Odesa is known throughout Russia and Ukraine as a glowing center of nightlife, of culture, of beaches, and of beauties. It sees more tourism than anywhere in the former Soviet Union – just as it has for countless decades. Everyone I know who’s been here has shared nothing but rave reviews; when I told a friend I’d be spending a few weeks in Budapest, his first words of advice were “make sure you grab a flight to Odesa. You won’t regret it.”
Odesa is and always has been the place to be seen; it’s crazy and cool, a culture of its own, described as everything from “the hotbed of Ukrainian hedonism” (Lonely Planet) to a place with “more colour, more spunk, more irreverence than any other Soviet city’ (Maurice Friedberg, How Things Were Done). Simon Sebag-Montefiore of The Independent says, ‘Odessans, from the city’s raffish gangsters to its lissom girls, are convinced that they are superior in culture and style to anyone in Moscow or London…And they are absolutely right.’ The colorful reviews go on and on.
I couldn’t wait to see for myself. On my 89-day journey across Europe, there were three places I was looking the most forward to: Belgrade, Odesa, and Roskilde. The time had come to experience stop number two.
The city of Odesa is generally regarded as having two main hotspots. The first is Deribasovskaya Street, a pedestrian promenade lined with restaurants, bars, coffee shops, lounges, and stores. Deribasovskaya is the #1 area to kick back and people watch; many travelers have claimed that just sitting in a coffee shop and observing the locals can easily provide entertainment to fill a weekend. Indeed, watching the shoppers can at times feel more like a New York fashion show than a normal shopping promenade – when I mentioned in my Perfect Tens post how the Ukrainian beauties tend to go out dressed-to-the-teeth, I was referring primarily – but not exclusively – to Deribasovskaya.
The second hotspot is Arcadia Beach. Slightly farther afield, Arcadia offers two simple things: by day, a strip of sandy Black Sea coast that literally overflows with vacationers visiting from Moscow to Minsk. And by night, it turns into Odesa’s throbbing heart of nightlife; megaclubs that rival Ibiza pack in the partiers, refusing to slow down until well past sunrise.
After completing our third (forced) bribe of the day, Peder and I hopped in a cab and headed straight for Arcadia.