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New Europe

Day Seventy-eight: L'viv to Yalta

Yalta - the Russian Riviera 
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Yalta's known as the Russian Riviera. You don't need much to enjoy its balmy Black Sea climate. And it's twinned with Margate.
Michael Palin - New EuropeSimferopol, the Crimean capital, and Yalta, its chief holiday resort, are linked by a world record: the Number 52 trolley-bus route. Covering 51 miles in three hours, it is indisputably the longest trolley-bus route in the world. It was opened in 1959 as cheap travel for the masses and not only is it still running three services an hour, it's probably long overdue for a green transport award.

I pick up a Number 52 outside the main railway station. Whereas L'viv couldn't wait to get rid of their Lenin statue, the great man is still to be found by the roadside in Simferopol, comfortably reclining on a plinth surrounded by scrubby grass.

The Number 52 is packed, and stops so frequently to let people on and off at the scores of informal roadside small markets that I worry we shall never leave Simferopol, let alone reach the Black Sea. But once out of the city the crowds thin and the stops come every half-mile or so.

There's something surreal about a trolley-bus in the countryside. They seem such an essentially urban vehicle that to be in them as they trundle up through pine forest is a little disconcerting. For a while roadside billboards, advertising property, mobile phones, booze and Sobranie cigarettes, reassure us that nature isn't totally in control, but soon even these disappear, leaving the Number 52 alone with the crags and the clouds. Then, quite suddenly, our trolley-bus emerges at the head of a 2,500-foot pass, marked by a monumental concrete arch, and stops briefly before heading downhill past scree slopes and rock falls, through woodland and a few green fields, until there in the distance is the thin, blue line of the Black Sea.

The descent is the trickiest part of the Number 52's route, as the combined effects of our momentum and the twists and turns of the road can easily dislodge the antennae from the overhead cable. But our driver's up to the challenge and brings us safely down past newly planted vineyards and more property adverts whilst old Soviet-era trucks grind by reminding us of a less capitalistic past. Another reminder is that the cost of this most epic of all trolley-bus rides; is ten hryvna, about one pound.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Seventy-eight: L'viv to Yalta
  • Country/sea: Ukraine
  • Place: Simferopol
  • Book page no: 186

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