Friday, October 27, 2006

Inside a secret Soviet submarine base

Thursday 26th October - Sebastopol

As with Yalta, Sebastopol was a place I visited last year whilst exploring the Crimea. We had three tours fixed up for today. The first was to look at some of the war memorials in the city before heading over to the excavations at Chernosus, the ancient Greek settlement overlooking the city's northern bay. The site also contains the recently restored St Vladimir Cathedral (I visited it last year). We saw a second St Vladimir Cathedral in the morning as well. this one was new to me.

Back to the ship for lunch followed by our next excursion. I always knew this was going to be one of the highlights of the whole holiday - a visit to the former secret Soviet submarine base in the hills overlooking Balaklava. I visited the town last year but the base was not then open to visitors though it has not been used since the 1990s. There was, however, no way I was going to miss the opportunity to see it this time!

The entrance to the base is on the opposite side of the bay to the town and from there all that can be seen is the gateway in the side of the cliff through which the subs sailed plus a personnel entrance. Each has nuclear bomb proof doors.

The base itself was dug out of the hillside in the late fifties and early sixties to house the subs of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet. The base itself is under 125 metres of solid marble. To get into it we had to enter via the personnel entrance which took us along a long, curving tunnel (curving to help deflect the blast of a nuclear explosion should the Americans have decided to nuke the place). This was like entering a Hollywood worrld of Indiana Jones and James Bond combined.

We followed railway tracks to the nuclear bomb assembly area deep inside the base, and then followed more tunnels to the actual submarine bays, huge caverns with the waters of the Black Sea flowing through them, bringing no more submarines now, but only the local jellyfish that seem to exist in vast numbers. All we were missing were 007 fighting the baddies and stopping them from taking over the world! If you get the chance to visit this area (which was closed to the western world and even most Soviet citizens until 1995) this submarine base is a must see.

And then we entered into the Valley of Death - literallly for this was a visit to the location of the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War, north of Balaklava. Again, it was a place I visited last year. Apart from the war memorials, all there is to see now are the vineyards.

Tonight we had our third excursion of the day and - we really have been spoilt today - one of the highlights of the tour. If you ever get the chance to see the Black Sea Fleet Choir, do so. Yes I did see them last year in Yalta! But they have to be seen to be believed. This is industrial strength campness, camper than a row of pink tents at an annual gathering of unbelievable camp people. It was a cross between a gangshow and Pans People on viagra! (Pans People - I really am showing my age!). Absolutely well worth it. We bought the cd and dvd afterwards!

Well, this is my second visit to the Ukraine nearly over. As I write this (at 9.50pm local time on Thursday), the ship is getting ready to leave for Romania.

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