Top Gear’s Radioactive Road Trip, Ukraine – Part 1

This is not for the faint-hearted. During this trip you will take a step back in time to the battleground of one of the most devastating charges in history. You’ll then slither under a mountain into a disused Soviet submarine base, and finish in one of the most deadly of places in the world.

Following in Clarkson, Hammond, and May’s steps, you will drive some incredible scenic roads and drive through locations packed with unusual and sometimes violent history.

Part 1 – Yalta, Crimean Peninsula

The coast of Yalta

We begin this road trip on the coast of the Crimean Peninsula overlooking the Black Sea. This, which you see above, is Yalta – a resort city. But more importantly, especially within this route we’re about to take, was the home of the Yalta Conference. Because of this, it’s easy to get to via plane. However, due to difficulties between Ukraine and Russian territories, trains are not overly reliable. The closest airport is Belbek Airport in Sevastopol, a mere 100km from Yalta.

The Yalta Conference took place at the Livadia Palace in 1945 and staged the start of the reformation of Europe after the Second World War. Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin represented the UK, USA, and Soviet Union respectively and were tasked with gluing the broken continent back together. This will surely interest some of you as it is one of the most iconic moments in history.

Livadia Palace near the city of Yalta

For others, it may be the palace and its Italian architecture itself that interests you, if not that, then the views of the Black Sea and the hot humid weather will please your senses.

Once you’ve taken in everything that Yalta has to offer, start moving East along the coast. These roads can be dusty, tight, and unpredictable, so take them slow to begin with and work up to match your driving ability. The road to target is the Promizhne Hwy (T2709). It’s perfect for a hot hatch, or even a not so hot hatch. The tight corners and short straight aways result in any fast car being muzzled, so it’s quite possible to have fun in any car which you can push ten tenths all of the time.

Before you set off however, stock up on water and anything else you might need along the way. Shops here are few and far between, and while the road is heaven sent for petrol heads, it can be a tough drive if you’re dehydrated or hungry.

Balaklava Naval Museum Complex

The end game of this road is the Balaklava Naval Museum Complex. As seen on Top Gear, this Cold War relic was designed to withstand a direct nuclear strike of up to 100 kilotons with its shell of concrete and steel. Since its closure in 1993, it’s been maintained and was reopened as a museum in 2002. Nestled deep beneath Mount Tavros, it homes a multitude of tunnels, quarters, and nuclear storage bunkers, and enough space for 14 submarines and 5,000 people.

We’ve done a lot of driving today, so once you’re finished here, let’s head to Sevastopol for the night.

Part 2 – Sevastopol

This city of the Crimean Peninsular is the largest of the area, and also home to a major Black Sea dock. There are more museums here revolving around Soviet Russia and Wold War II, but we’re here for one reason: The hotel.

We’ll be staying in a place handpicked by Clarkson, Hammond and May themselves called the Sevastopol Hotel. It’s the oldest hotel in Sevastopol and boasts 43 luxury rooms, each with high-class amenities. This hotel has everything you will need including wifi, a hair salon, a bank, a restaurant, and of course, a spa. Rooms are from around £60 a night.

Get a good night’s sleep, because tomorrow, we have a lot of driving to do.

Part 3 – There’s But To Do And Die

The Crimean War started in 1853 and lasted three long years. The Russian Empire lost to an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain and Sardinia, and while it isn’t really known why it started, it has become one of the most horrific wars in history. It was also one of the first wars that involved modern war machines such as explosive shells, the railway system, and telegraphs. On top of that it gave us our first war photographers and journalists, and, the angelic innovation that was Florence Nightingale.

While this doesn’t sound all bad, it gave us one iconic historical moment: The Charge Of The Light Brigade. This is where we’re driving to today – the Valley Of Death.

Here is where the Light Brigade took place. The Charge of 600 horseback into the entirety of the Russian artillery, and while the numbers haven’t ever been confirmed, it’s said that at least 300 men were either killed or taken prisoner, never to be seen again. A famous poem was written about the scenario. It is as follows:

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
   Someone had blundered.
   Theirs not to make reply,
   Theirs not to reason why,
   Theirs but to do and die.
   Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
   Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
   Rode the six hundred.
Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
   All the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke
   Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
   Not the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
   Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
   Left of six hundred.
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
   All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
   Noble six hundred!

From here, we will make a 750 mile trek across Ukraine to the northern border. Are you ready for it?

See part 2 here (coming soon).


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