"" Writer's Wanderings: Port of Call - Sevastopol, Ukraine

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Port of Call - Sevastopol, Ukraine

It was an early morning arrival to the port of Sevastopol and it was a good thing. We were expected to meet on the pier by 7:15 for a private tour arranged by one of our contacts on the Cruise Critic message boards. We grouped together just outside the gate to the cruise port and found our guide who led us to a nice mini-bus and we were off.

Word was out that excursions to the Livandia Palace, the former summer home of the Csars and the place where the 1945 Yalta Conference took place between Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt, would be canceled and/or changed to another place. Apparently there was a summit to be held there with representatives of the European Union and the area would be closed.

Along the way, we stopped for a photo op of the Church of Christ's Resurrection or the Foros Church (its near the town of Foros). It is perched on top of a 1200 foot sheer rock cliff and was built in 1892 in commemoration of the miraculous escape of Alexander III and his family from a train crash.

As we neared our alternate choice, the Alupka Palace, just a bit southwest of Yalta, our mini-bus was stopped by authorities and our driver had to pull out all his certifications to show one official as the other looked through the windows at us. Had to hand it to our guide though, she just kept talking through the whole thing as though nothing was happening. Satisfied that we were who we said we were, they let us continue on to the palace.

The palace was quite impressive from the start as we gathered in the outer courtyard and waited for our guide to purchase the tickets. Meanwhile some made a restroom stop after the guide shelled out some Ukrainian money for each who needed to use the facility. We Americans are so spoiled by free restrooms.

We made a short walk to the entrance of the palace glancing up at the huge granite-faced cliffs above. The gardens would have been lovely to stroll through but I knew we were probably going to be on too short a visit. Inside, the palace was not quite as opulent as those we'd seen in St. Petersburg but even so, it was impressive.

I am a lover of wood and throughout the whole palace wherever we went there was amazing wood paneling, inlaid designs, carvings, and complicated floor patterns that played with geometric design. We strolled through the bedroom that had been used by Churchill when he stayed there for the Yalta Conference. The Livandia palace was not too far up the road where the conference was held. Roosevelt stayed there apparently because of his ill health so he wouldn't have to travel back and forth.

There was a huge dining room with a table suitable for any conference as well. Our guide assured us that Churchill and his delegation probably strategized there. We walked through a long room that was all glass windows and doors on the side that faced the Black Sea. It was full of plants and marble statues and called the Winter Garden. True or not, it was said that Churchill stood next to the fountain there and said how nice it would look with some fish in it. The next day there were fish in it. He walked up to the fountain and said, "Thank you. It looks nice." (Implying there was a hidden mic in the fountain).

A Wedgwood blue room with plaster relief design on the walls was stunning. The room contained white furniture trimmed with gold paint as well as gold accents in the drapes and upholstery. I could just imagine having high tea in the room and listening to a refined young lady play the piano.

Outside on the front facade that faced the Black Sea was a most imposing entrance way. Along the steps leading up to it were several lions all in different poses. One was sleeping with his head on his paws and it is said that Churchill decided he and the lion looked alike except that the lion didn't have a cigar.

On our way back to Sevastopol (it was an hour's bus ride), we stopped at a place with a view the Swallow's Nest Castle. The castle was built on a 130 ft. high cliff in 1911-12 by a Russian architect, Leonid Sherwood.  It was also another "pay-to-pee" stop as the guys in the group dubbed the restrooms and a chance to grab a light snack as we decided not to stop for lunch so we would have time to see all that we wanted to in Sevastopol.

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