September 2013. My best college friend Matt, my little brother Logan, and myself had somehow managed to escape the chaos of Poland intact, and were on our way to the mysterious Ukraine. Two years after our epic first trip to the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, and Sweden, the original Eurotrip A-Team was reuniting for another crazy romp through Eastern Europe. As the three of us stumbled onto the early morning plane at Krakow Airport, bound for Odessa, Ukraine, we reminisced about the crazy event of the last few days in Poland. We had managed to see all the gorgeous sights of cobblestoned Old Town Krakow, dance and drink our way through most of the hottest clubs and bars, evade all the persistent strip club promoters who were absolutely bent on fooling a couple of clueless Asian American guys into spending all our hard-earned money on strippers, and even make a few new Polish, Austrian, and British friends along the way. Laying ahead of us after a quick 2 hour flight was the main Euro event, our final destination, and the true reason we had come this deep into the bowels of Eastern Europe: The Ukraine!
When most people hear about The Ukraine, they think of pretty much only three things: Chernobyl and the nuclear meltdown disaster, hot Slavic women and models, and vodka. Before this trip, I knew absolutely NOBODY who had ever visited this mysterious former Soviet republic, except for actual Ukrainians I know who had immigrated from there. Matt and Logan also had never heard of anyone who had been to The Ukraine. It was a country fraught with both danger and possibilities. On the one hand, Ukraine could be a paradise filled with gorgeous ballerinas and super models topped with caviar and nothing else. On the other hand, Ukraine could also be a dark broken-down radioactive wasteland filled with former KGB mobsters toting Kalishnakovs and bartering black-market plutonium. We had absolutely no freaking idea what we should expect, and if we knew what kind of ridiculous things would happen, we would have never believed it. As we stumbled off the plane, we were about to have our first random and bizarre experiences of what this strange country was really like.
First of all, we realized that the most obvious random and bizarre part of this country was the language and writing. Every written thing that we saw as soon as we landed was in some bizarre language, which we all realized was Russian. Russian, for those of you who don’t know, is written using the Cyrillic Alphabet and not the English Alphabet. Filled with bizarre letters like “Д”, “Й”, “Ф”, and “Щ”, our jaws totally dropped when we realized we had ABSOLUTELY no idea how to read, much less pronounce, these words. Even letters that look similar to English letters, like “P”, are actually pronounced like “R.” A “3” is pronounced like a “Z.” Our heads hurt just LOOKING at words in Russian, and we quickly realized we were screwed. You have no idea how lost you are in a country when you can’t communicate with anybody, you can’t read even basic street signs and menu items, and nobody else can read or speak English! Over the course of the next 8 days, Logan and myself quickly taught ourselves most of the Cyrillic Alphabet, and basically learned how to read Russian. Even though the rest of our trip was total chaos, learning how to slowly read and pronounce a decent amount of Russian in a little more than just a week with Logan is one of the things I’ve been most proud of lately. I had not felt that helpless since I first started going to China, but at least in that country I had been able to speak basic Chinese and get around and communicate just a little bit.
The next thing we realized was that maybe everything they had said about Ukrainian women said WAS going to be true. The Ukrainian Border Guard at the airport as we disembarked was a totally cute olive-skinned 20-something brunette, with large blue limpid eyes, who looked like she belonged more in the pages of a fashion magazine and less in the screening area of an airport. I was used to airport employees looking more like large, sweaty, ugly men, or even larger, sweatier, uglier women. In any case, we were hoping this beauty was a sign of things to come in the Ukraine. I mean if your basic airport employee looked like this, we were sure the girls in the clubs would be even hotter. Well, at least Logan and I noticed this extraordinary difference in the Ukrainian women, Matt didn’t notice any of these things of course, since he had a girlfriend back home and wasn’t allowed to notice. ☺ The Ukrainian Border Guard was accompanied by what might have been the cutest border control guard dog of all time. As the luggage belt started up, the cute Yorkshire Terrier guard dog jumped onto the moving luggage belt, ran forward in place as if it were on a treadmill, sniffing each piece of luggage for contraband, and then after a certain point just got bored, sat down and started licking and self-pleasuring itself. Matt, Logan, myself, and the rest of the Ukrainian passengers roared with laughter at this hilarious sight. Cute-ass dogs doing stupid things are cute-ass dogs doing stupid things, no matter what the culture or country.
But as we were exiting customs, we ran into our first dose of infamous Ukrainian Face Control, which made Polish Face Control look like “My Little Pony.” Obviously, as the only 3 Asian Americans on the flight, and quite possibly the entire country, we stuck out like Tupac Shakur in a country music/line-dancing club. And we totally caught the eye of a Ukrainian Border Control/Customs Agent. And unfortunately, it wasn’t the cute doe-eyed brunette. With a fake smile, the middle-aged Ukrainian male customs agent asked for my passport, and then asked “How much money are you carrying?” I had been prepared for this question, but I was still shocked to be asked. Multiple resources on Wikitravel and online tips had prepared me to tell the customs agent that I had as little money as possible, because apparently Ukrainian customs agents and cops were notorious for shaking down tourists for “fines” (i.e. bribes) for carrying “too much money” or doing something that was “illegal”. I felt bad lying, so I told him I had about $100 US, and luckily it wasn’t enough to around suspicion or an open palm. My brother flat-out lied and told him he had no money on him, and got away with that. Matt was busy tossing his yo-yo around, which was a long-time hobby of his, in crazy trapeze and Walk-The-Dog trick formation, and inexplicably escaped any attention from the customs agents. Maybe Logan and myself just LOOKED a lot shadier than Matt did.
