Sanatoriums of Ukraine – Kurpaty Sanatorium of Yalta, Crimea | Санаторий “Курпаты”, г. Ялта, АР Крым

Before I talk about sanatoriums, I shall make an announcement first. I haven’t updated this blog for probably 3 weeks, but I haven’t left a concluding note yet, because even though my project Explore Ukraine ended on 28 Jan 2013, I still have many aspects of Ukraine that I haven’t included yet! After my project ended in my third city, L’viv, I went on to Kharkiv and Yalta by my own, and then flew to Amsterdam. I spent a total of 6 days in Amsterdam and Paris before flying to Singapore, where I celebrated Chinese New Year just a few days after touching down. Hence it has been hectic and not too much time to write new entries :).

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I heard of the term “sanatorium” a few years before I went to Ukraine, because I was reading up about this country. At that point of time, I didn’t know much about what these places offer. While in L’viv, we took a trip to nearby Truskavets town (about 120 km, 2 hours south of L’viv), and it’s a spa, resort and sanatorium town. I remembered that the peninsula of Crimea had a high concentration of sanatoriums, and when I took a marshrutka (minibus) westwards away from Yalta, I found out I wasn’t wrong.

A few years ago, while surfing the net, reading about weird buildings, I chanced upon this:

yalta-sanatorium-kurpaty-02

You might have experienced the euphoria upon seeing a building/scenery that you’ve seen in books/on the internet in real life, and when I took the marshrutka from Yalta to the west of the city, I was exhilarated to see this unique building on my right as the minibus was navigating its way down a twisting slope!

As I continued my travels on the Crimean peninsula, I saw numerous sanatoriums on the coast, but it seemed as though most of them were not opened. Actually, January is definitely the super off-peak period for travelling in Ukraine, because most places probably will expect tourists to visit only in summer. I guess that’s the case for sanatoriums, which are summer getaway resorts.

After I got back to Singapore, I checked online, and found that this building is Kurpaty Sanatorium. It is probably one of the most curious-looking buildings I’ve seen, as it resembles a giant alien saucer landed on the steep Crimean slopes. It seems almost impossible, because the central pillar is quite small, while the entire circular structure is much larger.

Here’s the official website of Kurpaty Sanatorium (Санаторий “Курпаты” in Russian). The website is Russian-only though, not in English. (Most residents of Crimea speak the Russian language instead of Ukrainian language)

Fortunately, here’s a page describing the Sanatorium in English. As seen from the very bottom of the table, the operating months of this sanatorium are March to December. No wonder they appear deserted when I went there in January.And you must be wondering, what do sanatoriums do? Which groups of people do sanatoriums target at?

From the English page, it seems that the sanatorium welcomes all age groups, including family with children. There are numerous medical services offered at this complex. People can go there for health checks, therapy, consultations, massages or simply for relaxation.

The ‘sanatoriums’ in Ukraine differ from those in western Europe and the USA. Personally I have never been to any sanatoriums anywhere in the world before, but it seems the Ukrainian sanatoriums are for short term vacations, including health vacations. However, those in western Europe and the USA are probably long-term recovery ‘hospitals’ for lung diseases, mental illnesses and other ailments. In addition, there are at least two other ways to spell the word ‘sanatorium’ in English: sanitorium and sanitarium, and there seems to be subtle nuances between them, according to the Wikipedia page (which unfortunately, does not account for the sanatoriums in Ukraine at all).

There are probably thousands of sanatoriums all across Ukraine, and probably hundreds in Crimea alone, and many in Yalta.

Indoor swimming pool. From http://www.kurpaty.com/photo/22/

Indoor swimming pool. From http://www.kurpaty.com/photo/22/

The gym. You can see the curved walls from this photo. From http://www.kurpaty.com/photo/16/

The gym. You can see the curved walls from this photo. From http://www.kurpaty.com/photo/16/

I hope to visit one of these facilities the next time if I were to visit Ukraine in summer.

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Kyiv (Kiev) Metro

Official Kyiv metro map from http://www.metro.kiev.ua/node/101

Official Kyiv metro map from http://www.metro.kiev.ua/node/101

When in Kyiv, you’ll discover that the easiest and most convenient method of transportation is the underground metro. There are 3 lines: M1 (red), M2 (blue) and M3 (green). Interchanges between these lines are possible at 3 stations in the centre of Kyiv.

Each ride on the metro costs 2 Ukrainian hryvnias (USD 2), and is one of the cheapest form of urban rail in the world. Passengers can purchase blue plastic tokens from the cashier (who usually don’t speak English ), or from automated machines in the station.

One tip is to purchase tokens in bulk, like five or ten at a time. This saves time and doesn’t leave you with or require small change. If you’re carrying luggage, you’ll need to go through the gate manned by a metro staff instead of the turnstile, and you’ll have to pay double.

 

Station signboards are fully bilingual in English and Ukrainian

Station signboards are fully bilingual in English and Ukrainian

After the Euro 2012 held in Ukraine, every station has bilingual signboards.and maps in English and Ukrainian, so finding your train platform is not as difficult.

