My trip to Ukraine started off a bit crazy. Swine Flu Mania was sweeping the country and I was forced to learn the hard way how Ukrainian politicians garnered support for their campaigns—by scaring the hell out of people.
L’viv was on virtual lockdown when I first arrived thanks to a rash of deaths in a nearby village and a government imposed quarantine. It is such a beautiful city, I really could have stayed and just tried to make the best out of the situation…but then something else happened. I got cold. Really, really, really cold. I needed to re-evaluate my travel plans fast and decided that the best idea was to head south for a few days and wait out the initial Swine Flu panic in a warmer climate.
Originally, I had planned on splitting my time between just L’viv and Kiev. Although I wanted to see Odessa, I thought it might be out of the way and a city that would be more pleasant to visit during summer. However, I was desperate at this point— any place warmer would have been more pleasant than snowy L’viv! I quickly hopped on the first overnight train that I could and made my way down to the “Pearl of the Black Sea”.
Ukraine’s Most Charming City
Odessa is Ukraine’s most charming city. Anyone who argues otherwise has never been to Odessa, has never strolled its captivating streets nor broken bread with its jovial citizens.
—In Your Pocket: Odessa
This guidebook statement is lofty, but dead-on. I truly didn’t think that Odessa would measure up to L’viv, Ukraine’s other very charming city. I was wrong. Odessa’s charm is different; you feel it more than you see it. While the city is very beautiful, it is the people and cheery atmosphere that will reel you in. Wandering down one of its many leafy boulevards, seeing the magical Ekaterinenskaya Ploshad at night, or walking the infamous Potemkin Steps will transport you back in time. A walk through the city is like a walk through a Pushkin or Gogol novel. There are a lot of architectural similarities between Odessa and St. Petersburg.
Ukraine is interesting. It is perhaps one of the only countries where a division between the east and west might actually work. One of the reasons I wanted to come to Ukraine was to put the Russian I learned in college to use but quickly found out that L’viv was not the best place to do it. Ukrainian is the predominant language in the western and northern part of Ukraine, and even though I could get by speaking Russian, it wasn’t preferred. Odessa turned out to be just what I needed. Not only is Russian the main language here, but it is also a part of Odessa’s soul. Catherine the Great founded the city in 1794 so it is no surprise that many Odessans feel more Russian than Ukrainian. This has been a great way to get in touch my own Russian roots without actually being in Russia.
I thought I would stay in Odessa for a just a couple of days, but I ended up staying for a couple of weeks. I fell in love with the city, made some great friends, and now, it is with a heavy heart that I have to say goodbye.
Tyoshchyn Most (Mother-in-Law’s Bridge)