Odessa for me was a convenient stop between Kiev and Moldova and Iâ€™d heard lots about it so decided to pass through.
Travelling from Kiev was delightful, so beautiful, that I actually had a sort of epiphany on the bus, admiring the countryside.
It helped that the VIP bus I was on had the finest seats of any vehicle Iâ€™ve seen. It was like the business class seats of an aeroplane! It was superb and the bus ride was excellent. Iâ€™m not sure why, but I had the extremely overwhelming urge to dump all my possessions and hitch hike across the former Soviet Union wearing my kilt and carrying nothing but a passport and wallet. In fact Iâ€™ve been wondering for a while if it would be possible to hitch hike from Scotland to Singapore and am very keen to give it a go. Itâ€™d make a great travel journal if nothing elseâ€¦
take a seat
Odessa was in full autumn and there was a fresh crispness in the air, tainted no doubt by the lure of the Black Sea.
Odessa has been an important port city in recent history but is a relatively young town. Iâ€™d heard that the night life and partying in the summer is quite legendaryâ€¦but it was now out of season and the beach resorts/clubs were all closed. I spent two days in Odessa which really only bolstered my desire to return in the summer. There were excellent restaurants, excellent service, beautiful streets and all for fantastic prices. I also found Ukrainian people to be very helpful, honest and friendly. It also helped that I met some particularly exceptional people who helped make my stay all the more easier and, in fact, ensured I didnâ€™t have any problems.
Duc de Richelieu atop the stairs...
After first arriving and dropping my bags in the hotel, I stepped straight out onto the street without a map or any clue where I was. I was immediately approached by a young couple walking along the path.
They were carrying Violins and invited me to walk with them as they gave me a brief tour and took me to a newsstand to get a map and show me where I was. They also invited me to join them at the Potemkin steps where they would be playing their music. The gigantic Potemkin staircase really is a magnificent architectural marvel. Looking up from the bottom you see only stairs, and down from the top you see only the intermediate landing platforms. Also, the steps are actually widened at the bottom so as to not diminish in size with distance, thereby they appear with more grandeur.
142-metre-long Potemkin Stairs
The dull rumble of ships in the harbour and their sonorous fog horns, together with the croon of sea birds provided a soothing subtle backing soundtrack to the air. As I walked through this leafy town which had been splashed liberally with the amber palette of autumn, I saw people everywhere out enjoying the pleasant evening glow. Students, young mums and the elderly sat pitter-pattered all over the place: talking, laughing, drinking beers, playing musical instruments, and even painting. Kids ran around collecting chestnuts. It was all so civil, respectful, clean and beautifully poetic.
I couldnâ€™t stop thinking how fantastically romantic and cultural this was.
I had to sit myself down as I was quite overwhelmed with the beauty of it all. I frantically started taking notes in my Moleskine notebook as I pondered why Europeans are so damn good at enjoying life. It's a topic I consider often. Iâ€™ve narrowed it down to a few good things and Iâ€™m reminded of one of my favourite quotes, from a French woman: â€˜In America, people expect life to be perfect and are angry when itâ€™s not, in the rest of the world, people expect life to be shit, and are happy when it isnt.
looking up the Potemkin Stairs
Europeans have hundreds of years of history with wars, famine, bad weather, suffering, changing borders, changing currencies, shifts in power, governments, ideologies and basically every hardship possible in life. The eastern Europeans have had this more than others. So they donâ€™t expect much in life. They have small apartments, crappy cars and most of their money usually goes on clothes. The sum total of their desires in life is often really just wanting a cheap bottle of wine, a pack of smokes and a park bench to sit and talk with their friends.
Everything else is superfluous. I like it when the joys of life can be so easily simplified.
looking up all you see is stairs. looking down all you see is the platforms.
Another poignant factor is the promotion of art which is deeply embedded in European culture. Artists arent just school drop outs who did too many drugs, like they would be in other regions. Music, painting, drama and writing are all completely respected and encouraged activities... or even professions. The average lay european person can engage in an intelligent conversation discussing art, classical music and even philosophy as if it's a normal conversation topic. That lends a level of sophistication and class that again, most other places, simply dont compare to. When I think about the interactions I have with most western travellers it usually involves talking about where you are from, where you are going and how drunk you got the night before. When I think about the conversations I have with Europeans it's usually always some sort of challenging topic. As a traveller, it's the latter conversation style that I'm attracted to, nay, actually looking for.
..and so Itâ€™s for reasons like these and a few more that I continue to live and travel in Europe.
colours of autumn
You simply donâ€™t experience behaviour like this in any other region of the worldâ€¦