 

All metro stations are ornately decorated

All metro stations are ornately decorated

 

Trains depart very frequently. During evening peak hours on weekdays, you’ll probably only need to wait for less than a minute for a train, while during weekend mornings, the frequency is about 5 minutes.

Riding the long escalator up Arsenalna station, which is 105.5 metres below the ground

Riding the long escalator up Arsenalna station, which is 105.5 metres below the ground

Metro stations are mostly deep underground, and to reach the platform, you have to ride down a long escalator from ground level. Here’s a video of me as I ride up Arsenalna station, which is 105.5 metres below the ground and is the deepest metro station in the world.

And now for some history, after all the practical tips.

The Kyiv Metro first started operations on 6 November 1960, and it was the third metro system built in the Soviet Union after Moscow and St Petersburg (Kyiv was also the third largest city in the Soviet Union after these 2 cities). There are currently 50 stations in three metro lines. The four newest stations were opened in December 2010. I’ve never been to these stations, but according to a local whom I have spoken to, the new station designs feature more modern decorations instead of palacial ornaments.

First steps into Lviv, the architectural jewel of Ukraine

This morning we took a 2 hour train from Ternopil to Lviv in western Ukraine. Lviv and Ternopil are both in the Galicia region (not to be confused with Galicia of Spain), and have some similarities in history and are both strongholds of Ukrainian culture and patriotism.

The moment I exited the magnificent train station, I was awed by the difference in the two urban landscapes. It didn’t come as a surprise, as Lviv is a city of about 750 000, while Ternopil has about 210 000 people. The architecture in Lviv, as we first saw on the tram to the city centre, was absolutely marvellous, and it could be mistaken for one of the more famous European cities like Prague, Budapest or Vienna (though I’ve never been there). Lviv should be on the same scale of architectural brilliance as them.

Here are 2 photos of the city centre near the tower. Unfortunately I’m unable to upload my photos from my better camera these few days. These photos from my phone camera absolutely do not do justice to the great architectural beauty of the city.

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Later in the day, we hope to catch a ballet performance at the famous Lviv Opera House. Little known fact: a river runs through BELOW the opera house! Many years ago, during the Hapsburg era, the king wanted to build the opera house, but this minor river stood in the path. He didn’t want to have a city centre that replicates Venice’s waterways, so he wanted the river to be covered. If you were to enter the opera house’s eastern side gate (it’s just opposite our hostel), and head to the basement, you can see the remnants of a bridge over the river. Yes, all these below the grand opera house.

In addition, there’s a cafe in the same basement. I guess it’s opera themed. We had to take off our jackets, and put on one of the fancy drama costumes the cafe provided, before we were allowed to enter. (Thank you Leo for the introduction to this river and cafe!)

Every city is full of hidden mysteries.

Architecture in Ternopil – what the travel guides don’t tell you

I am a student of Urban Design and Planning. It’s not a common choice of study, and if you don’t have any idea what I’m studying, just take it that my course is a cross between architecture and human geography – two of my loves. And speaking of architecture, every country, city, town, village, or – to fit in the localised context – oblast and raion, has her unique architectural styles and famous iconic buildings. However, while searching for landmark buildings, most of the time, people forget the beauty and uniqueness of the buildings that everyone – normal people, normal residents of a city – stay in – the residential buildings. Ternopil surely has numerous beautiful churches, parks and drama theatres, and a quaint town centre with a central European feel with several architectural styles, but we should never forget the tall, concrete, residential blocks that house everyone. Without such buildings, the city does not function even if there are beautiful churches or splendid ‘tsum’ (shopping centres).

Other than the super-rich elites, majority of Ukraine’s urban population stays in high-rise apartment buildings known as Панельний будинок (Panelnyy budynok). Many were built during the Soviet Union era, but many newer ones were also built after Ukraine’s independence in 1991. During the Soviet Union, workers of factories or companies allocated apartment units to workers and their families, but after independence, workers or staff have to pay to buy apartments. They are now privately owned (not government-provided public housings) by companies, but the houses in Ternopil are not too unaffordable. According to a local, it costs about 40 000 UAH (about 5 000 USD), which I think is within reach of the average worker and very affordable for university graduates. I also read somewhere that in the Soviet Union times, the regulation required residential buildings above 5 storeys to provide elevators, hence many are 5 storeys high.

From my observation, these apartment buildings are organised into neighbourhoods (мікрорайон, mikrorayon), each with its own cluster of shops (accessories, grocery, equipment etc.), some of them at the ground floor of each building, and with schools, nurseries (creches), playgrounds, parks, public service centres, specialised shops and bus stations. These neighbourhoods radiate away from the city centre, that is, there are no residential neighbourhoods in the old city centre of Ternopil. All these neighbourhoods are near but not within the centre.

Greenways or roads often serve as boundaries between different microrayons. There was a restriction that all public service buildings have to be located within 500 metres from every point in a residential building.

I think all these buildings are more functional than aesthetic, and serve the primary purpose of housing large populations. From the facades, it seems the buildings are made of reinforced concrete, and sometimes bricks. They generally appear to be grey, white or brown.

These buildings might not be magnificent or postcard-worthy, but there should be much more attention paid on these places where the ordinary Ukrainian grows up. They might not be included in any architecture or travel guide, but these humble buildings serve as the basis of society.