Sunday, October 14, 2012

Yalta, Ukraine – October 9, 2012

Yalta, Ukraine – October 9, 2012

Yalta is set on green, wooded hillsides rising up from the sea.  The ship did not dock at the pier, but anchored in the bay outside Yalta; tenders were used to ferry passengers ashore.  Unfortunately, independent passengers were required to wait until ship tour groups were ready to go ashore, delaying our departure for an hour.  This delay resulted in missing the Alupka Palace.  Once we were finally ashore, I saw a tall, dark haired woman holding a sign with my name, and I identified myself and we were off.  She informed me that she was not the tour guide I had booked for the tour, but a colleague of hers – not Olesya, but Veronika.  It turned out that both Olesya and Veronika are teachers at the university, and they are tour guides when they have spare time.  Veronika holds a Ph.D. and teaches technical English at the university.  She was not a good tour guide; she had not planned the tour, but decided on sites as we went along.  She also did not know the history, but read from a book as we visited sites.  However, she was very nice and helpful.  Her driver was Andrew, who was a taxi driver and also had a van that we used on the tour.  Later, we learned the value of Andrew.  He was able to take us directly to the door of every place we stopped, even though vehicles were not permitted in some of the places.  At the first stop, the Massandra Palace, he drove up the mountain directly to the door of the palace, when no other vehicle was permitted to go up the driveway – perhaps a mile uphill.  We did not learn how he was able to get security to permit him such great access, but it was certainly helpful to us.

The Massandra Palace (Verontsov Palace) was very interesting because it was not a palace at all, but a very elegant summerhouse that was not large.  It was in a beautiful setting, and it was interesting to visit.  The palace was originally built by Verontsov, but later modified and completed by the Romanov family, and used by the family as a summerhouse.  Later, it was used by Stalin as a summerhouse.  Next we went to the Chekhov home, which was also small and in a beautiful setting.  Chekhov lived in this house the last six years of his life. 

We then visited the Livadia Palace, the site of the Yalta Conference at the end of World War II, where Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met to decide the fate of Germany after the war.  It was very interesting to visit such a historical place.  After visiting Livadia Palace, we had lunch next door at the restaurant, with a beautiful view of the sea.  A group of five girls and a man dressed in Ukrainian folk costumes sang Ukrainian folk songs.  Following lunch, we decided that we did not have enough time to visit Alupka  Palace, so we visited the Crow’s Nest from a distance, and then St. Michael’s Church.  We arrived back at the port at 3:00 p.m., and the last tender to the ship was at 3:30.  Our timing was good.  If we had been able to get off the ship earlier, we would have been able to visit Alupka Palace, but we were not, and that was unfortunate. 

One amusing thing happened on the way to Livadia Palace.  The driver of our van was in the middle of a busy intersection when he rolled his window down (using his hand to push the window down), slowed the van, and stuck his hand out the window.  The driver of a white van coming to meet us from the opposite direction suddenly held out his hand holding some sunglasses, and handed the sunglasses to our driver.  It was a relay of sunglasses.  Evidently they had communicated previously that they would meet and exchange the sunglasses.  We all laughed at the exchange.  (Our driver did not speak English, so he was not able to explain what was happening.)

Veronika explained to us that the economic situation in Yalta was very bad.  She said that the economic situation in Yalta was much worse than under communism; many people have no jobs, and mostly people just sell things to each other, trying to eke out an existence.  Older people suffer especially because their pensions have been taken away and they have no money.  No one has health care coverage.  Housing is a severe problem as there are not enough apartments for the population, and young people often live with their parents in tiny apartments.  She was married with an eight year-old child, and they all lived with her mother in a tiny one-bedroom apartment.  Although she had a job as a university professor, her pay was so small that she had to be a tour guide to supplement her income.  

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