Black Sea Ferry I: The MS Griesfwald from the Ukraine to Georgia

I like travelling, and in particular enjoy journeys. I like to start a trip in one place, travel by public transportation and end up in another, and the fascinating ferry company, UKR Ferry came to my attention; in particular, their route from Odessa to Poti on board the MS Griefswald.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to enjoy many of these minor odysseys, from Odessa to Beirut, from Istanbul (eventually) to Paris, from London to Aqaba, Adelaide across the outback to Brisbane; all over the place. And once, many years ago from Montreal to Bogota.

Now, I wanted to cross the Black Sea, and then the whole width of the Caucuses ending up in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku on the Caspian Sea. Planned for some time, and assisted mightily by the interesting fact that Baku still counts as Europe (II) for frequent flyer redemption points, the trip was booked and plans set in stone.

As I write this, I am in a bar at the Black Sea Hotel in Odessa, a slightly odd place, but as I am a repeat visitor, it clearly offers certain charms that I find attractive. Star ratings do not do hotels justice in many cases, and in others they create unrealistic expectations. It is rated as a four-star hotel, and might be according to some standards, but really it is a three-star property with some nice touches.

The property is about thirty years old, located close to the train station and about a twenty-minute stroll into the “centre” of the city. There are plenty of restaurants around, including a Bulgarian number that I plan on trying later on tonight; Odessa is a pleasant enough city to wander in and the location, away from the rather curiously upmarket centre, suits me fine.

It also helps to get a suite (small) for only $85 per night, while a modest single will only set one back about $55 or so. I did ask to be moved as the first room on offer (802) was elderly; the window held in place by scotch-tape, the carpet matted in all the wrong places, a strong odour of soviet cigarettes and a generally dissolute air.

Room 1102, on the other hand, is lovely; clean, bright and extremely comfortable.

Sunday in Odessa is not, we have to be honest, a hornet’s nest of activity. At least not in November. Young folks do still strut along Deribasivskaya, a major shopping and strolling street but with slightly less enthusiasm than during the summer months, and, it has to be said, with considerably more chaste clothing. The street, incidentally, is named after an improbably-monikered, Imperial Russian sailor named de Ribas, a chap of Spanish-Irish stock.

The markets, full of local artists of varying skills look a little forlorn, and the inevitable games of chess seem to have a sharper edge. The same Asiatic kitsch that one finds in street markets from Saigon to Yellowknife is all here, along with a surprising number of sub-Saharan Africans selling animal statuettes from street-corner blankets; one can’t help wondering how they ended up in Odessa (the wrong one, perhaps?, they were heading for Texas?), and just how brisk the model giraffe business might be. It is presumably reasonable judging by the twenty or so Africans sitting quietly in a remote corner of immigration at the airport.

But I digress; I am here to pick up my ticket for passage on the MS Greifswald tomorrow morning. This fascinating ship operated by the UKRFerry Company sails from Odessa to Poti on the Georgian coast weekly; Tuesday evenings at 2200, arriving in Georgia on Friday morning at 0900. Or so they say; I have a berth booked, and will pick up my ticket in the morning at which time they will confirm the exact schedule. The ship is designed primarily for freight, carrying whole railway trains and many trucks, but has 150 berths for the drivers and a few tourists.

The Griefswald
I tried to do this a couple of years ago but was thwarted by bad storms. In the event, I flew to Yerevan and wandered around Armenia for a few days before heading to Tbilisi by train, and falling in love with the Caucuses.

So tomorrow I try again. The weather is lovely, the ship will likely sail, and I shall take my place among the heavy industry that is shipped between Europe and Central Asia on this most useful of ferry lines.

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