After a night in the guesthouse, I headed out early to try to find a place for breakfast, and had a strange meal of pastries in a self service restaurant. After breakfast, I made my way fairly easily downhill, along a little path, to the Alupka Palace, built in the nineteenth century. My Russian phrase book again proved vital, as I was able to ask a couple of times whether I was heading in the right direction for the dvaryets (palace).
My main interest in the palace was that this is where Churchill and the British delegation stayed, during the February 1945 Yalta conference. It was no accident that they were based here, since Count Vorontsov, who commissioned the building of the palace in the 1820s, had grown up and been educated in London, where his father had served as Russian ambassador. The Count was an anglophile and the palace was designed by English architect Edward Blore. Its style is modelled on that of an English country house, including its imitation sixteenth century dining hall, although its most distinctive outside feature is its large “Moorish Arch” facing the sea. The palace has a Churchill Room, with a small exhibition about the British wartime leader.
The palace is set in extensive grounds, with impressive views over the sea. After visiting the palace, I walked through the grounds, and found my way to the Ai Petri cable car, around 20 minutes walk from the palace. This must be one of the most spectacular cable car rides in Europe. The climb up the 1200m high mountain involves two stages, with a change of cable car half way. From the top you have extensive views over a wide area of coastline and sea below. I was lucky that the weather was good and the visibility excellent.
Ai Petri summit can also be reached by road, by a winding route up from Yalta. So rather than return by the cable car, I decided to continue this way and stop to see Europe’s highest waterfall, Uchan Su, which means “flying water” in Tatar. Here the water plunges down from a height of 98m. (The Crimean Tatars are Crimea’s Turkish minority, with a complicated history. They formed the majority population in Crimea until the time of Catherine the Great in the eighteenth century. Many were deported under Stalin, who accused them of collaborating with the Nazi occupiers, but recently some have begun to return. Today they make up around 12% of Crimea’s population, with their cultural centre at Bakhchisarai in Central Crimea).
After admiring the view at Ai Petri summit for a while, I headed into the car park area near the cable car station and soon found a minibus going towards Yalta. This swerved down some spectacular hairpin bends with views towards Yalta, before reaching a more wooded area further down the mountain. The bus dropped me at the end of a short path, which leads to the waterfall through woodland for about 5 minutes from the main Ai Petri-Yalta road. Here I was unlucky. The waterfall is no doubt impressive most of the time, but had slowed to a trickle when I was there. It’s probably best to visit in the spring rather than late summer to avoid this risk.
From the waterfall, I took another minibus for the final descent into Yalta, reaching the now familiar Yalta bus station, where I changed to a crowded number 27 to get to the Swallow’s Nest. The minibus leaves you near some souvenir shops, from where you can get a very good distant view of the castle, perched on its rock, a few hundred metres away. The Swallow’s Nest is Crimea’s most famous tourist landmark, and is a symbol of the region. Built in 1911-12, it was designed for a Baltic German noble, Baron von Steingel, who had made money from oil extraction in Baku. Von Steingel sold it in 1914, and after briefly becoming a tourist attraction after the Russian revolution, it was damaged in an earthquake in 1927. Reconstruction only began in the 1960s, and it was reopened in 1975.
The Swallow’s Nest is approached by a path, which heads down from the road to sea level and then up towards the castle. The castle itself hosts an art exhibition, and from the area outside it there are impressive views over the bay below. There are regular boats to Yalta, and so this was my choice for the next stage of the trip. From the boat, you get a good perspective of the Swallow’s Nest from sea level as you gradually move away from it and along the coast. When you reach Yalta after half an hour or so, you enter the harbour and pass the landmark Yalta Lighthouse.
After arriving in Yalta, I headed away from the seafront to have a brief look at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, built in 1902, with its golden domes, which reminded me of the many beautiful churches and monasteries in Kiev. After a little walk again on the seafront, I headed back to the main road near the cathedral.
The journey back to Alupka from here was my last adventure of the day. Earlier, while walking from the Alupka Palace to the Ai Petri cable car, I had noticed the terminus for minibus number 28, not far from the palace. I had worked out that this must pass alongside the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral on its way from Yalta bus station. So I picked one up, just as darkness was falling. The crowded bus wound its way through the various resorts, taking the best part of an hour to reach Alupka.
What had looked easy in daylight was a completely different matter in pitch dark. I hadn’t counted on there being no street lighting whatsoever to guide me the short distance of a few hundred metres from the bus stop back into the centre of Alupka. Other passengers were prepared for this and had torches, so I simply had to follow them across the park, taking great care not to go astray. Finally we reached the bottom of some steps which had street lighting and a little restaurant where I later ate dinner. Another challenging but successful day in my Crimean adventure.
In my next posting, I will describe my visit to the Livadia Palace in Yalta, where the wartime conference took place, another cable car trip in Yalta in little buckets which take you above the town’s rooftops, and a visit to the “travellers’ church” on the rock in Foros, famous for its precarious location and a legend behind its construction there.