going off in various directions. The original tunnels were created by removing square blocks of stone for the construction of the beautiful old buildings in Odessa.
During the second world war about 1,500 partisans lived in the catacombs, and they are equipped to show living quarters, cooking, bathing, armouries, target range, conference and other areas such as the commander's office and meeting rooms. By using the tunnels it was possible for partisans to pop up in various parts of the city to raid the Italian soldiers who secured the area, and disappear again. Any attempt to flush the partisans out would either result in the invading party becoming hopelessly lost, or wiped out by ambush.
We were dropped off at the beautiful opera house, where Marilynn saw an opera when she was here in 1988. I'd wanted to see the inside, but exceedingly vicious and rude old lady guardians and ticket sellers were not about to let that happen at any cost. Outside the opera house were a small battalion of old ladies who had all been taught to say the same thing, "Money, Baby". We fled the area, taking shelter in a fairly proper British pub about two blocks away.
After being sustained by a few beer from a charming fellow who had work for Carnival Cruise lines and spoke English, we found our way to the recommended restaurant for real Ukrainian food. We could only manage about three courses, including borsch, as the portions were large and the food quite heavy. Some was walked off wandering through the parks and cobbled streets, looking at the beautiful old pre-revolution buildings before finding our way to the Potemkin Steps which led down the the port. There used to be 200 of these wide steps when built between 1837 and 1841, but when reconstructed it was cut to 192. To avoid the steps there is a funicular that runs along side of them.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
Today was at sea on very calm water. Unfortunately, once again we will pass Istanbul, the Bosporus and the Dardanelles in the dark to get to the Turkish City of Canakkale, near the Mediterranean end of the Dardanelles by 7 AM tomorrow.
We took the opportunity today to make adjustments to the ship's tipping policy. They make an automatic charge to the ship's account of 5 British pounds per passenger, which is divided between the service staff. We objected to tipping the dining room staff, as we have never even seen our assigned table. As a matter of fact, other than breakfast we only ate on the ship half the nights. I particularly did not want to tip the maitre d'hotel of the restaurant, who I felt would be much better qualified to serve as maitre d in the dining room of a prison.