He gets it working just as we’re nearing the end of Chervonoarmiyska where a women’s voice tells us to turn right, which we knew anyway. The next instruction, which comes as we’re sitting in traffic waiting to pass through Moskovskova Ploshcha (when are they ever going to finish the road works here?), is: “Drive straight for 474 kilometres.” It makes Daffy’s efforts really worthwhile.
Arriving in Odesa
So that’s what we do – drive straight for 474 kilometres. It’s kind of boring, but watching for the police at least makes it mildly interesting. Considering this is Ukraine’s best highway, it seems quite unbelievable that the speed limit is very rarely marked and fluctuates drastically every time you pass through a town. How you’re supposed to know you’re passing through a town is anyone’s guess, because sometimes they’re marked, but more often than not the only time you know you’ve been in one is when you see the sign telling you you’re leaving it. All this, of course, makes it very easy for the police to extort bribes, and we discuss the fact that they’ve probably made it as hard as possible for drivers to make it as easy as possible for them. God help us come 2012!
Amazingly, while we see quite a lot of the little devils en route, we manage to make it the whole way to Odesa without getting stopped. Once we’re in the town, the little female navigator comes in helpful – for a while at least. In fact, right up until she tells us to proceed the wrong way down a one-way street. This causes us a little bit of trouble, but after half-an-hour or so we manage to find our way to our accommodation for the weekend – the magnificent Londonskaya. It’s only quarter to six when we get there, so we feel we’ve done quite well, and are looking forward to our first beer.
The staff welcome us warmly (little do they know), checking us in quickly, and allowing us to park the car in secure parking. Established in 1827, the Londonskaya is a grand affair with a large ornate foyer and timeworn but elegant design. Until recently the hotel was part of the Ukrainian Premier Hotels chain, but now it is an independent hotel and reputedly the best in Odesa. Our rooms (two semi-suites) are on the third floor, and when we step out of the lift we find a lounge area with a long corridor ordained with rear-lit stained-glass windows.
The rooms themselves are large, both with two twin beds, TV, desk, chairs and en-suite bathroom. The hotel also offers free WiFi, so you can easily keep in touch with business while you’re away. Colin and Daffy drew the short straw, so they’re sharing, but I’ve got the room to myself. However, I don’t linger long as there’s one thought on all our minds after the long and tedious drive – beer. I go knock the door of my friends’ room to find they’re already sipping bottles of beer from the mini bar, but I encourage them to finish quickly and we’re off in search of good times.
Steak and Beer
The entrance to the Londonskaya opens onto a beautiful tree-lined boulevard at the top of the long flight of steps made famous by the classic movie ‘Battleship Potemkin’. The street is pedestrianised with benches and trees along it, and judging by the number of brides having their photos taken at the moment we step out of the hotel, just about the whole of Odesa is getting married this day.
We wander for a while, taking in the sights, and it has to be said Odesa, at least this central part, is a very beautiful place. The buildings are architecturally interesting and painted in bright colours, and the whole place has a very cosmopolitan feel to it. Soon, however, the need for beer becomes overpowering and we start looking for a place. We also all decide that we’re pretty hungry too.
Daffy, having visited the town before, tells us he knows a good place to eat, but he’s not quite sure where it is. After a few more minutes wandering, however, something in the street we’re on triggers a memory and he claims the place is just ahead. He’s right too!
The place he’s taken us to is simply called Steakhouse, and it’s a cool place by the look if it, fashionably humourous and bright in its decor. As it is a warm balmy summer’s evening, we decide to sit outside, taking a seat at a large table with nicely padded bench seating.
