The first time I learned about Odessa was while listening to Alosza Awdiejew’s (Aleksy Awdiejew in Russian) songs. I love that guy: he’s the kind of this old school bard, singing about vodka, women and various crimes he and his friends might or might not have committed. It’s gangsta rap straight out of the 1980s Soviet port town. Suffice to say, Odessa is a kind of place you just don’t go to unless it’s summer. That's why I was so surprised to discover how much rich history and charm this city has. Mark Twain supposedly felt right at home the moment he came ashore from a long distance cruise and climbed the iconic Potemkin Stairs, in front of him a vibrant port town, the Black Sea behind him. The town that Twain was so enchanted by was discovered by Richelieu, a French mercenary, governed by Russian Empresses’ one-eyed lover. It was built by exiled French architects and populated mostly by Jews, who sadly, were slaughtered by Romanian Nazis a few months after Twain’s vacation. Odessa has always been a city that underwent numerous trials. Many were interesting and some were even gory, but all were the kind that brought this ridiculously diverse community together.
Modern Odessa is a stunning resort combined with a vibrant city life, I’d say it’s kind of a Ukrainian Miami, minus the all-year-round climate. So it’s a bit dead here during the off-season. But, oh boy, you are in for a treat if you visit it during the summer. If you’re thinking it’s just another post-communist Golden Sands copy, then you’re obviously wrong. Odessa is more like the French Riviera or Ibiza; modern and multi-cultural. Some still call it a “sunny place for shady people”. But who cares. It isn’t one of those usual medieval cities with castles and squares, or the usual Roman ruins. Odessa is pure entertainment; restaurants, clubs and beaches. And beach bars with swimming pools; a thing which I will never understand. The only noteworthy landmarks are the Potemkin Stairs and the still functional Odessa Opera and Ballet Theatre. The two hundred years old building is beautiful, but doesn’t receive many visitors during the summer season. Understandably, people would rather spend their days on the beach. It reminds me of La Scala in Milan.
Most of the good stuff is situated around the resort area Arkadia. It’s one huge boardwalk and concentrated dose of the best clubs and beaches in Odessa. Beach clubs like the renowned Ibiza (http://ibiza.ua/) and Bono (http://bono-beach.com.ua/) are said to be the top spots; not only in Odessa but in entire Ukraine. Honestly, I don’t think calling those two a club does them justice. They are more like mini-resorts on their own. You enter from the boardwalk, as if into another dimension with their own dance floor, restaurant, pools, even a closed off beach. That’s the thing; club beaches are top notch, exclusive, high-end stuff, while the public ones are subpar. To say the least. There’s also the Aqua Park with slides and some spa services. It’s a great place to start your morning after a night of heavy partying around the Arkadia district.
Everything from food and lodging to drinks is pretty cheap. After all, it’s Ukraine and the currency exchange services are surprisingly fair. Vulytsia Derybasivska (Ulitsa Deribasovskaya in Russian) is where you hang out when it’s raining, or during any season other than summer. It’s also called De Ribas Street, named after its builder and first mayor José de Ribas. It supposedly one of the oldest and longest streets in Odessa, where locals and the more mature audiences go to party. As for the food and restaurants, you’ll find a glorious mix of everything. Kebabs and your usual fast-food joints, seafood, oyster bars, or something unique like Israeli dishes at Dizyngoff restaurant. If you want to try some local, cheap and delicious Ukrainian meals then Grechka is one of those hidden gems that the locals would rather keep for themselves.