What a city.
I researched Odessa a bit online. Wikipedia is great when you want quick info. The photos depicted a modern, beautiful port city with a vibrant tourism industry. They were right.
Marina and her father found me at the train station and we drove to their home in town. Her father is a very mild-mannered man. He speaks no English. Marina’s English is exceptional. The woman speaks four languages (Ukrainian, Russian, English and French) and has a degree in engineering. Communication is quite easy.
When we arrived at the house, I immediately opened my suitcase and offered up my tokens of appreciation–Italian and French cheeses, Italian espresso and Italian sausages. They showed me around the house and garden and eventually we sat down to eat what amounted to quite a feast as it was the Orthodox Easter celebration.
Marina’s mother had made pot of cabbage rolls. We dined on meat-stuffed potato dumplings, cucumbers and red peppers, potato salad, meatballs and mashed potatoes. My glass was filled with sweet grape juice, proudly made by Marina’s father. I kept going back for more.
Afterward, Marina, her mother and I went for a walk through an enormous city park nearby. Thousands of people were about, grilling shashlyk, a type of skewered meat, playing with their children or kicking the soccer ball around. We passed a beautiful, newer Orthodox church. It was seventy degrees and the sky was clear blue.
We chatted as we walked. It was fascinating listening to the opinions and observations of Marina and her mother about Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and Europe. As I have noted for years, my America-centric view is not the ONLY view. It is ONE view and not necessarily right. I’m hearing from them about things that are happening here that the rest of the world doesn’t know. They are giving me background that the media doesn’t include. Hearing from actual, real people is eye-opening and educational.
When we returned from our walk, I lay down to take a nap. Five hours later, I woke up and Marina and I caught a cab into the downtown area. We took a leisurely walk for two hours through public squares and past monuments of Putin and Catherine the Great. It was Catherine who decreed that Odessa should be built back in the early 1800’s making it a relatively young city by European standards.
We walked along part of the waterfront. Odessa is a port city, giving it an international flavor with many different languages represented. Turkey looms across the Black Sea. Cranes reach out over the water, waiting for arriving containerized vessels. An ultra-modern, high-rise, waterfront hotel beckons visitors.
We strolled along a promenade for hundreds of yards that was lined with oak trees festooned with colored lights, giving the area a Christmassy feel. We passed museums, restaurants and nightclubs. Couples walked hand in hand. There were palaces and everywhere I looked I marveled at the architecture.
I see magnificent architecture everywhere I go in Europe but I’ve noticed that in each city there seems to be a bit of a difference, however slight in styles. Each city, with its own unique identity and history, reflects such in its architecture, almost as if the residents want to show their commonality with architectural similarity, yet reflect their own identity through nuance.
We stopped for sandwiches and dined on what can best be described as lamb kebab/burrito. We ordered fresh-squeezed orange/grapefruit juice and mineral water. For dessert we had two mouth-orgasms respectively called a Napoleon and chocolate-currant cake. I also ordered a shot of Bailey’s.
The total? $16. I told Marina the same meal would be nearly $65-70 in Portland’s Pearl District.
Eventually, we returned home, arriving about 1:00 a.m. I had missed my Skype appointment with Barry, but he told me he would try again the next morning. We need to coordinate for his two month visit.
Tomorrow? More Odessa. Last night was the introduction.
Now it’s time to savor.