What to do in Ukraine in spring?Go to Odesa

January 1, 1970

by Helen Pysarenko

You know how the best improvisation is always planned? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work the other way around. We had everything planned to the minor detail (which normally doesn’t happen with me) – starting from departure time and meeting point and up to the menu for the road. And…here comes the Murphy’s law! After trying to reach my friend over phone, messenger and every mean of communication imaginable (ok, I didn’t send a post dove), I finally got an sms from her: ”Felt sick, called the ambulance.” I swore through the teeth and decided to check on her.

Hitchhiking to Odesa

Nastia opened the door yawning,  in her robe. Yes, she did feel better, but the situation was still awkward – I couldn’t ask her to come with me, but didn’t really want to go by myself. Although after a third coffee, half of cigarette pack smoked and a half-an-hour make up Plan B was established. SO, it was official- we are to hitchhike to Odesa.

So the first reason to go to Odesa in spring is an empty road.

Sure, it works for cars only, but since it is the best way to get there, let’s take it. Of course, there is a train(as pretty much always in Ukraine), even a night one, but it still takes you 9 hours. Not for us. 450km by car = 5 hours max! That works if you’ve got your own car. What if you don’t? Here you have two options- blahblahcar.com and good old hitchhiking which is the most popular way to get to Odesa, at least, when it’s worm. Really, it’s like a local superstition- if you see some crazy-looking guys with huge backpacks and wide smiles thumbing on Odesa road, it means the summer came.

Here’s why spring is perfect for both car drivers and hitchhikers. The traffic isn’t that horrible so you’re actually driving, not crawling; and since you’re the only ones bumming a ride, it’s pretty easy to get one.

The cars that stopped were mainly trucks which resemble enormous snails not only due to their cargo, but also with their speed. So after 7 hours (abnormal sped for me personally, but still) of joking, singing, dancing on the sidewalk and making friends with truck drivers, we finally arrived on the date with the sea!


Night beach and the road to roost

This is the second reason why in spring! We arrived at night and went straight to the beach (ok, almost- we stopped by Silpo to pick up a bottle of champagne to celebrate). It was the beginning of May, still cold and windy. I had my sweatshirt and jacket on and still was freezing. So the best we could do is to touch the water with our feet and palms. And that was exactly what we did! Just imagine- almost no people around, just stars, waves and an absolutely wonderful feeling of freedom. It might seem childish, but It smells different! This is the second reason why in spring. although, there’s a scientific explanation of this phenomena but let’s just call it a miracle of the sea in spring.

Odesa isn’t only about the sea! There are tons of things for sightseeing lovers. I won’t bore you with all the historical details –order an excursion, there are plenty of them –  even being passionate about this field I can’t transmit all the mood and flavor of Odesa humor. You ought to hear it!

It was time to get going.
Our way to the roost laid through French boulevard, green and with little graffiti that was a part of its charm. There was one more cute detail – tram rails. why is it so special? One of my favorite authors is Max Frie In her first book the protagonist leaves one reality and escapes to another one by…tram. Suddenly, I realized WHAT exactly provided my favorite writer’s inspiration – that exact atmosphere! That tram most likely picked Max here. ‘

Another stop on our night tour was Vladimir Vysotsky monument, ocated right in front of the Odesa film studio By the way, they have excursions which are totally worth going on.  The monument is located there because the most famous Vysotsky films such as The meeting place can’t be changed, Short meetings and A dangerous tour  were produced there. Of course, I couldn’t miss out an opportunity to hug my favorite singer(he was and still is a significant figure for post USSR countries).

Next episode of our trip seemed like a fairy tale, so magical! So I am about to switch my tone to that sort of mood.

The maze of communal appartment

There is another point of view on everything. Especially city. This time Odesa decided to reveal its most precious secrets. And what can be more intimate than the yards – little insights into people’s cozy lives. They are eager to tell you their stories, you just need to cuddle up and listen.
So, once upon a time there were two hitchhikers who came to Odesa(well, you probably know this part already). They had a friend actor, Vova, who lived just across the theatre. What a coincidence! And his apartment resembled a time portal. Well, not exactly – you still could see he streets from the balcony of the communal apartment situated on the 5th floor. For those who are unfortunate enough to miss the opportunity to visit one (and definitely lucky not to live there) I’ll try to provide you with a brief description. Imagine a huge room with such high – about 3 meters or even more – ceiling, that you feel like in a palace. and this is the only “royal” thing about it. The rest has a strong reek of the USSR and makes you shudder by the very thought- People used to share a room of this size with the whole family + their grandparents. Anyway, now it looks rather nostalgically picturesque. The only thing that prevents you from this pleasant contemplating is that there is not only a proper bathroom, but also the shower and toilet are separated from the kitchen with a transparent cloth.

I bet it all sounds weird to you! Although, for us (I mean those hitchhikers) it was one of the best bids. The main thing here is the atmosphere, absolutely stunning! By the time we came to our senses and Vova’s place, it was 1 a.m. so after a quick chat and a promise of more we got to bed.

 The ROOF!

