CRIMEA, Day 3: Restricted Access

The first ass-kicking came right away, courtesy of my host town, Novy Svet.

Novy Svet

Novy Svet, which translates as “New World” or “New Light,” is a large village/small town (population: 1100) on the south-eastern coast of the Crimean Peninsula. It is situated among juniper and rock pines on the crescent of an incredibly picturesque Green Bay between Mount Falcon (477 m) and Mount Eagle (300+ m) [CLICK THE LINK! That’s how incredible the bay and Mt. Falcon look on a proper sunny day; the photo above is with Mt. Eagle].

The area was hardly accessible by land until the 1870s, when Russian Prince Lev Golitsyn bought the wilderness from a local Georgian landowner. He named the spot Paradiso for its natural beauty, and proceeded to build an estate, a winery, an entire village and an access road from the nearby town of Sudak 7 kilometers away.

Here I should mention that around 150 million years ago this part of Crimea used to be totally submerged under the waters of mega-ocean Tethys, and a lot of the mountains in the area are in fact coral reefs, with Mt. Falcon being the largest coral reef in Europe. Eventually the tectonic plates shifted, continents realigned, Tethys was split into smaller bodies of water and coral reefs rose up to become mountain ranges, forming a beautiful and unique landscape.

By the time Golitsyn had settled in Paradiso, Crimea had already been established as a premiere vacation destination for the Russian elite. In 1912, sailing by on one such vacation, Tsar Nicholas II and his family visited Paradiso and its prince. Rumor has it that after the Tsar took a dip in the crystal clear waters of the Green Bay he said he felt like he was born again into this world/light – and that’s how Novy Svet got its current name.

After his refreshing swim, the Tsar proceeded to sail westward along the coast, and just two small bays down he fell in love with a tiny strip of black sand and jagged rocks at the bottom of a juniper-covered canyon. He liked the spot so much, his entourage made camp there for several days (it’s good to be Tsar). Since then the area has been called Tsar’s Beach. And I had to see it.

***

Tsar’s Beach is indeed a special place, not just for its unique beauty and nature – that’s what got it converted into a natural reserve – but for relative inaccessibility. Ordinarily it’s an hour and a half hike from Novy Svet, down the Golitsyn Trail. The trail winds along the steep and rocky coastline, dipping into slippery grottos and rising to mountain crests. One wrong step and the clear waters of the Black Sea will welcome you 70 meters below.

The "drinking hippo" rock frames the Blue Bay.

The “drinking hippo” rock frames the Blue Bay.

But at least there’s an actual trail. The problem is that in order to preserve the unique landscape and ecosystem of Tsar’s Beach and the canyon from the hordes of tourists the trail and the beach were closed several years ago, with a giant gate installed at one of the grottoes through which it passed.

Of course this is Russia (or Ukraine – makes no difference in this context), so just because something is closed, it doesn’t mean you cannot go through. Case in point: having come from Novy Svet two thirds of the way to Tsar’s Beach, I was not about to heed the warnings of other vacationers who told me that really, there’s no way to get from the closed end of the trail to the beach – and indeed, when I arrived at the gate I was greeted by a decent-sized group of hikers who were pulling themselves from the trail into the grotto through a neat little hole dug under the iron obstruction. I pushed and pulled myself through right away. Almost there!

Not quite. You see, a few years ago this part of the Crimean coast suffered a series a pretty major landslides and rockfalls that have essentially blocked the remainder of the trail to all but professional rock climbers. Which is which is when I learned that this is exactly who my fellow hikers were, including the Crimean rock climbing champion! Not that I don’t like a challenge, but I tried rock climbing once in high school and even for my much younger, lither and more agile self with all the proper equipment and safety gear it wasn’t exactly the easiest thing. Also, my dad used to be a pro climber in his youth, but somehow I didn’t think this kind of skill was passed on to me genetically.

I had to “turn around,” now pushing and pulling myself under the grotto’s gate back onto the dead-end of the sunlit trail.

I had three options: accept defeat and walk back to Novy Svet; backtrack an indefinite distance and try to find the trail allegedly used by the locals who forgo the Golitsyn Trail’s scenic route along the sea, instead trekking straight from upper Novy Svet through a pine grove; or I could make my own way in the world, so to speak. Guess which option I chose.

Tsar's Beach and Bay

Tsar’s Beach and Bay

Going back, in any way, is for losers. Winners scale sandy, unstable slopes in flimsy sandals while being thrown off-balance by their big-ass messenger bags stuffed with a beach towel and a bottle of wine, and hope that the roots and branches they grab onto won’t turn into something cold, slithery and with sharp, poisonous teeth.

