It is the seventeenth in a series on a journey, by train and bicycle, through Russia to Crimea shortly before the outbreak of the war.
Since there is no train from Sevastopol to Yalta (bookend of the Hundred Years War between Russia and the West), I had to take the bus, the timetable of which indicates a journey of approximately two hours along the escarpment of the Crimean Black Sea coast. I had no trouble finding the Yalta bus station, as I had passed it on my way to the Malakoff, but buying a ticket was a two-step deal. I had to buy tickets for my ride and another for my bike from two separate vendors.
As I was ahead of the fray, I took the front seat which, on the winding coastal road above the water, gave me spectacular views. Then the bus cut slightly inland, which prevented me from seeing the palaces of Koreiz – not far from Yalta – where Josef Stalin and Winston Churchill stayed during the February 1945 conference.
Because his health was deteriorating—one of the reasons the Americans were so unsuccessful—Franklin Roosevelt was lodged at Livadia Palace, where the conference also took place; the hope was to minimize his travels to the Crimea, although in response to Stalin’s paranoia – he feared he would be deposed if he went abroad – FDR had to travel thousands of miles to get there.
It wouldn’t surprise me if, at the end of the current war in Ukraine, Putin tried to reconvene a peace conference in Yalta, so that he could channel his inner Stalin and perhaps wrest Poland from the Western Allies.
The Yalta stalemate
Outside Yalta my bus stopped in a long line of traffic (think one in front of a rock concert) so after about thirty minutes me and many other passengers got off and walked directed by our own means to Yalta.
I was luckier than most as I could just unfold my bike and set off towards my hotel – the only downside being that Yalta has as many hills as San Francisco and cycling there is a never-ending climb .
Not wanting to stay in a socialist sanatorium by the water, I had chosen a hotel close to the house where Anton Chekhov lived at the end of his life. He died in 1904 at the age of 44, but his sister was still living in the modernist house in 1945, and the daughter of Averell Harriman (the United States Ambassador to Russia) called him to find out how it had been to survive in Crimea during World War II. World War II, when the Germans were the occupying power.
I also thought I was picking a hotel that might suit my bike well, but in the end my self-proclaimed “boutique hostel” turned out to be more of a low-end hostel (although I had my own room and shower ) which was led by a lady dragon. In a quick order, she told me I couldn’t bring inside my shoes, bike or saddle bags – all of which had to stay in the garden.
Then she informed me that the hotel had no water or food “because of the emergency”. That was my first clue, other than the long traffic jam, that things weren’t right in Yalta.
The mud slips
It turned out that the previous three days of torrential rain had triggered mudslides from the surrounding hills (think a canyon in suburban Los Angeles), and now the city’s water was off and mud was everywhere in the streets of the city. I went to Chekhov’s house next door and heard the same story, and that the literary museum was closed.
To enter Yalta, all I had to do was drive down several hills, but when I cycled along the main street, I discovered that it was half a tourist town ( there were throngs of tourists everywhere) and half of a disaster area (the rivers were rushing and mud was stuck on many sidewalks and streets).
Since I had dreamed of visiting Yalta since the 1970s, you might think I would have a good idea of what it would be like. In my mind, I imagined a charming Mediterranean resort, with palaces and hotels along the waterfront, and maybe a few cafes overlooking the clear water.
Instead, I found myself cycling through the housing of a five-year plan, with rows of Soviet-era apartment buildings and casinos scattered along the shore, and an esplanade in concrete where the only “emergency” rations on sale were ice cream.
A worker’s paradise
In my handlebar bag I had carried my bathing suit, hoping to find a beach to swim in, but found myself walking down a large industrial wharf along which sailboats and tankers were moored.
It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, as the mudslides had turned the waters of the Black Sea into something resembling the Ganges as it flowed through Allahabad.
I had also thought that Vladimir Putin’s $1.4 billion summer dacha was near Yalta, but it turned out that his hundred-room Italianate palace (about the size and l shard of the NBA) was built on 17 square kilometers near Novorossiysk in the seaside town of Gelendzhik.
A report states, “Floor plans reveal staggering opulence, including a casino, theater, swimming pool and hookah lounge with a pole dancing stage.” So clearly more than a wet bar and a kegerator for his spy friends.
The Three Great Ghosts at Livadia Palace
Livadia Palace is only a few miles south of the utopian paradise of Yalta, but as I assessed the situation – in which the army was distributing water from trucks parked in downtown Yalta and the police had blocked off a number of streets – I decided my best chance of getting there would be by taxi or bus. Otherwise I would be going up and down a number of daunting hills, into what I was sure would be dead ends.
Buses, however, were not running due to storms, and although I saw a few taxis, they were unresponsive to a tourist standing next to a folded bicycle, waving his arms in the muddy street.
In the end, I said to myself that I had no choice but to ride. I started what looked like a mountain, made worse by the summer humidity and now a scorching sun that had broken through the clouds.
I stopped several times to get water (bottled, not military) and to check my direction. Eventually, after about an hour of driving through a convoluted residential suburb, I descended a hill towards the water and started picking up signs for Livadia Palace, which is located on a low cliff in the above the shore.
Near the palace is a small village and a touristy strip of restaurants, souvenir shops and hotels, all of which seemed to do good business. I quickly understood why: the palace itself was closed “because of the emergency”, and everyone who visited the former summer residence of Tsar Nicholas II bought drinks and Italian ice cream on the street main.
At least the palace grounds were open, and a kind guard standing in front of the palace told me it was fine for me to ride my bike on the sidewalks of the park.
I peeked into some of the palace windows, then on the west side I found an oversized bronze monument of the Big Three – Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin – sitting on chairs suitable for giants, arranged like they were in February 1945.
An endless stream of Russian families, out for the day in the park, stopped in front of the sculpture and laid their children on the bronze knees of the Big Three, as if they were the Santa Clauses of the happier days of the covenant. western.
The iron curtain falls
Of all the World War II conferences – there were many among the allies involving heads of state or government – none became more controversial or notorious than Yalta, for shortly after the well- being on the shores of the Black Sea, the so-called Iron Curtain fell on the aspirations of many Eastern European countries.
Britain, which entered the war to restore Poland’s independence, came out of the conference with the idea that Poland would have “free and fair” elections to establish its post-war government. Instead, Stalin did what he wanted in Poland – where his troops were on the ground – and shortly after the war it became another Soviet satellite, as did Bulgaria, Romania, Czechoslovakia and East Germany. (In Greece there was a civil war.)
In post-war America, Yalta has become synonymous with American diplomatic innocence, if not a sellout, the place where ailing US President Franklin D. Roosevelt handed over the western store to Stalin and the Soviet Union, which in much of Europe simply replaced the Nazi Reich with its own local brand of dictatorship.
McCarthyism and MAGA debut in Yalta
Yalta also played well in the storyboards of the Republican resurgence after the Democratic era of Roosevelt, when it became an article of faith that in Yalta the Russians had planted moles and insects in the American delegation, allowing Stalin to read the cards marked in Roosevelt’s hands. .
From these shibboleths came the McCarthy era, during which it was alleged that everyone in the State Department from George Marshall on was communist dupes or agents, ready to sell out the country for a few bottles of vodka. .
Descendant of Senator Joseph McCarthy is the MAGA chant about Hillary Clinton – “lock her up” – the implication being that hers was yet another Democratic State Department who sold out America.
In the recent Case of stolen documentshowever, it turns out that the high treason firearms are more likely to be found in what we learn about the forty-eight empty Top Secret files stashed in Donald Trump’s desk drawers.
Next: Learn more about Yalta and its 1945 conference. The first installments can be found here.