Rejuvenation in Yalta

It’s safe to say that it was Crimea that showed me once more what a wonderful country Ukraine can be to travel in. Another overnight train took me from Kyiv to Simferopol, a trip involving true Ukrainian travel hospitality. By now I’d figured out that Ukrainian hospitality revolves primarily around vodka, and sharing it with any and all strange young foreigners in your train compartment. Thankfully this journey was a little more casual and I got some sleep – I think that this was due to the fact that my cabin buddies were a couple in about their sixties who had only half a bottle of vodka and enjoyed their sleep.

A taxi driver in Simferopol tried to make the best of the opportunity of a young Australian backpacker, offering me a ‘cheap’ taxi to Yalta for only 250 hryvnia. I took the bus for 20 hryvnia instead. I’d been unable to find a hostel in Yalta, and had instead found what I thought was a single room in an apartment for the wonderfully low price of 15 euro per night. It turned out to be a whole apartment. The apartment was fairly simple, with a rather dysfunctional kitchenette, but it was wonderful to have so much space to myself for the first time in five months. The best thing, however, was that it had a BATH. I am a big fan of baths, and never miss an opportunity to appreciate such a luxury. I went out to explore the town, and also hunt for some bubble bath or some other special bath-related treat. That was unsuccessful, but wine was acquired so I can’t complain.

Yalta is a resort town on the Crimean Peninsula, and the main boulevard along the waterfront is filled with ice-cream stores, designer labels, restaurants, bars, young men with monkeys and exotic birds and plenty of people strolling casually in their trendy beach fashion. The street is lined with palm trees, the water is a delicious blue and self-esteem-destroying perfect-figured Ukrainian and Russian women sunbathe in their bikinis on the small strip of beach available.

It didn’t take me long to come to the decision that I won’t be stripping down to a bikini anywhere in Ukraine without losing about twenty kilograms first – and I don’t really need to lose that much. I’m a little self conscious, more so given that the number of cakes and tasty sweets I’ve been consuming in Europe has had an unfortunate effect on my figure. My usual habit of losing a stack of weight while traveling has, on this trip, been reversed, and while I could try to be a little more disciplined in my diet I’m holding on to hopes for India and South-East Asia doing at least some of the work for me. I’m not ready to give up cakes and chocolate and wine and enjoying myself at this point…after all, it’s my journey and I can always start wearing black! It’s also freezing cold so living on salad isn’t the most appealing option right now.

Yalta’s quite a pretty town, but it’s not exactly packed with things to do. It seems to be a pretty good base for day trips though, and after researching what I could do I started regretting both spending so much time in Kyiv and not getting the five week visa that I wanted. I just couldn’t do it all. And I have to say, after my disappointment and frustration after the Chernobyl Tour Debacle, Crimea was working hard to remind me that Ukraine’s not such a bad place after all. It may also have helped that it was WARM and SUNNY and it felt like the last breaths of summer. It was relaxed and laid back, and had some cheap restaurants and most of all I had space to rewind and just be alone. I think that what with being sick and having so many hassles in Ukraine up to then, I’d been exhausted and tired of everything, and I greatly needed the recharge that Yalta and Crimea gave me. One thing I’d been trying to do on this trip was remain positive, but also to be honest. It’s not always easy to find the best, or even the good, in a situation and there’s no point pretending that you don’t sometimes get angry and pissed off and simply over things.  Sometimes it’s damn hard and the negative takes over – I think that’s human. No one is perfect. But Crimea really rejuvenated my spirit and reminded me that there’s good and bad everywhere – just because one thing goes wrong, it doesn’t mean that life is over.

Besides, how can you be negative when you have this two minutes walk from a whole apartment that has a bath?

Oh wait. And Lenin. Yes, Lenin’s still there. You don’t see him around too often anymore.

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8 responses to “Rejuvenation in Yalta

  1. Ah! The Balkans! You will love it! Although like in most places in Europe at this time of the year it can be cold and grey. Anyway, here are a few recommendations. I’d be happy to provide more details if you are interested:

    Serbia: Beograd of course is a must. During the day spend some time at Kalamegdan or in the numerous coffee shops everywhere in the city, especially on the walking street or on Strahinica Bana (also known as Silicon Valley for obvious reasons – especially at night). Talk a walk on Boulevard Revolucije (it has a new name now but everybody uses the old name). For a fun market experience go to Kalenic. You can get good food at “?” (aka as Znak Pitanje). The night life in Beograd can be quite fun, and usually end with a stop for a pljeskavica (giant burger) at 5 or 6 am.

