Sector “South” on the drum: the beginning of a trip to the South of Russia

The route for those who go to the south, but do not like the beach holiday.

And so was born the plan for my second road trip to the Russian south by car. In the five years since the first, our vision for such events has changed dramatically. Back then we drove two days to a point where we had spent three weeks and then returned home to the Moscow Region for the same two days. Now the way there and back took three days, and at sea we spent five nights. Why so?

Firstly, experience showed that for me it’s comfortable to drive not more than six or seven hours, and it depends on roads, from 500 to 700 kilometers. A good night’s sleep is a factor in the success of a voyage. And with the modern development of hotel business in Russia, it is not difficult to provide yourself with it. I remember how about ten years ago, almost every travel-blogger, reporting on the terrible conditions in which he had to spend the night in a hotel in a provincial town, asking: how long? Not everything is perfect even now. But both the quality of roads (I am surprised to write this myself) and the quality and quantity of accommodations suggest that you can and should travel by car in Russia today.

Secondly, it is not interesting to sit behind the wheel all the time, and you want to visit cities, to get acquainted with the natural and historical sights. Maybe someone will be surprised, but the road from Moscow to the Black Sea is very rich.

Thirdly, it turned out that no one in my family likes the sea so much to spend more than a week there. Four days is quite enough for me personally.

How did this itinerary come about? First of all I investigated beaches of the Black Sea coast and chose two places – Dzhankhot, where they promised the cleanest sea, and Veselovka, which attracted me by its scarcity of people and sandy beaches. Looking ahead, I say that all expectations have been fulfilled most happily.

It remained to decide what would be the road from home to Dzhankhot and from Veselovka to home. During this pleasant activity we have spent some weeks and by the beginning of summer everything was clear. Frankly speaking, the places on the way south – in the Tula, Lipetsk and Voronezh regions – made the greatest impression on me, both in preparation and in person. They are worthy of a separate story, but here I will concentrate on our southern regions, which also gave us a lot of pleasure.

Yes, before describing the itinerary a little bit of statistics. A trip for four people for 12 days cost about 95 thousand rubles. Of that, we spent 39 for lodging, about 12 for gasoline, and the rest for food, entertainment, communications and toll roads. We covered about 3,500 kilometers, visiting five cities, two resorts, and three nature reserves.

I will start my story from the moment we crossed the border of Rostov Region in the middle of the day on June 29. One of the striking features of M4 highway, which is otherwise quite pleasant, is the abundance of trucks on the left lane while the right lane is free. The most logical explanation – the right lane is trashed with these trucks, but it is not easier. Once entering the left lane, the truck continues to drive in it at a speed of 90 km / h, which is very annoying.

The scenery outside the window is pleasant with sown fields, but on the whole it is rather monotonous – all the way to Krasnodar. We drove this part of the road at top speed. The most striking difference from the trip five years ago was the constructed bypass around the village of Tarasovsky. Alas, it is not the last bottleneck on the route. And the biggest traffic jams are caused by the toll booths, and paradoxically, the transponder does not mean that you can get through them faster.

But here we are approaching Novocherkassk. I have long wanted to visit this city – the former capital of the Don Cossacks and the current capital of the Russian electric locomotive industry. Entering the city from the North we are met by a triumphal arch, built in 1817 by order of ataman Platov to honor the victory over Napoleon. Actually the ataman founded the city twelve years earlier (and transferred the capital of the Don Army Region from Cherkassk – today’s Starocherkasskaya village).

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Since the hotel was on the outskirts, we drove through the city and were surprised to find another triumphal arch at the exit from the west. It is considered that the arches were erected for Alexander I’s visit: since it was unknown exactly where the emperor would come from, two were built just in case.

I booked a hotel in Novocherkassk via Booking.com, which had long ago become my default service. Too bad I did not know then that I could use a special cashback link from Turister, but now I actively use it. Ours seemed to me the most civil of those that were in town at reasonable prices. In general, it turned out that way, but at first it was kind of creepy. The hotel was not only located on the territory of the motor depot, but also very close to the notorious Novocherkassk prison (it’s good that I found out about it later). But the suite was quite decent and I had a nice view of the city.

