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Published: June 26th 2017
Tne final postscript to the excitement of the disturbance in Istanbul. We checked a few web sites to see if we could fathom out any more details. One website had the tagline: 'Istanbul becomes ‘war zone' on May Day.'
Even by my standards that's a little bit sensationalistic and a stretch of the truth. Europe 1914-18 and again in 1939-45 were war zones. Even my bedroom when I was a child was a war zone as my mother used to say: ‘Christopher, this bedroom looks like a bomb has hit it!!'.
Istanbul yesterday. No, despite the presence of riot police and an armed response unit we felt perfectly safe. In fact safer than usual as all the petty criminals (pick pockets etc…) were probably at the riots!!!
Yalta is on the South Coast of the Crimean peninsula in the Southern Ukraine on the North shore of the Black Sea. We docked at 11am so plenty of time to watch our approach. About ½ mile from land, we were greeted by a shoal of Dolphins 50 metres off the portside, leaping out of the water on the way to the tasty feeding grounds no doubt. 10 minutes later a procession of
jelly fish floated by, firstly the odd three or four, then a whole army, thousands glided by floating where the current takes them
The Crimean coastline was not what I expected. I had in my mind that it would be a relatively flat terrain with maybe some rolling hills. Instead, the view was very mountainous which seemed to slope down in to the sea below. While at the bottom, settlements had been founded, 1 by a group of Greek fishermen looking for somewhere safe to land. This was developed in to Yalta as we know of today. Yalta, up to the last century was a playground and retreat for the mega rich. It was the resort of resorts. Royalty built palaces here. The Soviet Government had summer retreats here. It is still the most popular holiday resort in the country, not least due to it's sub tropical climate. On our approach, I could see large hotels scattering the hillside and still more properties, that I later learned where a mixture of new hotels and apartments, currently being built. I never found out how much a property cost but our guide stressed that it would cost as much as an
apartment in Kiev. I'm guessing it's on the same relative scale as properties in London or Manhattan.
Yalta is not a large town so only needs a small harbour to accommodate the fishing boats and array of private yachts. The Lirica slowly headed toward this harbour. We both stood on the forward facing deck trying to work out where a 60,000-ton cruise ship was going to dock. The side of the harbour quay was very deceptive and we soon tied up adjacent to a number of small fishing vessels that had been lifted out of the water and were supported by struts and resting along the side of the jetty.
We had booked a trip to visit the surrounding area. After an early lunch we met in the Lirica Lounge at 12:15 and then were escorted to bus number 3 where we were met by our hostess and guide Olga. We were told that we needed to bring our passports. Expecting another stamp, we were slightly disappointed when we all piled on the coach and were waved straight through the passport control. They probably took one look at the army of tourists and thought: ‘Bloody hell! Its nearly
12:30. If we process this lot we'll never get away for our dinner!!'
The route out of Yalta was slow. The roads were narrow and 2-way. This made passing difficult especially with parked cars on either side of most of the roads. Our cause wasn't made any better by the fact this was day 2 of the Labour Day holidays in Ukraine.
We were doing great for National holidays on this trip so far. First the May Day protests in Istanbul and now this!! The driver, however, didn't seem at all stressed by this. He just did what had to be done. I'm sure he'd driven this route many times before so I'm sure he fully knew what could and could not be done with a 56-seater coach!!
It took half an hour to reach the small town of Nikita where we all alighted at the Nikita Botanical Gardens.
These gardens were not what I expected. I imagined the gardens to be mainly floral in design thus being open with little shelter from the sun that had now increased to 25C (79F). The gardens were a well-designed mix of floral and arboreal exhibits. The arboretum is
one of the most diverse in Europe with hundreds of different species of tree on display.
We had been joined on this excursion by our dinner partners Mo and Peter as well as our quiz partners Sandra and Robin.
Roisin and I were bringing up the rear when a scouse accent piped up: ‘Weren't dees the only country in the Second World War to win the George Cross?!' ‘No I think you'll find that's Malta,
said Olga our tour guide ‘Isn't dat where we are denn?!
Asked Mo ‘No, this is Yalta' ‘Oh, bloody hell'
exclaimed Mo chuckling to herself. ‘I've never been any good at geography!!!'
She had the rest of the group in stitches laughing.
