Kitten and I have seen many places in Ukraine over the past few years, but one place we haven’t been to, which is one place we’ve really wanted to visit, is Crimea. That certainly seems to us like a strange scenario, and something we felt we had to rectify immediately, so after a little research we board a train (my preferred mode of transport) to Alushta.
The train leaves late Saturday evening and arrives in Simferopol early afternoon on Sunday. This gives us quite a lot of daylight hours on the journey, allowing us to sit and watch the countryside roll by. It’s an interesting thing to see on this particular journey, because it reminds us that Ukraine has a very large population, and a large percentage of that lives outside Kyiv. Something we tend to not think about often. While we pass through some large towns, much of what we see is sprawling, almost never-ending villages. And these are villages where people stay in houses, not in concrete apartment blocks, which makes for an interesting change. The scenery en route is also worth seeing – all very picturesque.
We’ve both been working hard over the past year, and feel we were in much need of some peaceful relaxation, so we’ve booked ourselves into the Radisson SAS, and to make things even easier, we’ve arranged for transfer to the hotel. This proves to be an excellent decision, because as soon as we step off the train, Artur is waiting for us, and we’re soon on the way to the hotel in comfort and, more importantly, air-conditioning.
The drive takes an hour, during which we pass through spectacular mountains with steep rugged cliff faces. I’d been told that driving in this part of the country is even crazier than in Kyiv, but Artur must be under strict instruction to give his passengers an easy ride as he drives at a very sedate pace, which makes it all the easier to take in the passing scenery.
Arriving at the hotel, check in is a quick and painless process and we are soon in our room, which is a good size with twin beds, all mod cons and a spacious and well-equipped bathroom.
We’re only here for a few days, so unpacking takes a minimum amount of time, and the first thing we want to do, even although it’s getting late in the afternoon, is go and lie by the pool. But there’s one problem – torrential rain. This, however, doesn’t stop us going to take a look. We leave the room, wander down through reception and out the back of the hotel. What we find are beautiful gardens with tall pine trees, colourful flowers, green grass, and at the end of it all, a big swimming pool. And just beyond that, a private beach. This is just what we need – a quiet, secluded place in which we can relax, unwind, and recharge our batteries.
Right at this moment, sadly, the thunderous rain is preventing us from doing that, so we head back to the room for a while in the hope that it stops soon. We make some coffee and sit out on the balcony. All the standard rooms face out onto the street, and as we sit we notice a constant throng of people moving up and down the road below us. Most seem to be heading back from the beach, escaping from the rain. Judging by the amount of people, Alushta is a popular place.
The rains stops and the sun starts to peak its head out from behind the clouds. We don’t need more of an invitation than that, and in a flash we are in our swimming costumes and down by the pool. There’s still some very dark clouds hanging overhead, but if you’re swimming you’re wet anyway, and Kitten and I are swimming. The pool is a good size, and there’s a shallow section at one end for the kids, that even has an underwater guardrail to prevent them falling into the deeper water. Now that’s a clever idea!
Just Like Blackpool
We swim and lie by the pool for a while (sun loungers and towels provided free of charge), but then Kitten announces she’s hungry. I realise, now that I think about it, that I am too. We make a quick trip to the room where we shower and change, and then we head down to the hotel restaurant which is located on the terrace at the rear of the hotel, overlooking the gardens with a view out to sea. The location is excellent, and the food’s good too, and the chilled bottle of Chardonnay goes down a treat.
After dinner, we decide it must be time to go and take a look at Alushta, which, after the tranquillity of the hotel and its gardens, is a bit of a daunting prospect taking into account the amount of people we saw from our balcony. But it’s on the agenda, and it has to be done.
Actually, what we find outside is a lot of fun, in a tacky sort of way, reminding me of the front at Blackpool, or, for those from the other side of the pond, like Coney Island. There’s amusements, bars, loads of shashlick restaurants, candy floss, fairground rides, test your strength machines (for the macho), hot dogs and hamburgers, reverse bungee, and more kiosks selling kitsch souvenirs than the beach front in Majorca. There’s also some very unusual, and I would have to describe as uniquely Russian attractions, such as having your photo taken on a motorbike (why would you want to do that?), or dressed up as an 18th Century aristocrat (again, why?).
