My fourth day in Crimea began again at the bus stop for the 115 minibus, only this time I was heading in the opposite direction, away from Yalta. With some help from the English speaking owner of the guesthouse, who I had spoken to on the phone, I had found a way to get to Sevastopol, avoiding going into Yalta and back again. There were apparently buses from Simeiz, the next main settlement a few kilometres west along the coast from Alupka, and the terminus for minibus 115.
Things were not quite as simple as I had hoped. Knowing it would be a long day, I had made an early start, and reached Simeiz around 8.45. With the help of the phrase book again, I managed to walk the hundred metres or so from the end of the minibus route to Simeiz bus station, only to find that the next bus to Sevastopol didn’t leave until 10.45. Realising that there were regular buses from Yalta to Sevastopol along the main road which ran above the resorts, I headed up the hill to see if there was any kind of bus stop on the main road. Sure enough, after a climb of 10 minutes or so, I reached the main road and saw several people standing on the opposite side obviously waiting for buses. It wasn’t long before a big coach heading to Sevastopol pulled up.
The coach took me along the coast road, with spectacular views of the sea on my left and mountains on my right. We passed Foros and the Church on the Rock, which I’d visited the day before. After an hour or so, I jumped off at Sapun Hill, with a little help from the young lady I was sitting next to, who told me where to get off, even though we had no common language. I managed a quick spasiba as I got out through the centre door.
Sapun Hill is the location of a dull Soviet military museum, but for British visitors its main interest is that it gives a view down over the “Valley of Death,” where the Light Brigade launched its fateful charge on 25 October 1854, during the Crimean War. The museum has a viewing platform at the spot from which Lord Raghan watched the battle. It’s difficult to imagine the carnage of that day on a bright August morning, especially as the valley is now filled with vineyards. But you can certainly see how exposed the British troops must have been to fire from either side. Of the 673 cavalrymen who made the charge, less than 200 survived, making it the most celebrated blunder in British military history.
From Sapun Hill it was an easy bus ride into Sevastopol, a distance of about 8 miles. I simply waited at the bus stop where I’d arrived, and flagged down a coach when one appeared. Sevastopol was a closed city in Soviet times and up to 1994, meaning that foreigners were banned. You still pass a large sign when you enter the city, and can imagine the checkpoints which must once have existed. The bus and railway stations are some 2 miles from the centre, and you reach them after descending a hill. Immediately you see that this is a naval town, as the ships of the Russian Black Sea fleet come into view.
My first stop in Sevastopol was the Panorama, a vast enclosed 360 degree painting and mock up of the 1855 Battle of Sevastopol. The battle was a defeat for the besieged Russian forces, which led to the fall of the city and ultimately to Russia losing the Crimean War, but the battle is nevertheless celebrated by Russians as a heroic defence. The Panorama Museum reminded me of a similar display at the Museum of the Great Patriotic War in Moscow. The display includes famous figures who fought in the battle, such as Tolstoy.
From the Panorama Museum, I walked towards the sea front, along Lenin Street. (Like other Crimean cities, Sevastopol has not changed its Soviet era street names). I passed the Black Sea Fleet museum and a vast World War Two memorial, before walking down the elegant tree lined Nachimova boulevard. I passed the Hotel Sevastopol, built under Stalin, although the architecture surprises, as it looks pre-communist.
One of the nicest things to do in Sevastopol is to take one of the many ferries, which cross the bay. There are several routes, the longest being to Inkerman, which takes about 45 minutes. I took the short crossing from ArtilleryBay, not far from the Hotel Sevastopol, over to the NorthShore and back again. The boats run every half hour, and it’s about a 15-20 minute trip in each direction, with some impressive views over the bay. The ticket prices are very low, and you can buy cool fruit drinks on board. Perfect for a warm August afternoon.
I ended my trip to Sevastopol by taking a taxi out to Chersonesus, the extensive remains of a Greek city founded in 528 BC, about 5 km from the centre, and on the sea front. There’s a Greek theatre not far from the entrance, where plays are occasionally performed, and it’s a pleasant place to walk around on a summer evening. Chersonesus features on most tourist advertising for Sevastopol. Many people come out here to swim. The captions are only in Russian, but audioguides are available.
From Chersoneses, I managed to pick up a minibus which dropped me in the centre. I had a final walk along the promenade and unsure of where to find transport, ended up walking all the way back to the bus station. I was just in time to catch a bus heading for Yalta. Then I had another complicated linguistic challenge. I needed to explain that I wanted a ticket to Simeiz and that I knew the Yalta bus didn’t go down into the resort, but that I would get off on the main road and walk down the hill. Amazingly I managed to make myself understood to the helpful and sympathetic lady at the ticket office, and then rushed for the bus with a ticket in my hand.
Darkness was descending quickly, and I could just make out the Valley of Death, which we passed again in the dusk. Then an hour or so later a group of young people started shouting to the driver to stop, because we had reached Simeiz. This was another stroke of luck- I’d asked the driver to tell me when we got there, but he had obviously forgotten, so without the group getting off I would have had a long detour via Yalta.
From the main road, I walked down the hill in the dark, eventually reaching the stop for the 115 back to Alupka. After a wait of half an hour or so, it finally headed off and I reached Alupka again, tired but satisfied after a long but successful day’s sightseeing. I had a large dinner in the main restaurant in town, the Mare Nero, where it was a comfort that the waitress spoke English and could tell me what was on the menu.