Torn between the Ukraine and Russia, the Crimean Peninsula has been a center of tragic political events recently. Let's hope the situation stabilizes soon and the area will still become available for an ordinary traveler. I would like to put politics aside and present the Crimea here like it probably has never been presented in Western Media. I want to show you the natural beauty of the region in contrast to the grey photos you can encounter in the news.
It's a land of adventure, for sure, as few people speak English and you must use a sign language to communicate with them which is fun. There are two types of people in Crimea, they are either rude or polite to the extreme. While asking how to get to a location, they either looked down on me and ignored me completely or literally they walked me to the place. One woman even got onto a bus with me to help me find the hostel I was looking for as google maps weren't really reliable!
The best thing about the Ukraine is that it's so close and yet so different from Western Europe (maybe except Kiev). That's why everywhere you go, you enter an unknown territory that surprises you with every step you take.
How to get to Alupka
WARNING! The current political situation may have caused public transport disruptions and you must carry out some research before traveling to Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. It's not as easy as before to get to Crimea as the authorities require Russian visa to enter the peninsula. However, Crimea remains safe for tourists unlike Eastern Ukraine.
To get to Crimea, if you are going by land, not by sea, the best (and cheapest) option would be an overnight train from Kiev or another Ukrainian city. Book in advance as during the summer months it can get crowded!
Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time and I had to take a flight from Kiev to Sevastopol. (There are also flights to Simferopol, and from there - the longest trolleybus line in the world - all the way to Yalta). The service on board was first class - so were the passengers. I felt a little bit weird among those snobbish people wearing as much gold as possible and ostentatiously showing off their wealth. As I suppose, in the East, ordinary people don't travel by planes...
After arrival in Sevastopol, I entered somehow a different world, the terminal was in the middle of nowhere (as this was an airport used mainly for military services and it seems that now, during the conflict is closed for normal passengers). Then, I had to catch a mini bus to the center of Sevastopol, it was a lot of fun because there was no sign or bus stop anywhere... You can read the whole story in the post about Sevastopol and Chersonesus (ruins of an ancient Greek town in Sevastopol) here.
Alupka and Ai-Petri Mountain
In Sevastopol, early morning, I took a bus to Yalta for around 30 UAH (2 EUR, 3 USD). I had bought the ticket a day before just to be sure I will have a seat. The journey along the beautiful Black Sea coast, took around 1 hour and 30 minutes. From Sevastopol, take a seat on the right side of the bus to be able to enjoy the views.
Before getting to Yalta itself, I decided to visit the attractions of the area first, as they were all on the way. So I bought a ticket for the bus that stops in Alupka, a little village by the coast. If you are planning to do the same, do make sure that your bus will stop in Alupka, because some of them just stop somewhere on the motorway and you will have to walk a long way to get to Alupka, and in the scorching heat, it's not pleasant.
In Alupka, there are two things worth visiting. Vorontsov Palace and Ai-Petri mountain. Vorontsov Palace (Alupka Palace), built in the nineteenth century is really impressive. I saw it only from a distance due to lack of time, however I'm sure I will visit it properly during my next trip to Crimea. Consisting of 150 rooms, and inspired by multiple styles, it mixes Baroque, Gothic European styles with some oriental - Arabic and Turkish influence. Don't miss the beautiful garden - with the area of over 40 hectares.
Opening hours: 8 am - 2 pm (1st of July - 31 of August)
9 am - 5 pm (rest of the year - closed on Mondays)
Entry fee: 40 UAH (2.50 EUR, 3.20 USD)
Ai-Petri Mountain, from Greek - St. Peter (1200 meters high - 4000 ft.), is located within the range of the Crimean Mountains. It looks like a large cliff and offers great views over Yalta, Alupka and the Black Sea Coast. To get there, take a mini bus (marshrutka) from Alupka for 2 UAH (0.15 EUR, 0.20 USD). I managed to take the right one communicating with a sign language and the name Ai-Petri.
The mini bus will take you to a place in the middle of nowhere, with no sings and you just have to follow the gravel road down towards the coast (the mountain peak will be behind you. After a couple of minutes of walking (and admiring the views) you will get to a cable car station where you can purchase a ticket to reach the top of the mountain.
The line can be quite long and be prepared to wait around 40 minutes if there are a lot of tourists. There was one woman who offered, for an extra fee, the immediate entry to the cable car without waiting, with a guide, however only in Russian. When I asked if she speaks English she almost barked at me "NO!" so I thought "Well, in this case you've lost a potential customer".
Thankfully, after an unpleasant encounter with that woman I was awarded with an amazing view of the peak and the coast. On the top, you still have to climb up the hill (after paying another, however minimal fee) to get to the edge, however it's really worth it as you'll enjoy the breathtaking scenery of green forests, white cliffs and blue sea all at once.
There are a lot of sport and adventure activities you can do in Ai-Petri: rope bridges, bungee jumping, rope sliding, etc. It's really cool, unfortunately, a bit pricey.
Cable car station opening hours: upwards 10 am - 4 pm, downwards 11 am - 5 pm
Entry fee: 60 UAH (3.50 EUR, 4.80 USD) one way
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