I almost didn’t go to Odessa. I could kick myself for that.
My object was to get to Kiev and do the Chernobyl tour, then get home the cheapest way possible. Absolute cheapest (without relying on hitchhiking) would have been overnight train back to L’viv, and retracing my steps west and south back to Croatia. But I really didn’t want to do that. I wanted to see more new places and countries I had never seen before.
Going to Odessa would leave me with no choice for getting home except going through Moldova, Romania and Hungary (Hungary especially annoying because its trains are slow and all go through Budapest to get anywhere else), and I was concerned about how much it would all cost, and how much time it would take.
But L’viv Hostel Guy told me I couldn’t even think about missing Odessa. He was right about everything else, so I took his word for it and booked a night train.
All I can say about Odessa is:
Don’t judge Odessa because it’s a bit grotty around the train station. Just walk north to the old town.
There you will find:
A relaxed, airy city that almost seems to belong more on the French Riviera than Eastern Europe.
Amazingly beautiful old buildings, parks, monuments, the Potemkin Steps, the Black Sea. Colonnades. Museums. PONY RIDES. (yeah, okay, I’m too old to ride a pony, but it was fun to watch).
I saw a bald eagle close up; the most magnificent of birds. I could have held it and had my pictures taken for 20 grivna ($2.50) but I was a bit intimidated – it was almost as big as I was.
People selling everything and anything. Walking the beautiful streets at all hours of the day and night, feeling perfectly safe. Art Deco banisters. The best pizza I’ve ever eaten in my life. Great beer.And it’s all cheap, cheap, cheap.
I never had a meal that cost more than $10 and usually it was more like $5.
I saw a ballet for $6 (and that’s only because I paid extra for a better seat; I could have sat in the cheap seats for $2):
People are friendly and nice, even the ones who didn’t speak English. The men are polite; I never felt uncomfortable around them.
I stayed at the TIU Front Page Hostel, which is conveniently located near the old town. The hostel is run by Adam, a very large Australian guy who very kindly helped me find my dropped lipstick by pushing those bunk beds around like they weighed nothing. Probably best not to armwrestle with him.
The prices were reasonable, the facilities good. Big rooms, nice big kitchen – multiple people can cook at the same time. Laundry available for a small fee – I think it was a couple of dollars.
The only quibbles I have are pretty minor: the showers are upstairs, quite small and turning around in them is awkward – I solved this by showering when no one else was around and leaving the door open so I could maneuver. Also, the sheet/pillowcase fabric didn’t feel good to me – too much polyester in it.
Other than that it’s a really good hostel and I recommend it. Not for party animals, because Adam enforces the rules strictly, but I appreciated that because I like peace and quiet.
Adam was very helpful with information about Odessa and how to get to other cities like Chisinau or Bucharest.
There’s also a cute kitty at the hostel (for some reason almost every hostel I stayed at in Ukraine had a cat).
I ate at Olio Pizza on Bunina Street in the old town, a place I highly recommend for excellent food at a reasonable price. You can eat cheaper in Odessa but probably not better than this. Pizzas cost from $5-$8 and some of them are very imaginative: I saw one with duck, blue cheese and pears. I went for the Meat Supreme, which has 6 different kinds of meat on it for about $7. It was so good I went back the next day and the next. It’s easy to find – Bunina street goes through the old town and it’s near the park.
Drawbacks of Odessa are the usual for Eastern Europe: poorly ventilated, stuffy buildings, crowded chaotic markets (even in the supermarket, which was designed by some idiot), and the difficulty of deciphering Cyrillic. But my bank card worked fine here and I never got ripped off by any store, restaurant or any other place. I felt perfectly safe walking around at all hours of the day and night. The bus station area was a bit depressing, but that’s typical of Eastern Europe.
I wish I could live here. Sadly, the rents in the old town start at something like $800 a month, well out of my price range.
If you are thinking about visiting Odessa, drop everything and go there now.