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Crimea, part two

May 4, 2012

Our third morning in Crimea was one of transport – back to Simferopol, to drop off our things and meet another PCV who lives in a nearby village. While we were waiting for him, we passed by a woman selling chebureki (also spelled chiburekki), and even though we had had our breakfast already, we had to get some because it smelled so good.

Late breakfast of chebureki, anyone?

Many people may not know what cheburecki is – it is a meat pie of sorts, that is native to Crimea and very popular. Like Ukrainian borscht, every person thinks that her recipe is the best one (I encountered this in Ukraine for two years – literally every person thinks her borscht is the best, and I would be asked when I tried them. I always agreed).  In any case, we indulged, and were ready to head out for the day.

On a side note – yes, the chebureki we ate was street food, and chebureki that is sold to the public is often considered such. I have been advised against eating such food from people, because, as they put it, “you never know what kind of meat is in it”. I tend to go on faith, because I don’t think people hear often eat dogs and cats…

And onward we went. As I had previously given my Ukraine travel book to a friend, I did not have information on what there is to do in Simferopol, and I was dependent upon my friend and the PCV who lived nearby to tell me what there was to do in the area. He suggested that we visit the Botanical Gardens. We liked the idea and agreed, but did not anticipate the problem it would turn out to be to find our way there.

At the Botanical Garden in Simferopol

The woman who runs the place where we stayed advised us to take bus 88 (after saying, “oh the Botanical Gardens in Yalta?”). However, after waiting for 15 minutes and being passed by numerous buses, none of which were number 88, we asked a few other people. The consistent response was “you mean the Botanical Gardens in Yalta?”. Apparently people in Simferopol either don’t know that they have a Botanical Garden there, or don’t understand why anyone would want to see it.

We were starting to ask every bus that came by when at last we found success, got on a bus and made it to the Botanical Garden. Having owned a house with a yard (which my mom “landscaped” for me), I learned a bit about gardens and planting different sorts of plants and flowers so they bloom at different times of the year. When we were at the BG, the tulips, lilacs, and irises were in bloom, but we saw a rose garden that will be really beautiful in about six weeks, as well as other cultivations. It was really beautiful, and I am surprised that more people were not there on such a lovely day.

Couldn’t resist a little photo session at the Botanical Garden

After a couple of days of running around, we were a bit tired, so exploring the botanical gardens was a nice way to spend a few hours. That was our big accomplishment on day three (other than finding a restaurant for dinner). I must admit that I was somewhat surprised at Simferopol – for a city that is the capital of Crimea, I expected…more, I guess. There were really not a lot of restaurants, and finding an ATM was a real challenge. Hmm.

Our final day we decided to take a field trip to Bakhchisaray, or the Khan’s palace. It was built in the 16th century and became home to a succession of Crimean Khans. The walled enclosure contains a mosque, harem, cemetery, living quarters and gardens. We were excited about it, because it seemed really interesting. When we got there, however, we were a bit disappointed. The entrance fee was 50 uah (more than many museums in Kiev), and the part of the palace we were allowed to see was very limited. We also were yelled at to get out of the way of some filming that was being done for a movie (my response was, if they wanted no tourists in the filming area, why didn’t they just shut down the whole place for a couple of hours?), and well, it just did not live up to our expectations.

Bakhchysarai

At Bakhchysarai

That’s not to say it was not interesting to see a different bit of culture. Crimea is unusual because of the influences there – it is part of Ukraine, but as it is an autonomous republic, not part of Ukraine. The people there are also VERY specific about the fact that they consider themselves Russian. One woman noticed that we were looking for an ATM and started speaking with us. My friend Helen, who speaks Ukrainian, responded to her (I just said “no thank you” and kept going) and the woman said “WHY are you speaking Ukrainian? You must speak Russian here!” I asked “this is part of Ukraine, isn’t it?” and she ignored me, but kept on Helen about how no one there speaks Ukrainian (not true, actually – I saw signs in both languages and heard people speaking both languages). The woman was probably in her 60s, which explains her strong feelings.

Waiting for the train home…much less “fresh” than when we arrived four days earlier!

After our time at Bakhchysarai, we took a walk up in the hills around the city, then it was, sadly, time to return to Simferopol and pick up our luggage, then wait for our train back to Znamenka. We ran into two other PCVs by the train station – I have found that this occurrence, running into other PCVs, is not as unusual as a person may think. It seems to happen to me no matter where I go in this country. Probably has something to do with how many of us are in country (though that is changing)…

Thus ended our four-day journey on Crimea. I wish we could have stayed longer, but it was great to have the time that we did before I leave Ukraine.

Photos from our Crimea trip can be found on Picasa.

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