Our trip to the Nikita Botanical Gardens lasted about an hour. One of the most interesting facts that caught my attention is the old oak tree that was damaged in a hurricane. To avoid further deterioration of the tree, the Institute had concreted over the damaged boughs (see photo) Not too sure if this is ‘textbook' or the Institute just had some spare sand and cement knocking around!!
Our next stop was to see the
Swallows Nest. Due to the congestion down to the gardens, Sergei, our driver decided to take an alternative route. This was suprosed to be a quieter road. Olga was busy pointing out the Olive Trees on the right. The oldest is over 2000 year old. The next oldest is 800 years. Suddenly, Sergei slammed on the brakes as we were turning a left hand bend due to an idiot boy racer speeding from the other direction. Mo shouted: ‘Mind the trees'
as the bus came to rest millimetres from the edge of the Olive Grove. A few more feet and Olga would have been saying: ‘I stand corrected. The oldest Olive Tree is 800 years old!!!
The Swallow's Nest is perched 40 metres on the end of a sheer cliff overlooking the Black Sea. It was originally built by a German noble, Baron von Steingel in 1911 to show his undying love of a Greek woman. This was a one-way romance. It would obviously take more that a castle (a small one at that!!) perched precariously on the end of a cliff to woo her. Yes it did have a fantastic view but surely it would have had the
same fantastic view if it were built a few hundred yards inland. I honestly don't think he'd thought this through! What about erosion? What about coming home a little bit tipsy at night? He didn't even erect a fence around the edge of the cliff. I could see this all ending in tears and needless to say it did, She ran off with someone else so the German aristocrat left the house and headed back to the Fatherland.
Since then a rather over expensive and extremely poor restaurant took over the lease but it was a major flop. During its history the castle has survived a major earthquake and the cliff developed a crack but has since been strengthened by the insertion of a concrete plate console. The Greek lady probably did the right thing in not moving in to this castle. Imagine the insurance premiums!!! The house has remained empty ever since. Our trip stopped at the main vantage point for photos and a toilet stop. Arguably the best-kept toilets in the Ukraine, we were told. I never personally visited these wash rooms but the consensus of those who did pay a visit were very complimentary; they thought
the place had a lovely smell and had to agree if there was a prize for best kept washrooms in the Ukraine then the ones at the Swallow's Nest would certainly have made the short list. Call me a cynic but I'm not surprised at 50 eurocents a pop. It's not a bad return for throwing a few air fresheners around the place and an ample supply of loo-roll!!! With only a smelly ‘hole-in-the-ground' toilet in the Botanical Gardens as a benchmark, we have to agree with the tour guide!!! Fabulous!!
Our final stop on this tour entitled Fabulous Yalta (must have been a reference to the wash rooms at Swallow's Nest!!) was a short 15-minute drive to Livadia Palace. This was originally commissioned by the ill-fated Romanov family and completed in 1911. It became the summer retreat of the last Tsar of Imperialist Russia, Nikolai II and his family until they were executed in 1917. Since then, Nikolai II and his family have been canonised
More recently the Palace, also known as the White Palace, hosted the 1945 Yalta Conference where Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill met to discuss the future of post war Europe. I can image
the Agenda of the conference: 08:45 Welcome and Introductions 09:00 Icebreaker 09:30 The demilitarisation and denazification of Germany by repatriation in the form of forced labour in order to repair the damage Germany inflicted on its victims. 11:00 Tea/Coffee
We were led in to the main conference room and then some smaller rooms, laid out exactly as they were 68 years ago. These smaller rooms were probably break out areas when the delegates were put in to syndicate to discuss a key question: ‘Consider the dismemberment of Germany in to six further nations. List the benefits and disadvantages. Put your findings on newsprint and be prepared to present your finding to the rest of the group'
I can imagine Stalin in his group: ‘ I'll do the writing. I'm always having to speak. Someone else can do the talking for a change.
It was then pointed out to him that he is the leader and President of the Soviet Socialised Republic of Russia and that for him, speaking to the rest of the conference wasn't an option!!! The rest, as they say, is history!!!
Our route back to the ship took us past
the eye catching Cathedral of Alexsander Nevskiy. With it's onion shaped gold domes that have become synonymous with the great churches of the Russian Orthodox faith.
There are no railways or airports in Yalta due to it's proximity to the nearby mountains and the sea. The nearest airport and railway is in Sevastopol about 1 ½ hour's drive from Yalta.
The ship departed from Yalta at just after 17:30 and headed along the North rim of The Black Sea for the 212 nautical miles to our next port of call,' Odessa
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