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(Description and author's personal impressions of his stay in the Crimea on August 20–25, 2000)

k98_000009a.jpg (12002 bytes)The naturist beach at Koktebel is undoubtedly one of the best Black Sea beaches within the ex-USSR. Considering both natural conditions and the historical and cultural "aura", Koktebel also is one of the most interesting and inviting places in the Crimea. The town is permanently improving its appearance and adapting itself for receiving tourists. True, its standards of such conveniences as public toilets, garbage collection service and the operation of public transport do not yet reach those at European resorts, but that is recompensed by remarkably low prices!

A two-weeks' trip to Koktebel from St. Petersburg (our comment: from Moscow, it is the same), with traveling on train in a 2nd class compartment, renting of a fairly comfortable room from private landlords and catering at local cafes, may come to approximately $150–170 for one person; not included in this account are such additional costs as going to night clubs, bus excursions, wine tasting seances, riding on motor gliders, etc., but these services are markedly cheaper at Koktebel too than in St. Petersburg or Moscow. Thus the gain in the terms of costs is at least two-fold compared, e.g., with a trip to Croatia.

k99_315020a.jpg (14763 bytes)In summer 2000, the offer of rooms (or of single cots) substantially exceeded the demand, so the ads offering accommodation were on display everywhere in the streets (a typical price was $2–4 per person a day); there is an Accommodation Service Bureau by side of the bus station that offers an additional choice of opportunities. The local resort hotels and pensions also had vacant rooms. Some people economize on dwelling by simply setting up tents right at the sea coast, including in the naturist beach area. Neither police nor border guards make any disturbance to the campers; importantly, one always can go away for a time during the day with leaving the tent and belongings at neighbors' attendance: there is quite a lot of people staying at the beach.

The Ukrainian natives, dwellers of the cities of Kiev, Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk, etc., comprise at least two thirds of the bulk of Koktebel guests nowadays. There are many people from Moscow and from Belarus, but surprisingly few from St. Petersburg! Having come to Koktebel for the first time after a long period, I was astounded to the utmost not to meet a single familiar countenance during all my stay there! Out of roughly one thousand people one possibly might see at the naturist beach in 5 days, there was no more than a dozen of petersburgians, and none known to me by "The Dunes" naturist beach!?

The naturist beach: location and conditions

k99_315013a.jpg (17530 bytes)The naturist beach at Koktebel occupies an approximately 700 m-long stripe of coastal line to the East of the town (viz., to the left, if looking from the coast to the sea) immediately adjoining the official equipped beaches. Then the naturist beach is interrupted by a "textile" beach of a motorist camping site and a holiday resort (about 500 m long), after which a less densely occupied naturist area continues under the cliffs stretching toward the Tikhaya Bukhta (Quiet Bay); some of those coming with tents prefer settling here. There is a few of other places where naturists are dwelling in tents,k99_3254_0a.jpg (17530 bytes) for instance, the Lisya Bukhta (Fox Bay) at the other side of the Karadag mountain and the so-called "French Beach" not far from the Tikhaya Bukhta, but we do not describe these places here. A walking distance to the naturist beach from the Koktebel center (bus station, market, post office) is about 25 minutes, and that from the center of the coastal promenade (a passenger boat pier), about 15 minutes. Adjoining the beach from its either end are two motorist camping sites, which provides an opportunity for those coming to the sea with their cars or caravans to stay right by the naturist beach. Running water at the campgrounds serves the source of drinking water for those dwelling in tents at the beach.

The coastal stripe at the naturist beach is covered with medium-sized pebble, such that one can walk barefoot over it, but there is sand at the sea bottom when one comes into the water breast-deep. The beach stripe width is about 15 meters. A lot of brightly colored pebble stones occurs at the beach: agate, jasper, etc., – Koktebel is well renowned for that. There are no rocks of a size exceeding a small cobble both at the shore and underwater. The water is usually clean. The beach is fairly well ventilated on hot days with a breeze blowing from the land.

k97_000001a.jpg (7561 bytes)The weather was very hot (32–37 °C) during my stay at Koktebel this summer, so the beach "populace" must have been perhaps at its maximum. The main naturist area was accommodating some 600 people at one time. As everyone strove to occupy a place closest to the sea, the waterfront line was rather densely "packed". About 10–15 percent of the people stayed clothed, but approximately a half of them belonged to companies with the majority naked. There is a lot of parents with children among the beach frequenters, many of them spending their holidays in tents at the beach for many years in succession.

