It is now officially time to roll. I have my ticket in hand, the weather forecast is good and today was a simply gorgeous fall day here on the Black Sea coast.
Which was a good thing, because I was running out of things to do, and wandering around on a gloomy day wears thin soon. Today, however, I took to the streets.
I picked up my ticket from UKR Ferry this morning after finally finding their office. “On the corner of Preobrazhenskiy and Schepinka Streets”, they said. I did feel pretty silly not realising that the Odessa city fathers had renamed Yelisavetynskaya Street, Schepinka Street, but after some confusion I made it.
The reason for the delay, I was pleased to hear, was a high wind preventing the ship from leaving the Georgian port of Poti, not bad weather on the high seas. I paid (US$375 for single occupancy of a “Semi-Luxe” cabin for the three-day voyage, including meals) and received my ticket. I bought the most expensive option available; passage in a four-berth cabin with three others costs about $165 for the voyage. I wanted a little privacy.
So off then to sightsee some more; to the Potemkin Steps, the incredible harbour, statues-a-plenty and the Mother-In-Law bridge. With a name like that, who could resist finding out more. It turns out that a high-ranking official ordered the bridge to be built in order to be closer to his mother-in-law’s dumplings. Perhaps, but many men would see right through this explanation, and regardless of how wonderful a cook she was would be unlikely to build a bridge to aid access.
Today, however, the bridge appears to bestow long-lasting marriages upon newlyweds who secure a padlock on the steel railings. There are hundreds of them, and a very good view.
Back through the centre of town, wondering why it would not look completely out of place in (say) Uruguay, a guide book told me that in the late 1700s, much of the city had been designed by Italian architects, in particular the wonderfully named Francesco Boffo and Franz Frapolli.
I visited the train station, obvious by the large sign reading “VOKSAL” above the building. Well, it was in Cyrillic obviously, but this is a literal translation. This curious word, meaning station in Russian, apparently originates with a visit by two Soviet railwaymen to the UK in the 1920s to see how railways were run (they wouldn’t go there now for such a consultancy, but that’s another story). Seeing a large sign outside a main London Terminus called Vauxhall, they thought that the sign meant “station”, and took the idea home.
The Odessa station is a beauty, and the end of the line. From here, trains go all over the Ukraine and on to Moscow, Prague, Berlin and one really bizarre weekly service through some of the more peculiar trans-Caucasian states to Baku on the Caspian Sea. Sadly, foreigners are prohibited from riding this particular rail, so I shall make do with the ship, a shared taxi and a shorter train ride to get me to the Azerbaijani capital.
And it all starts in the morning; I did, however, take the precaution of purchasing a couple of bottles of Moldovan Cabernet for the ride. Frankly I think that I have bought at the wweapons-grade and of the spectrum from the bottles enthused about in the link, but I shall report.