    Outside Beograd I recomment a visit to Novi Sad, Nis (go see the skull tower) and Novi Pazaar.

    Macedonia: Skopje is a rather small city but the muslim area across the river is quite nice. If you have time to travel in the country and want to do some outdoor activities I recommend going to Ohrid, not far from the border with Albania (this is where the photo for my avatar was taken!). A nice lake with beautiful mountains.

    Montenegro: I wouldn’t spend too much time in Podgorica but the coast is beautiful, although it will probably be quiet at this time of the year. If you want some action on the coast in December Budva is probably your best bet. The mountains in the North are also nice but roads can be tricky in the winter.

    Kosovo: Well, I don’t know what to say. Pristina is a weird city with all those big white SUV from international organizations and the nice cafes serving the expat community. The situation is a bit tense these days in the North so you may want to be careful in that area.

    Bosnia: Sarajevo’s old town is where you have to go to eat burek and cevapcici with yoghurt. If you are interested in history, I recommend reading the book “the bridge over the Drina” by Ivo Andric and a visit to Visegrad – a small town where the story at the time of the Ottoman Empire is taking place. Not much to do in the town itself but the bridge is beautiful. Nice place to stop right at the Bosnia-Serbia border. There are also many nice places to visit in Bosnia, some of them being painful reminders of the war in the 90s, such as Srebrenica and Mostar (a UNSECO World Heritage site).

    Croatia: The best parts in Croatia are along the coast. Everybody goes to Dubrovnik, which is beautiful, but there is much more than that on the coast. Split is a nice city too and from there you can get on a ferry to Hvar, which is a party island over the summer – not sure how it looks like in December.

    And the slogan everywhere in the Balkans: “Rakija: connecting people”.

    Enjoy!

    • Wow! Thanks so much for such a detailed response! Half my planning seems done!

      I’m resigning myself to the fact that everywhere is going to be cold and grey at this time, but the benefit of this is the increased likelihood of not being surrounded by hordes of tourists. I’ll have to keep an eye on the weather for outdoor activities, but I’d definitely like to get out of the capitals – there’s always so much more to a country than the capital city and no one knows that like Australians! I’ve heard great things about Sarajevo though, and I think it’s safe to say that I’m interested in history – I have a degree in history and archaeology which although it makes traveling far more interesting, strangely doesn’t do wonders in the job market. I’ll have a look for that book you’ve suggested.

      I’ve still got a few days in Bulgaria but I’m starting to get excited about the Balkans now!

      Rajika – Connecting People. I love it! I wonder how Nokia feels about everyone stealing this. The most common t-shirt on sale in Ukraine seemed to be ‘Vodka: Connecting People’ and I even had a post to that effect. I’ve discovered that the vodka one is true, so I look forward to trying out the rakija version.

      I hope I’ll be able to impress you with my Balkans photos, and bring back some memories!

      • I really look forward to reading your stories from the Balkans. I spent 3 years in that part of the world and I try to go back every year. The friendliest people ever!

        I had read your post about vodka and that’s why I couldn’t resist making the reference to rakija. You can also get the t-shirt!

        One last recommendation – this time for bars in Beograd: idiot, Wonderbar, Ana Cetiri Pistolja, Tramvaj and Pastis. Meanwhile enjoy Bulgaria!

    • I sincerely apologise for any confusion caused! My first countries in Europe were the Baltic states, and I can highly recommend them. Of course right now everywhere is pretty damn cold, but I suppose that you’re used to that in Sweden! Ukraine is definitely a different kind of experience though – especially if like me you don’t have any prior knowledge of the language or of Russian. But Crimea is amazing – I’ll be posting a bit more about my time there and maybe those photos will sway you!

      • Looking forward to see those photos!
        Have no knowledge of Ukrainian or Russian but love slavic languages (spent some time in the Balkans, based in Beograd but traveling to Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Croatia, Bosnia).
        And yes, as a Canadian living in Sweden I am not too worried about the cold!
        Keep writing. I love your blog!

        • Wonderful! I’m heading to the Balkans in about a week or so, so if you have any recommendations I’d love to hear them! And thanks for the compliment. I don’t plan to stop writing any time soon!

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