Sunday, June 05, 2011

Odessa: Ultimate Eastern European Vacation Destination

I've been in Odessa for less than 48 hours, and already I've explored downtown on foot, eaten at some delicious local restaurants, refreshed my wardrobe with attire appropriate for the 95F (35C) weather, attended a spectacular performance of Madame Butterfly at the world-famous Odessa Opera House, spent a morning sunning on the beach (during which I fell asleep in the sun and will continue to pay for that nap as my sunburn becomes more and more painful), swam in the Black Sea, and made Ukrainian friends at the Irish pub next door to my apartment.



I was incredibly surprised to be taken to this huge apartment on one of Odessa's main streets when my flight got in at 2.00 am yesterday. Even at that hour it was a balmy 75F (24C).  I was let in the door, handed a pair of keys and a city map, and left to sort things out on my own.  I tried to be quiet as I investigated the salon, kitchen, and bathroom; after the St. Petersburg dormitory I was far too excited to have such a nice apartment and I wanted to see it all immediately!

I was still unpacking...but at least you can see the nice
16-foot ceilings in my apartment. There's also
another 1/3 of the room behind me (not shown in the
photo) where I have a desk to work at.
The bathroom, complete with Whirlpool tub.
The kitchen is not really this yellow. Something's off
with the white-balance in this photo.
But you get the idea.

I wasn't even able to capture the entirety of our huge living room in one
frame.

On my first walk around the neighborhood I found this memorial square.

A little further away, a tire fitting shop.


This building is quite intriguing. But what really caught my eye when I uploaded the photo to my computer is the
quality of the foliage.  I didn't mess with the color saturation - this is really what the trees look like!  It's hard to
place, but there's definitely something unique about the greenery here; it's gorgeous!




























The "City Park" two blocks from my apartment.

I thought this was an interesting building...

...and then saw this one next right next to it and had to laugh!

The bottom of this 6-story mall is a grocery store.
Rather odd to have a birds-eye view of the produce section.

A church not far from my apartment.

I absolutely love this weather. Maybe it's because I was born in November, but I just can never get enough sun. 85-90F is the perfect temperature, in my opinion. My only dilemma is this: it's much too hot to even think about eating anything.  After walking around all day yesterday on an empty stomach, I finally found a little restaurant down the street around 4.00 pm and practically collapsed.  The menu offered lots of salads, so I picked the Цезар-Гречный -- a house special that entails a sort of Cesar and Greek salad mix. It was delicious!  My eyes were somewhat bigger than my stomach when it came time to order, so of course I also asked for a dessert I've been wanting to try for a while: dried apricots and walnuts drenched in honey.  This is a typical Central Asian dessert; I first heard about it from some Uzbek guys selling bulk nuts and fruit at a little market in Moscow. Three of my favorite foods proved to be even more delicious when thrown together.



I forgot to mention that I'm sharing the apartment with a French lady named Michelle - a world traveler and literature enthusiast in her fifties - and another French guy closer to my age, named Adrian. Adrian's girlfriend was also visiting this weekend from Paris. We try to speak Russian together, but both of them have only been studying Russian for three weeks and one week, respectively; so, needless to say, French is the lingua franca in the apartment. When I got home from my excursion yesterday Michelle invited me to join her and some friends from the Russian school for a performance of Madame Butterfly at the Odessa Opera House. I agreed, of course, and we set off. Amazingly, one of the best seats in the house set me back only $18 USD.  It was a stunning, truly world-class performance.

The Odessa Opera House













Interior of the Opera House

The ceiling is a work of art all on its own 
The set. The opera was performed in the original Italian, but the little screen hanging from the top of the curtain
provided "subtitles" - more appropriately would be "supra-titles" - in Ukrainian. Ukrainian is different from Russian,
and even has more and different letters in its alphabet, but there are enough similarities that I was easily able to
follow along. 

Odessa has lots of stray dogs.  I happened into this one as he was
relaxing in the shade with a nice view of the Black Sea. 

First day on the beach.


It's hard to imagine a more perfect day when lounging on a shady terrace, sipping fruity ice tea, reading a book, feeling the breeze,
and watching the sea.
A typical street near the beach side of town.


Somehow the photo-stitch program can seamlessly stitch the most complex landscapes, and yet it fails to
connect the top and bottom halves of this lamp post?
P.S. - You can barely see the Black Sea to the right of that little statue.


I've promised blog posts on so many different things. However I seem to be at a time deficit, so even though 
I've physically moved on to Ukraine, you'll see upcoming posts about Russia and - I'm embarrassed to admit, since it's been over a month since I left - even Finland.  Part of the reason I haven't been updating lately was the sheer inconvenience of gaining internet access while living in the public dorms in St. Petersburg. The only building in the complex that had free WiFi was the prachechnaya -- laundry room -- and it closed at 11pm. You could pay to have WiFi installed in your room, but even though it was affordable the process could take up to two months. I'm not exaggerating. I was fortunate in that, of the 75+ acre (10-building) complex, my room was in the 1st floor corner of the building nearest the prachechnaya, and I was able to get two bars of WiFi signal if I put my laptop in the window sill.  Two bars is enough to check email, Google the weather forecast, and make a garbled Skype call.  The first time I called my mom from Odessa she said, "Oh, it sounds like you've gotten out of the fishbowl!"  From my "fishbowl" in St. Petersburg, uploading high-resolution images was out of the question.  And what is a travel blog without photos?  

All of this to say: I now have 24-hour free WiFi in the comfort of my enormous mansion of an apartment in downtown Odessa and it will be so much easier to share my daily adventures.  I've never been so organized with my camera equipment or taken so many pictures as I have on this trip, and I'm already reaping the rewards. I find myself in funny, strange, interesting, breathtaking, solemn, odd and surprising situations every single day.  There's no way I can remember them all, but just one photograph can bring back the entire story!



One Recent Odd Event (for which I do not have photographic evidence):
Last night while walking to the Opera, a little old babushka got out of her white plastic lawn chair under a tree on the sidewalk, pulled down her pants, and started to pee right there on the sidewalk next to the curb.  She looked to be at least 85 years old. You'd expect to see a teenage boy do such a thing...but a babushka?  I wasn't able to wipe the surprised look off my face, prompting little old babushka to start yelling something at me, but she was speaking Ukrainian - not Russian - so I didn't catch it all.


Miche - enfin je ne peux pas tout raconter.  Mais en tout cas j'adore Odessa et même que je n'ai pas encore été ici 48 heures, je m'amuse super bien et on a fait plein de choses.  Dis à Youssef que j'écrirai bientôt un peu plus sur Cathérine II - j'en suis sûre qu'il en sait tout déjà sur ce sujet, mais peut-être que j'aurai des nouveaux images. J'habite avec des Français maintenant donc je le parle tout les jours et un de nos nouveaux amis pensait que j'était de France.  Quand j'ai répondu, "Non, pas du tout," il a dit, "Ah oui, c'est vrai, tu as un p'tit accent." C'était quand même marrant! Bisous 

3 comments:

  1. Shirah, that was soooo interesting. I have to confess I had to look at a map to see where you are. Across the Black Sea from Turkey. Fascinating culture there and fabulous buildings. Thank you for sharing this with us. You do an incredible job. xo Sue

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice blog.The pictures are looking so beautiful and the food are looking so yummy...
    No doubt Odessa, Ukraine is an extremely colorful city.

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  3. Nice Blog, Your Images are very attractive, really Odessa, Ukraine is very beautiful place.

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