You aren’t a world traveler if you don’t wander off the beaten path sometimes… so I read about Odessa, Ukraine and decided to vacation there by myself. I took a flight from Amsterdam via Kiev to Odessa on Ukrainian International Airlines.
I am intrigued by Eastern European countries – as there can be special opportunities that arise in countries with up and coming, or cheaper economies; you never really know what great things (or bad) can happen until you just go.
A key factor in any wonderful place with a poor economy is the heart of the people. I always follow my instinct and gut, and I unfortunately learned first-hand that the culture of Ukraine can at times be somewhat heartless – at least in my short week-long experience in Odessa at Arcadia Beach. Maybe I was a bit jaded by the cab drivers, but I felt uneasy in Ukraine in comparison to the many other countries I have traveled to.
Maybe I was in a bad mood, but the difference in the way I interacted with people in other European countries was much different, with the exception of the horrific taxi drivers in Budapest that are mere, dirty thieves. But the majority of taxi drivers I have encountered in Europe are crooks to various degrees. Ukraine was just as bad, but the economy is so different that it really doesn’t have as much of an impact on your wallet as European taxi driver’s overcharging you. Bottom line, try your best at other forms of transit or call a radio taxi as they are always the most honest.
Although I met some good people, they were far and few in between. I saw a country battered by corruption, creating an economy with no middle-class, leaving the lower-class desperate to make money during the Summer as that’s when the money pours in with the height of tourism. Taxi drivers rip you off at the airport on the get-go, but this especially happens in Eastern Europe anywhere from Czech Republic to Hungary… and I have to give credit to the Odessa drivers, they weren’t nearly as criminal as Budapest taxi drivers. Sometimes bus riding is not only cheaper, but better – especially if the trains haven’t been upgraded since early communist days.
Street vendors are looking to pinch a dollar from you, occasionally from the taxi driver swerving tricks on the road, the waiter not bringing you your change, or some street thug throwing a giant eagle on your shoulder. The wealthy elite have created businesses in Odessa that are exquisite, serving the wealthy and their price ranges. There you will find excellent food, amazing décor and ambiance, and an honest staff.
Sometimes you will see young, gorgeous women walk hand and hand with older men; at first it seems like they are father and daughter, but soon it is discovered that they are loving, evening entertainment to a wealthy counterpart.
This country is loaded with gorgeous people – the women are quite possibly some of the most beautiful I have seen in the world and the men are quite muscular and athletic. The women tend to dress like they are attending high school prom in the United States, as their dress style is very formal and colorful. You will often get a “niet” in Russian if you strike up conversation with a female, because more likely in these tourist areas the people having a good time are Russians on vacation – and the wealthy from Moscow at times can be a tough bunch.
I struck up conversation with a young Russian oligarchy princess, who politely warned me of her entourage security team nearby and how at times they can act very unfriendly. We danced a bit and then I had to escape for the beach by the water because I saw the group mounting up to make a move on me. This gorgeous girl and I ran into each other a few times in Odessa. She would dance alone by the pool during the day – she was perhaps one of the most beautiful women I have seen in my entire life. There were many gorgeous women working as the entry way staff in club Ibiza. They were easy to talk with and extremely kind – either being from Ukraine or Moldova.
I have learned that they love to box in Ukraine. At the gym I saw a muscular boxing-trainer training a toddler in the ring. This explains why every 10 meters there are two or more boxing games on the street. The game measures how hard you hit the bag, and believe me I have witnessed many locals playing this game and playing it well. At times, I have seen men almost maxing out the boxing machine.
Every day I would go get coffee at a small coffee truck by the boxing machine. The coffee vendor watched me hit the bag one day and I did okay. The next day he wanted to have a competition with me and he whooped my ass, well not that bad but he did hammer the bag with amazing strength. I wasn’t too far behind him, but was not near enough where he was, consistently hammering the bag to almost full capacity. You can tell when someone has real quickness and power even though they aren’t gigantic or muscular – just good leverage and quickness with muscle-strength and good form. We joked everyday after that and he gave me free coffee. One of a couple cool guys I met at Odessa and connected with, another being a young ice-cream vendor who watched me pig out on his tasty ice-cream every other day. He was kind, informative, and generous – even refusing a tip. I did some exploring outside of Arcadia Beach in search of other areas and I found a cool dive bar with phenomenal live jazz. I made friends with and hung out with two Russian girls and two Ukrainian guys. Another positive Odessa experience – so it was not all that bad, just far and few in between with frustrations of the social system and the brash culture.
I witnessed a strange brawl in Ukraine – two guys slugged each other in the street and then talked and then slugged each other some more. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes and left me alone in the cab so he could run over and get front row to the show. He came back to the taxi explaining how it was his friend fighting in the street. I was amazed how these two guys were unaffected by the heavy slugs and would calmly walk back to talk after a heavy blow to the face. By this point, I realized that these people here come from a different mold.
