2012 - Russia

October

 

This short visit formed part of our cruise on Discovery to the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea taking in 10 countries: Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina, Italy, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Russia, and Ukraine.

We have visited Russia twice before, both times under our own steam and not as a group.

Monday 22nd October: Sochi

We docked at Sochi where we were the only ship.  The weather was now much cooler. 

This port is a city of 400,000 but is very green with much woodland covering the hills which lie close to the water.  It was established as a fortress in 1828 following a peace treaty between Russia and Turkey when it was ceded to Russia. 

It was interesting to be told that the attractive Grecian-style Winter Theatre was designed by the same man who developed the typical “workers” sculptures of the communist era.

We had a short coach ride to the promenade where we had a guided walk.  Formerly marshland the area was developed into a botanical garden.  In all honesty there was not a lot to see but the city honours  Pushkin who once lived here.  His former house is a museum and there are various statues of him.

We also visited Mathesta Spa or “Majesta”.  The name apparently means “fiery water” aptly named as it is very sulphurous.   The Greeks came here in the 6th-4th centuries BC but it has been known since pre-historic times.  . 

At the spa there is a palace style building from the 1930s but we did not visit this.  It was constructed to give workers a holiday destination.  In similar fashion (perhaps!) the city is now to be a Winter Olympics venue in 2014 and we saw in Sochi much development of high rise buildings to make this suitable for the number of visitors expected.  Unfortunately, as our guide freely commented, the people are not used to giving a friendly smile of welcome!  They appeared stereotypically Russian.  Apparently it is quite unusual for Britons to visit Sochi although Australians do, probably as part of their visits to Sebastopol. 

We also visited Stalin’s Dacha which was given to him in the 1930s.  It was later converted to use by holidaying workers and is now run as a quiet hotel.  The building was painted green to merge with the trees so as not be a target from the sea.

All told it is an attractive green city but without huge other attractions and definitely  in need of some training in public relations.

 

Tuesday 23rd

We spent this on the moored ship as we could not go ashore without a visa.  We had not arranged a personal one and could only go out on a group one if we had booked a tour.  We did not book one for today.

Wednesday 24th 

We docked at Novorossysk, next to the battle cruiser Mikhail Kutuzov.  The morning was bright but extremely cold.  The place seemed equally bleak as we encountered our first location, adjacent to where the ship was berthed.  It is a huge square/promenade with military statues and buildings.  The city had been Italian but was seized by the Turks in the 16th century and then ceded to the Russians in 1828.  It remains a Russian naval base and is the largest and warmest of Russia’s sea-ports. It has 300,000 people.

An announcement was made over the tannoy as we walked around the square. The two of us were close to Martin Sixsmith (our ex-BBC Moscow correspondent and our Discovery lecturer) who told us that this was announcing a curfew for young people and giving the rules of the city.  We later noticed both that the city is relatively poor but also has a large number of police.

We noticed very many Lada cars but there were also some newer Asian cars and a few German.

 Our tour took us to the Valley of Death Monument where Breshnev had fought.  It was he who gave the city the title of “City of Heroes”.

We noticed both the usual endless drab blocks of Soviet flats but also a large area of newish large luxury houses with gates and high walls.  Tree lined roads did help to obscure some of the blocks of flats.

Our next stop was the “V” monument.  The Germans wanted the port as access to the south of Russia and so fighting was intense with 13,000 of the inhabitants killed in what the Russians term “The Great Patriotic War”.  This modern, black and brutalist style monument has a stairway up one arm of the V where photos of heroes are displayed and military solemn music is played.  We then descended stairs on the other arm with more photos.  Our impression was that this sought to portray the glory of the battles rather than mourn the waste of life and the destruction of 96% of the city.

Contrary to our general comments a stall holder lady (who sold us Babushka dolls for the grandchildren) was bright, smiling and friendly. 

We moved into the city where we saw very little in English except the odd part in a shop sign. Our next stop was the “Eternal Flame Monument” where some volunteers from Discovery laid a wreath.

Our day ended with a visit to the battle cruiser we had seen next to our ship.  This was built in 1954 and was definitely showing its age, with much rust but little “health and safety”!  It had been the chief ship of the Black Sea fleet but had been moored in its present position since 2001.  It is now a Unesco listed museum ship.

We were very conscious of a culture so different from our own and redolent of the Cold War era.  Definitely Russian and definitely not worth a second visit!  However it is always interesting to see places that are so different from our own country and to have a little more understanding of what the people believe and why.