Riga-Odessa – 2880km travelled. Distance from home – 1250km.
When telling stories about Odessa, it will always remain as the city where we encountered the Fireman – Pozharnik. He is indeed a fascinating character and it’s no great wonder that he, Pushkin’s Kitchen and the surrounding happenings are the first to cross our minds when recalling Odessa. Nevertheless, there are more things worth telling about our stay in Odessa, which was somewhat longer than those two bohemian days. Pozharnik is only one of the million inhabitants of Odessa – the third largest city in Ukraine.
After the mediocre sleep we got out of our sardine jar to see the city center. First landmark to lay our foot on was the Potemkin stairs. Well, a giant staircase, that’s it.
Of course, it’s cleverly designed to look even longer than it is from the bottom and also to appear the same width when looking down form the top. In my opinion, however, you get the best impression of these stairs if you know the story behind them. They are known as Potemkin stairs because of the 1925 silent movie “Battleship Potemkin“. The best known scene from the film – “The Odessa steps” pictures the ruthless Cossacks shooting unarmed civilians and cold-bloodedly marching through the ever increasing number of corpses down the stairs. They don’t even blink when a mother with a wounded child on her hands begs for mercy and just pull the trigger.
The movie is so powerful and the 90-year-old image even makes you think – maybe these events are real? Maybe this is a documentary? It was inspired by actual events but is still a dramatized version of them. Although this scene never happened and was just a breakthrough in movie montage, it does leave a strong impression. It is hard to maintain though, because, climbing up the stairs, there is a bunch of ‘beastmasters’ trying to get you to hold their birds and take a photo, like in so many other places in Ukraine. These guys literally try to stop you by pulling your clothes. Ukraine, please control these annoyances!
We also had a look at the ‘Mother-in-law bridge’, which is a pedestrian bridge that connects Primorskiy Boulevard and Jvanetskovo Boulevard and goes over a ravine. The name, although unofficial, but the only one that is used when talking about it, comes from an urban legend. In Soviet times, the city mayor at the time – Mr. Sinitsa ordered a bridge to be built here because he loved his mother’s-in-law pancakes, who lived on the other side of the ravine, and he did not like to walk up and down for the lunch break every day. Of course, the legend is less likely to be true because the said lady could have lived elsewhere in reality and – who eats pancakes every day for lunch?
A short walk and we were in the Odessa City garden – the oldest of city’s parks. Just a small park with a fountain, sculptures and weird old man, dressed all in gold, dancing by the tunes of a live orchestra performance. Look at him go, waving his children toys. Oh, and along comes a glamourous lady, no younger than 65, in a fur coat, weirdness level over 9000!
We continued on Deribasivska Street – a street that is in the heart of Odessa and half of it is closed to traffic for 30 years already. There are three places on it besides the park I’d like to mention. The 1st – Odessa Passage, its interior walls decorated to the brim with figures and architectural thingies.
The 2nd – Одесская Ярмарка – outdoor market/fair with cute wooden shacks.
The 3rd – Пузата Хата restaurant in Europa Mall. Well, I mentioned the last one because that is a place where we ate a nice meal. It’s reasonably cheap, Ukrainian and tasty, a gem in-between all the other places on this street which are more expensive. Except for the McDonalds, of course, that is also cheap. As we all already know, Ukraine has the lowest Big Mac index in the world. A big mac meal costs lower here than the burger by itself in Latvia. Although, it’s not as cheap as the Economist states – currently the Mac costs 33 hryvnias instead of 19.
After crashing at Pushkin’s Kitchen, we spent the rest of the nights in Odessa with Alina and her parents. They have a private house, so a bit more space than in the Poet’s flat. Here we had a separate room, which we still managed to fill with all our stuff. No matter how big or small the room, we always manage to evenly cover it with our things.
One of the notable things we did in Odessa – we went to a ballet. Dainis’ name day is on 23rd of October so we decided to give him and ourselves the opportunity to see the much praised Odessa National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet house and a performance by its artists. And it is a very affordable pleasure. Usually, going to an opera is more expensive than going to the cinema. For example, price range in Royal Opera House in London is 7-126£ (9-160€) and Latvian National Opera – 4-80€ and the seats you get for the lowest priced tickets are probably in one of the far corners of the hall behind a pillar. But in Odessa, price range is 20-150₴, which means, you can buy the first row or best box ticket for 8 Euros! And the cheapest one – barely more than 1 Euro…
We dressed up as good as we could (suits and ties were left home in September) for the evening of 25th October and went to see the ballet in three acts “Don Quixote“. We were led to the box, all upholstered in velveteen and with golden incrustations. And just as we were already feeling comfortable and admired all the pomp of the opera house, the attendant lady came back with some more folks who surprisingly had the same seat numbers as we. “Well, these people cannot be right, our tickets say that these are our seats…” But when we compared the tickets, the shocking truth revealed itself: our tickets stated that we, in fact, should have been in an organ music concert three days ago. I definitely remember that we clearly stated that we want to go to Don Quixote when we were at the box office. Well, the play was already starting and there was no time to start complaining. We had almost accepted our failure and headed for the door, when an idea was born. “We need to look determined and just to head in the big hall as if we know that our seats are there!” So we got in there and sat down, but another attendant showed up and asked for the tickets. She took a look at them and exclaimed: “You need to go up to the box, hurry, hurry!” We told our story and she eventually let us stay in our newly occupied seats, which were quite good actually, yet not in the luxurious box. But the funniest thing in all this was the fact that no one noticed that our tickets were for the cursed organ concerto! We didn’t, when we bought them, neither did the ladies at the entrance to opera house and not even did attendant No1 and attendant No2 with the first look.
It may be that we are just mere simpletons and cannot really appreciate these high arts or may just be that the Odessa National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet doesn’t quite live up to its reputation but my rating for this play is 6/10. Nevertheless, in my book, the visit to the opera house alone was worth the low price of the tickets. This is certainly one of the most impressive and exquisite interiors I’ve ever seen. Chandeliers, ceiling paintings, sculptures, mirrors – all in gold, velveteen and marble. I’m not an expert who can go into more details about it all but it’s definitely worth to see. By the way, a simple excursion into opera house costs about the same as the priciest of tickets. So, if you have the time, you can easily kill two birds with one stone – go see a play and walk the interiors.
We started to ride in the direction of Crimea on the morning of 27th October leaving Pushkin and Potemkin behind. There were a lot of small but interesting things about Odessa but you can never really tell them all in one post.
The next that you’ll hear about our journey will be our way to Crimea. On 10th January Dainis will describe how we pedaled all the way to the annexed autonomous republic instead of taking electrichkas as originally planned.