Crimea is a region in the south of Ukraine. The Crimean Peninsula is connected to the rest of the Ukraine by a narrow neck of land, making it more like an island with a natural land bridge than simply a bit of land jutting out into the sea. The peninsula was the site of the Crimean War, between 1854 and 1856, and gave rise to modern nursing, live war reporting,and the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade and the Balaclava(woollen head garment)..
- The Coastal Beach Cities -- The Coastal beach cities are very hospitable to tourists (if you speak Russian). Accommodation is plentiful and cheap (minimum cost for a one night stay is 7 USD). Houses advertising accommodation will usually have a large white sign stuck on the door that has about three words written in Cyrillic. During the tourist season expect the beaches to be quite packed, with mostly Russian tourists. The whole coast line is dominated by the mountains that tower above them, sometimes reaching up to 2000 meters.
- The Coastal Mountains -- The mountain area that stretches from the coast to about 70 km inland contains some very pristine untouched nature. The mountains are formed by ragged limestone that has been shaped into high peeks with canyons, cliffs and valleys transecting them in all directions. Most of the area is extremely rural and poor. Expect a great adventure if you want to go hiking here, but also expect to rough it. Camping sites are few and far between so you'll probably have to just find one of the many secluded fields to camp in. The area has numerous caves as well as small lakes. There are almost no marked trails
- The Sea of Azov and Kerch --
- The Inland Plains -- A lot of really nice farm land. Looks nice while passing through it by train. About as interesting as say...Iowa.
- Alushta -- The first beach city on the way to Yalta from the west, this city does not have much in it except old boat docks that have been transformed into beaches.
- Alupka -- Rocky beaches, home to a number of dacha's and the Voronotsof palace, where Churchill stayed during the Yalta Conference in 1945.
- Bakhchisaray -- Located in a canyon between Simferopol and Sevastapol, this Crimean Tatar town has a wealth of interesting sites to see including the Khan's palace, the cave city and the Armenian monastery that is built in a cave. The town is predominantly Tatar.
- Balaklava - famous for the Crimea war of the 1850's, the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade and home to a former secret Soviet submarine base.
- Feodosiya -- Feodosiya is located 100km to the east of Simferopol. From the outskirts it looks like an urban industrial disaster but once past the factories it has a very nice old town. Very similar to Odessa in architecture but just on a smaller scale.
- Kerch -- Your last stop before reaching the eastern edge of the Crimea and heading across the straits into Russia
- Koktebel -- Located between Feodosiya and Sudak, this small town has a great beach area that has a carnival type environment. It sits below a spectacular wilderness area to the west that regrettably you can only visit on a guided tour.
- Sevastopol -- A major port for the Russian Atlantic fleet. Given the title 'Hero City' for its resistance to the Nazi's during WWII. Numerous monuments to the past's military exploits. Nice shops.
- Simferopol -- The capital. The train station is very clean and beautiful. For the most part this is a place of transit to the coast or to the mountains. It is famous for having the world's longest trolley bus service 56km. Its really slow, boring and uncomfortable on a 50's Soviet trolleybus but very cheap, it might be best to take a minibus.
- Sudak -- A beautiful coastal city with the remains of a very old Genoan (as in Italy) fortress.
- Yalta -- A very beautiful city containing many of the Russian Czar's palaces and other great monuments. Twinned with Margate in England amongst other places. Yalta is a tourist hotspot, which contains a mixture of ugly Soviet hotels and modern high rise apartments. Yalta was once the main holiday destination for many Russians before they were allowed to travel outside the Soviet Bloc.
- Simeiz - Not so far away from Yalta, Simeiz is a rocky and sunny town.
- The Bolshoi (grand) Canyon
When you get to Crimea you can buy the local guide book "TIME to COME to CRIMEA!" (in both English and Russian) at many of the small booths on the street. For your reading entertainment here are some quotes from the book.
"The attitude of the population to lesbians is curious and benevolent; to gays it is hostile, except for the famous ones."
"The modern military tourism including, for example, shooting from grenade launchers and flights by supersonic fighters, is developing at numerous polygons and air stations that used to be secret ones."
Weather and Water
The weather in Crimea during the summer season is very much Mediterranean. Expect relatively hot weather and lots of thunderstorms that come and go. Hot and very humid at night. In the winter snow can cover the mountains and make the roads almost impassable
The water is fairly warm,, although not as warm as the Adriatic. The water is clean and clear, although also a bit less than the Adriatic.
Genealogy & Research
All historical documents (including birth records) for all nationalities (Russian, Tatar, Jews & German) are kept in the National Archive in Simferopol.
You may contact them by email at firstname.lastname@example.org although the best way to receive a response to your email will be to send it in Russian. The archive is open from 8:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday. Individual access to much of the archive is not permitted, although for 30 USD you can pay someone to who works in the archive to do the work for you. Nobody in the archive speaks English so either be prepared to speak Russian or bring along a translator.
The archive is located at No. 3 Keckemetckaj, which is the main street running directly east from the train station in Simferopol(about 1 km).
