Monday, September 14, 2009

Cave City of Chufut-Kale

Monday night, still recovering from a pretty exhausting weekend for the old gal. Hard to keep up with those youngsters. Friday night twenty-something Grace and Aubree, two of my fellow PCV’s, came into town from nearby villages—they each had about a 2-hour bus trip to get here. They stayed overnight with me (my first guests!) and then we got up early in the morning to take the bus to Bakhchysaray and the cave city of Chufut-Kale, about a 45-minute trip from Simferopol. There are quite a few cave cities in Crimea, ancient areas of caves and structures high in the mountains where people lived for hundreds of years. Chufut-Kale was first settled between the 6th and 12th century. The first Crimean Tatar ruling body was established there, and later it sheltered a dissident Jewish sect called the Karaites. Located on the top of a high plateau, it is a series of dug out caves with windows facing out to spectacular views, ancient stone walls and paths, some small stone buildings.
To get there, we took a bus through the narrow winding streets of the old part of town, past the Khan’s Palace, which I will have to visit next time. It is a long hike up a winding road to get to Chufat-Kale. About halfway up is a Christian monastery built into the rocks by Byzantine monks in the 8th or 9th century. It was shut down during Soviet times, but re-opened in 1993 and there are eight monks who live there amidst the swarms of tourists.
The three of us had a nice time exploring the caves and structures, having a picnic of bread and cheese and apples from the tree in front of my house, taking pictures. We got there fairly early so it wasn’t too crowded, but groups of tourists starting showing up, so we headed on down, past all the souvenir stalls. Stopped at Caravan Serai, a Crimean Tatar restaurant where you can sit outside and lounge against cushions around a low table. All of us had logman, a traditional Tatar soup of homemade noodles, chunks of meat, and vegetables.
Got back to my place in the late afternoon and Aubree headed out to catch the bus back to her village. Grace stayed for the night, because she was heading to Kyiv the next day. Ended up spending most of the evening at my neighbors’. Grace can speak Russian fairly well, having been in the country 6 months longer than me and probably better at languages, and my neighbors loved talking with her. Got to ask her all those questions they probably had asked me, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying!
The next day two more young PCV’s showed up at my house, and we went on a long hike around the nearby bluff with Sirdar. They also could speak Russian much better than me, having been here even longer. I started feeling very incompetent. I so hope I can speak as well as they all do after I have been here that long, but I must say, I do have my doubts. One of them told me that she was at first lost when she got to her site, but after a couple of months, she started understanding what people were saying. A couple of months!!! But she also studied Russian in college, as many of them have.
It was fun having the company, but I was pretty exhausted by the time they all left in the late afternoon. I was out of food, so I trekked on down to the bazaar and did some power shopping for my usual groceries of the current vegetables—eggplant, peppers, red onions, cucumbers, tomatoes—and some fruit—grapes and a few oranges. Except for the oranges, everything I buy is local, and therefore very cheap. Come winter all that is going to be available is potatoes, onions, cabbage, and beets, so I want to keep eating those summer veggies while I can.
I think I’ll end this now and try to post some pictures. Next weekend my friend from training is coming for a visit. Maybe we will make it down to the Black Sea.
With love from Crimea.

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