Odessa, Ukraine: A Gracious City by the Sea

A beautiful old girl located at the top of the Black Sea, Odessa was the  Miami Beach of Russian Oligarchs before the 1917 revolution. It’s a beach town today – Russians still come here as do many eastern Europeans. Begun on the orders of Russian Empress Catherine the Great in 1797, Odessa is not a “beach town” of tacky souvenir shops but rather a stylish city well planned and constructed in the 19th century.

Odessa is a delightful destination and an amazing off-season bargain. (The value of the Ukarinian currency is extremely low.) Shopping is wonderful, especially for young adults. Deribasovskaya Street is the main east-west street and the location of many restaurants, hotels, boutiques and bars. It leads to the sea. Crossing Deribasovskaya running north and south and directly to the railroad station is Katerynyns’ka Street. Several blocks of department stores and other retailers are on this street. The cathedrals of the three major Christian sects and the Muslim mosque are on or near Katerynyns’ka Street. Sycamore trees and old buildings line this avenue giving it the feeling of being in France. Odessa is small in size, making it very walkable.

There’s more than a touch of Paris here. Between 1890 and 1910 Odessa was booming as evidenced by the large number of decorative Art Noveau hotels and apartment buildings. Clearly the 20th century wasn’t the best time here and many of the fine old buildings have been neglected although others have been restored. Next to my hotel a superb example of Art Noveau decoration is being restored in a multi-year project now nearing completion. Once called the “Grand Moscow Hotel” (or sometimes the “Big Moscow Hotel”) this building is now as beautiful as it has ever been. The exterior is complete and work seems to be going on inside. Come in a year or two and you may be able to stay there. I’d love doing that!*

There’s so much to show and tell about Odessa that I plan to create three posts this week to show some of what I found there. I’ll begin with some pictures I hope will give you a sense of the city.

“CTEUKXAYC” spells “steakhouse” I think but I’m showing this for the red cow of peace.

A good idea: a picnic spot along the path through the park.

A charming hotel and a cafe named “Maman” (French for mama).

New buildings and old outside my hotel.

Deribasovskaya Street is the center of the party. Each evening young women offer ponies and donkeys, dressed up for a party, for children’s rides. I liked this one’s tutu.

The Great Moscow Hotel — more about this in my next post.

Almost Spring!

Taking wedding pictures on the boulevard overlooking the sea.

Odessa’s most important buildings are on Primorskiy Boulevard, overlooking the sea and the famous Potemkin Stairs.

Come back soon for photos of some spectacular buildings of Odessa.

*I can recommend Royal Street Hotel, a really nice small hotel at a price under $40 a night off-season, directly on Deribasovskaya Street.

Elizaveta (my name in Russian!)

Kiev: Saint Sofia Cathedral (Museum)

Following the disaster at Notre Dame de Paris yesterday, and because I’m in Kiev this week, it seems appropriate to share my photos of Saint Sofia with you today.

Begun in the early 11th century, Saint Sofia is the most famous site in Kiev, Ukraine. It was built in the eastern orthodox style. Its roof contains 13 cupolas of varying sizes, some of them covered in gold. A gold-covered carved screen surrounds a door made of silver.  Two-tier galleries comprise a second floor on three sides. Fresco paintings — some ancient and most newer – grace the galleries.

Through the centuries Saint Sofia has often been at the center of conflict between various Christian sects.  Wikipedia says, “After the Russian Revolution of 1917 and during the Soviet anti-religious campaign of the 1920s, the government plan called for the cathedral’s destruction and transformation of the grounds into a park. The cathedral was saved from destruction primarily by the effort of many scientists and historians. Nevertheless, in 1934, Soviet authorities confiscated the structure from the church, including the surrounding 17th–18th century architectural complex, and designated it as an architectural and historical museum.”  It remains a museum today.

(The image at the top of this post is of a model of St. Sofia located at the site. I think it gives you a better idea of the cathedral than any of my photos of the exterior do.)

This is the baptistry which is still in its original condition. If you look carefully you may see images of people.

This is the interior of the main dome which is located above the altar. The paintings are recent.

This is the gold and silver screen that separates the altar from the nave. It is wood covered in precious metals.

Fresco paintings on the old walls, some recently restored and some not.

This is the bell tower (and the last blue sky I’ve seen in Kiev.)

A personal note: Since my granddaughter was a tiny child I’ve told her I’m taking her to Paris one day. Soon she’ll be old enough for that. Sadly, she will not be able to experience the awe-inspiring beauty of Notre Dame cathedral. Paris, my favorite city, has been the location of some very unfortunate events in the past few years. Don’t let that keep you from visiting!  Paris will always be the world’s most beautiful city. If you have been to Paris, please share your favorite memory or place with us in the Comments section below.

Tallinn, Estonia – Very Old and Very New

I left Zadar’s 70 degree (Fahrenheit) days to return to winter. On my first day in Tallin the temperature was 30 F degrees for most of the day and light snow had fallen overnight. Quite a change! But knowing my stay here would be short, I toughed it out and walked five miles around the city, enjoying it tremendously. On the second day the sky was blue and the sun shown most of the day but it remained quite cold. All the natives of Tallin were quick to assure me that last week the temperature was in the high 60s. (The scene above shows that we had snow on the morning of my arrival but very little of it. I like the way the old town is reflected in the window of a newer enterprise.)

Tallinn’s town hall is centuries old, gothic in style and was built to be the town hall. It is the center of the old town and the centerpiece of the large market square.

I’ve found the Estonian people to be exceptionally pleasant and friendly. Most of them speak English well. I pre-booked an old hotel near the center of the Old Town and I was very happy with my choice.

Tallinn’s medieval city walls are studded with many towers. They are still intact in most places despite many attacks over the centuries including World War 2 bombing.

The tourist office here is the best I’ve found. Not only do they patiently explain in English the answer to questions but they have also arranged three daily free walking tours.  I especially liked the “Medieval History of Tallinn” tour with Gregorian, a guide who made history fun.

Tommy was chosen to be our flag-bearer for our Medieval Tour group and with pride and good humor he carried the banner through the town. Greg, the guide, was very good, funny, full of information, a natural actor.

I asked our tour guide about life under the Soviets.  He’s young and probably doesn’t have direct memories of the years before 1991. Although I had asked about which government restored his city that had been heavily bombed during WWII, he replied about the freedom he had to speak his mind, to make jokes about the government, to be himself. He made it clear that he was very happy with Estonia’s new political system.

A typical cobblestone street filled with old buildings in the Old Town section of Tallinn. Some of the buildings date from the early medieval era.

Tallinn gives every impression of being a very westernized city.  The new part of town has many new glass towers.  One of them is the 30-story Swishotel. It is only 27 years since the Soviet Union controlled the government here as it had done since the end of World War II. Tallinn has become a very popular stop for Baltic cruises and that no doubt raises income levels here. I came because friends who have visited Tallinn on Baltic itineraries have told me how much they liked it. Surely that word has spread far.  It is a city well worth visiting.  Beautiful, old and new, well-maintained, friendly, English-speaking. I’m writing this in Riga, Latvia – Estonia’s next door neighbor. As you’ll read in my next post, that town tells an entirely different story.

Lovely entrance to a building on the market square in Tallinn. Perhaps originally a theatre? Tallinn has many beautifully painted and carved doors — so many that they’ve created a poster and other items showcasing doors.

I had to share this with you! Spring 2019 shoe styles from Estonia. Lots of fun! (Click the image to enlarge it.)

For my friend Clare: an ancient Lutheran church, older than the Protestant Reformation. Small, beautiful, still in use regularly.