Hitch-hiking in Crimea, Part 1

12th November was again a day of leaving a city, warm bed and shower behind but today it was a whole lot different because of “The Curious Incident of the Bicycles in the Night-time”. It was a completely new experience because I and Laura had to carry our stuff on our backs and we hitch-hiked instead of cycling. For both of us this was the first hitch-hiking experience abroad. You can read about Dainis’ cycling in the previous entry.

Although I’ve always liked to hitch-hike, I’ve also always liked to ride a bicycle. So my feelings about starting this leg of the journey were mixed. On one hand, I was still grieving over the two missing bikes, on the other hand, considering my and Laura’s knee pains we would still not cycle from Sevastopol but would rather cram the bikes on a train and go to Kerch via Simferopol and Dzhankoy and completely miss the beauties of the Crimean South cost. With this in mind, the opportunity to hitch-hike came as a blessing. Of course, only to the point when we actually stepped out of Andrey’s apartment. Obviously, we couldn’t just start sitting back and relaxing while waiting for cars in the backyard of a block house deep in the city. Firstly, we needed to get to the other side of the city. Equipped with our enormous backpacks, we didn’t even try to manage to squeeze into the crowded and undersized marshrutkas, we went for the big fish – boarded a trolleybus that took us till its final stop on the other side of city. But we were still in the city. There were a lot of busses going to a lot of places from here and it was too confusing for us, besides we didn’t even know where and how far should we go, other than the direction of Yalta but not to Yalta itself today.

So we decided just to walk out of the city and start hitch-hiking, it seemed that it shouldn’t be more that 3 kilometers further. Eventually, we walked 7 kilometers until we found a place apt for sticking our hands up. Seven kilometers, of course don’t seem as a big deal but if you have an uncomfortable and 30kgs heavy backpack, it can be a challenge.

Zhiguli in Crimea

Zhiguli in Crimea

When we finally started hitching the rides, it didn’t take as much as ten minutes for the first car to pull over. Sadly, they didn’t have enough space. Not that we are so fat that each of us takes two seats but the fact that with our backpacks, each of us indeed takes two seats. With most of the cars, we weren’t able to fit both bags in the trunk, even if it was empty. But, it didn’t take as much as additional ten minutes for another catch. A black Ford, tinted windows pulled over, two Russians dressed in suits stepped out and kindly offered to drive us to Yalta. Sitting in the comfortable seats and admiring the beautiful sights of mountains piercing the low-drifting clouds and the Black Sea waving against the cliffs underneath, we drove the winding road in-between and saw a familiar figure – Dainis was taking pictures from the side of the road. It was already late afternoon and it was clear that he will not make it to Yalta today. We stepped out of the car near the small town of Foros – this is the southernmost resort of Crimea. This place again offered some sights full of awe – to the sea, the mountain ridges and to the Church of Christ’s Resurrection – one of the landmarks of Crimea – an orthodox church overlooking the Black Sea littoral from a 400-metre cliff.

Dainis is looking for a camping site

Dainis is looking for a camping site

We had to look for a place to set up our tent which was not an easy task because there were rocky slopes on the both sides of the road. Eventually we came to a decision that we are not gonna set up the tent at all and that we’ll just sleep on our mats under the stars. We were in the southernmost part of Crimea, after all. We found a comparatively level surface, carried the bags and bicycle up there and started our evening routine. Of course, when you wake up later in the night because of the fact that you have glided half a meter downhill and stopped only because there is a tree ahead, the previously proclaimed level surface doesn’t seem so level at all. But overall, it was really great to sleep under the stars, if the weather and environment allows it, it’s definitely worth to do this instead of tinkering with your tent.

Foros bus stop

Foros bus stop

Next day, it was only 40 kilometers to Yalta and one must-see landmark on the way – The Swallow’s Nest (Ла́сточкино гнездо́) – a decorative castle on top of the 40-metre high Aurora Cliff, built in a Neo-Gothic design. So we took our place at the side of the road and started hunting cars again. As there are so many Zhiguli’s (VAZ-2101) driving around Ukraine and Crimea, we hoped to get a lift by one of these, as they are quite legendary. Today, the cars were not so friendly as yesterday and after standing with our arms outstretched for more than half an hour we were starting to consider going by bus. But eventually we settled with a Peugeot and in a blink of an eye, sometimes racing at 120km/h on the curvy Yalta highway, were already in the small town of Gaspra. Quite a walk with the heavy load on our backs was still ahead of us to the castle itself. We tried the shortest route and suddenly found ourselves located inside the territory of Gaspra’s concrete plant. We hadn’t stepped over any fences or walked past signs but at least that was what some man who was supposed to guard the place, told us. He announced that if we continue walking in this direction, we will eventually be stopped at the front gate and told to go all the way back. We didn’t want to back already from this point so we asked if there’s really no other way down there, to what he reluctantly answered that we can try walking downhill off the road to the left. He also remarked that we really shouldn’t do that because we will certainly fall and tumble and break our necks. Naturally, we ignored this overcautious advice and were already safely on the road to the castle after less than ten minutes. I’ve always been amused by these ‘closed territories’ in where I usually end up just walking in and then find trouble getting out of them.

