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River & Music


Main Public Opera Theatre in Odessa, Ukraine Below (left) Constanza, Romania Below (right) Kardivach, Sochi, Russia


The first two ports, ConstanzA, in Romania, is run-down and used as a departure point for a day trip to Bucharest; BATUMI in Georgia is a bit grim, although those passengers who went on the wine- tasting and folkloric show tour enjoyed themselves. ODESSA in Ukraine stands in complete contrast. A refined, elegant city with architecture more reminiscent of the Mediterranean than Russia, it’s a town of of chic cafes and smart restaurants. We went to see the ballet, Giselle, at the magnificent Opera House and asked for gin and tonics in the bar – the bartender promptly produced a dusty bottle of spirit and divided a whole litre between five of us. Sevastopol is awe-inspiring. We visited the Panorama, a circular 3D canvas, 115 metres round and 14 metres high, depicting the biggest assault on Sevastopol in the Crimean war, in 1855. From here, we drove across the plains around Balaclava, war memorials positioned along the road. We stopped and attended a short ceremony, laying a wreath and


50 | APRIL/MAY 2012


pausing to gaze at the scene; rocky, hilly plains, strewn with vineyards and wildflowers, no sound except the rustling breeze. It was hard to imagine the carnage that took place here. Fast forward to the the Cold War, when the Russians tunnelled a secret submarine base half a mile inside a hill beside Balaclava Bay. The base, said to be able to withstand a direct nuclear attack, was operational until 1993. Now parts of it are a museum and you can walk through the dark, echoing tunnels, alongside channels of inky-black water where the subs would line up for repair, straight out of a Bond movie. YaltA, too, is fascinating. As well as the Chekhov villa, tours include the Italian Renaissance- style Livadia Palace, where the fate of post-war Europe was decided in 1945. Looking at grainy black and white photos of Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt laughing jovially together, you can almost feel their ghostly presence.


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