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Europe » Ukraine » Odessa
September 25th 2013
Published: September 27th 2013
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<strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">Yalta, Savastopol and Odessa Ukraine

The weather cleared considerably during the night and we arrived in Yalta on a clear autumn morning. This was the start of a three port visit to Ukraine. Yalta is a beautiful small city built at the base of imposing, cloud capped mountains. It had long been a destination for Russians and Ukrainians seeking a warm climate and beautiful beaches. It has the feel of a resort which is what it has been for centuries. The Russian nobility came here often to take “the cure” at spas along the coast. During the Soviet time the proletariat were sent here for vacations at the huge sanatoria near the beach. Here the working class was supposed to be entertained and pampered in return for their devotion to the Soviet Communist system. After the fall of the Soviet Union many of these facilities have been taken over by wealthy Russians and either converted into private homes and spas or hotels and apartment complexes. We were told that some of the larger complexes are now owned by Russian oligarchs involved in the oil business. Whatever the case Yalta is visually a very beautiful place.

We visited the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the center of town which is a short distance from the port. Then it was off to see other sites located outside the town center. The Vorontsov palace, also known as the Alupka Palace was of course originally built for Russian nobility, but more recently it played an important role as the place where Winston Churchill and his entourage took rooms in early 1945 during the Yalta conference at the end of World War 2. I especially enjoyed walking out of Churchill’s bedroom down a long flight of stairs to see a large statue of a sleeping lion which the Prime Minister liked to pat on the head and greet every morning.

The Livadia Palace is the most important and beautiful place I visited in Yalta. It was originally built in 1911 as a summer house for Tsar Niclolas II. He and his family only used it 4 times before World War 1 broke out and he was eventually arrested and killed. It is a gorgeous palace of white limestone. The palace is most famous for being the place where Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill met in 1945 to lay out plans for post war Europe. I saw the round table where the three sat with their aides in the same meeting hall where the day before we arrived Vladimir Putin had been meeting with the presidents of former Soviet republics for an annual summit.

Yalta is worth a return visit someday, Sevastopol is not. This is a much larger and mostly industrial city. This is where both Russia and Ukraine maintain their Black Sea naval fleets. I enjoyed a visit to what is known as the cave monastery high on a rocky cliff and a visit to the Khan’s Palace several miles outside the city. We stopped to have a traditional lunch at a Tartar village. The food was delicious; a sort of large crepe filled with meat and cheeses and deep fried was the best. Of course some members of our small group were not impressed.

The next stop was at Odessa, which of the three is by far the most beautiful. We docked in the port near the famous Potemkin steps which lead straight up into the center of the city. Odessa’s 19th century center has been wonderfully restored. There is a wide tree lined promenade at the top of the stairs where the locals take strolls to see and be seen. This, more than any of the other places I have visited on this adventure is the most European in appearance. There is a gorgeous 19th century opera house which seems to be the epitome of civic pride. The streets are lined with stately old palaces; some restored, some in the process of being rebuilt. It was a pleasure just to wander about and take in the sites and get at least a little feel for the rhythm of the city. We stopped at two places to experience the local cuisine. The first included a sampling of fish, salads, cold meats etc. Of course one member of our party refused to taste anything and simply pushed his plate away saying “take it away, I won’t eat it”. I was embarrassed. I suspect the restaurant proprietor took it as an insult. I would definitely love to return here, maybe to attend the opera and spend some quality time in this most beautiful city. I hope no one remembers that I was with the guy who wouldn’t even touch any of the local food.

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