I’ve been to Crimea while it was still part of Ukraine, peaceful and relaxed. I was not imagining that only a few months later, Russia was going to annex it to its territories… again. The irony, back then I asked a Russian friend if Crimea seemed different and he responded it feels like home for him.
I went there for a week, as a participant in a volunteer training. I took a flight from Istanbul to Simferopol, one of the few options. I didn’t do any research before, I knew only that I need to take a train to Bakhchysaray and meet new friends there. I arrived at the airport, and with a bit of struggle, I found out about a local bus from the airport to the city (train station). But I didn’t know where to get off.
Locals wanted to help me, but the language barrier made it difficult. So I kept my eyes on the window and I got off to what it seemed the be the city centre. I was lucky, the train station was nearby. I wondered a bit around, then went to buy something to eat and my train tickets. I would advise any traveller to Crimea to not rely on English, nobody speaks it, even in the main cities and offices. This reminds me of my trip in China.
Learning a few words in Russian makes a great difference. When I asked for a train ticket in English, the lady burst into laughs. She responded in Russian (or Ukrainian). I insisted to speak again, she kept laughing and turned to her colleague pointing at me [not obvious at all]. Then she looked at me without smiling and said “No English”. She was very patient, yet visibly entertained. I managed to buy the tickets by gestures, mainly.
Finally made it to the right train, super lucky to meet other participants in the train who actually knew where to go and how to get there. How did I spot them? English. We got off in Bakhchysaray and made it to the accommodation. The program was intense, but still had time to explore the city and surroundings.
Mix of cultures
Bakhchysaray is a small city in central Crimea. It was the cultural centre for Crimean Tatar people in the 16th century until it was annexed by the Russian Empire in the 18th century. I found it particularly unique because it combines two different cultural styles (Tatar/Turkish and Russian) which I didn’t think could blend together. We wondered around in Bakhchysaray (Khan’s) Palace, which is very beautiful and makes you feel like going back in time.
We went to Chufut-Kale for a half day trip, it’s a lot of walking, but it’s exciting to discover this medieval city-fortress up in the mountains. The views are breathtaking, especially at sunset. And if it was not a cultural mixture already, the name of the place means “Jewish Fortress” and there are plenty of symbols and writing there.
The Cave Monastery is not to be missed. I’m not a big fan of monasteries, but it looks nice and the walk and views from there are very pretty.
By the sea
After the training was over, some of us still had a few days to explore Crimea, so we took a train down to Sevastopol. The trains are not very comfortable, but reliable and quite frequent. From Sevastopol, we took a bus close to Cape Fiolent, known as one of the best beaches in Sevastopol.
It starts from the top, with amazing views, and goes on a cliffy way down to the beach. We took some time to enjoy the sun and swim. From there we took a ferry to Balaklava, a little town which served as Russian submarine port. It offers great views of the Black Sea, but also of the “black” side of history, wars and fallen soldiers.
From Sevastopol, I took a train to Simferopol and back to the airport. I was not expecting much, but I really enjoyed the views, the mixed culture and the joyful local people.
Bonus: a few random pictures 🙂 and yes, vodka can be as cheap as water.