Posts in: RS200
There is a mountain next to our hotel. It is called Meganom. It has stood there, towering over us as we went about our lessons, watching over us as we made our daily trips to the beach (to do our homework, naturally). Being CC students, there’s no way we could have let Meganom go without at least one good hike. And that’s exactly what we gave it. It may not have been a fourteener, but it sure was fun!
Our last Friday in Crimea, we students of Crimean politics and culture embarked on a four day road trip across the southern coast of the peninsula. In typical Colorado College fashion, we managed to see a remarkable amount in such a short period of time. So without further ado, here’s an account of our whirlwind tour.
We started our trip after class on Friday. After a quick lunch and, in my case, some forgetful packing, we piled into the cars and traveled south along the mountainous coast towards the town of Gurzuf. Our hotel for the night was located in what was once the most prestigious children’s camp in the Soviet Union: Artek. Only the very best (or best connected) young Pioneers could hope to come here for the summer. Today the grounds function as a park, with many various hotels and attractions scattered within.
We spent our time in Gurzuf walking along the beach, visiting Chekhov’s cottage, and seeing where Pushkin had spent some time in his southern “exile” (If only I had such problems.)
From there we went on to Yalta, spending a couple hours in what is arguably Crimea’s most famous resort town. In Anton Chekov’s famous short story Lady with a Lapdog, the two lovers meet while on vacation in this town. Yalta was the summer retreat of the nobility and upper classes of the Russian Empire, and during the Soviet Era was used as both a vacation destination and a place where the ill could convalesce in a more temperate climate. On our way out we stopped at the palace where Franklin D Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Josef Stalin met to decide what to do with Europe after World War Two. Any student of history would recognize the white arches behind the iconic picture of the three leaders, and it was incredible to stand in the same spot so many years later.
We spent that night in Sevastopol, a city we had talk previously discussed at length. Long the center of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, Sevastopol was ravaged by the Crimean War. Leo Tolstoy’s experiences in the conflict inspired his Sevastopol Sketches, which we had completed the week before. In 1954, Khrushchev transferred Crimea from the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, something that at the time was thought to be a mere technicality. But with the fall of the Soviet Union, Crimea became part of an independent Ukraine. Today, Sevastopol has been extended for use by Russian Federation until at least 2045, and the city retains a distinctly Russian character. Russian flags abound, as do St. George ribbons. Sailors are constantly passing to and fro. But Sevastopol is still in Ukraine, and we were reminded of this when we ran into a Ukrainian submarine crew at Greek ruins outside of the city. Only in Crimea, right? They were quite pleasant, in the austere, military type way. They answered our questions and even posed for this photo.
From there we moved on to Bakhchisarai, the capital of the peninsula when it was a Khanate of Crimea, which was established in the 15th century and lasted until the middle of the 18th. The Khanate was ruled by the Crimean Tatar line Girey. The town is farther inland, isolated from the cost but amid beautiful mountains. Our first visit in the ancient city was to visit the remainder of the mosque and educational center of the Crimean Tatar Khanate, as well as the museum that is trying to once again foster the study of Crimean Tatar history and culture. We then immediately embarked on a steep hike up a mountain, to the former city of the Karaim people that had lived alongside the Crimean Tatars. A Turkic people, the Karaim were Jewish, and therefore excluded from the capital itself. They were forced to build on the top of a mountain, and much of the city still stands in impressive ruins on the top of the cliff. Our last activity in Bakhchisarai was to the palace of the Girey’s, which contained not only beautiful architecture but also the famous Fountain of Bakhchisarai, about which Pushkin had written his poem.
Thus, exhausted but extremely happy, we made our way back over those treacherous mountain roads to our hotel and our last few days in Crimea.
In the early days of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin instituted Subbotniks, or Saturdays devoting to volunteering and furthering of the public good. In that grand tradition, led by our fearless professors, we the students of Colorado College devoted this Monday afternoon to a Subbotnik worthy of the name. (The name itself comes from the Russian word for “Saturday”, but the fact that this occurred on Monday does not in any way detract from our achievement.) Armed with nothing but lunch lady gloves and trash bags, we positioned ourselves along the path between our hotel and the beach, picking up every piece of trash that stood in between us and a pristine swimming experience. We filled over twelve large bags with trash, which we followed with a large lunch and a long nap.
Crimea has been drawing vastly different groups of people to its beautiful shores for millennia. A small peninsula jutting off the southern tip of Ukraine, Crimea sits at the top of the Black Sea. Visitors to this beautiful area can still visit ruins left by Ancient Greek travelers and the vestiges of the Silk Road. This place has been home to countless peoples over countless centuries, and over the past couple days Crimea has become our home as well.
Our first excursion was taken with our wonderful host, who is also a professor at a local university. He accompanied us to a Genovese Fortress perched atop the local town that dates to the late fourteenth century, which is a testament to the multitude of peoples that have been moving around Crimea since ancient times. While the Genovese were first drawn here for strategic reasons, there is something about Crimea that enthralls and captivates. Even on a cloudy day the Black Sea is strikingly beautiful. I have never seen so many shades of blue in one body of water. The landscape stark and dramatic, and invites exploration. It’s the kind of place you have to see to believe.
At the beginning of the trip, hardly any of us spoke any Russian. I was lucky enough to have taken Russian classes before at CC, but I am impressed by (and vaguely jealous of) how quickly everyone has learned how to communicate. Russian is by no means an easy language, but we’ve gone from zero to functioning in three short days. It is this newly found linguistic prowess that has allowed us to explore our new surroundings. After only one hour of Russian instruction, the class headed to the nearest grocery store to buy provisions. The scene was chaotic of course, and both the proprietor and us students had to be extremely creative in making ourselves understood, but it is this fearless attitude that has informed every day of this trip. Armed with nothing but vocabulary for numbers and introductions we took on the local bazaar. The next day, hardly more proficient, we went out on the town with new Crimean friends. Last night, our 8 year old friend gave us a performance of traditional Crimean Tatar dances. After the recital, using nothing but our broken Russian and high spirits, we helped turn an ordinary dining hall into an impromptu discotheque. Complete with flashing lights and trance music. Our fellow guests seemed to find our dancing extremely entertaining.
My favorite part of the trip, however, came last night. After finding out I spoke (admittedly broken) Russian, I was invited to join our hosts and their guests in the chaikhana. A chaikhana is a low table surrounded by pillows where people eat, drink tea, and generally socialize. Sitting there, trying follow the conversation, I was struck mainly by how generally wonderful everything has been so far. I tried to convey this in a toast, and even though my grammar was painfully bad everyone still smiled. None of us are quite sure exactly what we’re doing, but we’re not letting that stop us from having a great time while we’re doing it.