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Cunard Queen Victoria 2012
Black Sea and Turkish Splendours - Part 2

Map Embarkation and Southampton Palma - Mallorca Dardanelles and Bosphorus Straits Yalta - Ukraine Odessa - Ukraine Constanza - Romania Istanbul - Turkey Catania - Sicily Vigo
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Friday 21 September -  Yalta, Ukraine

In contrast to the previous port, we were the only cruise ship in Yalta. Our berth was in an area where there were lots of ferries undergoing maintenance work, out of the water. As they always say 'Beware of the trip hazards!' Our tour to visit Yalta's Grand Palaces did not depart until 1230 so there was plenty of time to explore the local area and grab a quick lunch before setting off on the tour bus.

Yalta is a beautiful seaside resort, tourist centre and health centre. It was a very popular Crimean resort with about 80 sanatoria used by workers from all over the former USSR. Now it is open to tourists from all over the world and there are many official Change kiosks which will take your euros or dollars and produce local currency. Credit cards are accepted too.

Leaving the ship, we walked along Roosevelt Street (remembering the 1945 Yalta conference of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt). There is a nice wine shop with lots of different local Crimean wine. The most popular are strong and sweet and we purchased a Massandra white (like a sherry) and a red (like a port). Lenin Square, with its statue of Lenin, marks the start of the Lenin Embankment which is a popular promenade with gardens and childrens amusements. Except for the language it might have almost been Eastbourne or Bournmouth. The town is sheltered from the weather by a series of hills, and we had noticed a colourful bucket cable car from the seafront up Slava Hill. Unfortunately it was not open in the early morning, and when we passed it later we did not have enough time for the round trip.

We had glimpsed the bright golden onion domes of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and followed signs uphill. Unfortunately we had not expected to visit a church, and Pete was wearing shorts (not allowed) and Pauline had not brought her headscarf. She borrowed Pete's hat and went inside but at that time it was very full of local women at prayer and there was no room for tourists to go inside. Indeed it was similar to her memories of a jumble sale with everyone pushing and shoving and many women trying to buy from the souvenir stand inside.Back at the seafront there were shouts and clapping, and we came upon a youths boxing competition. The match we watched resulted in a win for a local boy from Yalta, which pleased everyone, and he was given a nice golden cup as prize. We still had some spare time so went looking for the Market – we had been told there was an open air market near Lenin Square. Indeed there was, but it was small, although we spent time at the pet stall chatting to the kittens which were for sale.

Our organised tour visited Yalta's Grand Palaces. The first visit was to the famous summer residence of the last Russian Emporer Nicholas II in Livadia. The Palace was used for the 1945 Yalta Conference, attended by Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin to outline the future of post-war Europe and adopt the guidelines for the foundation of the United Nations. The guided tour included the White Hall, the Tsar's Gala Study and the HQ of the United States President during the conference. We also viewed the private appartment of the Tsar's family on the upper floor, including the study of Nicholas II, the family dining room and the childrens' classroom, complete with original furniture and photos.

After visiting the palace there was a stop at the Swallow's Nest for an impressive view of the beautiful building precariously clinging to the edge of the 130-foot high Aurora cliff.

The second was to the Alupka Palace, locally known as the Vorontsov Palace, because it was built over a period of 23 years for Count Michael Vorontsov. It was designed by the English architect, Edward Blore, whose previous credits include parts of Buckingham Palace and St James' Palace. The interior of the building is spectacular, holding great collections of paintings, ornaments and fine furniture. Outside a strikingly beautiful Lions Terrace leads down to the Italian park and the sea.

 

Saturday 22 September -  Odessa, Ukraine

Odessa

Odessa is a major Ukrainian seaport on the Black Sea and the fourth largest city in the Ukraine. It is a Ukranian naval base and we berthed at the Cruise Terminal directly opposite a collection of serious grey ships and one pretty 3-master, probably a sail training ship. Our port guide described it as the Bournmouth of the Ukraine. James from the Tour and Travel Office had given a very useful talk about Odessa and said that it was a good town for a walking tour. This had encouraged us to be independent and use the published walking tour and the bus tour of the highlights of Odessa as the basis for a much more extensive exploration of the town.

