Day 6 - Sevastopol, Ukraine
|Monday, May 7: Sevastopol is an impressive city to cruise into in the early morning, with beautiful monuments and parks.
|With the whole of Crimea to see, we booked a full day tour and were off first thing.
|We spotted some military youths marching below this impressive sculpture.
|As we drove through the valley where the Charge of the Light Brigade occurred, we admired the acres of grape vines and the sign for the local McDonald's.
|After driving through the countryside, we made it to the Crimean coast, which is incredibly scenic, with rocky mountains meeting the sea surrounded by lush vegetation. No wonder this has been such a popular destination for the Russian elite.
|There are quite a few resorts along the coast, but it never appears to be overly commercialized.
|The orange building in this photo is the dacha that Russian President Gorbachev vacationed in when he visited the Crimean coast. It was here that he was held under house arrest during the coup in Moscow.
|On a rocky hill overlooking the dacha is the Foros Church of Christ Resurrection. It's a tricky thing to photograph from a moving bus, and this is the best of several attempts made both times we passed it.
|We arrived at Vorontsov Palace (also known as Alupka Palace or the Palace of Count Vorontsov) and walked a short distance from the parking lot to the palace. We passed people performing and people selling things, and we also passed this pretty golden chain tree, which prompted us to buy one as soon as we got home.
|The palace would be stunning even without clear blue skies and wisteria in bloom everywhere, but it doesn't hurt.
|A backdrop of mountains makes the scene even more perfect.
|The interior of the palace is in remarkably good condition. This painting of the Count's wife was one of the first we can recall seeing where the subject of the painting was actually beautiful by modern standards.
|This room is decorated with thousands of stucco roses, handcrafted by one of the many craftsmen who worked on the palace.
|This huge indoor garden filled Debbie's heart with envy. Oh, to be a wealthy Russian aristocrat!
|Here is some of the wood detailing in the massive dining room.
|Here's some more.
|And here's a tiled fountain in the same room.
|As nice as the interior is, it is the exterior and the view that are the stars of the show. The southern part of the palace is done in Moorish style with impressive detailing.
|Steps lead from the palace down to the sea, flanked by statues of lions.
|The base of the stairs offers a landing with a breathtaking view of the sea.
|Circling around to the side of the palace, we were treated with another amazing display of wisteria in full bloom. We were truly fortunate to visit in May.
|We left Vorontsov Palace and headed for Yalta, passing yet another beautiful palace of some sort. (Note to self: Ask Santa for a better memory this year.)
|Our next stop was the Swallow's Nest Castle. Look how adorable this thing is! Our tour description implied that we'd actually visit it ...
|... but this is as close as we got -- a gift shop crammed with people up the hill from the castle. Can you spot it in the distance? It's the tiny dot on the horizon.
|Back on the road to Yalta, we passed a recently-built cathedral on a hill.
|In Yalta, we stopped for lunch at the Oreanda Hotel.
|Each place setting contained an appetizer of stewed sturgeon, selections of breads and vegetables, and a large serving of vodka, equivalent to at least three shots. Not wanting to offend, we managed to drink it all and were thoroughly smashed by the middle of our meal.
|Tom especially enjoyed watching our tour guide, Maya, toss back shot after shot of vodka with her fellow tour guides at the back of the restaurant, just barely out of range of this photo.
|A group of Ukrainian musicians entertained us with songs, featuring balalaikas of all size (not shown -- the monster-sized balalaika on the stage behind that had to have been four feet wide).
|One of our courses was pancakes topped with salmon caviar. Yes, folks, we were eating caviar and drinking vodka in the Ukraine! How cool is that?
|After a cup of mushroom soup, we were served stuffed pork rolls and potatoes. Dessert was vanilla cream with strawberry syrup. Yum!
|Still buzzed from the vodka, we arrived at Livadia Palace, summer palace of Tsar Nicholas II and his family in the early 1900s and historic location of the Yalta Conference in 1945.
|Nicholas and Alexandra's initials and those of their daughters and son are carved into the marble above these pairs of columns.
|Most of the first floor of the palace has been turned into a museum of the Yalta Conference. Here is the round table where talks were held, with name cards indicating where Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin sat.
|This is the impressive dining room.
|This is the study where President Franklin Roosevelt worked. Due to his ill health, he stayed at Livadia Palace while Churchill and the British delegation stayed at Vorontsov Palace.
|The chandelier in this room is magical, made of clear, blue, and pink blown glass from the Murano glass factories near Venice.
|Here are shields with N II carved into them for Nicholas II.
|Another of the meeting rooms in the palace where history was made.
|This is one of the famous photos of the three leaders during the conference ...
|... and this is the sunny courtyard where the photo was taken.
|Upstairs, we visited the living quarters of Nicholas and Alexandra. Framed photos of their family filled the rooms.
|This photo is probably the most famous taken of the family, but there were dozens more, and it was clear that the family was very closeknit.
|This glass display contained memorabilia from the period of Nicholas' reign.
|This heartbreaking room was where the children were schooled, and these are original paintings by Marie, Anastasia, and Alexei, the youngest of their five children.
|On the long drive back to Sevastopol, Maya told us several jokes, then let us doze for the remainder of the drive until we arrived back in the city. We drove past this Soviet-era sub, which caught Tom's attention.
|Back at the dock, people were out enjoying the great weather, music was playing, and there was a happy feeling in the air. This photo partially illustrates the bizarre dock configuration our ship was in -- butted perpendicular to the dock, forcing us to get ashore by a two-minute tender ride. This is called a Mediterranean Moor, and we were told that it was the first time this crew had attempted it. You can see the tenders at the dock and at the boat in this shot.
|Back onboard, we could see the public square and promenade.
|The Rotterdam guests were all out on deck, enjoying the weather and waiting for sail away to begin.
|This sign says "Sevastopol" in Cyrillic (Севастополь). Tom can read Cyrillic but Debbie cannot, so there was a lot of translating going on while we were in Bulgaria and the Ukraine.
|As usual, we passed some interesting vessels during sail out.
|We also got a great view of this huge monument. You can get an idea of the scale if you compare it to the tiny people on the pathway below.
|After dinner, Zul had a towel manta ray ready for us.
After dinner, we were treated to chilled champagne and trays of dessert in our room, which was part of the "Just for Us" package we purchased. Cream puffs and chocolate-covered strawberries and brownies and on and on and on -- it was all so decadent. Fortunately, we had wisely packed plastic bags to store the leftover goodies for later snacking. (Click here to see our dessert spread in 2002.)
Copyright © Deborah Schilling/Thomas Bundy