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Crimea or Sochi as a side trip?

Hello again,

As a family of three with a pre-teen son we will be visiting a friend in Kazan, Russia for three weeks in late July/early August. We are at early stages of planning the itinerary, all we know so far is that we will stay in Kazan for several days and then visit Moscow and San Petersburgo, accompanied by our friend.

Our friend suggested that for the last week of our stay we go to either Sochi or Crimea, but she won't be able to travel with us.

I'm very excited about the prospect of getting some sun by the sea and visiting new places, but have my doubts about doing that on our own. We are reasonably well traveled, but never made it farther East than Bulgaria and Turkey. We do not speak Russian, but we (the adults, anyway) will try to take a short "Survival Russian" course before we go.

Any advice on which destination to choose? Any recent experiences travelling to either one? Any tips on safety/cultural differences/things to see would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks!

Posted by
418 posts

For the sake of future readers who might stumble upon this thread, the links in the above message include three "Defer travel to Crimea" warnings by the governments of Australia, the UK, and the US; a March 2014 newspaper article advising readers against travelling to Crimea; and a 28-page Doing Business in Russia 2014 pamphlet, whose relevance, quite frankly, eludes me at the moment.

Technicalities aside, if it is a beach vacation experience that you are after, please manage your expectations: the vast majority of beaches both in Crimea and in Sochi are pebble, not sand. They are much closer to what you may find in Bulgaria (and I'm not talking about Zlatni Piastsi) rather than in, say, Dominicana or Mediterranean Turkey. But there are many other things to see and do at either location.

Posted by
12365 posts

I didn't want to push an opinion so I just put up links to various government advisories. I think only a half dozen or so countries recognize Russia's right to Crimea so most governments say something similar.

For beaches I would head to Montenegro or Albania .. stunning. I've been to the Black Sea coast in Ukraine and Bulgaria, and I've been fishing out in the Black Sea; not really pretty or inviting. Looks pretty much match the name - black.

For Sochi I would read some of the reviews of the area and the facilities from around the time of the Olympics. Pretty sad descriptions.

Entering Crimea from Russia is illegal if you put any stock in the U.N. that says Crimea is Ukranian soil invaded by Russia and only entry by Ukranian permission is valid. But there is no one to enforce it, so no biggie.

Russians are efficient in dealing with dissidents so I would assume the safety issue is a bit overblown.

I would think Odessa would be worth looking at. It's still a wonderful multicultural resort city. Cheap, beautiful and a lot of fun. As long as you didn't enter Crimea, travel between Russia and Ukraine is fairly open.

Posted by
418 posts

To answer RPerez's question - if you are to choose between the two and have a week to spare, I'd go with Crimea.

Just an opinion, of course, and the choice is yours - what I think would help you make your decision is throw together a list of "must sees" in Crimea and Sochi.

With that list in hand (if you spend some time researching the places of interest online and ask your Russian friend for advice), you will immediately notice two things:
A) Crimea covers a much larger area (about 20 times larger, in fact) and had a lot more to offer as far as sightseeing goes; and
B) Crimea has incomparably richer history than the Sochi area, ranging from ancient Greek settlements through Medieval Italian outposts, Crimean Tatar sites, "cave towns" and "cave monasteries", Russian imperial palaces and down to now crumbling Soviet military and cultural heritage sites.

Other things to consider:
Safety and security (I'm talking real risks relevant to you as a foreign visitor): roughly the same and generally low;

Beach experience: again, roughly the same (think Bulgaria);

Accommodation: Sochi has a better developed infrastructure, with many Western-style hotels. Crimean accommodations (with the notable exception of a far better developed South coast) can be somewhat adventurous at times (again, seek advice and assistance from your Russian hosts);

Money issues: all cash in Crimea; mostly cash in Sochi, but, unlike in Crimea, you will be able to use your credit cards.

Have fun planning your trip - and if I find some time (and inspiration), I can help you with the list of "must sees " and tourist traps.

Posted by
418 posts

Yes, traditional Crimean Tatar clothing is stunning. The same goes for Volga Tatar apparel, which you will probably see a lot of in Kazan. Like most traditional clothing, it is largely ceremonial, so look out for weddings - it's that time of year :-)
Speaking of Tatars - despite the name, Crimean Tatars and Volga Tatars are two largely unrelated ethnicities.

