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Published: August 25th 2017
Perhaps I've lived a sheltered life, as I can honestly say I've never experienced anywhere like Odessa. It's important to stress I'm not being negative about Ukraine, as travel adventures drive personal growth. After all, it's travel that reminds us we're inextricably linked by a shared existence on this wonderful planet, and the unique cultures and interactions are to be treasured. To be honest I'm amazed to be even posting from Odessa, as the beautiful city wasn't part of my itinerary during the planning stages for this trip. However, after spending a long period in the big Eastern European capitals of Moscow and Kiev, I was craving the opportunity to get to the coast and have a swim in the ocean. So a quick shout out to Lviv, despite all I've heard from other travellers about your beauty, I hope to meet you in the near future. After making the sudden decision I snaffled a cheap flight and accommodation in Odessa, and began to enjoy a week of ocean swimming under a perfect sky in this famous port city.
Anyways, my Black Sea adventure commenced as soon as the taxi dropped me off at the lovely Centro hostel. The staff
member barely speaks a word of English, and at first it didn't even register I was listening to computer generated Google translate audio. To be honest I was stunned, and have never come across this before while checking in to a hostel. I understand owners of small lodgings around the world may not speak English, but this is a popular hostel on all the booking websites. I went out for a meal and a stroll on my first night, and sure enough the building entrance gate was closed. The manager didn't consider it necessary to give me the code, and surprise surprise, was not answering the phone either! I fluked the combination after a while, as the Kiev hostel gate had a similar combination where you are required to press multiple keys simultaneously. I complained to an English couple in the dorm room the next morning, and they replied they were locked out for an extended period the night before, prior to a building resident finally returning home. Moreover, they informed me she's the only staff member and has no English, and is managing the hostel 24/7 on her own. If nothing else I pride myself on being adaptable, and
made it my mission to try and win her over with polite Russian greetings and a friendly smile whenever we crossed paths.
But the Odessa adventure doesn't end there, most ATMs in the city only dispense 200 hryvnia as the maximum withdrawal, equating to the grand sum of 10 dollars! Then try going to a restaurant or a supermarket and flashing a 200, the locals stare back with incredulity, before scrambling off to get change. Or perhaps you could suggest paying by visa, to which a young waiter gave a blank look and queried 'Visa?'. 'Yes, you know', I replied waving said plastic 'by credit card.' Then there was the time I went to tourist information, and asked about the prospect of joining a day tour outside the city. They found this the most amazing proposition, particularly as I'm a solo traveller! Sure enough I drew another complete blank with that plan. Odessa is out of this world, and tourist infrastructure is practically non-existent for westerners. However I was on a mission during my visit, and it's a beach mission! It's currently winter in Australia, and I was determined to get to the beach, but even this experience has
blown my mind. I understand Europe is densely populated, but I've never experienced anything like going to the Black Sea during August. My local beach in Sydney, even during summer, would require a raised voice to get the attention of a sunbather nearby. But on the Black Sea holidaymakers are literally on top of you, it's a complex zigzagging manoeuvre getting past the hordes of people just to enjoy a dip in the ocean.
Despite the locals completely doing my head in every day, I've had an enjoyable week here. The city of Odessa is beautiful and exudes a sense of history. The architecture in the centre is magnificent, and there's a gorgeously appointed park to stroll around at your leisure. Importantly I was able to get to the beach every day, and the city really showed herself at her best during a perfect spell of summer weather. I luxuriated under bright blue skies and 32 degrees for a week straight, it seemed the temperature was set in stone! The beach is four kilometres from the hostel, and my fitness improved day by day with all the walking and swimming. The city centre is absolutely rammed with Ukrainian vacationers
in August, and there's an exciting buzz generated as evening falls. I found a little street bar in the centre on the first evening, and the owner is kind and welcoming. Luckily I have a terrific book I'm absorbed in, and with the long summer days it's perfect to relax over a few beers and read at my leisure in the early evening light; of course taking an occasional peek up from time to watch the world go by.
I think I began to win the manager over as the week passed by in a summer haze, despite the fact her English has not improved in the slightest, nor my Russian for that matter! I received a goodbye hug at the end of my stay which is a rare experience, as Ukrainians are famously reserved. Another quirk in this unique travel destination is the complete lack of interest in tourists. Of course I'm no Brad Pitt, but I know I'm a foreigner and that the locals recognise this. It's actually hard to describe, but for the first time in my travels I've felt like the invisible man. The locals failed to show the slightest bit of interest in me,
ever! Perhaps I should've jumped up and down, or done something stupid as western tourists do from time to time. But it's all part of the intriguing culture of Ukraine, it can't be fully discovered during a visit of just a few weeks. Well, here's a bold statement that may pique the interest of my Ukrainian friends, basically all of you should be here now!
"Truth is everybody is going to hurt you: you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for." Bob Marley
As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now
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