Heroes of Crimea
During my childhood I read numerous books about pioneers and youngsters spending time in Crimean summer camps. They were mountain hiking, swimming in the warm sea and generally having the best time a soviet teenager can dream of. So, for me the peninsula felt like a special place to visit. Oddly, all of that was disconnected from reality, like a Valhalla or any other place from legends.
As always, the plan was to buy a cheap tour, ditch the hotel and spend several days exploring. In under 3 days we assembled a party of 8 people.
Despite my exploration priorities, which are mostly European and Asian countries, I’m really glad we went to Crimea.
This trip wasn’t as rich in the way of events as others I have posted about. It rather offered a feeling: connection with nature. Views, smells, forests, mountains, sea.
This is our route:
Can you connect it with the story below?
We arrived pretty late at night and it took quite some time to settle the car rentals. There were two cars: a KIA Rio and a Mercedes Cabriolet, in which I traveled most of the time. The first challenge was to sync and not to get lost. This problem was solved with two walkie-talkies. Talk about 80s vibes :)
The nights in Crimea are pitch black, and finding a good spot for camping wasn’t as trivial as we expected. Where we sought clearing in the woods near roadways, we found urbanized area instead. It took some effort to find a fitting place.
Before we set up a camp and went to sleep, I heard(?) what sounded like creepy little bells ringing as in a horror movie. Not sure what that really was.
Day 1: From the peak to the wine cellar
We were woken up by the immense heat and loud children in the process of their own little hike. The resting place wasn’t as secluded as it seemed at night.
First point of interest was the Ay-Petri peak, a famous mountain. I read about it in children’s adventure books and was eager to see it with my own eyes. From below, it looked as if it was absurd to even dare ascend to the top. No way it’s possible to get that high up: the towering ridge is 1200m above sea level.
Marked by red arrows, our path trailed across a relatively flat pine forest to the base of the mountain. It wasn’t a gentle introduction to the climb, a taste of things to come. In the forest we came across these peculiar rocks:
The space between them looks a lot like an entrance to the underworld. Rocks themselves felt magical, too. A nice place to rest and look around.
There were other sights to see, such as an old gazebo and clogged drinking fountains. Flora slowly changed as we climbed higher up: trees became wider and shorter, flowers disappeared and got replaced by lily-of-the-valley.
It’s cool to reach viewpoint areas where you can look down and visually evaluate progress towards the top. You mostly see grass and trees until there’s a clearing. Then BOOM: you’re very high up.
On the very top, cold wind attacks the unprepared. When sweating in a t-shirt under a scorching sun, it seems absurd someone’s gonna ever need warm clothes. Looks like most people get up using cars or funiculars, leaving hardcore stuff for our crazy kind.
There’s a few pointy peaks near the main one. One is marked by a red flag, and the other is connected to the ‘mainland’ by a pair of rope bridges. I didn’t have the guts to walk them: looking down made me feel dizzy.
Our brave squad almost reached the end of the queue to get to the funicular down, but apparently local rains were conspiring with taxi drivers. We had no choice but to take a cab down to the gas station (the rain stopped the exact moment the car moved). We were descending for so long I started wondering how we even managed to walk up the mountain.
We arrived at the last minute before the last excursion and wine tasting session at a local winery started. I didn’t have any particular expectations about it, but it proved to be quite interesting. We noticed how odd the Tsar-era buildings looked mixed with the Soviet additions.
Giant wooden barrels silently wait for another portion of grape juice. Dusty wine collections are waiting for someone to pay a few thousand bucks to free them from the cellar. Countless less valuable bottles fill up long corridors dug up by Ukrainian miners.
We finished with an exquisite wine testing:
This evening, the scorching Crimean heat was swiftly overcome by an annoying rain.
Instead of setting up camp on the wet ground, we booked a place in a cozy camping zone. It was like a long theatrical stage separated by cloth covers. Most of the stuff was powered with a diesel generator. The owner is a charismatic old man who couldn’t tune car stereo without the assistance of a younger person.
Day 2: Going in Indiana Jones style
I woke up at 5:40am from the unbearable heat filling up the tent and went to a gazebo overlooking the sea to meditate. It’s surprising how it can be so hot so early; and not a sign of yesterday’s rain!
It was high time to try on the 19th century explorer’s look I brought. Although, it was more like an Indiana Jones kind of look. The big hat saved my face and neck from burning to a crisp. Note #1: always bring a hat with you.
We went further east, listening to the tunes of country music, quite fitting our safari ride. Never rode a cabriolet before: no roof significantly freshens up a hot day. But don’t be deceived: although you feel cool, the UV rays don’t go anywhere. We next found ourselves a beach and a place to have a meal.
There were a lot of cafes in the area, and the competitive rate is quite high. There was a discussion in one of them that ended exactly like this:
-You have quite a nice menu. We gotta check out that last place over there. We’ll get back if yours is better.
-Don’t go there.
-[ Confused silence ] Well I won’t speak nasty things about others, you go ahead and take a look if you want. I’m not trying to stop you or anything.
If you’re interested in the outcome, that last place turned out better.
Next destination was Golitsyn’s Path: a road along the mountainous terrain. A hundred years ago, a rich aristocrat Golitsyn started his winery business, obtaining a generous investment from the Tsar himself.
