Crimea


Crimea (Russian: Крым, Ukrainian: Крим, Crimean Tartar: Qırım, Къырым) is a peninsula jutting into the Black Sea. We treat it here as a region of Russia because Russia currently controls the area, but see also the boxed text below.

The Crimean Peninsula is connected to Ukraine by two narrow necks of land, making it more like an island with two natural land bridges than simply a bit of land jutting out into the sea. A ferry-boat connects over the 5 km broad Kerch strait, to the Taman Peninsula in mainland Russia.

Russia's long-time summer playground, Crimea has seen various expressions of holiday spirit. Here is the fanciful 1912 Swallow's Nest between Yalta and Alupka: summer retreat of an early oil baron.

The political status of the Crimea is a controversial and sensitive issue; Russia has controlled the region since March 2014 and considers it Russian territory, but Ukraine still claims it and the U.N. and many other governments support their claim. This is only one of a complex set of issues in an ongoing dispute between Russia and Ukraine.

Wikivoyage does not take a position on these disputes; we aim to deal only with the practical issues of travel:

  • Crimea is under the de facto control of the Russian Federation. Any visit will require a Russian visa, and most visitors will reach the area via Russia.
  • To the Ukranian government, entering Crimea on a Russian visa is illegal entry to Ukrainian territory. If you later try to visit Ukraine and show any evidence of your travel to Crimea, you could be refused entry or arrested and fined.
  • Security is tight throughout the region. Visitors should exercise caution in dealing with police and officials, and should avoid photographing anything with military significance.
  • Consular services are unavailable for voyagers from most nations. Western embassies in Moscow are accredited to cover Russia, so they exclude Crimea on the grounds that it legally belongs to Ukraine. Western embassies in Kiev may have no means to reach or help you in an emergency.
  • Some nations have sanctions in place against Russia which may affect travellers. Don't expect Western payment cards or mobile telephones to work in Crimea. Anyone considering doing business in the area should check their own government's rules first. Also check Russian rules; they block some things such as import of Western foodstuffs.
  • Unlike some areas of eastern Ukraine, the Crimea is not (as of Jan. 2016) an area of active military conflict.

Some governments have travel advisories for the area: US, UK, Canada, Australia, NZ, Ireland

The peninsula was the site of the Crimean War between 1854 and 1856; Britain and France invaded the Crimea to support Turkey in a dispute with Russia. During this war, Florence Nightingale more-or-less invented modern nursing and William Howard Russell modern war reporting. The most famous battle was at Balaclava, near where the invasion force landed; part of that was the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade (Russell's phrase). A woolen head garment is named for the town as is the Balaclava melee, a cavalry training exercise using wooden swords.

Regions

Crimea

Cities

The abandoned Jewish cemetery in Feodosiya
Letters Sevastopol on Railroad Station

Other destinations

Understand

This region features many landscapes: Crimean steppe (or prairie) to the East and North, Feodosia's sandy beaches, undulating hills of vineyards and fruit trees, castles reminiscent of Bavaria cling to cliffs plunging into the warm sea and there are forested mountain ranges with fabled cave cities to the West.

Crimea observes Moscow Standard Time (MSK).

Media

Ruth Maclennan's film Theodosia is a good introduction to the place of Crimea in the Russian psyche.

When you get to Crimea you can buy the local guide book "TIME to COME to CRIMEA!" (in both English and Russian) at one of the many small booths on the street. For your reading entertainment here are some quotes:

Weather and Water

The weather in Crimea during the summer season is very much Mediterranean. Expect relatively hot weather and lots of thunderstorms that come and go. Hot and very humid at night. In the winter snow can cover the mountains and make the roads almost impassable

The water is fairly warm, although not as warm as the Adriatic. The water is clean and clear, although also a bit less than the Adriatic.

History

Genealogical research

All historical documents, including birth records, for all nationalities (Russians, Tatars, Jews and Germans), are kept in the National Archive in Simferopol.

You may contact them by email at archive@home.cris.net although the best way to receive a response to your email will be to send it in Russian. The archive is open from 08:00 to 17:00 Monday through Friday. Individual access to much of the archive is not permitted, although for USD30 you can pay someone to who works in the archive to do the work for you. Nobody in the archive speaks English so either be prepared to speak Russian or bring along a translator.