We went to the center of Novocherkassk in the morning. First of all we drove to the Church of the Ascension, which had been under construction for more than a century and was completed in 1905, making it the third largest church in the Russian Empire, after Christ the Savior and St. Isaac’s Cathedral. And stylistically it resembles St. Nicholas Cathedral in Kronstadt, also built in the early twentieth century.

With great pleasure we visited the cathedral from the inside. It was nice that no one was embarrassed by my shorts (it was somewhere around +33 outside).

One of the goals of the trip to Novocherkassk was to see the local streetcar system. The streetcar system in the city has existed since 1954. The basis of the fleet is made up of KTM-5 trams manufactured in the mid-1980s, and the tracks are so crooked that it’s amazing how they ride on them. To photograph the streetcar, we went to Ordzhonikidze street, which is one of the few Russian street triangles. After reaching the dead end, the streetcar backs onto a perpendicular street and already from it goes in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, I was not able to catch this process on video, because my phone froze because of the heat. But I managed to take a picture.

And from this point there is a beautiful view of the monumental building of the South Russian State Polytechnic University. I would have liked to take a streetcar to it, but, alas, there was no time. Looking ahead, I must say that the lack of time was, perhaps, the only disadvantage of our trip. But there was so much we wanted to see!

On the same day we went to the sea. Through Aksai we got to the M4 highway, crossed the Don and headed for Krasnodar. We stopped at the Oz Mall, one of the most beautiful malls I had ever seen. There we had a snack (more expensive than in the same place in Moscow), and I went to “Decathlon” to buy sandals and a cap, the lack of which I remembered on the way.

On the section between Krasnodar and Goryachy Klyuch suddenly appeared green signs of settlements, but the highway happiness did not last long. From here on, there was basically one lane in each direction. The road from the turn to Dzhubga to Gelendzhik is picturesque, but narrow and in some places under repair. And the approach to Dzhankhot with pine trees along the roadside is solemn and promises adventure. Here it is, this road, in timelapse mode:

Dzhankhot turned out to be a tiny village with a very small official beach. Houses on the coastline can be counted on the fingers. We stayed in one of them for three nights, paying 6500 rubles each for four people. It was the most expensive accommodation of the trip (the average price was 2500-2700).

What did we get for the money? A medium sized room on the third floor with a huge balcony and a great view of the sea. It turned out that a person who is not a fan of beach holidays, yet nice to wake up on the balcony and see the sea, splashing just a stone’s throw away. The photo captures this very moment of awakening.

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Lodging can be rented much cheaper – at least for 500 rubles / night, but the conditions will be extremely Spartan and have to stomp much longer to the beach.

Lodgings both in Dzhankhot, and in Veselovka, were booked through azur.ru. For the sake of interest I tried to search options on Buking and even booked a room in Dzhankhot, but there they wrote that for “guaranteed booking” it was necessary to transfer money to a card. I didn’t like it at all, because one of the advantages of Bookings is transparency: either the term of free cancellation is specified, or it is clearly stipulated that the money is not refundable. And this “free cancellation until so-and-so July” on the website, but “for a guaranteed reservation please pay” somehow does not appeal to me at all.

In general, advance payment for one or two nights is a normal phenomenon for the Black Sea resorts. The owners of seaside guest houses are not interested in “quick” guests – and you can understand them. But it is not very clear why they register on BOOKING, if they are not going to play by its rules.

The water in Dzhankhot really turned out amazingly clean, and the scenery is quite picturesque. Only here the ascent to one of the mountains was closed (apparently, privatized by the owners of the local hotel), and climbing to the other, to check out the view, we were on “private territory” and realized that we are not welcome there.