There’s loads of people milling about, but the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. We wander along checking out some cheap tat in the kiosks, watching a man getting thrown a hundred feet in the air by elasticated ropes, and giggling at men trying to prove how manly they are by bashing punch bags as hard as they can. I have to admit, I fall foul of the need to prove the size of my manhood by taking a shot at one of these things you hit with a mallet and try and ring the bell. I’m confident of showing Kitten just how much of a real man her man is, because I’d tried this before once and nearly smashed the bell off the top. But this one I try must be fixed or broken or something, because I only light it up half way. I strut away pretending not to be bothered by my pathetic performance, but inside I’m reminding myself yet again that it’s time to revisit the gym.
We spend a couple of fun hours wandering along the front, and it makes us realise how lucky we are to have the private beach at the Radisson at our disposal, as the public beaches here are small and must be terribly overcrowded with all these people. And they smell a little funny too.
Time to Relax
The following morning we start the day with the Radisson’s ‘Super Breakfast’ which is included in the room rate. There’s everything you need to set yourself up for the day, including bacon, sausage, eggs, toast, fruit and fruit juices, selection of meats and fish, cereals, bread, pastries and buns… Just about everything you can think of. Kitten and I stock up, and I stock up a little more.
Both of us having been working long and hard over the last few months, long hours and weekends, and what we really need is time doing nothing. The gardens of the hotel is the perfect place to do just that. Like a little oasis of tranquillity in the midst of madness, it’s the perfect place to laze around, sipping a cool drink or two. And that’s pretty much how we spend the day. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the waters of the pool and the sea are cool, so we don our swimming costumes once more, select sunbeds by the pool (within arms length of the pool bar) and lie back.
We cool ourselves in the pool when the sun becomes too hot on our skin, but mostly we just bask like seals. I take the time to do some reading, which is normally one of my favourite pastimes but, sadly, is something I’ve not had time for recently. I also take a little time to do some people watching, which is kind of fun here as there seems to be an inordinate number of ugly old men with stunning young women by their sides – and take it from me, it ain’t their daughters. Kitten, like the animal whose name I use for her, seems perfectly happy just to lie in the radiant warmth of the sun.
Some may consider it sacrilegious, especially as this is my first time in Crimea and we probably should be trying to see a little of it, but that’s pretty much how we spend the whole day – lying in the sun, dipping in the pool, snoozing a little, and basically just chilling. There’s always tomorrow to see some sights.
Finally, early evening, we drag ourselves away from the pool, and head out into the madding crowd once more, this time looking to see what there is to do in Crimea. The answer to that question, apparently, is everything!
The Active Life
Right outside the hotel are a number of excursion operators, and judging by what they have on offer, there is something for everyone to do here, no matter what it is they want to do! There are, of course, sightseeing trips to places like Yalta, the Swallow’s Nest, the Genoese Fortress at Sudak, Balaclava, Sevastopol, and just about everywhere. On top of this, here in Crimea you can go horse riding, scuba diving, snorkelling, fishing, paragliding, parascending, jet skiing, quad biking, bungee jumping, to name but a few of the activities on offer.
We take mental note, and then head to one of the many shashlick restaurants to eat and consider our options. Competition is fierce among the restaurants here, so prices are generally pretty good. We choose a place offering lamb, beef and pork shashlick all at 25hrv per 100 grams. We order 200 grams of each, some fries and a couple of beers, and discuss the following day’s activity as we wait for the food to arrive.
I’m kinda leaning towards a trip we saw that takes in Yalta and the Swallow’s Nest, especially as I’ve seen photos of the latter and it seems to me like one of those must-see places in Crimea. I also would quite like to take a look at Balaclava, just so I know where the helmets come from. Kitten, quite fancies Yalta as well, and is interested in seeing the Genoese Fortress at Sudak.
After studying our notes, we see that both Sudak and Balaclava are full day excursions, and we both agree that we could do with some more time lazing, so we opt for the trip to Yalta, taking in the Swallow’s Nest.
After eating the deliciously juicy shashlik, we go and book our excursion (155hrv per person), and then take a wander up away from the front and into Alushta proper. It’s a pretty little town, navigated by lovely little meandering alleyways. It almost has a Mediterranean feel to it. The people are pleasant enough, and there’s the usual churches and everything you would expect. The only real eyesore to the place is a huge Soviet-style sanatorium on the outskirts of the town, just above the coast. Hopefully, someday, someone will pull the monstrosity down and build something a little more in keeping with the surroundings.
