Exploring the Ukraine
Our World | On 11, Apr 2011
… So, I woke up to a beautiful clear Spring day, pulled back the curtains to see Cypress trees framing a calm, tranquil and very blue, Black Sea!
Although early in the season, the holiday seaside town of Alushta is getting on with it. People in the streets going about their everyday business, cars bombing around and the shops starting to open.
Although I have never been to the Crimea before, it seemed somehow familiar, its quite similar to Croatia actually. The town itself is undergoing a fair amount of construction, even the Radisson is busy building a new wing (which, if truth be told, slightly mars the view from the main hotel). Apparently, the government has announced that every hotel that is built and graded by the end of 2012 will be allowed to trade for a good number of years free of VAT (which is 20% here)! This ‘perk’ has hastened the building of a number of new properties… mainly paid for by rich Russians. As a result, this somewhat charming town looks a little bit chaotic for the moment.
One thing that strikes you about this place is that there is obviously a huge difference between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. The cars are a mix of Toyota (high-end brand in the Ukraine) and ageing Russian cars that are huge and modelled on the old Lincoln’s from the USA. In between are everything from Porsche’s to Trabant types.
This whole area is a mecca for Russian holiday makers, in fact all the signs, shop notices and papers are in Russian. I was told by our agent here that most Crimean people don’t even speak Ukrainian!
We left the town for a drive west to Yalta; a meandering road which hugs the coast-line. The journey took about 40 mins and when we arrived, it was obvious that Alushta was very much the poor relation in this part of the country.
Although early in the season, Yalta was buzzing. Parking was a nightmare but apart from that you really got the impression that this is a wealthy holiday destination and a busy city in its own right. We saw a couple of hotels here, 4 star (not sure 5 star exists), which have been designed to appeal to the Russian market. They were not bad, lots of facilities and large rooms (although not what one could call an internationally recognised 4 star). All that said, there is no way that you would be left wanting in this town.
Although this is an undeniably attractive coastline, with the sea in front and rugged mountains as the backdrop, it does seem a little sad that the communist era has left so many ugly building ‘lumps’ around. You have a feeling that even now, money talks and if you can afford to lobby the authorities, you can build just about any style of building that you want. Not much of this place has been erected ‘sympathetically’, which is a shame – nature has blessed the area with a stunning frame, but the painting is a tad too conflicting for my liking.
From here, we drove to the National Park, which is supposed to be absolutely stunning. Unfortunately I didn’t get to experience that – it was closed! It appears that it is very often closed, either due to fire risk in the summer, or because of snow in the winter, or even some official that wants to do a spot of hunting! On the days that it is open, Ukrainian bureaucracy rears its head again. Lots of forms to complete and each car has to pay for, and accommodate an official guide for the journey through the park (they only speak Russian!)
So, my short trip to the region comes to an end – I’m back to Simferopol airport (which is most efficient) for my trip back to London via Moscow (which was a much longer transit than expected… good old BA and their 4 hour delays!)
Overall, if our event goes ahead here, it will work, but we will really earn our money because this is not an easy place to do business.