Ode to Odessa

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May 3rd 2013
Published: June 26th 2017
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Yalta to Odessa

By the time we awoke at 08:30 we had already docked in Odessa. The temperature was already in the high 60s. It was going to be another scorcher.

I don't know much about Odessa other than Michael Caine was involved with some files in the midst of the Cold War!!

Odessa was founded in the late 1700s by Catherine the Great after 4 foreigners in Russian Service met by chance on a Russian Military vessel. One of these men, the Duc de Richelieu convinced the Russian Empress to found the city. His statue now stands proudly at the top of the Potemkin steps, the 192-step staircase that runs from the port of Odessa up to the city.

Having researched the places we would be visiting prior to our trip, we had decided that today was a day we would be able to do our own thing. A guided tour won't be necessary thank you very much!! Everything, according to the map appears to be in walking distance. However, I never really checked the scale of the map so I may still be made to eat my words!

The local currency of Ukraine is called the Hryvnia. (pronounced Grivnia). Not the easiest of currencies to roll off the tongue. Even if they called it the Ukrainian rouble it would be more recognisable to most people.

After another crush free breakfast (most people had left with an excursion) we went shore side, passport in hand, through the pass kontrol. We were told to bring our passports yet again by the ship but we just followed the people in front, down some stairs, up an escalator and out in to the port concourse. A few immigration and customs officials were dotted around the transit hall but they all seemed to be avoiding eye contact. This is not how I remember my experience in the Soviet Union in 1985, of which the Ukraine used to be one of the 15 states. Then it was a very oppressive atmosphere with eyes that seem to follow you on every street corner. How things have changed. I thought better about asking to get my passport stamped in case the officer burst out crying and s/he had to sign off work for a week with stress until he/she could get some proper counselling!!!

On entering the concourse, the enormity of the Potemkin steps hit us head on. It was not a case of 'where do we go now'. The answer was staring us in the face. We didn't so much head towards the steps as were drawn there.

The Potemkin Steps, named after the rebellious battleship of the same name now has monument status. That's what I would like to see more of. Monuments with a practical purpose!!

We noticed that running alongside the steps is a funicular. This is for the lazy bastards who couldn't be arsed with a bit of exercise. (or mothers with pushchairs or pregnant ladies – but mainly lazy bastards!!) As the ride cost 2 Hryvnia and we were a bit short, we commenced the climb.

Half way up we were accosted by a man selling postcards. €2 would buy us a set of 10 sights from around the most beautiful parts of Odessa. A polite ‘No thank you' and a show of ‘talk to the hand', and the seller got the message moving swiftly on to the next unsuspecting tourist.

At the Duc de Richelieu's statue we decided to head straight on down Yekaterininskaya Street and past the monument to Catherine the Great. Here I found an ATM machine inside a bank. I noticed the MasterCard symbol on the screen which gave me hope. However, I didn't see the Union flag to indicate an English version of the on screen instructions. Nevertheless, I inserted my card and hoped for the best. As if by magic, the screen automatically changed to English. The transaction couldn't have gone any smoother. I keyed in £20. That should be enough for some refreshments and the odd tacky souvenir!!

We decided to cross over and head down another street to see where this would take us. Roisin happened to glace over across the street and noticed a statue of a Scotsman in a kilt. I looked across at the sign to this establishment. It read:

ЛИВО & ВИСКИ. The first word I translated as PIVO. From my time in Poland this was the first word I learned. It means Beer. I'm sure it's the same in Russian. The second word I translated as V-I-S-K-I. There are no prizes for guessing what this was. So add up the clues. Beer and Whiskey with a Scotsman outside. Yes, we had fallen upon a Scottish bar in the middle of Odessa. Tempting as it was, we declined the urge to venture in and continued on our quest.

At the end of the street with the unpronounceable name but I shall rename Scottish pub street we came to Sobornaya Square. This seemed to be busy so we headed across the square that had a park-like atmosphere with families out for a stroll and joggers with dogs as well as joggers wrapped up in the latest funky sounds from the West!! We sat down to study the man and have a well-earned drink of water.

I looked over my shoulder and ever the one for the photo opportunity saw the statue of a man sitting on a bench. Several tourists were around him taking photos. I have since learned that this is (was) Leonid Uteysov (sorry for anyone who has majored in Ukrainian Social and cultural affairs for the spelling!) He was a famous Soviet jazz singer and comic actor of Jewish origin who became the first pop singer to be awarded the prestigious title of Peoples Artist of the USSR in 1965.

At this stage as we crossed the square I mentioned to Roisin that I wonder where the chair is. I remember reading about a solitary chair in a park or square but can not remember where it was. Immediately Roisin said, ‘What, you mean like that one there?!' pointing to an opening about 10- metres away.