The next day we went to Plesetsk waterfalls, the way to which begins from the Mikhailovsky pass. For 2000 (round trip) we took a UAZ, which took us to the beginning of the trail – and we didn’t regret it at all. It looked something like this:

It was our first hike along a mountain river bed and the path proved difficult for both children and adults. Visiting the first three waterfalls would have been enough for the first time, but we went further and got brutally tired, and returning back via an alternate route was very difficult and dangerous in places. The trail is marked, but rather bushy – red stripes on trees and rocks, on the steepest slopes there are stairs, but their condition is alarming. For all that, the road is very beautiful, and you can swim in the waterfalls.

The next day we drove from Dzhankhot to Veselovka, stopping first at Praskoveeka, famous for its rock “Sail”. Praskoveeka has a wilder appearance than Dzhankhot, but the coastline is much longer. The water was no less clean and pleasant, but to “Parus” walk along the shore is quite long and we, exhausted from the heat, turned around halfway.

The way to Veselovka is very picturesque, especially views to the bay of Tsemesskaya from Kabardinka and the mountains around Novorossiysk. Then we visited “Argos” cafe in Tsemdolina, which pleasantly surprised us with the quality of food, spacious and cool interior, and comfortable parking place.

On the approach to Veselovka opened one of the most beautiful landscapes of our trip: from the hill we could see the estuary, the spit and the sea, and on the high bank of the estuary – a snow-white war memorial. The bases are situated on the seashore, a few kilometers away from the village, and the beach itself looks quite wild: one can feel that it is not quite a settled place for rest.

The “Dream Coast” rejoiced with the developed territory, normal park – and upset with absence of an electricity (and accordingly hot water and WiFi) in the first evening. Electricity soon gave and we were assured that this is extremely rare.

The beach in Veselovka is good for children: sand, shallow and warm sea. True, upsetting mud. Have tried to pass on a spit, but frightened by the text message from the Ministry of Emergency Measures about the approaching tornado, have returned back. In anticipation of the tornado, tried to take a timelapse using improvised means – that is, in fact, my hands. It turned out something like this.

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And the spit, unfortunately, quite heavily littered.

The next day we went to see how the bridge to the Crimea is built, and were impressed with what we saw. The best vantage point is from the monument to the defenders of the Taman Peninsula.

It is also worth visiting Taman with the Lermontov Museum. But we would have been there five years ago, and this time we wanted to visit the ancient settlement of Hermonassa – and it turned out to be closed.

There are other attractions on the Taman Peninsula – the lotus valley, mud volcanoes, wineries, finally. Another couple of days – and all this would be ours …

The next morning we left for Rostov-on-Don. On the way we decided to visit the ancient city of Azov, knowing that such a chance will fall out a little later. The city went down in history because of its fortress, which was built by the Turks in the 15th century, and from the middle of the 17th to the middle of the 18th century was taken and left by the Russians, trying to break through to the Black Sea. Thanks to these attempts, the Russian fleet was born, and Azov became the center of one of the first eight provinces in 1708. The huge Azov province stretched from the mouth of the Don to the Ryazan forests, but already in 1711 the city was returned to the Turks, and its center moved first to Tambov and then to Voronezh.

Azov, as expected, turned out to be a beautiful and cozy town. We visited Petrovskaya Square and its surroundings, almost descended to the Don and drove to Azov Fortress.

Here is a view of the Don from the ramparts of the Azov fortress. On the horizon – Rostov-on-Don.

And here is a view from the main city’s promenade.

In the city center there are a lot of cafes and other things you just want to sit in.

After a walk around Azov, we headed for Rostov-on-Don. We opened the windows and breathed in the fresh air, which smelled more and more like swamp as we approached the Don. And not just any swamp, but the Meotian swamp! Somehow I even missed the moment when first the navigator and then the phone went out (here’s a rule of life support redundancy), and took not the city center, but to Taganrog. We had to drive almost all of Rostov-on-Don from west to east.

Before that we had been to Rostov five years ago. That evening I walked around the center and realized that I should devote the next day to a more thorough walk through the city, which, preparing to host the FIFA World Cup, had changed a lot. This meant that we would not visit Starocherkasskaya again, but well, next time.

