We set our sites on Europe in the early winter and visited Paris, Cannes, Avignon in France then Turin and Venice in Italy. None of this even remotely prepared us for our visit to Kiev and Odessa, Ukraine. Yes, we wanted snow after two years in SE Asia and yes we wanted a change in the seasons. However, we arrived in Kiev to -6℉, windy and blowing snow. Big! Big Change from the last two years or so of our life in SE Asia.
We checked into our Dream Hostel for a 7 day stay in Kiev to photograph some winter weather and the only thing we photographed was a church out of a window in the hostel. We had snow and temperatures never above 12℉ for our entire stay. As far as taking photos, we left with zip, nada, zilch, and continued on a little further south to the town of Odessa in the Ukraine. What a difference a few hundred kilometers can make. Still cold with a little left over ice, but every day got warmer and every day was nicer for our week in Odessa.
Odessa has been around since the 6th century BC. It has been ruled by many cultures, the most recent being the Russians until they gained their independence in the soviet breakup. Many of the Jewish residents migrated to New York City’s “Little Odessa”. The people with more financial security left for Moscow and St Petersburg for more opportunities. Nonetheless, the city continued to prosper largely because of its seaport on the Black Sea.
We caught a cab from the airport into the center of town for about 5 Euros and were let off a block away from our hotel. The entire center part of the city is a large pedestrian mall and no cars or cabs are allowed on the streets – only foot traffic. It is a beautiful city and we soon found ourselves falling in love with this part of the Ukraine.
We were out for a breakfast at the local cafe the next morning and were stopped by a nice gentleman from Turkey who owned a restaurant near the cafe. He offered to give us a sample of the meat he was cooking and it was just excellent. No other word would do it justice and we quickly told him that we would be back that evening for dinner. I am sure he is told that all of the time by tourists in the city. We surprised him by being true to our word a little later in the day. He reciprocated with Turkish Baklava for dessert, free of charge.
The day was still really cold with a steady wind but we had heard about a building in Odessa called the ”Wall House”. When photographed from the correct angle, it looks like a building that is not more than about 4 to 5 feet from front to back. It is really more than that and the photograph below is a combination of very thin building and an optical illusion. We did a quick walk further down to The Columns on the edge of the Black Sea and then went back to our room to work and wait for the next day which promised to be much warmer.
Today dawned much brighter outside and after a short breakfast, Laurel decided she was not feeling 100% so I was going to have the day to myself with the camera. Not the best option since my hands are not nearly as steady as hers but I decided to go out and do what I could. It was such a nice day outside with no wind and nearly 50℉ which was the best we had seen in some weeks.
My day started out with a beautiful building right outside of our residence. Most cities that are part of the old Russian-ruled countries, like those in Romania, are dark memories of a time with no design and only a little color, but not the cities in the Ukraine. They are the exact opposite with the most opulent and over the top architecture that I have ever seen. Even the great city of Rome would struggle to be as beautiful as Kiev and Odessa.
The first building I photographed was a green building with a blacktop just outside our residence and it was magnificent with 8 women’s heads in relief (1 on each corner at the top) that were simply amazing. There were eagles, lions or tigers and more on the lower floors and the black top was fantastic. The top had 4 huge vases on the corners, numerous wolf and tiger heads and, to top everything off, two huge clear glass globes that I caught with the sunlight shining through.
My next stop was a well known and often photographed hotel called “The Passages” This hotel was built around the 1890’s and is just so over the top it is almost unbelievable. Only 4 stories tall and the bottom is all for retail use with different shops. It is built around a central courtyard which is featured in the images below.
Next, I moved on to the Transfiguration Cathedral. The first of which was built in the early 11th century with additions in the 17th and 18th centuries. Yet it looks as though it could have been constructed in the 21st century. While it was not one of the more unique or the most beautiful cathedrals I have photographed, it was, by far, one of the best maintained for its age.
Afterward, I wandered the streets to a large park along the edge of the frozen Black Sea but nothing jumped out along this area until I reached a long walkway across to The Colonnade. It is located near the Vorontsovsky Palace and the Teshin (the Mother-in-Law) bridge. It is a hugely popular place to visit, have coffee, and picnic during warmer weather. The colonnade was created and built by Italian architect F.K.Boffo in 1826.
The next stop on my walkabout would have been the Potemkin Steps but those were being renovated and I was not able to see more than a little construction that was going on through a gap in the fence.
The last photographs were of the most famous building in Odessa, The Grand Opera and Ballet House. The building itself was huge covering most of a three city block area including all of its grounds. The first building was destroyed by fire in 1873. The new building, as it is today, was built in 1887 in the popular French Rococo style which in itself means “Over The Top”. The acoustics are so unique that you can stand on the stage with your hand in front of your mouth and whisper a few words. Your friends can be on the third level in the rear of the giant hall and hear you as clearly as if they were standing on the stage with you. Renovated in 2007 the building looks as though it was constructed yesterday.
I have touched on a few of the places that everyone visits in the city and have included photographs of the places that influenced me the most. The city itself is not only one of the best-preserved cities I have visited, but also was one of the best deals for a tourist in all of Europe. For example, an Up-sized Big Mac Meal in the U.S. would sell for around 8 dollars, in Romania for around 6 dollars but in Odessa only 3 dollars.
Clean, great food, great deals. Be sure to add Odessa and all of the Ukraine as a must see to your list of cities.
Leaving today was hard to do but we will be on the bus and actually visit 4 countries in the next 24 hours but that is another story.