The archives and its staff are not accustomed to foreigners so be prepared to explain to the guard at the front desk what it is you want to do.
The Lutheran Church in Simferopol supposedly has a list going back to the early 1800's of all German families who emigrated to Crimea under Catherine the great, or so it was said at the Archive. This information has not actually been confirmed at the Lutheran Church. For that matter, finding the Lutheran Church, though mentioned in the guide book, is actually a quite difficult (and as of yet unaccomplished) task.
The city of Feodosiya has a Jewish Community Center that is very active in doing research on the Jewish community of Crimea. You may contact them at email@example.com, they can communicate in basic English (so you can send the email in English) but more than likely the response back will be in Russian.
In Crimea, Russian is the language of choice (Stalin imported Russian families into the Crimea, whilst exporting the local Tatars to Uzbekistan) in addition to the Tatar and Ukrainian languages. The point being, memorize your phrase book as you most likely will be communicating mainly with Russian speakers. A lot of young people speak or understand English.
There is a University in Simferopol, and many young people study English. Their English is usually of a very good standard.
Some of the street signs in Yalta are in English from the time of the Yalta Conference in 1945.
There are overnight trains running to Crimea from throughout the Ukraine. The cost will vary based upon where you will be leaving from, but from the Slovak border to cost is about 20 USD in the third class, 30 USD in the second class. Beware, the trains (mainly third class) are disgusting. If you can afford it you should consider flying, a return flight Kiev <-> Simferopol with Ukraine International Airlines is about $150.
If you travel by overnight sleeper train it is quite comfortable, cheap and the quality is OK. Just the average travelling speed of trains is slow in Ukraine in general (about 50km per hour).
There are flights to Simferopol from Kyiv, Moscow, Istanbul, and many western European cities, including Frankfurt, Tallinn and Riga.
You can get anywhere in Crimea by mini bus. You can also go by taxi. Prices vary, be prepared to haggle a fare as you will always find someone to do a deal with. Many private citizens also work as sudo taxi drivers, sometimes it is difficult to tell. Taxi's range from modern comfortable cars to 1950's gas powered Soviet cars!
Frequently while traveling in the country if you look like a foreigner (for example with a backpack) and you are standing on what passes as a 'major' road people will stop and ask if you want a ride ... for a price, fortunately that price usually amounts to only a few USD to go some very long distances.
The road system in Crimea as well as most of the Ukraine, is in very poor repair, expect huge potholes. There is a very strict zero policy to drink driving. Police patrols are frequent as well as roadside checks for documents. The death toll on Ukraine roads is very bad, you have been warned.
- The Khan's Palace -- The Khan's palace is located in the small mountain village of Bahkchisaray a halfway between Simferopol and Sevastapol. The Khan's palace was the seat of the Tatar rulers of Crimea dating back to 1443. With the Ottoman conquest of Crimea in 1475 the Khan's became a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire but were left as the rulers. After the Crimean war with the victory of Russia all of the Khan's were made Russian nobility but the capital of Crimea was moved to Simferopol. The palace grounds include impressive gardens, several old mosques including cemeteries, a harem and of course the palace itself. You can take a guided tour of the palace but only in Russian.
- Chufut Kale Cave City -- An hour and a half walk up a beautiful canyon from the town of Bahkchisaray you will find the Chufut Kale cave town dating back to the 6th century. It is located high up in the cliffs so the walk is a bit strenuous but not overwhelming. It is a city of what appears to have been several thousand people who built/dug their homes into the limestone rock. The city was abandoned in the 19th century.
- The Bolshoi Canyon -- The Bolshoi Canyon is located on the opposite side of the mountain range that Yalta sits below. It will take about an hour and a half to get there by automobile from Yalta. It can also be reached from Bahkchisaray by hitch hiking or minibus. Bolshoi means 'Grand or Large' in Russian. After reaching the entrance to the park you will have to pay a small fee (2 USD) to start down the trail. From there it is about an hour hike into the canyon along a small mountain stream. You never actually end up getting a perfect view of the canyon as you are also down in the middle of it surrounded by lush vegetation but it is impressive all the same. The trail ends at a small picnic area where a local man is selling awful wine and really good fried food. There is a small waterfall and a pool where you can do some minor diving/jumping. You can continue further up the stream without the trail but it is a bit more rough going.
- The Swallow's Nest a folly, now an Italian restaurant.
- Lavadia Palace - former summer palace to the Tsars and famous setting for the Yalta Conference.
- Massandra Palace - another former Tsarist palace, which looks a bit like a French Chataeu, once visted by Stalin who declined to stay there as he did not feel very safe.
- Hiking in Crimea is wonderful. There are very few other backpackers and almost no clearly marked trails (as in posted signs) so you're going to be roughing it. The trails themselves though appear to be well used. In the mountainous region though you can pretty much pick any two small towns and hike between them and be assured of an adventure. Campsites are few and far between but there is lots of open space for camping, be environmentally sensitive of course about the place you choose to camp. For a brief description of a hike see Bahkchisaraj
Street food can be delicious in Crimea, if you are not prone to gastritis. Once your system is acclimated, definitely try some local Tatar specialties such as chebureki (Russian: чебуреки), from an outdoor stand or a cheburechnaya (Russian: Чебуречная, chebureki joint). These are succulent half-moon shaped meat pies, usually filled with lamb or beef (Crimean Tatars, being Muslim, do not eat pork), and deep-fried in aromatic sunflower oil.
