So we've been in Odessa for about five months now. We arrived to deep snow and a frozen sea, and now the sun has most definitely got his hat on, the beach bars and restaurants are open and buzzing and the city centre is packed with street bars. The situation the east of Ukraine remains violent with constant deadly clashes between the separatists and the government troops, but bar the tragic events of 2nd May, Odessa remains peaceful. Locals here of both sides seem genuinely horrified by what happened on 2nd May and just want to get on with enjoying the summer.
But this is not to be a blog about politics. Not because we feel it is not important, but because it is not part of our day to day life here. We follow the news reports on the situation in the east, and followed the election of the new president, but that happens in the background. Day to day life goes on as normal: go to work, teach students, talk about an assortment of topics from globalisation to cosmetic surgery, correct some verbs, go home, eat, sleep and go out at the weekend.
No, this blog is to be about some trips we've been on from Odessa recently.
The first was organised by work, to Vosnesensk region to visit Aktovski Canyon (or it might have been Arbuzinsky, or both) and Balastnoe lake. There was a waterfall and a forest too but I don't know the names. I apologise if those names are spelt wrong, but it's transcribed from the Russian and I had to look it up on Google because, as the whole trip was organised by the Ukrainian staff at work, we didn't actually know where we were. I tried to look it up but there seems to be many forests and waterfalls in the region and who knows which we went to. Except perhaps the driver and guide. I assume they did.
This region seems to be a popular daytrip from Odessa, but it was four hours there and four hours back, which wouldn't be considered for a daytrip back home. Having said that, the roads in Ukraine are pretty awful - one track highways full of potholes - so travel is quite slow. It's probably only about 100 km. It just seems far.
looks quite like the Yorkshire Dales with lots of hills and rocky outcrops. Ukraine is an incredibly flat country, with the exception of Crimea (and is that Ukraine now?) and the Carpathian mountains. Have you seen the Top Gear Ukraine special where they drive along long flat roads with nothing to see. It's mostly like that. So, you can understand why this region of rocky outcrops and canyons is quite special. The canyon was our first stop and we walked down to the river at the bottom. It's called Devil's Canyon for some reason. I've forgotten why. There were a lot of stories from our very knowledgeable guides, but they were all in Russian so most of the time we just stood there, trying to look interested while not understanding a word. Very British of us. Sometimes one of our English speaking colleagues would translate a story for us. There are some rocks at the bottom that apparently give you special strength, and I had to have my picture taken between two rocks that apparently grant you a wish. I'm not telling you what I wished for but it hasn't come true yet.
The last stop was at the
lake, where we had a couple of hours free time to relax and then we were served shashlik. This is very, very popular in Ukraine. Well, in Odessa anyway. It's basically BBQ meat. Usually kebabs, but this was pork steak. There was salad, and bottles of white and red Ukrainian wine, which we all enjoyed by the side of the lake on a long table. After dinner we took the rest of the wine to the side of another lake to finish before the long journey back.
Our second trip was organised by a woman we know who works at the Romanian Consul here. She found it on the Odessa Today
website. Again it was a small group tour in a minibus, where we picked up a guide when we arrived. This time the other participants were unknown to us at the beginning, but they were very friendly and welcoming and some of them spoke English. About 2 hours away by minibus, this is a spit of sand with the Black Sea on one side and an estuary on the other. It's a nature reserve because of all the rare plants, and there are lots of small
lakes dotted about it, both salt and fresh-water.
The minibus stopped and we got out and into a small boat, the sort used to transport coal or wood with a deep hold at the front. We sat in the hold, unable to see anything as we were driven across the water. There we got out and into a monster truck, like a minibus on steroids. This was necessary because for a lot of the trip around the Spit, there were no roads, only tracks. I probably shouldn't leave talking about monster trucks without promoting my friends' blog JFDI Overland,
because they are driving from Canada to South America in their very own monster truck. Check it out.
Our first stop here was in the reserve, where our guide took us on a hike into some woodland. There, as we all got slowly eaten alive by mosquitos, he started to tell the group about the wildlife. Again, this was in Russian so we didn't understand it, but at one point he opened his bag, which you might imagine would contain his lunch, and maybe a flask, but instead pulled out a small bag with a large turtle inside. Dipping his hand
into the pocket of the bag, he pulled out three baby turtles which he handed around the group. I guess these live in the area, because he released the little ones into a nearby pond. Then he pulled out another small bag, inside of which were two snakes, followed by a lemonade bottle with another snake inside. I expect the one in the bottle was dangerous somehow, but I don't know what species they were.
After a hike to the highest point on the Spit (about a meter above sea level), we were taken to a kind of animal sanctuary. I think it was the guide's house actually, and he kept these animals as a kind of mini farm. We were expecting some endemic animals, but there was a peacock, a camel, an emu, some mouflon sheep and a wolf. I was surprised to find out that the endemic one was actually the wolf, as they live in Ukraine and the guide told a story of a pack that live on the Spit. The wolf was clearly hand-reared, because it was just like a dog, rubbing up against the cage for a stroke.
After the trip around the
'sanctuary' it was lunchtime. We were serve fish, potatoes, bread and salad on a big long outdoor table, where we were drained of blood by the swarms of mosquitos which only seemed to eat once a week. This was accompanied with homemade 'vodka' (moonshine) with bits of herbs floating in it, and many toasts.
As you can imagine, the Spit has a lot of beaches, and since it's so difficult to get to, they are pretty empty and unspoilt. After lunch we were taken to one for a couple of hours relaxing. The sand is white, the sea is clear and there were the old tents of people escaping the city for the weekend. It was pretty much like a South East Asian beach. We found a little wooden hut with a bar inside (however remote, there's always a bar) and had a couple of cold beers in the sun. Perfect.
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