“Isn’t Ukraine dangerous??” a friend of mine recently asked me.
In the case of Odessa, it’s most significant Black Sea port, nothing could be further from the truth. The war in the Donbass, the south-east region of Ukraine has blackened the image of this amazing country. But that should take nothing away from a place I’ve been privileged enough to visit on three occasions.
Odessa, is, on the surface, one of the most curious cities you’ll ever visit.
It’s a young city that feels much older, with its concoction of Baroque facades, shining shop windows, vintage Soviet mega-structures, and bright lights.
But beneath the façade, is a celebration of culture. Odessa is a wonderful mix of Ukrainian, Russian, Greek, Turkish, Balkan, Caucasian and Central Asian peoples in one charming enclave, as I was to find out later on in my journey.
IMPRESSIONS AND ILLUSIONS
The joie de vivre of Odessa can be felt as soon as you land in Odessa’s airport. This is definitely the best way of getting there, unless you are familiar with Ukrainian buses, or are touring the region in the relative comfort of a Ukrainian train. I highly recommend the latter if your intention is to see Ukraine for what it really is, a primarily rural, impoverished land but with charm and friendliness to spare.
A taxi ride to the city centre from the airport only takes 20-25 minutes, but to avoid being over-charged, it’s a good idea to arrange one well in advance.
The taxi ride will offer you an interesting impression of Odessa’s suburbs. The life emanating from the outer, and then inner suburbs give the impression of two different cities in existence. The darkened buildings have a character of their own, but there is no doubt that many of Odessa’s citizens are enveloped in a struggle for survival.
The closer you get to the city centre though, the more the multicultural verve becomes apparent. Deribasovskaya Street or Primorsky Boulevard are ideal bases for a visit here. Despite not being wholly representative of Odessa as it might be seen from local eyes, they offer great access to the city’s main attractions.
One of the best known of these is undoubtedly the Potemkin Steps, designed by Italian architect Franz Boffo. The stairs were designed in such a way, that if you stand at the top, the 192 steps look exactly the same width, even though the bottom steps are much wider.
The steps serve another purpose too. Odessa is Ukraine’s ‘mail-order’ brides capital, and newlyweds can be seen promenading across the top of the steps, or posing by the statue of the Duc de Richieleu for their wedding photographs.
The Duc is known as the city’s founder, and the butt of a well known local joke – which involved looking ‘at the Duke from the Manhole Cover’. Looking at the statue from this angle (i.e, to the left of the statue) the scroll which he clutches in his hand gives the illusion of being…well, something else.
BEYOND THE FAÇADE
Walking from Deribasovskaya Street towards the Potemkin Steps, you can’t miss the Italian façade of Odessa’s Opera and Ballet theatre. In addition to being a great photo opportunity, tickets are very reasonable, and the atmosphere and acoustics are equally impressive.
A sit-down in the City Garden and its bandstand is perfect in mid-afternoon. Plenty of cafés and restaurants adorn the area, as well as one of the few currency exchanges that’ll accept pound sterling.
The open-air military museum 9km from the city centre is well worth a visit. The presentation isn’t immaculate, but the array of exhibits is, despite the entrance not being immediately visible once you step off the bus…
UNDER THE SURFACE
Peeking into the character-filled (yet crumbling) 18th century buildings, and you find almost another world, which has everything from washing flapping on a line, to elderly people along with their thoughts, and possibly a cigarette.
A closer inspection will also uncover perhaps Odessa’s most famous feature – the catacombs. Until the late Soviet era, almost every yard in Odessa had its own entrance into the vast network of catacombs. However, the number of children wandering in and getting lost led to these entrances being closed, never to be re-opened. Today however, guided excursions are available to a small section of the catacombs on the outskirts of the city.
Being a port meant that a black market of goods soon thrived in Odessa, in the 18th century, the catacombs being the ideal way to move and store the contraband.
But during WWII, the network was utilised by the Ukrainian partisans in defence of the city, to strike at the occupying German & Romanian forces, who were responsible for decimating the Jewish community of Odessa, from whom the city derives much of its character.
A tour can range from anything from 3 hours to 12, depending on what you’re willing to pay, and your level of interest in this one of many ‘must-sees’ of Odessa.
WHERE TO STAY
Odessa happily caters for all types, and the Frapolli Hotel in Deribasovskaya Street, with its small and cosy downstairs bar and restaurant is the best example of this flexible approach, and I wouldn’t stay anywhere else. Friendly staff and spacious rooms ensure a more than pleasant stay. The tours offered are wide-ranging and can cater for everyone, and marks an opportunity well worth taking.
For something a bit more up-market, the legendary Londonskaya on Primorsky Boulevard is only 2 minutes from the Potemkin Steps and Opera & Ballet theatre, and offers a superb evening menu in particular. The classy façade is replicated within, and certainly deserves its reputation as the most luxurious hotel in the city.
