Thursday, May 9, 2013

Hiking, traveling, picnic

Time has gotten away from me once again, so here is a catch up blog post of my latest adventures.
The weather has finally turned warm—hot actually-- just in time for spring hikes and picnics. A couple of Saturdays ago I went hiking with Polina and a male friend of hers (Dima), whom I ended up liking a lot. The first true “gearhead” I have met here—told me about websites in America he orders stuff from. We started out hiking through open fields, getting hotter and hotter, but then the old road merged into the forests and there we were the rest of the day, eventually coming out onto one of the many points in Crimea called “Kush kaya” which means bird rock in Crimea Tatar.  The forests were thickly carpeted with spring wildflowers, especially the bright yellow buttercups we also find in America, and the spring vegetation coming up was green and lush—truly a spring paradise. 

Dima posing in the wildflowers

On Kush Kaya--Bird Rock--Chatyr Dag in the distance

Polina and I at end of hike

Once again, we were following Polina on her GPS and once again, she got on the phone to her mother when the way on the GPS didn’t seem quite right. With her mother’s directions we cut up a slope to the correct trail. Now I see why her mother doesn’t even bother with a compass when she hikes.

On Sunday, there was the Window on America annual picnic. About 40 of us met at the train station to take the very hot and very crowded and very old electric train to Bakchiseray, about an hour and half away. However, one of the great things about the electric trains is that you are constantly entertained by street musicians who pass from car to car, making their living from the meager handouts they receive. 

We gather for a group photo at WOA picnic

Hikers at WOA picnic; guy in cap a local PCV

Once in Bakchiseray, we all crowded onto a couple of buses to the “old city” and hiked to a beautiful grassy meadow surrounded by the high canyon rock faces of that region. I spent a lot of the day hanging out in the shade, but many of the young people played soccer and volleyball. Those of us in the shade prepared food, played cards, listened to and sang along with the several musicians among the young folk. Eventually a few people wanted to take a hike and they turned to me to lead the way! They all know what a hiker I am, and I was pretty familiar with the area. But we didn’t get far—too hot, not enough time--but a nice stroll anyhow.

The following week, the May holidays began—Orthodox Easter, May Day, and Victory Day—which means there are many days off and lots of activities. On May 1st,  my PCV friend Joohee came to our house for shashleek (kebabs) and then early the next morning, we took a 4 ½ hour bus to the city of Kerch, the only major landmark in Crimea I hadn’t yet visited. It is the furthest eastern city in Crimea—a short ferry ride away from Russia (not that we PCVs can go there—visa is complicated). There are several volunteers there, including one older Volunteer we stayed with.

We had a nice time, strolling around the city center, climbing up the “mountain” in the middle of the city on the “400 steps,” visiting the underground catacombs where over 10,000 partisan resisters and Kerch residents held out against the Nazis for six months, though almost all eventually perished. Now it is a museum with a dramatic Soviet style entrance that leads to a long series of unlighted steps into the catacombs. Our guide had a flashlight, as did a few of the people in our group, but it was a very dark and somewhat spooky excursion, as they have provided very little lighting. Not unusual here, but in our safety conscious America, it would have never been tolerated. Sometimes I think the US goes overboard in that direction, but in this case, at least a little of that consciousness would have been helpful. Joohee and I held hands every time we moved in fear of getting left behind! Though when they briefly turned off the flashlights for a moment of silence at one of the memorials, the profound darkness was something I perhaps have never experienced in my lifetime. 

Joohee on my right, on my left Christine who lives in Kerch

View from top of hill in center of Kerch

Entrance to catacombs museum

We just stayed one night in Kerch, but it was a nice break. Joohee is leaving to go back to the US soon, and I wanted to get back to go hiking on Saturday with Alie from the Window on America center and her husband, Genghis. A couple of their young friends joined us too, and it was a good day. Not a lot of real hiking, mostly just following roads, but I enjoyed being with them all—talking about Crimean Tatar history of the area, local flora and fauna, the house we came across with a VERY high security wall armed with cameras which they said must be owned by someone in the government, and any other topic that one of the young guys who was happy about the chance to practice his English (often the case) brought up. The day was extremely hot, but we ended at a reservoir, and though we couldn’t really go swimming, we at least had the opportunity to wade and cool down.

View of the reservoir

Alie and her husband Genghis

The following day (Sunday) I spent a leisurely day at home, and then on Monday (the official day off for the Easter holiday on Sunday), the family and I went in the van to the annual Crimean Tatar festival of Hirdirlez. We only stayed a couple of hours—enough time to walk around and see the displays, listen to some music, watch Crimean Tatar wrestling and horse racing—and then took off on a cross-the-mountain drive to the sea. Which would have been very beautiful, except that when we got to the top of the mountain, we encountered a huge rainstorm that followed us all the way down the mountain and along the sea coast. Eventually the skies cleared, and I, once again, got to see that beautiful stretch of the coast. It is considered the most dramatic scenery on the coast, and I long to explore it more. Hard to figure out how to do without a car, though I bet Polina and Nada know….

Today is Tuesday and I am back at the library, but just for this one day. There is yet another holiday this week --Victory Day (from WWII or the Great Patriotic War, as they call it here)--on Thursday and the library will be closed that day and Friday. Next week I take off for my Close-of-Service (COS) medical appointments in Kyiv and then off to Romania for a week.  I plan to be in Crimea most of June, leaving on the 26th for my 3-week trip to Georgia. So much time for more Crimea exploring and hanging out with all the people I love here.
With love from Crimea.

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