I am in Yevpatoria, which is a holiday resort on the Black Sea in Crimea, Ukraine as the first stage of a two part trip to Ukraine promoting cycle advocacy. Tomorrow I’m on the night train to Kiev which according to Lonely Planet is one of the top 10 things to do in Ukraine, so that should be fun.
We are here because the Black Sea is one of the primary holiday destinations for what was the old Soviet Union because of its climate and beaches and has loads of infrastructure for tourism. It still attracts a big summer market of Ukranians and Russians but this leaves a lot of hotel capacity off season so it is a great spot for a conference about cycling and cycle tourism. So I’m here representing ECF with one of my colleagues trying to help the local cycling movement share some ideas from around Europe.
As “I not despair” is my private blog I’ll stick to my rules about not mixing the work stuff, our agenda is here and I have been tweeting from the conference on @maynekevin so you can find out more there.
But to the Yevpatoria today. Most British people only know some vague reference to the Crimea as a disastrous war which involved Florence Nightingale’s revolution in hospital treatment. This post is just some thoughts, photos and musings about my first two days in Ukraine, in fact my first visit to any part of the former Soviet Union. It has been great to walk and get hold of a bike to tour around this moderately sized but ancient city which I gather has a very distinctive feel compared to much of Ukraine.
What this place certainly delivers on is balmy autumn weather, it is just glorious outside and the first impression in the morning is to look from the balcony of my hotel across to the tree lined promenade to a still and silent sea with warm sunshine around.
The second impression is then silence. This is a seaside resort out of season and just about a ghost town. When our taxi arrived the first night I’ll swear we never saw another vehicle and even in the morning I can walk or cycle whole blocks without seeing a movement except the odd stray dog.
Down on the beach there is a gentle quiet broken by the occasional gull and some older folks who come down to the sea to swim, probably every day.
The main town is a bit busier but it is very easy to wander or cycle out into the streets without fear. The ancient electric trams are a delight rattling their way about town.
Everywhere there are contrasts. Some of the facilities are decrepit and crumbling, others obviously well cared for.
Some of the hotels appear to be modern and discrete while others would not look out of place in Blackpool or other garish seaside resort of your country. The architecture runs from authentic to garish seaside fake that seems universal the world over. I didn’t realise that the 1930s fake Mediterranean/Spanish white architectural look that runs from the north of England across the English speaking world to Australia (St Kilda?) and across to the US was actually so universal in seaside towns it was adopted here too but there is no doubt that some of the styling has that heritage.
Some streets are well kept and well used while others are a joined mess of potholes that played havoc even with mountain bikes.
Brutalist styling, then masses of greenery and lots of dusty parks and open spaces in between with banks of plants and hedges along the roads.
This morning I cycle out to the Eastern edge of the town along the sea front and I was struck by this contrast. To my right a building waiting to be condemned set amongst wasteland and scrub. To my left a section of beach and a lovingly cared for beach hut used by the beach attendant which almost glowed in the early morning light.
And the morning light on the sea front is amazing. It just has that golden glow that makes whites stronger and colours brighter, brilliant for photography.
As ever I am grateful to friends Google and Wikipedia for a bit of research into Yevpatoria which helped on my two trips away from our beachfront haven into the main town. We also had the guided tour from a local tour guide last night which was great apart from the somewhat significant flaw that we had 40 people on bikes and the tour guide was on foot. I’m also ever so grateful to the Ukrainians like Olga who stepped in to translate at key moments!
What a heritage. In one paragraph the Wikipedia potted history runs from Greek settlement in 500BC to settlement, invasion or occupation by Khazars, Cumans, Mongols, Khans, Tartars, Ottomans, Russians, British, French, Turkish, Germany and the spiritual residence of a branch of Judaism called Crimean Karaites. Just shows the strategic importance of the Crimean Peninsula to the Black Sea and all the countries around it.
This melting pot of cultures has left a wonderful assortment of religious buildings which stand out as a contrast to the tat and simulation of the beach areas. St Nicholas Cathedral, The 400 year old Juma Jami Mosque, the recently resorted historic quarter of the Karaites known as Little Jerusalem with the restored Kenassa or temple as its main feature. These buildings are in the best condition of anything in town, even the repair scaffolding in the cathedral was being dusted by one of the ever present women with a brush that seem to be in every street. For all the challenges of infrastructure and economy this is a fascinating place to visit.