Crimea is a region in the south of Ukraine. The Crimean Peninsula is connected to the rest of the Ukraine by a narrow neck of land, making it more like an island with a natural land bridge than simply a bit of land jutting out into the sea. The peninsula was the site of the Crimean War, between 1854 and 1856, and gave rise to modern nursing, live war reporting,and the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade and the Balaclava(woollen head garment)..
When you get to Crimea you can buy the local guide book "TIME to COME to CRIMEA!" (in both English and Russian) at many of the small booths on the street. For your reading entertainment here are some quotes from the book.
"The attitude of the population to lesbians is curious and benevolent; to gays it is hostile, except for the famous ones."
"The modern military tourism including, for example, shooting from grenade launchers and flights by supersonic fighters, is developing at numerous polygons and air stations that used to be secret ones."
Weather and Water
The weather in Crimea during the summer season is very much Mediterranean. Expect relatively hot weather and lots of thunderstorms that come and go. Hot and very humid at night. In the winter snow can cover the mountains and make the roads almost impassable
The water is fairly warm,, although not as warm as the Adriatic. The water is clean and clear, although also a bit less than the Adriatic.
Genealogy & Research
All historical documents (including birth records) for all nationalities (Russian, Tatar, Jews & German) are kept in the National Archive in Simferopol.
You may contact them by email at firstname.lastname@example.org although the best way to receive a response to your email will be to send it in Russian. The archive is open from 8:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday. Individual access to much of the archive is not permitted, although for 30 USD you can pay someone to who works in the archive to do the work for you. Nobody in the archive speaks English so either be prepared to speak Russian or bring along a translator.
The archive is located at No. 3 Keckemetckaj, which is the main street running directly east from the train station in Simferopol(about 1 km).
The archives and its staff are not accustomed to foreigners so be prepared to explain to the guard at the front desk what it is you want to do.
The Lutheran Church in Simferopol supposedly has a list going back to the early 1800's of all German families who emigrated to Crimea under Catherine the great, or so it was said at the Archive. This information has not actually been confirmed at the Lutheran Church. For that matter, finding the Lutheran Church, though mentioned in the guide book, is actually a quite difficult (and as of yet unaccomplished) task.
The city of Feodosiya has a Jewish Community Center that is very active in doing research on the Jewish community of Crimea. You may contact them at email@example.com, they can communicate in basic English (so you can send the email in English) but more than likely the response back will be in Russian.
In Crimea, Russian is the universal language of communication. (Stalin imported Russian families into the Crimea, whilst exporting the local Tatars to Uzbekistan) Tatar (a Turkic language, closely related to Turkish) is also widely spoken by the Crimean Tatars. Few people speak or wish to speak Ukrainian. In decidedly and staunchly pro-Moscow Crimea, some might be met with a degree of hostility if spoken to in Ukrainian.
Memorize your phrase book as you most likely will be communicating with Russian speakers.
Few people speak or understand English.
Spoken English in the Crimea is of a low standard. Few people have more than a passing knowledge of English. A lack of exposure to the language and the relatively low number of foreign tourists, coupled with a continued Soviet-style education means that the population is decidedly monolingual.
Be prepared to memorize words in Russian and to become familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet. A few select older people have some familiarity with German, which may be of some use. Those proficient or familiar with Turkish will have a great deal of success in communicating with Tatar speakers.
Some of the street signs in Yalta are in English from the time of the Yalta Conference in 1945.
There are overnight trains running to Crimea from throughout the Ukraine. The cost will vary based upon where you will be leaving from, but from the Slovak border to cost is about 20 USD in the third class, 30 USD in the second class. If you can afford it you should consider flying, a return flight Kiev <-> Simferopol with Ukraine International Airlines is about $100.
If you travel by overnight sleeper train it is quite comfortable, cheap and the quality is OK. Just the average travelling speed of trains is slow in Ukraine in general (about 90km per hour).
There are flights to Simferopol from Kyiv, Lviv, Moscow, Istanbul, and many western European cities, including Frankfurt, Tallinn and Riga.
You can get anywhere in Crimea by mini bus. You can also go by taxi. Prices vary; be prepared to haggle a fare as you will always find someone to do a deal with. Many private citizens also work as pseudo taxi drivers; sometimes it is difficult to tell. Taxis range from modern comfortable cars to 1950s gas powered Soviet cars!
Frequently while traveling in the country if you look like a foreigner (for example with a backpack) and you are standing on what passes as a 'major' road people will stop and ask if you want a ride ... for a price. Fortunately that price usually amounts to only a few USD to go some very long distances.
The road system in Crimea, as well as most of the Ukraine, is in very poor repair; expect huge potholes. There is a very strict zero policy to drinking & driving. Police patrols are frequent as well as roadside checks for documents. The death toll on Ukraine's roads is very bad, you have been warned.