Under the mountain, there are remnants of stone wine holders and a well:
The rocky passage leads to the plateau with breathtaking views of the Black Sea:
A mountain forbidden for climbing, but some of us got on top of it anyway:
This is the place that naturally motivates to have philosophical discussions about God, game theory and why most animals have two sexes. Those are naturally followed with buying local fruits and craft beer.
Oh! The climbing in fact was forbidden! What have we done.
We arrived to a beach camping spot late: it was pitch black and hard to see. We had to tie the tents to concrete stairs on the shore: marine wind tried to rip off the tent covers. While I blacked out due to exhaustion, everyone gathered to enjoy the wines we bought yesterday. I eventually got up, but they drank and ate all the good stuff without me :C
Note #2: don’t sleep when everybody’s enjoying the good stuff.
Day 3: Bones of a giant
It wasn’t supposed to be the last point of interest in this trip, but the road further was just too bad and too long to endure. Otherwise we would have visited two more places: Generals’ Beaches and a salt lake.
Yet again I woke up at 6am for the same goddamn reason. Note #3: next time, bring additional cover to shadow the tents. After a refreshing dive in the early morning, I was told the guys suffered because of loud music playing at a local bar and they even got into an argument. It’s good to be tired sometimes.
Today I swapped places with one of the guys so he could feel the glory of the cabriolet. Unfortunate for me: the other car had less luggage space due to a special compartment which contained the roof and mechanisms to attach and detach it. Thus, the third passenger on the backseat was a huge hiking backpack endlessly attempting to crush me or Sergey when our car turned. Note #4: portable Bluetooth speaker often performs a lot smoother than car’s own audio system. Also does not suffer from connection problems.
Who’s that giant, you’d ask, and can I for real find its huge bones lying somewhere?
Well, sort of: I’m talking about Crimean Atomic Power Station. It never got finished due to the huge corruption and the Chernobyl incident. It was supposed to power the entire peninsula, but now only the decayed concrete remains in the overgrown field, stripped of all valuable metal. The country turned out more rough than expected, but we got there.
Surprisingly, someone still guards those ruins! The guy made a very weak attempt at convincing us it’s restricted, but the next second he turned into a helpful and nice person. Without his advice we wouldn’t have taken extra flashlights and fallen into a chasm.
Without pipes and communication cables in their wall slots, the place looks eerie and unnatural. Like an architect was on an acid trip, randomly placing holes of various sizes in every wall. Watch your step: there are tons of chances to fall down three or four floors down.
The place has strong Tarkovsky’s Stalker vibes:
In the very center stands a rusty reactor casing. We swept every floor searching for a tech entrance, but to no avail.
There were weird rooms which purpose remained mysterious:
We had to do some light parcour to get to the top of the station:
A breathtaking view from the roof: is that a salt lake behind me?
The Station isn’t as derelict as it seems: there were another two groups of people exploring it at the same time. No one found an entrance into the core.
The other dudes were so nice to take a photo of us:
Later that day we had diner at the cafe that felt very rural. Check out this creative way of using an LCD screen:
Note #5: finding a fine camping spot is not trivial. You must find a place without trash and glass, and also park the car somewhere. The wind might be too strong and prevent you from setting up at all. Even more so if it affects the entire shoreline.
We met some friendly outdated means of transportation:
So we had to leave our ideals of a tent-exclusive trip. No idea how the guys booked a hostel so quickly, but we were already on our way. It seemed like we gave up for no reason and I became upset. However, when we arrived, no one could keep their amazement.
A tiny garden with a statue was situated near the entrance.
The hostel was huge for such a small village and consisted of three interconnected buildings. Spiral staircases were engulfed in vines and led to the second and third floors. The place, apparently, hosted a lot of people.
Our place was situated on the third floor. Inside it was no less glorious than outside: a cozy place where I’d definitely spend my summer holidays.
Just one problem: not much to do in the village. Except taking a stupid retrowave photos while teenagers run around and scream nonsense.
Day 4: The wind can beat you up
Alas, no time was left to do more exploration. The schedule was tight and trivial: get to the
choppa airport in time. There only was enough time for one last dive.
We ended up pretty far east: I was surprised looking at the map zoomed out.
I took my seat in the cabrio, and we sped up towards Simferopol. Not much happened while we raced across the peninsula.
Note #6: never would’ve guessed that at 120 km/h one could literally be beaten up by their own shirt.
Now I understand all the excitement about the reclamation of Crimea. The peninsula seems to generally be OK apart from the sanctions, and it has a unique nature.
Until now, I had never climbed an actual mountain on foot. Only by riding a horse. Greater distances can be covered when you’re mounted, but it feels less like your own achievement and more like the horse’s.
I accidentally noticed Moscow Institute of Energy’s summer camp, which has been there since the Soviet times. It is typical for many Russian universities to have such a camp. Phystech does not have one in Crimea, though, but has one in a close vicinity.
Bring juicy Country or Rock tracks if you’re going somewhere hot. Bring Synthwave if you have a cabriolet to ride along the coastline. Because of it, now there are tracks that reminds me and my cabrio mates of this adventure.
Spontaneous trips anywhere are always good with the right company. Thank you so much, guys! I have no doubt we can survive a zombie apocalypse together. Looking forward for another 8-men trip out of the blue
My friend Danya made some funny videos of our trip, check them out:
Let me know what you think of this article in the comment section below!