Published: June 30th 2008June 26th 2008
MAP OF ODESSA
At the Tram shop
Fixing a hole
We arrived at the Bus station after sitting 5 hours on a Rackety bus. If I ever drop the big one on the Lottery I will give the Moldovan Government 1 million Euros to tarmac the road from Chisinau to Odessa, the roads has more pot holes in them than the surface of the moon.
We had 5 hours or so to kill before our train to Kharkiv was due to depart. Our Travel mission was to visit Kharkiv and Dnepropetrovsk, both cities are located in eastern Ukraine and are rarely visited by tourists.
We walked from the station towards the centre, after ducking into a bank to get some Hrivnas, as we passed the Passazh hotel my memories came flooding back of when Marina and I and my buddy Jeff staid there 3 years ago.
All You Need Is Love
We three had had been travelling around Moldova, Romania and Ukraine. Odessa was our last night before our flight home the next day. Marina had started off as our tour guide but a after a few days or so we had became an item and Jeff had become a serious Gooseberry.
Get me a boat out of here
a beautiful city by the sea; tall trees shade the cobblestone boulevards and the decorated palaces-turned-museums. As a former Soviet playland, Odessa also comes equipped with all the cheap amusements characteristic of seaside towns: Jewellery stands, ponies, street clowns, balloon sellers and dancing monkeys.
With the sun on our faces it really did feel like we were finally on holiday for the first time on this whole trip.
Jeff had made a girlfriend via the internet, Marina phoned her and made arrangements to meet us in the evening at the hotel. Her name was Natasha, late thirties, dyed blond hair and could speak very little English.
She took us to the most expensive restaurant in town which had a live band on. I believe I even got up dancing with Marina. I did not even baulk at the amount on the bill when it arrived (that’s what being in love does to you). I paid it with a smile on my face and shrug of the shoulders. Afterwards we went for a moonlight stroll around the seaport, Jeff and his new scammer girlfriend walking ahead of us. It was nice to ditch our chaperone for a while and saver the
Welcome to the Glass House
moment. We left Jeff and Natasha to it and made our back to our hotel. There was no holiday romance sadly for Jeff who woke me up at 3am banging on the hotel door, alone with a heavy head and empty wallet.
We made our way to the Potemtin Stairs. Usually Cities are known for their towers, statues, or buildings but Odessa is best known for the Massive stone descent from Primorsky Boulevard to the pier. There are 192 uneven granite steps.
Happiness Is A Warm Gun
Most people will recognise the Potemkin Stairs from Sergei Eisenstein’s classic film “The Battleship Potemkin”. In June 1905, sailors mutinied and took control of the battleship. Already in Odessa the worker’s movement had been leading a massive strike for over 2 weeks. The leader of rebellion had been shot and his body was laid at the foot of steps. Thousands came to pay their respects and support the sailors uprising. Then the tsarist troops descended the stairs, firing on the crowds below, while the people fled or jumped into the sea. Around 2000 people died.
Do You Want To Know A Secret
After walking down the stairs we strolled
I wonder if they on ocean drive
along the pier where the big ugly Hotel Odessa is situated, I marvelled at the how they could build some thing so awful and out of place of it surroundings, still I wish I could afford to stay there rather than somewhere like “Black sea Backpackers Hostel” which is run by an eccentric Aussie millionaire called Kerry, apparently if anyone else opens an hostel in the city he will cut his prices by half and in this way he can put them out of business. A friend of mine stayed there and he reckons that Kerry is a bit dodgy he only employs beautiful young girls; the girls get fired if they don’t act according to his will and he has demands practically written in the contract. He sounds to me that this is what Benny Hill would have done if had retired from showbiz instead of dying.
I Just Don't Understand
As we stood at the end of the Pier I pointed out to Marina the Lighthouse on the other side of the harbour and said “Did you know a man lives in there with wife and kids?” “Really” Marina answered sounding very bored. “Yeah
On the Train to Kharkiv
First Class all the way
they are The Lighthouse Family” “eh what is Lighthouse family? I explained to her that they was a 8o’s group that had hits with songs like “Lifted” I then sang some of the words which that I knew “Oh lifted, we could be Lifted from shadows” I got a few strange looks from bemused onlookers.
I did this gag 3 years ago when Jeff and I and Marina took a boat trip around the harbour. I remember it so well because it was only time that Jeff had laughed at one my gags; usually he shakes his head and pulls a face.
Instead of walking back up the steps we took the funicular railway to the top of the stairs and made our to the train station.
With A Little Help From My Friends
We boarded our Train to Kharkiv; I was overjoyed when I enter our first class compartment that we had a TV. We watched “True Romance” after about 1 hour the sound went very low not that it made much difference to me as it dubbed into Russia.