Street food can be delicious in Crimea, if you are not prone to gastritis. Once your system is acclimated, definitely try some local Tatar specialties such as chebureki (Russian: чебуреки), from an outdoor stand or a cheburechnaya (Russian: Чебуречная, chebureki joint). These are succulent half-moon shaped meat pies, usually filled with lamb or beef (Crimean Tatars, being Muslim, do not eat pork), and deep-fried in aromatic sunflower oil. Samsa are also good, hot pastries filled with mince meat and chopped onions.
Try manti (Russian: манты), which are steamed lamb-filled dumplings, often served with adjika (Russian: аджика), which is a very hot red chili pepper paste.
Try lyulya-kebab and shashlik (Russian: люля-кебаб and шашлык), which are shish-kebabs, especially if you can find ones cooked over a wood fire. If you can find pork shashlik, definitely try them. You will have more success with this in a Russian-run restaurant, as pork is not served in Tatar restaurants.
Find a good Tatar restaurant and try the lagman (Russian: лагман). It's an incredibly rich, thick lamb soup with vegetables and long homemade noodles that is absolutely to die for.
The ice cream sold at the beach includes a simple one called molochnoye (Russian: молочное, "made of milk"). It's white, but it's not vanilla-flavored. It tastes like sweet milk.
If you see women walking up the beach selling something from buckets, it's probably paklava (Russian: паклава, baklava). This paklava is like nothing you have ever had before. It's thin layers of homemade dough, put together to resemble big flowers, deep-fried and covered with nuts and honey. It's absolutely heavenly.
Find a pastry shop and try the trubochki (Russian: трубочки, "little trumpets"). A trubochka is a cornucopia shape of short pastry filled with meringue and sometimes dipped in nuts. Delicious with chai (Russian: чай, tea).
The beer in Crimea is outstanding and cheap.
Crimea is a wine-producing region. Most of the wine produced here, at the famous Massandra Palace winery and in Koktebel', is dessert wine in the style of Port or Madeira. Unwary foreigners might buy a bottle of what looks like red or white wine in a kiosk and find it undrinkably sweet. That's because it's meant to be sipped, in very small quantities, not drunk like a Merlot. If it's regular wine you're looking for, avoid anything labeled Портвейн (Portwine), Мадейра (Madeira), Мускат (Muscat), Токай (Tokay). For table wines, ask for "sukhOye vinO" (dry wine) or look for labels such as Совиньон (Sauvignon), Каберне (Cabernet), and Ркацетели (Rkatseteli), or look for Georgian wines, which are delicious and plentiful.
Try the regional sparkling wine, produced at Noviy Svet (Russian: Новый Свет, "New Light"), near Sudak. It's labeled "Шампанское" ("Shampanskoye", champagne). It's very good. Try to buy it somewhere reputable, though, because there are knock-offs. Noviy Svet is a very beautiful spot; you can tour the caverns where the wine is aged.
If you're not going anywhere else in Russia and Ukraine, try kvass (Russian: квас). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kvass
It's a very refreshing non-alcoholic drink made of fermented wheat, the traditional drink of farmworkers in the bread-basket of Ukraine, prized for its restorative properties.
Try the local kefir (Russian: кефир), a cultured-milk beverage. When ice-cold, it's extremely refreshing on a hot day.
If you're feeling adventuresome, you might look for "kumys" (Russian: кумыс or кымыз), which is fermented mare's milk, a traditional drink of the Tatars and nomadic peoples of Central Asia.
Beware, some of the local mineral waters taste very salty. Look for a Western European brand, especially if you're going to be exercising.
Vodka is cheap and plentiful, some of the supermarkets have the best prices and the widest choices.
Automobiles will be the biggest hazard to your safety in Crimea. Drivers tend to stick to speed limits as there are many militsyia (police) but the road surfaces are poor which leads to some unsafe overtaking, even on the curvy coast and mountain roads. Pedestrians cross roads at their own peril. Be particularly careful if a car has stopped for you at a marked crosswalk; check around the car before you venture past it farther into the crosswalk, because another very well may swing around it and go right through... right where you would be walking. Most cars ignore pedestrians!
Crimea does not have a major problem with crime. However, foreigners are at risk of being robbed if they are not careful about flashing wealth, except in Yalta during the summer which is filled with rich Russians. Foreigners should not hitchhike or take unmarked cabs unless they are travelling in a group. The safest way for a foreigner to travel alone is to take a bus or a marshrutka (a microbus that follows the regular bus routes).
The countryside, which is extremely poor, is very safe. You are more likely to get kicked by a wandering horse than robbed. Crimeans on the whole are very polite, except when lining up for a bus or service at a shop when pushing to the front has been perfected into an art form. Standing in line is not an option!
There are plenty of ATM's and as always be careful around them. At night avoid lonely places where the numerous drunks hang out, they are not really a danger except they might fall on top of you.
The teenagers in Ukraine (outside of Kyiv) appear to be some of the best behaved.