Sunday, April 26, 2009


We spent April 9-15 in Crimea, just as Spring was really opening up across Ukraine. Good weather that started around April 1 continued througout our trip and we enjoyed visiting many of the sights and tastes of Crimea. The purpose of the trip was a Fullbright conference that Laada was invited to attend and Ben and the girls got to tag along. During the trip we visited many cool places and took way too many pictures... this is an edited set, honest!

(as usual, start at the bottom of this entry and read up to see our trip in chronological order - below the maps).

Close up of Crimea. We stayed in Simferopil (-pol in Russian) and visited Sevastopol, Balaklava, Bakchiserai, Sudak, and the coast between Sudak and Alushta. Not shown on this map is the range of limestone mountins that parallel the SE coast from Sevastopol to Kerch tilted up towards the coast, where they end precipitously in dramatic cliffs and rock formations on and a few miles from the coast. From Simferopil to the NW, the land flattens out into the Eurasian steppes.

Map of Ukraine. We took the train from Kyiv to Simferopil.

Views of Simferopil:

One of several Orthodox cathedrals in Simferopil (photo by Laska)

Kids improvising a teeter-toter in the Tatar 'Old City'. (photo by Laska)

A Tatar mosque and minaret in the 'Old City'. Simferopil was originally founded as the tatar city named "White Mosque."(photo by Laska)

Still life in the 'Old City' (photo by Laska)

The 'Old City' in Simferopil is based on the original layout of the Tatar Capitol. Today it is considered a "rough" part fo town (at night) presumably because the neighborhood appears to be relatively poor. While known as the Tatar part of the city (because of its history as the capitol of the Tatar Khanate, it wasn't clear to us if the returning Tatar population has resettled in this neighborhood. The Tatars were forced out of Crimea by Stalin during World War II and have been returning since the 1980s. They now make up 13% of the Crimean population (much less in Simferopil, Sevastopol, and the resort coast) but are said to face discrimination from the majority Christian population and have difficulty getting land and finding economic opportunities. Tatar food was however easy to find and we had several wonderful meals at Tatar restaurants while staying in Simferopil. (photo by Laska)

The Salhir River runs through the center of Simferopil and was a pleasant place to walk in the early Spring. (photo by Laska)

Laska on the bungee bouncer

Larissa on the bungee bouncer

Dyetsky Park is in the center of Simferopil. Today it is dominated by amusement rides and a small zoo, but statues along one of the walkways hint at a more serious origin. The park appears to have been established (or rededicated) in Soviet times as a tribute to several teenage boys (heroes of the Pioneers) who died between the 1930s and 1940s. We took the kids here on our last afternoon before the overnight train back to Kyiv. (photo by Laska)

Laada's research includes study of the cross-fertilization of language. Here the cyrillic name of this store phonetically reads "Crazy Cash"

Perhaps Larissa is going to be a performance artist - taking Andy Goldsworthy's focus on natural materials into the human domain.

A day trip on Crimea's south coast away from the densest resort areas:
Larissa was excited to get close to this foal at the horse ranch outside of Alushta.

One of the highlights of our trip was an hour long horse-ride in the foothills of the Crimean Mountains overlooking the Black Sea town of Alushta. Larissa was thrilled to be on a real horseback ride, especially with some cantering!

(photo by Laska)

The "lighthouse" church was recently built reportedly with support from the Russian government. It is dedicated to sailors and among other things appears to be a monument to the Russian political interest in Crimea and of the sympathies of what some claim is a majority of the population of Crimea (officially an autonomous region within Ukraine). (photo by Laska)

It is too cold to swim in the Black Sea in April, but that didnt stop us from beach-combing and skipping stones on the calm waters.(photo by Laska)

These trees inside the fort at Sudak are adorned with thousands of blue and white strips of ripped plastic. It is reminscent of prayer trees and also of the 'bridge of love' in Kyiv (shown in the March posting). We don't know the significance of this practice here but it seems to be part of a more general practice, which does not appear to include keeping the surrounding grounds free of trash, which was abundant here.

The town of Sudak from the top of the fort.

Gate into the fort at Sudak. This fort was founded in the 6th century AD by the Byzantine Empire (the town is thought to have been founded 300 years earlier by Alani descendants of the Scythians (and predecessors of Ossetians) before being taken over shortly thereafter by the Greeks). Like much of Coastal Crimea, this town and fort were subject to several changes of control from Byzantine to Italian (Venetian and Genoese), to Tatar Khanate and Ottoman and ultimately Russian/Soviet/Ukrainian control. It fell to the Russian Empire about 30 years after the Crimean War (1854-55). This fort is supposed to be one of the most restored of such historical monuments on the Crimean coast, but other than the walls and a few towers, the inside of the fort bears evidence of plenty of archaeology yet to be done (or perhaps done long ago and then reburied with little information available around the grounds). Even so, Sudak, in its heyday was a key port on the Silk Road. (photo by Laska)

The Caves of Chetyr Dag:
Mramornaya (Marble) Cave and Emin Ba'ir Khasar (aka Mammoth) Cave

(photo by Laska)

This formation, called the "piano" of joined stalactites has become hollow. When tapped, the tubes of different length produce different pitches. Apparently someone has learned how to play sophistocated music on it, though visitors are discouraged from touching the formations.

This formation was formed when calcium floating on a pool solidified on the surface (surrounding existing stalactites and stalagmites) making a false bottom to the pool. Later the water disappeared and the false bottom broke out leaving this two-story formation.

