Black Sea pearl
Unlike the Danube Delta, which required advanced planning and a full day of travel to reach, Odessa is so close to Moldova that we always figured we would just go. Ukraine’s storied Black Sea port is a 3-hour-drive away from Chisinau, yet we never quite managed to make our way across the border. Though to be fair, for a significant part of our tour Ukraine was off-limits for Embassy personnel. This month, we finally found a good reason to go.
The impetus for our trip was the Ukrainian beach ultimate tournament, which drew a dozen frisbee teams from all over Ukraine to the sandy beaches of the Black Sea. The tournament itself was held at an abandoned sanatorium in Illichivsk, the so-called poor man’s Odessa, a 40-minute drive further south along the coast. While D played ultimate frisbee, S spent the weekend with friends, whose toddler is a couple of months older than Munchkin.
Nearly midway through his second year, Munchkin has gone from being a mere passenger on our trips to being the star of the show. He does not speak yet, but he leaves no doubt about what he wants. Of late, he has taken to grabbing our hands and emphatically leading us along to show what his heart desires.
Knowing that the seaside trip would be infinitely more enjoyable if it featured kid-friendly activities, we found a boutique hotel that in addition to a superb restaurant that was open 24-hours a day also featured a pool and a grassy play area for the kids. We could not have asked for a better set-up. The delicious breakfast buffet was already set up by the time the kids woke up, and the pool and play area kept them occupied for hours until they crashed for nap time. Then the adults got to enjoy a relaxed lunch and pool time — just enough to recharge the batteries before round two of chasing after the toddlers.
The hotel was perched in the cliffs above the Black Sea, a five-minute walk up the hill from the public beach. On Friday, even though we arrived after Munchkin’s usual bedtime, we went down to the beach to let Munchkin blow off some steam after our three-hour-long car ride. The water was frigid, but that did not deter Munchkin from splashing around. His teeth were chattering up a storm by the time we finally extracted him from the water.
On Saturday, S and her friends headed over to the boardwalk for the dolphin show. Truth be told, it was not a great success, and Munchkin may have gone over to the pool railing a few times too many during the performance. All in all, it was more entertainment for the adults, but at least there was a nice playground at the dolphinarium, which the kids enjoyed before the show.
With the kids in tow and D away in Illichivsk most of the weekend, we missed out on many of Odessa’s highlights. Friends had recommended the opera and a number of restaurants for which we simply did not have time. S did find one restaurant she absolutely loved. Not only did it have a playground, but there were even baby-sitters in floral print dresses ready to help out with the little ones so that the adults could enjoy their meals. Called Dacha, the whole restaurant riffs on the theme of summertime at the country house (dacha), serving Ukrainian home cooking. Munchkin ate like a king – muscles, dumplings, and all kinds of pickled vegetables.
D’s impressions of Odessa were formed from the glimpses of the city he snatched while driving and the nights he spent poolside after the tournament. Even though we missed out on many of its attractions, it is easy to see why Odessa has charmed so many travelers.