Outdoor games, unfortunately, do not belong to the beach usual habits: the beach stripe seems to be a bit too narrow, one would not easily move over the pebbles, and, in addition, it was perhaps too hot at the time. On the other hand, the locals offer aqua biking and riding on inflatable balloons drawn by speed boats right at the naturist beach all the day round.

Hawkers trading in pies, sweets, smoked fish, beer, etc., are permanently passing along the beach. A walking distance from the naturist beach to food kiosks placed at the official beaches is about 5 minutes, and a distance to nearest cafeterias is 10 minutes.

k99_325622a.jpg (19092 bytes)A substantial part of patrons at the naturist beach are coming to Koktebel for years, so many of them know well each other. The Bohemian spirit originating from as far ago as M. Voloshin's time is still partially preserved (though to a lesser degree than 20 years ago); muscovites comprise a substantial portion of the "permanent party", while the petersburgian participation was for some reason substantially reduced in the past years. The "Day of Town" is celebrated at Koktebel at mid August each year (it was August 19 in 2000), with a military brass music, shows, costumed processions, fireworks at night, etc. The naturist beach is also taking part in this performance – to the extent of its abilities and accounting for its particular habits, for instance, with body art performances (our comment: annual Neptune and Venus Nativity feasts), etc. Unfortunately, I was one day late for this celebration in 2000, so I cannot deliver a detailed first-hand account.

Entertainment and life routine at Koktebel

k99_325833a.jpg (8995 bytes)For those who still know little of Koktebel: beside the purely beach life, there is quite a lot of other pleasures available, as well as a really marvelous nature. Many walks by foot are possible, such as along the sea shore via the Tikhaya Bukhta and Kiik-Atlama (Ordzhonikidze township) to the town of Theodosia, or from the "Krymskoye Primorye" Health Resort beyond the Karadag mountain (one can reach it by bus) via Lisya Bukhta to Alha-Deresse, or through wonderful mountain woods from Koktebel to Stary Krym. Maximillian Voloshin's tomb is situated very close to Koktebel on a hilltop seen from everywhere. One also can go easily by bus to the town of Sudak (with an ancient Genoese fortress) and to k99_325821a.jpg (13848 bytes)Novy Svet (a most picturesque landscape and the famous Prince Golitzine's wine cellars), as well as to Theodosia. A number of organized excursions is offered too: by foot (to the Karadag mountain reserve, a mineralogical paradise), by boat or bus – both to nearest places (Theodosia, Sudak, Novy Svet, with tasting of the famous local sparkling wine – on par with the best sorts of French champagne, Alha-Deresse, with tasting of the celebrated sweet wines of local produce) and to more remote destinations (Sebastopol, Bakhchisaray, the Ai-Petri mountain, the Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Livadia, etc.).

On offer also are motor glider flights, riding on speed boats, aqua bikes and horse riding over the surrounding area, as well as unpretentious attractions for children, tennis courts, billiard, etc. – all at prices substantially lower than average in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

The local market is abundant in relatively cheap fruits and vegetables, as well as in locally made wine and half-finished wine materials to appease any taste: one possibly cannot taste all the interesting at once. The female traders on the market are genuine experts in the wine-making and are glad, if you show an interest, to deliver true lectures on technology, properties of a variety of vintage wine grape, and on their own wine-making experiments. The production of local wineries: the renowned Crimean sweet wines as well as fairly palatable dry wines, Madeira and brandy, is presented in a full assortment at relatively moderate prices in the local shops.

k99_325402a.jpg (6742 bytes)The catering establishments at Koktebel may be counted in scores. Mostly three types prevail: fast-food kiosks (hot-dogs, pizza, pies, chebureki – Caucasian fried puff-pastry pie with minced meat, etc.), cafes and cafeterias of the usual Russian-Ukrainian style (with food quality practically irreproachable) and eateries of Central Asian cuisine (with a food very good both in taste and purity). All the prices are moderate, even a bit lower than in St. Petersburg or Moscow, i.e., a hot-dog would cost about $0.35, a decent main course $0.5, while, e.g., a fair helping of lagman (Central Asian thick mutton broth with pasta and species), $0.7–0.8. A detail important for me, a petersburgian coffee maniac: in a few places, they are brewing an excellent Turkish coffee, and not that disgusting surrogate called "instant coffee". (A remark in parenthesis: even though the contemporary Ukrainian beer is a great deal better than the Soviet beer of the days bygone, it is not quite the thing. For instance, our petersburgian pretty plain "Baltica-3" goes for a premium sort here, costing just short of $1 a bottle! Besides, there is no true variety of beer types, even though a number of brands is on display: beer light, beer dark, and beer strong – by different producers but of practically the same type, and that's all; maybe I was unlucky to taste not what I should?).

