Catacombs, more sea
The great thing about spending more than two days in a place is that you get to see some of the things that many other people do not get to see. For example, the other day we decided to visit the Odessa catacombs.
The book I have encourages people to use an organized guide rather than try to do it on your own, as there are apparently buses or marshrutkas that go to the catacombs, but, as the guide said, “the schedule changes frequently”. As no one (even S, who lives here) seemed to know which bus or marshrutka went to the catacombs, we decided to go with an organized tour. After waiting an extra half hour after the tour was to leave for people who reserved seats but apparently changed their minds and did not inform anyone, we left.
For those who do not know anything about the Odessa catacombs, unlike catacombs in places like Rome or Paris, they are relatively “new” as they are only around 200 years old. At around 2500 kilometers, they are very long. They are also man-made, and were not used for the storage of bones, but were used for all of the, ahem, “underground” activities that people here have been involved in, from slave traders and smugglers to wine storage to resistance fighters during World War II. This is when they played a very important role, as the resistance fighters would come out of the catacombs at night, destroy Nazi buildings, but the Nazis would not find them.
Interestingly, we were shown reconstructions of not only the “kitchen” and armament storage, but also where there was a school and a “hospital”. Basically, except for the fact that they were underground, they lived as “normally” as they could.
Today, only a small portion of the catacombs are open to the public – that was the part we visited. Other parts are also explored by those who are a bit braver (and who know the entry and exit locations).
After returning from the catacombs, I decided to fulfill a promise and treat R to an early dinner at an Indian restaurant. Again, the book on Ukraine that I have said there is an Indian restaurant in Odessa. Well…there isn’t. There used to be an Indian restaurant, but now it only sells tea and spices. Okay, plan “b” was one of the Chinese restaurants. So we walked further up the street and found out that nope, that one isn’t there anymore either…so plan “c” was the Thai restaurant near the apartment where we are staying. And so it was that I introduced R to a new kind of food, which he liked but…well, I did not realize how spicy he found it when I added the chili oil. I was fine but he was sweating and turned red. But he liked it.
Yesterday we got a late start and decided to do more exploring. I wanted to see the Holocaust Memorial – wow, it is powerful. It is in a
park in the city, and shows emaciated men along with a barbed wire “fence”. It says (in English), Holocaust. In Ukrainian, Russian and Hebrew it says “Never Forget, Never Forgive”. In the same park are trees planted to recognize people from Odessa who hid or helped Jews during this time.
The sad thing is, there are only 90 trees. Prior to World War II, there were about 17,000 Jews in Odessa – a quarter of the population at the time. Today about 30,000 Jews live in Odessa – an increase, yes, since 60 years ago but not one that is proportionate to the population as a whole.
As I looked at the memorial and the trees, I could not help but think – there are more than 2,000 km of catacombs that were in existence at the time – why did Odessans not help the Jews and hide them in the catacombs?
I suppose it is better to not ask why in these cases.
After the memorial, we visited the lovers’ bridge of Odessa (so far I have found such a bridge in every city I have been in in Ukraine. In fact, there was one in Prague too). By the lovers’ bridge there was a Roman colonnade, which seemed somewhat out of place there but okay.
After that is was more walking, walking, walking, until finally, even though I had been drinking water all day, I was dehydrated, exhausted, and a little bit grumpy. Luckily, we had been invited back to the seaside, and that was how we spent the evening, though the water at this beach was full of seaweed, and thus not quite as nice as the previous. However, the company was good and we enjoyed it a great deal.
This morning, however, I woke up and was literally exhausted – my body did not want to move, and my brain was in agreement with my body. My exhaustion did not really matter because it is raining, raining, raining today, so our final day in Odessa is spent indoors. Tonight is the train back home, and it is back to work next week.