When Peder and I first started planning this trip, I told him that one of my top priorities was to ensure that our weekends overlap with the best nightlife-oriented cities possible. There’s little sense in going somewhere like Odesa, famous for its dusk-till-dawn parties, on Tuesday then wasting Saturday in a small town known only for its botanical gardens.
This goal was the main reason for our rapid “one-day-per-city” pace through Romania and Moldova; if we wanted to spend our first weekend in Belgrade and the next in Odesa, it left just four days to make it across an enormous (and not particularly well-equipped) part of the world.
But miraculously, we did make it. We’d awoken Friday morning in Moldova, crossed Transdniestr, and arrived in Odesa before dark – with just enough time to find ourselves a place to stay before our first night out on the coast of the Black Sea.
Although we had pre-arranged a private apartment for our first weekend in Belgrade, we couldn’t be sure how far we’d make it by the following week – so rather than booking ahead we opted to play the rest of the trip by ear. From Belgrade until the conclusion of our journey, we had not a single lodging reserved – just a few places highlighted in our guidebooks and the experience of two half-lifetimes of spur-of-the-moment international travel.
This worked out fine everywhere except Odesa.
Because of its status as a top party destination (as well as a notorious Russian Mafia hangout), budget lodgings seemed to be few and far between – and those few that did exist were all booked out. It wasn’t long before we realized that our hopes of getting a comfy and affordable apartment would have to be scrapped; now we just needed a reasonable place to sleep.
So where did we end up? After nearly 3 hours roaming, we’d narrowed it down to two choices. First was the Passazh Hotel, a massive and grand establishment in its day that had clearly been left to die with age. By the time we found our way through its huge, withering doors in mid 2010, none of the rooms even provided hot water. Our other option was Hotel Zirka, fifteen minutes farther from the central hangout area but far more modern and comfortable.
The decision was made simple when we returned to Pessazh to find that in the few hours we’d spent looking elsewhere, their last two rooms had been claimed. I guess their location right around the corner from Deribasovskaya Street was enough to compensate for the lack of a warm morning shower.
Zirka it is.
At first we were frightened by Hotel Zirka’s lowest-end rooms, which could only be described as “nightmarishly styled” – tiny as a shoebox, dank, and laid out in inexplicably offensive configurations (imagine rolling over in bed and waking up with your head on the toilet seat). But their midrange rooms – at similar prices to those we’d been paying throughout the trip – were actually quite nice, with powerful air conditioning, private bathrooms, and on the lower floors, lightning-fast WiFi. We booked a double with a window, the last one available.
Yet despite its modern amenities and friendly desk staff, there was something just a big funny about Zirka. What was with all the fat old men coming in with super hot twenty-year-olds in skintight miniskirts? What was with the single women walking by in low-cut tops that barely covered their huge fake breasts?
You guessed it. As we didn’t confirm until a day or two later, Zirka is apparently known throughout the city as the favored place to take prostitutes for a quick session of hanky panky. Without exception, everyone we told we were staying at Hotel Zirka would break out laughing – it became such a joke that by the third or fourth day, whenever somebody asked “where’s your hotel?” we would say “Where’s the sleaziest place in town?”
They’d inevitably reply, “Zirka?”
Whatever. The rooms were nice, clean, and the location convenient enough – not to mention the free entertainment I got from watching the couples come in and out whenever I found myself sitting in the lobby catching up on emails 😆