For those preferring home cooking, there is no problem too. Various products are aplenty in the shops, including the brands familiar to us (for instance, my preferred Mertinger-Früchtegut milk yogurt) at prices on par with the ordinary Russian ones.

k98_2222_0a.jpg (5665 bytes)Sure, there are more expensive restaurants at the main seaside promenade. Some of them are combined with open-air discotheques. The level of prices there resembles rather the old Soviet standard than the current one in St. Petersburg or Moscow (viz., if one has to reckon for $30 per person as an absolute feasible minimum in our capital cities, you will feel yourself more than just comfortable with such a sum at Koktebel). The life is in full swing at night in numerous establishments along the seaside promenades: music, dance, mass entertainment (not of a remarkably high zest, to be honest). Thus those taking a fancy for clubbing with moderate demands and means can afford going on the spree pretty easily!

Getting at Koktebel

From St. Petersburg: the most convenient way is first going on train to Symferopol, then by an intercity bus to Theodosia, and whence by a local bus to Koktebel. Good from St. Petersburg for Symferopol are the intercity expresses St. Petersburg to Sebastopol (daily, all year round) and St. Petersburg to Eupatoria (every other day, only in summer); the both trains depart from Moscow station in St. Petersburg in late afternoon and arrive to Symferopol on the second day in the morning. Most of the buses for Theodosia (bound for Theodosia, Kerch or Shchyolkino) depart not from the bus terminal by side of the railway station at Symferopol, but from the city Bus Station; one can get there with a trolleybus No 1 in about 15 minutes. An average interval of the buses for Theodosia is 1 hour, and a traveling time is approximately 2 hours. Besides, there is 2 or 3 direct bus rides from Symferopol railway station to Koktebel departing in the morning, but these may have no vacant seats!
[For summer 2002, a direct railway service from St. Petersburg to Theodosia is appointed twice a week: departures from Vitebsk Station in St. Petersburg on Mo. and Fr. at 22:00, arrivals in Theodosia at 12:45 on We. and Su., respectively; return service from Theodosia: departures on We. and Su. at 16:50, arrivals in St. Petersburg at 9:34 on Fr. and Tu.]

From Moscow: the best way is taking a direct train bound for Theodosia. The trains to Theodosia are departing from Kursk Railway Station in Moscow before afternoon, and the traveling time is roughly one day; one train runs all the year round, but there may be up to 4 trains daily on this route in summer. If one is taking a Theodosia train, it is advisable to be getting off not at the end station "Theodosia", but at the previous one, "Aivazovskaya", located by side of the Theodosia Bus Station. There is a railway booking office at "Aivazovskaya" parallel to those at the main "Theodosia" terminal, and all the trains are making stop there. Thus it is good to get a train at "Aivazovskaya" when getting back home from the holiday as well. Worth to mention: there is a railway ticket office at Koktebel itself to book the trains bound for Russia from both Symferopol and Theodosia.

To make one's way from the Bus Station at Theodosia up to Koktebel, one can take local buses bound for Urochishche or Biostantsiya, as well as intercity buses for Sudak or Alushta. An average interval between the buses is 1–2 hours, and a traveling time is about half an hour. One also can get at Koktebel with a taxi or a private car: offers of the latter are in plenty at the Theodosia Bus Station. In addition, there is a regular boat line from Theodosia to Koktebel, operating thrice a day (the boat pier at Theodosia is located by side of the main railway station).

Ukrainian money and money change

grivna_1_2_5a.jpg (9230 bytes)The Ukrainian national currency is hryvnia. Its official rate was 5.45 to 1 US dollar in August 2000. The real rate of buying the dollar at currency changes was 5.30–5.35. The dollar buying rate is virtually the same all over Ukraine, so there is no reason whatever in running around in search for a better rate (as it is habitual in St. Petersburg and Moscow). The buying rate of the Russian ruble is very close to the cross-rate to dollar, hence one may not change rubles for dollars or vice versa beforehand in Russia: bring with you what you have. True, if you choose an accommodation at private landlords, settling your accounts in dollars is more advantageous!

grivna_10_20a.jpg (8942 bytes)Currency exchanges can we found at every turn in all the Ukrainian cities and towns; at big railway stations, they usually will be open round the clock. There is more than a dozen of currency exchanges at Koktebel itself. One has not to produce any documents to exchange money. The US dollars, Deutschmarks and Russian rubles can be exchanged everywhere; to change other currencies, you'll have to look for a bank, e.g., a Sberbank office. One also can cash (in hryvnias) the credit cards, such as Visa, Eurocard / Mastercard, etc., at the bank.