So 15 hours later we arrived and exited our train. We waited on the
Our Host's home
Platform to be met by our host in Kharkiv. I had got in touch with her from Hospitality club website; she offered us a spare room in her apartment for free. I love that word “free”.
As we waited for her we played a game of guessing which girl was Victoria our host to be, it was a tough game as there was lots young girls waiting alone. Marina went up to a few of them but had no luck.
I took my baseball hat off and then Victoria made herself known, she had recognised my bald head from photo on the website.
Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second largest city and is home to 2 million people (all who seem to be crammed on the underground) It is only 20 miles to Russian border.
Famous writer Vitali Vitaliev and one time TV present (he was on the Clive James show back in the 80s) was born and grew up in Kharkiv.
She led us out of the station, into the underground.
Magical Mystery Tour
We caught the metro for one stop and we changed trains, 7 stops later we exited at Studentska, then we caught a Marshruka taxi. Marshruka
taxis are private Minibuses which run maze-like around the cities of eastern Europe, they get packed very quickly and most times you have stand up, when it comes to your stop you are sat near the back then you have fight your way to the front to get off. They are definitely not for the claustrophobic. The good news they cost only about 7p to go any distance in the city.
Victoria’s flat was located in the Saltovka area of the city; it is like a city in city. A concrete hellhole with rows and rows of soul-less apartment blocks. It is home to 600.000 inhabitants, hundreds of glowing kitchen windows sitting one atop of each other.
Tell Me What You See
Her father greeted us at the door when we enter the apartment I shook his hand and smelt fish. The apartment was filthy, the kitchen sink was full of days old washing up, and the table cloth was dirty and as for the toilet, phew what a sink of piss. I have smelt some evil smelling bus station toilets on our trips and this was on par with them.
While Marina was chatting with our hosts
I sat on our sofa bed with head in my hands feeling tired and sweaty.
Marina then came into the room and said “oh there no hot water”
Staying at Hospitality club members accommodation is bit like pot luck as in you never know quite know what you get. Last time we used Hospitality club was when we stayed in Lviv. We stayed at fantastic Apartment. Victoria had to go work and she arranged to meet us later in the city. Marina was desperate for a shower but did fancy a cold one. I told Marina “When the going gets tough-the tough go sightseeing!”
We walked down Sumskaya which is the oldest and most central street in the city. The Impressive Opera house and mirrored fountain are easy on the eye. There was a light rain falling and all looked dismal and gloomy. I was struggling to find enthusiasm for this city.
The reason why we were in Kharkiv was to deliver a parcel to a friend of Marina’s sister. Marina’s friend who lives in Manchester had heard that we was thinking of travelling to her home town city and asked me to take some stuff (
a handbag, a couple boxes of chocolates and 200 Hrivnas) So now we had a reason to go there.
Please Mr Postman
I felt a little better when we found some green space, the Shevchenko gardens were pretty to look at now the rain had stopped. We walked though the park and arrived at Ploschad Svobody (square of freedom) which is the largest in the former Soviet Union after red square. We crossed the open cobblestones space to the imposing statue of Lenin with his arm outstretched (still trying to flag a cab down after all these years)
Ira was waiting for us at the statue, we then went to a restaurant.
She did not seem very happy with the gifts, I don’t think I seen her smile at all, Even when I took a photo her and Marina together. I felt saying “Listen here luv, I have travelled thousands of miles to get your bloody awful city, we staying in some hellhole miles from the city, which has no hot water, and you could at least pretend to be happy at meeting us”.
After about 30 minutes or so, Smiler made her excuses and
left. I think I saw a half smile as said goodbye.
We went to train station for tickets for tomorrow. I told Marina to get the earliest tickets available to get the hell out of here. There were no tickets available for tomorrow, so we went to the Bus Station and got tickets for the 7.am bus.
It started raining again so we caught the metro to an internet café.
Bleep bleep went my phone, it was msg from Victoria, she had finished work and wanted to meet us. After about 4 or 5 texts she finally found us. She wanted to show around but we already seen everything worth seeing. So again we walked the rain sodden streets, I was tired and miserable, and I wanted to go back to the room and read my book and go to sleep, wake up and get on that bus.
I'm So Tired
We went in a buffet style restaurant, we paid for her meal. I ate my meal, drank my beer and I went downstairs and outside for a smoke (this was one of the few none smoking restaurants)
Victoria must be the slowest eater
in the world in the world, it was as if it was her last meal on death row and she was making it last to live a bit longer. I was dropping broad hints that she should hurry and finish her meal. I was constantly looking at my watch and saying to Marina “I want to go now”.