We exited customs as quickly as we could, and then luckily found our personal driver that we had set up to drive us to our rented apartment. As we drove through the grass-lined urban streets of Odessa, and took a look at the Ukrainian citizens walking through the city, our jaws dropped. The rumors were officially true. Logan and I craned our necks as our car sped past hottie after hottie. Random Ukrainian restaurant wait staff members looked ridiculously cute. Random girls on the street looked glammed up and hotter than most girls in other countries. The town seemed like it was full of girls who could be models anywhere in the world, and they weren’t even really trying that hard. “C’MON!” I exclaimed in disbelief, upset that this crazy abundance of riches didn’t exist at home. “C’MON!” Logan exclaimed in disbelief, as he craned his neck at another hot girl walking down the street, upset that the Ukrainian guys didn’t know how good they had it. And of course Matt didn’t notice and didn’t care one bit. Because, you know, he had a girlfriend back home and totally didn’t notice these things. ☺ Seriously, it looked like your average Ukrainian couple had a Ukrainian guy who was a 4 or 5 out of 10, while the Ukrainian girl was easily a 7 out of 10. It was just so disproportionate that it was kind of unfair. We were whipping around our heads to check out girls so much in the Ukraine that, I shit you not, I woke up one day and literally had spasms plus a major neck ache. The whole thing became a running joke after awhile, where we would yell “C’MON!…C’MON!…C’MON!!!” randomly after hottie after Ukrainian hottie would stroll by, which happened like every 4.67 seconds. It kind of looked like this mash-up from Will Arnett’s character from “Arrested Development”
But even though we had high hopes of meeting tons of luscious Ukrainians models (i.e. normal girls on the street), it was not to be that easy for us at all. For one thing, like I said, it was ridiculous hard to talk to anyone in Ukraine because nobody spoke a lick of English. Even though Logan and I had been pretty good at picking up the Cyrillic Alphabet and reading Russian, we were a far cry from strolling up to a girl on the street or at the bar and spitting lines like, “Hey baby, are you a parking ticket? Because you got FINE written ALL over you! Giggidy giggidy!” in Russian. To make things even more confusing, some parts of the Ukraine were more pro-Russian and spoke Russian (e.g. Odessa and Kiev) whereas some parts of the Ukraine were more pro-Ukraine and only spoke Ukrainian (e.g. L’viv), so all the street signs had the names written two different ways, with two different types of Cyrillic Alphabets. Gaaaaah! But we all thought that with our wonderful command of the International Language (i.e. LOOOOOOVE), those Ukrainian hotties would eventually just be putty in our hands.
We spent the next three days strolling the tree-lined urban streets of Odessa, taking in the harbor sights, with everything from the restaurants and cafes on the picturesque pedestrian promenade of Debrivaskaya Street to the awesome Potemkin Steps to hulking former 4-star Soviet hotels that lay empty, and spent the nights going to random bars and clubs in Odessa, including one called Captain Morgan that was the main place to go when the rest of Odessa was dead. Every time we went, we got super curious looks from the Ukrainian bouncers and the bar-goers, who obviously weren’t used to seeing three such sexy Asian American guys. Try as we might to throw down drinks, and suggestively flirt with our brooding eyes and swaying hips, it looked like we had lost all fluency in the International Language; the Ukrainian border guards must have discovered and taken all our mojo at customs. Even though the statuesque and slender Ukrainians smiled, giggled, and glanced curiously at us, they barely responded to our “Hey, how are you doing?” and “What’s your name?” questioning. They would nod, smile politely, dance with us a little bit, and then leave. On the rare occasion that a Ukrainian girl would actually speak a tiny bit of English, she was usually surrounded or blocked off by an another Ukrainian guy or guys who prevented any Asian American-Ukrainian international relations. “Cockblock” means “Cockblock” in every language! Not only were we dealing with “Face Control” in Eastern Europe but we were now dealing with the far deadlier “Penis Control.”
Part of our problem with our first introduction to Ukrainian nightlife was also the timing of our trip to Odessa and the Ukraine. Normally, Odessa is a MAJOR beach party destination in the peak season of summer and maybe the weekends during the shoulder seasons. There are tons of awesome looking beach clubs side-by-side in the Arkadia Beach area of Odessa, with layouts and huge thumping stages that rival some of the clubs in Ibiza, Spain. Unfortunately, not only were we there during the fairly quiet off-peak shoulder season of mid-September, but we also were in Odessa on a Sunday-Wednesday. Our first night there was a fairly fun night at the rip-roaring and raucous Captain Morgan bar that I talked about above, and the bouncers were very nice and there was basically no Face Control. We met a few cute girls and fun guys, but short of doing a little dancing and drinks, we basically had no way of communicating with anybody, and Logan and I were still frantically just learning the Cyrillic Alphabet just to read restaurant/bar/street signs. Also Captain Morgan was super-smoke filled, and really not more than a small restaurant lounge with a DJ, not a real club.
