It is very easy to fall in love with beautiful places. Sometimes, you may not have ever seen the place, in person. But you have seen pictures of it and you already know, that this place will own your heart. Maybe it already does! But there are some places that are not necessarily easy to love. You can love them, of course, but not from the first sight. Love for these places comes slower but stays longer. Travelling to lesser-known places makes me more excited, than travelling to places from the covers of travel magazines. It is an excitement that emanates from not knowing much about the place I am about to visit. When I depart from my home airport, I feel the way I felt as a child, waiting for Christmas morning, when I could finally look under the tree. This is how I felt before going to Crimea. All I knew about this piece of land I could have written in one, short sentence: “concrete, packed beaches, full of Russians showing their naked bodies”. Quite a shallow image, I must admit. While watching how clouds play with the sun, somewhere above Belarus, I kept asking myself if that was all Crimea had to offer. I hopped there was a lot more. Travelling to Crimea was just like getting a bunch of newly wrapped presents at Christmas. I couldn’t be too sure of what I would get.
During Soviet times most of people from the behind the iron curtain, used to go to Bulgaria or Crimea for summer vacations on the Black Sea. Bulgaria had one of the best hotels at that time and the Crimean peninsula seemed like the ultimate paradise. The Black Sea was much warmer than the Baltic Sea or the Barents Sea. Well, it still is! Back in those days, Bulgaria was a spot picked mostly by simple people, while Crimea was commonly known as the “Soviet Paradise” and was a popular resort for communist apparatchiks. Crimea was also home to Artek – a massive, children’s pioneer camp, once the most desired destination of children from across the Soviet Union. I was born behind the iron curtain, so all these names are not alien to me. But that was in the past and those times ended many years ago.
Now things have changed a bit. Well, a lot, I dare to say. Bulgaria joined the European Union but did not become the EU’s summer resort. Its glory has faded. What about Crimea? Some months ago, not many people from the West or from the overseas, knew even the location of Crimea. The world has got to know about this piece of land in 2014 when its name refused to disappear from newspapers’ headlines.
Crimea… This former jewel of the Soviet Empire until recently belonged to Ukraine and was its independent part. Now it is hard to say to whom it belongs, as since 2014 it is a disputed territory of the Ukraine and Russia. De jure it is Ukraine, de facto it is Russia. Crimea wasn’t really a part of Ukraine, historically and culturally. But was it Russian? The Crimean Peninsula in ancient times was home to Greek settlements. Later on, it was the home of the Crimean Tatars. After that, Russia conquered this area under the rule of Catherine the Great, who wanted to draw on Crimea’s Greek roots to legitimize her claim to being the heir of Byzantium. Russian devoted a lot of resources and spent a lot of time to build up and re-use these valuable, from the political point of view, new imperial possessions on the Black Sea. Till now, all of these historical factors are well felt in whole Crimea.
While being there I didn’t feel like I was in a former Soviet land. The Russian Empire made a huge effort to be seen as an ancient Greece’s successor. The architecture in Crimea is very neoclassical and very Greek. White columns that you may find almost everywhere, for some reason match perfectly with the beautiful blue bays and green hills views. But they don’t match with the picture of Russia though. Crimea, despite being located so close to Russian Sochi, looks so different.
In contrast with the natural beauty, there is development, or maybe a lack of it. Poor roads, concrete beaches, obsolete trolleybuses, small stores that may remember even Lenin. It seems that luxury has avoided Crimea. But I didn’t go here to look for luxury, I went to see the land of my childhood stories.
There is something magical about this place. Even the names of places sound so unusual. Gursuf, Khaphal, Kara Dag, Kizil-Kaya, Uch-Cosh, Uchan-su etc., they don’t sound even European! Nature here is still pristine. This area, in my mind, is one of the most beautiful natural locations in Eastern Europe. The dispute, between Russia who considers this land to be „back home” and Ukraine, which demands to have it returned to their control, has luckily not damaged the natural beauty.
Would I travel back to this place? In a heartbeat, I would. Why? Because I left my heart in Crimea! This little jewel melted my heart. I fell in love with the mountains, with the Black Sea, with all these steppes! And I know it is real love; it just might be a different kind … Tough love …