return to Ukraine Canada Corps exchange, and other travels

PS21 - Odesa (part 2)

October 25th*, 2005: (Second and third days in Odessa)
* - Concerning events from the 21st and 22nd.

"My second and third days in Odessa contained, almost indisputably, the most profound travel experiences of my short life.

"Our hotel rooms included breakfast, which was buckwheat-intensive, but tasty and filling nonetheless, and who can argue with ‘free?’ Shelley’s task for the rest of the day was to find a way to get to Kyiv to see her relatives, and mine was to explore.

"So I walked in the general direction of the north end of the city, with the intention of finding the coastline somewhere above downtown and then following it east and then south, past downtown and to the outer parts of the city. The map indicated that the east shore of Odessa was one long beach. At this point, I hadn’t yet seen the Sea except for small glimpses, so I was very excited to get an uninhibited daytime panorama..."

Huh! That was a national flag I hadn't seen before...

I didn't figure it out until I looked it up back in Ostroh. Can you guess? I'll give you a hint in white if you like, it's the flag of a very close-by "country." The answer will be at the bottom of the page.

"I crossed six lanes of traffic and two trolley tracks with the aid of a traffic light, which was observed by some drivers - unfortunately not the ones driving the rather imposing SCANIA trucks. I walked under an overpass and around a few blocks, got a hunch that I was going in the wrong direction, and so I abandoned my northward journey and headed east and south. I was about to walk all the way towards another street that caught my attention, but then I found a passageway into the flea market under the aforementioned highway, and my curiosity led me back there. I thumbed through some DVDs, but nothing looked like it had anything for English speakers (as usual), and so I decided to walk under the elevated road for a short piece, until I got to that eye-catching street.

"I probably should have noticed that the only locals traversing this piece were doing so on scooters. I saw two very aggressive dogs – I tried to ignore them, but I probably blinked the wrong way or something – and before I knew it I was almost running back to the flea market, punctuating my retreat with defensive kicks towards the dogs in question. Once I got back among the people they eased off, allowing me to relish in the stares I was getting. Now they all knew I was a foreigner. Hey, if someone invents an invisible camera bag, can you give me a heads-up? So I smiled and blushed my way on out of there and reached the sensible route with my heart still pulsing like a rotary-dial phone..."

"Crossing this bridge was an adventure in itself. For one thing, it offered an interesting panoramic view of the shipping piers and my first real look at the Black Sea; for another, it was covered with persistent Gypsies that could walk faster than I could walk and take pictures. I steadfastly ignored them, not even making eye contact, nor even flinching when they touched me, tapped on my shoulder, or tugged at my clothes. These gypsies are like spiny shells in Mario Kart – they’ll follow you anywhere; right back to your hotel if they think you’ll give in..."

Right: Statue of Duc de Richelieu, daytime.

Potemkin Stairs, daytime. Background: Odesa Passenger Seaport.

And, if you can't take the stairs, there's a funicular!

"The basic principle of funicular operation is that two cars are attached to each other by a cable, which runs through a pulley at the top of the incline. Counterbalancing of the two cars, with one ascending and one descending the slope — especially when transporting similar loads, such as passengers — minimizes the energy needed to lift the ascending car." - Wikipedia

It's true - when you're going up, you can't see the landings, only steps. When you're going down, you can't see the steps, only the landings.

"Sea Station"

The atriums contain an art gallery, but it was closed for lunch when I was passing though.

Now that's a cruise ship!

Inside the Odessa Sea Passenger Terminal

"My curiosity led me into the boat station, where I found a guy walking down the stairs wearing a Nova Scotia ballcap! I ran after him and asked him where he got the hat.

"He was a really nice Turkish fellow. He told me he got the hat while he was working on a cruise ship that was docked in Victoria, BC. (Sure, that’s like getting a New York souvenir in Los Angeles, but hey.) However, there was a purpose, as he was going to be in Nova Scotia on a different ship in 2006. (Incidentally, he thought that I was working on the Holland America ship currently docked. Right now he was working on the Maxim Gorky, docked on the opposite side of the pier.) We exchanged e-mail addresses and happily parted."

