On Boots and Odesa

Trip Start Aug 31, 2007
Trip End Apr 19, 2008

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

When I was eighteen and turned a corner in the Vietnamese town of Hoi An's market to find a whole row of stalls selling sandals, I thought I had found one of the best shopping places in the world. Today, I had a similar feeling on exploring Odessa's market with stall after stall selling boots. Forget Minsk's mall, these boots were affordable, ranging from $20-$30 in all the styles you could imagine. Of course, the market also sold other wares: clothes, hardware, produce, cleaners, toiletries, but I was most concerned with the boots. I wandered the stalls probably for an hour, and like any good market, once I decided to leave, it took me another ten minutes to find my way out. Of course, such opportunities to buy boots are few and far between in my world, and I found myself unable to leave without a pair of black, 2 inch heeled, mid-calf ones. They're so beautiful! Now I can click-clack with the best of them, though I lack the confidence to wear them with my pant legs tucked in. Not quite a local yet.

Odessa, on the Black Sea is a nicer city than I might have imagined, and I much prefer it to Kiev, though it lacks tourist attractions. The city's main claim to fame is it's mafia, whom you don't exactly come to see. Never fear, though, corruption abounds in the form of police, who fatter their wallets by stopping foreigners, asking for ID, and fining them if they don't have it, or inventing other false charges for which you must pay an on the spot fine. One guy staying at the hostel said he was stopped at least every day. I had no problems, but it's not just the police you have to worry about. A favorite local scam involves dropping a 5 bill ($1) on the ground. When you bend down to pick it up and hand it back to the person, they accuse you of stealing and threaten to take you to the police unless you pay them $10. Not knowing Russian and knowing you'll be unable to defend yourself, you hand over the money. Finally, another guy in our hostel was punched out after withdrawing money from an ATM and his cash and card stolen. The next day, he had to go to the hospital for stitches. I had no problems in Odessa (I credit a good chunk of that to being white and female) but the potential definitely exists.

As for sights in Odessa, I visited the opera house (quite beautiful) the Potemkin Steps (what's the big deal?) and went for a walk along the beach (nice enough, as beaches go). Mostly, I hung out at the excellent Black Sea Hostel. Totally modern facilities, incredibly friendly staff, and as it's low season, a couple nights I even had my whole dorm room to myself!
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