After what seem like a life time we exited the restaurant we made the long journey to her flat, on the way back we bought some meat and cheese and bread for Sandwiches tomorrow.
We got a cab at 6am, after a few minutes, I asked Marina if she remembered to take the sandwiches from the fridge but she had forgotten them. “Shall we go back for them?” I suggested. “No way!” was the answer and she was right best to keep moving and get as much distant from that flat as possible.
I love travelling by car though the downtown of cities, early morning when they are empty of transport, peace and serene. With the sun shining now Kharkiv did not look that bad, still I was glad we moving on to Dnepetrovsk.
Not option A
I got the bill its not small time
five hours journey was pleasant enough but because the buses don’t have toilets they stop every hour or so. The toilets at the bus station in some small town are always absolutely horrid, stinking of piss and shit, most are just a hole in the ground. You have to get in quick and out quick and to try not to breathe in.
Accommodation wise, we had 3 choices:
A. Stay with Natalya from hospitality club. She lived close to the city centre.
B. Autovokzal. Which is a 1 star hotel located at the bus station. Brandt guide said about it “for US$10 you can a room to yourself and a good wash”
C. Hotel Dnipropetrovsk. A middle range hotel located on the river front close to the city centre. A twin room cost £48 per night, that was the most expensive choice but the room did have a bath and hopefully hot water.
My initial instinct was to go with option A but when I read her profile carefully I noticed it said “We are a small family: Parents with baby (born 10-1-2008) and live in a small flat. I shown it to Marina and she said “No way are
View from our Balcony
we staying there” I guess she was right. We did need some privacy and a wash.
Marina rang up Autovokzal and the Hotel from the bus station in Kharkiv while we waited for the bus.
There was no answer from Autovokzal but managed to book us a room in the Dnipropetrovsk.
Autovokzal sounded good to me, close to the bus station and cheap.
Don't Let Me Down
After arriving at the bus station we spent about 20 minutes searching for the hotel but to my bitter disappointment I discovered that it was now closed down.
The actual hotel was located on top of the bus station; I looked up at the windows with the half drawn curtains in state of disrepair. I thought to myself “Thank you very much Mr Brandt….you bastard”
We caught a tram to the centre and then walked to Hotel Dnipropetrovsk. Our room was on the 11th floor; from our balcony we had fantastic views of the Dnieper River and Bridges. The first thing I did was have a long hot soak in the batch which was designed for a midget.
After some time spent bathing and relaxing we were both were hunger and
headed to the restaurant opposite our hotel.
Here Comes The Sun
After a quick bowl of salanka, we strolled along the embankment, the sun was shining and all was good in the world. I felt invigorated and full of optimism, especially after yesterday’s damp squib.
First on the sightseeing agenda was Monastyky Island. It is one of the more interesting places to visit in the city. Byzantine monks based a monastery here back in the middle ages.
As we climbed the stairs that led to the footbridge to the island, I noticed that the railings were full of padlocks. I studied them more closely and they had things like Olga + Ivan engraved on them, the whole of the bridge was festooned with them.
Day In The Life
Marina explained to me that it was very recent tradition in Ukraine. It is supposed to indicate a couple being in love forever. Once the padlock is locked the key is tossed away. (The Dnepr must full of keys) Talk about ball and chain!
I told Marina that we should open up a stall at the bottom of the footbridge selling Padlocks and doing Engraving work and
St Nicholas church
this time next year we would be millionaires.
We checked out St Nicolas Church and strolled down to the beach. I took off my socks and shoes, rolled up my trousers and wadded out into the river, man it was f**king cold.
A Taste Of Honey
We exited the island and walked up the hill which leads into Taras Shevcenko Park. It is beautiful tree filled park with many locals chilling out and playing dominoes. We crossed a main road and then into October Park which led to the History of Museum which is situated on the main street “Karla Marksa.” Outside of the museum are Tanks, anti-aircraft guns and armoured cars from WW2.
We strolled down Karl Marksa back into the centre. We were both famished after our long walk. I was hoping to find a decent a restaurant that served nice juicy steaks.
As we neared the end of the boulevard we had found nothing. As I looked at the menu in the window of TGI Fridays, I got talking to guy and asked him to recommend a good place for a nosh but not too expensive. He told us about a German restaurant back the
way we had came. It was situated on Komsomolska not far from Karla Marksa.
We found seats in the “Strasse”. It was packed full of locals (which is always a good sign) the service was excellent and we were soon supping cold beers. The food was very good and I got my steak.
