The First Odessa


Church 1

Church 2


I recently got off a train in Odessa, Ukraine with three days to discover what this port city on the north western coast of the Black Sea had to offer. It spawned ten Odessa’s in the USA and two in Canada so I was expecting something of substance. First however, I had a problem. I had no hotel reservation or map, the street signs were in Cyrillic script, it was raining hard and I had no umbrella.

It was the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, needing a warm water port for her navy, who founded the port of Odessa at the mouth of the Dniester River in 1794. First Russian and then  Soviet influence predominated in the culture and language of the city ever since. Despite its independence following the break-up of the USSR, Ukraine is still torn between joining the European Community and remaining under the sway of Russia.

Ukraine StepsWhat today’s visitor finds in this city of one million are some handsome public buildings on each side of tree-lined boulevards. The city’s architectural landmark is the Opera and Ballet Theatre  (1810), richly decorated in an Italian baroque style. The most famous historical sight is the Potemkin Steps, the broad stone stairway dropping down to the port. It was made famous by Eisenstein’s silent movie, Battleship Potemkin (1925), about a mutiny in 1905 on the Battleship Potemkin in Odessa  Harbor, in which the Tsar’s soldiers shoot into a crowd of protesters on the stairs.

Spotting a McDonalds outside the rail station, I nipped in for an espresso to find it packed with young Odessans, most of whom had cell phone. iPads or laptops. When the rain eased, I headed along Pushkins’ka Street towards the port. (Pushkin, in exile, spent a year in Odessa). Accosted in English by a young woman selling city tours, I asked about a hotel. Looking at my backpack, she said “Passage Hotel” and gave me directions.

Ukraine Arcade

I had read about this hotel, a relic of the Soviet days and inexpensive by Ukrainian standards ($40 for a single room with cold water). It was located in a shopping arcade, hence the name. The vast lobby was in darkness but the receptionist spoke English, gave me an English-language guidebook, Odessa in Your Pocket, and pointed me to a small cage-like lift which carried me upwards.

Coming out of the hotel, I found I was in a popular part of town. A band in the City Garden was playing Bennie Goodman, watched by a crowd some of whom were dancing; a kilted Scotsman outside a pub was touting for business; cafes and restaurants were all well patronized including a shop called Lviv Chocolates would fit well on Fifth Avenue. I found a self-service restaurant on the top floor of a modern mall and treated myself to a bowl of borsch, which originated in Ukraine. Not much sign of lingering Communism here.

Ukraine Choc

Ukraine has no visa requirement for EU and US visitors, but as yet not much general tourism has happened. There were a few bus groups of French and German tourists, but few individual tourists I could spot. Two cruise ships in the port disgorged passengers for a city tour, a performance in the theatre and then they were gone. There are plenty of museums, art galleries, churches and other places of interest to visitors, such as the catacombs, but these are early days of tourism development. For example the signs in the museum are all in Russian when what is needed is an English translation.

I found that some Russian words were coming back to me from my days in Kazakhstan with Peace Corps and, whenever I tried them out, I got a quick response of appreciation.
Otherwise, when I needed information, I could usually find an English speaker. I had arrived from Moldova,l which is a story for later, and now I needed to buy a train ticket to Kiev, my last stop. I knew the ticket office people would not speak English, so I wrote down in Cyrillic script the name Kiev and time of departure, and this method worked. I found my car and seat number, and discovered on the seat a bundle of fresh sheets, pillow case and a blanket. Even on day trains the Ukrainian railroad passenger is invited to prepare a bed and stretch out. Which I did; Kiev was 9 hours away.

Pictures, in order: Two Ukrainian churches; Potemkin Steps 2013, from the top; The Passage shopping arcade; Lviv Chocolate Shop




Jim Glendinning About Jim Glendinning

I am a Footloose Scot who has traveled to 136 countries. "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." Robert Louis Stevenson
Read about Jim Glendinning and his book Footloose Scot: Travels In A Time Of Change


  1. Susan Penney says:

    I LOVE reading about your travel escapades – keep ’em coming…

  2. Dorothy Zelazny Angrist says:

    9 October 2013………9:45 am

    Yes Jim, you are still the Adventurer that I know!! It always amazes me @ how well you adapt to these foreign places & eventually find accommodations etc.
    Don’t ever stop!!

  3. Paul Woods says:

    I enjoyed the article on Ukraine and especially the photos. Paul

  4. those Potemkin Steps looked good uncle!

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