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

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.

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