Palms In The Snow
In a sense, trains are better than the planes. You relax and slowly adjust to a different pace and lifestyle while you ride the train. You feel the distance and know how far you are from Moscow rush.
Next morning you wake up to watch a different country. Endless plains of fields and meadows have replaced the forests, green patches joyfully break the brownish colors of bare soil and last year grass. Wet air vibrates in the sun and sky colors unmistakably tell you that the spring has come.
But this is a strange year (they say, a leap year should be!)
We on the train were enjoying spring scenery when entering
An hour later, all of a sudden, the view changed dramatically.
We entered a snow storm, thick and dense, snow hiding a fresh
short grass and piling on the branches of evergreens.
Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, was looking like a picture from
a good old Christmas card.
The van was waiting to take me to the coast. In another hour when
we crossed the mountains, the winter disappeared again. Green
sea and bright building in the dark foliage of parks, winding
roads, smells of almond-trees in bloom.
Next morning, however, the snow was covering everything even at the coast and the palm-trees looked miserable. This did not last long, of course, and well before lunch all the white decorations were melting away.
My hosts were happy with the snowstorm. Of course it brings
no pleasure right now, but on the other hand it brings the
promise of water in the summer time. There are practically
no rains in summer here and all life on the coast depends
on the water supplies in the reservoirs and lakes up in the
mountains. Sounds Californian?
Artek is still very much alive. New management runs the camp as a unique international meeting place for the kids from all over former U.S.S.R. and from more distant foreign countries.
I was invited there to teach the kids some Internet and to start setting up a site there - so that soon Artek would have its own WWW server. Again my contacts with Yunpress Young Journalist Agency brought me to an interesting place. It was not a special International School of Journalism for students like the one I told you about last summer, just a regular Artek life. Well, I was lucky in a sense because when I was not sitting at Artek Information Center I could join the students on their excursions to the tourist attractions. On the left picture you see Andrey Davydov, the Chief of Artek Information Computer Center. The girl on the right is Yulia Shumskaya, one of Moscow visitors. During her stay in Artek, Yulia was the Editor-in-Chief of "Island A", Artek Newsletter. From Yulia's looks it is obvious how difficult a task is to think of impressive headlines at 3 in the morning...
The weather kept changing every day. The view of Ayu-Dag (Bear Mountain), a landmark familiar to anyone who had ever visited Crimea, was changing dramatically from day to day. I liked it in any weather, and the kids from Artek too.
Crimea used to be the most popular and the most famous sea resort area in the USSR. For many citizens of that country, not necessarily the most wealthy, summer vacation meant a trip to Crimea and 2 to 4 weeks in a sanatorium (or a lodge, or a rented room, or a hotel - depending on the available money and connections) at the Southern Coast. Several weeks to enjoy the beaches, excellent wines, relaxed resort life, and to get some suntan......
The buildings of numerous hotels and sanatoriums are still here, but now they are more frequently empty than full and are slowly decaying due to the lack of necessary funds to keep them well repaired. Once there were almost ten trains a day connecting Moscow and Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, and they were packed; one had to buy a ticket well in advance. Now there is only one train and not all seats are occupied.
Yalta itself also looks slightly more deserted than usual. Of course, it's still a long time before a tourist season strikes, but a few years ago the place was much more alive all round the year. I would not say, though, that I liked this current Yalta less than the old I knew. It's different, slightly more lean and hungry - but beautiful and friendly as ever.
Old places, historical monuments are in a slightly better condition. There are enough tourists to pay for the guided tours and the resulting money help to keep the places relatively clean and tidy as they have always been.
Czar's family palace in Livadia is not extremely impressive from the outside. It just looks right and cozy and is located in a gorgeous place. The halls inside bear the legacy of different historical events -- and different interpretations of history too. Many documents about the family and life of Nickolai II, the last Russian Emperor are collected and displayed. His study in the palace has been carefully restored and the guides tell about Nickolai's family with a deep respect. There is also a room with the documents related to the murder of the entire family by the communists after the October Revolution. Kids from Artek have been listening attentively to the stories told by the guide.
Other rooms preserve the relics of other times, more recent history. The Yalta Conference in 1945 where the leaders of the USSR, the USA, and Great Britain were developing the rules of the game for the post-war world took place in this very palace. The round table with three flags on it sits in the middle of a brightly lit and beautiful hall.
Vorontsov's Palace in Alupka is more spectacular and picturesque. Built by an extremely rich noble family in the XIX century, it looks and feels like a luxury toy carefully placed in the most scenic spot for everyone around to envy and adore. Made of the hardest local stone, it looks fresh and new despite his age of over a century; it looks as something almost natural that has grown from the mountain ridge all on its own.
Snow mountains up to the north form a rocky curtain, blue waves kiss the beaches down to the south; all the contrasts are so close, almost within a walking distance.... A huge landscape park with streams, ponds and a rich collection of plants makes the walking comfortable.
And I could not help taking advantage of this short time of being in the open. Not in my favorite wilderness, of course, but still in the places where nice pictures can be taken and new breathtaking views keep hiding behind every turn of the stony path. So...... Here are some of the results, just to show you the style of the place.
Being a tourist in Crimea is still great and comfortable. Permanent living here became less pleasant. Ukraine in general and Crimea in particular are not in the best possible economic shape. I promised, however, not to discuss political issues on these pages and I won't.
Anyway, Crimea looks to me sometimes like a Cinderella version of some places in California... A bit mistreated, poor and unwashed, when you leave the nature and enter supposedly civilized places. Why California? I do not know - maybe redwoods and something in the air. Waterfalls, sea, and the mountains. And the smiles on the faces too.
A week of my Artek trip passed too quickly, it was time to get back to freezing Moscow and to piles of work waiting for me to return. It's always sad to go away from the sea and the mountains to the dust and smog. Let's say "See you!", not "Good bye", look one more time at the distant horizon and board the bus to Simferopol...
Andrey Sebrant - firstname.lastname@example.org
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