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If you only do three things:

1, Spend an evening at the opera. Imagine yourself to be a character in a classic novel, surrounded by the crumbling baroque splendour of Odessa's famous opera house.

2. Stroll to the beach through the leafy Shevchenko Park against the backdrop of the Black Sea.

3. Visit the sprawling Privoz market for a feel daily Ukrainian life. Try a piece of Salo (pig fat), a Ukrainian national speciality.

 

Odessa
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“Odessa is an awful place. Everybody knows how they murder the Russian language there. All the same, I think there's a lot to be said for this great city, which has more charm than any other in the Russian Empire …. In Odessa there are sweet and relaxing spring evenings, the strong scent of acacias, and, over the dark sea, a moon which radiates a steady, irresistible light.”
Isaac Babel - Odessa 1916

Introduction
Facts
What to see

INTRODUCTION
Like many port towns around the world, Odessa has led a life apart. The port has always been its lifeblood and even today most people have some connection to shipping and the docks.

Odessa is a city of sunshine and its relaxed joie de vivre fits well amoung European architecture, packed beaches and wide green parks. Famous for its ready wit and silver-tongued residents, the character of the city can be traced back to its very beginnings. Odessa was founded in 1794 after Russia had taken control of the area five years earlier. Its neoclassical style was the height of late eighteenth century good taste, and Odessa always felt a little different to its rural surroundings. To populate and develop this new city the governor, a Frenchman, the Duc de Richelieu slashed taxes and created a laissez-faire atmosphere that attracted entrepreneurs, criminals, refugees, and dissenters from all over the Black Sea region. This created the rich multicultural blend of pioneers and rogues that helped to form the strongly independent character of the city today. Still stubbornly Russian speaking, Odessa pays scant regard to attempts at Ukrainianisation by Kiev. Complex notions of torn patriotism between Russia and Ukraine come a distinct second behind allegiance to Odessa itself.

Jewish culture has always played a key part in the atmosphere of the city and at its peak the Jewish population in Odessa constituted about a third of the population. Although there were waves of pogroms and emmigration throughout the 19th Century, it was the brutal occupation by German and Romanian forces during the Second World War that finally decimated the Jewish population. This has slowly recovered to reach a current level of around 30,000.

Odessa still shows the signs of its role as a popular Soviet resort and health spa. The large number of crumbling concrete sanatoria that stretch along the shore were built to house legions of spritely comrades on their annual holiday from Moscow or Leningrad. This annual invasion continues unabated.
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THE FACTS

Population: 1.1 million.
Getting there and away
Air: Odessa has an international airport with regular flights from Istanbul, Frankfurt and Budapest. There are also domestic routes to major cities.
Rail: Like most former Soviet cities, Odessa has a grand train station with good links to Kiev, Simferopol, and most major cities.
Boat: Many people visit Odessa as part of a Black Sea or Dnepr River Cruise, there are also ferry routes to Crimea, Turkey, Romania and Georgia.
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WHAT TO SEE

The Centre
Odessa’s central street, the pedestrianised Deribasovskaya, pulls large evening and weekend crowds with its lines of shops and cafes. The souvenir and art market on Deribasovskaya is largely aimed at the short stay visitors that pile off the cruise ships at intermittent intervals, however it is a pleasant enough place.
From the top of the famous Potemkin Steps to the small bust of Pushkin, runs the treelined Primorsky Boulevard that looks down on the port. Odessans tend to sit on benches along the boulevard to talk and watch the ships on the horizon turn on their anchors.
The one hundred and ninety two Potemkin Steps that lead up from the seaport to the town are perhaps Odessa’s most famous landmark. Immortalised in Sergei Eisenstein’s classic film Battleship Potemkin as the scene of the tsarist troops’ vicious suppression of popular support for mutinying sailors in 1905.

The Opera House
Between Lanzherovskaya and Chaikovskaya Streets
Tel: 0482 291 329

Odessa is rightly proud of its stunning opera house that dates from 1887, the interior of which is a sumptuous whirl of baroque flourishes and gilt classical motifs. The building takes pride of place in the city centre and has performances most nights (although it is often closed in the summer when the company tours abroad). Tickets can be purchased in the little 'kassa' booth next door for a few pounds. It has to be said that the quality of the performances do not quite live up to the grandiosity of the setting; the company is consistantly short of money, a situation exacerbated by the fact that the building itself is constantly under threat of total decay.
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Kulikovo Pole Square
Just to the east of the station, Kulikovo Pole retains much of its Soviet atmosphere. The square is dominated by a ten metre high statue of Lenin that once served as a gathering place for major events and communist rallies. It still attracts communist demonstrations and many war veterans gather here on 9th May (Victory Day). The view down the tree lined route towards the station through Lenin Park is dramatic, taking in both Lenin and the silver domes of the Andryvska Podvore Orthodox Church, neither of which are hugely representative of the rest of the city, but atmospheric nonetheless. At the bottom end of the square, in Lenin Park is a second hand book market where you will find Russian versions of classic novels mixed in with dusty copies of books with titles like: “Tungsten Bearing Manufacture in the Soviet Union - a Guide for Schools”.
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The Privoz Market
Privoznaya 14 06:00-17:00
Living in a port, trade and the exchange of goods come naturally to Odessans and consequently there are a number of large markets throughout the city. The largest is the Privoz, an enormous and bewildering farmers’ market not far from the rail station. Farmers and villagers come in from miles around to sell fresh produce at cheap prices; this is where most Odessans do their shopping. Some farmers will travel into the city and stay until all their produce is sold, often sleeping in the streets around the market. A crowded and bustling place, the Privoz is where rural and urban Ukraine collide. Well worth exploring.
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Parks and Beaches
The long walk along the coast to Arkadia, takes in most of Odessa’s major parks and beaches. These are often packed with holiday makers in the summer and can be dirty and a bit rough and ready.The beaches in the exclusive residential district of Arkadia come alive in the summertime with its high concentration of bars and nightclubs. You can reach the popular Lanzheron Beach more easily from the city centre by walking through leafy Shevchenko Park looking down on the docks.
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The Catacombs
Nerubaiskoye
Much of Odessa was built with blocks of sandstone cut directly from the ground beneath the city, this has resulted in a network of passages estimated to be nearly 2000km long under the whole region. Stories of smugglers, hideouts and ghosts abound, however the catacombs are most famous as the underground base of the local partisans during World War Two. It was from these passages that the guerrillas mounted their resistance to German and Romanian occupation of the city. Tours through a section of the catacombs run from the museum in the village of Nerubaiskoye, about half an hour’s drive from Odessa. Most hotels and travel agents run regular organised tours. It is not recommended that you try and see any part of the catacombs unaccompanied; half the stories you hear in Odessa are tales of people missing in the pitch black of the underground passages.
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