(photo by Laska)

This is called "the kiss", according to our guide. The distance between the bottom of the stalactite and the top of the stalagmite is about 2 milimeters, which the guide said would take about another 100 years or so to close. (photo by Laska)

...made this huge formation (right of center - the top near the distant railing is the same as the photo below)

This drop of water (repeated millions of times)...(photo by Laska)

(photo by Laska)

Extinct Bison

While Mramornaya Cave is more popular among tourists, we liked the Emin Ba'ir Khasar cave better. This was partly because we managed to tour it with a guide to ourselves and with no one else in the cave. The accessible caverns are smaller and go deeper (120 meters). The natural opening at the top has been a pit-fall for numerous animals over the ages, and paleontologists are still excavating there. A mammoth, saiga, and bison skeleton are displayed near where they were found. This saiga is said to be one of few whole skeletons of Pleistocene saiga found in Crimea. Unfortunately there are no archaeological deposits in these two caves, despite the presence of Neanderthal and ancient modern Homo sapiens in other caves of Crimea.

It was sunny, cold and windy on top of the Chetyr Dag mountain range when we arrived at the top of Emin Ba'ir Khasar Cave. Inside the caves was a constant 55 degrees F or so and 98% humidity. Simferopil is visible in the distance as a white patch just past the gap in green forests.

Fullbright trip to Bakchisarai
(Khans Palace, Cave monastery, and Chufut Kale cave city):

Laska and Christi on top of the south gate at Chufut Kale fort

NorthWest entrance to Chufut Kale

Chufut Kale (Çufut Qale) is the fortified ruins of a cave town that was important in the Middle Ages among the Tatar Khanate and Jewish Karaite sect. The name means "place of forty" and story has it that the khan founders of the city brought with them forty Kariate families.
Woman cleaning the small chapel inside the cliff. We were not allowed to take photos inside.(photo by Laska)

Cave monastery up the valley from Bakchisarai's Khan's Palace. We visited on Palm Sunday (actually Easter in the west).

Accessorizing in Khan fashions.

Tatar lunch.

White limestone cliffs loom over Bakchisarai, supporting dozens of caves and rockshelters, many still in use.

Palace yard.

Our little Khan princess!

Minaret above the mosque at Bakchisarai

Laada inside the harem quarters. (Photo by Laska)

One of originally four harem quarters for the Khan. Designed to keep the eyes of men off the women living within.

Laska by the "Fountain of Joy" - one of two famous marble fountians in the Bakchisarai Khan's palace. The other - the Fountain of Sorrow - across this room was memorialized in a famous poem by Pushkin.

Gates of the Khan's Palace, built in the 16th century. (Photo by Laska)

Vendors selling wares outside the Khan's Palace (Hansaray) in Bakchisarai.
Fullbright trip to Sevastopol and Balaklava:

The entrance to the submarine repair base can be seen in the cliff across the water (just left of center in this photo). Subs could enter from the Black Sea without surfacing to avoid detection from land, by air or satellite.

Genoese built, Chembalo fort once defended the entrance to Balaklava harbor. Walls that formerly connected the towers long ago fell to ruins. We only made it up to the first tower in the short time we had here, but faster hikers in our group said the view of the Black Sea and harbor is spectacular from the top. (photo by Laska)

Hundreds of jellyfish were drifting along the shore in Balaklava (photo by Laska)

On the southwest coast of Crimea facing Turkey across the Black Sea is Balaklava. This beautiful fjord and town was once the base for the British fleet in the Crimean War. It lent its name to the 'balaclava" neckwarmer when English women sent these collars to servicemen stationed there in the cold winter. Just inland from harbor is the site of the trajic/victorious (depending on perspective) "Battle of Balaklava" during which the infamous "Charge of the Light Brigade" occured (made famous by the poem by Alfred, Lord Tenessen). In Soviet times, it was a super secret naval station with a hidden under-mountain port for repairing nuclear submarines - now a tourist attraction!

In the reconstructed Greek temple at Chersonesos (on the coast just outside of Sevastopol harbor)

Myron Stachiw is the Fullbright director in Ukraine. He is also an archaeologist by training (Brown PhD). Here he is leading the tour of Chersonesos/Khersones - a Greek colony founded about 2500 years ago when the Greeks settled several parts of the Black Sea coast (and from which comes the legend of Jason and the Golden Fleece).

Wet paint on a dry-dock in Sevastopol's south harbor. (photo by Laska)

(photo by Laska)

Fullbright fellows in Sevastopol

Church and pigeons in Sevastopol (photo by Laska)

"backfiring" - Laska on the battlements in Sevastopol used by Russian troops in the Crimean War (1854-55) when French and British troops attacked Russian Empire positions. Most Americans learn about the Crimean War as the conflict that initiated modern nursing (Florence Nightngale - Russians have their own celebrated nurse from the conflict, named
Duchess Elena Pavlona - wife of one of the Russian Emperor's sons, who organized medical care for troops in the conflict). There is an absolutely fantastic giant panoramic painting inside a nearby building, depicting the pitch of battle around this hilltop fort in 1854 and showing the overland attack of Russian positions in Sevastopol by British and French troops.

The Ukrainian and Crimean flags outside of our hotel. We found it interesting that the hotel staff didn't realize that they had the Ukrainian flag upside down for several days (supposed to be blue sky over golden wheat). We wondered if it was a political statement (Crimea is an Autonomous region where many have Russian unification sympathies). Laada mentioned it lightly to the receptionists and it was corrected immediately.

At the Simferopil Botanical Gardens, this building (said to be a cafeteria) is designed to reflect the Tatar history of Crimea. We initially thought this was a small mosque. (photo by Laska)

On the overnight train to Simferopil from Kyiv. It is less stressful (and less adventurous) to have a family of four share a compartment ("coupe").

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