After having climbed up into this quiet neighbourhood, I was able to return to following the coastline south...

Odesa had more than its share of run-down amusement parks...

... but anyone tempted to jump the fence and look around ought to reconsider.

The Odesa Dolphinarium

At last, the Black Sea!

Enthused Step, Odesa, Ukraine.

"That picture was taken with the “No Friends Technique” (patent-pending), in which I pat down some sand to make a hard spot which will support my little mini-tripod. The funny part is that none of the locals were giving me any undue stares. I guess they’re kind of used to strange tourists. I encountered another guy who was probably used to tourists further down the beach. I saw him get out of the water and start lifting concrete blocks. The guy was built. I gestured to my camera bag, and he set down his block and got ready to take a picture of me. Ha-ha, no, I indicated that I want a picture of him, and he humbly declined. So I kept walking."

This park was a relief after the tackiness of the beach. This was also my first sighting of recreational cyclists in Ukraine.

Ha-ha, they have to say "Topless-Plyajhe."

Oh, nuts.

It was October, and of course the beach was empty. I mean, not like I checked, you know, I just assumed - um... But wow, I mean... the sheer tackiness of the whole thing just blew me away.

Now there's a way to keep people off your roof!

"After some time (the sun was setting by now), I found a huge sand cliff at a point. Instead of sticking to the lanes, I climbed the cliffs, just to see what was on top...

"I wandered and wandered, probably going places that few travellers went. I don’t know. But my premonition about the easy way up certainly came true – I found a street and then another (more ornamental) park at the same elevation...

"But to get down from this park, after having a “I’ll never forget this, ever,” moment and staring into the dark blue expanse, I climbed down the edge of the cliff again. Why? Well, the park came to such an uncertain end that I didn’t know where else to go but back to the multi-use trail, a few hundred feet below me. I also didn’t want to take chances with the dogs I could hear (but not see) seemingly just a few metres in front of me.

"So I picked my way down and emerged from a pile of garbage and nonchalantly strolled past a group of older men and back onto the trail. Ah, relief!"

"Eventually I came to Arcadia, Odessa’s most popular and famous beach area – unfortunately, it was getting dark at this time, so I didn’t get to see much. Some dogs chased me again, right in the middle of a crowd – maybe I was unknowingly wearing cat-scented deodorant or something. These Odessa dogs on the whole have been a lot more aggressive (and often much larger) than the Ostroh dogs – in any case, I feel like I can handle just about any dog situation in Canada now. However, I’m still generally a bit afraid of dogs. Ironically, that’s my animal sign in Chinese Astrology."

"I walked up a darkening pedestrian boulevard and hopped on a tram that promised a ride to the bus station back in downtown Odessa, which I knew to be but a few blocks from my hotel. I rode for an hour, and why didn’t I get off when all the youngsters got off, which was probably downtown? No, I stayed on until the end, and ended up in the sketchiest part of town imaginable. At night. And lost. Uh…

"Well, at least I knew better than to haul my map out in public, and I certainly wasn’t going to ask anyone on the street in that area for directions. Luckily, I found a nice little convenience store where Ukrainian was spoken by the proprietress and the customers, and so I was able to get my bearings. Unfortunately, they couldn’t point out where I was on my map, and neither could anyone at the next store I found (well, they did point out a place, but when I finally got back to the hotel and figured out where I had been, I discovered they were about ten blocks off – heck, at first they were pointing to and reading the streets in an entirely different raion (municipality), which really freaked me out)… much to my relief, I eventually found something familiar, and I was home again and generally astounded at how I could get lost such a short distance from the centre of town.

"Of course, it wasn’t exactly helping that many of the street names had changed since Independence, which is fine as far as my map goes, because it has all the updated names – except that many of the buildings at the street corners still sport the old names. Also, nobody understood me when I asked what the names of the streets were, because I was asking in Ukrainian.

