Sunday, October 14, 2012

Odessa, Ukraine – October 8, 2012

Odessa, Ukraine – October 8, 2012

We met Olga, of Odessa Walks, on the dock, and we took off on our walking tour of Odessa, a historic and very interesting city.  I had found Olga on the Internet, and a group of 16 formed with her as our guide.  We walked through the historic part of the city, built under Catherine the Great and later Tsars, and viewed mansions built at that time by rich, influential Russians.  Olga talked constantly as we walked, telling us the history of different buildings and also the history of Odessa.  One cannot talk about this visit to Odessa without talking about Olga.  She was the most important person on the visit.  She was young and yet very experienced.  She had lived in the U.S. for six years, and then returned to Moscow, where she was from.  She had moved to Odessa only this year, and started her business, Odessa Walks.  She was by far the most interesting and knowledgeable tour guide I have ever experienced.  She took the group to see many of the important streets and buildings, and she never stopped talking (in a very pleasant way) about the history of Odessa and the history and architecture of the buildings. 

The most impressive building on the tour was the Opera house.  Olga had somehow been able to get us into the building for a tour despite it being closed, and no other person from the ship was permitted into the building.  The building had only recently been restored, and it was incredibly beautiful. 

Odessa’s history is Russian, and until communism fell, the language of the people was Russian.  However, as part of Ukraine, a decision had been made that Ukraine would be the official language, and many people struggled to learn the new language.  Many children had difficulty talking with parents and grandparents.  This problem existed throughout all of eastern Ukraine, and a great political fight continued as people in Eastern Ukraine wanted Russian to be their official language; however, political power in Ukraine lay in the West until recently, when finally, the Parliament had enacted legislation giving the eastern Ukraine provinces the right to have Russian as the official language. 

Olga took us to lunch at a very nice restaurant, and then in the afternoon, she took us on a driving tour of the city.  Odessa is a city of over one million people, and it has many interesting sites.  Olga returned us to the ship on time, perfectly timing her tour to arrive at the port just at the appointed time.  As the ship sailed away, we noticed that Odessa stretches for miles along the coast. 

Olga, of Odessa Walks

My TripAdvisor comments about Olga

Olga was the highlight of our entire Black Sea cruise. Tour guides give facts; Olga tells stories. Olga's love of Odessa comes through as she leads you through the history of the city, not just showing buildings, streets and parks, but telling the stories behind them. Olga has a gentle manner; she is genuinely friendly and helpful. She begins helping and teaching on first contact, and she follows up later with a further summary of the tour. Olga was the only tour guide who was able to get people into the beautiful Opera House, and that alone is worth the price of the tour. The tour was all day, and Olga arranged for us to have lunch at the Sophie Cafe, the number one rated restaurant in Odessa on Tripadvisor. You remember people and places not because of what they say or what they do, but for the way they make you feel. You never forget the wonderful feelings you have with Olga. Olga is the best tour guide I have ever had anywhere in the world.

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