I slept on the hardest bed of my life in the worst beachfront hotel ever – The Strong House. I don’t say something like “it is the hardest bed ever” without traveling around the world and sleeping on bunks on more dirt and ships then I can count on my fingers and toes. How do I pay for a beach-front hotel room and sleep in pain every night with metal springs gouging into my entire body? Serious.
Furthermore, the hotel was right next to the beach club called Moscow which blasts its music until after sunrise, vibrating my room with a pounding bass and making it very difficult to sleep because the music is louder then anyone would believe. I am not a wimp either, but when your room becomes a torture technique with music then I will tell the truth here in this Blog. It caused me some sleep deprivation because of the hard bed and the bass thumping music – the clubs blast there music all night and keep the bass pounding until well after sunrise.
I guess I was looking for a party and I sure found it in Odessa as there is definitely a party every night here in the Summer – with great DJs and live acts performing every night at these beachfront clubs.
But the quality of life in general is not so good if you aren’t at a fancy resort, and you could go somewhere like Poland for equal cost and have a magical stay. It just wasn’t worth the cost and the low quality of restaurants and businesses available. And you have to deal with the vultures.
There are many beach clubs to choose from in Odessa if you just want to dip in the Black Sea all day in a nice poolside cabana with food served to your table. The nice ones are Club Ibiza and Club Bono, but Club Ibiza takes the cake with an amazing ambiance and great live bands, gorgeous stage dances, and top touring DJs like DJ Sebastian.
There were great live musical acts, Russian and Ukrainian popular rock bands with large energetic horn sections. The Russian fans overly crowded the venue and absolutely loved this Russian rock-band – jubilant and rowdy.
Club Ibiza is right on the beach and provides top notch food and services all day and all night. I ate here frequently and enjoyed renting my spot by the pool. It is a great place to relax on the beach, and you will be accompanied by many wealthy Turkish and Russian tourists – gorgeous ones at that. All the waitress staff was local or from Moldova – very pretty girls, professional and extremely kind. These clubs have tons of local staff making sure this place is beyond above par.
Years ago when I worked for the military, I was the navigator aboard a special dive operation navy vessel that made a transit through the Turkish straights into the Black Sea. We made ports of call to Varna, Bulgaria and Constanta, Romania, working and training with the local military special-operation units in those countries. I remember strong bonds and good times. But my recent visit to Ukraine has been much different as a tourist and at times do not feel completely comfortable or welcome. There are almost no European or American tourists in Odessa now in the height of Summer and during Odessa’s 3rd Annual International Film Festival.
Not a lot of tourists from your own country can be a wonderful thing for a traveler like me, but it also makes me stick out like a sore thumb. Word on the street is that this Summer had a very low turnout compared to the recent Summers and Film Festivals a couple years back. The poor tourism this summer is obviously indicative of the way the locals treat tourists and the poor services that are either not available or hard to find. Simple things like getting your laundry done can be very difficult, unless of course you are staying at a luxury hotel. Very few people here speak any English at all and have little patience trying to figure out what I am saying. I can understand this – why give a rat’s ass about an English speaking American in your territory? I guess I should have learned some words, but some business have been very rude to me at the get-go, from checking into my flight with Ukrainian International Airlines at the ticket counter to the restaurant at my beachfront hotel called Strong House, to the laundry cleaners. I searched for a laundry facility for couple days, spending lots of money in a taxi, in hopes of finding any place to clean my underwear and socks. I walked forever trying to find a place, and when I finally did, every place refused to clean my underwear and socks or they would charge me about 30 US dollars for a small bag. It was absolutely ridiculous and it became a theme of my stay here – so I decided to clean my socks and underwear in my sink.
I am often give the ugly face and have not experienced many strangers that offer an inkling of kindness to me. It can be a little disheartening as a solo traveler – furthermore, I have found it difficult to connect with locals and have friendly conversations. Women are very defensive and think I am hitting on them and have no time for any conversation – but I think most of these women are Russian on vacation. I did meet one group of three guys in my hotel who are Ukrainian – they were somewhat nice and invited me into there room for a chat – I played them a few tunes on my guitar. Although I am very skeptical of anyone I meet in Ukraine now because of the strong, strange vibes I have been receiving. Some guy yelled in my face for no reason at a club. I have eyes in the back of my head here. I probably hang out too much in the wealthy areas and clubs, which are host to the very rich Russians on vacation. But it is where I felt most comfortable because the clubs were right on the beach and offered some cool lounge areas that were absolutely beautiful. The hot spot in Odessa is Arcadia Beach. Oh my Odessa, how far you need to go to become what you want to be.