Odessa the pearl of the Black Sea
I don’t really have good memories of Kiev, where I spent five days. The highlight of the trip was the day I spent in Chernobyl. It really blew me away, and just for this, I didn’t regret my trip to Kiev. Thus I was a little disheartened about my next trip, to Odessa. In Kiev, people sulk and don’t look happy. How will it look like in Odessa?
I have to admit that after my bad experience in Kiev, I wasn’t expecting anything from Odessa. During the bus ride from Kiev to Odessa, we had a short break at a service area. Everybody was staring at me, literally every single person (yeah I’m getting used to it, but still!). I just bought a chicken sandwich, and as I was enjoying my small meal, the guy sitting next to me said “What you’re doing now, it’s dangerous. Eating a chicken sandwich. You might get sick, they don’t use good meat. Because economy is bad now here.” Oh wow… I guess it’s a sign of what’s coming up within the next few days…
For your information, I didn’t get sick but what this guy said, it just reinforced the bad preconceptions I had about this country. But I have to admit that regarding Odessa, I was pleasantly surprised! I think there’s an essential factor I didn’t take into account before coming : Odessa is located by the Black Sea! And this makes a huge difference! The weather is perfect, people are a lot more relaxed, it’s summertime (I was there in July), and the city is beautiful!
I heard about an area in Odessa which is supposedly the place to be : Arcadia! Actually it’s a place on the oceanfront where you’ll find all the bars, clubs, strip clubs, beautiful Ukrainian and Russian girls… Party animals, you know where to go if you visit Odessa one day! This is where I saw several guys coming from Minsk (capital of Belarus, 600 miles away) in their 20-year-old car, to spring all their money in clubs, buying bottles, showing off their fruit basket on the tables, etc…
Fortunately, for those who are not much into clubbing, Odessa is not limited to clubs and parties. It’s a very beautiful city and the architecture has a style more mediterranean than Russian. It reminded of Paris or Rome more than Moscow. This is why we call Odessa “The pearl of the black sea”. Buildings are a mix of different styles : art nouveau, renaissance, and classicist. There are buses everywhere, it’s easy to go from one place to another, and the bus ticket is fuckin cheap! 5 hryvnia, 0.15 euros! Little detail : you pay when you get OFF the bus, not when you get in! Confusing as hell at first!
Apart from a few guys who kept staring at me, people now smile at me again, greet me, some guys want to shake my hand, especially around Arcadia. A little kid called his parents… Just to point at me! Another kid was walking in front of me with his mom. Since he kept turning around to look at me, his mom decided to check what her son kept staring at! When she saw me, she decided to come see me just to talk for a few minutes, she asked her son to say hi to the tourist, etc… Really nice!
The food is good, mediterranean style! When they serve you, they say “Bon appétit!” (“Enjoy your meal!” in French). This is also the case in Moldova, but especially in Romania! When you want to pay, you just mime signing a check. Some people do it very well! A lot of restaurants get their products from the Privoz Market, a market in the city center where they sell anything you can think of when it comes to food, especially cheese and meat.
What to see in Odessa?
An iconic place of Odessa is the Potemkin stairs. Constructed between 1837 and 1841, it has 192 stairs with 10 landings. There’s an optical illusion. When you look from the bottom, you only see stairs (and not the landings!). But when you look from the top, you just see the landings (and not the stairs!). The steps at the bottom are much wider than the ones at the top.
As you probably understand now, Odessa is located by the Black Sea. Do not hesitate to spend a lazy day, doing nothing, just walking around, sunbathing… Arcadia is a lively place, even daytime. This seaside district is a good area if you like hustle and bustle around you, if you want to meet people… Otherwise there are places with less people and not too loud (I’m thinking about Bali Beach).
The cable car is not easy to find, it’s located around Vidrada Beach. The price? 40 hryvnia (1.30 euro) to enjoy a few minutes in the air. I need to warn you. If you suffer from vertigo, don’t do it. I’m not really afraid of heights but there’s no real security and the cable car sways a lot! But it’s worth it (look at the price!).
A must see : Odessa catacombs, the largest catacombs in the world. Nothing like the catacombs in Paris. During World War II, this is where members of the resistance used to live and hide. Some of them stayed there for months, never going out, not even once!
The catacombs are 6 to 40 meters below sea level. There are a lot of little anecdotes about the catacombs : every New Year Eve, there’s a big party in the catacombs. People come from Kiev, Minsk, sometimes Saint Petersburg… A wedding took place there, an explorer celebrated his birthday in 1974… A kid started playing in the catacombs when he was 6 during his spare time. 15 years later, at the age of 21, he knew every little corner of the catacombs (world’s largest labyrinth running up to 2,500 kilometers!).
For the people staying in Kiev (or even Lviv), I suggest you to go to Odessa for a few days if you have time of course! The city is really beautiful, people are relaxed, it’s a safe place and of course like every city in the country, it’s super cheap!
Info to visit Odessa
- You wanna go to Ukraine? Do not leave home without a travel insurance!
- If you’re about to go to Ukraine, check my travel resources page! It will help you getting organized.
- There are many hotels in Odessa! Check the inventory on Booking or Hostelworld. You can also compare the hotel rates on HotelsCombined.
- Check the activities in Odessa.
- If needed, get a travel guide.
- If you’re traveling in Eastern Europe, why not try a wine tasting in Cricova, Moldova?
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