The small airport at Simferopol had already been renovated as everything was clean and freshly painted. We made our way out into the night, which wasn't the plan. Our original flight had been cancelled so we had to wait for another flight and got in five hours later than expected.
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The overpowering stench of old cigarette smoke nearly suffocated me when we got into the taxi -- a major contrast to Moscow where, as a result of the government's anti-smoking campaign of the last few years, there weren't that many smokers and those who were around had to do the deed outside.
As I rolled down the window for some relief, Sharon exchanged pleasantries with our driver -- where we were from, etc. I asked her to ask him in Russian what he thought of Crimea's reunification with Russia. He summed up, in broken English, what many people I talked to over the next couple of days would say: "Historically and ethnically, we are Russian, so it's better to be with Russia than Ukraine." But he also acknowledged that there were still plenty of problems that needed to be addressed and that it would take time; but under the leadership of Russia, they now had hope.
One woman told us that there had been more infrastructure investment in Crimea in one year under Russian governance than in all the 23 years under Ukraine. Looking around Simferopol the next day, the investment was clearly needed. The roads and buildings had not been sufficiently maintained and it gave the place an air of being run down. Alongside that, however, were parks and trees, roads filled with people in cars and packed mini buses during commute hours, and parents walking on sidewalks clutching the hands of their small children. Everyone was dressed in the typical western attire one would see in the U.S. and most young people fingered smart phones.
As we entered the last leg of our foliage-rich scenic bus ride into Yalta, the rocky coastline came into full view. Boats dotted the sparkling waters on which the sunlight danced on this perfectly warm day.
A taxi drove us a short distance to Libadia, the imperial palace where the famous Yalta Conference of 1945 took place.
The palace had been the home of the czars from Alexander II, the reformer who freed the serfs and sent ships to defend President Lincoln's government against the French and British in our Civil War, to Nicholas II, whose family was murdered by the Bolsheviks.
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