In a moment a smiling waitress brings us menus, already guessing they should be in English, and we order three beers for her to bring while we peruse. Taking a quick look at the menu we instantly realise this is a good place, and far better than nearly all Kyiv’s eateries. Firstly, the place does exactly what it says on the tin. It calls itself a steakhouse, and that’s what it is. There’s a large selection of red meat, along with a couple of pork dishes and one or two seafood offerings, there’s some salads, side dishes and desserts. And that’s it! Here you’re not paying for the wastage of a massively long menu that tries to cater for everyone, and the prices reflect this. A 500gram Porterhouse for 112 hrv? A 300gram Ribeye for 96 hrv? Tell me somewhere in Kyiv that can do that. The waitress returns and takes our order with smiles and pleasant chat, which mainly centres around a rather humourous conversation regarding the fact that in English we can only order our steaks as Medium Rare or Very Rare. My two cowardly compatriots go for the former, but I’m vampiric in my love of bloody meat so I opt for the latter.
Just as well that I did, because my 500gram Porterhouse I find to be rare to medium rare when it arrives, but that aside it is absolutely divine – perfectly tender and juicy with a slightly salty charcoal grilled flavour. I find I haven’t come to Odesa for the weekend, but to Heaven.
So let me just recap here, because I feel this is hugely important – good place, good atmosphere, good design, good food, great service and all at good prices. Some of Kyiv’s restaurateurs should pay a visit here. They might learn a thing or two!
Beer and More Beer
We take our time enjoying the food, drinking a beer or two, and watching the world go by. Here in Odesa, the world going by is very pleasant to watch, let me tell you! Soon, we decide to move on, and we spend the next few hours wandering from hostelry to hostelry, having a beer and a laugh, while paying increasing attention to that world going by.
Later in the evening we decide it’s time to go clubbing, and here a rather intense discussion ensues – Daffy and I think we should go and try somewhere in Arkadia, but Colin thinks it’s too far away and we should try and find something a bit more local. We eventually compromise by agreeing to go and take a look at a place called Captain Morgan’s (no association with the spiced rum as far as we know), and then go to Arcadia if it’s no good.
Captain Morgan’s we find to be an interesting place. It’s split into three areas – a bar/club, a diner and in the basement, a hooka bar (and I should point out here, that a large area of the floor in the bar/club above the hooka bar is made of glass). We spend most of our time in the bar/club bit, which, it has to be pointed out, is mostly bar due to some horrendous design error. While it is built to accommodate two dancing girls, the bar itself takes up a huge amount of the room for no apparent reason, and this means that the room left for drinking and dancing is very small indeed. Not so smart.
That aside, there’s a lot of fun going on, and interestingly for us, the place is full of very pretty girls, and very drunk men (and I don’t include ourselves in that latter category, not yet at least). This seems to us to be a balance in our favour, but after a while we realise that the nuisance the drunken men are causing counteracts the large number of pretty, scantily clad girls, and we decide to give Arcadia a go after all.
It turns out it is actually nowhere near as far as Colin seemed to think, and 20 minutes later, for the cost of 50hrv, we step out of the taxi at the entrance to what is best described as Odesa’s seafront (boardwalk for our American friends). It seems like a little bit of a walk down to where the clubs are located, so we buy some beer at a kiosk and take a stroll.
We haven’t gone far when we spot three local policemen heading towards us, or should I say, we spot them spotting us. Their foreigner radar must be working well, because they single us out when we’re still quite some distance away. Sure enough, we’re asked to show our passports, which none of us has, and after lots of discussion and threats from both sides, we finally agree on a 70hrv ‘fine’. God help us all come 2012!
We’ve been recommended to try a club called Ibiza, but when we get there we find it closed, and the one beside it, Istria, is looking a little quiet. We wander further down to a place called Western. It’s hard to tell what the place is like from the outside, so Daffy climbs up on a wall to take a look. Reporting back he tells us it looks good inside, but I’m not so sure, because of all the places we’ve been told to try, this one wasn’t mentioned.
I allow myself to be persuaded, but quite quickly find myself proven right because it’s a pretty poor crowd inside and when we ask for beer at the bar the man tells us they don’t sell it.