If however, you’re more interested in mixing it up a bit more, there are a variety of agents who will let apartments at a variety of rates, depending on style and location. This is highly recommended if you wish to sample local culture at all levels, and is an excellent way of improving your spoken Russian (its being the most commonly spoken language in Odessa)
WINING & DINING
The city’s multi-cultural nature (with over 100 nationalities residing there) paves the way for a greatly diverse eating scene.
For traditional Ukrainian food, the ostentatious Kumanets is ideal. Despite the high prices and the need to book well in advance, the service is first rate, and being just opposite the City Garden, offers a tranquil, yet busy experience.
The French influence found at Maman, as well as the more general European feel of Pivnoi Sad, in the City Garden itself, offer a good deal of familiarity to the Western European clientele who like something a little bit closer to home. The ubiquitous German or Ukrainian pans in the latter are superbly priced, if a little heavy on the waistline!
Staying in the centre, only 100 yards or so from Odessa’s cathedral, is the almost anarchic establishment of Legend. This basement restaurant and wine cellar was built in the style of a medieval nobleman’s house, an idea conceived by the owner barely five years ago. Initially concerned by a possible lack of appeal, he’s seen the restaurant grow in stature and reputation, and its warm feel, from the crockery down to the port-cullised restrooms is an almost surreal joy. Two hundred yards down the street is the Merry Berry café, boasting a wide range of teas and hot chocolates, ideal for an after-dinner nightcap.
For those wanting a faster option, Mario’s Pizza on Sadova street offers a cheap and easy Italian menu to go, is open late at night, and easily within walking distance of most of the city centre hotels.
For me however, the cafes, as opposed to the evening restaurants, are what gives Odessa its charm. Klarabara, in the City Garden is, perfect in the sun, and with Lavazza coffee on the menu, one can’t go far wrong. Kompot, on Panteleimonivs’ka Street offers a traditional Ukrainian lunch menu with multiple varieties of sweet and savoury vareneiki and compote that’s made on site, that makes for a cosy (if calorific) experience.
Perhaps the most striking, and the most delicious though, is Lviv Handmade Chocolate at the western end of Deribasovskaya Street. Boasting a chocolaterie and coffee roasting house on the ground floor, and a café on the top floor, this is one rare occasion where your Russian will be answered with Ukrainian. The range of teas, hot chocolates, coffees and desserts is very impressive, and those waning a novelty chocolate or coffee gift for loved ones or friends should also pay a visit.
Odessa is a city that’s full of surprises. And I was the beneficiary of that very phenomenon, when I was asked by a friend to take a class on British culture, Brexit and Trump of all things, at the Pedagological University on my last day in the city.
Combining a mixture of first and fourth year English language students, I found a highly refreshing and dynamic atmosphere present everywhere in the University. The vast majority of the students were studying to satisfy their curiosity and thirst for knowledge, as opposed to merely securing a job which could enable them to buy a car.
Covering everything from the Anglo-American cultural relationship to the ideal itinerary for a UK holiday, I felt sad in a way that a lot of the students may well not be given the opportunity to fulfil their potential, given how Ukrainian higher education is perceived in the wider world.
Despite this, I had reason to smile. Their welcoming nature, humour, intelligence and spark convinced me that despite the instability that racks their country at the time of writing, the future of their country, as well as this energetic and enigmatic city, is in good hands.
Nathan Williams: Associate Director at Coutts, Coach, Tutor and Traveler out of hours
When the Allied forces arrived in Japan in 1945 for what was to be the seven year military occupation, there was little doubt that the country would be changed forever. However, some traditions were retained in an effort to maintain Japanese culture. One of these traditions was sushi.
The earliest form of sushi in Japan was called narezushi (salted fish). Fish was stored in fermented rice for long periods of time without spoiling and provided an important source of protein in the Japanese diet. The sushi we are familiar with today is called nigiri sushi. It had its origins in Edo (Tokyo). A restaurant owner named Hanaya Yohei is credited with having invented this type of sushi during the 19th century. The Edo people were known for their busy lifestyle and lack of patience, therefore many fast food businesses began cropping up. Nigiri sushi, which was known as Edomaezushi at the time, was a type of fast food, conveniently shaped to be eaten by hand and no longer reliant on the fermentation process utilized by narezushi.
While nigiri quickly became the most popular style of sushi in Edo, it did not immediately dominate the sushi landscape as it does today. There were two events which aided the popularity of nigiri sushi outside of Tokyo: one was the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the other was the military occupation of Japan in 1945. The earthquake caused many people to leave Tokyo and return to their hometowns. Among these were the various sushi chefs who opened restaurants upon returning home and served Edomaezushi to their clientele. In post-war Japan, many sushi shops were forced to close due to the rice rationing at the time and not allowed to reopen.
Eventually it was impressed upon the American Forces General Headquarters that the sushi restaurants should be allowed to reopen as sushi was an important part of Japanese culture. When the restaurants reopened however, they had to adhere to one strict rule. That rule was that the patrons were to bring in their own rice rations for the sushi. One cup of rice was to be used to make ten pieces of sushi hence the nigiri sushi shrunk in size. In pre-war Japan, nigiri sushi was three times larger.
Eventually the same system was implemented throughout Japan and Tokyo style nigiri became Japan’s predominant form of sushi.
