Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Crimea---The Black Sea

Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine…..

Such a beautiful, warm, country and nation—Ukraine.  After spending a little over a week working as the cultural liaison between our American and Ukrainian ecotourism delegations in the Odessa region (will write about that later), I embarked on every history buff’s and world traveler’s dream---the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.  It touched so many parts of me---the gorgeous warm beaches not quite like southern California’s coast, but close.  I realized that having grown up catching waves in the Pacific Ocean, I needed to learn how to amuse myself in a Sea—what do you do without waves? Once I got into it, it felt like paradise. You could swim and float without the crashing of the waves and enjoy the bath-like warm temperature and see through the clear blue waters. 

Then to visit the ancient town of Khersones—5th century BCE. Out of this world…Really…To stand on the cobble-stoned streets, and see the remnants of the Ancient Greek architecture, Ottoman mosques, and the renovated Byzantine Orthodox church---all overlooking the clear Black Sea.

Of course I was most intrigued by the town of Bakchisarai, and Chufut-Kale (, where the fascinating Karaite Jews lived. There is of course debate about the origins of the Karaites.  To the Russians, they were Turks/Mongols who converted to Judaism and took on a non-Talmudic based, Jewish belief system.  During WWII, Hitler made the decision that since they weren’t ethnically Jewish they wouldn’t be murdered like the Jews, but just ostracized and given fewer privileges than others. Since they had settled in Crimea before the death of Jesus they were exempt from taking responsibility for his death like other Jews!

So my friend Tamara joined me for the journey to Crimea and after a 2-hour hike to this ancient village of Chufut-Kale, as the sun was setting, I dragged her along to the Karaite cemetery. How could we trek all this way to this ancient incredible slice of Jewish history, and not at least say Kaddish at the Karaite cemetery? Two Ukrainian young girls were also daring enough to walk through the cemetery at dusk, knowing that it would be at least an hours’ hike back down to civilization.  Take a look at this:  The gravestones are totally preserved-written in Hebrew.  The Ukrainian girls were getting scared, and of course I was running ahead, deep into the cemetery so that I could say a prayer.  Then I heard “devushka! devushka!”  The girls were screaming for me to return so that we could all leave this “creepy” cemetery.  The security guard had told us to take the trail “to the right” to get back, but we found two trails to the right! We took one which took us to beautiful views of the valley, with the orange sun shining on the ancient white-stoned wall that surrounded Chufut-Kale.  We were definitely going the wrong direction and soon we’d need flashlights. We returned the long way and luckily found some tourists from St. Petersburg who had a car. Well, we thought lucky….I think it probably took us twice as long to return by car due to the rocky roads.  It was an adventure.

When we took a trip to Crimea’s riveria—Yalta, we stopped at the cute little village of Balaklava on the way.  On the tour of the once closed nuclear submarine base, I noticed that we were probably the only non-ex-soviets on the tour.  This of course had been closed to foreigners until recently, and now it’s actually a museum.  I was surprised to see how many children were on the tour. And as I listened a little more closely, I overheard the parents (fathers) grabbing their children’s hands and pointing to the bombs and flags of the hammer and sickle, telling the stories of the Soviet past with pride.  If you were born in 2001, the Soviet Union is something that your grandparents tell stories about. Something long ago in the past….  It reminded me of that first day in Crimea just about a week prior when I jumped from stone to stone along the Black Sea in Sevastopol side by side with two little boys.  I overheard one little boy say to the other “do you know what our country used to be called?”.  The other little boy says, “SSSR”.  The other little boy says, “but now we are Ukraine and my papa tells me stories about how it once was. It was a totally different world, he says”.  “That’s what my papa says too". 
Enjoy some pictures..