Wednesday, May 23, 2007

2230 rooms of Soviet glory (or, Not as bad as I thought it would be)

Greetings from the Hotel Yalta - 2230 rooms in the former Soviet highlight of the Intourist system - for the best and brightest and most devoted labourers, to bask in all their communist glory... you get the picture. Lots and lots of Soviet concrete. With seven restaraunts, an 'authentic' British pub, a dolphinarium populated by ex-Soviet military dolphins, and an Olympic sized swimming pool used by the Ukrainian junior national swimming team (much to the chagrin of this blogger, who wanted to swim a few laps and was kicked out of the pool by an officious man with no less than three stopwatches).

But despite the over-exuberance of concrete mixers, and the alternating coloured evening spotlights that are splayed across the side of the hotel, the very run-down balcony that would not withstand an earthquake, and the rather inconvenient hotel location (20 minute walk to town), this hotel is really not as bad as I thought it would be. The food in the restaraunts is really superb (and cheap!), the local wines they serve are tasty if slightly sweet, and there are elevators down to the beach... (Yalta is on the Black Sea - a first for me).

The only problem is that there is only one key per room. This should not have been a problem for my mother and I. However, yesterday morning I decided to strike off on my own and go for a walk into the town on my own. I walked the promenade, admired the kitsch, and made my way through the local markets. Highlights included: a statue of Lenin (very solemn from the sea-side. when I walked to the back, I saw a little reflecting pool. That some enterprising businessman had filled with a couple of rubber-ducky shaped dinghys, which one could rent and row around the pool behind Lenin. I love the former Soviet Union.) and the pomegranate stands in the market. Then I made my way back to the hotel to meet my mom and grab lunch.

Except that when I knocked on the door after lunch, my mother didn't answer. Nor did she answer after I went down to reception, found there was no key, returned to our room and banged loudly. And repeated the process a couple more times. So I sat in the lobby bar and had a cup of tea. And tried again. No answer. No key. I took a walk around the hotel. Repeated the key-banging process. Visions of my mother having had a heart attack hit my guilty imagination, so I eventually bribed the maids to let me in the room, which I found spotless, but without my mother. I gathered my swim stuff (hence the national swim team experience, so I didn't get to swim. I tried the Black Sea, but it was full of jellyfish and my Ukrainian does not extend to asking if they're poisonous or not). After over six hours of being locked out of my hotel room, I eventually knocked and my mother answered. It turned out that she had been sitting out on our balcony all afternoon reading (and wondering where I was) and hadn't heard me banging the door down. And then we apparently crossed in the elevators when I bribed the maids, as she went down to the lobby for a few minutes... I thought that kind of thing only happened in the movies...

My mother bought me a very nice dinner with a very nice glass of wine last night. And I kept the hotel keys.

Today was a little less drama-filled, but quite spectacular - a visit to the Khan's palace (complete with harem) of the 12th century, a cave-monastery built in to limestone cliffs, and a long hike up to a cave fortress occupied by various people - most notably the Tartars who hollowed out caves in the cliffs to keep prisoners...

Tomorrow we are off to Balaklava to learn about the Crimean war and the folly of British officers, and then we take the overnight train to Kiev. Catch up with you soon!

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