I am happy to announce that the long awaited newly formatted edition of “A Blogger’s Guide To Japan” is finally here!
- File Size: 27479 KB
- Print Length: 477 pages
- Publication Date: January 31, 2017
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B01MRCHE72
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
The Kindle App is FREE to download and it enables you to read the book on ANY device including: the Kindle Reader, tablet, smart phone or computer.
The eBook is currently in the Top 50 of Amazon’s Best Seller’s Rank in the Kindle Store.
Order your copy today at: Amazon Kindle Store
Every country has a population of disgruntled youth who rebel against society and Japan is no exception. But from a country who brought you such colorful trends as Dekotora, Gyaru, Lolita and Visual Kei, it only makes sense that their sub-culture of rebellious youth are just as colorful and trendy.
Japan’s largest and most well-known sub-culture consisting primarily of working class kids is called Yankii (ヤンキー). Yankii also represents a whole genre of comics, movies and music in Japan. The word Yankii, came into existence in the 1950s and is said to have originated from the term “Yankee,” which refers to people from the United States. Perhaps influenced by the early post-war motorcycle gangs formed by former Kamikaze pilots known as Kaminari zoku (雷族), the Yankii lifestyle revolves around motorcycles and cars and is perhaps one of the most tradition-bound segments of the Japanese populace today.
Most kids begin their life-style as a Yankii around age 14 and are known for their pranks, bullying and petty crimes. They try to maintain a yakuza-like image but they are not as dangerous as their highly organized, older icons. They highlight their working class roots by wearing clothing associated with Japanese construction workers, such as oversized baggy pants known as Tobi trousers. Yankii boys and girls also tend to have shaved off eyebrows, permed hair (punch perm/ パンチパーマ/ panchi pamaa), dyed hair, pompadours, flamboyant, oversized clothes and customized school uniforms. Younger Yankii are expected to speak to the older members of their clan (senpai) in Keigo (reverent speech) at all times and run their errands. Members also observe a code of honor specific to their particular clan. The three pillars of Yankii behavior are said to be guts (konjyo), sincerity (seii) and dedication of the soul (nyukon). Most Yankii tend to drop out of school by age 17 and get married. This early marriage is referred to as sokon.
Some Yankii eventually do get recruited by the Yakuza (Japanese organized crime) but many simply blend into Japanese society, join the workforce and live regular, productive lives after lashing out at society and enjoying their youth.
“A Blogger’s Guide To Japan” is currently available at Amazon.com and through the CreateSpace eStore. (International shipping is available through CreateSpace if you are unable to find the title through your respective Amazon site.).
Please note that the eBook version is currently being reformatted so that I can bring you a better product. Stay tuned for an update as to when the eBook version will be available to purchase. The Kindle app is free to download and allows you to read the book on any device (tablet, phone, etc.).
For a limited time, I am hosting a giveaway on Amazon.com for two free copies of “A Blogger’s Guide To Japan” (Kindle Edition). No purchase necessary to enter, simply follow the link: https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/5ce2498609dcd745
Remember, you can download the Kindle App for free and read the book on any device including your phone, tablet, etc.
Nagasaki City (長崎市) was home to Chinese sailors and traders during the 15th – 19th centuries and today boasts having the oldest Chinatown in Japan. Known as Shinchi Chinatown, Nagasaki’s Chinatown exhibits a Chinese flair not felt in any of Japan’s other major cities. Shinchi Chinatown with its 40 plus restaurants serving the signature Nagasaki noodle dishes, champon and sara udon, confectionary shops and souvenir stores, draws visitors from all over Japan. However, each year more people flock to Chinatown for one event in particular. This event is the Nagasaki Lantern Festival (長崎ランタンフェスティバル).
The Nagasaki Lantern Festival was originally organized by the Chinese residents of Nagasaki to welcome the Chinese New Year. Arguably the largest Chinese festival in Japan, it takes place on the first day of January on the Lunar Calendar and continues for 15 days (With additional days added in February). Spread out across several city blocks and with seven different venues for viewing various performances throughout the day, the festival draws over one million visitors to the port city. Approximately 15,000 Chinese lanterns decorate Shinchi Chinatown and the surrounding areas and there are various events scheduled throughout the festival which should not be missed. These events include the Chinese Lantern Ornaments, the Mazu Procession, the Emperor’s Parade, the Dragon Dance, the Chinese Lion Dance, the Chinese Acrobatics and the Erhu Event. If you plan to arrive by train be sure to pick up a copy of the Nagasaki Lantern Festival program at the station!
There are various locations for viewing the lanterns but if you are pressed for time, try visiting the top venues: Chuo-koen, Minato-koen and Shinchi Chinatown. By far, these locations have the most elaborate displays of lanterns.
Do dress warmly for the event as the cold breezes off the ocean can chill you to the bone.
Location(s): Shinchi Chinatown, Chuo Koen, Tojin Yashiki, Kofukuji, Kaji-ichi, Haman-machi Arcade, Koushi-byou (Confucian Shrine)