Seeing a Little More
The following day, after another super breakfast, we laze by the pool until its time to go and take the bus to the Swallow’s Nest and Yalta. The bus itself is a good size, and air-conditioned, which is very important, as the temperature is hitting 35 degrees. The road out of town follows the coast, which in itself is worth seeing. Rugged mountains rise out of the sea, and the road, with our bus on it, hugs their sides sometimes with steep cliffs falling away below, and at other times rising high above.
We arrive at the Swallow’s Nest (Lastivchyne Hnizdo in Ukrainian), and it has to be said, the setting is spectacular, sitting atop, and even a little bit over, a very high and steep cliff. The structure itself, categorized as a Neo-gothic chteau fantastique (whatever the hell that is), was only constructed in 1911, so it’s not exactly centuries of history you’re looking at. Built by a German who’d made a fortune in oil, the folly is quite a spectacle, but more because of its location than its architecture. But it’s a good place to have your photo taken, and I can’t help wondering why no one has entered the What’s On photo competition with this particular landmark in the background.
After the Swallow’s Nest it’s back on the bus and on to Yalta, which is pretty much like Alushta, but a little bigger. The shopping’s a bit better, there’s a few more good hotels, and it’s busier, but apart from that there’s not a huge difference. We take a stroll along the front, and do a bit of shopping, but at the end of the day, the real purpose of this excursion was the castle on the cliff. I’m thinking maybe Sudak or Balaclava would have been a better choice.
Back on the bus and back to Alushta, Kitten and I arrive a little too late for lounging by the pool. We consider options for dinner, wondering whether we should venture out in the maddening masses or opt for the peaceful calm of the hotel terrace. It doesn’t take us much time to decide on the terrace.
Before dinner, I make a quick trip to the hotel’s business centre, which offers fax services, printing, and, most importantly for me, internet access. Business doesn’t stop when you’re on vacation, and I need to check my email. Luckily, there’s nothing too important needing dealt with, and Kitten and I are soon sitting on the terrace, looking out to sea, sipping chilled Pinot Grigio and eating good food.
In fact, we are so relaxed and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere that once we’ve finished eating, and the bottle of wine has run dry, we order another and ask for it to be taken down to the sea front, where we while away another hour or so looking out over the calm waters of the black sea with the moonlight shimmering on its surface.
Our train back to Kyiv leaves at 14.35, and that means we need to leave the hotel at around 12.30, so we’re up early, and this time I really fill up on the Super Breakfast. I start with a bowl of cereal, followed by a huge plate of bacon, eggs, sausage, and mushrooms, accompanied with three slices of thickly buttered toast. After all that, just for good measure, I fill a plate with pastries and cakes and wash it all down with a good few glasses of orange juice and enough coffee to keep me alert all day. In self defense, please bare in mind that I have a 16 hour train journey ahead: try not to judge me too harshly. While not quite as greedy as I, Kitten manages to pack quite a lot into her slender frame. In fact, generally speaking she’s pretty good at that, and I often wonder where she finds the space for it all.
After all that, it’s more lounging by the pool. It’s hot, and to cool off I spend quite a bit of time doing lengths of the pool, telling myself that this will do some good to my ever-expanding waist line.
Sadly, and far to soon, it’s time to get our bags from the room and join Artur in the car. On the way back to Simferopol, he kindly stops numerous times to allow us to take photos of some of the more spectacular mountains we pass. Soon we’re on the train, and on our way home, but with batteries fully recharged, which is pretty good for a three-night break.
I have to say, our stay at the Radisson SAS in Alushta has been just what we needed. Here you get the best of both worlds - a beautiful and tranquil place in which to relax, with lots of fun and excitement just a few steps away. What could be better?
Radisson SAS Resort Alushta
2 Lenin Street, Alushta, Crimea. +38 06560 26 226
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, http://alushta.radissonsas.com
Standard Room Rate (per night)
Peak Season – 80 Euros
Mid Season – 129 Euros
Peak Season – 169 Euros
All room rates include Super Breakfast
Simferopol to Alushta Limousine transfer – 450hrv each way