In the center of Rostov there is a massive beautification going on – which, I believe, makes Rostovites just as mad as Muscovites. The landscaped streets are tiled, decorated with lanterns, and lined with burger joints and (I suspect) barbershops. The landscaped ones are all clattering and dusty. But that’s during the day – and at night it’s all quiet and peaceful. Something like this.

Sector “South” on the drum: the beginning of a trip to the South of Russia

So my journey in the South of Russia began. And it began with a forty-degree heat in the coach, sleepless nights, mystical visions and mysterious sound phenomena. Also here I will share my experience in developing the itinerary for this trip.

Due to inertia, because of fears and stereotypes, the Russian people continue to stubbornly go to the Russian south, although such holidays are much more expensive than many European and Asian resorts. Well, it’s my turn and conduct a gonzo analysis of the specifics of recreation in southern Russia. What conclusions will be made, it will become clear only at the end: perhaps my notes will warn someone against visiting these regions, perhaps, on the contrary, they break characteristic of many overly rigid preconceptions about traveling in the south of Russia. We shall see.

I went on the trip together with my R.

A train trip to the South.

When you travel around Russia, you are never free to choose your means of transportation: a parlor train ticket is the most obvious key to solving any transportation issues within the borders of our vast country. Here you are not in the decadent West, so you do not fly on airplanes. Airline tickets from Perm to Krasnodar cost beginning at 7,000 rubles one way, but the good old Russian Railroads promise to drop you off at half the price.

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Two days and three nights in a stuffy and cramped second-class car – when it comes to vacation, the Russian man is not stingy and is ready to sacrifice much in order to deliver its tired of the cold, work and life body in a place where there is hot sun and warm sea. There are a lot of such people: there is not a single empty seat in the carriages, and tickets are sold many days before the train departs.

Journey to the south of russia in the coach

(Photo © lukasz.kryger / flickr.com)

R and I were lucky enough to get the last bottom (not side) seat in the back of the car – and this despite the fact that we had taken the tickets a month before the start of the trip. But in the train awaited us a nasty surprise – the car in which we were to spend 60 hours, came to us from the distant past: in fact he had long died, but Russian Railways continued shamelessly exploit the corpses of unhappy car. Riding in that wrecked car was a real ordeal: the lack of hot water (we had to go to the neighboring cars for it) must have been compensated for by the well warmed air (for two and a half days the temperature in the car was kept at 36°C – so the south started right after the departure, without the sea, of course). But it was not only the railway employees who mocked the passengers, but also the rail car builders of those olden, long-gone eras, when those torture machines were conceived and born: the creators gave us very short berths, aimed only at midgets and children, and thus depriving anyone who dared to height over 160 cm to sleep in a normal human position.

Well, the stuffiness in the car was killer, but it helped me to catch something for which you usually have to go to the woods to mushroom – a vivid vision.

On top of everything else, our train turned out to be mystical – for two days of travel there were strange sounds coming out of the window, reminiscent of the chorus of lamenting souls of the dead. It was probably my fortieth trip on the train, but I had never heard anything like that before. The sounds were particularly striking at night-it seemed as if they were the cries of ghosts flying outside the window of the train. Hearing it made me feel like I was somewhere in David Lynch’s universe. I made a recording of what I heard:

And in general, on the train, I discovered the amazing music of Krishna Das:

Developing an itinerary for a trip to southern Russia

Initially we only knew one thing – the focal point of our trip would be a small Kuban town Abinsk located between Krasnodar and Novorossiysk, because that’s where the R family lives, who invited us to visit and thus started our trip to the South of Russia. Of course, since we had to be in the south, the desire to travel through the towns and villages of the Krasnodar region and the whole Eastern Black Sea region was born. Thus began the planning of the route of the forthcoming trip.