The first 20 minutes of this leg of my journey seemed like an adventure, which is exactly what I came to Crimea for. After I made it to the steep hill’s crest, I ascertained my position vis a vis the beach, and the best way to get there. Now, any sane person would have walked to the clearly-visible origin point of the canyon and followed its gradually-descending bed all the way to Tsar’s beach. But it definitely wasn’t the shortest way.

Sanity is for losers. Adventure-hungry winners see the elusive, exclusive beach just 80 meters below and take a shortcut.

Half an hour later, having wrapped myself around a rock in an effort to maintain some semblance of a balance on a 10 inch-wide cliff before it dropped straight down to my elusive, exclusive beach, I was calling my best friend in New York City, hoping that she could literally talk me off a ledge.

Let me tell you something: mobile reception in Crimea is GREAT! If you’re in a boat in the Black Sea or stuck on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere you can still totally choose the “phone a friend” option!

Back to the ledge. Jumping 50 meters down – oh yeah, I made a ton of progress! – didn’t seem like a “winner” idea. Even getting THISCLOSE to my elusive, exclusive beach had already resulted in a swelling right ankle, my left calve scraped raw and bleeding, not to mention multiple cuts to my legs, arms and hands, and (of this I was certain without a visual confirmation) most of my formerly idle bum turning a vivid shade of eggplant [this was later confirmed].

Entering Tsar's Bay

Entering Tsar’s Bay

So I crawled back up. Carefully. Sticking low to the rocks, as I faintly remembered my gym teacher telling me. I still refused to go all the way up to the crest – yup, that’s for adventure-fearing losers – and though I conceded some of the ground, I made it back up just enough where I could actually walk along the side of the canyon, going a little farther inland to attempt another descent.

I did it! Four hours after leaving Novy Svet I was triumphantly ripping off my clothes and jumping into the Black Sea waters washing the dark sand and rocks of Tsar’s Beach. Then I passed out in the sun for two hours and got promptly toasted.

Black sand and body art on Tsar's Beach

Black sand and interesting body art on Tsar’s Beach

***

On a nice day local boaters bring in tourists from Novy Svet to see the famed beach from the sea, and make an extra buck taking the tired, tan ones back to town. I’m not sure if hiring one would have been a loser’s way out [yes it would have], but Nature took that option from me that day: the seas got rough and the boats couldn’t get close enough to the shore for a pick-up.

I had no choice but to hike my way up the canyon, in the process discovering the locals’ path (not exactly a cake-walk either), which took me to higher ground and back to town. If this was Novy Svet’s warm welcome, I was a bit afraid to find out what else it had in store!

The locals' closely guarded secret: the "good" trail to Tsar's Beach.

The locals’ closely guarded secret: the “good” trail to Tsar’s Beach.

Must stay on the trail! Right...

“Must stay on the trail!” Right…

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41 thoughts on “CRIMEA, Day 3: Restricted Access

  1. Stunning scenery, for a moment I forgot I was on a chair at work and imagined myself there. The Tsar Bay looks like one I’ve seen in Spain. Sounds like you had quite a memorable adventure 🙂

    • And a totally unexpected one! I was going on recommendation from my mom and sister, who were last there when the path was open all the way to the beach! So I figured all I needed was a bikini and a bottle of vino…

  2. okay… Anna are you really happy that your country annexed a huge chunk of Ukrainian terrytory thus losing respect of the whole world? and are crimeans equally happy about it, raveling in the joys of Russian occupation?

    • Emmi, my family and friends have been vacationing in Crimea for decades, including the two+ that it was part of Ukraine. Whether on a political map Crimea is part of Ukraine or Russia wouldnt change the beauty of its landscape or the kinds of adventures it offers.

      As for how the Crimeans themselves feel about it: although this blog is 95% about Russian countryside, landscape paintings, and where to find good beer, leopard print clothes and funky street art in Moscow, later on (around CRIMEA: Day 12-15) against all reason I will venture into political and address the issue, from the observational standpoint.

