Sunday, August 24, 2008

UA - Simeiz

As we arrived in Simferopol at about 12:30 in the afternoon, we still spent several waking hours on the train trying not to roast. The train was back to a more typical cabin format, but it was an older car without air conditioning and we couldn’t open the window. The first thing I noticed about Crimea is that the temperature is in a totally different league than anywhere else we’d been in Ukraine – it’s hot, it’s humid, and when you can’t tell where the sea becomes sky: that’s hazy.

Arriving in Simferopol, we quickly switched over to a bus headed to Simeiz, albeit with a brief stopover in Yalta. There were absolutely amazing views from the highway to Yalta – a vastly different landscape from what I’d become used to. The trees and foliage were now more typical of the Mediterranean, and the mountain plantlife more quickly gave way to small shrubs – rock and sand were the predominant colors of the horizon.

Specifically, I quickly recalled my day in Morocco: the glaring sun and brutal temperatures, the large homes set among a landscape that’s half-Mediterranean and half-desert, a populace speaking a language I can’t understand, and the Tatar presence added that Middle-Eastern touch. In the cities, the air smells of spices; and in the countryside, vineyards appear periodically.

The roads in and out of Simferopol are geared toward higher-speed travel. The roads in and out of Yalta most certainly are not, except perhaps the higher road connecting to Servastopol. Most of the roads wind along the mountainsides and are two lanes wide, at best – often only wide enough for a car to pull all the way to the edge such that an opposing car can pass. When there are parked cars – and there nearly always are – then it can really become amusing; unless you’re hurtling down the road at a high-speed around a blind curve when you find yourself in this confrontation (as happens extremely frequently). Throw in hordes of people everywhere, and you have yourself a fun time on the streets.

Simeiz is a small town built up along the mountainside. Its downtown smells absolutely wonderful (so long as you’re not standing right beside a bus) thanks to the scents of Middle-Eastern spices wafting through the air. Going back to the aforementioned traffic, it’s fun to watch traffic compete at the small connector between the main roundabout (east side) and the bus loop (west side).

Our first task was to find somewhere to sleep, which is always an easy task since there’s pretty much always someone at the bus or train stations seeking to rent out rooms. We soon had ourselves a room which is among the higher ones in the community and includes air conditioning. The interior is decorated with light wooden colors, making it feel like a beach sort of room; and it includes a modern bathroom as well as a television, mini-fridge, teapot, and closets. While there is a kitchen for general use, the caretaker also prepares meals at the top of what I like to call a compound of apartment units, and she always seems readily available whenever we need something. At 350 hryvnia a night (roughly $70), it certainly feels like we’re getting our money’s worth. I’d say this place is more like a hotel than a rented apartment.

I christened it in the traditional way of christening a new home, by which I don’t mean throw a big party or smash a bottle of booze against the side (the latter is what you do with ships; not homes… or maybe the side of buildings if you’re a wino moving into a new alley). The only catch was that I was done with this christening; it occurred to me that there was no toilet paper – a realization that occurred to me right when I really needed it most.

Seeing into the future a bit (since I’m typing this a couple days after this all actually happened), I should warn you this will probably rank as the second most disturbing entry of this entire journal. Not only is it a subject that many would probably not type about themselves, but this also doesn’t really have a happy ending. Basically, with a lack of toilet paper, I sat there about 10 minutes pondering just what to do. I settled on taking a shower so that I’d feel cleanish, and ultimately a swim in the sea put my mind at a bit more ease. When we got back, we had a roll of toilet paper waiting for us. I only find solace knowing that the girls were surely dealing with this issue, too.

There are multiple beaches in Simeiz, basically consisting of ones with pebbly shores and those with nothing but big rocks (no pun intended, considering I’ve since learned this one is a nude beach). While the girls have been going to the latter since our arrival into Simeiz to dodge the crowds, for our first visit we opted to go to the pebbly beach.

The pebbly beach is located pretty close to town and is effectively one of the town’s primary public beaches. It’s rather narrow, however, and not particularly long; so there weren’t too many people as a whole; but it was still absolutely packed. I can’t say I blame them: the view is lovely with the cliffs all around.

The water is just a tad warmer than that of Illichevsk, which was already a fine temperature. It still nipped a bit the first split-second that sensitive body parts hit the water, but it wasn’t cold enough to slow down the entry into the sea. It was blue and clear: I could see down past my feet. However, when the ground dropped away suddenly, not far from the shore, I could no longer see down to the bottom. It wasn’t as crisp as the water in the Caribbean, but certainly the best looking sea I’ve been in since… well… I think since I was in Aruba, and that was a bloody long time ago.

There were far fewer babushkas than Illichevsk, but also far fewer neck-turning sort of women. It was really just sort of an average crowd. I was a bit confounded that it was not a topless beach, though. Now I don’t mean to come off sounding like some sex-crazed male who needs a topless beach; but it’s just that in this country: women seem to walk around wearing next-to-nothing on a casual basis. It just strikes me as odd that out of the two beaches I’ve now been to, both required total coverage. Even in the more conservative parts of Europe I’ve been to, topless beaches seem to be the norm rather than the exception; but Ukraine is surprising in that it seems to be the other way around.

Dinner was obtained at the little café, or sorts, at our apartment complex. Our landlady cooked me Otbivnaya, which seems to be Ukraine’s equivalent to Wiener Schnitzel. I can’t say it was as tasty as the perfected concoction of the Germanic folk, but this Slavic take still made a fine meal.

The initial plan was to settle into bed early, but this plan soon fell apart once the little “uh-oh” sound of Anastasia’s ICQ rang on her phone. This whole trip, she’s been getting a pretty constant stream of messages from somebody which often seemed to keep both girls amused. This time around, one message put them over the top with laughter. They finally let me into what had been so entertaining.

The simplified story is basically that Anastasia has a male friend back in Moscow whom seems to think their relationship – which is just to go rollerskating together – is much more than it is. Now this is despite the fact that Anastasia already has a boyfriend, which should lead one to rightly suspect that she is not at-all interested in this guy. Well it ends up with the guy coming to Crimea and insisting that we stay with him… then it changed to him asking if he can stay with us… and then he was trying to find us here in Simeiz… and now we haven’t the faintest idea what’s happened to him.

Once he confessed his love for Anastasia via his little messages, she stopped responding; which kind of saddened me since I’ve been really curious what’s happened to him. Seriously, stalkers are kind of fun… but I guess since it’s not me that’s being stalked, it’s easy to say that. Also, the guy has a short temper – as evidenced by the back-and-forth tone his messages take: sometimes insulting and using profane language at Anastasia’s dismissive responses; other times apologetic for what he’s said before. I guess it’s not really the guy you want trying to track you down. It was certainly entertaining while it lasted, though.

This guy only speaks Russian and not a word of any other language, so I really wanted to answer the phone when he called and go “Howdy! Ahh, Deutsch? Mein Deutsch ist gud, ja?” and then take it from there.

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