Usually, fairytales come to the end in the morning. That’;s not the case. The “homemade miracles” were exponentially growing. Vova showed us the roof. no, THE Roof! So after wondering in the maze of the shared apartment for  a while, we reached the stairs that led to the roof. The view that opened to us seemed magical(if everything said before didn’t look magical enough!). Literally! Odesa as it is was opened to us, it didn’t hide and just captured you entirely with its sincere look. it’s like when a host opens you the door wearing a robe – you bond immediately.

All the cozy yards with their wet laundries, stored bikes on the balconies, the smell of fish and children’s shouting… That’s truly breathtaking. We didn’t want to leave. So, Odesa experience wouldn’t be complete without it, so you ought to find a roof  and check it out  for yourself.

Another stop on our tour is catacombs!

As I’ve mentioned earlier we had everything planned, then something went wrong… But we still wanted to see underground Odesa. And here comes another miracle – Vova appeared to have a friend who spent her teens there and what is even more unpredictable- happened to be up at 10a.m.(Vova swore it had never happened before!) and willing to be our guide. The day was great, but only outside, on the Earth surface, and we were about to dive into some caves and history.

The meeting was arranged near the central bus station, which is situated near Privoz – legendary main street market in Odesa. You can find everything you want there along with the best of Odesa humor, that I’ve mentioned a couple of times already. The thing is it’s not for translation, the only way to get the notion of it is to hear at least once. Anyway, Privoz was just  fascinating, loud , busy and extremely crowded. No wonder, we were running late.

Luckily, our guide Svieta, her husband and their friend were not mad at us and we still managed to get tickets to get out of Odesa(The catacombs are situated in village Nerubaiske, which is 14km away, in the direction of Kyiv.

Sveta started her excursion right after we got off the bus. Odesa catacombs are considered to be the longest and the most complicated in the world – approximately 2.500 km and they reach out from Odesa.

They used to be shell limestone pits, originated in 19 century. This mining caused a lot of trouble to the city – soil started sinking, so it had to be brought to the outskirts. During the World War II catacombs served as a shelter to partisans. And now it hosts teenage rebels, fine, freedom loving adults as well.

A little accident underground

As we dived into a hole, almost invisible with the naked eye, we lost  the exit immediately. The darkness devoured us for some brief seconds. that’s where our torches and mobiles helped. Svieta ordered not to leave her, as if it could occur to any sane creature under those circumstances. once underground you have to follow your guide to minutiae detail – there is water on the path and the view is so alike, that you can easily get lost. Guess what happened next? Right, we lost two of “ours”– the guys slowed down a bit to take photos and we went ahead. Although Svieta had spent her young years there and  it took our guide only a few moments to realize what had happened,  she got scared. It is absolutely no use screaming in a mine, because a shell limestone absorbs the sound completely. So the only remedy was to trace their steps back. And we succeeded.

This little accident started a new twist in our excursion – Svieta decided to tell us some scary stories about real people, which made them even more probable and us – shivering. the very fact that those catacombs were used as a shelter didn’t come as a surprise, but when you are walking on a historical place, reality is literary hanging above your head. Such a depressing feeling! Then there were some stalkers who simply got lost and never found.

Listening to all of that, finding our way according to the «rock art» we arrived to the first station – a cave with some sort of remains of human activity. To my enormous surprise, there was no trash! Frankly speaking, I would expect teenage rebels, punks and stalkers to be less conscience about the surrounding, but to my huge relief I was wrong. Svieta explained that locals always considered this place as home and treated respectfully. Every station is named after someone and it is maintained by his followers\friends.

How Zen looks like

Svieta also recalled  how they would spend days in the catacombs. It might sound crazy but you could totally believe that – time feels different, it doesn’t stop or slow down, it becomes thick and luscious. Even though, we set up our alarms right after we entered, the sound of one came as a surprise. After some time, when you got accustomed to the stiff air and awkward body position, you start enjoying it. When we reached the biggest station, Svieta offered to turn of the torches and cigarettes(yeah, some guys actually smoked and it didn’t feel much more annoying compared to the times outside.) This impro meditation lasted for 5min, but felt like a lifetime. There’s no light, no thoughts, nothing bothers you. That’s how Zen looks like!

When it is considered rude to draw on the walls outside, here it was not only a completely mundane thing, but also a vital one. But for the help of this rock painting we wouldn’t be able to find our way back!

After such an underground experience we felt like Helen and Nastia 2.0, better version of ourselves. So Odesa catacombs are absolutely a must see stop on your trip! For those of you, who have already started planning their trip to this wonderful city and would like to experience catacombs for themselves – contact me or Svieta on FB, besides being a total sweetheart, she’s a cool guide.

I guess this is the end of a fairytale.

Meet famous Odesa falafel

No trip to Odesa is complete without its famous Falafel. And I am being deadly serious right now! Attention, everyone, here comes one of the greatest secrets – the revelation of the Great Falafel’s location. Drum roll…The crossroad of Preobrazhenska and Troitska streets. It’s couple blocks away from Privoz and this walk is totally worth it!

And that was our last stop before setting off for home. Hitchhiking, of course.



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