Odessa Weekend

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I decided to spend the long Memorial Day weekend visiting the nearby city of Odessa. It was my first time in Ukraine, and my first time at the Black Sea.

Of all the new places I would be searching for on this outing, it turns out the bus station on the north side of Chisinau was the hardest to find. It probably didn’t help that I’d accidentally created a marker on a random spot on my map app, so I spent the better part of an hour circling a giant block of mostly walled-off property trying to find anything that looked like a bus station entrance. But eventually I figured out what happened, resubmitted the search, and navigated a hot mess of busy, tangled roundabouts to reach the station. I’d missed the autobus I was trying to catch, so I had to wait for the next one.

It turned out to be a pleasant drive. The autobus wasn’t full, so I had a row all to myself where I could stretch my legs and watch the passing scenery. Southeastern Moldova is a lovely rural expanse of rolling green hills and vineyards, and with that view and my headphones, I passed the five or so hours quite nicely.

The route took us just south of Transnistria, so we didn’t have to pass through that border security, and there was virtually no line at the border with Ukraine. We still had to wait there for some time–maybe thirty to forty minutes–while our passports were collected and processed, but all went smoothly. It was my first time crossing a border with my new Moldova residency card, so I was slightly nervous that I’d messed something up when obtaining it, but there were no issues.

Even in the heart of Odessa, where I got off the autobus, the air felt different, and I could tell I was near the sea. It was a lovely sunny day, too, perhaps in the low 70s Fahrenheit, so pretty much perfect. Excitedly I took off in search of my lodging, which was a narrow townhouse facing a small courtyard walled off from a busy street in the center. And that’s when the skies opened up.

Yep, being near the coast also meant afternoon rains could hit with little warning, and with the sun still shining. Classic coastal sunshowers. Distant thunder rumbled, and so I plugged in my phone for a charge while I waited out the rain. Only it didn’t ease off until dusk, and as I’m not really a nightlife person, pretty much all I could do at that point was go get some dinner and retire early.

But going to bed early meant I could get up early, and I set my alarm for the obscene hour of 4:30. My phone said the sky would be cloudy then, so I wasn’t sure what I’d wake up to, but fortunately the weather system had moved on, leaving just enough clouds in the east to make the sunrise prettier.

I set eyes on the Black Sea for the first time just as the sun was peeking over the horizon. The first shoreline access I could find was a tourist beach, but at that hour it was only populated by a handful of local fishermen and a few young lovers and revelers that probably hadn’t yet gone to bed. Some chill electronic beats bounced down from a nightclub nearby, the dregs of Saturday night still clinging.

The water was calm, and it lapped gently at the shore where I posted up. I stayed for approximately an hour, letting the sun before me fully emerge and the club beats behind me finally call it a night.

After a bit of breakfast and a nap, I set out to wander the city. There’s honestly not much that’s exciting about Odessa, but I appreciated being in a new place, and a place that younger me could never have imagined getting the chance to visit. It struck me as perhaps Eastern Europe’s answer to New Orleans, as reflected by the popularity of the nightlife and the nearby beaches, plus the gritty yet charming local architecture and murals revealing both the damage and resilience of a history full of big challenges and small triumphs. And while Odessa doesn’t have the same jazz-fueled vibrancy that New Orleans boasts, it does have a notoriously sordid past that attracts history lovers. Odessa has a past full of pirates and prisoners and various ne’er-do-wells, and one of its biggest tourist draws is a place of burial. Whereas New Orleans has its famous above-ground vaults, Odessa is known for one of the most extensive catacomb networks in the world. I didn’t have a chance to book a tour, unfortunately, but simply having an idea of what lay underfoot leant the city a certain mystique.

Here’s hoping there will be an opportunity to return sometime; I’d like to see the catacombs, and it would be cool to see some of the wetlands and parks to the west of the city (AKA the little wedge of land that prevents Moldova from having a coastline).

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