I browsed one of the leaflets on our table and I noticed an advertisement for the “Bartolomeo Restaurent. We tried to find it before when we was walking earlier but we had no luck I just assumed that it had closed down. The Brandt guide said about it: Bartolomeo takes the cake when it comes to post-soviet splendour gone completely mad. Dedicated to the concept of the first explorers, the life-size 15th century ship and surrounding complex is “not a restaurant, not a club, not a hotel, but a whole world”. Besides the various restaurants, there is a yacht club, Russian bathhouse, tennis courts, children’s zoo, casino and a rowdy night club.
“Let’s go now, we can take a taxi there” I said. But Marina did not want to go, she said she felt tired and wanted to go back to hotel and
suggested I go alone.
After 20 minutes of begging and pleading she finally succumb to my wishes. We settled the bill, exited the restaurant and flagged a taxi down.
It was an amazingly place, with many people milling around. We were spoilt for choice as to where to have a drink. I picked the “Revolution Bar/Restaurant” that was perched on the hillside; it was shaped like a Flying saucer and looked amazingly. We got the lift up to the near empty restaurant found a table. The panoramic views of the river and the city were fantastic. I drank a couple of more beers and then vodka, Marina was drinking coke.
You're Going To Lose That Girl
We started having a crazy argument about WW2. I said that England had won the war on there own and Marina was insisting that it Russia who beat the Nazis. After about 20 minutes of the silly argument my head was spinning and I was feeling sick. I went to toilet and puked up all over in the cubicle, I felt awful. I sat on the toilet seat for a while trying to regain my composure. When I came back in the
Wheres the Party
room Marina had moved to a different table, not that far away, but to a different one all the same. She had taken the drinks and our belongings with her. I was not feeling sick anymore but confused of why she had changed tables.
Fool On The Hill
I sat down with her; she did even look at me. I said, bit too draughty over there? Too near the kitchens? “What are you talking about “said Marina “What do you think I am talking about” I replied. She then said “I have no idea now drink up” boy was she pissed with me. She was sulking and would not speak to me. After about 20 minutes of total silence I was sweating and feeling very hot. I went to the toilet and took a piss and then put my head in the sink and poured called water on my head, ignoring the strange looks of customers coming in and out, I needed to sober up and patch things up. After 10 minutes or so I emerged back into the room and to my utter astonishment Marina had changed tables again (she was near the bar now). What the
hell was going on? What was Marina playing at? I am cracking up? I felt quite sober now and I sure I was not imagining that she was changing tables. I sat down with Marina and apologized for my stupidity of my comments about the war and said that we beat the Germans together with good teamwork. Marina attitude to me soften and we kissed and made up. I said remember what Basil Fawlty Said “Don’t mention the war” Marina was smiling now. I then said to her that there was table in the corner that you have not tried yet. She had a puzzled looked on her face and she said “are you still drunk?”
“Marina you know I love you what is with the F**king tables, why do you keep moving?”
“It’s a revolving restaurant, Kris”
“It’s a revolving restaurant. I haven’t moved tables. The restaurant has just revolved”
“Oh right you could have told me”
Marina laughed long and hard about my error for rest of the evening. It was not the Revolution Bar but the Revolving Bar.
The Long And Winding Road
The next day we planned to spend the day at the
beach but it was raining so we went to plan B which was to go to the History Museum and see the Diorama which is an impressive painting/model of the WW2 defence of the Dnepr River. We then caught a tram into the city and went into the brand spanking new shopping centre (to avoid the rain) we were on mission to buy travel pillows because we had an epic journey coming up. We found them easily. At 6pm today we would take a bus to Chisinau, it would take at least 12 hours; I was not looking forward to the trip.
The Shopping centre was big and impressive it even had a ice skating rink on the top floor, I was thinking about doing a bit of skating but soon changed my mind when I saw how good all the kids was. I would be the only hapless fool falling all over the place.
We bought some stuff for sandwiches and went back to the hotel to chill out.
At 5pm we caught a Marshruka to the bus station, we went in the bar and drank a stella each.
Travelling on an overnight bus and trying to sleep should be an Olympic sport. I tried various creative sleeping positions but nothing seem to work, where as Marina found some empty seats at the front of the bus and sprawled out and slept like a baby. I had to endure long hours of uncomfortable sitting in my cramped space. The middle age guy behind me never shut up yapping, Marina told me that he was trying to chat up the woman next to him.
13 hours and 5 minutes later we arrived back in Chisinau. We had good fortunate as the bus past through Marina’s neighbourhood. As we walked through the waste ground in the sunshine towards Andy’s pizza for an English breakfast. I felt light-headed and giddy; boy was I looking forward to a nice long sleep.