Russia – Ukraine border, etc.

Russia and Ukraine have a bilateral agreement permitting a mutual free entry of their citizens. According to the statute that was in force in summer 2000, a Russian citizen has to produce one of the following documents to enter Ukraine and stay at its territory: an Identity Card of the citizen of the Russian Federation; an Identity Card of the old Soviet pattern with a supplement certifying the Russian Federation citizenship; or a passport of the Russian Federation valid for trips abroad. The passport control in trains at border crossing is conducted mandatory by the Russian (Belorussian, if one is coming via Belarus) border guards, and randomly by the Ukrainian border guards. The customs checks are rare and random at the both sides of the border.

According to the Ukrainian customs regulations as of the summer 2000, one is permitted taking any sums of currency out of Ukraine only on producing one of the following documents: an attestation from a Ukrainian-based bank that this sum has been either exchanged or drawn from a bank account in Ukraine, or a valid Customs Declaration attesting the fact of bringing in this money at one's entry into Ukraine. As getting of a duly stamped and sealed Customs Declaration is not very easy for the Russian citizens because the Ukrainian Customs officers only randomly pass through the trains at border crossing, that may result in problems (such as extortion on the part of the Ukrainian Custom officers at leaving Ukraine or on the part of the police when on stay at a Ukrainian resort). The most sensible way of action at crossing back the Ukrainian border (in case the Ukrainian Customs still show): hide you currency and don't declare it (our comment: this advice is the personal author's responsibility). In 99.9% of the cases, the most the Customs officers will do, they'll try to take you by suddenness and request that you produce your wallet or purse. As for the Ukrainian police, this point is out of their legal sphere of reference. No one is forbidden to bring currency in, to possess it, and to dispose of it, on the Ukrainian territory – one just is not to take the currency out of Ukraine. You always can say on place that you are going to spend all the currency you have in Ukraine, and the whole question is closed down. It is heard though that these absurd regulations are to be abolished soon to permit reasonable sums in cash, on the scale of $1000, to be taken out freely.

The Ukrainian laws stipulate that foreigners register at the place of their temporary stay within 24 hours on their arrival. If you stay at a hotel or a pension, the administration is obliged to do it, registration fee being included in the accommodation costs. If you rent a dwelling from private landlords, you either can ask your hosts to procure a corresponding attestation for you, or you can register yourself; the registering office at Koktebel is located by side of the Bus Station. The registration fee at Koktebel is about $2. Theoretically, the Ukrainian border guards are supposed to request a registration attestation from you, with an expiration date not much earlier than the moment when you actually leave Ukraine, but neither the date of you entry nor the duration of your stay will be checked up as a rule (still one should be ready for the worst: anything may happen in the life!). In any case, virtually no one living in tents at Koktebel, at Lisya Bukhta or elsewhere takes registering in one's head, whatever easy that may be done with paying of a corresponding fee at Koktebel.

However, the insolent police in Symferopol is looking for any pretext to collect money from apparent visitant and travelers, and they may demand a registration attestation from you at any moment, may start making fuss about minor alleged inaccuracies in it, or will be putting steam in your eyes of the sort that you should, e.g., have declared your photo or video camera at the customs when entering Ukraine; don't you give in to such a rubbish! Their refrain will be: "You, over there in St. Petersburg (or in Moscow), are all in clover! Share us a morsel!". Motorists coming from Russia complain about the extortion by the Ukrainian Traffic Police DAI (Derzhavna Avtomobilna Inspektsiya) on all their way to the Crimea (all the above does resemble the treatment given by the St. Petersburg police to the coming Finns, or by the police in Moscow to all the guests of the Russian capital).

One should concede however, that no cases of police molesting the guests were noticed at Koktebel itself in summer 2000!

Author of the text on this page: Andrei Samartsev
St. Petersburg, Russia
September 3, 2000
Photos: from the RNA "Telord" archive

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