Posted by
6 posts

I would say Crimea, but as a previous poster pointed out, it's really apples and oranges (Sochi is a city and Crimea a land mass (peninsula). When I was in Sochi it was way before the Olympics (in fact I still remember the street signs advertising Sochi as a host city applicant that read: "Red Meadow, White Olympics"), so it was much different, and the value for me was it was like stepping back into the past to experience a soviet vacation...e.g. we had assigned seats in our hotel dining room, had to share our table with another couple and had to choose our meals in advance for the week and let them know if we were planning to eat elsewhere. I hear it's much more modern now, which actually ruins it for me. Combine that with the horrible beaches (just stones, no sand) and I'd take a trip anywhere in Crimea over Sochi in a heartbeat. Transportation confusion and backups in and out from Russia have been cleared up. Best of luck choosing!

Posted by
16 posts

Thank you all for your responses.
I think we still have a couple of months to decide, but based on what I've learnt so far, Crimea does sound more appealing.
Thanks again.

PS. @Perilofp Funny you should mention "that time of year" for weddings. The primary reason for our Kazan detour is that we have a wedding to attend. If stereotypes are anything to go by, we're in for a pretty wild experience...

Posted by
12365 posts

The U.N. recognizes Crimea as Ukranian Territory and the Hague has judged Russia's presence in Crimea as an act of war against Ukraine. Ukraine, that has legal governance over Crimea in the eyes of the U.N. and the Hague, has passed legislation making it a crime to enter Crimea with out papers issued by Ukraine and then only by way of a Ukranian check point.

Posted by
16 posts

I've just stumbled upon a recent BBC article that suggests that crossing into Crimea from mainland Ukraine by way of a Ukrainian checkpoint is not exactly a viable option.

As to legal concerns - I hold a passport issued by a country that does , in fact, recognize Crimea as part of Russia, so the legal dilemma is not part of the equation for me personally.

In the meantime, I've been doing some high-level non-committal research into potential places to base out of - and would appreciate any advice on Eastern Crimea (Koktebel, Sudak, Novyi Svit) vs South coast cities (Yalta, Alushta, Sebastopol).

As always, many thanks for your help!

Posted by
418 posts

Here's a link to a blog on a recent (April) visit to Crimea: https://eleventimezones.com/2017/04/21/yalta/

Now, the blogger is an admitted "Russoholic", so you might find her comments elsewhere in her blog somewhat debatable, but when it comes to her Crimea trip she seems to have gone to great lengths to make sure she accurately conveyed what she saw or heard from the locals, leaving her own views aside.
As a side comment - again, note the beaches. All pebble or rocks, with concrete embankments.

Posted by
16 posts

Just a quick update: got our visas and tickets to/from Russia, working on our itinerary now. Very excited!
Looks like our friend will be able to go with us to Crimea after all - such a relief, as planning did turn out a tad difficult, given scarcity of information available.

Posted by
541 posts

I hope you have the time to post a trip report. The entire thread has been fascinating to read as history is being made. I'm woefully ignorant of what has happened/goes on in that part of the world and I've just started reading up on it. I've got friends that do business in 'Central'/Eastern Europe and love it more than anywhere in Western Europe.

Posted by
16 posts

Hello again! We're back from our three-week Russia trip, which covered Moscow and some surrounding towns, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, (Moscow again), St. Petersburg, (another day in Moscow), and a week in Crimea.

We all enjoyed our trip immensely. The welcome we received was at times surreal - and not only from the family that invited us - that would not have been unexpected, - but also from random people, complete strangers whom we had just met and will probably never see again.

We did get to see a lot of sights, some TripAdvisor "must-sees", others probably hiding in small-print footnotes in some obscure guidebook, and yet others that are unlikely to ever make it even there, but the real highlight of our trip for me was the chance to meet wonderful people and take part (however small) in their daily lives.

I don't think I'd be able to write a detailed trip report - but I will try to throw together some tips and maybe impressions from the Crimea leg of our trip.

For the time being, though, it's a week of sleep therapy and gradual alcohol detox for me :-)

Posted by
11262 posts

Thanks for reporting back, and I'm eagerly awaiting whatever details you post!

Posted by
16 posts

Hello again,

Still pretty jet lagged and exhausted here, so I'll keep it short - please feel free to ask questions, I'll try to address them (to the best of my knowledge, which is, admittedly, rather limited).

So, Crimea.

Getting there - we flew in late at night on Aeroflot; we experienced no delays or other problems, but we later heard from people that for other airlines delays are a rule rather than an exception.
Our friend (and volunteer guide) arrived a day later by car via Port Kavkaz - Port Krim (the Kerch strait ferry). They didn't experience any delays, either - but they were lucky to have their ferry depart right before the service was suspended due to storm warning, which would've had them stranded for about 8 hours or so.

Keeping in touch: we had bought 3 SIM cards in Moscow, which also worked in Crimea. Our total bill (SIMs, calls, texts, unlimited data) over the course of three weeks was about 30 dollars.

Getting around: there are bus routes connecting all major towns, as well as local bus service. Taxis are everywhere, both official and unofficial. We ended up with a car (and designated driver) at our disposal - frankly, I would not drive in Crimea even if I had to - the local drivers seem to believe they can negotiate all those crazy hairpin turns with their eyes closed, and sometimes I thought that's exactly what they were doing...

Money: we were advised to bring cash; I tried my Chase card once, and it was rejected, no surprises there. Our friend used a Russian-issued card from a European bank, it worked without a problem - but overall there are not too many places that accept credit cards outside of bigger town.

Food: the food ranged from "meh, never again" at a fancier restaurant in Yalta to a fantastic simple meal at a hole-in-the-wall kind of place somewhere along the road from Simferopol to Bakhchisaray. Anything meat-based is typically delicious; anything vegetable-based is typically hopelessly drenched in mayonnaise. That said, local produce available at farmers' markets is absolutely fabulous - the tomatoes and peaches we bought there were probably the tastiest I've ever had.

Prices: generally similar to Moscow and Kazan

Beaches: I had been warned :-) And yes, public beaches in cities and towns are crowded, equipped with concrete boardwalks and piers and not always impeccably clean. But there are many "wild beaches" that are usually a bit harder to get to, but really worth the effort. A word of warning: the "wilder" the beach, the more "optional" clothes become; in some areas our cloth-clad family was a definite minority. In any case, with constant driving around and sightseeing this vacation turned out to be not quite a quiet beach vacation I had envisaged - we simply had little to no time for the beach.

Safety: We never felt unsafe (but, like I said, driving on those roads was a more or less constant source of adrenaline rush). Actually, there was one case when I felt a little ill at ease - when we got into a huge traffic jam, late at night, due to road closure and a fellow driver (a local) volunteered to show us the "back roads" around it. Well, suffice it to say our definitions of what constitutes a "road" must have been VERY different, and we were lucky to have an SUV, - I do believe anything less than a 4WD would not have made it out of there in single piece.

Places visited: Simferopol (Port of arrival and home base for 2 days, with excursion to Mramorny caves), Bakhchisaray (and surrounding cave town ruins), Sevastopol, Yalta, Sudak, Koktebel, Novy Svet. I have to say I didn't like Yalta much - but the surrounding areas are gorgeous. Simferopol is not much to write home about, but it is centrally located and a good base for day trips.

looks like I'm running out of characters. I'llbe back.

Posted by
16 posts

continued - wrapping it up.

Saying goodbyes: the airport is small, but very modern and efficient. We were even bumped up to business class, which was kind of funny, as we had spent the previous night camping, and our less-than-pristine jeans, salt-covered T-shirts, and matted hair were all in a sharp contrast to Aeroflot's whiter-than-white tablecloth, fancy silverware, and fine china (okay, okay, maybe porcelain, but you get the picture).

On the whole, I'd rate this trip as outstanding - a perfect coda to our 3-week vacation, but I would not hesitate to recommend Crimea as a standalone destination for a longer trip.

Crimea is a bit of a rough diamond - there are certainly areas for improvement (trash and recycling collection in some areas is visibly inadequate; main roads are in good shape and have recently been repaved, but enter any smaller road and all bets are off; living conditions in less touristy places are quite basic; over the 2 days we spent in Sudak we experienced as many longish blackouts that affected the whole neighborhood, etc), but Crimean nature is absolutely stunning, and the Crimeans we met were all down to earth, hardworking, and genuinely friendly people.

I know it turned out to be a very superficial trip report, I just tried to list what could be of interest for those planning their trip and, like me, having no idea what to expect, so if you have any specific questions, please let me know and I will beef up the details :-)
All best,
R.

Posted by
11262 posts

Thanks for taking the time to post these details.

Posted by
1 posts

Just a tip. If you once visited Crimea, It will be hard to get to Ukraine) On passport control you will be tortured))

Posted by
418 posts

Just a counter-tip: unless you volunteer or otherwise make available that important piece of information, they will never know (there is no paper trail).

That said, that may still be something to consider if you are planning to visit Ukraine (especially on the same trip).