The chair is based upon a popular children's story called ‘12 chairs'. (snappy title!!). To cut a short story shorter (!), On her deathbed, the grandmother tells her family that the family jewellery had been hidden from the Bolsheviks in one of the twelve chairs from the family's dining room set. Those chairs, along with all other personal property, had been expropriated by the government after the Russian Revolution. A couple go to great lengths to find THE one of twelve chairs that contains treasure. After spending their lifetime finding the first eleven chairs, they finally find the twelth, one murders the other as so not to split the ‘booty'. However, the treasure had been found and been put to charitable use. THE END. Oh, and the bloke who murdered the other bloke ends up going insane…THE END

There are some morals to the story and many comparisons and similes with a touch of political satire thrown in but my message would be: ‘If you're going to stash some loot, don't let your Gran stash it in her best Chippendale!!!

We consulted the map in search of the Odessa opera house. The map was prepared by MSC and had a narrative to follow in order to arrive at specific attractions. Starting from the Duc de Richelieu monument we were instructed to turn right and follow Primorskiy Boulevard. This we did. We passed the Colonnade of Earl Vorontsov's palace, Tyoschin bridge (Mother-in-law bridge).We seemed to be walking away from the centre but persevered. 10 minutes later and the boulevard had shrunk into a glorified dirt path. We soon found ourselves in the middle of what looked like a council estate!!

‘Try to act less like a tourist and more like a local', I said to Roisin, popping my camera back in to my backpack.

‘добрый день', I said as I doffed my baseball cap to a passing mother steering a pushchair with one hand while holding tightly on to a small child with the other.

She repaid the compliment. ‘I think we got away with it!!' I remarked.

A few minutes later we appeared from out of an alley way on to Sofiaskaya Street just outside the Fine Arts Museum.

I located this on the map and also found the Opera House which was in completely the opposite direction than we had been instructed!

Within 20 minutes we were once again walking along Primorskiy Boulevard but in the right direction.

After a nice ice cream in the shade, we continued to the end of the Boulevard where there is a statue of Pushkin, one of Russia's finest literary minds, a great poet. He is said to be the founder of modern Russian literature.

The Opera house is situated less than a minute from the Pushkin monument. It is an impressive structure and is all I come to expect when I think of Russian pre revolution grandeur. It once echoed with concerts conducted by Peter Tchaikovsky and ballets with Anna Pavlova (think meringue cakes – yes! the very same!!) It is ranked in the same league as Milan's La Scala and Moscow's Bolshoi when it comes to the rich awnings and decorations in the style of Louis XVI.

On our way back to the ship, we were yet again accosted by the same postcard seller that we met earlier this morning. He was now offering 10 cards for €1!! He must be having a slow day. We still refused to be taken in by his patter and persuasion. Showing me the postcards isn't suddenly going to change my mind! When he realised we came from the UK and we didn't have any Euros on us (we did really!!) He wanted to know how many dollars in £50 sterling. When I told him, he then asked to change money by opening his wallet and showing us the contents. Her must have had hundreds of dollars as well as the same amount in Euros. Who says selling postcards doesn't pay. He obviously thinks it does!!

Well, that's about as far East as we go. After today we start making our way back west. You could say we are now officially on the way home.

Tonight was another formal night. This we did not expect as that means there are probably 3 formal nights on this trip rather than the expected 2. I am surprised to see a high proportion of men and women walking around in t-shirts and jeans and out of those who have dressed for the occasion, except for the waiters and bar staff, only myself and Mr Yokomoto were wearing bow ties. However, Mr Yokomoto, next time please lose the sports jacket!!

We met up with Mo and Peter for dinner. Mo told us about the official tour they went on today. It cost €54 and took them to the old town and the Opera house then the rest of the time was spent ‘shopping'. At no time were they more than 10 minute walk from the Potemkim Steps. The tour was titled ‘ Odessa city tour and shopping'. I advised Peter and Mo to be aware if any tours have ‘shopping' in the title. This normally means that they don't have enough stuff to fill the 4 hours so they drop you at a store or market to kill time. It is usually a market or store that they have a prior agreement with. Also, if the tour guide says that a store has been specially selected by the cruise company it usually means the prices are 3 times more expensive than ‘down the road'!!!

After dinner, in the dusk, Roisin and I were relaxing on the aft deck with coffee when suddenly I was aware of something moving fast in the water. Moments later another 2, then 3 more. The movement was swimming away from the ship in a fan-like pattern. They certainly weren't dolphins as we could not see a dorsal fin. I managed to capture 1 on camera before the fading light made it impossible. Could this be a photo of the new Nessie!!! I can see the headlines now: ‘The Black Sea Monster. Fact or Fiction? Discovered by some grey haired bloke with a beard and his missus!!'

Tomorrow is another sea day. I've put Roisin on ‘Black Sea Monster' watch. I can see the souvenirs in the shops already!!

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5th May 2013

Looks like Italy!

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