The archive is located at No. 3 Keckemetckaj, which is the main street running directly east from the train station in Simferopol (about 1 km).

The archives and its staff are not accustomed to foreigners so be prepared to explain to the guard at the front desk what it is you want to do.

The Lutheran Church in Simferopol supposedly has a list going back to the early 1800s of all German families who emigrated to Crimea under Catherine the great, or so it was said at the Archive. This information has not actually been confirmed at the Lutheran Church. For that matter, finding the Lutheran Church, though mentioned in the guide book, is actually a quite difficult task.

The city of Feodosiya has a Jewish Community Centre that is very active in doing research on the Jewish community of Crimea. You may contact them at ruslilya3@mail.ru, they can communicate in basic English (so you can send the email in English) but more than likely the response back will be in Russian.

Talk

The three official languages are:

Russian is the lingua franca: Stalin flooded the region with Russian families, while deporting the local Crimean Tatars to Uzbekistan. Try to learn a little before you come, even if it's just getting familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet, as few people speak or understand English.

Ukrainian About a quarter of the population are ethnic Ukrainians. Generally the Slavic people that you meet will likely be pro-Moscow and therefore may not appreciate being spoken to in Ukrainian, although if you don't know either language well, you may not be able to tell the two languages apart.

Crimean Tatar (of which the Yalıboylu dialect is mutually intelligible with Turkish) is widely spoken by the indigenous Crimean Tatars, who constitute about 12% of the population. Given the mass deportation, older Crimeans may also speak Uzbek.

German was the main foreign language taught to Soviet school children and many people will know a few words.

Some of the street signs in Yalta are in English from the time of the Yalta Conference in 1945.

Get in

After the annexation of Crimea by Russia, Russian immigration and custom agencies started operating in the peninsula's ports of entry, and foreign citizens now need regular Russian entry visas to visit Crimea.

Starting from December 2014, it's not possible to travel from Ukraine to the Crimean peninsula by public transport. Unless you hold a Ukrainian passport, you will need a special permission from the Ukrainian government in order to cross the "Ukraine-Crimea" border by foot.

Officials of the Ukrainian border authorities announced in 2014 that an entry to Crimea not from the mainland Ukraine will be considered as an "illegal entry to the territory of Ukraine". In practice, it means that if, after entering Crimea from mainland Russia, a foreign citizen tries to enter the mainland Ukraine, he/she will be subject to an "administrative punishment" (a fine, or possibly denial of entry to Ukraine).

As of March 2015, EU cruise ships are prohibited from calling at Crimean ports due to EU economic sanctions.

By train

The rail ferry between Kerch and Russia's Krasnodar Krai is only used to move freight cars. Direct train service exists between Rostov-on-Don and Simferopol, but it entails two separate trains: one bringing passengers to the ferry on the Taman peninsula, and the other one running between the harbor on the Crimean side and Simferopol. It is more common, though, to use a combined ticket sold by Russian Railways. This ticket includes a train to Krasnodar or Anapa, bus service to the ferry, the ferry itself, and the bus service between the ferry and Crimean cities.

By plane

There are flights to Simferopol from Moscow, St. Petersburg, and many other Russian cities. No international flights operate to Simferopol. The nearest airport having international flights is Krasnodar in mainland Russia.

By bus

Frequent bus service connects Crimea to mainland Russia. The buses operate to various destinations in Krasnodar Krai including Krasnodar, Anapa, Novorossiysk, and Sochi. All buses cross the Kerch Strait by a ferry.

By ferry

Frequent passenger and vehicular ferries operate across the narrow Strait of Kerch, between Kerch's Port Krym and Port Kavkaz on a spit of the Russian mainland. (Schedules and fares in Russian). As of April 2014, the one-way passenger ticket is RUB162 for adults and RUB81 for children; transporting a car costs RUB1190-1688. (Ferry info updates for 2014, in Russian) Ferry service is subject to weather conditions and can be interrupted for 1-2 days in a row because of bad weather. Expect queues and long waiting times during high season, especially in the end of August.

