Our next stop was Sudak, where we planned on spending some quality time on the beach and checking out the famous crumbling Genoese fortress that Sudak is famous for. I specifically put the fortress on the list of things to see in Crimea, because its not in excellent condition and I wanted to see it before it deteriorates further.
We spent a morning exploring the fortress, which was very spread out over huge cliffs overlooking the Black Sea. Exploring required lots of hiking, so I don’t recommend heeled sandals for this adventure if you choose to undertake it. Like most places in Ukraine, the tourism is underdeveloped, so while seeing the fortress was fascinating, I don’t feel like I learned much. Most of Crimea is geared towards Russian tourism, as many Russians come south for the summer, but its not very English-friendly (yet).
So while the fortress was the main attraction in Sudak, my favorite part ended up being the beach. The beaches in Sudak were fantastic, with unbelievably blue water surrounded by craggy landscapes. Its like you’re driving through mountains and all of the sudden the sea breaks before you and takes your breath away.
We spent a few beautiful hours laying out on the beach, swimming in the Black Sea, and marveling at the beauty around us. Crimea is definitely among the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. Its also untouched by development, for the most part, which adds to its mystique.
Michelle and Erin decided to kick it up a notch by renting an inner-tube… so I played the photographer while the very tan Crimean man set them up behind a jet-ski and took them for a spin around the bay of Novi Svet. It was a pretty epic ride, from the looks of things (and judging from the neck pain they experienced the next day, haha!).
We also enjoyed the beachfront bars in Sudak. We made friends with a bar tender who had a creative repertoire of drinks and concoctions, and we spent a few hours being entertained by his company and his interesting vocabulary, a blend of Russian and English 😉
Enjoying beautiful Sudak with an interesting green concoction the bartender promised I’d like 😉
We also went on a boat ride to see the Kara Dag nature preserve, which is “one of those places where, whatever your religion, you can feel the hand of the Creator at work. Indescribably beautiful, this unique Jurassic landscape is the result of an extinct volcano, which thousands of years ago spewed lava and debris into the sea. The elements have weathered the volcanic rocks into fantastic shapes and produced flora and wildlife unique to this part of Crimea.” The boat ride was fun, the landscape was stunning, and we even got to jump off the boat for a quick swim in the Black Sea!
I loved Sudak, despite almost breaking my back at the guest house we stayed in when the plastic chair I was sitting in broke underneath me and I landed flat on my back, not sure whether to laugh or cry. But it gets better– the lady who owned the guest house demanded that I pay 80 grivnya, because obviously the chair breaking was my fault, and we had a lovely altercation in Russian. While I’m not proud of the experience, I am pleased to report that I can hold my own in a fight in Russian. And apparently, this lady thinks if you break someone’s chair in America, the police come and take you to jail. I’m not going to lie, I laughed out loud, probably not the best move for a serious fight 😛
After Sudak, we traveled to Bakchisarai, our last stop on this adventure. Bakchisarai was a fascinating place to visit, in part because of its well-preserved Crimean Tatar culture. The Tatars were a Turkish group that ruled Crimean from the 1400s to the 1700s. They had their own distinct culture, language, and religion (Islam) entirely separate from the Russian population that came to inhabit Crimea as the Russian empire expanded. Crimean Tatars are a minority today in Crimea, consisting of only 15% of the population. But Bakchisarai is an amazing place to visit if you want to see the legacy the Tatars left behind.
In Bakchisarai we stayed in a beautiful guest house that was designed after the Tatar culture of the town, complete with little pagodas on the lawn for spending a peaceful evening outside. I had brought the card game “Phase 10,” and we ended up playing all night, until we got to the final level and Toria was declared the winner 😉 I would say that this hotel was my favorite place we stayed at in Crimea, the staff was so welcoming and spoke English wonderfully. Plus the amenities were great and the price was affordable, so if you’re planning a trip to Bakchisarai, I strongly recommend the Hotel Meraba.
The next day we walked to Chufut Kale, the best-known cave city in all of Crimea. According to Lonely Planet, Chufut Kale first appeared in historical records “as Kyrk-Or (Forty Fortifications). The city was settled sometime between the 6th and 12th centuries by Christianised descendants of Sarmatian tribes. The last powerful ruler of the Golden Horde, Tokhtamysh, sheltered here after defeat in the 1390s, and the first Crimean Khanate was established at Chufut-Kale in the 15th century, before moving to nearby Bakhchysaray. After the Tatars left, Turkic-Jewish Karaites occupied the city until the mid-19th century, which won the mountain its current name of ‘Jewish Fortress.'”
Our last stop in Bakchisarai was the Uspensky Cave Monastery (are you sensing the cave theme in Bakchisarai?). This monastery was carved out of the cliffside in Bakchisarai in the 8th century. The monastery was closed by the Soviet government in 1921, but since Ukrainian independence it has been reopened to the public.
At the Bell Tower before entering the monastery; I was covering my hair and shoulders so I’d be permitted to go inside. Who would’ve thought living in Egypt and learning to cover myself would come in handy for Christian sites as well?
The Uspensky Cave Monastery was our last stop in Bakchisarai, and also our last stop in Crimea! That night we caught the train back to Kyiv, where I had several meetings awaiting me, one with none other than Peace Corps’ Safety Officer “Papa Sergei.” (In case you didn’t know, my cell phone, wallet, and passport had been stolen before our trip to Crimea by a gypsy woman in Kyiv). The police in Kyiv had found a gypsy woman with a cell phone, and Papa Sergei had gone in to question her. I’ll tell you all about it in the next blog post 🙂