As promised, we were berthed directly in front of the Potemkin steps. There are 192 steps mostly in flights of 20 so it is similar to climbing from Deck 1 to Deck 11 on the ship. They are almost twice as wide at the bottom as at the top and this gives an interesting perspective. In addition, it looks like a full flight of steps from the bottom, whereas from the top the steps are hidden. The walking guided tour starts at the top of the steps whereas we chose to climb them. After 1000 there is a funicular, but we were much too early.

The local Tourist Information Office had given us a map when we arrived and that included a map of the centre with the 16 most important places highlit. It was also labelled in the local alphabet which was very useful as we matched the street names with those on the map. Primorsky boulevard is at the top of the steps with the statue of the Duke of Richelieu who was the first governor of the district in the early 19th century. He was the grand-grand son of the famous Cardinal de Richelieu. We turned north - west toward the Vorontsov Palace, impressed by the wide tree-lined boulevard where the craft market was setting up stalls. The colonnade is part of the Vorontsov Palace and we arrived to find a group of men filming – it seemed to involved hiding behind the columns and then jumping out into the gaps. We had been told to look for the little pedestrian bridge which we found covered with thousands of padlocks each declaring the love between local couples. The walking tour continued over the bridge but we retraced our steps and continued south- east along the boulevard, passing the Londonskaya Hotel and reaching the Pushkin statue and the Odessa City Hall.

Odessa is twinned with 25 other cities around the world and these are shown in a signpost. The Archaeological Museum is next door, with a copy of the famous antique sculpture Laokoon. This was intended as the end of our exploration to the east and we turned from Dumskaya Square towards the Teatralnaya Square and the Opera and Ballet Theatre which was built in baroque style over 100 years ago. The area had many white wedding cars and stretched limousines and there were happy couples and their bridesmaids having their photos taken in the gardens, being overlooked by several very large tethered birds of prey and their owners.

We retraced our steps, passing the Museum and descending the steps to Tamozhennaya Square and then climbing the Karantinny descent towards Schevchenko Park. This large open green space of around 225 acres also contains the huge new Football Stadium, but we were looking for the famous granite memorial of the Monument to the Unknown Sailor. We did not find it, but instead found the monument to Alexander II, built in 1891 and restored in 2012. We exitted the park at the gate with the Schevchenko statue.

This was definitely our furthest point in the east and we walked past apartment blocks and then west along Bunina Street until we saw the Philarmonik Society, founded in 1894 and in the building which was once the Stock Exchange. The pretty Hotel Bristoli is on the opposite corner of Pushkinska Street. Turning north we passed the statue of Pushkin outside the Pushkin Literary and Memorial Museum. He lived in the property for one year, from 1823 to1824. Further along the same street is the pretty blue building of the Western and Oriental Arts Museum, with four rooms full of works by European masters.

We were by now heading towards the shuttle bus (and a break for lunch) and the City Garden, so turned west at Deribasovskaya Street. This is pavement café world and we soon reached the City Garden and then saw the Preobrazhensky Cathedral in Sobornaya Sqaure. The shuttle buses were waiting by the front entrance and one was just completing loading so we left the cathedrale to our return.

After lunch we set out again, taking the shuttle bus to Sobornaya Square and the cathedral. The square had lots of souvenir stalls, and one covered area where local men were playing serious games of chess. We had more time to explore the City Garden and to look at the chair and settee sculptures. A local group of musicians and a singer were entertaining at the central bandstand and we stood and listened. If they had been selling CDs we might even have purchased one.

We headed north to find the house with Atlantis – two people supporting the world on their shoulders. It was in Gogolya street, which led eventually to the little pedestrian bridge by the Vorontsov Palace.

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