Haphazardly exploring the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine

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Holy crap is the Crimean peninsula beautiful. No wonder everyone has been waging war over here for centuries. And since all sorts of people have been fighting over it forever, there’s all sorts of stuff there. Interesting stuff. Huzzah!

A trip to the Crimea in Ukraine will bring you castles, palaces, mountains, beaches, history lessons, and lots of vodka. This is not only a historically significant region for many kingdoms and empires over the years, but it’s also a family vacation getaway, plus a huge party hotspot. Little did you know.

Crimean beach, Ukraine
I mean, who wouldn’t fight over that?

What’s the big deal about the Crimean peninsula?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we shall begin today’s lecture with a history lesson.

The Crimea has been conquered dozens of times by all sorts of competing powers: Greeks, Byzantines, Italians, Goths, Huns, Bulgars, Tatars, Mongols, Turks, Russians, and others. They each left their mark on the region, which is how it ended up with so many culturally diverse castles and palaces. Back in the Soviet days, it was transferred from Russia to Ukraine, which made more geographical sense anyway, but this has been a sore point for Russians and Russian Crimeans ever since.

Lion statue at the Vorontsov Palace, Crimea, Ukraine
Wake up, dammit! We’ve got history lessons to memorize!

But I wasn’t there for political activism. I was there to get drunker than I could possibly imagine soak up the centuries of history that have only made the Crimea richer with each new owner.

Onward to adventure we go!

Gloriously beautiful places to visit in the Crimea

The Crimea is overflowing with fancy palaces and castles and stuff. And that’s to say nothing of all the natural wonders that have made this such a hot property over the centuries. I tried to visit as many as I possibly could, bravely defying the horrific hangover that was pretty much guaranteed by all the partying that was going on in Yalta at the time. That’s right, readers. I am here for you.

So let’s get started, shall we?

In the Crimea you’ll find:

Vorontsov Palace, in Alupka, built for a Russian prince, and residence of Churchill during the famous Yalta Conference in 1945:

Vorontsov Palace, Alupka, Ukraine
So the photo is slanty. Shut up.

Tatar Khan’s Palace, in Bakhchisaray, built in the 16th century, back when this was Tatar land, and one of the very, very few Muslim palaces in non-Turkish Europe:

Crimean Tatar Khan Palace in Bakhchisaray
Mmm, spiky.

Cave Monastery, also in Bakhchisaray, which might go back all the way to the 8th century, though the buildings date to the 15th:

Cave Monastery, Bakhchisaray, Crimea, Ukraine
“Do you live in a cave?” “Yes, we do!”

Genoan Castle, in Sudak, which will fulfill all of your knighthood fantasies. This is a real castle, not a residential estate pretending to be one:

Genoan Castle in Sudak, Crimea, Ukraine
“Arm the catapults.”

Livadia Palace, in Yalta, was the summer home of Czar Nicholas II, and the site of the Yalta Conference, plus Roosevelt’s residence at the time:

Livadia Palace, Crimea, Ukraine
Yeah, it’s the ugly one. Let’s just be honest. But the fate of Europe was decided here, so…history lessons! Yay!

Masandra Palace, also in Yalta, summer home of Russian Emperor Alexander III, which looks like a grand chateau. I’m still kicking myself for missing this one:

Massandra Palace, Crimea, Ukraine
I don’t know why the hell I missed this. Now I have to go ALL THE WAY BACK. (photo by Podvalov)

Swallow’s Nest, near Yalta, is a rather picturesque (but 20th century) small castle built majestically on the top of a cliff:

Swallow's Nest, Crimea, Ukraine
Don’t get too excited. It was built in 1911 and is the size of a house. It’s basically just a toy.

Pretty cool, huh? And that’s just the fancy shmancy monuments. I mean, they’re clearly pretty darn awesome, but they’re only half the reason to visit the Crimea.

Crimean Beach Paradises

If you’ve been paying attention (and there’ll be a quiz later), you’ve probably noticed how many of the above palaces were summer palaces, which is due to a little thing called spectacular beaches surrounded by majestic cliffs.

As you can see, more than a few people have figured this out:

Beaches in the Crimea, Ukraine
Spring break! Wooo!!!

Personally, I don’t know why a Russian emperor would spend his summers here, because that probably means he’d be spending his winters in Russia. Dummy. Why wouldn’t you go somewhere warm in the winter? Oh well.

Weirdly, they’re mostly locals. Sort of. For the most part, beach-going party people in the Crimea are from Russia and Ukraine, without too many Westerners to be found (and yes, I know “Russians” aren’t “local,” but I meant you won’t find Western tourists). It’s pretty interesting how popular this place has been for decades, yet outsiders are still few and far between.

So they certainly don’t know what happens in the Crimean summertime once the sun goes down.

Main street of Yalta, Crimea, Ukraine
And this was on a regular night.

Party Time in the Crimea

So my partner in crime and I (and you’ll soon find out how not-metaphorical that phrase is) soon found ourselves in all sorts of party-related predicaments, because we inadvertently based ourselves in Yalta during…something. I don’t know. They just told me there was going to be a big party for some reason. Here’s how the conversation went:

“Tonight there’s going to be a big party with lots of people drinking and celebrating.”

“But they’re doing that already.”

“Nah, there’ll be way more.”

And there were.

Party in Yalta, Crimea, Ukraine
You people had better appreciate how incredibly difficult it was to go sightseeing day after day.

There were concerts set up all over, and the main street was filled with all sorts of buskers and other performers late into the evening. Fireworks, too. Oh, and did I mention the $2 bottles of vodka that were widely available from a variety of conveniently-located establishments? Yup, Yalta has it all.

Beach activities in Yalta, Crimea, Ukraine
Though it may appear as though a crucifix is emerging from my groin, I assure you that it is merely a horizontal water bottle cap band and a vertical light reflection. That said, which would you have found preferable?

I had altogether too much fun there. But as my time in the glorious Crimean peninsula came to a close, I left not with a forlorn longing for the past, but an emboldened yearning for the enthralling future, and the enticing memories I shall someday passionately create. I can only hope a visit to the Crimea, or wherever life may lead you, can be as exhilarating as were my transcendent adventures there.

And someday, if you’re really good, I’ll tell you the story of how I accidentally snuck into the wrong hotel room and found myself being chased by gun-wielding Ukrainian police officers.

Oh, life, how I love thee.

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