What we liked about Odessa
We’ve lived in several cities, and our neighbours in Odessa were the best we’ve had. Our flat was in a courtyard, and there were a table and chairs in the middle. Neighbours from various flats would hang out together there in the summer, chatting and sometimes drinking and having BBQs. They never failed to invite us to join them and when they did, fed us lovely food and drink.
We shared the hallway with a family – parents, their son and the guy’s mum. She was really chatty. She didn’t speak any English, and our Russian was pretty non-existent at the start (it wasn’t that much better at the end either). However, she always chatted away to us, either by shouting with huge hand gestures or by whispering. She was brilliant. It was one of the reasons we started Russian lessons. We were all so chuffed when had our first conversation (it went something like “Today is hot. We go to beach. We swim”). One night I came home from work early. There was a knock at the door and Val was there. She handed me a plate of traditional pastries, told me they were warm and I should sprinkle salt on them (probably).
Lovely neighbours who feed you. Brilliant.
People really love animals
Most people like animals. Odessans seems to love them more than most. The stray cats and dogs can be fatter than the pets. There is usually at least one cat that lives on the steps of every convenience store. People go in, by a packet of cat food with their shopping, and feed the cat on the way out. In a street or courtyard, there will be a ‘pounce’ of cats (seriously, that seems to be the collective name. I Googled it). People living in the neighbourhood give them their food scraps (they often have their own food bowls) and build them houses. They even put blankets in them for the winter.
In the UK, we have the RSPCA and stray animals are collected up and taken to centres to be rehomed. In Odessa, neighbourhoods take care of their own stray animals. When you ask a student where they got their cat or dog from, often they say ‘from the street’.
In the UK the big supermarkets are open 24 hours. In Thailand, you have 24 hour 7-11s. In Odessa, they have both. Lots of supermarkets in the city centre are open all the time. We used to do our shopping on the way home from the pub at midnight. It’s not even particularly quiet at that time. There is a small convenience store on nearly every block which is also open constantly. They don’t just sell snack food either. You can get your fruit and veg and cheese, pasta, herbs and spices and breakfast cereal. Open whenever you realise you’ve run out.
Ready made food
While we are on the subject of shopping, let’s talk about ready made food. I don’t mean like microwave meals or frozen pizza, I mean freshly prepared local cuisine. In the supermarkets, such as Tavriya V (found on the ground floor of Europa and Athena shopping malls in the centre, as well as other places in the city), the deli counter not only sells cheeses and meats, but also a variety of other fresh food. There’s a whole range of salads, as well as meat products such as cutlets, kebabs (known as shashlik) and chicken Kievs. You can buy vareniki (dumplings) with various fillings, stuffed pancakes, cabbage rolls and lots of types of potatoes. Some sell rotisserie chickens, as well as drumsticks and wings.
All these delicious looking dishes you can buy from your local supermarket.
Range of alcohol
Another awesome thing in these 24-hour supermarkets and convenience stores is the range of alcohol. One small shop will have two or three aisles full. Often one full aisle just of vodka! There’s a wide range of wine, both local, from the region and international. Armenia, as well as Ukraine, produces high-quality cognac and there are many types in even the small shops.
You can’t really talk about Odessa without mentioning the beach. Odessa is perhaps not a conventional seaside resort, in that the beach is not next to the city centre. The city leads onto the port, with the beach stretching around the corner and for miles and miles to the south. Having said that, it isn’t that far to the beach. It’s an easy twenty-minute walk from the centre, through a park, and down lots and lots of steps. They do like steps in Odessa.
In the summer, bars and restaurants open up all along the ‘road’ next to the beach. Some open all year, but many just look like run-down shacks until May comes, when suddenly a full beach front bar complete with terraces, sofas and sun loungers appears – seemingly out of nowhere. Every corner of the beach road has tables and chairs, and beer pumps selling local beer out of plastic glasses, perhaps with a BBQ to make shashlik (kebabs). The beach itself is covered in sun loungers come summer, rented out by various people. They range in quality from broken wood to modern and soft, depending on how much you want to pay. None of them is very expensive. People walk up and down the beach selling ice creams, seafood, snacks and drinks.
An interesting thing about Odessa is that every woman wears a bikini. Everyone. It doesn’t matter how old or large they are, they happily show off their bodies. It’s brilliant. There is no ‘get your body beach ready‘ in Odessa. If a woman has a body, she puts a bikini on it. I got stared at for wearing a tankini.
The Black Sea isn’t actually black. It’s often a kind of green colour. No one seems to know why it is actually called the Black Sea. Oddly, the water level never changes, so there isn’t a high and low tide. People swim all year round. We’ve been at the beach in February to see a man strip down to his speedos and wade into the water. Next to him, some children were playing dressed in woolly hats, gloves and earmuffs. It was that cold. On the feast of the Epiphany in January, it’s tradition to go for a swim in the sea. Nevermind that it could be below freezing. When we first arrived, the sea was actually frozen over. People all strip off and jump into the water.
The city centre in the summer
It’s not just the beach that’s a lovely place to be in the summer. The city centre is pretty nice too. Bars and restaurants on the main street of Deribasavskaya (after two years, we still can’t pronounce it properly) set up huge seating areas on the street and in the City Garden park, where you can sit back on a sofa and drink a cold beer. Buskers perform up and down the street, ranging from full bands with saxophone and drum kit to solo singers. People give horse and pony rides and there are several Cinderella-style carriages to ride in.
The Yamarka (Christmas style market) puts out lots of seating and is full of people sitting and standing around, eating and drinking. Odessans like to promenade up and down the street, dressed up to the nines in their best clothes which makes for great people watching. It’s a fantastic atmosphere.
With the beach and the city centre, and the cheap price of everything, we can’t see why more people don’t visit Odessa. Give it a try.
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