More walking and we finally could see with our own eyes, even touch the most popular of Crimean tourist attractions – the Swallow’s Nest castle. Which turned out to be a slight disappointment – the castle actually looks more impressive in the pictures than in real life. I guess that is because of the puny size of the castle you can’t really perceive it as more than a plastic-like dummy. In pictures you cannot evaluate the size so good and then this fairy-tale look creates more impressive image in your head.

The Swalow's Nest size compared to a bottle of beer.

The Swalow’s Nest size compared to a bottle of beer.

Quest: Find a cat in this picture!

Quest: Find a cat in this picture!

The entrance fee seemed inadequately high, therefore we didn’t take the risk of possible double-letdown and continued enjoying the exterior and surroundings of the castle. On the cliff next to the castle there is the “Wishing tree” and “The magical locker”. The legend has it that in the beginning of 20th century these lands belonged to a merchant who put a chest containing three nuggets of gold on this rock. The next day, a magical tree had emerged from the chest. The Merchant made a wish so that in this place, there would be a castle. And the castle appeared in 1912. From that time these are known as the Wishing tree and the Magical locker. You can also tie a band on the tree and make a wish of your own, of course, not forgetting to throw some money in the locker (wink).

The Wising Tree and The Magical Locker

The Wising Tree and The Magical Locker

We met up with Dainis here and then went back to the road – apparently you cannot cycle or drive to the castle itself, you must take a half kilometer long staircase/pathway. The only street that could take you to the castle, goes through a private property. Gaspra to Yalta is only 10 kilometers and this time we put our trust in a marshrutka to take us there because we didn’t want to end up in a long and tiresome walk again before we could start hitch-hiking. We gazed at the picturesque coast of the Black Sea through the windows of the small bus and wondered how it feels for Dainis to cycle up the next in turn serpentine road uphill.

While still in Odessa, with the help of our new acquaintances, we had arranged that we will be staying with a furniture shop owner Marina when in Yalta. Turned out that exactly in these days she already had visitors in her flat but that made things even better – she kindly offered us to stay in her shop. This was a truly unique experience, and as the store’s name “DiVan” already suggests it was full of divans, sofas and beds. We stashed our belongings in the shop and went out for a walk through the center of Yalta. It was dark already but as we didn’t plan to linger in the city for the next day, this was the only chance to sightsee a bit. Despite the fact that it is not the touristic season in November, walking in the central part of Yalta, you can tell right away – this is a touristic city.

Yalta Eiffel tower.

Yalta Eiffel tower.

Greeted by a brightly illuminated Eiffel tower replica (about 30m in height), we continued on to a promenade that stretches alongside the sea shore and concentrates many tourist attractions and spots around and on it. This street which all the locals call by the name of “набережная” is a pedestrian only street that goes by the full name of something like “Embankment street named after Lenin” but everyone just calls it “Naberezhnaya”.

Naberezhnaya in Yalta

Naberezhnaya in Yalta

It was surprisingly alive and full of people for a Thursday’s night but, of course, it is nothing compared to a summer weekend’s night. The monument of Lenin, restaurant in the shape of a Viking ship named “The Orange”, the little church (?) – Часовня Новомучеников и Исповедников Российских and the big, at least 500-year old plane tree – those are only the few of most obvious sights here. There are others and there is a ton of various shops, restaurants and hotels. Merchants are selling tacky trickets and a super-illuminated bicycle is riding around, offering city tours.

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, alias Lenin

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, alias Lenin

We came to a conclusion that it is impossible to find a place to eat that would suit our budget, so we wandered off the Naberezhnaya and found a fairly cheap canteen in the basement by the Yalta town hall. After we had eaten, we met up with Marina and ate some more, and then we were ready for our Night at the Museum Furniture shop.

Yalta Divan - the territory of comfort

Yalta Divan – the territory of comfort

We modestly inquired whether we should set our sleeping mats on the floor in the shop’s back room on what Marina’s response was: “Of course, you can do that if you want but I don’t see why it would be necessary if you can sleep in any of the around 20 beds and sofas here!” Surely we chose beds over sofas and couches. We evaluated them all and each of us found his or her true and only one to sleep on. Tonight was the night when we could sleep in which position we wanted, toss about and stretch our extremities in all directions, as opposed to sleeping in a 150cm wide tent where each of us hardly has 50cm of private space. The one last thing to before going to sleep was sitting at the round table ‘Fedel’ (12754 Russian rubles) and slowly enjoying cherry kompot that Marina had left us a whole 3 liter jar of.

Drinking kompot

Drinking kompot

Choosing the right sleeping place

Choosing the right sleeping place

So, after these two days of new way of traveling – what can I say about it? It is different, of course but somehow it is also similar to what we did before. We start our mornings together, same as before, we also meet up in the evenings and do our routine. Cycling, the headwind and the hills gave us the hardest time but now it is replaced by carrying the enormous bags on our backs from and to places we are able to hitch-hike. We have no other option but to get to Georgia this way but I can say that travelling by hitch-hiking with this amount of belongings and these inconvenient bags is more unpleasant and less rewarding as cycling.

Donbass in Yalta

Donbass in Yalta

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