      In the meantime, in short: most of the population of Crimea is Russian and/or Russian speaking (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crimean_status_referendum,_2014#mediaviewer/File:UkraineNativeLanguagesCensus2001detailed-en.png); Many (majority of UN-voting) countries considered the March referendum illegitimate because of the events around it or Ukrainian Constitution (which, by the way, makes the manner in which Ukraine’s last president ousted illegitimate as well). yet very few, if any, expressed serious doubts about the actual result, about Crimea’s overwhelming support for independence from Ukraine and integration with Russia (the results were 80+% turnout with 95+% voting for Russia). There were international observers and journalists, and a survey conducted by US’ BBG (the guys who run Voice of America, essentially a US State Department arm) more than a month after the referendum showed that: “83% of Crimeans felt that the results of the March 16 referendum on Crimea’s status likely reflected the views of most people there.” So there you have it – US-confirmed results of how the people of Crimea feel about it.

      As for what I personally saw and heard while there – and as I mentioned, I will write more on it later – the people were literally happy to tears, wearing Russian flag pins and t-shits and having flags flags on their cars and boats and porches. The sentiments I heard the most were: that they were in fact in a foreign country for two decades, they were essentially under Ukrainian occupation, that they had to live with a foreign language forced on them, that this is a return home, that Crimea = Russia, that in Moscow you people [me people] dont know how to appreciate our country properly, and so on and so forth. Oh, and there was not a single person of military personnel anywhere. Barely any security even – a visual shock of sorts after the Moscow Center, which often seems like it’s on high alert for something.

      By the way, I’ve never been one of those Russians who always thought of Crimea as essentially Russian and something that had to be returned. I barely though about it at all, particularly because I self-identify, more often then not, as an American. It’s just not a political issue that in any way ever kept me up at night either way, and I have no emotional attachment to the it. But I saw what I saw.

      If you think the point of this series is to show how great Crimea is as part of Russia, I’d like to please remind you what I said in the beginning: that dozens of people I know were more than happy to spend their Russian Rubles in Crimea – and then rave about it to everyone, like I am right now – when it was a part of Ukraine, and nobody could have imagined this would change in any foreseeable future.

      • thats what Im saying. there was no need for Russia to annex those territories. they have always remained Russian at heart. russia should rather have supported rights of Russian poulation in Ukraine instead of starting a military intervention. Putin is a serious asshole for a whole set of other reasons. supporting stupid anti-gay and anti-women policies of the state duma, allowing policemen to arrest those russians who protested on the bolotnaya square (one of my russian friends is still in jail since 2012 and all because he went to protest with a sign that said Russia without putin) allowing corruption and berocracy turn russia in a third world country…. how can you work for his channel or support his actions?
        have you ever been in samara, omsk, volgograd, astrakha? have you seen the level of poverty there? dont those territories deserve the money that is being spent on crimea? russians are now despised all over the world. they are being refused jobs and hotel accomodation based on their nationality. a dear Russian friend of mine wanted to present his original wooden toys on a fair in Germany and his application was denied for that very same reason. russian goods are being boycotted all over the word. creative, free people who wanted to turn russia into a democratic society now see their possibilities shorten to non existence. they are changing their citizenship like pavel durov did and fleeing the country. you guys are going back to USSR and the whole world will try to break your country into pieces by leading separatists movement in different regions. was annexation of crimea truly worth it?

        • Emmi – I absolutely will not comment on my political views as they apply to Russia, my opinions of president Putin, or my place of employment.

          Was annexation of Crimea was worth it? Depends on how one defines “worth it” and regardless even of that, only time time will tell.

          Do you live in Germany? America? France? If tomorrow you suddenly became a part of Netherlands/ Canada/ Italy would it be enough to be your former nationality “in your heart”? Just food for thought, but it’s very patronizing to tell two million people how they should feel and what should be enough for them.

          And lastly, regarding poverty in Russia: I dare you to ask people in any of those areas if their life is better now than it was a decade and a half ago – and then I dare you to find one person who doesn’t says yes. It is a very inconvenient reality that most quality of life indicators in Russia have dramatically improved, including real GDP that tripled, investment in healthcare, education and infrastructure, and demographics, which, after Russians dying out for two decades at catastrophic rates, are finally registering natural population growth. This is why it is precisely in THOSE areas – and the rest of “real Russia” – is where Putin enjoys his highest level of support, while Moscow and St. Petersburg vote for westerward-oriented liberals. And if the people there dont vote for Putin, you know their 2nd and 3rd choices? Communists and right-wing LDPR, compared to which Putin is more liberal than Obama. Just another inconvenient reality. Trust me, liberal revolution is never coming from the Heartland.

