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Cunard Queen Victoria 2013
Black Sea and Turkish Splendours -  Part 4

Map Embarkation and Southampton Lisbon - Portugal Palma - Mallorca Dardanelles Yalta - Ukraine Odessa - Ukraine Ephesus - Turkey Istanbul and Bosphorus Straits - Turkey Valletta - Malta Piraeus for Athens and Corinth Canal - Greece Vigo - Spain

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Sunday 13 October -  Yalta, Ukraine

In contrast to Istanbul where we counted 6 cruise ships, 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!' In 2012 we had taken an organised tour to Yalta's Grand Palaces, which visited the Livadia Palace, the viewpoint down to the Swallow's Nest, and the Alupka Palace. Our map showed it was only 2 miles to walk to the Livadia Palace, and that was our plan. The gardens are free and there is only the need for a ticket to visit the palace.

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 still a nice wine shop with lots of different local Crimean wine. In spite of our visit being on a Sunday the wine shop was open and we checked times so we could stop there at the end of our walk. We know more about local wines now, and although the cheapest and most popular are sherry and port types, we like the standard red wines better. 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 Bournemouth. 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.

Our map from the ship indicated the path to the Livadia Palace was along the promenade, and this was confirmed by searches on the Internet. The route, which crossed the Primorsky Park, then turned left beyond the tennis courts, would have been impossible without the extra information. The path was uneven in places, and we walked along a rotten boardwalk, wondering whether we were still on the correct path. One local man told us, by sign language, we needed to climb steps up from the sea, through the park. Then we followed a tarmac path up to the palace, taking short cuts by using more steps. We emerged by a row of souvenir shops and coffee shops, and a post office, and then saw a number 11 bus - it was clear we had reached civilisation again. The entrance to the palace was further uphill, and it was free to walk around the gardens. Lots of local people were there, enjoying the weather and the views. Entry to the palace was 70 (more expensive than the 40 advertised on the website) but Pauline only paid 25 with her student ID.

The Livadia Palace was the summer residence of the last Russian Emperor Nicholas II and his family. 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. This was a fundamental part of the study of International Law which Pauline has just completed, and although we had been into the palace previously it was interesting to go around a second time without the time pressure of being with a tour group. The self-guided tour included the White Hall, the Tsar's Gala Study and the HQ of the United States President during the Yalta 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.

We had seen the local bus number 11 near the palace but it was a nice day and we decided to walk back, retracing our steps so we did not get too lost in the extensive gardens and along the beaches.

Back in town the beaches were full and there were family groups strolling along the promenade. We had glimpsed the bright golden onion domes of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral from the ship. It was very quiet and ladies were dusting and sweeping the inside. Quite a contrast to the chaotic jostling when we visited in 2012. We still had some spare time so went looking for the Market – we knew there was an open air market near Lenin Square. We hoped to find a cafe with a local beer, and after buying some Massandra red wine to take home we found a cafe around the corner from the cruise terminal. It had no view, but was and our bread, stuffed with cheese, was 11. (Exchange rate was 13 to £1) One local thought we were American, which we strongly refused, and after that everyone was friendly. There were no other foreign tourists there, and we like to go places and join the locals.

On our next visit we plan to visit the Swallow's Nest. The best approach is not to walk, it is too far, but to catch a boat from Yalta, and others said that it was an easy climb from the ferry stop up to the building itself.

 

Monday 14 October -  Odessa, Ukraine

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. We had a full day ashore, and again planned an extensive walking tour.

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 in 2012 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. Unfortunately they did not have any maps, and we had left ours back home. 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. The colonnade is part of the Vorontsov Palace and the area was deserted in the early morning. The little pedestrian bridge was 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. There were groups of police, and we could see that later in the morning there was likely to be a demonstration, so we did not linger.

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. We hoped to visit it, but it is closed on Monday.

Further along Pushkinskaya street is the pretty blue building of the Western and Oriental Arts Museum, with four rooms full of works by European masters. It was too early and although the door was open it was only because there were ladies cleaning the floors. We passed the statue of Pushkin outside the Pushkin Literary and Memorial Museum. He lived in the property for one year, from 1823 to1824.The pretty and expensive Hotel Bristoli is next door. On the opposite corner of Pushkinska Street saw the Philarmonik Society, founded in 1894 and in the building which was once the Stock Exchange.

We explored the area and then headed towards the Teatralnaya Square and the Opera and Ballet Theatre which was built in baroque style over 100 years ago. Here we met lines of Cunard tours, walking towards us from the Archaeological Museum below. We passed the Mozart Hotel which was being restored and then walked along Deribasovskaya Street. This is pavement café world and we soon reached the City Garden with its central bandstand and the art deco building, still under restoration. It was not far to the shuttle bus pickup by the Preobrazhensky Cathedral in Sobornaya Square. The cathedral was open because there was a service, and we were able to sit inside and admire the building.