Try manti (Russian: манты), which are steamed lamb-filled dumplings, often served with adjika (Russian: аджика), which is a very hot red chili pepper paste.
Try ljulja-kebab and shashlik (Russian: люля-кебаб and шашлык), which are shish-kebabs, especially if you can find ones cooked over a wood fire. If you can find pork shashlik, definitely try them. You will have more success with this in a Russian-run restaurant, as pork is not served in Tatar restaurants.
Find a good Tatar restaurant and try the lagman (Russian: лагман). It's an incredibly rich, thick lamb soup with vegetables and long homemade noodles that is absolutely to die for.
The ice cream sold at the beach includes a simple one called molochnoye (Russian: молочное, "made of milk"). It's white, but it's not vanilla-flavored. It tastes like sweet milk.
If you see women walking up the beach selling something from buckets, it's probably paklava (Russian: паклава, baklava). This paklava is like nothing you have ever had before. It's thin layers of homemade dough, put together to resemble big flowers, deep-fried and covered with nuts and honey. It's absolutely heavenly.
Find a pastry shop and try the trubochki (Russian: трубочки, "little trumpets"). A trubochka is a cornucopia shape of short pastry filled with meringue and sometimes dipped in nuts. Delicious with chai (Russian: чай, tea).
The beer in Crimea is outstanding and cheap.
Crimea is a wine-producing region. Most of the wine produced here, at the famous Massandra Palace winery and in Koktebel', is dessert wine in the style of Port or Madeira. Unwary foreigners might buy a bottle of what looks like red or white wine in a kiosk and find it undrinkably sweet. That's because it's meant to be sipped, in very small quantities, not drunk like a Merlot. If it's regular wine you're looking for, avoid anything labeled Портвейн (Portwine), Мадейра (Madeira), Мускат (Muscat), Токай (Tokay). For table wines, ask for "sukhOye vinO" (dry wine) or look for labels such as Совиньон (Sauvignon), Каберне (Cabernet), and Ркацетели (Rkatseteli), or look for Georgian wines, which are delicious and plentiful.
Try the regional sparkling wine, produced at Noviy Svet (Russian: Новый Свет, "New Light"), near Sudak. It's labeled "Шампанское" ("Shampanskoye", champagne). It's very good. Try to buy it somewhere reputable, though, because there are knock-offs. Noviy Svet is a very beautiful spot; you can tour the caverns where the wine is aged.
If you're not going anywhere else in Russia and Ukraine, try kvass (Russian: квас). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kvass
It's a very refreshing non-alcoholic drink made of fermented wheat, the traditional drink of farmworkers in the bread-basket of Ukraine, prized for its restorative properties.
Try the local kefir (Russian: кефир), a cultured-milk beverage. When ice-cold, it's extremely refreshing on a hot day.
If you're feeling adventuresome, you might look for "kumys" (Russian: кумыс or кымыз), which is fermented mare's milk, a traditional drink of the Tatars and nomadic peoples of Central Asia.
Beware, some of the local mineral waters taste very salty. Look for a Western European brand, especially if you're going to be exercising.
Vodka is cheap and plentiful, some of the supermarkets have the best prices and the widest choices.
Automobiles will be the biggest hazard to your safety in Crimea. Drivers tend to stick to speed limits as there are many militsyia (police) but the road surfaces are poor which leads to some unsafe overtaking, even on the curvy coast and mountain roads. Pedestrians cross roads at their own peril. Be particularly careful if a car has stopped for you at a marked crosswalk; check around the car before you venture past it farther into the crosswalk, because another very well may swing around it and go right through... right where you would be walking. Most cars ignore pedestrians!
Crimea does not have a major problem with crime. However, foreigners are at risk of being robbed if they are not careful about flashing wealth, except in Yalta during the summer which is filled with rich Russians. Foreigners should not hitchhike or take unmarked cabs unless they are travelling in a group. The safest way for a foreigner to travel alone is to take a bus or a marshrutka (a microbus that follows the regular bus routes).
The countryside, which is extremely poor, is very safe. You are more likely to get kicked by a wandering horse than robbed. Ukrainians on the whole are very polite, except when lining up for a bus or service at a shop when pushing to the front has been perfected into an art form. Standing in line is not an option!
There are plenty of ATM's and as always be careful around them. At night avoid lonely places where the numerous drunks hang out, they are not really a danger except they might fall on top of you.
The teenagers in the Ukraine (outside of Kyiv) appear to be some of the best behaved.
This page was last edited at 12:04, on 26 March 2009 by Brian Woods. Based on work by Peter Fitzgerald and Nick Roux, Wikitravel user(s) Morph, WTDuck2, StopBob and Episteme, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.