Day 8: Yalta, Ukraine

by - August 31, 2012

A large American cruise ship had appeared in Yalta bay overnight and Sergey had been prebooked to spend the day shepherding Americans around.  As a result we were going to be on our own today in Yalta and the surrounding area.  Yalta is a world famous city despite its relatively modest size due to the conference held there in 1945 between the USA, USSR and Great Britain (represented by Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill respectively), to decide the fate of post-war Europe.  The conference was held in Yalta because the area is full of the large country houses (dachas) of rich Russians.  Unfortunately, the stately homes are all located in the hills around the town and are difficult to get to for people who aren’t on an American tour bus.

Moorish architecture at Vorentovsky Palace
We started by heading off to the Vorentovsky Palace to the west of Yalta in a town called Alupka (the palace is sometimes known as the Alpuka Palace).  This palace was built for a Napoleonic era Russian general and was built by the architect who designed Buckingham Palace in London.  The architectural style is very unique - if you look at the land facing side it looks like a Scottish castle, whereas if you look at the sea facing side it looks like a Moorish mansion.  It is also famous as the place where Winston Churchill stayed when he was at the Yalta conference - he is said to have quipped that one of the lion statues in the grounds looked like him without a cigar.  To get there we had to catch the number 32 bus from the Veshchevoy Rynok bus station in Yalta - a journey that was made challenging by the sheer weight of Cyrillic (which is hard to read on a moving bus).  Unfortunately when we arrived it was raining slightly and with time tight we decided to wander around the grounds in the drizzle rather than actually go inside.

Livadia Palace, location of the Yalta Conference
From here we got on another bus back towards Yalta and got off at another palace, the Livadia Palace.  This is the famous one, where the three leaders argued about how they would carve up Europe.  The palace, while not as ostentatious as some of the others in the area, is definitely the most historically significant.  Not only did it hold the Yalta conference (arguably one of the most important events of 20th century European history), it was also the summer house of Tsar Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia who spent his last four summers here with his family before their execution in 1917 by the Bolsheviks.  The downstairs part of the palace is a museum dedicated to the conference, while the upstairs is dedicated to the Tsar.  In the centre is the courtyard where the famous picture of the three leaders was taken.  Interestingly there are also a few ‘outtakes’ of this photo shown in the museum where the three men look a lot more casual.  While the museum wasn’t hugely comprehensive, the palace and the Yalta treaty are famous enough to need very little introduction and it is one of those locations where you can really feel the history.  Stepping out into the courtyard where the famous photograph was taken was a lot like stepping back in time.

The courtyard at Livadia Palace
Lenin and the McDonalds logo in Yalta
The whole process had taken a lot of time due to the complexity of the public transport system so we decided to head back to Yalta on yet another bus.  In keeping with my standard 'tour guide’ routine, I had totally forgotten to factor in lunch, so everyone was pretty hungry by this stage.  We were dropped off at Yalta bus station and then headed for the town’s McDonalds.  As uncultural as it sounds, there are few McDonalds outlets that are as cultured as the one in Yalta.  The reason for this, is that it is the only outlet in the world built on a square named after Lenin.  We sat on the rooftop terrace, eating our Big Macs with a rather forlorn looking statue of Lenin looking directly at the building - the ultimate symbol of capitalism versus communism.  We decided to go back to the hostel to chill out for a bit before our last night in Yalta - we are staying at the Sobhaka Hostel which is very pleasant but quite far from the centre.  This isn’t helped by the fact that the street map of Yalta looks like Mr Tickle, making getting home quite a challenge.  That night we went to a fantastic fish restaurant called Khutorok La Mer, right on the front by the beach.  Tomorrow we are meeting Sergey again for our last full day in Ukraine.

Dinner in Yalta

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