|View of the Black Sea from Livadia Palace. Yalta, Crimea. By Simon Raven|
Chris powers the Volvo along a smooth tarmac highway as we make our aerial descent into Yalta. Once a fashionable resort for the Russian aristocracy and gentry, this affluent town on the Crimean peninsula has grown into a popular holiday destination for predominantly Russian and Ukrainian working people on their summer vacation. With the summer season in full swing we pass dozens of tour boats and giant inflatable bouncy castles along the waterfront promenade. The smell of candyfloss and fried food fills the air. On the crowded beach a group of pale, bare-chested guys are drinking beer hidden inside brown paper bags and ogle a couple of girls wearing microscopic bikinis. A painfully skinny old man in a string vest devours a burger next to his plump wife, while families and couples enjoy the warm waters of the Black Sea.
|Chekhov House Museum. Taganrog, Russia. Photo by Simon Raven|
Continuing on our quest to drive full circle around the Black Sea, we exchange the wild rocky coast of the Crimean peninsula for the tranquil north shores of the Sea of Azov in East Ukraine. In the shadow of rising tension in Ukraine we cautiously cross the border into Russia, and cruise alongside enormous Soviet-size fields of corn. Chris overtakes a tractor with a white ceramic teapot wedged over the tow bar. A large steppe buzzard perched on a fence post watches our metal monster zoom by. We soon arrive in Taganrog; a port city founded by Peter the Great in 1698. The Azov Flotilla of Catherine the Great was hosted here in Russia’s first navy base, which later grew into the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Weaving through the quiet suburbs of the city, we pass a row of traditional one-storey houses and park the Volvo near to the large central market. A pot-bellied chap standing at the back of a truck rammed full of watermelons, whistles into the street as we go in search of the house where Anton Chekhov spent his childhood years. Chris asks for directions inside a small electrical shop that smells strongly of cannabis and the mellow guy behind the counter kindly points us in the direction of the Chekhov house museum.
|Chekhov House Museum. Taganrog, Russia. Samosir Books|
Pavel experienced financial ruin in the 1870s, which caused him and his wife to leave Taganrog in a hurry to escape debtors’ prison. They stayed with their sons, Nikolay and Alexander, who were attending university in Moscow. Aged only sixteen, Anton was left behind to finish school and sell the family possessions. He lived during this period with a family friend called Selivanov, who Anton is thought to have later drawn inspiration from for the character Lopakhin in ‘The Cherry Orchard’. In the story, Lopakhin had assisted the family financially in return for their house. Anton had to support himself during these difficult years and finance his education. He would catch and sell goldfinches and found work tutoring other students. He also began to write humorous short sketches for newspapers and magazines. Any spare money he had left he would send to Moscow, and he used his talent for writing to cheer up his family with comical letters from Taganrog. Anton discovered a love of books during these years living alone, and eventually wrote one of his own - a dramatic comedy titled ‘Fatherless’. His brother Alexander had allegedly dismissed the story as “an inexcusable though innocent fabrication.” Arching her neatly groomed eyebrows, Nina reveals that Anton also enjoyed a series of love affairs, one with the wife of a teacher.
Thanking Nina for such a brilliant insight into Anton Chekhov’s early life. She confesses that she had not expected English people to be so friendly.
In addition to his career as a writer, Anton was a trained physician and treated patients for free during the cholera epidemic that struck the country during the Russian famine of 1891-1892. The disease had emerged along the Volga River, and spread rapidly as far as the Ural Mountains and the Black Sea. A chain of unfortunate natural events had led to the famine that caused the outbreak, with unfavourable weather conditions leading to an enormous percentage of the yearly seedlings being destroyed. This resulted in a catastrophic harvest. By the end of 1892 approximately half a million people were dead; mostly as a result of the cholera epidemics that had been sparked by the famine. Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, blamed the Tsarist government and the Orthodox Church for the famine, and the church responded in a typically unreasonable manner by excommunicating him and banning peasants from accepting his charity. Chris reveals that the Tsarist government’s poor response to the disaster is believed to have caused the reawakening of Russian Marxism and populism in Russia.
|Taganrog Bay. Sea of Azov, Russia. Photo by Simon Raven|
BLACK SEA CIRCUIT
by The Raven Brothers
Order your copy online from Amazon and all major book retailers. ISBN 9780954884284.
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by The Raven Brothers
Out of shape and unprepared, The Raven Brothers return to the road in a collection of ten quests to travel to their dream destinations against all odds! After two decades pioneering new routes across the globe, you would expect the authors of 'Driving the Trans-Siberian' to be hotshot explorers, with a sixth sense and an ability to survive in almost any situation. Think again! With virtually zero knowledge of the workings of the internal combustion engine and very limited skills of wilderness survival, Simon and Chris struggle into their hiking boots and power across three continents by river, tarmac and trail.
Venture to the top of Norway, cruise the road to Damascus, hike the Camino trail into Spain’s Wild West, row the Ganges, explore Frida Kahlo’s world in Mexico City, hangout with the dead in Sicily’s eerie catacombs, crawl deep inside Bolivia’s notorious silver mine, seek lions in Gujarat, wellness in Berlin and journey into the Naga Hills where tribal kings still rule.
Noted by Lonely Planet for their talent to portray an “accurate view of what to expect”, 'Hike, Drive, Stayin’ Alive!' signals a return to the duo writing “buttock clenching” travel comedy with the first in a series of candid stories of adventure by The Raven Brothers.