Freight services run between several major Crimean ports and the harbors of Krasnodar Krai (Anapa, Novorossiysk, Feodosiya). Most of these ferries will not accept personal cars or individual passengers.

In March 2014, plans have been announced for the construction of a bridge across the 5km (3 mi) wide Strait of Kerch. The bridge is scheduled to open in 2018.

Get around

You can get anywhere in Crimea by mini bus. You can also go by taxi. Prices vary; be prepared to haggle a fare as you will always find someone to do a deal with. Many private citizens also work as pseudo taxi drivers; sometimes it is difficult to tell. Taxis range from modern comfortable cars to 1950s gas powered Soviet cars!

Frequently while travelling in the country if you look like a foreigner (for example with a backpack) and you are standing on what passes as a 'major' road people will stop and ask if you want a ride... for a price. Fortunately that price is usually quite small to go some very long distances.

The road system in Crimea is in very poor repair; expect huge potholes. There is a very strict zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving. Police patrols are frequent as well as roadside checks for documents, but the death toll on the roads remains very bad.

See

The Khan's palace
Indoors of Inkerman Cave Monastery
Balcony of Inkerman Cave Monastery
Amphitheatre of Khersones
Pillars of Khersones

Do

Splendid mountain views of Eklizi-Burun (1,527 m) from a spot between Alushta and Simferopol.

Buy

As of 2014, Crimea was still using the Ukrainian hryvnia. Starting 1 April 2014, pensions and other state payments were paid in Russian rubles, although phaseout of the Ukrainian hryvnia was not expected to be complete until January 2016.

Choices are limited for banking. All Ukrainian banks have had to stop operations on the peninsula; as of 2015 the US-owned Visa and Mastercard are not available in any form, and no major Russian banks operate in Crimea, due to the risk of being targeted by international sanctions. Sberbank, the Russian state-controlled bank, has stayed out of Crimea but is backing a new Russian-domestic credit card "Pro 100" (pronounced “pro-sto”) which is slowly being introduced. Existing ATM/debit cards, even from Russian issuers, do not work. Most often, the only practical means of doing business is with cash.

Eat

Street food can be delicious in Crimea, if you are not prone to gastritis. Once your system is acclimated, definitely try some local Tatar specialties such as chebureki (Russian: чебуреки), from an outdoor stand or a cheburechnaya (Russian: Чебуречная, chebureki joint). These are succulent half-moon shaped meat pies, usually filled with lamb or beef (Crimean Tatars, being Muslim, do not eat pork), and deep-fried in aromatic sunflower oil. Samsa are also good, hot pastries filled with mince meat and chopped onions.

Try manti (Russian: манты), which are steamed lamb-filled dumplings, often served with adjika (Russian: аджика), which is a very hot red chilli pepper paste.

Try lyulya-kebab and shashlik (Russian: люля-кебаб and шашлык), which are shish-kebabs, especially if you can find ones cooked over a wood fire. If you can find pork shashlik, definitely try them. You will have more success with this in a Russian-run restaurant, as pork is not served in Tatar restaurants.

Find a good Tatar restaurant and try the lagman (Russian: лагман). It's an incredibly rich, thick lamb soup with vegetables and long homemade noodles that is absolutely to die for.

The ice cream sold at the beach includes a simple one called molochnoye (Russian: молочное, "made of milk"). It's white, but it's not vanilla-flavoured. It tastes like sweet milk.

If you see women walking up the beach selling something from buckets, it's probably paklava (Russian: паклава, baklava). This paklava is like nothing you have ever had before. It's thin layers of homemade dough, put together to resemble big flowers, deep-fried and covered with nuts and honey. It's absolutely heavenly.

Find a pastry shop and try the trubochki (Russian: трубочки, "little trumpets"). A trubochka is a cornucopia shape of short pastry filled with meringue and sometimes dipped in nuts. Delicious with chai (Russian: чай, tea).

Drink

The beer in Crimea is outstanding and cheap.

