When you’re feeling ‘black-and-blue’ sore from all the walking tours, and the strain of lugging around suitcases from the time you land in Warsaw, leave for Krakow, overnight to Lviv and take the train to Kiev; you look forward to Odessa, with the expectation of three things; sun, sand and lots of sea.
I imagined myself finally settling into holiday-mode; notebooks would be tossed aside, I’d endlessly lounge in the sea, and essentially take a wee break.
The seven-hour bus ride from Kiev to Odessa felt like riding in a plane on ground. There was speed, there was comfort and there was even sufficient entertainment; a slew of international movies voiced-over in Russian sans subtitles, and for those who preferred otherwise; a steady stream of world music accessed by earphones and the turn of a knob. Two sharply-clad pretty bus hostesses tottered about on heels, intermittently serving tea, coffee and chocolate on board.
I must interject that while everyone travels, they don’t do it in a ‘one-size fits all’ fashion so if you want to travel,..pick your slot.
There are hardcore tourists who comfortably fly about in first class, make do with five-course meals and basically enjoy all the perks of being an A-lister travel guru..Bart Lapers I’m looking at you.
Then there are those bitten by the travel bug and just set off into the wild with a map, sturdy walking shoes and a tight budget. When one doesn’t want to shell out the dough, there is the glaring option of roughing it; pitching up tents, taking showers at petrol stations, dumpster diving around supermarkets, eating wild fruit and berries, hitchhiking…staying free at a stranger’s house.
That’s how I came to do what I have never done before: couchsurfing.
To some extent, couchsurfing has morphed into a sick twisted joke. Imagine a plethora of guys prowling the site..scrambling to host girls, then trying to get into their pants. When putting up a public note, requesting for a place to crash at during my gambols, I have taken note of the
psychos guys, who gleefully reply, “I have room for you!” then as the conversation continues, they slide in, “I have just a bed, but no worries, glad to share!”
What? Na ah! Dude, not happening. Cancel, cancel, cancel.
So naturally, I was happy for the opportunity to crash in Odessa, with a lady.
Tatyana (name changed) was super generous and quite hospitable; she kept on apologizing the first day we arrived, and I kept reassuring her that it was okay, we weren’t fussy guests. My daughter warmed up to her, and all seemed well.
She begun getting miffed though, when I wasn’t finishing the meals she served; the massive bowl of soup which I found tasteless despite adding salt, pepper and mixed herbs; then the next day for breakfast, she asked if I would like some cheese. Yes, I loved cheese, I would have some. My daughter at this point, being the picky eater that she is, declined almost everything and preferred to munch on popcorn. Tatyana served two huge bowls of white goat cheese with a drizzle of jam on top, for me and herself.
I normally eat thin slices of cheese with bread, or white feta in a Greek salad..but I must confess I’ve never eaten a full bowl of chunky goat cheese on it’s own. I attempted to eat it with slices of bread, then had enough and left three-quarters of it. Feeling embarrassed about my unenthusiastic feeding, I proceeded to help clear up and wash the dishes.
On our tour later on in the day, my daughter had a Belgian waffle with cream at a food stall in the city centre. When we came home, Tatyana served fresh melon slices, which my daughter devoured; then promptly threw up. That gave Tatyana ‘a fright,’ as she wrote later in the review section and we had to leave, so we did, the next morning to a hostel in downtown Odessa. So much for my joys at staying with a local.
Yet for every bad experience I’ve had as a traveler, there has been that good..sometimes glorious experience to even it out. Perhaps to make me forget, and to persist in my belief that humanity exists everywhere we look. It has happened lots of times..in Greece, in Malaysia, in Bosnia, even in Somalia..God has always shown up.
It quickly became clear, that I needed loads of help in Odessa. If I found it difficult to maneuver through Lviv and Kiev; Odessa took things a notch higher.
All the signposts in Odessa were undecipherable; in Russian..cyrillic characters to be precise. There were no english translations underneath them as was common in the main streets of the city centres of both Lviv and Kiev. If we got lost, we were completely lost and had to depend on a taxi or other hotels to direct us back to our address in English.
Enter Kirill and Hana.
Kirill and Hana are a gorgeous young couple who combine the sense of adventure with fabulous photo-tours in Odessa. They are proud to be Jewish-Christian, and love their city.
Kirill’s english was flawless as he took time to explain to us titbits about Odessa.
Odessa doesn’t have an underground like Kiev has, but there are catacombs worth seeing.
In Odessa, Russian is more widely spoken.
Did you know Steven Spielberg has roots in Odessa? His paternal grandparents emigrated to the United States in the 1900s.
Odessa was a small village until 1794, when Catherine the Great gave the city a feminine name, desiring to transform it into Russia’s third largest city.
I loved the port of Odessa. There were steps going down to it, and the lovely scenery of ships and boats, and the sinking sun.
On our last day, we decided to walk into a crowded restaurant near the port, found seats and sat down.
The tall blonde came to our table and announced that the kitchen was closed, they were not serving meals.
Its’ midday, my eyes swept through the room, and I spotted people sipping their drinks slowly, a couple were clearing their plates.
I breathed back unassumingly, “Oh, we’re just having drinks, we’ve eaten already”.(We really had).
She took our orders and served us orange juice, as I fiddled with my ipad trying to get a wifi signal.
Later on, we saw hot meals being served.
I sighed inwardly..it seems she had a problem with our melanin..but sometimes we forget that we are any other colour than just humans. That was an ugly experience. Being told the kitchen was closed when it was not. A move that in simple terms translated to, “You’re not welcome to eat here.”
Another ugly experience was the wardrobe malfunction I had at sea, when my bikini top refused to co-operate and I got double the amount of stares than usual. That coupled with the erratic weather patterns meant that we spent just a day at sea. It was time to head off to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova.
I was glad to have made it to Ukraine. I have a feeling I will be back. I summed up my visit in one word: spasibo..Thank you!
Disclaimer: My Odessa tour was part-complimentary with Kirill and Hana of photo-tours Odessa.