Day 9, Into the Valley of Death (Balaklava)

On the road to Balaklava, a new district for the rich takes shape higgledy-piggledy:

Balaklava is a place of course known to every British schoolboy through Tennyson ('"Forward, the Light Brigade!"/ Was there a man dismay'd?/ Not tho' the soldier knew/ Someone had blunder'd"). Tennyson's view of the war was rather more romantic than Tolstoy's ("the only hero of my story is truth"), perhaps because, unlike Tolstoy, Tennyson wasn't there.

Nobody I met in Balaklava seemed to have heard of the Charge of the Light Brigade, and seemed vaguely puzzled when I told that Balaklava is a household name in the UK. When I mentioned the Anglo-French invasion, Vova, a security guard, said: "everyone has been here at some stage. We joke that we think of ourselves not as Ukrainian, or even Russian, but 'theirs' - belonging to the abroad".

Balaklava was a top secret submarine base during Soviet times, with a James Bond-style base hidden inside the mountain, with caverns at sea level that submarines disappeared into. When I visited ten years ago, the bay where Florence Nightingale had set up her hospital was rusting and ramshackle, what has happened since is truly remarkable - the town has been transformed into a superyacht base and holiday resort for the super-rich. Here is an image of the entrance to the bay, you can see the entrance to one of the submarine pens at the base of the hill opposite:


A Volga in Balaklava village, many of these Soviet era cars are still going strong:


Staircase to nowhere, Balaklava:


Balaklava was one of the lynchpins for the defence of Sevastopol during the Great Patriotic War. I found an informal memorial to soldiers of the 'Cheka' - the NKVD - more commonly known as the KGB, who died in the defence of Balaklava. Here is another, official memorial, to Gerasim Arkhipovich Rubtsov, commander of the Border Regiment, who died in 1942 in the defence of Balaklava:


When I climbed the hill over Balaklava I met Ira and Ira and Anatoly having a picnic consisting mainly of vodka and salo - Ukrainian national dish consisting of raw pig fat. They kindly invited me to join them, so getting down the hill was much harder drunk. As a former soldier, Anatoly wasn't keen to have his portrait taken, but here is Ira and Ira, with the spectacular setting of Balaklava Bay in the background: