Odessa with kids? Where did the idea for such an unusual holiday destination come from? Living in Berlin, we met a lot of Germans who have never been to Poland, or have been only once, years ago, in one city. They do not know much about real Poland and are kind of afraid to visit the country. What a shame, I thought. Neighbors from abroad, and the Germans know us less than Italy or Spain.
And what about us? Do Polish people know their eastern neighbors? We are also a bit afraid of trips “to the East” and we know little about our neighbors.
This is how the idea to go to Ukraine was created. Before our long expedition we decided to go to Ukraine and Moldavia. We’ve been to Ukraine several times, including Lviv, Kiev and a few smaller towns, but we did not manage to see the Ukrainian Crimea before its annexation, so now we thought about going to Odessa, while it is still possible.
Our route to Odessa led through the border crossing in Medyka, then, of course, Lviv and a wild camping next to a small lake near Lviv. We were looking for accommodation in the dark and we were a bit scared where we were going to end up. Meanwhile, in the morning, the lake, although green from algae, greeted us with beautiful views and friendly fishermen. It turned out that the gentlemen understand Polish, are friendly to children and are happy to show fish, treat apricots and start political discussions 🙂
The next town on our route was Tarnopol – a city founded by Poles, where we found a newly renovated promenade and beach with a playground and gym. The kids played with local band, and than we went on our way to Winnica, recommended by one of the fisherman, full of greenery and sunshine. Unfortunately, roads in Ukraine are definitely worse than in Poland, there is no highways, so we had quite a lot of delays on the road. In the end, however, after 2.5 days of the journey, we arrived to Odessa.
Odessa with kids
Odessa, unfortunately, welcomed us with traffic on the streets and the view of beautiful but neglected tenement houses. For a long time we were looking for the camping marked on the map and we found a hybrid of the parking and the camping site – behind the first line of restaurants and bars on the Black Sea. There was a dirty and neglected “campsite” – without any infrastructure. We are lucky that our motorhome has a shower and toilet, because the conditions on this “campsite” were horrible. The only advantage was the price (camping MALIBU, price 50 hryvnias) and the close distance to the beach.
The next day is a visit to the center of Odessa and the Nemo Dolphinarium. We went to the pier at the dolphinarium, which is very neat and quite popular. Some of its parts are reserved only for guests of exclusive hotels that are”better citizens”.
The dolphinarium combined with the small but interesting Oceanarium was of course a very important attraction for our kids – we waited for the afternoon show, tasted some seafood with fried onions and bought souvenirs. In the end, we went to the show, during which we saw seals, sea lions and dolphins doing various circus tricks. Subjectively, the show was quite commercial (calling for paid photos with dolphins, selling a dolphin-painted pictures, etc.) and sad because dolphins here are enslaved and trained, so I have mixed feelings about this place. The kids loved it, but I promised to see dolphins in the wild during our next trip to Australia!
At night we are going to the village of Zatoka (Затока), where we park at the campsite between the Black Sea and the delta of Dniester river. Camping is “basic” category, poor toilets, paid shower (10 hryvnias) and the average price (80 car, 60 adult, 30 children), but full of friendly people and bracingly breeze.
After two days of rest, swimming, games and talks, we come back to Odessa to see the old town, and most of all Potemkin stairs and the pier above the sea port, with, among others, the wife of the captain or yaht club. We also meet a team from Cracow who are traveling in revamped ambulance.
Spontaneously we decide on an overnight entry to Moldavia and thanks to this we experience the most interesting adventure of this trip! The border is only 70 km from Odessa, so we head to Kuchurhan and wait on the border for service from customs officers who are wearing huge, post-Soviet hats. We get a card “transit”, and on it the date of exit from the country the next day morning, at 6 o’clock! Fancy that!
Andrzej returns to the officers and tries to explain the matter. It turns out that we have entered the (non-existent, or rather unrecognized by the world) Transnistrian Moldovan Republic. We have 9 hours to leave the country, not really knowing where this ghost-country ends. Our maps (we use Osmand and Google Maps) do not show any border, but we are sure that Chisinau is certainly Moldova, so we are heading there. The worst thing is that the roads in Moldavia are at a similar level as in Ukraine, so we have to do slalom between holes, and it is already night and the visibility of these holes is bad.
We are driving and waiting for the border. Finally, we get to two booths and customs officers in the same huge post-Soviet hats. They are taking the “transit” card (which is our transit visa) and send it on. To the question where is the Moldavian customs officers are waving their hands saing : “further”. And then we are stopped by a patrol of Russian soldiers. Right next to a car parked by the road, directed, surprisingly, not towards Chisinau, but towards the capital of Transnistria, Tiraspol.
The Russian soldiers were very talkative. It is 11 pm, and they are asking with a mean smile what Poland does with apples, which it can no longer sell to Russia. And would Merkel help us? Does the EU pay to people? Is it better for us with EU instead of sticking to Russian “matiuszka”? I am eager for social and political discussions, but the kids are crying, so Andrzej is rushing me and we are leaving.
We are still looking for Moldavian customs officers, but unsuccessfully. We get to Chisinau and park next to the Valea Morilor Park and the lake with the city beach.
Next morning we welcome with swimming in the lake and playing on the beach. Then breakfast and we go to see Chisinau. In the city center, we find berries festival with attractions for kids. We eat cookies and jelly with blueberries, Konrad paints a t-shirt with minions. Then we walk through the center, visit the orthodox cathedral in the cathedral park, the triumphal arch and buildings around.
At night we go to the famous Circova vineyard. We spend the night near the entrance to the winery and join a picnic of several Moldavian families. Of course, we enjoy wine from the Circova winery and engage in talks about politics, culture and current events with Vitali and his buddies. Children despite the language barrier play great, and parents admire the views of the canyon and enjoy this spontaneous meeting.
The next day we visit the underground corridors of the Circova company – a state-owned wine producing building. The tour program is again focused on promotion and shopping – we learn about the production process, but also we can buy bottles of wine and champagne in the company’s shop. If we paid an additional fee, we could drink wine in the underground halls. We know, however, that the local supermarket prices are lower and the day has just begun, so we skip both attractions.
The monastery and Fortress
The next attraction in Moldova is the monastery complex Stare Orhei (Orheiul Vechi). The path to the monasteries is high on the bluff, and broken seashells can be found on the way. Why? Once there was the Sarmatian Sea, which dried up and left layers of conglomerates and limestones. The route is very picturesque and interesting for kids. Views of the canyon, shells on the path, monasteries and caves, attract children’s attention.
In Moldova, we also visit the magnificent fortress of Soroca, impressive building located in the center of the town, next to the playground, on the high Dniester dock. Please note, the fortress is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays!
We are heading to Ukraine but on the way we stop to visit a small town of Balti. However, we are not impressed by this place, and because we are in a hurry, we move on.
In Ukraine, we visit Kamianets-Podilskyi. This city surprises us with its beautiful market square and the church as well as the beautiful old and new castles. We are lucky because Sergiej, who is Polish descent, stops us in Kamianets. Sergiy guides Polish groups around the city, so we arrange the next day to visit the castle with a guide. It turns out that it was excellent choice- Sergey makes great contact with kids (he has a son), tells curiosities, talks to the people who work in the castle and joins us for lunch. We learn a lot about episodes from the history of the castle related to Poland, especially with Wołodyjowski. This is where he died, blowing the powder magazine in the air.
We return through winding and holes Ukrainian roads to reach Bieszczady mountains, through Ustrzyki Dolne. After crossing the border, we can see a big difference in the quality of roads, in well-kept gardens and beautiful houses. Our hearts are happy – we are again in our beloved Poland! And our trip to Odessa with kids was a great idea 🙂