I. Love. Odesa. This capital of hedonism is called the Ibiza of the East and with good reason. Completely unchecked free market capitalism with no sense of social responsibility mixed with a love of sex, possibly drugs (though I’m not entirely sure on that one) and rock n roll. A complete lack of education on 2 of the 3 abovementioned items also leads to some not so nice consequences (like a 16% AIDS rate in the city), but I loved the city all the same.

Odesa is a happening city where locals and tourists alike mingle all summer long on their overcrowded beaches along the Black Sea during the day and party card at Arcadia, a 7 nights a week nightclub open until the sun comes up, all night long.  There is an excess of restaurants, alcohol and gorgeous women overdressed for every occasion. It’s not uncommon in this part of the world for women to spend over half their meagre income on looking good. Of course, they might be Ukrainian mail order brides as well. Odesa is the place to be if you are a rich man trying to find a hot, young wife. There are entire agencies devoted to finding you the perfect Russian speaking, long limbed beauty. No joke, they will match you with women based on your tastes and take you out for a date with them where they will provide a translator so you can have a chat. There are also billboards with pictures of rich American men advertising that they are looking for Ukrainian wives.

It is impossible not to feel underdressed and overweight around these women who wear heels to the beach. Lucky for me, I really didn’t care to be getting dressed up most of the time as I really couldn’t be bothered so spent most of my time either sleeping or drinking on the beach. In fact, I loved Odesa’s unchecked hedonism so much that I decided to stay an extra 2 nights!

Frankly, there isn’t a whole hell of a lot to see in Odessa. A couple of statues and the Potemkin steps which, while pretty cool, are just a set of stairs leading to the ocean. The entire reason to go to Odesa is to lie on the beach, drink, party and eat. And people watch, of course. As I stated in a previous post about creepy Ukrainian men trying to scab off my bill in Kiev, so they also did this in Odesa. I was sitting at a Mexican restaurant for dinner one night, risking food poisoning with every bite (I couldn’t help but try it and I have decided to do this every couple of countries), just minding my own business, reading a book and not looking up while I was eating until I could smell smoke in my immediate vicinity. They have no concept of “non-smoking areas” in Ukraine and as I was outside anyway I couldn’t say anything, but I was still going to wrinkle my nose at them when I realised said smoker was SITTING ACROSS THE TABLE FROM ME just smoking and having a beer. Seriously? Talk about brazen. I looked at him and said in what I thought was a very rude tone “pazhalsta?” which means excuse me and he looked at me like “What?” and then started going off in Russian. I kept saying “go away” in English because for some stupid reason I have a mental block on saying it in Russian and he just kept going on and on and the only word I could make out was “shot” which means bill. The waitress came up and asked if we were together and I said no and she got rid of him for me. Nice girl.

Apparently some of the other lovely girls that I met had the same issue with groups of guys trying to join their table as well, but it’s a bit easier to deal with if you have numbers on your side. There were also issues with a few guys at a summer all night trance festival we went to on the beach an hour outside of Odesa. Talk about an adventure. I had to keep getting the German guy from our hostel to stand between me and these guys because they wouldn’t leave me alone. Talk about persistent.

So about this trance festival. It’s called Summer Sound and this girl who had a friend staying at the hostel came down to Kiev for the night specifically to go to this big outdoor party on the beach. And when I say it was an hour outside of Odesa, I’m not joking. We took a taxi and it took us that long. Would have taken about 3 hours via bus probably. It was great fun, even though I am definitely not a fan of trance music and we danced until the sun came up. The DJ group Above & Beyond that Amelia (the girl from Kiev) came down (on the 11 hour train ride) to see had a screen in which they would put pictures up and type notes onto their computer which showed up on the screen. One of the pictures they had up was the Sydney skyline (I got so excited) and they wrote “Wherever you are, you are home” which made me slightly homesick. I miss seeing the Sydney skyline everyday, especially since I could see it from my balcony at home.

Word of caution to this tale, make sure you know how to get home from wherever the heck we were. We decided to go home around 6 am and were told that mashrutka’s stopped regularly at a certain spot every half hour. Needless to say, they weren’t  stopping on Sunday morning. So then we were told we’d have to walk half a mile up to the main road and catch a mashrutka from there. We tried hitchhiking, but as there were 5 of us that was not going to happen. We finally picked up a mashrutka, promptly fell asleep sitting up and woke up to a man yelling at us in Russian and Amelia arguing back. Apparently he wanted to charge us something ridiculous like 50 Hryvnya each when the posted price was 10 so Amelia had us get out when we had no idea where we were, pay our 10 hryvnya each and continued yelling at the guy as he drove off. Turns out he dropped us right at the edge of Odesa, so we just had to take a short mashrutka ride back to the train station and then walk 20 minutes to get to our hostel. Needless to say we didn’t get back until 9 in the morning and slept pretty much the entire day.

I did wake up at some point mid-afternoon to go get some food and can I just say that I have never experienced worse service in my life that I experienced in Ukraine. If the food in Ukraine weren’t so delicious I would have self-catered the entire time because service was so terrible, and I’m a patient person (surprising as that sounds).

So about this food which I promised ages ago to post about. There are a few foods that I fell in love with in Ukraine. One of them is one of the ‘national dishes’, (not sure whether it is an official dish or not) is salo. It’s basically raw pork fat and it is amazing. You can eat it as slices of fat by itself or with toppings such as raw garlic (I was in heaven) or you can have it chopped up and put in soups and in pots of another addictive dish called vareniki, which is a filled dumpling of sorts. I really enjoyed meat and onion or potato and onion verenyaki with salo, but if you are vego or don’t fancy salo (you should try it regardless with verenyaki) you can always order it without salo. You can also get verenyaki filled with fruits like sour cherry, which is very popular and in season during the summer. My other favourite dish which I ALWAYS ordered if it was on the menu was solyanka, which is a type of amazing soup that I really need to learn to make well.

From Odesa I made my way to the small and oft-forgotten country of Moldova so keep an eye out for my next post!

What I’m reading now: Gathering Roots: The History of Ethnic Cleansing in Kosova and Macedonia

What I’m listening to now: Fearless – Taylor Swift