Crimea is a wine-producing region. Most of the wine produced here, at the famous Massandra Palace winery and in Koktebel', is dessert wine in the style of Port or Madeira. Unwary foreigners might buy a bottle of what looks like red or white wine in a kiosk and find it undrinkably sweet. That's because it's meant to be sipped, in very small quantities, not drunk like a Merlot. If it's regular wine you're looking for, avoid anything labelled Портвейн (Portwine), Мадейра (Madeira), Мускат (Muscat), Токай (Tokay). For table wines, ask for "sukhOye vinO" (dry wine) or look for labels such as Совиньон (Sauvignon), Каберне (Cabernet), and Ркацетели (Rkatseteli), or look for Georgian wines, which are delicious and plentiful.

Try the regional sparkling wine, produced at Noviy Svet (Russian: Новый Свет, "New Light"), near Sudak. It's labelled "Шампанское" ("Shampanskoye", champagne). It's very good. Try to buy it somewhere reputable, though, because there are knock-offs. Noviy Svet is a very beautiful spot; you can tour the caverns where the wine is aged.

If you're not going anywhere else in Russia and Ukraine, try kvass (Russian: квас).

It's a very refreshing non-alcoholic drink made of fermented wheat, the traditional drink of farmworkers in the bread-basket of Ukraine, prized for its restorative properties.

Try the local kefir (Russian: кефир), a cultured-milk beverage. When ice-cold, it's extremely refreshing on a hot day.

If you're feeling adventuresome, you might look for "kumys" (Russian: кумыс or кымыз), which is fermented mare's milk, a traditional drink of the Tatars and nomadic peoples of Central Asia.

Beware, some of the local mineral waters taste very salty. Look for a Western European brand, especially if you're going to be exercising.

Vodka is cheap and plentiful, some of the supermarkets have the best prices and the widest choices.

Connect

As of April 3, 2014, Germany's Deutsche Post is no longer accepting letters for Crimea due to the current political situation.

On August 5, 2014 the "MTS Ukraine" cellular service was shut down in Crimea and its radio frequencies reassigned to Russian carrier "K-Telecom", causing handsets to go dead. MTS Ukraine is a wholly owned subsidiary of a Russian provider, Mobile TeleSystems, which appears to be re-entering Crimea using a Russian subsidiary. SIM cards differ between carriers, even if the companies are under common ownership.

As of 2015, all mobiles from non-Russian providers receive no signal on the peninsula, a result of international sanctions. Many Apple and Google applications are no longer accessible in the region.

Stay safe

Motor vehicles will be the biggest hazard to your safety in Crimea. Drivers tend to stick to speed limits as there are many militsyia (police) but the road surfaces are poor which leads to some unsafe overtaking, even on the curvy coast and mountain roads. Pedestrians cross roads at their own peril. Be particularly careful if a car has stopped for you at a marked pedestrian crossing; check around the car before you venture past it farther into the crossing, because another very well may swing around it and go right through... right where you would be walking. Most cars ignore pedestrians!

Crimea does not have a major problem with crime. However, foreigners are at risk of being robbed if they are not careful about flashing wealth, except in Yalta during the summer which is filled with rich Russians. Foreigners should not hitchhike or take unmarked cabs unless they are travelling in a group. The safest way for a foreigner to travel alone is to take a bus or a marshrutka (a microbus that follows the regular bus routes). Moreover, beware of drunk men at night, especially if your skin is coloured. Beware also of the police, who may be corrupt and ask you for "presents" - i.e., bribes.

Discrimination by authorities against LGBT minorities is on the increase as Russian laws now apply to Crimea; a gay pride event formerly held in Sevastopol in April has been cancelled. The same warnings about anti-gay discrimination which apply to Russia must now also be applied to Crimea.

The countryside, which is extremely poor, is very safe. You are more likely to get kicked by a wandering horse than robbed. Crimeans on the whole are very polite, except when lining up for a bus or service at a shop when pushing to the front has been perfected into an art form. Standing in line is not an option!

There are plenty of ATMs and, as always, be careful around them. At night avoid lonely places where numerous drunks hang out, they are not really a danger except they might fall on top of you.

Go next

As of August 2015, direct travel to neighbouring Ukraine is not possible.

Ferry service brings you to the Taman Peninsula, where you can continue toward the following Russian destinations:

Additionally, Moscow can be reached directly by plane and the ski resort of Sochi is a 12 hour bus journey away.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, March 29, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.