Black Sea Cruise: Yalta

Day 10, Yalta

From the sea, Yalta presented a much prettier picture than the
previous ports of call.  The city was lucky in that it managed to
almost entirely escape the pearls of Soviet and Stalinist architecture.
From the boat, we saw light-yellow and white houses with bright red or
green roofs amid green hills rising to meet the rocky mountains above
and in the midst of it all, the gold domes of a Russian orthodox
church.  To this very church we came on the first leg of our Yalta
tour.  Typical of all Russian orthodox churches, this one had the fairy
tale appearance of a gingerbread house – light, bright, with ornate
inlays and topped with golden onion-domes.  Juxtaposed to the happy
exterior, the interior was imposing and gloomy.  The worshipers stand
throughout the long service, copiously crossing themselves, bowing,
and kissing the icons (the germs, I suppose, do not survive in the
holy environment).  The orthodox religiosity, following the 70 years
of praying to the gods of communism, is flourishing in Russia and
Ukraine.
We rode up a winding narrow road among old stone houses and some new
constructions rivaling the 3410 Sturbridge Place, up, up, up to the
feet of the rocky mountains, to the favorite summer palace of the last
Russian Tsar and his family, the Livadia Palace.  Tsar’s palace, flooded with light
pouring from oversized windows, is light, tasteful, and almost
simple, considering that it belonged to the Emperor of All Russia.
From the vantage point where the palace sits, the tsar’s family could
look at the infinite waters of the Black Sea framed by the mountains
on two sides.
After the Communist Revolution, the tsar requested that his family be
given this particular, relatively modest palace, where they could live their lives
as private citizens.  But you know what happened instead:the tsar, his wife, their four daughters, one
son, a private doctor, a nanny, and a couple of close servants were all
executed without a trial.  And what judge would condemn the children,
the nanny, the doctor?
To make a big gesture, Stalin converted the palace into a spa for one
of the workers’ unions, where some of the workers could come on
vacation once in a lifetime and stay 7 to a room with a shared
bathroom, while the new communist bosses came as often as they pleased
and stayed in private quarters.  The king is dead, long live the king.
The next palace we visited belonged to the richest nobleman in the
empire, Count Michael Vorontsov.  His palace was much more opulent
than the tsar’s and the view of the mountains and the sea was even
more spectacular.  Ok, Mr. Count, you were richer than the tsar, but
didn’t you have to keep up appearances?

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