The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Tuesday, October 27

Bakhchysaray (Back-chee-sa-rye)

Today my friend Barb and I are off to Bakchysaray (Back-chee-sa-rye). I just love the sound of that word. Apparently it means "garden palace." It was the capital of the Tatar Kanate dynasty from the 15th to the 18th century. Here a highly developed Islamic culture ruled the area. I know nothing about it so I am excited to be here. .

Fortunately, the Khan's Garden Palace has managed to survive the ages and Soviets destruction.
We arrive on a day that is bright and warm. Traveling here in October spares us of the hordes of tourists that come this way in summer months. In fact as we enter the main gate we are surprised to see so few others. It almost feels like we are having a private tour with attendants friendly and escorting us along the way.
The Palace is actually a compound composed of buildings clustered around a central court yard. While it is not as extensive and grand as Granada in Spain, it does have those wonderful turrets and intricate carvings of Islamic architecture.

Each building had its own function. Some were official buildings where ambassadors from far away could be received or other important matters handled. Others were living quarters where the the extended royal family lived and relaxed. There is even an entire building (only one of four to survive) dedicated to the harem.
I imagine life five centuries ago while walking through the maze of interlocking rooms or pausing at a fountain for a moment of reflection or soaking in the cool breeze of an outside garden tucked in a nook between buildings.

Here are a few pictures that will help you to imagine a little about people who lived so differently than we do.
A lovely fountain sits in the center of an even more lovely rose garden.

Ornamentation adorns buildings.

Intricate designs on ceilings are incorporated into rooms.

A typical passage way connecting different parts of the Palace.
A sitting room in the Harem.
A nook with a fountain.
The famous Fountain Of Tears. The advances of an ancient ruler were shunned by a polish beauty. His greif was so intense that carftsmen built this fountain as an outlet for his tears. Water drips from side to side portraying the duality of life - good and bad, joy and sadness and so forth. Russian writer Alexander Pushkin was so moved by the story that he wrote a poem about it. in 1823. To learn more about the fountain, go to
Gold woven into material for royal garments.
Intricate carvings are everywhere.

Later that day, Barb and I take off for the 6th century cave city of Bakchysaray. I sure am glad I have gotten use to more walking. Today's hike is challenging. The first 20 minutes is a steep climb as we wind up the side of a mountain. I gasp, "It feels like a 30 degree angle." But like the tortoise in fables, I slowly make progress.
As we come around a bend, an amazing church reveals itself. It has literally been carved into the limestone rock along with cubicles for the monks. The Upensky Monastery got started by Byzantine monks in the 8th century. It was closed by Soviets, but since Ukrainian independence, monks have come to reclaim it.

As if on cue, the bells in the tower start to peal out a call to worship. Priests and lay people slowly climb the steps as if worship has already begun. I pause to listen and allow the devotion to God to surround me.

Our hike is just beginning. Next stop are the foot hills of the ancient Cave City - Chufut-Kale. Historical records are unclear, but people have probably lived here since the 6th century. The list includes Christianized Samaritans, Tatars, Turks, and the Jewish Karaites, a small sect

The steep climb to the the first caves is difficult, but I make it. Although no one, but Barb is around, I cheer my accomplishment.

Here are a few pictures of the vistas.

With dusk approaching, we scurry back down the hillside and discover that going down is almost as difficult as going up. But sights and accomplishments fill my memory. Say it again, "Bakchysaray (Back-chee-sa-rye)." - a garden palace and cave city. Places filled with history. What a privledge to be here.

Sunday, October 25


Train Station - Simferopol, Crimea

Parkland winding through Simferopol. It's so relaxing.

As the train moves forward, I am gently jerked from side to side. The monotonous wheel on rail clickety-clack surrounds me. It's almost hypnotic. Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. I am on my way home from a three day vacation in Ukraine's southern most area - Crimea.

Outside a strip of small trees and bushes splash the landscape with Fall colors. I see oranges and yellows and reds and a few deeper purples. The vision from the train window brings to mind memories of New England that has been so much a part of my life. I think of family and friends and my co-workers with Community Catylist and AARP.

Beyond the colorful strip, deep dark fields spread out. Some have been freshly planted. Maybe it's winter wheat. I don't know. Now my mind says that I am in Indiana where I started my adult life and career. I think about my Hoosier friends and my children and the Lafayette Urban Ministry. .I smile. It's strange how you can be in several place at the same time. Present and past merge in a montage of memory. I am enjoying my travels.

Occasionally, small buildings, no bigger than tool sheds, cluster together and dot the landscape. They are the beginnings of homes. In Ukraine. land was owned by the State for many years and rules for individual ownership are yet to be settled. Having a small building on a piece of land is a step towards ownership, so I am told. Learn more from this concise report on the World Bank web site -

Clicking and clacking forward, I am traveling the length of Ukraine. I will be on this train for the next 15 hours. Ukrainian trains are on schedule, but they are not speed demons. I will travel about 500 miles at an average rate of 35 miles per hour. Of course there are stops at stations along the way that take up time, but still it is slow going.