So, after a taxi to the place, a bribe to the local constabulary, and an entrance fee to a grotty club, we find ourselves in another taxi going back to where we left a little over an hour earlier – Captain Morgan’s.
Interestingly, this hour or so has made a change to the place, and by the time we return many of the over-drunk men have left and the place is pretty much full of women only. So being the men we are, we find a quiet table in the corner, drink beer, and talk nonsense. This seems to go on for quite some time, and when we leave fully intending to go back to the hotel, we make it as far as a Mexican bar/diner where we drink more beer and talk more nonsense. If you want an example of just how much nonsense we were capable of talking at this stage of inebriation, then an indicator might be that we argued passionately for over an hour, involving anyone we could find including the waitress, about where the hotel was from where we were, as the crow flies. Colin and I thought it was about 30 degrees below the line our table was taking, while Daffy insisted it was in the same line as the table. Even when the geek got out his iPhone, loaded a local map, laid the phone down on the table aligning the streets, and proving himself completely wrong (by being off 30 degrees) he still insisted he was right, only pointing in a slightly different direction now, much closer to our guess.
At this point, for some strange reason we can only guess at, the waitress told us that the 24-hour bar was now closing.
Returning to the hotel, we realise it is 6.45am, and that means one thing – breakfast starts in 45 minutes. What on earth can we do for 45 minutes? Beer of course.
It has to be said, the staff are particularly accommodating, and the girl serving at the bar is pleasant and friendly, even when she’s asked in which direction she thinks the Mexican place lies.
Breakfast is a buffet affair, and there’s a choice of just about everything you could want, especially when you’ve got the munchies from a whole night drinking beer. There’s a chef on hand to cook you up an omlette, and there’s a wide selection of tasty hot dishes, along with salads, fresh bread and croissants, pastries and other sweet delicacies, fruit juices, and as much coffee as you want, which for us is a lot. Finally, after stuffing our faces for quite some time, and shushing each other a lot as we become a little too vocal in our drunkenness, we retire.
A Trip to the Beach
The following day… Actually, a few hours later on the same day, I am rudely awakened by banging on my door and shouts telling me that it’s time to get up. I look at my watch, it’s just after noon and I’ve slept about four hours. Surprisingly, while my mouth feels like I’ve swallowed a badger, I don’t feel too bad. I get to the door to find Daffy and Colin standing there telling me we’re wasting the day and have to get out and see some of the place. I tell them I need to shower and clean first, but they want to get going. So we agree to meet at a coffee shop near the hotel.
After some much needed caffeine, we take a bit of a wander. We’re thinking of going to the beach, but we want to see a bit of the centre first. We actually find that we’ve already seen most of it on our pub-crawl the night before, but it’s worth seeing again in the daylight. And it’s a beautiful sunny afternoon, which makes the place even more beautiful.
We start by strolling down the tree-lined boulevard outside the hotel, and I realise I was wrong yesterday about the whole of Odesa getting married: it must only have been half, and the other half is getting married today. We wonder for a moment if we should wander down the Potemkin Steps, but after discussion, the thought of having to wander back up puts us off. Daffy reckons there’s a funicular to aid our ascent, but as we’re not sure, we decide not to risk it.
We stroll round to the Opera House, which is a majestic building, as one would expect of an opera house in Ukraine, and then on through the streets. The laid-back atmosphere of the place, the peaceful street cafes and terraces, and the painted architecture makes Odesa a very pleasant place to hang out in.
After a while, we find ourselves outside the Steakhouse. After lunch we decide to check out the beach and take a taxi back to Arcadia. The place is crowded as the people of Odesa take advantage of what is probably one of the last weekends of sunshine. Everyone is having fun, both on the beach and in the sea, but there are one or two people who are exposing themselves a little too much, and what they are exposing isn’t very pleasant. If you think about an advert that ran a couple of years back for a popular American beer brand you might get some kind of idea of what I’m talking about.