"On that note, the State Tourism Administration of Ukraine’s official tourist map of Odessa has the following diplomatic comment about language: “Ukrainian is the state language of Ukraine. The majority of citizens of Odessa can also speak Russian.” I told Olexi about this, and he laughed, “In reality, only Russian!”

"Still, Odessa is a porto franco, with its own life and its own rules. All the time I walked, I was struck by the reality that Odessa is not spiritually connected to Ukraine. The Ukrainian flag flies in the city, and a few advertisements are in Ukrainian, but that’s about it. But Odessa isn’t Russian, either. It’s nobody’s. It’s the quintessential free port."

The story of how we wandered around looking for food and ended up sitting for an hour inside a restaurant before they finally told us that the kitchen had closed for the night would fit in here, but let's leave that for the curious.

Day Three...

In the lounge at the train station.

"Day Three was more subdued and Odessa was cold and grey. We took our things to the train station, and Shelley got her ticket to Rivne. We were sitting on the couch in the lounge for a few minutes, and we got to talking about our previous exchanges. I've been telling people about mine in bits and pieces when there's occaision to, but I've only treated one person (Heidi in the other CWY group) to a blow-by-blow rendition.

"Shelley looked at me after picking up a few more details and said, "Wow, I knew your exchange was f****d, I didn't know it was FUBAR." Really, that about says it. When Vlad was here before mid-project and telling us stories, Lee asked him, "What's the craziest experience you've had last year?" Vlad just looked at me with a huge grin. I really want to thank Jen for helping to give me an inexhaustible supply of anecdotes."

The Philharmonic Society

Could this be warchalking?

Some of the (stupidly-spent) wealth displayed in Odesa is, quite frankly, nauseating.

This pizza place was an improvement; we actually got to eat here:

"After the art gallery we went out for pizza ("Pan Pizza") and actually got served this time (tip: if you want slow service in some Odessan restaurants, speak Ukrainian), but this was more of a street place, and my lukewarm, slightly bland pizza just wasn’t worth the 30UAH ($7.25) I forked over for it. That was the most I’d spent on a single item of food since I’d come to Ukraine, and I guess the experience taught me that I need to spend more wisely. Okay, sure, $7 doesn’t sound like much, but that can buy a lot here if you’re savvy. However, this place did have an English menu, of note because it was the best-translated English menu I’ve seen in Ukraine."

"The train trip back to Rivne was uneventful. Our companions didn’t speak English, though they spent almost the duration of the trip talking about their experiences dealing with English speakers. At 7:15am I got a gentle touch on the foot by a cabin attendant, and so I got up and got ready – and at 7:30am, we pulled into Zdolbuniv. Of course, I thought it was Rivne – why else would he have woke me up earlier than I had set my alarm? So I told Shelley it was probably Rivne, and so we rushed and tore and it ended with the attendants laughing their heads off at us.

"We finally hit Rivne, and getting out was easy – we found a nice cab driver who understood our Ukrainian and took us to the marshutke gathering place. We found one to Ostroh ready to go! We were also lucky as far as our stuff was concerned – we just put it in the very back of the aisle against the back window, and it didn’t get in anyone’s way. This was a huge stroke of luck because by the time we got through Zdolbuniv, there were probably twenty people standing in the aisle, and this vehicle really isn’t all that much longer than a big pick-up truck. In fact, it may even be shorter.

"We could have gotten off the train at a station closer to Ostroh, but I didn’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere at seven in the morning looking for a way back into Ostroh. As things often go here, I find it much easier to go with what I know. Sure, in Canada I play around with my transportation options all the time. Maybe there’s something about the language and cultural barriers that makes me less creative. =)"

(And, for those wanting to know the answer to the licence plate question, here's a Wikipedia link to the country that issued it.)

return to Ukraine Canada Corps exchange, and other travels