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Published: March 1st 2011
At the train station and ready to go at 6:00am!
Imagine the antique trains you can tour and snap pictures of at old historic train station museums...that's the train that we took last weekend from Chisinau, Moldova to Odesa, Ukraine. On the way there we had padded seats, a table for our snacks and coffee, and NO heat. We rode for five hours in our coats, sipping from our thermos of hot coffee and walking the length of our train car to keep feeling in our toes. On the way home three days later, on the same train we had wooden park-bench seats, limited tables, and a raging coal-stoked fire that kept our car at a cozy 85 degrees F. You really never know what you're going to get over here in Eastern Europe, that's why we live by the golden rule: "Always dress in layers"!
At one stop, a friendly stray pup boarded the train and ran around our car for a while before the conductor coaxed him off the train with food. I got the impression that this little furry friend was a regular and had come to expect these tasty hand-outs if he was quick enough to jump aboard each time the train stopped!
Having never taken
Chisinau train station
the train out of Chisinau before, we arrived early at the train station. We were a bit nervous about traveling through the region known as "Transnistria".
Transnistria is a "break away state" that calls itself a country, but is not recognized as a country by the rest of the world. It's not necessarily dangerous, but we had heard rumors that customs agents may give us a hard time, not letting us cross the boarder, or expecting bribes. Happily, we passed all three customs checkpoints: Moldova, Transnistria, and Ukraine, without any problems!
Odessa was frozen and snowy, but still plenty to do and see. One thing to get used to: no Romanian or Latin alphabet,. Everything was in Russian and Cyrillic. I realized that you can learn to read Cyrillic pretty quickly when you have to! By the end of the trip I was sounding out words like "ресторан" (restaurant), "кофе" (cafe) and "отель" (hotel).
A few highlights of the trip for me...
Well, Obviously the Train Ride!
Can you tell that riding on a train is novel to me? 😊
Seeing the Black Sea for the First Time
. It was so cold and windy the day we
The train was so much fun despite the fact that our car was not heated.
walked to the coast, but I had to get a closer look, so we braved the arctic temperatures and walked out onto a pier. What surprised me was that it was frozen a pretty good way out. You could see paths through the ice where big shipping freights had plowed through, but were already beginning to freeze over again. Impressive to see such a huge and COLD body of water (although I guess it didn't look to different from Lake Michigan in the winter!)
The Quirky Places we Stayed
. The first night we spent at a seedy little place outside of town. The hotel had about three people on staff, all juggling the role of receptionist, housekeeper, bartender, and fire-stoker for the sauna. That's right, we had a sauna! Despite the excellent sauna, we wanted to be closer to the center of town (it was a 30 minute ride to downtown).
Thanks to our trusty Lonley Planet guide book, which so far has not failed us on recommendations, we found the "Passage" Hotel. It's an OLD building that has been renovated, but still has all its original charms like a cage elevator, red and pink marble walls, wide banistered
A lonely and deserted looking train stop somewhere in Transnistria.
marble staircases, and old Persian rugs. I LOVED this place! It was like stepping back in time. The airy rooms with soaring ceilings and antique radiators, were a tad chilly. However, for the price of $40 a night, we got a space heater delivered to our room, which promptly joined us in bed!
. Odesa is a very old city with lots of history. Before becoming part of the Russian Empire, it was first a part of the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire, and the Golden Horde. A bit of history I found interesting (compliments of Lonley Planet), Odesa was a haven to persecuted Jews in the early 20th century. They accounted for one-third of the city's population (hence, all the delicious Jewish food). However, when they suffered the same persecution in Odesa, many emigrated to America, settling in Brooklyn's Brighten Beach, now known as "Little Odessa".
. The story goes that the bridge was built on order of a communist official so that his wife's mother could get home easily and safely at night. The otherwise plain and undecorated bridge is now covered with hundreds of padlocks, clasped to the bridge's railings. Each padlock bears
Odesa City Garden by night
names and dates, each representing a relationship of love. It is said that when the relationship ends, the lock is cut off. I prefer to think that all of those locks will stay there until the end of time. I found this bridge so romantically intriguing because there were SO many different kinds of locks: cheap, expensive, fancy, plain, brand new and some that looked to be 100s of years old. Just thinking about all the people who had locked them there as a declaration of their love was so romantic to me.
The last thing worth mentioning about Odesa...
The Ukrainian/Russian, Jewish, and German influences all mixed together resulted in some amazing eats! And because you know I love to talk about food, here are some favorites:
A slow roasted brisket served with red cabbage and spaetzle. Blinis filled with lox and cream cheese. Steamed mussels smothered in tomatoes and cheese. Handmade Ukrainian dumblings filled with meat and covered in a mushroom cream sauce (I know they were handmade right then and there because I got them 30 minutes after everyone else had eaten!) And, the obligatory sushi place found in every tourist town, that actually served
The first night in Odesa we found a fantastic Ukrainian/German brewhaus. Good beer and amazing food!
really good sushi! Don't worry, we also did LOTS of walking 😊
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