Talking about beer, that’s pretty much what we end up doing. We find a little restaurant sitting above one of the beaches, order a beer each, and watch the people having fun, keeping a safe distance from those who should keep themselves covered.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat
Back at the hotel, we retire to our rooms to clean ourselves up before heading out for another night on the town. I spend a little time doing some work, thanks to the hotel’s WiFi, while supping a beer from the mini bar, and then perform the three Ss before going to join the lads in the Mexican place we’d been refused service in earlier.
During our earlier visit, we’d seen a huge plate of beautifully smelling frying meat served to a couple sitting close to us, and when we’d asked for the same – fajitas – we’d been told by the waitress the kitchen was closed probably for revenge because we’d involved her in our rather stupid direction discussion.
Our desire for some fajitas, however, had not been satiated, so we return for another try. Luckily, there is a new waitress, so the chances are we’re more likely to get served this time. This waitress is far more smiley (but then, it isn’t 6.00am now), and seems very happy to bring us beer, fajitas and a plate of nachos with salsa dressing. Only thing is, there’s not enough salsa dressing, and we end up ordering about another four dishes of the stuff. To our pleasant surprise, only one appears on the bill when we ask for it – pay attention Kyiv restaurateurs. I should also mention that some tequila got drunk here too, but then you can’t not when you’re in Mexico.
From Mexico, we head to Ireland, and have a few beers on the terrace of a very nice Irish bar. There’s a band playing outside too, battering out some good ol’ traditional Irish tunes with passion, which draws a bit of a crowd on the pavement. They even do a very good version of that song from Brother, Where Art Thou. Anyone know who that’s by?
After that we head round to a place called Zara Pizzara (see what they did there?) where we’d wanted to spend some time the night before, but couldn’t get a table. This time we get a table no problem, and in fact, we now notice that generally the whole place is much quieter tonight than the last night, and wonder if it’s simply that Friday’s are more popular here, or if it’s another sign of the crisis. But we don’t dwell on this long, as we’ve now got a taste for tequila and we want to do some more.
When it comes time to go clubbing we’ve decided to stay in the centre this time after last night’s poor performance at Arkadia, and we’ve been told that Ya Bar is a good place to go. But when we get there it’s closed. Apparently the same people own this as own Ibiza in Arkadia and they open Ibiza during the summer, and Ya the rest of the year. As they’re both closed, it seems like we must have turned up during their vacation.
Nothing left for it but another trip to Captain Morgan’s, and this time the place is different. There’s still all the pretty young girls, but the drunken men are missing. Still, we only drink beer and chat.
And Lather, Rinse, Repeat as Needed
This morning, we actually have to get up to have breakfast, which I see as a good sign. While Daffy and Colin have tender stomachs, I am ravenous and stuff my face with all the good stuff on offer. I also drink plenty of orange juice, telling myself it will make me healthy. After breakfast we decide to go for a swim in the hotel pool, which is a bit of a hike through some long corridors, making us realise just how big the Londonskaya is. It’s a good pool, however, 25 metres in length, and we come out feeling refreshed.
There’s not much point in telling you about the rest of the day, because it’s pretty much a repeat of the day before, and the one before that, but suffice to say, more steaks are eaten, more beer is drunk, along with more tequila, and a good time is had by all.
The next day, all that’s left to do is to check out of the Londonskaya and make the long drive back to Kyiv. But we find ourselves not wanting to leave, and end up spending some time sitting in cafes (drinking coffee this time) and savouring the rich spirit of this beautiful town.
Odesa is a place to be, there’s no doubt about it. It’s cool, laidback, and a whole lot of fun. We were three boys looking for somewhere different to drink together, and it is great for that, but it would also make an excellent romantic retreat for couples. And the Londonskaya is a great place to stay if you’re coming here – good service in a hotel with great character. If you haven’t been to Odesa before, get yourself here. If you have been, it surely must be time for a return visit. Daffy, Colin and I know we will be back, and hope it is not in the too distant future.