How to survive the longest trolleybus route in the world

To get to Yalta, one group of German tourists decide to travel nearly 100 kilometers across the mountains and along the sea by trolleybus instead of taking a taxi.
RBTH editor's note: More than two years have passed since a referendum was held on Crimea, which led to a treaty being signed between the peninsula and Russia. This has been the source of enormous controversy between Russia, Ukraine and the West and many foreign embassies warn against travel here. As a result of economic sanctions that were passed in response to this event, traveling is not easy in Crimea: Practically no international airlines land here and visitors must bring fistfuls of cash with them. Bankcards and credit cards are not accepted everywhere, although it is possible to change foreign currency in banks.
As soon as we arrive in Simferopol from Moscow and walk out of the airport, we are besieged by a horde of taxi drivers offering to take us to any city on the peninsula, be it Alushta, Sevastopol or Bakhchysarai. But we already had a plan: We wanted to start our vacation by testing one of Crimea's most exotic tourist attractions – the world's longest trolleybus route, which links Simferopol and Yalta.

Every 20 minutes, trolleybus 52 takes its passengers to the southern coast of Crimea for an affordable fare of 129 rubles (around $2) from a stop outside the airport. Over three hours, the trolleybus covers a distance of 96 kilometers, passing Simferopol, the ridges of the Crimean Mountains and a fragment of the coastline.
This trolleybus is the only one in the world that operates in the mountains. Not only is it the cheapest option of getting from Simferopol to the touristy southern coast, but it is also the slowest one. So, why would a tourist take it? Because it gives you enough time to study and admire the land with its inhabitants and the ever-changing nature from a safe distance.

We bought tickets in a small white ticket office by the trolleybus stop. Passengers were scarce: apart from us, only an elderly couple was waiting for the departure inside. The female driver washed the windows: In Crimea, like anywhere else in Russia, a trolleybus driver is an exclusively women's job. After we presented our tickets, the trolleybus started off, and our journey began.

Through Simferopol
Young people offer their seats to the elderly, who thank them in return. Unhurried conversations start off about the weather, roads and the upcoming weekend.
The airport is linked to the center of Simferopol by a straight road. As we gazed through the windows at the distant hills, road-building machines were laying asphalt on the oncoming lane to widen the road. New passengers entered at every stop: Workers, schoolchildren with schoolbags and elderly women with shopping bags.

The trolleybus drove slowly across the bridge over the railroad. The building of the railway station looked deserted and the platforms were empty. "No trains come here," said a fellow passenger. "A couple of suburban trains in the morning, that's it." Long-distance trains were canceled after the controversial 2014 referendum (see above).

By contrast, the bus terminal is bustling with life: People running around, grabbing a bite on the go, shouting and buying tickets, jumping on buses that are about to depart. Our trolleybus is packed by now. Two schoolchildren take the opposite seats and two elderly ladies sit down next to us across the aisle.
We are driving along the city's main and longest avenue, which is called Kievskaya Street. Simferopol is surprisingly gray: There are colorful posters and billboards, bright people's clothes and construction sites, but the buildings are very gray. Sand dust is everywhere, blown around by the wind of the departing fall. The schoolchildren in front of us are sharing a white chocolate bar among themselves. The trolleybus leaves the city center and heads into a village.
This route has operated for over 50 years. The first section, Simferopol – Alushta, was launched in 1959 and in 1961 the route was extended to include Yalta as the final destination. Ever since then the time of the commute has remained the same, but the make of trolleybuses has sometimes changed. Whereas Skoda trolleybuses were climbing the Crimean Mountains 40 years ago, today the route features mostly Russian trolleybuses, such as the Avantgarde, a low-floor model by Vologodsky Mechanical Plant.

A monument to the trolleybus in the Crimean mountains
Through the mountains
"How many mushrooms are there and how high do you need to climb to gather them?" I thought.
Suddenly the mountains emerge. The trolleybus drives on with ease, going up and down the serpentine road. Mountain ridges and thick forest frame the road from both sides.

The road tilts up and the trolleybus seems to start puffing. Amidst the Crimean Mountains, we pass a large cross. We have reached Perevalnoye, the route's checkpoint and the highest stop (752 meters above sea level). It is marked by a monument to the trolleybus, as this point was the highest altitude that the first Soviet trolleybuses could operate.

Meanwhile, the bus is so crowded that there is no place to stand. We are about to start our descent toward the sea.
Along the sea shore
The sea starts right after Alushta, the first resort town on our route. Our driver is replaced by a colleague of hers, another woman. The compartment is overcrowded now, as more and more tourists join the locals at every stop.

In Europe, public transport is rarely as crowded as it is in Russia. Consequently, rides on shuttle minibuses, trains or trolleybuses, which are a source of annoyance for many Russians, can prove to be interesting experiences for foreign tourists. And so can third-class shared sleeping compartments: A weeklong trip from Moscow to Vladivostok grants you an unrivaled opportunity to get to know the locals and practice your Russian language skills. Taking a taxi to the hotel and going on guided tours is not enough to get to know the country.
"Where do I get off for the Botanical Garden?" a woman asks other passengers. "In Nikita. I'll show you where," one of them replies. Another one joins the conversation: "I'm getting off there too. I'll show you." The Nikitsky Botanical Garden is still a few kilometers away from us in the direction of Yalta, but concerned tourists keep asking whether we have arrived there yet.
Alushta is 33 kilometers away from Yalta along the steep slope by the Black Sea. On our way, stalls with souvenirs, vegetables, fruit and wine are scattered here and there. In every town or village, the road shifts further from the sea, before returning to the shore after a while. The Crimean trolleybus route is like a roller coaster.

As we drive past the Massandra Palace, the Artek youth camp and the Botanical Garden, tourists get on and off at every stop, their cameras and sunglasses glistening in the sun. On our left, we see Crimean towns and a huge, glittering sea below. On our right we see vineyards and their owners' residences.
After the final descent past the Massandra winery, we arrive at the Yalta bus terminal and once again, a crowd of taxi drivers besieges us. We are beginner-level Crimean tourists, but a single trip by trolleybus has taught us that a vacation in Crimea is not only about fascinating views, but it is also an opportunity to relax in the company of kind-hearted and laid-back people.

Text by Peggy Lohse.
Edited by Joe Crescente.
Design and layout by Yulia Shandurenko.
Images credits: Peggy Lohse, TASS/Alexander Ryumin, Lori/Legion-Media.

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