Thursday, February 7, 2008

Yalta, Odessa; Day at Sea - Part VI

October 20 Yalta. Another reason many people booked this cruise was for the ports of Yalta and Odessa in the Black Sea. And this was new to Celebrity’s itinerary. Everyone on board the ship had to have their passports with them for stamping at the gangway and all non-European union passports had to be turned in upon returning to the ship in Odessa. Everyone could pick up their passports on the next sea day.

I arranged a tour for 11 people (Bruce, Gail, Deb, Robert, David, Larry, Cathy, Ed, Wendy, Tom, and me) while Bruce arranged a tour for Odessa (same group minus Wendy and Tom; plus Alan), using the same company. When we arrived at the port a woman was waiting for us with my name on a sign. We had to pay for both tours so Bruce and I gathered all the money. We didn’t mind paying upfront because we had booked our tours last year and the company never asked for any payment.

Our guide for Yalta was Nadia. Her English was very good as she told us about the city and sights. We first visited Livadia palace, which was the summer home of Nicholas II and his family, as well as the place where the Yalta conference was held in 1845 with Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin. The original table where the meetings took place was on display, as well as many photos. We visited the private rooms of Nicholas II and his family, including the small schoolroom where original drawings of the Romanov children were on display. Outside in the gardens we saw a young bride and groom and wedding party having their photos taken.

We continued on to the Massandra Palace, which was surrounded by a large park and vineyards. This was the summer palace of Alexander III. Both palaces were filled with beautiful furniture, paintings, and other artifacts.

Back in town, we toured the city and stopped at the beautiful gold onion-domed Alexander Nevsky Church with its cream and white exterior. We walked along the water front promenade and once the tour was over Ed, Cathy and I visited the outdoor food and clothing market. It was wonderful! We purchased jars of caviar for only $2 each! I wanted to buy a bottle of vodka for Tony, so we found a liquor store. USD was not accepted, so Cathy charged everything and I reimbursed her. I bought a bottle for under $4. We ran into Craig, George, Mike and Mike who told us about a great little restaurant they found. We were very hungry and figured we’d eat back on the ship since everything was written in Russian. The guys told us the place had bi-lingual menu, so we set out to have lunch. It was great! I had a green borsch soup with veal and vegetables, almost like a beef stew. Ed had a soup with four kinds of fish and Cathy had and eggplant and tomato dish topped with melted cheese.

Back on the ship, I chatted with Gabriel, one of the bar managers. I met him on my Bermuda (Zenith ship) cruise last October. He’s moved up in position. I had told him about the terrible time I had with my room and he asked for my room number. He said he would have a bottle of champagne delivered to my room! How nice of him to do this for me. I never got a call from Sonia or Flavio asking if I was comfortable in my room. I did see her the other morning and briefly mentioned about my wrinkled clothing and the moving disaster, but she only stated she would work something out later.

I had delicious beef tips for dinner. The portion was very large and I could not eat all of it. My usual dessert was their sherbet of the day.

October 21 Odessa: What a cold day! We arrived in Odessa to an overcast day with temps around 47 degrees. I didn’t bring a heavy jacket so I bundled up with my cardigan and light jacket. Our tour began at the outdoor 7km market, at least one hundred acres in size of shipping containers and stores. It was amazing. Boots, leather jackets, shoes, dresses, suits, sweaters, etc were on display row after row. It would have been fun to spend a few hours there but it was too cold outside for everyone to enjoy, so we headed on after an hour. Some of us first used the toilets at the market – oh my god, it smelled so bad! Squat toilets too and no doors for privacy.
We drove on to visit the Catacombs. During WWII Ukrainian partisans hid and lived in the catacombs. The tour was very interesting. A local talked about the catacombs while our tour guide, Ulia, translated for us. She’s a young university student studying travel and tourism. It was her first visit to the catacombs, so she was quite excited. The underground catacombs went for miles, including under the city of Odessa. The material that was excavated to make the tunnels was used to build the city of Odessa. At end of our tour we visited the museum, which was really just one room with some artifacts and photos of many partisans. The museum replaces the photos (copies) often because of the moisture in the catacombs.

Back in Odessa we wanted to go to the Privoz market in town, one of the largest farmer’s market in the world. Ulia kept telling us there was not much to see but we convinced her to take us there. A few of us joked that Ulia was KGB because she kept a tight hold on us and didn’t want us to go wandering off on our own. The area surrounding the market looked like the slums. There was also a tram that passed through the area on a dusty “road.” Along the market edge, there were vendors selling clothing and other products. Cathy and I took some photos but one man jestured us not too. Some vendors were selling illegal products and Ed thought we should put our cameras away for a while. Inside the market were many tables filled with all sorts of fruits and vegetables, pickled foods, etc. We felt more comfortable taking our pictures and even a few locals motioned us to take their pictures. Some smiled exposing the gold in their teeth. One woman posed with her small red pepper plant.

Ulia was ready to take us to the center of town so she could show us “her” city. We drove to the waterfront and walked around seeing many beautiful buildings. She was quite proud of her city and didn’t care for the market stating, “I’ve never been there.” Around the corner of the theatre were bathrooms that Cathy and I used. More squat toilets. Stinky! Ulia had told us earlier that there was no middle class, so we were certain she was of the upper class. She was one of 400 students (out of 100K I believe) that had the opportunity to go to school in the United States. “I see Wal-Mart in my dreams,” she said. We all laughed.

I wanted to walk back to the ship – we were at the top of the Potemkin stairs and could see the ship, but it was too damn cold outside and the ride to the van sounded great. We thanked Ulia, tipped her and the driver, and were back on the ship warming up.

Back in my room I received a phone call from Sonia stating she was expecting my room attendant to take my wrinkled clothing to be pressed. I told her not to bother, that although I was upset with the wrinkles, I could handle it. I was more upset with the way the man handled my clothing, that it was so disrespectful. I told her about the dolly cart, which she was surprised to hear about. She wanted to make amends and offered a complimentary body massage for the next day, which I accepted. My appointment was for 5:45pm – 8am was offered but that was too early for me.

I had the bottle of champagne (Perrier-Jou√ęt Grand Brut) that Gabriel had delivered to my cabin chilled while I took a hot shower. I felt better afterwards, as I was cold down to the bones. 7:30pm cocktails again and I brought the champagne. I had called Craig asking him to have his butler bring several champagne glasses to the room. Mike had purchased caviar the previous day, so we all enjoyed the food and drink.

My dinner wasn’t that great: Overcooked tuna – it was pre-cooked according to my waiter, so I couldn’t order it rare. I did try some of Gail’s turkey breaded scaloppini and it was excellent. I headed to Michael’s bar after dinner and hung out with Mike, Mike, Vicki and Alex. A jazz quartet was performing and they were excellent! I saw Gabriel as I headed to my room and I thanked him for the champagne. He told me if I would like another bottle of champagne to just let him know.

October 22, Day at Sea: I think everyone on board was happy to finally have a day at sea. We had been going for a whole week of ports without stopping. I slept in and really didn’t do much. I ran into some of the guys at breakfast and later went to the movies to see Mrs. Henderson Presents – a very funny movie with Judy Dench.

Lunch was pizza. There was also Oktoberfest at 1pm but I figured the food would be bad just like on the Zenith last year. Too bad I didn’t wait to see the food. It looked great! At least they make good pizza on board.

I enjoyed my 1-hour body massage and was ready to have another one. But at the prices Celebrity charges, no thanks! It was very relaxing and enjoyable. The young woman was surprised that she felt no tension in my muscles.

Cathy and Ed joined the gang at the stratosphere at 7:30pm for cocktails. What a fun group of people!

Dinner was excellent: Chateaubriand was served. Again I got my meat the way I like it! After dinner, I met up with Cathy and Ed at the Stratosphere lounge for some disco and Latino dancing. It was a lot of fun. Too bad I didn’t discover the dancing opportunity earlier in the cruise. Shari and Doug were also enjoying the evening and even the Captain showed up! He sat with us for a few minutes. A martini bar was set up with a beautiful ice “fountain.” As drinks were made, they were poured from the top of the ice sculpture and by the time it got to the bottom and into a martini glass, the drink was chilled. Gabriel offered me a martini to enjoy.
I was back in my room at 1am! This was the latest I had stayed up. In my room was a plate of 10 pieces of chocolates. Anthony, my room attendant, would place a couple of chocolates on my pillow. After the second night, it was down to just one. I guess he figured he only needed to put one for the one person in the room. So I asked him for a few extra, after all, I did pay the single supplement for my room and deserved at least two pieces! For the rest of the cruise each night Anthony left me a bunch in my room.

No comments: