Hamish & I arrived in the Ukrainian city of Odessa in 2011 by train from Chisinau in Moldova. The intention was to take an overnight train onto Sevastopol, but we had stumbled across some sort of public holiday and all trains were full for the next three days.
Train Arrival But Not Departure
With heavy heart, we purchased tickets for the overnight bus journey. The thought of our impending discomfort was in the back of our mind as we spent a few enjoyable hours strolling around the Black Sea port most famous for the incredible Potemkin Steps.
Potemkin Steps, Odessa
The steps were originally designed in 1825 by Italian architect Francesco Boffo with the staircase costing a massive 800,000 rubles to build. A fortune in today’s money apparently!
In 1837, the decision was made to build the “monstrous staircase” based on the 1825 designs, which was constructed between 1837 and 1841.
An English engineer named John Upton supervised the construction. Upton had fled Britain while on bail for forgery and also went on to oversee the construction of the huge dry-docks constructed in Sevastopol and completed in 1853.
The top step is 12.5 meters (41 feet) wide, and the lowest step is 21.7 meters (70.8 feet) wide. The staircase extends for 142 meters, but it gives the illusion of greater length.
The steps were so precisely constructed as to create an optical illusion. A person looking down the stairs sees only the landings, and the steps are invisible, but a person looking up sees only steps, and the landings are invisible.
The steps are named after the famed Soviet battleship Potemkin, which in turn was named after Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin-Tauricheski, a famed Russian military leader who died in 1791.
The steps were made famous in the 1925 Soviet silent film called Battleship Potemkin directed by Sergei Eisenstein that dramatised the mutiny that occurred in 1905 when the crew of the Potemkin rebelled against its officers.
Odessa Port Area
I love a good port and Odessa’s strategic position on the Black Sea means it is a busy terminus for ships & ferries sailing to ports in Bulgaria and Romania. Great fun as usual to wander around.
Odessa Buildings, Statues & Parks
Odessa was great for just strolling around with some lovely architecture, manicured parks, tree-lined boulevards and interesting statues.
Hellish Tram Ride, Odessa
I pick up the story after we had picked up our rucksacks from the train station left luggage to make our way by tram to the bus station for our anticipated hell on wheels……
Odessa Train Station
The tram was as packed as it was earlier when we had gone to the bus station to buy our tickets, but this time we had our large and heavy rucksacks too. To say we were wedged in was an understatement. Incredibly more people got on at subsequent stops, so we were now packed so tightly that we resembled one huge creature with dozens of heads & limbs!
For the entire journey I was dreading the moment that it was time to alight. Through the mass of shoulders, backs and heads packed around me, I somehow managed to spot our stop.
I was unable to get anywhere near a call button, but thankfully someone else requested the stop and I made my move, shoving all out of the way as I yanked my bag up and embraced it in my arms. Hamish preferred the dragging it behind him method, but the result was the same with bodies unceremoniously bashed out of the way. “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” I kept repeating with no idea whether anyone understood or believed me.
After what seemed a panicky age, we were at the top of the open door, just two metal steps between us and our goal.
Impatient new passengers were already clambering up those steps but if we didn’t get off now we would be sped to the next stop about half a mile away. There was nothing else for it but to dive for the exit. I virtually catapulted out to the pavement below, taking one of the ascenders with me, miraculously somehow managing to stay on my feet.
Suddenly Hamish popped out behind me like he had just apparated using some of Harry Potter’s floo powder.
The startled passenger that I had taken with me gave Hamish the full force of his ire, much to my amusement as I recovered my composure.
Hamish was a few seconds behind me in the composure recovery stakes and he simply went from red to redder in the face of the Ukrainian tirade, made worse by the fact that the tram doors had closed and left the commuter behind.
Hamish apologised on my behalf as I attempted to hide my considerable mirth!
My Train Travel Books
Ukraine will feature alongside all of the former Soviets (Russia, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania & Estonia) in a future book in the Wilbur’s Travels series.
Part One detailing my travels by train across the Balkans is available now from Amazon
The city beginning with the letter O that I would most like to visit that I haven’t yet? Oviedo in Spain.
How about you?
Look out for P tomorrow.