Curiosity is an innate desire that often exercise its supreme powers over our common sense. It is like a switch within us that we have no control over and once it is turned on we become slaves bound by its subjugating shackles. The time we decided on visiting Crimea was one of those moments. As the proverb goes, “curiosity killed the cat” and this might be our downfall.
We reached the controversial Crimean Bridge without the escape of a police check, with a foreign number plate we, unsurprisingly, got the lucky draw for ‘random’ vehicle checks. I recall seeing Vladimir Putin inaugurating the bridge on UK news channels back in May, ‘in typical hands-on fashion’, by leading a series of trucks across it. As we inhale the smell of fresh tarmac of the longest bridge in Russia and Europe, my excitement becomes palpable on learning, that it took only three years to build. Furthermore, according to a semi-reliable source, the gas company (one of Vlad’s friends) that built the Crimean Bridge had no prior experience with bridge building. Now I am both impressed and interrogative regarding the sturdiness of this crossing.
The first hour of driving we were greeted mainly by road construction sites and slow-moving traffic. Soon afterwards the little island showed its pretty self to us, bit by bit. We aimed for Sevastopol along the south coast and the landscape reminded me of summer in Malta. The windy roads snaking up, down and around arid mountainous terrain coupled with a view of the azure sea shimmering blindingly under a sunny blue sky is a scene that conjures up warm and sunburnt memories of holiday-doing in some Mediterranean island. I am not trying to make light of this terrifically calm and beautiful landscape by any means. I guess, I was just a little taken aback for not being mentally prepared for all this relaxing commotion.
We had our first stop outside the lovely port-city of Yalta. As we enjoyed our food in a restaurant with a seafront view as we try to mentally go down a few gears into holiday-cruising mode. We learnt that Yalta became a fashionable resort city in the 19th century for Russian aristocracy and that my legendary Leo (Tolstoy not DiCaprio) spent summers here. After exploring it you can really see why. The Ai-Petri mountain is peppered with exquisite mansions, spas and vineyards, while the city centre has a postcard-perfect seafront promenade chasing the Black Sea is full of restaurants, café and shops, and in the market place you can buy all kinds delicatessen. All this make for a delightful picture.
Just don’t look too closely. You don’t want to spot those gigantic dinosaur heads sticking out from the greenery when you’re enjoying your morning dip in the sea (it turns out to be the wacky dinosaur theme park next door); or go past a creepy park full of deranged life-size puppets; or while strolling along the promenade you are woken up from your day-dreaming trance by loud music or announcements blasting out of the public speakers at regular intervals; nor do you want to realise most beaches are more like the pebbled ones of Brighton as oppose to, say, the Maldives. No, you just simply want to enjoy the sound of crashing waves and soak in the subtropical sunshine. Thanks to sanctions, we embrace the feeling of wealth and security with a wallet full of cash because all our foreign cards don’t work; we enjoy the feeling of isolation because we have zero mobile reception; and we ventured out to discover lodging in the proper way by using our instincts because the booking apps are also on strike.
Sevastopol, however, has a different feeling. Being the largest city on the peninsular everything is to a bigger scale. Drawn to Toyotoro, we had a friendly exchange with a group of young people. One of the girls out of the group was born in Sevastopol and now a sommelier working in Moscow, while one of the guys is Russian who came to Crimea seeking a life at a slower pace. Why she didn’t go to Kiev instead of Moscow for her career or why he did not go to St. Petersburg or some other city to relax were regrettably not asked due to sensibility to political sensitivity but mostly due to language barrier.
It is evident that there is a lot of Russian influence in Crimea: all the number plates are Russian; Russian flags flying over certain establishments; great infrastructure or ongoing construction projects taking place that doesn’t quite feel like the roads we travelled through in Ukraine where we were just a few days ago. This being said, Crimea feels unique in its own right. It is a safe haven for many that call it a home, a holiday destination for others, while for oodles of people it is a mystery and a taboo fuelled by news channels.
As the proverb goes “curiosity killed the cat” and this might be our downfall but “satisfaction brought it back”.