Friday, April 11, 2014

Odessa: Vancouver's Sister City & my family's 'home town'

The wonderful Bristol Hotel at night
Last Tuesday I departed from a deserted Kiev airport for Odessa, one of Vancouver's sister cities, and the place where some of my family originated.
I say this not really knowing whether the Gellers lived in Odessa, or some nearby shtetl before moving to Bristol UK around the turn of the last century. As you will read in a later post, the Jewish population of Odessa once numbered hundreds of thousands, including quite a few Gellers.

This was my second visit to this busy port city, having stopped off for a day 20 years ago with my father as part of a Black Sea cruise.
One of the few new buildings...the hotel was to be part of the Kempinsky chain but they pulled it's closed and I could not find anything on the web to explain why.
With the exception of an out-of-place hotel tower on the waterfront cruise ship terminal where we had docked, (which I was told had closed down because of structural problems) and a couple of other new developments in the downtown area, the city seemed very much the way I remembered it.
Another of the few new developments in the city centre; in this case a mixed use redevelopment of an older building
One of the few new buildings that I saw in the city centre...pity!
Although this passage seemed quite magnificent, I was told that the hotel had closed down since the rooms were so bad
While there were many magnificent older buildings, many more were still in need of repair and renovation.
(One benefit of a relatively poor economy is that little redevelopment has taken place in the older city core.)

The Mother-in-law Bridge was supposedly built by a communist official who wanted a short cut to his mother-in-laws house; although there are many other myths surrounding it.
There were very few tourists around. However, I arranged a tour with a delightful young lady in this funny little vehicle. Tour highlights include the Potemkin Steps, a flight of approximately 192 steps that are 30% wider at the bottom than at the top to give the appearance of being steeper and longer than they really are.
Promovsky Boulevard, a grand promenade that overlooks the harbour, lined with fine neo-classical buildings, and statues of Richelieu (the city's first governor) and Pushkin. Since the city did not contribute to the cost of the Pushkin statue, he has his back to the city building!
This building that appears to be little more than a facade. In fact, it's a triangular building and I was surprised to be told that when residents realized another building was being built next door they appealed to the authorities and managed to stop it. I have to find out if this is really true!
The Opera House was built between 1884 and 1887. It is quite lavishly decorated and considered one of the finest theatres in Europe.
I went twice; once to see a retrospective of Nureyev's life and work; and once to see La Traviata. Sadly, on both occasions the theatre was only partially full, despite the fact that the best seats in a private box were only $15. (business is so bad they had to close down the refreshment area.)
I also enjoyed a concert at the Philharmonic Hall, another grand structure just across the street from the Bristol Hotel.
and a coffee in this cafe patio created with old bicycles.

Odessa is a city of art and culture with lots of fascinating public art, and many museums~Western and Oriental Art; a Literature Museum; Ukraine's best Archeological Museum; a Maritime Museum; and a Museum of Partisan Glory. However, everything feels very poor and in a couple of instances they had to turn on the lights for me.
There are a number of beaches including the Arkadia which is about a 15 minute drive out of town. Unfortunately, it was too early in the year and most of the facilities were closed, but I could imagine what it might be like in the summer.
The Bristol Hotel
I stayed in 2 hotels; the Frederik Koklen, rated #1 on TripAdvisor which was fine; and the Bristol, considered the city's best hotel. It was much better. I wondered whether my forefathers moved to Bristol because of this hotel. I stayed there since they left Odessa for Bristol!
The Bristol recently became part of the Starwood Luxury Collection and I was fortunate to meet the new manager overseeing the transition. I was surprised to learn he was from Holland and doesn't speak either Russian or Ukrainian; I assumed he must be a very good hotelier!

Protesters and military activity
This poster really doesn't need any words!
This was the only place where I saw troublesome evidence of the conflict taking place elsewhere in Ukraine.
Unlike Kiev, there was not a significant presence of military or protesters; however, as we were driving back to my hotel the taxi driver pointed out what he called 'trouble-makers' from Kiev driving through the city, and there were people in army fatigues camped out in front of what I assumed to be a government building; a very small-scale version of what I saw in Kiev's Independence Square.

On my second visit to the Opera House there were soldiers outside. At first I thought this had something to do with the conflict with the Russians or internal political strife; but in fact they were rehearsing for the 70th anniversary of the liberation from the Nazis on April 10th. Sadly I heard on the CBC news today that there was fighting in Odessa yesterday....the last thing the city really needs.
At night the city comes alive with a variety of night life

1 comment:

David Gage said...

wow........ these are nice images of Ukraine, i have remembered my Ukraine trip after see your sharing images.