Saturday, August 13, 2011

Day 11: Odessa... Odessa!

As I think I said yesterday, I had a pretty slow start to the day. After dropping my bags at the hostel, my first mission was walking to the Potemkin Steps. It didn't give me the best impression of Odessa, as I quickly got, not lost, but entangled in a series of unattractive, traffic-choked streets around the port area. Odessa is still very much a working port, and, like the port in Auckland, it's not particularly attractive. It also doesn't have great street signs (better than Kiev though) and there seems to be very few places to cross the road, so you're always trying to dart between endless streams of traffic. While Kiev seems to have a classic, bustling, chaotic post-Soviet energy to it, and Lviv and Chernivtsi are replete with faded gentility, Odessa has an air of 'the New Ukraine' about it - it seems more moneyed and more capitalist somehow. While I can't say I'm a Ukraine expert now, of course, it has been good seeing some very different parts of the country. I'm having to get used to speaking (basic) Russian again too, just when I was finally remembering to say djakuju instead of spasibo, it's back the other way again. My guidebook says Odessan Russian is regarded as a 'comical, gangster dialect' by some - I'm in no position to judge, but I did notice when talking to the girl on the train last night that there is a bit of a different accent to standard Russian that even I can pick up on, so it must be pretty pronounced!

Statue of the founders of Odessa, topped by Catherine the Great, who ordered its foundation after the Russians conquered the area in 1789

The Odessa opera

When I finally stumbled across the Potemkin Steps, I seriously had to get out my guidebook to confirm that I was in the right place. Honestly, they're not that great-looking, especially coming upon them from the bottom. Very ordinary in appearance, and the bottom has been built over so they no longer run down to the sea, rather to a busy road. And I was most disappointed to see not a single child-wielding transvestite or runaway pram. (If you haven't been forced into a bit of Eisenstein in your day, here's the famous Potemkin Steps sequence: ).

The steps from the bottom...

...and the top

Me on the steps, not that you can really tell. And yes, I'm still in my clothes from the day before, this is before checking in!

At the top of the steps stands a statue of Richelieu, descendant of the cardinal, who was given the governorship of Odessa in 1803. He's responsible for the look of much of the city

After a spot of breakfast, blogging, and a shower, I decided it was time to hit the beach. It wasn't the absolute perfect beach weather, since there was a thin veil of cloud all day, but at least that kept temperatures down and made lying on the beach tolerable. As long as the weather's nice I don't think I'm going to do all that much more with my time here - a bit of exploring on the way to and from the beach, but I'm definitely ready for a bit of sea, sand and sun after being trapped in land-locked Tours. I think one afternoon on the beach last August is all I've had for as long as I can remember. (And, I know, I hardly ever bother going to the beach at home when there's tons of (not that great) options right on my doorstep, but it's different when you never get to see the sea.)

Again, finding the beach involved a lot of wandering around on ugly streets (and getting lost inside a sanitorium, not the type I should be locked up in, but an old-school Soviet-style health spa) , but I finally found it, yay! I must say, all the rumours I heard about Odessan beaches being filthy and standing-room only (literally, apparently the old way of sunbathing here is to do it standing up!) are much exaggerated. Yes, there may be a few too many cigarette butts, and I didn't go in the water, but they're not that bad, and there was plenty of space. Definitely better than the rubbish pile I photographed on the Kiev beach.

I don't know if it's black exactly, but definitely darker than on the Cote d'Azur, for example

In general, I think people like to make things out as harder than they are. The guy in the hostel at Chernivtsi went on and on about how going to Odessa was a mistake, it was all prostitutes and their Turkish johns, it was filthy, it was sleazy etc. etc. Not all that helpful when you've already got firm plans to visit. And, while I perhaps shouldn't speak too soon, my guidebook (while being quite positive on Odessa really) chimes in with making a trip to Ukraine seem like a perilous adventure. It's definitely not the first overseas trip you'd take, and you do need a knowledge of Cyrillic at a minimum and the ability to keep your wits about you, but honestly it's not that scary.

Other than the toilets, that is. While these are actually remarkably clean and toilety (as opposed to a hole in the ground) for Ukrainian public toilets, this girl needs doors! And I had to pay for the privilege of not using these things

Oh PS I tried some kvas - I had tried it already when I lived in Russia, but I had forgotten what it tasted like (other than 'odd'). Still odd-tasting, but it actually grew on me as I was drinking it and I finished the whole (small) glass. For those not in the know, kvas is made from old black bread, not the most tasty starting-point for a refreshing beverage. You can definitely taste the same sort of tangy molasses flavour that the bread has.

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