Some of the best ideas for traveling in Eastern Europe are often the most unfeasible. Train travel is a nostalgic throw back to a bygone era, it is also insanely slow. A river cruise on the Danube sounds relaxing and romantic, unless you enjoy paying a mint to be surrounded by American pensioners who enjoy complaining about the lack of ice in their drinks at brunch. The open road by car offers unprecedented access and speed, but quickly becomes an irritation when you must find a parking space in a city, let along figure out how to pay for it. Bus travel offers an affordable way to see the countryside. Unfortunately, it is almost always exhausting after the first half hour. Flying is cheap, saves time and offers a chance to see cities you would otherwise overlook. Conversely, some of those cities are overlooked for a reason. Chisnau anyone!
A Dreadful Malady – Out Of Service
A journey by ferry across the Black Sea from Istanbul to Odessa sounded like a wonderful idea to me, that was until I really thought about it. A bit of research confronted me with innumerable problems. The first of these was trying to find a reliable ferry that kept regular hours and days of service. The only ferries I could find at the time were Ukrainian cargo ships. Since their mission was to carry goods across the Black Sea and passengers were an afterthought, this did not bode well for trip planning. Everything depended on availability and the vagaries of weather. Fortunately, I had a Turkish friend in Istanbul who was willing to check on this service for me. What little they managed to discover was just as nebulous as everything I found online. They were told that it was best to just turn up at the terminal a day or two in advance. Schedules which had once been set in stone were now open to change.
This news was discouraging to say the least. I was thousands of miles away from my point of departure, unable to get any assurance of when or if the journey would take place. Obviously, passengers were not a priority on journeys across the Black Sea. This information started me down a slippery slope that would lead me to begin reconsidering the journey. My next worry was seasickness, a dreadful malady which afflicts the unwitting traveler stupid enough to set sail without motion sickness tablets. The thought of spending a day and night on the roiling waters of the Black Sea surrounded by hard bitten merchant mariners while I begged for another bucket in which to dry heave, made me cringe. I have never been seasick, but then again I have never been at sea for more than an hour. The closest I ever came to an all day voyage was when I took four ferries in a single day along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. That had been enough for me to learn that my stomach was a bit on the queasy side.
The Potential For Problems – A Less Than Stellar Seafaring Adventure
The potential for a less than stellar seafaring adventure, but a sickeningly memorable one, was definitely a possibility on a seagoing journey to Odessa. The cost for the journey added to my growing list of doubts. UKR Ferry Shipping Company charged passengers $750 for an individual berth, but it did come with a private bath which did not interest me in the least. The best deal was a berth for two in first class which went for $250. These charges included three meals a day. Of course, it was anyone’s guess what the quality of food might be like. This was troubling, but hardly the least of my worries. The water route between the two cities was notorious for human trafficking. Many lovely, but desperately impoverished and hopelessly naïve Ukrainian women had been lured away from squalid villages to set sail from Odessa with the promise of steady jobs. They had been lured into a terrible trap, forced to perform slave labor or worse in Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries. The idea of being a witness to these poor souls filled me with fear. This was the opposite of romance, it was depravity and decadence in the service of venality. Such issues were unlikely to affect me, but they were impossible to ignore
The list of drawbacks led to an internal conversation where I began to convince myself the journey was probably not worth it. I came to the realization that a Black Sea voyage would be expensive, none too pleasant and possibly dangerous. To make matters worse, a round trip journey had a very short turnaround time. A UKR ferry “usually” left on Tuesday, arrived on Wednesday and returned on Saturday. This would leave me little time to explore Odessa. I suddenly imagined wandering around the city in a daze. Then just as I was finally getting my bearings, the ferry would be setting sail once again. This only served to justify my increasing pessimism. It was a matter of time before I talked myself out of the trip. Odessa was a distant shore I would fail to reach by ship. Romance was trumped by reality which led to relief. I promised myself that a visit to Odessa would eventually be in my future. Eleven years later, that day has yet to arrive.
A Bit Of Faint Hope – Pulling Into The Station
A few years after my imaginary trip from Istanbul to Odessa had been aborted I was staying at a hostel in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. There I engaged in a discussion with an American teenager whose mother was a Ukrainian émigré to the United States. Mother and son were traveling around the country, seeing sights as well as family. We began discussing all the places they had visited. The son said Odessa was by far his favorite. “You have to go. It is a wonderful city.” I felt the pain of regret as he spoke of the enchanting seaside city. His favorite aspect of Odessa was the arrival experience. “Classical music was playing” when their train pulled into the station. A sense of envy overtook me which was followed by a bit of faint hope. I now knew the best way to travel to Odessa, if only I could bring myself to do it.