My Crimean vacation wasn’t all rosé and roses.
Let us dispense with the unpleasantries first.
Nobody loves rain more than I do. It’s cozy. It’s romantic. It’s beautiful. But when rain takes over half of your summer vacation, it becomes a pain in the ass.
In Crimea a day of heavy rain meant not just staying indoors for that day, but several days of canceled hiking and riding trips, because the ground in the mountains needed time to dry up. It also meant cancelled sightseeing excursions to farther-off parts of the peninsula because the roads were made dangerous by mudslides and falling rocks.
Things I didn’t get to do because of the rain: visit Sevastopol (home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and hero-town of many wars), Massandra and Livadia palaces near Yalta, hike up Mount Ai-Petri and down the Big Canyon, plus go on many more horseback riding trips. Also, the rain killed whatever little Wi-Fi there was in Novy Svet.
This kind of rustic living was cute for the first few days of my vacation, but got annoying fast. Next time I go to Crimea – or anywhere, really – there will be a proper bathroom and Internet!
3. The toilet situation…
Um. Crimea was the first place where I saw with my own eyes that a toilet can be just a hole in the ground that you have to squat over. OH MY GOD. NO. And the scary part was that they were everywhere, including at some restaurants and museums! This is still absolutely horrifying to me.
4. Abandoned construction
There was quite a bit, especially in some parts of Crimea, like the outskirts of Sudak and Simferopol (the capital). Some residential and industrial buildings, including private houses, looked like catacombs. It was all very depressing, and I hope it changes in the future.
5. The strays
There are so many cats and dogs living on the streets of Crimean towns and around resorts! Summers are good to them, as all the tourists feed them day and night, but what happens the rest of the year? I wanted to take them all home.
Ugh, this was grim, though to be fair, those were the only negative bits of my entire Crimean experience.
Okay, now onto the good stuff. The whole trip was so amazing, with the highs outnumbering the lows by a factor of hundreds at least, that picking favorites was very tough!
1. Novy Svet
Nestled in a pine valley, the charming townlet where I stayed is isolated enough to feel like a real getaway yet close enough to the proper town of Sudak to allow access to all the conveniences, from banks and doctor’s offices to night clubs and beauty salons. It is a relatively unknown “chamber” spot – as the Russians are fond of saying – and the locals were always very curious to find out how I’ve learned of the place. The magic of Novy Svet even made the endless rain more palatable. If you have to be stranded somewhere with nothing but a book or a journal, there is no better place.
2. Tour Guides
I expected that three-hour-long narrations of Crimea’s history, tales and legends would get tiresome, or at least repetitive after two group excursions max. Instead, I was happy to be proven wrong. Each guide brought his or her personality and flare to the stories, and during each trip I learned something new about Crimea. This is certainly a testament to the cultural richness of the place, but also to the passion with which the locals embrace their land.
Three 3-hour-long, 30-kilometer treks into the mountains and valleys near Sudak were not just breathtakingly gorgeous, but highly therapeutic. For the first time in half a year I could be on a horse without shaking and breaking down in sobbing hysterics – something I hadn’t been able to kick during repeated attempted to get back in the saddle at my Moscow stables, following my second riding accident last December. Tatar approach to riding is much more intuitive and relaxed, the horses were extremely well-behaved and calm, and my guides were very considerate of my trauma history. While I was clutching the saddle for dear life when we left the horse time for the first trip, on my third one I galloped across wildflower meadows seven times.
I have no idea what else to call it, but Crimea stunned me with the variety and beauty of its landscape and nature. Before the trip I thought of Crimea as mostly beaches and Soviet-style canteens, with some stables on the edge of town. Sure, I’ve seen some pictures of hiking trails, but I had no clear image of the place as a whole. Turns out – there isn’t a defining snapshot of Crimean nature. Drive for a couple of hours and you will cross pine forests, temperate rain forests, blooming meadows covering the rolling hills, flat steppes, sharp mountain peaks, and barren deserts. Though I didn’t come across any deer, wolves and boards, I was prepped on what to do if one jumped out on the trail in front of my horse – evidently not a rare event here. I watched dolphins frolic at sunset, and was introduced to so many varieties of plants, birds, fish and insects, and made friends with a hedgehog and a bunny right by my cabin.
Taigan Safari Park is forever going to be a “must” destination for me in Crimea. Being THISCLOSE to these huge, gorgeous, majestic animals as they rested, fought, cuddled and played was frightening and fascinating at once, and I wish I had more time with them.
Not sure if this is a high or a low but at my “WiFi café” I made friends with this little guy:
I named him Solnyshko – “little sun,” as he was the bright spot on yet another rainy day. I even took him to my cabin for one night, where he slept in the crook of my neck. Then I spent a week devising a plan to bring him with me back to Moscow, where surely he would be savagely murdered by The Beast. Leaving Solnyshko behind broke my heart – might have been literally, as it hurt so much – but the café owners promised to take good care of him. He was their seventh adoptee!