There was a choice of direction, and by luck we settled on the road which led to the Market Halls. The Market in Odessa is famous, and our ship guide called it the Seventh Kilometre Market, the biggest of its kind in Europe. It was certainly very large and laid out in a grid pattern so it was easy to wander around. Everything was for sale, from clothes and household goods to fruit and veg, cheese, meat and fish. The covered Fish Market was being re-built, and there was just one fish stall in the large meat market. Again we did not see any sign of foreign tourists, and the butchers were surprised when we took video of them chopping up a carcase.

 

We retraced our steps to the City Garden and then headed north to find the house with Atlantis – two people supporting the world on their shoulders. It was not far from the Millenium club and restaurant in Gogolya street, which led eventually to the little pedestrian bridge with padlocks. The buildings in the area seem to have sufferred in the intervening year, with cracked plaster and fallen masonry. It is such a pity, but there are so many public and private buildings that it must be difficult to choose which to maintain or restore.

We passed the Palace of Science. It was a very popular building, not for its contents but as a place where newly married couples had their photographs in front of the substantial wooden doors. The Scientific Society maintain the Tolstoy House next door, and we paid 70 each to look around it. The guide spoke no english, except to ask for the entrance fee, and we spoke no ukraine, but we all smiled and we still learned something. Tolstoy had his office and rooms downstairs, and it was too dark to take photos. The beautiful rooms upstairs were used for meetings. They are now available as restaurant and for concerts. Books were for sale and old newspaper cuttings and pictures were framed everywhere; if we had understood the language then we would have better appreciated the story.

Crossing the Sabaneev most bridge we reached the monument to the founders of the city in Ekaterininskaya square, which was erected in 1900 and restored in 2007. There is a Massandra Wine Cellar on the corner of the square but we did not need to do any more shopping, although it would have been sensible to spend our last money on another bottle of good quality wine. It was then only a short walk down the Potemkin steps to the Cruise Terminal.


The next evening was at sea, and was formal. We had our box in the Royal Court Theatre to watch Victoriana. This show goes back in time to the apex of the British Empire, and captures Music Hall memories with authentic character performances, the elegance of Victorian fashion along with a look at Victorian Gothic Revival. We were issued with Union flags to wave in the grand finale. The Theatre Boxes have a modest supplement but it gets you a Champagne cocktail and a stand of finger desserts topped by miniature ice-creams before you are taken to your box by a bellboy in the classic Cunard red pillbox hat and uniform where another half bottle of Veuve Cliquot Champagne in an ice bucket with a box of Pink Marc de Champagne Truffles awaits. We like Box number 5 on the starboard side and had made our bookings at the Purser's office as soon as we had finished lunch on the first day on board.

 

Wednesday 16 October - Piraeus for Athens, Greece

Our next stop was in Greece, only the third time we had been there. We moored in Piraeus, a major port and city on the Saronic Gulf close to Athens. Piraeus is historic in its own right and was laid out around 450 BC and was already serving as a port. We had visited Athens from Piraeus independently several times, taking the Metro, part of the new transport system that had been built for the Olympic games in 2004. The port is much larger than one might expect and it took us nearly 20 minutes to walk there from the Cruise Terminal along the side of the docks, full of shipping and ferries, to the Metro. There were booklets in English on how to use the Metro and the tickets were very cheap, only Euros 1.40 return for old folks for the forty minute trip to the part of Athens containing the majority of the historic areas. In 2012 we picked up a day pass for metro, trains and buses for 4 euros but, in the event did not use it enough to get good value. An important factor is that the Metro runs every 10 minutes, and does not suffer from traffic jams.

Instead we decided to take a Cunard tour to visit the Corinth Canal. We had tried to go there by tour on two previous voyages, without success, so were looking forward to the trip. The journey from Piraeus to the Isthmus is 1 hour 15 minutes, which gave a view of the industry to the west of Piraeus along the coast. Just 10 minutes before arriving it started to rain. Fortunately we had packed our waterproofs but others were less fortunate. In addition there were three tour buses, all packed onto one ship. In sunny weather that would be no problem because people would sit outside, on top. But in the rain the first two groups all sat in the saloon inside and there were only enough seats for the rest of us when the cheap plastic garden chairs were added on the back deck. This did not give enough protection from the rain, and the wooden roof, the only shelter, leaked. We like boating and canals, so we still enjoyed the journey, but we wondered what other people had expected. Those sitting inside had no view. The Anna II went slowly along the canal, behind two large private sailing yachts and a catamaran, but then did a sharp turn at the end and came back much quicker. We can understand why the banks are being eroded when seeing the size of the wash. It was still raining hard when we disembarked, and there was a rush back through the deep puddles and standing water to the coaches.

The next stop was to view the canal from one the bridges, as per the schedule. Unfortunately we were told that it would be a stop of one hour, at a cafe and souvenir shop, so we could buy something to eat which would make us too late for lunch on board. The bridge was just a short distance behind so those of us who wanted to see the view, in the pouring rain, walked back. Others went into the cafe. Instead of the one hour everyone demanded to go back to the ship sooner, so we left after 15 minutes. Everyone was cold and wet, and there were demands to 'go back home'. So instead of a pleasant 5 hour exploration of the Corinth Canal there was a wet boat trip and an overall tour of under 4 hours.

We have been there, got the photos, do not need the tee shirt and won't go again.

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