I've been deluged with requests to provide blog readers with some geography of southwest Russia (maybe true, maybe not) and so I'm quite pleased to offer a quick tour, a bird's-eye-view of the area thanks to Google Earth (absolutely true). So please buckle up, we're heading many miles above the earth...
And suddenly here we are, nearly 4,000 miles above the Black Sea (1) which is fed by the Sea of Azov (2). The Caspian Sea (3) is off to the east.
Here the same perspective with political boundaries added. Note that each of the seas is surrounded by several countries. As above, the Sea of Azov (2) flows into the Black Sea (1). And the Caspian Sea (3) is over there east, toward Siberia.
Let's zoom in a bit closer. Here we are, only 1000 miles above the Black Sea. Look carefully and you might spot exotic sea creatures such as sharks and octopus (maybe, maybe not).
Admittedly, this little map won't win the Miss World Map beauty contest but she does offer great information. Think of the Black Sea as the face of a clock and the Ukraine is at 12:00 position, Russia at 2 and 3 o'clock positions and Turkey at 6:00 position. In between is Georgia at 4:00. Off on the west are Bulgaria, Romania and Moldava but we're not going thata way today.
Now let's have a look at some favorite cities. Rostov-on-Don (1), at nearly 2 million, is the largest city in southwest Russia. From Rostov, it's an overnight train trip south to Sochi, pronounced SO-chee (2), known as the Miami Beach of Russia. Imagine, palm trees in Russia! Come summer, thousands of folks head toward the Black Sea coast and Sochi. As you may have heard, Sochi is the site of the 2014 Winter Olympic games.
An overnight ferry runs from Sochi to Trabzon, Turkey (5) and I took it back in 2000. It was my quasi-brillant idea to escape Russia during the Y2K uproar and head to Trabzon which, quite conveniently, is home to several special friends whom I met in graduate school at Texas Tech, Lubbock. There was only one problem: After I arrived in Sochi, the ferry was cancelled a day or two because of Ramadan, a religous holiday. And then it was cancelled a day or two because of stormy seas. And so the big escape to Trabzon ran about five days after the so-called crisis had already blown over. I went anyway and enjoyed most of all being with dear friend Hamiyet, meeting her family and seeing Trabzon. Istanbul (6) is way west, spanning the mouth of the Black Sea as it flows toward the Mediterranean.
Hold on while we zoom north across the Black Sea to the Ukraine. Last week I was in Mariupol, originally a Greek colony and it's right on the Sea of Azov (we pronounce it a-ZOV in Russian).
From Rostov-on-Don to the Ukranian border is around 65 miles. In recent years, as the Ukraine softens its stance toward the west, the country has relaxed its visa policy. Visas are no longer required of U.S. citizens or of folks from several other countries. Still, I do have stories to share about that and the run-around, even recently, from local officials who still apparently still haven't gotten the memo on that. But such stories can wait.
Well, that's it for today's look at a few geographical highlights of the Black Sea and southwest Russia. Thank you for joining me! And now it's your turn: Have you been to the Black Sea or Sochi? Please share where you've been and when! And...do you plan to come to Sochi for the Winter Olympic Games, 2014? As a spectator or as a competitior?