Odessa – on the Black Sea in Ukraine

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

It’s not my first trip to Ukraine – I was there in 2016 visiting the capital Kiev and that 20th century disaster site Chernobyl – but this trip I certainly wasn’t very happy when I arrived in Odessa. Although it may be the ‘Pearl of the Black Sea’ or the ‘Southern St Petersburg’ my mood wasn’t sunny when my bus from Tiraspol pulled in to the Odessa bus stop. For the entire trip I’d hardly seen a thing, the bus windows were double glazed and featured a solid fog of condensation between the two sheets of glass. At every passenger window.

Worse than that we’d spent two hours at the border, half an hour getting out of Moldova/Transnistria and then a solid hour and a half getting in to Ukraine. If an airport can handle 200 passengers in 10 or 20 minutes (Kiev Airport certainly had when I flew in two years earlier) why on earth does it take a land border so long to process 35 bus passengers? Plus the border itself was disgusting, featuring the filthiest toilets (correction, toilet, there was only one) I’ve seen in many years.

▲ Never mind, once I’d checked in to the wonderfully old-fashioned Hotel Londoskaya on the elegant tree-lined Prymorsky Blvd everything looked much better.

▲ In fact a lot of Odessa is wonderfully old-fashioned. Not all of it in the best shape, some solid restoration and renovation work wouldn’t go astray. The late 19th century neo-renaissance Passazh shopping arcade has style by the bagful, but barely a shop worth mentioning. Why isn’t it beautifully restored and packed with flash shops like equivalent arcades in Sydney or Melbourne in Australia?

◄ You’ll bump into an important Odessa resident around town as well – the poet Pushkin. This statue of him stands outside the Pushkin Museum, in the house where he lived for a spell in 1823. He’d been chucked out of St Petersburg for making fun of the czar and more witty poems and the odd ill-judged affair with the wives of local powerbrokers soon saw him exiled from Odessa as well. It’s not his most famous Odessa statue, that’s outside the City Hall at the end of Prymorsky Boulevard.

▲ For movie fans Odessa’s big attraction is the Potemkin Steps so I felt obliged to take a selfie towards the bottom. Even more so since I recently visited another movie director’s town – Federico Fellini’s Rimini in Italy. This time it’s:

  • Director – Sergei Eisenstein
  • Film – Battleship Potemkin – released in 1925 and regularly cited as a greatest film of all time contender
  • Key scene – on the Potemkin Steps down to the Black Sea, 100 metres from my hotel

▲ If walking back up is too energetic you can always take this very exotic looking funicular railway which runs right beside the steps.

▲ Not a bad beach for a big city strand. I concluded my Odessa stay by renting a bicycle from in Shevchenko Park and riding along the bicycle path following the ‘Route of Health’ from Lanzheron Beach to Arkadia Beach. Russians may be heading en masse to the beaches of Turkey and Thailand, but there are clearly still lots of them here.