          • rusians will be thrilled to know their pension funds will be wasted on rebuilding of Crimea while many cities in central Russia dont even have roads:

            Замороженные пенсионные накопления россиян направят на проекты поддержки Крыма и Севастополя. Об этом сообщает газета «Ведомости» со ссылкой на источники в министерстве финансов.

            По словам собеседников издания, в Минфине хотят уложиться в 243 млрд рублей – именно столько средств было сэкономлено на замораживании накопительных пенсионных взносов в 2014 году. Уточняется, что эти деньги были зарезервированы федеральным бюджетом на возможные экстренные антикризисные меры, однако президент России Владимир Путин разрешил их потратить.

            Между тем, в ведомстве не исключают, что 243 млрд рублей может не хватить.
            «Не исключено, что 243 млрд руб. не хватит. Тогда придется увеличивать расходы бюджета», — рассказал источник.
            Сотрудник Минфина уточнил, что расходы пока подсчитываются без учета затрат на развитие Крыма: «Дороги, энергетика, ЖКХ сюда не входят». Ожидается, что ведомство рассчитает стоимость перехода Крыма на российские стандарты к 15 апреля.
            Ранее необходимая из федерального бюджета помощь Крыму оценивалась в 91 млрд рублей: 55 млрд, по расчетам Минфина, — на сбалансированность бюджета и 36 млрд, по расчетам Минтруда, — на пенсии

          • Russians can read Russian, and their approval of Putin jumped 20 points since Crimea – and stayed there for four months and counting, through sanctions and economic commitments and the west’s disapproval.

        • OMG!Do you know what happened in Crimea in 1992 when the Crimean population began protesting against pro Western Ukrainian government?Mass arrests,army operation and oppression.
          If Putin didnt began a military operation there could be a Bosnia like conflict.There were a very big tensions between Russians?Tatar minority and Ukrainian army unita and if Putin didnt prevent this consflict there could be a new Bosnia with new massacre.

          I`m a neutral towards Putin.Did you live in Russia before he came?I have grown up in Russia in the 90s.It was a f***ng nightmare!But after Putin came the situation became slowly improved.My father is a doctor and my mother is a teacher.They belong to the most unprotected category of workers in Russia.We lived in Siberia in a small town Myski and my fathers salary was 40000Rubles(1200$).We went abroad every summer for vacations and get all what we want.
          As for gays,womens e.t.c. I dont think that their rights are oppressed.Try to fight for gay rights in US friendly Saudi Arabia and feel the difference.

          • This. While I am a card-carrying feminist and a complete social liberal and want to see the rights for women and minorities strengthened, on the whole the life for ordinary Russians has improved tenfold and then some under Putin. But it’s a very inconvenient fact for any observer living abroad. Most of Western establishment is much happier praising Yeltsin and Gorbachev for their “liberal values”, ignoring the fact that under their leadership Russia collapsed in every way and was dying out.

        • I am from Myski,Kemerovskaya oblast.My fater is a doctor,my mother is a teacher.We have normal appartment,garage,moblile phones,tabs,laptops,furniture,making trips abroad.
          Poverty?

        • “Creative free people” ruined Russia in the 90s and turned us into the REAL poverty and the consequences are still faces here.You are still dont know what happened in Russia in the 90s when the “democracy” came.
          As for Pavel Durov he sold his company five month ago before Crimean annexation.He sold his company to Megafon and didnt said nothing.He wasnt forced to do this.

          Is that bad?Well nobody speaks about China but EVERYBODY speaks about USSR!Well my father have only positive feelings about USSR despite he was a dissident.

          The whole “democratic world” do this since 1991.They support the Chechen separatists in the 90s(until they were suspected in 911 terracts),and a lot of separatists movements along the country but without success.

          Yes

          • Sorry I tried to add the quotes() but they were not indicated in my comments.It is impossible to edit my posts now.But I think it is not difficult for you to understand what I`m talking about.
            P.S.And for pensions.This information was already refuted.And where are cities without roads in the CENTRAL RUSSIA could you show them?

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  4. Wow, Anna, this looks totally amazing, I can’t get over how stunning it is. Although I do agree with Simone that some traditional seaside amenities such as a funicular and a teashop could only add to the experience…

  5. SHEESH! Well, while I still wish there was a photo of you staring death in its face, meanwhile you PHONE A FRIEND….I’m happy there’s evidence of you squeezing under that gate! What a winner!

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  8. This beach is absolutely gorgeous. I love the built-in staircases (you know how I love my old-timey architecture), and the very Tortuga-like cove.

    Also that picture of you is hilarious! I love it. Will Turner would have helped break you free.

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