Crimea, Ukraine… if you’re not Ukrainian (or Russian) the mention of this place probably rings no bells for you. But in Eastern Europe, Crimea is pretty famous. And its THE place to go for a summer vacation in Ukraine!
Crimea is technically an autonomous republic of Ukraine; back during the USSR it was “given” as a gift to the Soviet Republic of Ukraine, and after the breakup of the USSR Crimea remained part of it. However, Crimea wasn’t very happy about that (hence the “autonomous republic” part of its name). The majority of Crimeans are ethnically Russian, and Russian is the dominant language. Ukrainian is not appreciated there, as Crimeans don’t like to be reminded that technically the peninsula belongs to the country of Ukraine (and not Russia). In fact, I was even told that when we were traveling in Crimea it would be better to speak in English if we couldn’t make our point in Russian–the Ukrainian language is looked down upon that much, and (supposedly) English was more wide-spoken, given Crimea’s booming tourism.
So seeing as this was my last summer in Ukraine, traveling to Crimea was a big priority for me. Crimea represents a huge part of Ukraine that I have no personal knowledge of, and of course I wanted to spend some quality time on the best beaches the country has to offer! 😉
I originally began planning this trip in the dead of winter; it was a form of escapism for Michelle, Erin, and I as we suffered through a miserable winter of record-setting lows. We had plenty of down time in which to plan the trip due to the endless school closures, which occurred every time the temperature was below -25 degrees celsius (-13 fahrenheit) because it was too cold for the kiddos to walk to school. I think I went two weeks straight without teaching a day of school; hence, with the Internet at my fingertips and images of hot days on the beach in my dreams, I planned an epic week in Ukraine with some of my favorite people.
This group originally consisted of Michelle and Erin (my nearest PCV neighbors and dear friends), Kristin and Janira (two other PCVs whom I also love), and my sister and myself. Unfortunately, Janira ended up being busy the week we planned on going to Crimea, so we were one person short. Around this time Mark started planning on coming back to Ukraine for another visit… and the rest is history. Plus Mark knows some Russian, so we figured having him along to translate couldn’t hurt ; )
The entire group met in Kyiv the morning of our departure, except we were one person short–due to flight delays and cancellations, Michelle was delayed and ended up coming down to Crimea a day later. So the five of us (Erin, Tori, Kristin, Mark and I) spent the first day without Michelle exploring Sevastopol.
Sevastopol is well-known to history buffs as the site of the Siege of Sevastopol, carried out by the British against the Russians. During the siege, the Russians had to sink their whole fleet to keep it from falling into enemy hands, and today the Monument to the Scuttled Ships stands in the harbor of Sevastopol as a tribute to this battle.
Sevastopol is also known as the port of the Russian navy, both during the USSR and in the present; Russia rents the port for its Black Sea Fleet.
Sevastopol has history dating much further back; the remains of an ancient Greek colony called Khersones are located there on the Black Sea. Dating back to the 6th century B.C., Khersones is known as the “Ukrainian Pompeii” or the “Russian Troy.”
It also made the list for one of the 7 Wonders of Ukraine, so we made seeing it a priority when we were in Sevastopol. Today its mostly ruins, but there are pillars of what used to be a temple that are impressive.
Today Khersones is popular for its beach, and its a surreal experience walking through the ruins of an ancient settlement to get to a craggy beach on the Black Sea. Not your typical beach location, but it was interesting nonetheless : )
Our last stop in Sevastopol was near Khersones, just a few minutes away. It was Saint Vladimir’s Cathedral, which was built after the Crimean War (in the 1850s) as a tribute to the heroes of the Siege of Sevastopol.
The inside was breathtaking, but I didn’t realize you weren’t allowed to take photos until I already had taken 10. So you get this illicit peak inside because I didn’t read the sign in Russian 😛
Also, being scantily clad in shorts and tank tops, we had to dress up a bit to be allowed inside. So I give you Kristin, Tori, myself, and Erin dressed… appropriately. Our shoulders are still showing, but this was covered enough to go inside the church. Based on this experience, I think I can safely rule out the convent for all of us 😛
After Sevastopol, our trip continued to Yalta, Sudak, and Bakchisarai! Read on to the next blog post to hear about the Genoese Fortress, the Khan’s Palace, and to see pictures of the most beautiful beach in Crimea : )