With the fall semester rapidly approaching, my girlfriend and I had one last opportunity to visit Crimea before the summer weather subsided and our work began. Unfortunately, due to the long train ride (about 30 hours) from western Ukraine to Crimea via Kyiv, it worked out so that we only had two full days there, so we focused on relaxing on the beach rather than visiting museums and famous sites. Still, there proved to be plenty of weird and exotic attractions to see in our small resort town of Alushta.
Alushta is located on Crimea’s more expensive and touristy ‘South Shore’ but is still less popular than Crimea’s main resort town, Yalta. Upon arrival in Simferopol, we had the option of traveling to Alushta on the Crimean Trolleybus, the longest trolleybus line in the world, spanning 85 kilometers of mountain road. In the interest of time however, we opted for a marshrutka (mini bus).
Alushta’s streets and sidewalks were awash with vendors, but rather than the potatoes, carrots and plastic kitchen gadgets peddled in central and western Ukraine, these folks were selling exotic fruits, canned delicacies and local home remedies.
The green fruits in the photo above are called “Маклюра” aka “Adam’s Apple” in Russian or “Osage-Orange” in English. The sign advises the following usage:
Cures: polyarthritis, hand, arm, knee, neck and back pain.
Place one large “Adam’s Apple” into 1/2 liter of vodka or samogon (home brewed vodka). Leave in a dark place for 10 days. Rub onto affected area. Be healthy.
Alushta’s swimming areas consist of converted boat docks with relatively clean pebble or grit beaches crowded with Russians drinking beer, eating beachside snacks, playing Durak or doing what we called the “stand and tan”.
Beachside vendors wander around yelling “Baklava, pastries, salt fish, blintzes, sweet corn, hot coffee, hot tea, who wants em?” For some reason, hot coffee and tea just don’t seem appetizing at the beach.
By far the strangest Crimean treat is the ubiquitous Georgian Чурчхела (Churchkhela), an obscene-looking string of “walnuts, hazel nuts, almonds or raisins … dipped in thickened white grape juice and dried in the shape of a sausage” usually served with a healthy side of angry bees.
At night, Alushta’s concrete “boardwalk” comes alive with vendors, swindlers and unwinnable games. There are shooting galleries, “Elizabethan dress” photo shoots, unridable “backward bicycles” karaoke stations, bootleg CDR vendors, and monkeys, falcons, owls and lizards that will sit on your shoulder for a price. One of the strangest is the “pay to have your picture taken with some African guys” booth.
At the end of our trip, we stopped in Simferopol for an excellent meal at the “Vogue” cafe, where our friend enjoyed Лагман (Lagman), the Crimean version of the Kyrgyz national dish laghman – a spicy stew of lamb, carrot and potatoes served over rice noodles.