From Kiev I travelled south to the Black Sea and the seaside town of Odessa. Probably the coolest thing about Odessa was that I stayed in a Harry Potter themed hostel, complete with robes and wands for posing in photos and the Harry Potter films on a continuous loop (dubbed in Ukrainian).
Other sights in Odessa include the Potemkin Stairs which were built as an optical illusion to make them look bigger than they are by being wider and the bottom and narrowing at the top, and the Love Heart, a big iron heart designed specifically for love locks in order to preserve the nearby bridge.
The beach was good. Very crowded, and after a while it started raining and it got very cold so I went back to the hostel, but the water was so nice and the waves were just high enough to be interesting but not annoying. There were also sun lounges that you could hire for about $3.50 and people walking around selling seafood and cupcakes. It was so good to visit a beach and actually go swimming without freezing to death.
The last must-see in Odessa is the Theatre, a spectacular building in itself but a trip to Odessa is not complete without a ticket to the opera or ballet. I chose to see a ballet mostly because the opera was going to be in Ukrainian, in the end it didn’t matter because I had no idea what was going on in the ballet either. But it didn’t matter, it was a fun experience. I also had to dress up for it, which was a bit difficult with my limited backpacker’s wardrobe, but I managed to improvise by wearing my skirt as a dress.
Eventually it was time to leave Odessa and Ukraine altogether and head to Moldova. I wanted to make a stop in “strangely soviet Tiraspol” on the way to Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, but I encountered logistical difficulties and ended up giving in and going straight to Chisinau on the bus. Tiraspol is the capital of the breakaway state Transnistria, a self-proclaimed country that revels in the glory days of the Soviet Union and Lenin. They even have their own currency which is not accepted in any other country and the coins are plastic, basically guitar picks. I wanted to go just for a few hours to see what this strange place is like, but alas I could not find a bus to take me there even though I had been assured I could find one easily.
So I gave up and went straight to Chisinau on a route that avoids Transnistria altogether which I guess meant I didn’t have to deal with the awkward border crossings caused by entering a country through a border that thinks it’s a different country. And then I was in Moldova. Lots of sunflower fields and evident poverty. Moldova has one good thing going for it: it has many very good wineries. Besides that, Moldova doesn’t really know what’s going on. It is still struggling to make an identity for itself, caught between the soviet days and wanting to be free of them.
Wandering around the streets of Chisinau with my new Canadian friend I picked up at the hostel, I found it to be a mix between a town that just resembles any other nondescript place and a town that has definitely seen better and also worse days. There weren’t a lot of noteworthy landmarks in the city but I was very impressed that every bench in the park had two bins, that’s a pretty good, if not excessive, ratio.
My favourite sight, however, was the Lenin statue. Having been removed from the city centre and relocated to a dingy corner of a forgotten and overgrown park, I think it spoke volumes about the history of the country. Even the fact that the statue was moved rather than being destroyed says a lot.
And then once again it was time to leave. One night was enough in Chisinau. James and I got an overnight bus to Bucharest, Romania. It was so nice to find someone to travel with after so long in very non-touristic Ukraine, even if it was just for a day or two. Mum felt the same, although for different reasons, telling me “I’m so glad you’ve found someone to sleep with on the bus”…