Put This City On Your List
“Put it on your list,” says Intrepid Correspondent Paul Terhorst. “You owe it to yourself to travel to Odessa, Ukraine, a first-rate historic city on the Black Sea.
“For the past few weeks I’ve been traveling around southeastern Europe with friends Ivan from Scandinavia and Vinnie from Texas. We started in the Balkans: Bulgaria, Romania, and Moldova. Now we’re farther east, in the Ukraine, and Odessa is our first stop.
“Think of Odessa and the Ukraine as Russia Light. Odessa has been part of Russia for over 200 years, since Catherine the Great annexed it. A huge painting of Catherine hangs in the local museum’s main room.
“In the 19th century, Odessa was the Empire’s fourth-largest city, after Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Warsaw. Stalin hosted the famous Yalta conference nearby in 1945. Most people here speak Russian rather than Ukrainian.
“So, for practical purposes, we’re in Russia. From a traveler’s point of view, Ukraine makes more sense than Russia itself. Most travelers (including Americans) enter the Ukraine without a visa. Russia, on the other hand, maintains a ‘restrictive and complicated visa regime,’ according to the U.S. State Department. You need a Russian sponsor, must pay big sponsor bucks up front, and are forced to decide well in advance the exact dates you want to visit. Upon arrival, I’m told, you’ll find Russia very expensive. Here in Ukraine you get Russia at a fraction of the cost–Russia Light.
“Odessa’s main drag, Deribasovskaya Street, or D Street for short, has been set aside for pedestrians. As you enter the area, you come upon the lush city gardens, with benches and statues, flowers and trees. Outdoor cafes surround the gardens. Walk one way down D Street, and you get to the famous opera house. Walk the other way to steps leading down to the water and port. We arrived at the port just in time to see the huge white ferry leave for Istanbul, across the Black Sea.
“Walk around the corner from D Street into the high-end shopping area. Tommy, Ralph, Gianni, Louis…you’ll find all the guys here. Locals seem to love fashion, opulence, night life, and the good life. Girls wear impossibly short, tight skirts and parade around on five-inch spiked heels. These are not hookers, just local girls strolling, often with their boyfriends.
“Locals measure distance in walking time. So ‘it’s 20 minutes from here’ means a 20-minute walk. In our case we stayed in an economy hotel 15 minutes from D Street. To save our legs for D Street itself, we often took the wonderful old street car for a dime.
“You pay a fare collector on board. We noted that over half the passengers had no need to pay cash; instead they showed ID’s or passes. We always had our dimes ready; however, the fare collector often seemed to be off doing something else, meaning we rode free.