On our second night in Odessa, we decided to go a little more hard-core and try to find a real Ukrainian club experience and find the hidden treasure trove of Ukrainian hotties that we had been looking for. I mean, the total stunners that we were seeing in the streets of Odessa during the daytime had to go SOMEWHERE at night to unwind, relax, and booty shake, right? Based on a lot of advice from locals, we knew that the HOTTEST clubs in Odessa were at or near the Arkadia Beach area, which was about a 15 minute/$7 cab ride away from downtown Odessa. The best clubs that everyone mentioned included Ibiza (the club, not the party island), the strangely named True Man Boat (without any boat), and Park Residence. We started first with a warm-up drink at another Odessan bar, also called True Man, where I was supposed to meet an Odessan friend-of-a-friend, Lana, who was going to give us some good nightlife advice. After getting some major Face Control by the surly Ukrainian bouncer at the door who shook his head and said “Nyet!”, despite the nearly empty bar, we were eventually waved in after the bouncer saw that I was calling my Ukrainian connection inside the bar. We had a fun few drinks with Lana, who confirmed all the club advice we had received. After some thanks all around, Lana helped arrange our transportation to the clubs, even though she couldn’t come out because she had work and even though she questioned whether any of the clubs would be going off on a Monday in the off-season.
Our first “taxi” to the Arkadia Beach clubs was literally just a random hatchback that Lana waved down on the street, driven by a young Ukrainian couple that looked like they had just finished a dinner date. One hilarious thing about Ukraine is that literally EVERY single car on the street is potentially a taxi. Of course they have the real “legit” taxis, which are questionable as it is because you always have to bargain a price and they totally gouge foreigners, but almost any Ukrainian person is willing to pick people up off the street and become a temporary taxi just to make some spare change! It’s hilarious, you can step off the curb and put your hand out, just like you would in New York City, but instead of a yellow cab pulling up, you could get a station wagon driven by an overweight smelly middle-aged Ukrainian factory worker or a Ferrari driven by a hot Ukrainian lingerie model picking you up. Most times though, you definitely didn’t get the Ukrainian hottie-driven Ferrari. After some haggling and translation by Lana, we waved goodbye and gave our thanks to Lana, and drove off to Park Residence. As we awkwardly sat in the back of that Ukrainian couple’s hatchback, we eagerly awaited our first raging Ukrainian club experience. Hot tubs filled with Cristal…supermodels doing chilled vodka shots off of ice luges and licking caviar off each others necks…thumping EDM music with enough strobe lights to give most people a seizure. The sky was the limit as far as we were concerned in Ukraine!
But as we pulled up to Park Residence and were dumped off by the cheerful Ukrainian couple who waved goodbye and continued on their evening date, something was DEFINITELY off. Although we could hear some music thumping in the background, and the lavish grounds of the club definitely LOOKED like there could be a crazy party, nobody seemed to be around. We peeked into the grounds and sadly saw nobody around, and the armed soldier looked at us in a bemused way, as if to say “WTF are three random Asians doing here at 2 am on the off-season?” Instead, he just shook his head and said “Nyet!” I normally would have felt bad, and for a brief second I thought this was another case of Ukrainian Face Control, but after peeking past the guard’s shoulder I sadly saw that the entire grounds of the very nice looking outdoor lounge & dance club was totally empty. I guess even Odessa’s HOTTEST clubs had a down time, and a random Monday in the early fall was probably one of those times.
You would think that this negative experience would have totally killed our party mood, but not a chance in hell. We were determined to make something happen on this random Monday night. So we walked a couple blocks away from the sadly empty Park Residence, waved down a “real” Ukrainian cab, haggled down to a price that was still probably $5/40 Ukrainian dollars more than it should have been, and sped off to what was supposed to be the mecca of Ukrainian summer nightlife: Arkadia Beach! As we pulled up to the long string of Arkadia Beach clubs by the beach, our spirits fell as Odessan club after Odessan club lay empty and bare except for scowling bouncers at the door. Ibiza…TrueMan Hot Boat…Itaka…ALL of Odessa’s hottest clubs seemed to be empty, and almost nobody was on the boardwalk. We were getting Face Controlled not by mean Ukrainian bouncers, but by the calendar instead: Coming during the off-season was definitely not the smartest plan to check out the wonderful nightlife in Odessa. But as we got to the end of the boardwalk and our hopes fell at little more with each empty club, we heard pumping bass and screaming voices out of the corner of our ear. Up ahead was Western Club, a club which had been mentioned by nobody. But most importantly, it was open, had music blasting, people pouring in and out, and with a $4/30 Hr entrance cover we were able to breeze in with NO Face Control. As Logan, Matt, and myself plunged into the club, our jaws dropped as we took in the ridiculous and raucous scene unfolding in front of us.
TO BE CONTINUED…