I am not alone. Think Orient Express. Ukrainian trains are divided into compartments. Some are open to the aisle and others have a sliding door. I had an open compartment going to Crimea, but now I am traveling with a door.

There's a lower and upper berth on either side. It's rather spacious. When I think of how we Americans are stuffed into jets with 3 inches of leg room, I think Ukrainians know how to travel. I can spread out and lie down for a nap if I want. Later tonight, I will make up the narrow bed with clean pressed sheets. A pillow and blanket is provided too. I'll have some serious shut-eye. In the mean time I can stretch and relax.

I am sharing this compartment with 3 others. I introduce myself to my compartment community. "I am from America," I say as if there is a doubt. They know when I utter my first Russian words.

A young woman says little but an older woman tries out a few words of English. She is from Belarus. She has traveled with an assortment of bags. They are commonly called Babushka Bags for obvious reasons. She checks each bag very carefully to be certain all is in order. A middle age man is the last to arrive. He says something in Russian but I must say back. "So sorry, I do not understand." It's a phrase that I use often. He smiles and tries again, but it is hopeless. I just smile back.

Three days ago, I hooked up with my Peace Corps friend, Barb. She is placed at the Crimean Tatar Library and Cultural Center in Simferopol. The Crimean Tatar people have had a long history.

From ancient times to the 19th century Crimea and the Tatar people were a center of Islamic civilization. They had an uneasy time under early Soviet rule and after The Great War, Stalin deported the Crimean Tatars for allegedly collaborating with the Nazi occupation troops. As they were forcibly resettled, many died of hunger and disease .

In recent times, the Crimean Tatar people have begun to return to Crimea. They come with a strong identity and a desire to reestablish themselves on the land. Of course other people have been working the land since the 1940s. How all of this will be resolved is unclear. But people are talking and in our kind of world talking is a good thing.

Crimea Tatar history was never discussed in my high school or college. How about yours? To learn more, go to or

From Barb's home in Simferopol, we managed to pack in many charming experiences and wondrous sights. Like the afternoon when we finished lunch in an outdoor cafe and asked for a coffee.

Instead of receiving our coffee, We were ushered into a luscious den laden with sheep hides on low lounging sofas for a Crimea Tatar experience. While we relaxed and took in the atmosphere of the den, a man squatted before a fire pit and prepared traditional coffee. Soon small cups are placed before us and we take a sip. Mmmmm! A thick and dark velvet coats our tongues as we nibble on sweets and marveled how surprising a request for coffee can be.

We make Yalta our over-night base. It reminds me a lot of Atlantic City. Instead of a board walk, a promenade stretches along the Black Sea. Shops and restaurants and lots of glitzy touristy stuff line the way. It is a great place to people watch leisurely. Barb tells me that in summer the crowds are impossible because this is the hub for vacationers from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.

Here is a picture of our hotel corridor. You might think it is nothing special. But you would be wrong. Hotel Otdikh (Relaxation) was a 19th century brothel for visiting governmental dignitaries. If walls could talk, imagine the stories....

Of course, Yalta was the site of the 1945 Conference where FDR. Churchill and Stalin decided on the shape of post war Europe. It is also the summer palace where the last Czar, Nicholas II, spent summers.

We find a marshrutka that will take us to Lavadia Palace or at least we think so. The driver speeds by a sign pointing toward "Lavidia Palace." For a moment we think we are on the wrong marshurtka, but fear not. The driver stops a kilometer or so later in the middle of the road. He points to a side road and tells us to walk down there. We walk. It's a beautiful day and we are going down hill. That's encouraging.

Around the bend we see a large white building. It must be the Palace. We do not see a tourist entrance, but still we start taking lots of pictures. Then we notice something strange. Up on a second floor balcony, a woman in a robe is sitting on a plastic chair reading the paper. We look more closely at the windows. This can't be the Palace, it looks like people are living here!

The mystery is solved when we walk further and come upon the real Palace Lavadia. Apparently the first building was some sort of sanatorium. I wonder how many others made the same mistake. When you do not know where you are going, most any destination can suffice. We have a good laugh.
The real Palace Lavadia!

The next day we go to a small village, Gurzuf. The guide book says it was a magnet for artists. We are delighted by its charming wooden homes and winding streets. There is even an impressive small church.

At the end of one street is a special treat - the summer Dacha of Chekhov. It is chiseled into the side of the mountain. We notice an unlocked gate at the end of a walkway and upon opening it, we descend into a secluded sanctuary of sea and rocks.

I cannot resist and take a little dip in the Black Sea - maybe the way Chekhov once did.

The next day we visited Bakhchysaray and stumbled into an Indian restaurant. But I'll leave those stories for another time.

Right now the daylight is nearly gone from my train window. And the low night lights on the train make typing difficult. I will soon join my traveling partners in a little snack (you bring your own and share) and then to sleep.

Good Night for now. Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack.