My third day in Crimea began with a ride on the crowded minibus 115, which took me from near to my guesthouse in Alupka to the Livadia Palace. The palace was built for Tsar Nicholas II as the Russian royal family’s summer residence and completed in 1911. The royal family loved Crimea and appreciated its fresh air. The palace was also the setting for the February 1945 wartime conference, in which Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt planned the future of Germany and Europe.
The palace is essentially divided into two sections. On the ground floor, you can see the conference room where the discussions took place in 1945. At the time of my visit, the room itself was cordoned off for renovation and its furniture had been removed, although you could still look into it from the neighbouring room, in which a mock-up conference table had been placed. The first floor is dedicated to the Romanovs, with poignant photographs of the family who spent their very last years here before the Russian Revolution in 1917. The small chapel next to the palace is a shrine to their memory. The Romanovs were canonised in 1982 by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, and in 2000 by the main, Moscow based, Russian Orthodox Church. The setting of the palace, looking out over the sea and surrounded by gardens, is beautiful and it is not difficult to understand why the Romanovs liked to come here.
After visiting the palace, I took minibus number 5 from outside to Yalta bus station. From there I went into the centre on Yalta to take in one of the resort’s most unique attractions- a cable car system made up of small, bucket-like pods, which take you on a ride above the rooftops for about 5 minutes up the hill above Yalta. The views of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, with its golden onion domes, are particularly good. Boarding the pods is interesting as they never quite stop, so you have to jump in and then shut the little door behind you manually- there’s nothing to stop you riding the whole way with the door wide open. At the top, there is a café and you can admire the views over the harbour.
From Yalta, I moved on to Foros, some 30 miles along the coast. This is the location of one of Crimea’s most spectacular sights, the Church on the Rock. It was completed in 1892, having been commissioned by a local nobleman, Alexander Kuznetsov. One legend surrounding its construction is that Kuznetsov’s daughter narrowly escaped death when her horse went out of control and charged towards the cliff edge but miraculously stopped just in time. So Kuznetsov built the church there to give thanks. Another version is that it commemorates Tsar Alexander III’s escape from an 1888 train crash. Either way, it is church which celebrates lucky escapes by travellers, and so is also known as the travellers’ church. I lit a candle there to give thanks for my own successful travels.
Foros is also famous as the place where Gorbachev was staying during the 1991 Soviet coup. He was placed under house arrest at his dacha here, while on holiday, before returning to Moscow after the coup had collapsed. Older guidebooks say that it is possible to see the villa, but locals told me that today it is surrounded by trees, so cannot be seen from a distance. It cannot be approached either, as it is still government property, protected by security guards.
Foros minibus station is a long way from the church. The minibus turns left, off the main Yalta- Sevastopol road, in the direction of the sea and the church is way up above the road, perched on its rock. So I found a taxi, which took me back up to the Yalta road, and then upwards, via some spectacular hairpin bends, with excellent views. The driver also took me to a viewing platform, higher up the mountain, which was a superb vantage point to see the church as well as the whole coastline below.
Foros was the last place on my itinerary that day, and as I headed back to Alupka by minibus on a beautiful summer evening, with mountains on my left and the sea on my right, I truly felt that Crimea is an undiscovered jewel at least as far as the Western traveller is concerned.
In my next and final post on my Crimean journey, I will describe my visit to the location of the Charge of the Light Brigade, and to the port city of Sevastopol.