The nearest places to Abinsk: Krasnodar, Novorossiysk, Gelendzhik, Anapa – were the first on the list of places to visit. Then I started thinking about more distant places that would be relatively easy, quick and budget-friendly to get to – the Russian Caucasus, Transcaucasian countries (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan), Turkey, the Crimea and Abkhazia. All places are interesting and still unexplored. Out of this it was necessary to choose one, maximum two.

journey to the south of russia caucasus

(Photo © Xevi V / flickr.com)

Caucasus and Turkey

I gave up on Transcaucasia pretty quickly, although it’s probably the most attractive region on the list I generated. Alas, I did not have much time to fully explore these colorful countries. Another reason for refusal – some difficulty to get to these countries, both for objective geographical reasons (mountains), and for political reasons (for example, from Abkhazia you can not enter Georgia – you need to make a huge detour to return to Russia, which greatly complicates matters).

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It would be possible to fly inexpensively to Turkey on the lowcoster Pegasus, which flies to different cities in the country from a number of South Russian airports: Adler, Krasnodar, Mineralnye Vody. It is quite possible to find round-trip tickets within 100 euros, but you need to add the cost of domestic travel / flights to Turkey, as natural beauties, beautiful cities and attractions there are a lot and sit still in one city would be outrageous. Well, once again, Turkey requires that it was not allocated at all two weeks, which we had at our disposal.

The Russian Caucasus attracts with the grandeur of mountains and fountains of delicious mineral water, but for now remains questionable.

Anxious Abkhazia.

The most ironclad option, where we could go, expanding our trip to the South of Russia, was Abkhazia – this country beckoned me with its incredible beauty landscapes, high mountains, subtropical climate, sea, “brand” of Gagra and Pitsunda, many historical monuments, waterfalls, caves and clear mountainous lakes. Abkhazia seemed an ideal place to visit with two weeks of time: a small country size to have time to visit everything, and a high density of different interesting places to be constantly in motion and to discover something new every day.

journey to abkhazia

(Photo © smplstc / flickr.com)

I had already started dreaming about Abkhazia and was looking forward to the day when we would finally go there. We were just hours away from our planned purchase of train tickets when I accidentally stumbled across a negative review of the Land of Souls on one of the forums. Then another one was discovered, then another, and another. Unpleasant things about traveling to Abkhazia turned out – almost all people who have been there claim problems with safety (constant theft, robbery, police abuse, wild youth, divorce tourists for money, and even mention cases of robbery and rape). People especially warned against camping in tents, and advised to abstain from going to Abkhazia for girls. I expected from Abkhazians special cordiality and great hospitality, which their neighbors are famous for Georgians and other Caucasian people, but it was just the opposite. I do not know whether Abkhazians are really as scary as they say, but there are too many alarming reviews and statements of those who have been there that they will never go back to Abkhazia. The woman I knew even here in Abinsk shared her experience of holidaying in Abkhazia in the 80s and her statement was of the same nature: she told how they had to travel almost with bodyguards because Abkhazians behave like obscene savages when they descended from mountains. Such unpleasant facts surfaced and of course, we had to immediately refuse to go to those places. If you have been to Abkhazia and can stand up firmly in its defence, I will be very pleased to see justifying speeches in the comments to the article. Still, it’s a fabulous place, and I would love to go there.

journey to abkhazia

(Photo © Little_Li / flickr.com)

Approved itinerary

It was necessary to look for an alternative to Abkhazia, and one was found immediately – it was the Crimean Peninsula, which unexpectedly became ours. It was decided to solemnly declare this Greek-Tatar-Russian land the key point of our journey through the South of Russia. In my head, quickly outlined the route: Sudak, Koktebel, Foxy Nose, Feodosia, Yalta, Alushta, Sevastopol, Balaclava, Bakhchisaray, Evpatoria. The head has already begun to spin in anticipation of a rich and fascinating journey. I think that we raring there in about a week, closer to the beginning of September, that the territory of republic has left an army of thousands holiday-makers, having released space of beaches, mountains and historical sights.

Well, until then, our plans are to travel to Anapa, Utrisham, Novorossiysk and the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains.

Gonzo Travels

UPD: And this picture was made after a few years in the Crimea during our trip by car, about this trip and others I wrote in a separate article – travel by car in Russia.

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