Archive for March 4th, 2009

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Odessa In Winter

March 4, 2009

Not quite as cold as Moscow at – 35 degrees, Odessa comes in at a relatively mild -10 degrees………and this is not a constant.  Generally, Odessa fluctuates between -2 and – 8 degrees during late December and early February.

It would be wrong, however, to think that the City is covered in snow for the duration of this time.  There has been little snow over the past few years worthy of note………and none which has caused any disruption to the working day or public services.

The usual advice obviously is given – wrap up warm and don’t eat the yellow snow.  (There are few public toilets in Ukraine and Odessa is no exception).

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Some things are worthy of comment regarding Odessa in the winter:

For those in apartments who have heating supplied directly from the city and do not have the benefit of internal thermostats regularly have to open windows to allow the heat to escape…….I kid you not!!

Odessa women have become extremely adept to walking in high heeled boots in the most treacherous snow and ice conditions to the point where you will never see them fall or slip…..in fact many could or should have become world class ice skaters when seeing the amount of skill and grace they display retaining their balance.  Odessa women will never sacrifice appearance for practicality……….until they reach about 60 years old.

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Due to the lack of street drainage, melting snow and slush are a major hazard to those walking on pavements or crossing roads and are regularly subjected to a tsunami of ice cold water created by the passing Lada, Daweo or if you are particular about who you are drenched by, BMW X5, Mercedes ML or Lexus.

The annual school quarantine due to the flue epidemic creates the feeling you have been dropped into Oz and are surrounded by a well padded and insulated “Lollipop Guild” consisting of thousands of fit and well young children making the most of the annual unofficial holiday……….because one of them had a sniffle!!!

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The bus, packed of course, saves you money by becoming a mobile sauna.

There is more fur being worn than you would find in the collective animal populous of the Kruger National Park in South Africa.

The Aptika’s (pharmacies) have a never ending supply of flu and common cold cures.

Maintenance of the City electrical grid always begins around late January and can result in no electrical power during the day.  No warning is given and should you be fluent enough in Russian to enquire by telephone when the power will be off in your particular area of Odessa, they best advice you will receive is that it will be off for one day per week for a period of “x” weeks whilst upgrades are done………..which day in the week, even the customer services people cannot say though.

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The City loses none of it’s charm in the winter for those willing to stand outside in minus temperatures and look at it.

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Odessa In The Autumn

March 4, 2009

As the swealtering heat of close to +40 degrees cools to a more comfortable level for the average European and the hordes of tourists disappear back to their native countries and cities, Odessa benefits from far fewer people and the hangover of good weather from the summer months.

The 3 month summer school holiday period is over and the swarms of gnome-like little people are no longer underfoot during the day.  The buses are now only full and not overflowing…..so there is no longer the need to enter the bus like a front row rugby player throwing himself into a ruck on his own 22 yard line in an effort to get on. 

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During the summer months to ensure getting on a bus, one has to be trying to get on it before the sparrow’s early morning fart and twitter……..every bus thereafter, until close to “witching hour” remains like a Guiness Book of Records attempt to see how many people you can actually fit into a matchbox.

The beaches are now quieter and the city centre much more tranquil. 

Those with photgraphic ability or artist tendency will marvel at the tree lined boulivards, warm and seductive ambience and attempt to capture the serenity of sunlight glinting from gold and silver dombed church rooves.  The city returns to it’s authentic self, removing the vast majority of “touristy” chints and tacky memorabilia.

It is now time for the Odessa Jazz festivals to begin. 

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The locations for the autumn jazz concerts are numerous, be they in bars and restaurants or open air concerts in parks.  Life generally ticks along with the comfort and speed of a John Lee Hooker song but without the meloncholy contained in the lyrics.

Odessa has been returned to the residents with only a few tourists remaining for the jazz and the usual steady flow of business visitors defying this unwritten decree.

Life is good and there is no better place to chill out than a good restaurant overlooking the sea or a park in the last hazy days of summer.

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Odessa?……..FFS, Why Odessa?

March 4, 2009

Indeed……..good question!

So why Odessa – why not Kyiv or Lviv or any other city in Ukraine? 

A complex question, a little like asking why we expect those who caused a global financial crisis to be the right people to fix it…….or where did all the money go……or why are “experts” no more expert than you or I?

In fact, it is even more difficult to answer than that and maybe a seasonal description of the city would be a good place to start……..we, will come on to politics, culture, mentality and language in other posts amongst many other observations both serious and jovial.

With summer here fast approaching we should probably start with this season, dealing with life here during the other seasons at a later time.

In setting the scene, it may help to picture the sea lapping gently against the golden shores of a sandy beach,  with temperatures around +35 degrees and an unbroken horizon where the dark blue sea meets the clear pale blue sky.  You feel as though you are the only person on the beach and your karma is such that at Saint would feel slightly uncomfortable in your presence.   Peace and tranquility surrounds your very being.

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Sounds too good to be true…….and it is.  I wrote this whilst looking at a postcard send from a family member on a cruise of the Mediterranean.

The picture described, however, is not completely false.  The temperatures in Odessa during May – September do indeed reach and surpass +35 degrees.  During these months the sky is predominantly a very clear and pale blue.   The Black Sea is indeed a natural southern boundary to the city of Odessa which thus creates miles of sandy beaches…….. but this is where the comparison ends.

The city is home to almost 2.5 million people and during the summer months an extra million tourists descend upon it every year.  The beaches are packed, albeit with some of the most beautiful women from Ukraine and Russia wearing less material than a a half knitted woollen ankle sock.  The illusion of solitude cannot be created……..without the help of an illegal substance or an individual experienced in meditation anyway. 

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On the horizon from most of the beaches you will see lines of cargo tankers queuing to enter Odessa and Illichovsk commercial ports, together, these days with cruise liners waiting to enter Odessa.  The few marina’s are full of expensive yachts leading to a steady stream of short trips by the owners and their families around the popular beach areas.  Overhead the commercial aircraft entering Odessa International Airport also cue for landing clearance over the Black Sea.

Temporary water flumes and “water theme parks” are erected for this period in the life cycle of the city as it caters for the visitors.  The sight of people on “yellow bananas” being towed and then unceremoniously dumped into the surf is becoming more common place each year.

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As yet, however, I have yet to see the rolls of cellulite squeezed left and right from the constraints of a harness containing the form of a middle aged lady dangling from  parascending apparatus passing overhead – temporarily blocking the rays delivered to the sun worshipers on the beach below.  There are some small mercies still to be thankful for here.

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As the sun sets over the city, the beach area takes a temporary reprieve as the local men and children stand on the piers and jetties drowning worms and occasionally pulling fish, slightly larger than the average goldfish, from the water.

This is the time to find solitude whilst walking the empty beaches and enjoying the sunset.  Make the most of this time if your karma is in need of equilibrium for within a few hours it will be shattered.

Around 10pm the open air nightclubs along the beach “fire up” in a competition to out-do each others decibel level and run through until the sun comes up again on the city.  The area around the nightclubs is amply supported in the decibel competition by the fairground attractions on the periphery.

In the city centre, the bars and restaurants are also busy.  The city centre is far from being typical of Ukraine and indeed is reminiscent of Italian architecture from the time of Di Vinci.  The same cannot be said of the regions outside the city centre where the reminders of the USSR and apartment block living are everywhere.  The city centre is quiter, at least by decibel, if not per capita, during the summer months than the beach.

Apartment living is still the most popular style of living with new and slightly more aesthetically pleasing designed apartment blocks appearing all around the city like pimples on a teenagers back………..some of which are so unsightly that they should be squeezed like a pimple and made to disappear.

For the non-Russian or Ukrainian speaker, the restaurants and staff can be somewhat challenging as English language is not commonplace.  There are some restaurants and staff which are English literate in both speech and menu and they are mostly situated along the main thoroughfare in the city called Deribovskaya.

This street is a pedestrian only zone containing parks at one end and the world famous Odessa Opera House at the other.  I will ramble on about the tourist attractions some other time.  Suffice to say there is no shortage of good food here and details of English language menu restaurants will subsequently appear later……….at least you can point to what you want on the menu.

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For those who come here but need the comforting sights of home, McDonald’s are as prevalent here as Chavs are in Essex or gun ownership is in the USA.  You also have no language barrier at McDonald’s as a Big Mac is said Big Mac and a Cheeseburger is a Cheeseburger (despite the fact when written in Cyrillics you won’t be able to read it).  So, unless you try and get technical and want to go “small, medium or large” which will mean nothing to the staff behind the counter, you will get the same artery hardening, calorie loaded rubbish to a standard consistent to that of McDonald’s anywhere else on the planet. 

At this point I will help you out and phonetically spell in the English alphabet the words you will need to remember:

Small – Malinki.  Medium – Normala.  Large – Bolsha

We will return to food and restaurants in a separate thread……with some useful phonetically spelt translations for the linguistically challenged.

The City centre is also populated by street artists in the summer months……..as well as “piss artists” (drunks) and “con-artists”. 

When I say “street artists” I do not mean  Marcelle Marso or circus acts but cartoonists and those who produce some wonderful portraits for those prepared to sit for 15 – 20 minutes and be drawn.  There is also a reasonable amount of locals with exotic creatures wanting to put them on your shoulder and take your photograph (for money) with chinchilla, monkey, iguana, long-eared bat, owl, south armerican nose-shrew, pot-bellied gnat or  some such rare creation.

Odessa in the summer months has something for everyone, young or old, sane or insane, local or foreign and enough tacky tourist memorabilia to fill an abandoned colliary in Donesk.

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