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September 19, 2002

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From Yalta we go inland to see some of the Crimea's historical attractions. We visit the Khan's palace at Bakhchysaray. The Crimean Tatars settled here as conquerors; they were part of the Mongolian hordes that swept across the civilized world. They lived in the Crimea until Stalin deported them en masse to Kazakhstan and Siberia. The biggest part of their legacy is this palace. In the hills nearby, the Tatars built cave cities. The Crimean landscape in these areas is flat except for a few spines of limestone ridges and hills that served as defense during war times. We hiked through a village walled in by natural limestone. We passed a monastery built into a cliff, and then we reached the cave cities. Along the way on a dirt path that led 2 kilometers through unsettled land, we passed a man with a weigh scale. How can this business work? He must depend on the vanity of the Ukrainian women. Women wore high heels on this 4 kilometer hike to the cave city, if that's any indication of how strongly they felt about looking fashionable. At nightfall we reached Sevastopol and ended up following a lady (who doesn't speak English) back to her house. She offered us accommodation for $4. We couldn't refuse but still haven't learned her name. In her village house she set out two cots and cooked a modest dinner of galupsie (meat and rice stuffed in a pepper) and a slice of dried mackerel. She wouldn't let us refuse wine. It's unnatural for Russians (the population on the Crimea is mostly ethnic Russians) to eat dinner without alcohol.
From the 15th century until 1783 (and the coming of the Russians), the Crimean khans ruled their country as Ottoman vassals from this palace at Bakhchysaray, the last western remnant of Ghengiz Khan's horde.
The Tatar's used Russian slaves to build their palace in the 16th century under the direction of Ottoman, Persian, and Italian architects.
The Russians love their Pushkin, they've elevated him to the top spot of literary worship. Here in this palace lies the subject of a famous Pushkin poem, The Bakhchysaray Fountain, about a Crimean Khan who wept like this fountain for his deceased, beloved Polish harem girl.
In the valleys of limestone cliffs, the Tatars built cave cities where they hid from Timurlane in the 1390's.
Many locals offer tourists homestays to supplement their income. It's worth staying just to brush up on your Russian vocabulary.