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The Vernal Fairy - Tale of the Crimea

When it is still slushy underfoot in Kyiv, and the low clouds look dirty and unkempt, by contrast, in the Crimea, the warm and gentle touch of the spring makes the almonds blossom. The southern wind from the peninsula, permeated with vernal fragrances that go straight to the head, tender like first love, carries the glad news all the way to the north. I want, however, to talk about flowers, pure and untouched by erotic fever, rather than about passionate human emotions.

Short tours into the Crimean countryside or mountains is probably the best way to enjoy the blossoming Crimean nature. Where you happen to stay on the Crimean southern coast does not make much difference youll find flowers everywhere. It is probably best to make excursions into the mountains either from Symferopol or from Bakhchisarai. If you are one for evening promenades along the waterfront then Yalta, Alushta and Sudak are nice places to go to for doing that.

The natural floral festival begins in the east of the peninsula. It is there that cyclamens, little known in Kyiv, begin to flower. The Crimean cyclamens are smaller than their Mediterranean relatives but in elegance and classiness they are superior. The place to look for them is Mount Kubalach which like a prehistoric monster towers over the highway SymferopolFeodosiya. In fact, it is the only place in the Crimea where cyclamens can be found. What a joy it is to make your way through the dense undergrowth of the forested slopes of Kubalach, looking for pink petals of cyclamens which appear in wondrous patterns on the green grass.

Snowdrops of Chatyr-Dag are worthy to be sung in a poem. High up in the mountain, at the altitude rarely explored by the casual tourists and even by the gatherers of wild-flowers, under the protection of two-hundred-year old beeches, these flowers grow to a surprisingly big size, and they appear in clusters. There are so many of them that they seem to fill the air with their hardly audible tinkling Well, in fact it is hundreds of little streams running down the slopes that produce this gentle sound. Every few steps you take you find a stream which carries its cheerful message all the way down to the sea.

Blue-eyed snowdrops of a different species are also of gigantic size, though they are somewhat smaller than the white snowdrops. The places to look for them are the Alpine meadows, Crimean style, where they follow the retreating snow uphill. When their number is such that they cover the ground with a blanket as thick as snow, then looking at them, I cant help thinking, No, its all my imagination, the beauty like this does not exist. But it does, and its only the beginning of ecstasy. The meadows are dotted with gentle croci ranging from white to dark purple. You take a few more steps up the slope and you come across huge violets peeping out from the grass and emitting head-turning scent and then you think you have really walked into a fairy-tale land. Their petals are the best possible dresses for elves, and their perfume can be worn by the goddess of love herself. You want to stretch on the grass among all those marvels and never leave the dreamland of the Flower Fields Forever.

Primroses, which are locally called first blooms, are not as exotic and are not exclusively found in the Crimean mountains they grow elsewhere and their Crimean size does not impress as much as the size and chic of other flowers, but there is something very excitingly cheerful in them. The vicinity of the waterfall Uchan-Su that can be spotted from Yalta splashing high in the mountains is a place to look for them. I have not seen such a stunning range of colours in any of the botanical gardens I visited white, cream-coloured, yellow, pink, claret-coloured, and purple splashes on the ground exhilarate and charm you. Forest peonies are waiting for their happy moments as well they are eager to show themselves to you. Their garden relatives are slightly bigger and the forest ones come only in two colours pink and less often white. The slopes of Mount Ay-Petri are probably the best place to see the gorgeous bouquets of these flowers. Mountain acutifoliate peonies prefer open spaces, and they adorn clearings in crimson, with adonises which are worthy of their name Adonis was one of Aphrodites handsome lovers providing their golden touches. Together with sweetly-scented violets, mountain peonies and adonises give us the joy of three vibrant colours carmine, chrome yellow and cobalt blue, the colours, incidentally, much loved by some of the Post-Impressionists.

On the way to Sudak and Koktebel we pass through the ancient Cymmerian land, much sung by the poets and glorified by the painters. In ancient and not so ancient times nomads and invaders trampled this land but no matter how hard they tried they failed to trample out the flowers. At the time of the year when red and white herons and egrets return to make nests, Shrenk tulips put their head out of the ground to greet them. They are of a small size but rank high on the list of endangered species there are but few wild tulips to be found still living in Ukraine. By contrast, wild irises grow in profusion in the eastern Crimea. They do not look as gorgeous, of course, as the garden varieties do, but there seems to be no end of them wherever you turn.

Orchids are among the vernal greetings of the Crimea. You do not have to search for long to come across their cheerful constellations adorning the ground in white, red and black. Unfortunately, it is only in the neighbourhood of Sudak that you still can find them in such numbers wild orchids are in the book of endangered species.

While travelling through the eastern Crimea it is worth visiting Cape Meganom, the place where the wily and shrewd Odysseus was reported by Homer to have found an entrance to the Underworld of Hades. That there may be some truth in Homers story is evidenced by the presence in the area of large numbers of asphodels which, as the Greek myths inform us, were the plants that covered the Plain of Asphodel, the dwelling of most of the shades of Hades. In spite of its romantic-sounding name which has inspired poets to charming fancies, asphodel is, in fact, a singularly unattractive weed. It was no doubt chosen by the Greeks as appropriate to an Underworld existence because it is a ghostly grey and is incapable of giving pleasure as was the life of the shades. However, there is another species of asphodels which grow in the valley of Novy Svit, not too far Meganom the Novy Svit asphodels are golden bright and they remind me of the fire-bird straight from a fairy-tale.

If you feel like spending some time in a fairy-tale world, go to the Crimea in the spring.

Andriy Pyrohiv
Photo by V. Bulychov, A. Kadnikov

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