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Palms In The Snow
March 1996

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March 1996
We have been staying in Moscow for a long time, my two previous stories were both about life and seasons in Moscow. It's time to get on the road again and invite you to some other place. In a very early spring it makes sense to go south, to meet the spring there well before it comes to our city. We will make a short visit to Crimea. Technically, it is in another Newly Independent State, Ukraine.
Psychologically, it still is the part of our childhood, of that other life where there where no official borders and mean customs officers on the way to Crimea and back... Not necessarily that life was very good, on the contrary. But Crimea was always the best part of that life.
A journey south at this season means a night-long ride from winter to spring. For me a journey began in a cold Moscow trolleybus taking me from home to Kurski Railway Station. Trolley-bus I boarded a train on a crisp and frosty Moscow morning and all the day long could enjoy white-and-black artwork of Russian winter. Patterns of bare branches in snow-covered woods, black ribbons of roads crossing white blankets of the fields.
It was comfortable to observe all that scenery nicely framed in the train window, sitting in the cozy warmth of the railroad car, slowly drinking beer and listening to the stories told by my fellow passengers.

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.

Snow storm But this is a strange year (they say, a leap year should be!) We on the train were enjoying spring scenery when entering Crimean peninsula. 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.

Snow on Rocks Snow on Palms 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?

View from Suuk-Su Soon I entered Artek, once the most famous "Young Pioneers' Camp" of the USSR, now the International Children Center; a unique place where seventeen hundred kids get a month-long rest at the same time in winter, and thousands, in summer.

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.
Artek ICC - Andrey Artek ICC - Yulia 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...

Ayu-Dag sunny Ayu-Dag storm 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 Coast 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.

Snow on Rocks Snow on Palms 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.

Livadia Palace 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. Kids listening 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.

Round table 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 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.

Park path 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.

Swans    The pond   Alupka

Shacks 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.

Redwood tree 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...

Sunrise in the fog

Andrey Sebrant -


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